July 29, 2009

Seeking First the Kingdom

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

When is the last time any of us worried about food or drink? Clothes? Not only do we rarely show signs of anxiety over any of these but our options are limitless when it comes to where we'll eat the next meal or cover our bodies in garments. Read this passage to someone in an underdeveloped country (or possibly even your local homeless person) and it will probably relate quite differently.

Jesus was talking about the essentials for human survival. Eating is essential. So is drinking water. Being clothed helps keep our sensitive skin from all the elements - heat, rays of the sun, rain, snow, cold, insects, etc. So, why would Jesus talk about a passage that is likely difficult for most of us in the western world to truly relate to. Maybe the prophet Isaiah will help;

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15)

God does not only make His home in the heights of Heaven. He also finds a place with the lowly and the contrite - those who show a sign of remorse for their sins. It explains why Jesus had such a heart for the poor. Even to the extent of comparing Himself to the poor - "whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers, you do unto me" (Matthew 25:40). Will it ever be possible for us to start looking out for the needs of others way before our own? Only if God fills our hearts with His concern and care for His children - especially the poor and those who can't help themselves.

God cares for us. Even when we worry or become anxious, He still cares. Our internal (or external) circumstances don't change how much He is willing and wanting to express His love towards us in the form of care. "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5: 6&7). If we truly believe God is creator of heaven and earth; when will we believe that He cares enough to love and look after us?

I'm challenged by the perspective Jesus gives us in overcoming worry. It boils down to priorities. Not seeing our condition as a hindrance but an opportunity for God's deliverance. God's point of view is from beginning to end. He sees our lives not in the way we do. He know "the plans He has for us" - all the way through.

Pray God helps us to:

Seek FIRST His Kingdom - all things that glorify Him in our lives and bring us under submission to His will.

Seek FIRST His Righteousness - a right-standing relationship with God through the salvation of His son, Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking first Jesus over everything else.

Trust that All "these things" will be added - food, drink and clothing (and even our very worry taken from us).

God, fill our eyes with the right perspective and focus. Guide us towards seeing your Kingdom and Jesus, Your righteousness. Give us hearts that are hungry for all things everlasting and pleasing to you. Keep us from treasures that will spoil. Help us to lay up treasures that will last. Fruit that keeps on producing. Give us the full measure of your Spirit so that we can live in right-standing with You. We can't do this alone. Forgive us for even trying. Forgive us our worry, the burdens we are weighed down by, and the anxiety that holds us back. We welcome Your presence into our lives anew today. I welcome Your presence into my life today. Prepare me to be a sanctuary for your freedom to someone in need of it today.

July 16, 2009

Some Trust in Chariots

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob defend you;
May He send you help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen you out of Zion;
May He remember all your offerings,
And accept your burnt sacrifice.

May He grant you according to your heart’s desire,
And fulfill all your purpose.
We will rejoice in your salvation,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners!
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.

Save, LORD!
May the King answer us when we call. (Psalm 20)

This Psalm has been a bright shining glimmer of hope in the midst of those days where I find myself overthrown by the reality of the impossible. Those days where I haven't known how I would keep moving. Times where I've wondered whether God was truly with me, even on the single occasion where I began cursing in my prayer time because I was so frustrated at my outward circumstances. I've even felt the voices challenging my faith to believe His Word that "with God ALL things are possible"(Matthew 19:26). Voices love to flood my heart and mind like sharp arrows hungry to celebrate my defeat. I can genuinely say that my faith has been tested over the past several months (and I pray will continue to be tested until the day I die - with the testing comes perfection - James 1). There have been times where I have, be it ever so slightly, entertained the voices of doubt and unbelief in such fundamental faith basics as the existence of God, the resurrection, God's concern for my seemingly insignificant life, the infallible Word, etc. When honesty trumps our fears, haven't we all questioned this or am I more human than most?

