Saturday, May 13, 2017

What Breaks Your Heart?

Recently in small group, I challenged the guys with this question: What breaks your heart?

I've thought about this question more times than I can count. My answer would vary depending on several factors. Often times it would circle back to helping someone in need — usually children. So that is what my default answer became whenever asked the question. But truth be told, there's something else that breaks my heart — and it's this something else that consistently is stirring me — so much so that it's time I accept the reality that this is what truly breaks my heart.

Without answering the question, let's first go back about three years ago to July 2014. I was a believer of Jesus Christ, but I definitely wasn't a follower. I was living a life in and out of sin; I was in Scripture, almost daily, but not much was sinking in, mostly due to a lack of effort and intentionality; and I certainly wasn't saved at this point. I was visiting my older brother and his wife in California, and he said something to me that completely changed the course of my life. The funny thing is he doesn't even know this, and will be finding out at the same time as anyone else reading this. He noticed me reading Scripture every day with my daughter, and a few days in to the trip after everyone had went to bed he said:

You're a really smart guy.... so how are you able to believe all of it when so many bad things happen every day?
There was more conversation and questions after that. But that question in particular never left my mind. My answer is what providentially started me down a road that has, and continues to, transform my life. I simply gave him faith-based answers to his fact-based based questions. At the time, that's all I had — a little bit of faith, and almost no spiritual maturity or education at all. As I answered his questions that night, the best way I could, I realized I was missing out on an incredibly important opportunity to share the truth about Jesus Christ, and the Good News of His life, His ministry, His death, and His Resurrection. But why? Was it fear? Was it lack of understanding and wisdom? Was it lack of faith?

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
- 1 Peter 3:15
So what breaks my heart is that I wasn't prepared to give an answer for my hope in Jesus Christ. Every day, as a believer in Christ, I lacked the discipline to surrender my life, fully follow Jesus, and immerse myself in the Word of God, to better equip myself with the truth. So when asked, I would be able to give an answer — and not just any answer, but an answer based not only in faith, but in the facts, and in the truth that “I’m not a Christian today because I was raised that way or because it satisfies some need or accomplishes some goal. I’m simply a Christian because it’s evidentially true.” (Cold-Case Christianity). This same truth and power that rose Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11) was fully available to me, and for over thirty years I did next to nothing to read it, to study it, or to live it. To make matters worse, I not only missed an opportunity to disciple and share the message of Christ with someone, but this someone was my own brother!

It's been a few years since that evening, but it's never left my mind. His question set me on a journey to start asking and answering my own questions about the Bible, about Jesus, and about how committed I really was to my faith. Did I really believe the Bible was the infallible Word of God?

As I started to ask myself the more difficult questions, it was clear I wasn't anywhere close to where I wanted to be in my journey as a Christ follower. The desire was lacking, the commitment was missing, and the relationship was one-sided. I basically tried to keep God in my pocket, for when I needed Him, and anything that didn't fit into my life easily I chose to ignore, swept under the rug, or otherwise convinced myself didn't apply to me. After all, these are different times, and who could be expected to live under those kind of rules anyway!? My point is that this transformation started off slowly, very slowly, almost undetectable. It took a couple of years, and many setbacks and disappointments, but than I started to feel a change.

For me personally the change wasn't complete at the moment of my salvation. Rather it took several more months of prayer, meditation, solitude, and fasting (lots of fasting) to come to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be able to silence the beast inside of me — telling me I wasn't good enough, I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't worthy enough — was to dive head first into my relationship with Christ. No more games. I don't like when people play games with me, so why would the Lord expect anything different from me. It wasn't going to be enough to surrender some of my life to Christ. It had to be all or nothing. It was time to pick up and carry my cross, and finally die to myself (Galatians 2:20), in a way I never understood before.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives.
- Galatians 5:16-25
Anyone living outside the Holy Spirit will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That got my attention! If I was willing to live according to the Spirit, and allow the Spirit to lead me in every part of my life, I am promised an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. I was convinced and ready to make those changes. What this looked for me was significant transformation in every facet of my life. No more lying. No more wasting other people's time. No more wasting my time. No more debt. No more smoking weed (sorry mom). No more sex. No more going through the motions of a life without purpose. It was complete, all-in, no looking back, you can have all of me, all the time, starting right now surrender!

The moment the surrender took place, a peace and sudden feeling of clarity came over me, like a tidal wave, and God said "Let's get to work." He started with a gentle, but clear, nudge to get me to start serving at church. I didn't know where to start, or what it meant, but I picked up a serving card after service one Saturday evening and signed up to join the Host Team. God put me in the eCafe making coffee. To some this may seem insignificant, but this was God's way to find out if I could be trusted.

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities.
- Luke 16:10
Could I be trusted with the little things? Turns out I came alive on the inside — making coffee of all things. I found myself surrounded by other Christ followers, and the excitement and spirit of serving became infectious.

