God is my Creator and Shaper, measuring out my afflictions to the exact ounce, that is needed to conform this wretched-prone flesh to the image of His Son. Knowing the exact moment to remove that protective hedge that He so graciously provides day in and day out, so that our rotten flesh doesn’t construct a pedestal out of the very gifts the He has lovingly bestowed on us to display HIS glory. And although He removes it, for but a moment, the terror and shaken faith, seem to linger long afterwards. God loved me yesterday in a big way, reminding me of how weak and dependent I am on Him, as well as, refocusing my eyes on my one and only love, Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.
Keep me in prayer, I need them, yesterday morning was a rough morning with blow by blow being rendered to me by the enemy of my soul and father of lies, paralyzed with fear and sadness, I was spiraling down to a pit of self destruction. I spent the majority of the day crying out to God in prayer, marinating my mind by huddling over God’s word, devouring every word as if I had just been released from a spiritual concentration camp in which I hadn’t eaten for days, and listening to songs of praise, that reminded me of the greatness of God. As deep as the pain that kept my knees bent, my back stooped, and streams of tears flowing, my love and longing for the Lord was infinitely greater. With all that said….. GOD is good…. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” [Psalms 40:2].
I can do very little justice in describing the experience of folding under the weight of pain, and in the same breath having a love and longing for God that permeates every cell in my body causing me to tremble, a longing so deep that you want to be in His presence right now, fully knowing that means to be absent from the body. There are not words to express the joy that is found in a pain that cuts so deep, that it will cause you from the bottom of your heart to cry out, “I am done living as dan”…. or…. “I hate my life and will, I want nothing of this world outside of Christ crucified, I don’t want to live unless it is Christ who lives in me”…. fully aware of the pain and suffering that will mean, a pain that allows you to see that separate from Christ, life and all its vain pleasures and pursuits (good or bad), are worthless, I don’t care if it’s a family, or a church, or even a ministry, if Christ is not the rock on which you stand and serve, than it is worthless, a façade and a mist, that will be burned up in an instant.
If you have experienced this, then you will resonate well with these words, if not than I will sound like a complete lunatic that has lost his mind, and I won’t argue with you on that point, but I will take it further, I have not only lost my mind, but my will, my life, and anything else that has my fingerprints on it. 1 Cor 2:16, I have the mind of Christ, and now God is shaping me to have the life and desires of Christ (separate from perfection and making atonement for sins with my death). Jesus says in Matt 16:24, “if anyone would come after me, take up his cross and follow me”, I LONG to follow Christ, and I am through with trying to follow Him my way with just a few of my comforts and desires sprinkled throughout my walk. I trust God and know that He will fulfill me and satisfy me way more than those puny comforts that I have a Kung-fu death grip on. What’s more exciting is most everything that I give up He gives back to me, but now I can enjoy it all the more because it doesn’t own me, and I recognize that God has given it to me to enjoy. But today I have a deeper desire and understanding to live Matt 16:24 out.
I am most definitely a work in progress, along with all other believers, but after God, by His grace and Spirit, has rid me of virtually all the “ugly sins”, meaning the sins that are most visible from the outside (drunkenness, sexual immorality, lust, fits of anger…etc.), I got comfortable. I kinda settled into this nice plush “lazy-boy” recliner that was my version of Christianity. Sure a lot of sacrifices were made to get there, a lot of chiseling away by God’s Spirit to get me to this place, a lot of “big” steps in faith, on my part were taken. But now I sit back, and remain behind this hedge and just stay away from sin, stay in God’s word daily, pray to God daily, all while going to church and serving. These are most certainly all important components of our walk with the Lord, but the key word is WALK. Our relationship with the Lord is active not stagnant, if God has brought you to one place be assured that it is not final. Sure there may be a time of respite or training, but our faith is always active. Now I see the words of Christ in Matt 16, in a new light, the cross has always been a symbol of suffering and pain, as well as death. In order to follow Christ, we will, as promised by Christ experience pain and suffering, the crucifying of the flesh [Gal 5:24], does not feel good, it hurts. But the reality and the identity to which I am in Christ, is exactly what Paul wrote to the Romans, “our old self was crucified” [6:6]. Matthew 7:21-23 is one of my most feared passages, but it reminds me constantly of the relationship that is needed for salvation and not the works. Many come to the Lord with all kinds of works, big works too, prophesying and casting out demons, but He will say “depart from me, I never knew you”. Christ reminds me, it is not the works that show the relationship with Him, but those that do the “will of the Father”, which works are inevitably a part of. But it is important to note this huge distinction, that ultimately regardless of what service or good work you are “sacrificially” doing, it must be done according to God’s will. Doing the will of the Father is by no means a checklist; swept the carpet, cleaned the counters, cast out demons…..ok I’m good. 1 Thess 4:3-7 tell us His will is our sanctification, which is telling us, His will is that we are set apart for His purpose. We are set apart for HIS purpose, it is HIS will that we are submit to, not ours, no matter how innocent or “good” we think our will is. That is why Christ among other things is our Divine example to follow the Fathers will, He did it perfectly and unto death.