How much God has delivered absolute power and might to my spirit during this time of testing continues to shock me. His ways of overcoming doubt/unbelief have been many and varied. He has used primarily Scripture to come alive in my heart, to the point where I sometimes read a passage (like this Psalm) and wonder with astonishment at how beautifully it applies to my exact feelings or situations. My hunger for His word has grown so much and I find that if I don't have a daily dose, I begin to experience the adverse affects. The Lord has also used many friends and family members to speak sweet words of encouragement and support. On occasion, He has used a few key individuals to give me very specific "words" of wisdom/knowledge as outlined in 1 Cor. 12:8 - these have usually come as a total surprise (I have not gone looking for them) and have at times, brought me to tears because of how accurate they are to where I'm at or where I've been. Through it all, He has provided more abundantly than I could have ever imagined.

In the event that you haven't been keeping up with this blog or my walk so far this year, you can fill yourself in here and here. The short and sweet of it is that I left a very comfortable salary job to trust God to use my life 100% for the furthering of His kingdom. Most of my posts are directly attributed to what I've experienced personally as a result of this desire to follow Jesus where He has called me. I hadn't started this blog with the intent of sharing this with you, but it seems to apply appropriately. July marks month seven of having left behind a great job and committing all of my time and attention towards a vision God gave me to raise missionaries out of artists (and anyone else, really - aren't we all, who claim Christ as Lord, missionaries in one capacity or another? I don't believe discipleship-making was ever meant to be optional. "We are all called according to His purpose" - Romans 8:28). In the past seven months my family has never gone without food, water, or a roof over our heads. I haven't received compensation from an employer in those seven months and yet God has allowed us to pay every bill and our mortgage (to be fair, I have had one bank overdraft and the Lord has many times stretched us about as thin as possible). He has provided provision in just about every way possible - the generosity of others, retirement funds, unexpected inheritance money, selling off of earthly possessions, etc. etc. Just this past Sunday I was able to tithe more money to our church (at one time) than I ever had done working a full-time, salaried job. Only God! Now, none of this is to say that I've done even an ounce of it on my own, it was (and will always continue to be) ALL His mercy. Times ahead may still be very tough going - so much work is yet to be done and we have many obstacles/situations to overcome, but God's faithfulness in seeing His plan through has been a daily wonder.

I have likely prayed Psalm 20 nearly every day for the past three months, that's how much it has meant to me. If you are enduring any trial, testing, tribulation, or any obstacle larger than what you are able to accomplish, I'd encourage you to begin the daily meditation of this passage. You should also look at it in different translations (I love Bible Gateway for this). Here's the same passage from "The Message":

God answer you on the day you crash, The name God-of-Jacob put you out of harm's reach,
Send reinforcements from Holy Hill,
Dispatch from Zion fresh supplies,
Exclaim over your offerings,
Celebrate your sacrifices,
Give you what your heart desires,
Accomplish your plans.

When you win, we plan to raise the roof
and lead the parade with our banners.
May all your wishes come true!

That clinches it—help's coming,
an answer's on the way,
everything's going to work out.

See those people polishing their chariots,
and those others grooming their horses?
But we're making garlands for God our God.
The chariots will rust,
those horses pull up lame—
and we'll be on our feet, standing tall.

Make the king a winner, God;
the day we call, give us your answer.

The Psalm sums it up far better than I ever could. For the sake of a closing statement, please stop trusting in your own chariots or horses. Remember the Name of the Lord your God. May the Lord answer you, May He defend you, May He send you help, strengthen you, and remember every one of your offerings/sacrifices. May He grant your heart's desire and fulfill ALL your purpose. We'll rejoice and set up banners in God's name over your success.

May our King answer you when you call!

July 6, 2009

So You Wanna Be A Rock Star

For as long as he could remember, Keith Green's greatest dream was to be a musical success. After he gave his life to Jesus, however, he felt the need to surrender those dreams and aspirations by laying down his music...perhaps never to perform publicly again. Ironically, when sometime later he felt God release him to pick up his music again, he soon had a recording contract and his first album soared straight to the top of the Contemporary Christian Music charts.

The following message was birthed out of Keith's encounters with those who approached him, usually after a concert, to ask how they too could "make it big" in Christian music.

