Abide in Your Sphere

We hear the tales of the privileged who get to go on those mission trips to South America or Africa. We hear the stories of the great successes in ministry from traveling evangelists as they stop temporarily in our locale. And we imagine what a life they must have, traveling the globe and making an impact.

We imagine ourselves leaving our present, lackluster life and forging ahead to an adventure-filled path doing the “work of God” as we are supposed to. According to the Great Commission, that is the aim, right? “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NIV).

Yet we lose sight of the fact that God has placed us where we ought to be, according to His master plan. Our life, from one view, is a set of circumstances that led us to our present position. We entered the school system to learn the necessary lessons for life. We entered college to prepare for our profession. Along the way, we meet the right people who open the door for us to enter into our career. And on we go down life’s journey into marriage, family life, etc.

But in the middle of all that we forget the words of Paul to the Corinthian church, “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them” (1 Corinthians 7:20, NIV). In the words of Charles Spurgeon,”Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it” (Morning and Evening, June 27).

God has placed you in your profession, or in your educational field, or wherever you find yourself. He has placed people in your life for you to impact. His desire is for you to leave the place you are transformed and for Christ to rule the hearts of those there when you leave.

Spurgeon aptly states it this way:

“Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to his praise, and if he needs you in another he will show it you” (Morning and Evening, June 27).

In your workplace, in your classroom, in your church, wherever God has placed you, be the best that you can be, to glorify God who created you so that your sphere of influence would be transformed.

Let us not be caught up in the grand, visionary notions of ministry that are filled with thoughts of fame and adventure, but rather be caught up in the essential goal of reaching those within our reach for the Kingdom of God and glorifying His name, regardless of how mundane, dirty or fancy the work.

What is your Vision Level?

Looking into the life of Abram recorded in Genesis, you see God gave him a vision of the Promised Land, and in response, Abram was obedient in stepping out to take possession of that vision. He had the faith to believe for himself and his family to fulfill the vision God had given him.

Without vision, we are on a road headed nowhere in particular in life. When you fully realize you are a child of God and that He created you for a truly unique, divine purpose, you know you are not destined for a life of no value; rather, you are meant to follow the path God has laid out for you.

When it comes to imparting vision, writer Art Sepulveda in his book How to Live Life on Purpose (2004) says people fall into one of four levels of vision:

-Wanderers: Those who never see it
-Followers: Those who see it but never pursue it on their own
-Achievers: Those who see it and pursue it
-Leaders: Those who see it and pursue it and help others see it

Which do you fall into, and “how do you plan to change the vision level (listed above) at which you operate the majority of the time?” (Question posed by Sepulveda, p. 33)

Is your life’s aim simply to simply build up enough resources and a family and survive till the end of your days or is it to thrive in fulfilling the God-given purpose for your life?

This is a season of graduation and transition in life; let this also be a time of checking where you are in your life and making sure you are where you’re supposed to be and not just passing time.

When It All Finally Makes Sense

Image

The scene was very emotional for Egypt’s second-in-command. His life had been a seemingly random order of events, ranging from terrible to great moments. Yet now, after all the highs and lows of his journey, everything suddenly made sense. I pick the story up in Genesis 45:4:

“Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharoah-the manager of his entire palace and the governor of Egypt…” (Gen. 45:4-7, NLT).

I can only imagine Joseph’s internal reaction to this moment. In the previous chapters, there are moments when Joseph can only hide from his brothers and cry, while acting as if he did not know them. He was beaten and hurt by his brothers, sold into slavery, tempted by Potiphar’s wife … yet at this moment Joseph knew that everything he went through was to get him to that point where he was a key player in the grand design of God to preserve Jacob’s family and His chosen people.

In this first month of 2012, you may not understand what is happening in your life or why it is happening, but you can be sure of one thing, God has a grand design and purpose for it all. One door may shut and another may open, but God is behind it all. It may be utter chaos all around you, but in the midst of chaos there is calm, originating from God’s presence. Every setback, every trial, every step in your journey…let God reveal Himself to you through every moment. In your education, in your church life, in your career, nothing may make sense, but God has a plan, and if you can trust nothing else, you can trust in God.

Joseph finally understood. So can we.

Back to the Beginning

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NIV).

In the midst of life’s struggles and the moments when uncertainty clouds any glimpse of hope, we must come back to the beginning of it all.

When the earth was “formless and empty,” God decided to take action and use His creativity to form the universe that came to be. The beauty of this realization comes when we realize that in this creation, God made man to have life to be a part of His master plan.
What this means for each one of us is that every moment of our lives is within the sovereignty of God.