This is huge, and we cant miss this! God in His matchless love, power, and strength, had begun to use me in the lives of individuals, He was directing my feet on paths that I would never have chosen for myself, and the whole time providing the grace to accomplish His will. He bestowed upon me the very grace and mercy that I was called to share. This calling is daunting to say the least, but when in the middle of obedience, I didn’t question it, I just surrendered and moved forward one step at a time. I have fears and anxieties, I can’t front, being a white male in a suit (with hair like mine) picking up patients in gang and cartel riddled barrio’s, not knowing if I am going to make the 6:00 news or not, is scary. This is without a doubt a sacrifice on several levels, and for about a year or so, I was being led solely by God’s Spirit, asking for prayers and knowing whatever happens on this path of obedience has been directed and decreed by God. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus, after knowing the thoughts of the Pharisees when He dined with the sinners and tax collectors, said “for I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. Sacrifice can be thoughtless and heartless, it can be something done with impure, prideful, or gainful and greedy motives. Mercy, comes from the Father, and He desires us to share it with others. I am not sure when it happened but sometime over the last few months, things changed in my serving, and not for the good.
There was this undeniable burden (even though I tried to deny it) carrying out my service to less than desirable people, tax collectors would have looked like choir boys next to these guys. I did not notice it immediately, but my talk about the Gospel was sporadic at best, and I had such tunnel vision to get the “job” done and the effort that I was expending to do it. I lost my focus; I was missing the forest through the trees, I was not going to these places for the money, that is for sure, there is no amount of money in the world that would compel me to go in harms way. No this was much bigger, I was driven by the power of the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, [Romans 1:16]. I am not willing to die for money, but I am willing to die for Christ, especially if there is a soul on the other side of my obedience. But somewhere in my walk, my gaze was lifted off of Jesus onto my circumstances [Matt 14:30], and I began to sink.
I saw over the last few months, not that I wanted it, but my compassion for people (specifically the lost) went down a little, the same drive and fervor to infiltrate their lives was not present like it had been at one time, and there were more frustrations on my heart with any and all unforeseen bumps in the road. I am still unclear as to why, maybe just because there was an increase focus on the temporal instead of the eternal, but regardless, yesterday was very tough but it drove me to my knees, a place in which I am getting comfortable, it drove me to God in contrition and repentance, and I saw a lot of filth in my life that was not submitting to Gods will. My flesh wants to justify thoughts like “everyone needs to rest”…. and….“you can’t possibly do everything”, and although there is some truth there, when God lays an opportunity before me and conviction on my heart, my flesh wants to default to these justifications as a way to not be obedient, and that is not the calling of a Christian, we are to daily pick up the cross and follow Christ, it is not a choice or suggestion.