Next I decided to apply this same commitment to the small group I had attended. I decided to make it a high priority. Not just showing up, but preparing, participating, and engaging! Before I knew it, I did the unthinkable and asked God for more responsibilities. It went something like "Lord, why do I get the feeling you want me to lead this group?" I tried to convince myself I'm not a leader, but obedience is what I promised, so obedience is what I gave. I approached the senior pastor (Danny) and small group leader (Mike), and told them that I wanted to do more. I didn't know what that meant, and I didn't want to step on any toes, especially Mike's, because it was his group, and I looked up to him, and he leads in a way that is unparalleled... but God was asking me to step up. Pastor Danny and Mike ended up taking me out for coffee a few days later. They were completely gracious and supportive, and laid out a plan to have me start shadowing Mike, and possibly start leading, after some observation. Long story short, a week later God stepped in and needed me to fill in at the last minute. For a split second my instinct was to say I'm not ready. I need more time. But I promised the Lord I would follow Him. I promised I would go wherever He goes. Wherever He asks me to go. Your will. Not mine. So fast forward to today, and I find myself leading an amazing group of Christ followers, and although I'll always consider it Mike's Group, God somehow, someway has bestowed upon me the honor of leading this group of men every Wednesday night. Remember, it started with acknowledging and obeying a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Obedience. Come follow Me.

God started to give me more responsibilities as our relationship strengthened. His next responsibility lead me to children's ministry. This wasn't a calling I anticipated, but if I'm being honest, neither were any of the others. So like those, I just allowed the Holy Spirit to lead me — and it did. Right to a group of 4th grade boys. Having the opportunity to spend time with them has been a tremendous joy. A joy that was only afforded to me by being still and listening.

Now let me also say that although I don't serve for my own benefit, it's absolutely true that you will benefit from serving, as much, if not more, than those you are serving. Not only that, but we each are called to serve — and whether you know it or not, we've all been uniquely gifted to serve.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.
- 1 Peter 4:10
Even Christ came not to be served, but to serve:

And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
- John 13:14-15
I wasn't spiritually mature enough at the time my brother asked me why I believed. I had only faith-based answers for his fact-based questions, and even the answers I had were lacking. Becoming obedient, and serious in my pursuit of Christ, and through serving, I realized I was being used by God and making an impact in His Kingdom. Serving became the catalyst I needed to demonstrate my obedience to God, and to earn His trust.

As God began to trust me, my intentions began to change from drawing closer to God by myself, to drawing others around me closer to Him as well. My mission became to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible, hoping the next time I'm asked to explain my faith in Jesus, I'll have the right answers. But here's what I found out — I simply won't have all the answers — no matter how long I study or how deep I dig. But the saving grace is that I don't need all the answers. Charles Stanley said it best:

The key is not education but obedience. As we act on what we read, the Holy Book “comes alive,” and we begin to hear and understand the voice of God. However, if we have not obeyed what He’s previously revealed to us, why would He give us His deeper truths? “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Psalm 25:14), and those who fear Him are the ones who obey His commandments and are promised “a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10).
- Charles Stanley
The key is obedience. I can't possibly have all the answers, all the time, when questioned by a non-believer or someone questioning their faith; however, I can trust God's instruction, and I can trust that at any given moment that I have access to the Holy Spirit — and if I rely on the Lord, if I obey His voice, "He'll reveal deeper truths, and your understanding will grow."

For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.
- Luke 12:12
We are reminded of this same promise in Matthew 10:19Mark 13:11, and Luke 21:15. But if the New Testament doesn't convince you, God also speaks directly about this in Exodus 4:12 and Isaiah 51:16. Although it's my calling, my passion, and my purpose to become a disciple and a defender of the faith, it's not ever going to happen under my own power. I need to be intentional, yes. I need to relentlessly pursue the Lord. I need to go as deep into the Bible and any other supporting historical texts as possible to educate myself, and equip myself for the battles ahead, but even then, my success, and your success, as a disciple, is hinged on one word: obedience

Do you trust God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength? It may not be easy, but it is that simple.

I may never have an opportunity to witness to my brother again, but I can't worry about that. My focus must be to remain faithful, obey God's voice, and follow Jesus, wherever He asks me to go:

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
- Mark 8:34-38
What really breaks my heart is knowing there are so many people who have yet to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Each of us, myself included, has the power to change that. It won't be easy, and it will take time, effort, and even blood, sweat, and tears for some, but as Christ followers we aren't only asked to follow, we are commanded to go make disciples.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- Matthew 28:19
So that's what I plan to do, and I hope that's what you'll consider doing as well. I plan to dedicate my life to making disciples, and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Just like God didn't lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to die in the desert, God isn't going to leave you either. If you invite God in to your life, and you are intentional about allowing God to change your heart and heal your soul, He will. He makes a way when there is no way. You start with whatever faith you have, even faith as small as a mustard seed, and you allow it to grow and bear fruit. That's not just my calling, that's everyone's calling.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus--the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
- Acts 20:24
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit is already stirring in you, and that you'll begin to recognize it for what it is — God's gift of love, grace, and mercy. The undeserved gift of salvation. For those who still aren't quite sure, I challenge you to pick up the Bible. Start with the New Testament, specifically the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Allow yourself to remove any bias for a moment, and start to ask yourself why over two-thousand years later we're still having the conversation about a man named Jesus. If faith alone doesn't convince you, I encourage you to explore the facts for yourself. Go outside of Scripture if necessary, and try to uncover the timeline, the places, the people, and the truth about the death and Resurrection of Christ. I have no doubt that what you'll find, if you allow the evidence to lead you, is that the historical Jesus and the Jesus of Faith are in fact the same. Until that moment, my prayer to anyone far from God is simply this:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- Ezekiel 36:26