So when we come to the place where we are tired and exhausted with the worries and trials of this life and the seemingly endless new stresses that arise, we must remember that God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb, that He had a plan for us long before our existence was even known.

And that should be the greatest comfort to us, as that means no struggle or trial we face is too much for us to face, especially with the power of God to back us up. No matter where you are in your journey, do not lose faith in God. Even if you do not fully understand the plan of God for your life, don’t lose faith in the God who sent His only Son to die on the cross for your sins and give you a chance to be redeemed from your sinful ways.

Let us never get so lost and worried that we lose sight of or forget to remember the God who created us with a very unique purpose as part of His master plan.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”
-Ephesians 1:11-12, The Message

Where We Are, Where We’re Going

Recently, I was in the Starbucks located in the Nigh University Center of UCO in Edmond, Okla. I graduated in 2009 from UCO and often visit the school when an opportunity arises. I had given my order on this day and was waiting for my order toward the other end of the coffee place. As I stood there looking at the wall in front of me, a memory from before the existence of this Starbucks came flooding in:

We (our whole UCO crew) were in the beginning years of our UCO experience and getting to know each other better. We had started a tradition of throwing surprise birthday parties for people in our group, and one party in particular was thrown in this exact area where this Starbucks now stands. Except back then there was this really comfortable red couch and a chest/coffee table thing we stored our stuff in. We sat there so often and laughed and made stories up and ate lunch and threw random food events, memories that will last a lifetime. But for this particular party, which was for Ben Paul, someone had brought in a bunch of silly string and put a lot of it on Ben.

And somehow in the course of that birthday party, some of that silly string ended up stuck on the brick wall. Time went on, and that silly string remained on that brick wall. I remember constantly noticing it on that wall and wondering if it would ever be taken down months after. The couch disappeared after someone (a professor, I heard) complained that there were people sleeping there. Thus, the couch was removed and more chairs/tables were brought in instead. We often discussed missing the couch. As time went on, more parties were thrown, including a huge surprise party for one person, and just a lot of great memories that will never disappear. Also, eventually, the silly string came down, of course (I forget when).

But here I stand in 2011, in that same physical place. In the place of that brick wall, there is a shiny Starbucks wall that never gives the impression of the old “Lakeside Cafe” that once existed there, a place where our group back then made great memories.

But I learned something in that moment. Your life may be filled with great seasons, where you meet some amazing people and make amazing memories. You’ll have great moments that will make no sense to people when you tell them about it later, and the humor of it will be gone, but you know that you just had to be there to really enjoy that moment for what it was worth.

But then at some point, the silly string comes down. The comfortable, cozy seasons of life will not last forever. And you must face reality.

And part of understanding reality is understanding that God has a great purpose for your life, and you must focus on fulfilling that and not wasting your time on things that won’t last.

And the greatest lesson you learn may be that even though you fall into the lowest of lows (that you think is the lowest of lows for you), God will use your experiences to raise you up higher than you ever expect Him to, if you humble yourself before Him. I was standing on a balcony on the campus recently and had an overall view of the campus. As I stood there, I saw all the locations where I had different experiences. And I realized that through every one of those experiences, whether they were good or bad or even devastating, God had a grand purpose, and because of Him only, I am where I am today, despite those bad experiences that I thought would hold me back.

I say all this to make two points, partially to soon-to-be graduates:

-Enjoy where you are in life now; don’t rush it, and just enjoy it to the full extent. Let God use you where you are, and be open to being transformed by Him. But also know that the “silly string” phase of life comes to an end, in some ways. Not to say that life can’t still be enjoyed as much, but the focus of life changes with more education, jobs, marriage, children, etc. So enjoy being where you currently are, but also be aware that at some point, these things will come to an end and you will move on to something greater, part of the plan of fulfilling His great purpose for your life.

-Even though you think you have completely screwed up and ruined any chance you may have had for success, know that NOTHING surprises God. God knows and loves you, and He knows exactly what you will go through. And as a result, He will give you the strength to make it through and use what you go through to make you stronger in the end. Simply believing that He has it all under control will make things so much better.

To add on to this story, today me and Ben work close to each other in Oklahoma City. God has been faithful in so many ways to both of us, and it is no doubt b/c of the mercy of God that we have all we do. It shows that God knows what He’s doing, so we just need to trust Him.

Until next time!

PSYCHwallOGY [Guest Blogger: Dennis Mathew]

By Guest Blogger, Dennis Mathew

PSYCHwallOGY: How do people living behind walls think? What are their thought patterns? My curiosity drove me to ask myself these questions.

“What kind of walls?”, you might ask. Walls of any kind.

