Friday, January 29, 2016

Living out of Your Own Suitcase

Jesus gave us the greatest demonstration of God’s love in the servanthood that he embraced. He said that “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mat 20:28). Isaiah the prophet introduced Jesus as the servant, “And now the Lord says —
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength” —  (Isa 49:5). Jesus showed us how to live as a servant. Paul said we should be like him, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7).

We have everything we need to be a servant. God made each of us to serve others on this planet. He gave us the tools to do the job when he designed us. He packed our suitcase for us because he knew what we would need. David describes our uniqueness in these words, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalms 139:15-16). When God created each of us, he chose the right temperament, the right personality, the right features, and everything about you was part of his plan. No mistakes and therefore no reason to think that you are inadequate for the calling God has for you.

Several years ago my father accompanied me on a trip to speak at youth camp in Salta, one of the northern provinces of Argentina. We rode a bus to get there with all the luggage stacked on top of the bus. When we arrived in Salta several hours later, my dad’s suitcase was not there. He had to live out of my suitcase for the entire camp. It was uncomfortable because he had to wear clothes that didn’t fit him properly. Everyone has their own things they feel most comfortable with, so it was definitely an inconvenience.  In a few days we returned home and an interesting thing happened later that week in the city of Tucuman where we lived. Our neighbour, Mussy after hearing of our plight with the missing suitcase, noticed in the newspaper that the police had published a notice of a suitcase belonging to Mr. G. N. Brooks. We immediately went to the police and surprisingly were able to reclaim the lost suitcase. Even though it had fallen off the bus over 200 miles away, someone had dropped it off in our city.

It’s ironic in life though how many people have misplaced or lost their God-given suitcase. They are living life out of someone else’s suitcase. They are impressed with someone else’s talent or skill or beauty, and they are trying to be somebody else. Sometimes we allow other people to give us their suitcase, such as a parent or grandparent. How much better to find your own suitcase of skills, talents, personality and use what God has given you for his glory. Only when we are who we were meant to be will we be content, and we were meant to be God’s servants.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Getting the Big Picture

Sometimes life can be so humdrum and repetitious that we fail to see the big picture. Georges Seurat was a big picture person. He introduced a technique known as pointillism, which is a portrait painted from thousands of tiny dots. From up close it just looks like so many dots, but as you back away the picture begins to emerge. The Bible is a big picture book even though it is filled with thousands of details.[1]

As we read through the Pentateuch, we can get lost in the details of Exodus and Leviticus, so it is helpful to back away and try to get the big picture of what God is doing. Exodus 29:45-46 helps us do just that: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”

This is God saying the reason I brought you out of Egypt and gave you a tabernacle and a priesthood in the wilderness was to make it possible for us to dwell together. The whole idea of the God of heaven making his dwelling on earth is incomprehensible. This is, however, the big picture. It’s what God wants for us. He wants to make us holy so we can serve him and fulfill his glorious purpose in our lives.  

We have so many distractions in life that it makes it hard for us to see God’s big picture for our lives. We struggle with our health, our money, our interpersonal relationships and so many other things—and they all just look like dots. As we get quiet and focus on God’s big picture, we see so much more. We see what really matters in life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about death shortly before he was executed by Hitler. It’s clear as he painted a big picture with his words that God had helped him focus on what really mattered:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence. Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up—that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death. [2]

[1]Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005, P. 911.
[2] Metaxas, Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Location 10448-10454

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Correcting the Distortion

When things get distorted, we go to the person who can help us get it right. When the car is in an accident, we go to the auto body shop; when the roof leaks, we find a roofer. But who do we go to when we find our purpose in life has been distorted? The answer is Jesus.

We were created in God’s image, and as such intended to live out God’s purposes in our lives. Satan, however, God’s enemy who is filled with hatred for God, tries to distort God’s purposes in his creation. What better place to do that than in people—the apex of God’s creation.

After the night when Jesus calmed the storm, he and his disciples landed on the opposite shore. There they met a scary looking and even stranger acting man, who wore no clothes and lived in a graveyard (Luke 8:26-39). The reason behind his bizarre behavior was that he was demon-possessed.

The poor man’s existence was miserable. He cried out and cut himself in an attempt to get relief from these unclean spirits who controlled him. No doubt he had infections and chronic pain from the constant torturing of his own body. Like a wild animal, the man was naked and filthy, unrestrainable, frightening anyone who came near him.

Deep inside, the man longed to be free from the repulsive demons. No one could do anything for him—that is until Jesus came on the scene. When Jesus asked the man his name, the demons replied “Legion,” which meant he was possessed by a multitude of evil spirits. Jesus sent the evil spirits out and into a herd of pigs feeding nearby. The pigs were undoubtedly startled by the demons and stamped­ed headlong over a cliff into the Sea of Galilee.

Luke then describes the man free of the demons sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). The destruction of the pigs and disappearance of the demons marked the transformation of the lunatic man. One word from Jesus had set him free and restored his sanity.

No matter what trap you find yourself in, be it some kind of addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography, Jesus can change you. No matter how much God’s image in you has been distorted, Jesus can restore it. Jesus can heal and transform your life the way he did in this man.

We often had our propane gas cylinders stolen at the Bible School in Argentina where we ministered until we built a fence. When we had several stolen, I would go to the villa (getto) and buy the cylinders back. I would say, “El dueno ha venido a comprar lo suyo” (the owner has come to buy back what is his). This is what Jesus did for us when he went to the cross. His death can atone for all our sin and give us back our God-given purpose in life. Jesus corrects the distortion sin has caused in our lives.