Recipient vs. Participant

How well do we provide for others?

For those who “do” ministry, we can struggle from time to time with this one. We want people to get involved, to participate, but there are so many who seem to be content to receive. We want to be generous. We want to be loving. We want to be giving. But, really? Can’t people step up and take responsibility?

Well, yes, they can. It’s not a simple if/then equation, but we need to consider what we’re doing that fosters people to receive instead of participate.

helpIt’s not just about church attendance. In fact, lets widen the circle for a moment and consider how well we serve people in need. I’m not talking about our numbers or programs, the how much and what of our service. What about the how well?

I have had this conversation multiple times at ministry events, especially among churches and organizations who are especially known for their focus on identifying and meeting needs in both short-term crises and ongoing support. But what are we supporting? Are we simply providing without equipping? Are we giving stuff and time but taking away something even more important, like dignity?

Let’s get a bit more personal. When you give away clothes or furniture because someone needs it, what is your attitude? Do you give away your best? Do you engage the person? Do you listen to their story? Do you insist on receiving nothing in return even when they really want to give something to you? Do you follow up? Do you care? Do you invest?

We like to solve problems, so if we have something or can buy something someone needs, we feel good about our generosity. We’re helping, and who doesn’t get warm fuzzies by helping others? But are we sure our giving is the best option? Have we even explored the options? Do we know the situation well enough to explore the options?

Let’s broaden the circle even wider. When we become aware of a need in another country, we often begin collecting what we think will solve the problem. We often avoid thinking about how our solutions might create more problems. For example, clean water. We want everyone to have it, right? Let’s pay for and install water pumps in every village so people have access to clean water. Sounds great, right? What if no one local is trained to fix the water pump? What if parts are not easily, affordably available? Are there other, better, longer-lasting options?

What if we donate all kinds of things because we have easy access to them, but in the process, we eliminate someone’s only way to make money in that community? For example, when we send cases of new shoes, what happens to the man who has repaired every person’s shoes for decades? I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate and provide, but I think it’s important to think through the how well of our service.

We accomplish something when we give and someone receives. But what if we focus on developing participants instead of recipients? What if we give dignity, ownership, and responsibility with our service? After all, it’s not really about us. If we care that much to invest in others, we need to make sure our how well is our best for God.

Impressed with a Snapshot

While traveling, we had to delay our plans one day because of the weather, so we took a drive to a nearby town along the shores of Lake Superior. The rain was steady, and I didn’t realize how close we were until a wall of wind hit us. I looked to the right of the truck and saw a lot of standing water. It was almost up to the road and clearly higher than normal. A dock was nearly completely submerged. A fishing boat rocked from side to side as the wind blew. I made a comment about the effects of the storm, then I glanced to the left truck window and realized what I was seeing was only a snapshot. We we right beside Lake Superior, and the effects of the storm were much more dramatic on it.

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I focused on a snapshot, while all I had to do is shift my perspective to see the bigger picture. Even then, my perspective was limited. I wondered,

How many times does God make a broader perspective available to me, but I don’t realize it because of my focus, distractions, laziness, or stubbornness?

I know we can’t fully have God’s perspective. I could shift from seeing pooling, overflowing water to the massive water and waves of a large lake, but I couldn’t see all of the lake, all the the Great Lakes, the weather patterns across the U.S., and so on. I’m limited. But there’s a difference between my limitations because of what I can and can’t process and my limitations because I’m not willing to process.

Sometimes I like when God broadens my perspective…when I experience it as positive, because I get a bigger glimpse of His beauty, comfort, peace, and provision. But when God broadens my perspective to see overwhelming needs, hurt, potential pain, and loss, I’m not as willing to ask Him for the panoramic view. However, just as I saw His power, presence, and provision through the big view of the water that day, I can see Him in every panoramic view, whether I experience it as positive and negative. Because of who He is and His investment in life, I can see all panoramic views as positive in the sense that I get to see Him. I may not understand or enjoy every view, but as long as He’s in it, it is good. Good by His definition, not mine.