The Christian life and walk will require death to self, hence the name of my blog, and daily choices that cause death to my flesh are painful and difficult, not that we are called to misery, that is not our calling at all, but I see how in obedience to Christ and God’s will, there is more joy and fulfillment than anything in all of creation, but I allow the lies from the devil to permeate my flesh, that I am entitled to some sort of schedule, as if I put a sign on the door of my heart to Christ “Gone Fishing”….or ….”Open from 9am-5pm”, or when God calls, He gets my voicemail, “closed for the weekend…call back during regular business hours”. And when I am called to serve in a capacity outside those self imposed constraints, than I justify my disobedience, which is really faithlessness, in the form of “well I can’t possibly be asked to do that”…. or …. “it is not fair, it’s not even my job”, I am sick of living life according to me, and I certainly don’t want what’s fair. Fair is eternal death, how dare I complain, as a child of God, about what is fair, or try to give God conditions on how I am to be used in His Kingdom and for His purpose.
My obedience to Christ is not contingent on what is fair, in fact it is the exact opposite, I have been saved by grace through faith, a grace that gave me what I absolutely don’t deserve. My obedience to Christ is not contingent on what is easy, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and few are those that find it”. However and this is a resounding point to be made, my obedience to Christ is not miserable and burdensome…”my yoke is light and burden is easy”. The greater the task, the greater the grace to accomplish it and the greater fulfillment and the joy in the obedience of God’s will, because the greater the glory it brings to God. This, my beloved friends is FAITH, do I trust God enough, that even when a scary and difficult task is laid before me, that He will supply my needs [Philippians 4:19]. Or do I trust that God can really satisfy me through obedience.
Lord you alone know my heart, and I can masquerade around life, (even with this blog), and show the curb appeal that I think is desired, but I know, all is known by You and one day all that is in secret will be known by all [Luke 8:17]. Father I pray that by Your grace and Your Spirit, that the gap of hypocrisy of what is being displayed on the outside will be closed and what is being shown is simply a display of Your glory working in me, on me and through me. I pray that I resolve to take that cross and follow Christ, knowing there is nothing on earth that I will loose or experience that will compare to the joy and hope that are found in Christ alone. I pray that I can be an extension of the sufferings of Christ [Col 1:24], by bringing the sufferings of Christ that occurred 2000 years ago, to my neighbor today or my patient tomorrow, and thus bear tangible testimony of the resurrection of Christ, and the faith I have that Christ alone is in deed worth my entire life and comfort to be spent fervently sharing His message.
I have to leave you with the same questions that I was pondering yesterday. Where is your line in the sand when it comes to lost souls, and carrying out Gods will? How far, is to far, to drive for a soul being seared by the flames of hell? What time of the morning or evening is to early or to late, to deliver the power of God for salvation? What if God was preoccupied when you cried out to Him, or what if Jesus had a line in the sand for lost souls that He would not cross?
These were the questions that God gave me to ponder and to wake me up from my spiritual coma. I cant speak for anyone else, and I am new at this, but doesn’t God call for our lives, and doesn’t He deserve them. I don’t know what it was that caused me to slip into self-absorbed state of “woe is me”, but it was scary and if it had not been for God’s grace and love, who knows how far I might have gone. I can already see early on in my walk just how many angles the devil can hit us from. It was all to easy to fall into the race of Christian (for lack of a better word) politics, that is not even the right word, but I see how I got so engrossed in serving and using the gifts that God has graciously given me, that I started to focus on the details of church life, “the proper way to do this and that”. I saw maybe how my love of Christ was slowly starting to shift over to the Church and the new attention I was getting for serving the church. Please don’t misunderstand me, the NT says a lot about how we are to love our brothers and sisters, but Christ, hands down needs to be our focal point and source of that love.
I noticed when I am truly and earnestly seeking God and actively abiding in Christ, all the minuscule details in church or work that I used to criticize become trivial, because now my eyes and heart are fixated on the Savior who has poured His life out for you and me. And instead of being burdened, and in turmoil with serving at church or at work, my heart is burdened and grieved by the souls in my sphere of influence that I have not invested in because I was busy being a “good” Christian. Whatever it may cost you, to reach that soul, it can’t compare to what it is going to cost them, if you don’t!
Take it from a man who died bringing the message of Christ crucified to a lost tribe, he didn’t get a chance to see the fruit of his labor, but now he can look down without regret knowing he was obedient to Gods calling unto death.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” -Jim Elliot
May the Father of our Lord and Savoir be glorified forever and ever!!