Life presents us with walls that are both literal and figurative. To a convicted criminal, the walls of a prison, to a physically ill person, the walls of a hospital, to a person in debt, the mental walls made up by stacks of bills, to a couple going through a rough patch in their marriage, the walls of miscommunication. We all face walls of some kind and these walls represent the things that limit us. But during the period in which we find ourselves within these walls, how do we think? How we think determines our course of action.

I am no expert in psychology and neither have I conducted systematic scientific research of any sort for the writing of this post, but these are just a series of questions that I found asking myself after making many informal, casual observations.

The general notion about people who live behind walls is that they are dying to get out and often we feel sorry for them. But after observing people that live behind walls, I’ve discovered that there are mainly three kinds of people. In other words, people generally think and therefore act in three different ways in response to life’s walls. Walls limit a person from becoming all that they can be. Physical walls restrict people from moving around physically and figurative walls set limitations on people that don’t allow them to reach the fullest potential as individuals.

So how do people behave when limitations are set on them? Well initially there is shock; a sense of “this can’t be actually happening!” But as time passes on, shock turns to denial and eventually there is an acceptance that living behind these walls must be the new norm.

Yet when you closely observe these people over a period of time, you see the emergence of the three groups of people that I mentioned earlier on:

First, you have the settlers, a group of people that have accepted that their life behind walls, is the new norm. So what do they do as part of this acceptance? They find others that think like them and form a subculture within the general population. As a subculture, they might even criticize those that don’t fit in their social circle. Their new world becomes what they see, feel, hear, smell, and taste within the confines of these walls. Within this subculture, one might even find a fight for power and dominance among the members of the group since all they know and live for exists within their limitations.

Then there are the navigators, the group that does not accept their life within walls as the norm. This is the group that believes that there’s more to life than living within walls. To them, living within these limitations is just a season in their life. While they take responsibility and accept that life’s circumstances have landed them where they are now, they also see the bigger picture and believe there is a purpose for which these limitations have been placed on them, perhaps to bring out the best in them. This group of people constantly invest time and energy in channeling through the waters of failure, shame, and fatigue with persistence to make it to the other side. They set their eyes on leaving a life with limitations to live a more abundant and free life. Finally, when they draw close to the verge of leaving their temporary home, there emerges a subgroup within the resistance.

Within the navigators, you find two kinds of people. One, the group of that wants to leave once they reach the walls, never to look back again. These people confront their limitations and make holes in the walls that have been keeping them inside. Once they are out, they are gone, never to be heard of again. But the second group of navigators not only want to get out for themselves but also want to see the settlers come out. These navigators don’t find satisfaction in making holes in the walls. They want to see the walls come down as a whole, never to exist again. At the point of exit, they look back with empathy on their brothers and sisters that live blind lives.

Which group do you belong in? Ever felt limited in life? After overcoming your limitation, did you look around to see if there were others in similar chains? Or did you just want to get out for yourself? Or are you a settler living in denial that there is a better world out there beyond the walls that limit you.

What is the wall that limits you today? Are you even aware of the walls that surround you?

Just being a wall-fly.

Don’t lose your joy!

A random Facebook status update from today:

“My new iPhone just took a ride on the outside back end of my car from the…Tag agency to a…pharmacy. What a thrill it must have had and it’s still alive!”

What is so interesting about this status and why do I quote it in here? Just thinking about the whole story, with this above situation, what little I know, makes me think that if I were in a similar situation, I probably would not have the same upbeat sentiments, at least as upbeat as this person was.

In everyday life, we all face similar situations (that could be frustrating if we choose) and we make them so much worse in our minds that they end up draining us of any joy or peace we had, if we had any to begin with. You can’t find your car keys, so you freak out. You lose something after you had it ten minutes prior, so you start panicking. You’re working on a work-related document or project and you typically save as you go. Then, when it’s critical, you forget to save, the computer freezes and you lose valuable work; you blow up with frustration.

The reality is, we have no reason to worry or even to be upset at the random interruptions of life. As I read in one devotional, sometimes interruptions are God’s way of speaking to us. At the end of the day, no matter what struggles we endure, minor or major, we are always in God’s hands and our security is in Him. He knows what we are going through every moment of every day and He will sustain us till the end.

So this is just an encouragement: do not let the little frustrations in life bring you down and steal your joy that comes from God!

Three Questions For Leaders

I’ve had a few challenging questions to myself and for all leaders lately, especially within Christian circles, and I pose these to myself, and to all who consider themselves to be in such roles. And this is you, even if you don’t realize it, as God may have given you a passion to lead or be an initiator of something that is inside you.