 

 

 

Meeting Needs in Church

needsGod wants us to meet needs, but He’s the one who determines what the needs are.

In ministry, we often ask, “What kind of classes would you attend? What could we offer than would help you get involved? How can we offer you a chance to serve in an area you’re comfortable or passionate about?”

It’s important to engage people, asking questions and getting to know them, but giving the impression that we will meet any needs people think they have perpetuates a consumer-focused culture, which has no place in the church. Faith is not about what we can get out of it. That’s a result of faith because God is generous, but if it’s our motivation of faith, we’re selfish, which in and of itself, is in direct opposition of faith.

What do you want because of your selfishness? What do you want “your way”? Maybe it doesn’t look as if you’re selfish. You might be able to get others to believe you’re seeking and following God’s will. You’re being firm about something, not because of what you want, but because of what you’re sure God wants. How sure are you? Are you deceiving yourself, too? Do you want so badly for your way to be God’s way that you’re closing your eyes, ears, and heart to any other possibility?

How are you encouraging others to take the same “me” perspective by asking them what they need or what would pull them into the church community? It’s not just about what you say but how it can be perceived and misunderstood. You might have pure motivations, wanting to meet people where they are, but here’s another possible approach:

Instead of asking for someone’s needs, then having to adjust to meet them, what if you help someone see how their needs can be met by some existing opportunities? When people are hesitant to get involved, they will find the differences between what is available and what they want. You can’t meet every need the way it is presented. But God can meet every need, even the ones you can’t identify. He knows people’s hesitations. He knows your motivations. He knows your willingness to connect and serve. He knows others’ sensitivity and baggage. He will work with it all.

Do you trust Him enough to listen…really listen…and let Him guide, even when you don’t get to decide what to ask, how to respond, and what to plan? Do you trust Him to meet your needs, as well as others’, even if you don’t completely “get” how it all fits together.

He’s a lot more trustworthy than anyone else’s assessment, including your own.

Lord God, You are God; Your words are true, and You have promised this grace to Your servant. (2 Samuel 7:28)

Just Living

Micah-6-8Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Justice is trendy right now.

I’m sure it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. It’s biblical. Because it’s God’s way, justice, and the command to live in and with it, isn’t going anywhere. It’s not just a Christian standard. It’s a people standard.

You can often identify what causes your friends are passionate about by their social media feeds. Some match up to the way they live and what they’re willing to personally sacrifice. Some buy a shirt for support and feel they’re doing their part. Others read a book. Some sacrifice their income, home, and comfort to live a different life, so that others can live a different life, too.

Has justice become a substitute for people to experience the goodness and redemption of God…without acknowledging Him and giving Him glory?

Justice requires mercy. In fact, it requires we love mercy, which involves a passion for sacrificially helping. And behind all that justice and loving mercy is humility. It’s not about us. We don’t get to mark something off our “feel good about ourselves and the way we’re serving” when we act justly, because it’s not about us. The moment it becomes about us, it’s no long just.

Justice is about God’s redemption. It’s about making things right…His way. When we seek to act justly and extend mercy, we’re trying to make things right. We see a wrong, and we try to fix it. But when we seek redemption without God, we fall short. He is the source of redemption. We can’t make things right on our own, because our perspective and our power is limited. He wants to use us, of course. He brings us together, open our eyes to injustice, opens our hearts and pours in mercy, and people are redeemed because of it…because of Him. We are redeemed, too. We are changed.

Why is justice important to you? Why does whatever it is that you want to help fix need to be redeemed? Are you willing to be redeemed through the process? Are you humbly inviting God to change you?

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)

God Owes Me Nothing

God doesn’t owe me (or anyone else) anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t act like He does at times.

gratitudeHow about you? Have you ever said something like…

  • Surely this won’t last much longer. You (I) have been through so much already!
  • As much as you have given to others, you’ll definitely reap the rewards.
  • I’ve been really responsible with my money lately, so I’m sure I won’t have any unexpected surprises.
  • It’s time for vacation, and you (I) totally deserve a break!
  • I’m looking forward to retirement. I’ve put my time in and it’s time to enjoy life.