(Note: This is an all too familiar repeat question I've heard over the years and I actually thought about writing on the topic until I came across this piece by Keith Green. If you don't know who Keith is, click here and then do yourself a favor by running to Amazon.com and picking up a copy of his autobiography titled "No Compromise". If there's ever been an individual in the music world who has inspired me to walk more like Jesus, it's been Keith Green)

Today, so many people ask me if I can tell them how they can start or enter into a music ministry. At concerts I get countless questions about this, and I also get lots of letters and even some long-distance phone calls from many people who feel they are only "called" into the music "ministry." One day I began to ask myself why so few have ever asked me how to become a missionary, or even a local street preacher, or how to disciple a new believer. It seems everyone would prefer the "bright lights" of what they think a music ministry would be, rather than the mud and obscurity of the mission field, or the streets of the ghetto, or even the true spiritual sweetness of just being a nobody whom the Lord uses mightily in small "everyday" ways.

My answer to their question is almost always the same. "Are you willing to never play music again? Are you willing to be nothing? Are you willing to go anywhere and do anything for Christ? Are you willing to stay right where you are and let the Lord do great things through you, though no one may seem to notice at all?" They all seem to answer each of these questions with a quick "yes!" But I really doubt if they know what their answer entails.

My dearest family in Jesus...why are we so star struck? Why do we idolize Christian singers and speakers? We go from glorifying musicians in the world, to glorifying Christian musicians. It's all idolatry! Can't you see that? It's true that there are many men and women of God who are greatly anointed to call down the Spirit of God on His people and the unsaved. But Satan is getting a great victory as we seem to worship these ministers on tapes and records, and clamor to get their autographs in churches and concert halls from coast to coast.

Can't you see that you are hurting these ministers? They try desperately to tell you that they don't deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more. You're smothering them, making it almost impossible for them to see that it's really Jesus. They keep telling themselves that, but you keep telling them it's really them, crushing their humility and grieving the Spirit that is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.

Ultimately, what we idolize we ourselves desire to become, sometimes with our whole heart. So a lot of people who want to become just like their favorite Gospel singer or minister, seek after it with the same fervor that the Lord demands we seek after Him! And again, we insult the Spirit of Grace and try to make a place for ourselves, rather than a place for Jesus.

How come no one idolizes or praises the missionaries who give up everything and live in poverty, endangering their lives and families with every danger that the "American dream" has almost completely eliminated? How come no one lifts up and exalts the ghetto and prison ministers who can never take up an offering, because if they did they would either laugh or cry at what they'd receive?

Because (1) we're taught from very early on that comfort is our goal and security… and (2) that we should always seek for a lot of people to like us. Who lives less comfortably and has had less friends and supporters than the selfless missionaries who have suffered untimely, premature deaths trying to conquer souls and nations for the whole glory of God? Do you really believe we're living in the very last times? Then why do you spend more money on Gospel records and concerts than you give to organizations that feed the poor, or to missionaries out in the field?

There are ministries all over the world where "penniless" people are being saved and transformed. They are broken people who have promise and qualities, but just need someone to bring them God's light during the times when their lives seem so completely hopeless.

I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into Godly jealousy (Romans 11:11) or to sell out more completely to Jesus!

Quit trying to make "gods" out of music ministers, and quit desiring to become like them. The Lord commands you, "Deny yourself take up your cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). My piano is not my cross, it is my tool. I'd never play it again if God would show me a more effective tool in my life for proclaiming His Gospel.[God gives us each our own unique tools. But we may never use them if we become more interested in someone else's. Seek God, ask Him for His plan for ministry (true, God glorifying ministry) in your life.]

To finish, let me say that the only music minister to whom the Lord will say, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant," is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only worthy One has to be a minister's most important goal!

Let's all repent of the idolatry in our hearts and our desires for a comfortable, rewarding life when, really, the Bible tells us we are just passing through as strangers and pilgrims in this world (Hebrews 11:13), for our reward is in heaven. Let's not forget that our due service to the Lord is "... not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake"(Phil. 1:29).

Amen. Let us die graciously together and endure to the end like brave soldiers who give their lives, without hesitation, for our noble and glorious King of Light. - Keith Green

P.S. I had not stumbled upon this article until a few days ago but I don't think a more perfect piece exists to help clarify why I've walked away from the music business to turn my every effort towards raising missionaries out of artists. I've seen many incredibly gifted people run dry on their faith; I've witnessed countless bands go from barely nothing to nearly something, but rarely ever have I seen "rockstars" willing to leave it all behind just to pursue a depth of relationship with Jesus by serving others. God help us.