Here goes.

As leaders, if we do a thorough, honest, introspection, do we ever get caught in the trap of thinking that no matter what, we’re always right? That there isn’t something that we may have overlooked, because of human error or oversight? As leaders, does our ego get the best of us? Do we ever honestly think or believe that someone else could not possibly have a better solution than our idea? Are we stubborn to the idea of trying someone else’s way?

When it comes to being critical of others, do we draw a line b/w properly discerning when someone is in error and lovingly correcting them, also keeping them in prayer, and the other side of being outright critical of them in a non-loving manner (condemning/prematurely judging them)? Are we quick to jump to the judgmental side when trying to be Christ-like and loving is too difficult or requires a level of patience from us?

In the chaos of planning and organizing, do we as leaders lose sight of the initial goal of the project we’re involved with? Do we care like we used to about the people we were trying to help? Do we care that it’s become more about pride and ego than helping those people?

Just a few thoughts to ponder over. I know I will be. Because if we fail in in our leadership, the people we are “leading” are not getting what they signed up for, and valuable time is disappearing, for both them and us, while our organization could have been progressing and improving in the process.

Proving the Word to be Valid

I’ve heard it said that most in our Christian circles are “fed” with the Scripture, to the point that we have become “fat” after all the preachings and sermons we have heard. I believe this is incredibly true, as we put more focus on our attendance of meetings and listening to sermons than applying what we hear to our lives. We tend to automatically assume what is being said has no specific relevance to our life.

I say that to lead into this point:
When hearing sermons/messages, do we filter what is said through the speaker (who is a human with flaws but used of God for His glory) and not examine and prove/disprove what is said according to the standard that is the Scripture?

Our example should be the Bereans. Their story is found in Acts 17.
Verse 11 reads, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Paul and Silas came to Berea on Paul’s second missionary journey, which is believed to have taken place between 50 and 54 A.D.

They were found to have “more noble character” because of their eagerness to not only hear the Word that was spoken, but also to test what they heard and find it in the Scriptures.

My point is simply: When we hear a sermon or message from the Word of God through His messengers, do we approach it through the lens of understanding that God uses His servants, though they may be flawed and full of sin, to send His message? And that though we may not favor the speaker for whatever reason, the Word being spoken just may apply to us?

What distinguishes us as Christians?

A common theme has been recurring in several things I’ve been hearing/reading over the past few days, and it is centered in a question asked by Moses in Exodus 33:16 (NIV):
“How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

In the context of this passage, God had promised Moses that He would send an angel to lead the people into the Promised Land. But Moses’s passion was stirred, and he interceded for the Lord to personally lead the people. God answered his plea, and His presence is demonstrated personally to Moses in Ex. 33:17-34, 28; and publicly by the construction of the tabernacle (ESV Study Bible).
Moses understood that without God’s presence, they would not be a people set apart from other nations, so why travel any further?

But in the context of my point in this blog, what is it about “Christians” that separate us from nonbelievers in the world? Most of the people who identify themselves as “Christians” in today’s world talk the same, think the same, and do the same as any other person who does not proclaim faith in Jesus Christ. So why even bother being called a Christian? For appearance’s sake?

This has been provoking me personally lately, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it is time for those of us who claim to be Christians to stand for what we believe in and make our lives markedly different from nonbelievers. It is time for us to take the years of messages we have heard, and put some application into effect. Stop reading good books about how to be a good Christian; and just be one. To stop thinking that we are so good that we have the right to unnecessarily judge and criticize others, and to react to every situation seriously thinking, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus hold that grudge against that person? Would Jesus speak a harsh word unnecessarily, to tear an individual down, even if it’s not “that bad” in your personal biased judgment?

What will it take to convert those people around us who we want to become Christians? Many times, we ourselves are the stumbling block to others’ being saved. So why should someone follow Christ, especially when the person trying to convince them is not leading a Christ-like life?

I heard it said at a meeting regarding the subject of speaking the Word of God, that the worst thing we can do is push someone away from the faith by our lifestyle and actions, especially unknowingly.

Do we all share that sentiment? Do our habits, words, and actions speak Christ and life into others? Or do they speak harsh judgment and criticism? Do our lives lift others up or tear others down? And I mean our public and private lives.

Once you know that answer to that question, what is your response? Apathy or action? If it is apathy, please understand there is a world that needs Jesus, and there are people dying everyday without salvation.

If we have that sense of urgency, we will begin to change our lives. Then our world will transform around us. And Christ will be glorified.

I ask the original question again asked by Moses, posed to God, but in the context of today’s world: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”