Even if we say we don’t think God owes us anything, what we think and say often betrays us. Instead of believing who God is and trusting Him regardless of how life is going or how well we understand it, we turn to a reward system. We might vehemently oppose the concept of karma, yet our reward/punishment system of what we and others deserve or don’t deserve says otherwise.

God doesn’t have to give me anything. His response isn’t dependent on me; it’s dependent on Him. Making it about me gives me way more control than I actually have…control I don’t even want, because I know I can’t handle it. I don’t see all the moving pieces involved. My perspective is selfish. I think I know what I want to happen next. I definitely have an opinion of what I think should happen next. But I’ve been wrong before and will continue to be wrong because of my limited perspective. The best perspective I can have is God’s, and the only way I can have it is to know Him well. Even with my best efforts, I will not fully know Him. There’s always more to know. Thankfully, He’s willing to consistently reveal Himself to me.

Am I willing to pay attention?

Yes. I owe it to God.

He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:10-11)

Life with Attitude

Rejoice_title_1024x1024What makes you rejoice? What brings you great delight? Does what prompts you to rejoice bring great delight to God? Joy is a firm confidence that all is well regardless of the circumstances. Philippians 3:1 says “Be full of joy in the Lord.” God is the source of joy, and God is the object of joy. We rejoice because God is who He says He is, and that means we can trust Him, fully relying on His guidance and provision through any circumstance. Our joy isn’t circumstantial, because our faith isn’t circumstantial. We rejoice because of God but also with God. As we live close to God, we experience life with the glimpse of His perspective. Because God has the big picture, we can trust there is always hope, and if nothing else, we can rejoice in hope.

Knowing God, being in a dynamic relationship with Him, transcends any and all temporal circumstance. Knowing God is inextricably connected with obeying God, and obeying God gives us peace and assurance even in uncertainties. Life isn’t fair, but God is.

The thing is…whether or not life is fair is irrelevant. God doesn’t want us to get stuck in this life. He wants to correct our eyesight so we see into eternity. This life on earth is important, because it’s where we live out our faith. We seek, learn and grow. God doesn’t want us to waste one minute of it. That’s not to say we’re supposed to be perfect. After all, we often learn most through those trials. We experience the most intense joy after a dark night. God doesn’t want us to waste life, not because it’s about us, but because, ultimately, it’s about Him and our relationship with Him. Are you rejoicing through life with God?

The Perspective of Faith

Today’s post is excerpted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. Order a copy for yourself, a gift, or small group.

PureFaithCoverLowRes“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The perspective of faith is difficult and easy. Difficult, because faith requires us to assume and trust God’s perspective in all things, yet we’re limited in our perspectives, so we only get a glimpse of what God sees and knows. Easy, because faith grounds us in certainty…even when we’re uncertain about the certainty. Because God is trustworthy, we can trust him for his perspective and we can trust him with our lives. We won’t always understand, but we can always find certainty in faith, because faith inherently includes certainty.

All these people are known for their faith, but none of them received what God had promised. God planned to give us something better so that they would be made perfect, but only together with us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Our best effort to assume a godly perspective of faith is to know God and live his Word.

We cannot always know God’s will. We want the answers handed to us when we sometimes don’t even know what questions to ask. If we ask the questions we should ask, we sometimes don’t really want to hear and abide by the answers we get! God’s will is not a mystery if we search for it, but the question is: Are we willing to accept what God reveals as his will, or will we instead decide to hide behind pride and presumptions?

A common question when searching for God’s will is “What does God want me to do?” We can ask this question with sincere intentions, but it’s a question that too easily leads us down a path of what if, either/or, if/then, and so on. Our logic starts to kick in, and our preferences and assumptions can too easily get in the way and cloud our sight and hearing. Perhaps a better question to ask is “Who is God?”…with a follow up of “And based on who God is, how does he want me to respond?”

When we seek the “who” instead of the “what,” “how,” or “why,” we’re less likely to get discombobulated.  The answer still might not be clear, but it also won’t be clouded with the additional questions that can easily lead us down a rabbit trail tangled with our opinions, experiences, and pride.

When I was a young mom, it was difficult for me to put God first in a practical, everyday sense. I thought putting God first meant applying myself to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible reading and study. I absolutely loved spending as much time as possible in those areas, but I felt an urgent call to help when a daughter needed her diaper changed, meals needed to be prepared, naptime needed to start immediately (or was suddenly over), and many other things that, at times, seemed to nearly crush me under the to-do list. Plus, I was trying to be a good wife, which apparently was supposed to fall somewhere between putting God first and being a good mom. Because I couldn’t handle keeping even two of those in perspective, keeping three prioritized seemed disappointedly impossible.  I felt like a failure. Even on the days I felt like an adequate wife and a decent mom, I was still failing—at least, by my perspective—as a Christ-follower.

It wasn’t an identity crisis. It was a spiritual misapplication. I was setting myself up for failure by holding myself to a standard God never intended. I needed to stop seeing God at the top of everything and instead place him in the center of everything.

Perhaps it’s just semantics, but the shift worked for me. I stopped defining my efforts as failures of faith and began defining every role and responsibility as an opportunity for faith. It was the same basic concept, but a slight change significantly altered my outlook and faith journey.

When I placed God in the center of everything, I realized I wasn’t choosing my daughters over him when I played with them in the yard and walked to the library. I wasn’t choosing my husband over God when I helped him with a house project or watched football. When God is in the center, he touches everything. I consider God’s perspective no matter what I’m doing. I find significance in the most mundane tasks, because I acknowledge there is purpose in it even if I’m uncertain as to what the particular purpose is. When God is at the center of everything, I’m confident the purpose of what I’m doing is to follow and honor him. When I follow and honor him, I’m placing him in the center of everything.

It’s not simply that God is first in everything. He is the absolute foundation of everything. He is invested in everything. He is interested in everything. That is true whether I acknowledge his investment and interest or not. My distortion of God’s position in my life doesn’t change his position. He will always passionately pursue me. What can catapult me farther and faster in spiritual growth is my willingness to line up my life with his will. I can shift my perspective and priorities so that he seems to be off to the side, but he’s still in the center. I’ve simply distorted what I see as reality. God is the center, and when I line up my life with who he is and who he says he created me to be, I have the full assurance of him impacting the practical details of my everyday life.

No matter what I’m doing, God is in the center and emanates to reach every circumstance in the circumference of my life. Claiming God as the center of your life is what a perspective of faith is all about.

The will of God has more to do with controlling our hearts than planning and meeting goals. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (Matthew 6:33) God wants us to surrender our own plans and will, not because we’re giving up but because we’re giving him ourselves. When we place him in the center of everything, we’re declaring his way is better. We follow him, because he has a better perspective and, therefore, a better plan and will! We are limited; God is not. But Jesus said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” (John 5:17)

We must remember that we follow a person, not an idea. We have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t just believe in Jesus; we believe him. And it is because of that belief that we follow him. A problem arises when we think Jesus is supposed to give us the details of every single decision and direction we face. However, we don’t even need the details that we so desperately think we need. We want step-by-step directions, the same that we can print or depend on our phones to recite to us. But we don’t need those details. We simply need to follow Jesus. He will give us the details we need. What does that look like?

Consider a carrier pigeon. A carrier pigeon doesn’t have all the details. He can’t read the delivery address let alone have a wifi connection that gives him step-by-step instructions. He knows “home.” He knows where he belongs. He might fly in a circle a few times to get ready and make sure he’s properly oriented, but he’ll then hone in on the direction of home and fly in that direction. We need to be so intimately honed into Jesus that we know the direction we need to move. We don’t need to wait for the step-by-step. He’ll reveal what we need to know along the way. We need to trust that his perspective is the perspective we need—the perspective of faith.

“I do not know the way that I take but well do I know my guide.” (Martin Luther)

Where are you going to be a year from now, five years, or twenty years? If you’re honing in on Jesus, you’ll be closer to him as you journey in faith!

What would your life be like if you completely trusted God?