“Here Am I. Send Me.”

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In the Book of Isaiah, chapter six, we find a jewel in the collection of God calling/man responding accounts. Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

As the body of Christ, we are privileged to partner with the Godhead in ministry. 

The prophet is clear in his reply, “Here am I. Send me.” The Lord says “Go”; Isaiah asks “How long?” The Lord says “Until.” This to me is a common template for our glorious partnership with God: the willing surrenderthe sendingthe request for claritythe mystery.

Asking questions is not a lack of faith, but rather a tilling of the heart’s soil, unto ever-deepening relationship. 

What then is the preparation unto the point of being ready to respond “Here am I. Send me”? What is it that will keep our hearts postured to accept the Lord’s invite? I would propose two primary elements.

First, Isaiah saw the Lord. Second, he was undone. (6:1-5) The tender place of worship and being “undone” by His holiness – this is the heart that the Godhead esteems ready for assignment.

The glaring need for preparation is illustrated for us about a hundred years after Isaiah’s time. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:30)

God is looking for someone to send. The volunteer pool was dry. Rather than a vision of God and encounter with His holiness, there was among the troops what God called a “conspiracy” – an unlawful alliance akin to treason.

“The conspiracy of her prophets… they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy… Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken. (v.25,26,28)

First, they were lacking the “edge” of holiness; the “undone” quality was missing. Second, they fell into compromise and people-pleasing. Meanwhile, God was seeking but found no one. The man who would eventually rise to stand in the gap was the prophet Daniel.

“When he had spoken such words to me, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength. For how can this servant of my lord talk with you, my lord? As for me, no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me.’ Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, ‘O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!’ So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, ‘Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.’” (Daniel 10:15-19)

The same touch that makes us “undone” in our weakness, is the same touch that imparts to us strength. The time in between, no man can measure or predict. This we know: it is the preparation for sending.

 

 

 

 

 

Like-Minded Sent Ones

small_5438150166“I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly…For I have no one like-minded…all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22)

This passage is an inspiring template for me. I desire to be as Timothy, a proven and trusted “like-minded one” sent and entrusted with mission. I also desire to be a leader like Paul, who grows kindred sons in the faith.

The word of caution here is a sobering one: All seek their own, not the things which are of Christ. I don’t want to be found here, ever.

Paul and Timothy are a microcosm of the global expression of Father and Jesus. The perfectly like-minded Son, exact representation of God, was sent on a mission. “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to”, Jesus said to His Father. Then he prays for the sons that served alongside of Him: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:4,18)

“Serving sons” become fathers in the faith. 

Jesus already was a serving Son, but humankind needed an “Adam” to flesh it out for us. He was a living, unfolding, dramatization of how a son serves with his father. The only reason any of us can be Christ-like at all is because, “The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor.15:45)

It is “Christ in me” that powers my sonship.

Being a “sent one” is not without risk. We are sons and daughters on a mission in hostile waters. The parable in Matthew’s gospel (Ch.21) illustrates the danger. A certain landowner who planted a vineyard sent his servants to collect the fruit from the vine-dressers. They were mistreated until the owner decided to send his own son. “Surely they will respect my son”, he thought.

When the wicked men saw the son, they conspired, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and seize his inheritance.” The enemy conspires still today, seeking to plunder the inheritance of the heirs. (That’s you and me.) His aim is to mar and taint any representation of Christ in the earth.

God will send His Son again. The owner of the vineyard will return to the planet to settle accounts. The epilogue to the parable testifies to the futility of the enemy’s scheme.

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt.21:42,44)

As living stones we have a portion in the Cornerstone. We are “kindred spirit” with the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” (Hebrews 3:1) Like Jesus we will be rejected; like Jesus we will rule and reign, both in this age and the age to come.

Such is the privilege of the “like-minded.”

The Trail is Marked

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I am not a hiker by any means. But if I was, I would be concerned about the trails being properly marked. I did a little research. In the world of trail marking there is something called a “blaze.”

A blaze is a rectangle of paint in a prominent place along a trail. White-paint blazes two inches wide and six inches high mark the Appalachian Trail. (Which by the way is the nation’s longest marked trail – runs through 14 states and is over 2100 miles long.) Side trails and shelter trails use blue blazes; blazes of other colors and shapes mark other intersecting trails. 

Wow! Experienced hikers understand what all that means. There’s another trail that behooves us to know its’ markers, and that is the spiritual journey we are on.

I will soon be celebrating my 40 year anniversary of being a follower of Christ. Yes, I’ve been on some trails and learned some life lessons. All disciples are called to travel; no such thing as a “stay at home disciple.” 

I think one of the greatest secrets I’ve learned is found in the words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. “But after I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (14:28)

The times when I most intensely seek the Lord’s guidance is when I can’t see the way and I need a breakthrough. Those 40 years of experience have not earned me a “cruise control” faith that never wavers; but they have taught me that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare the way.

Looking for trail markings? Need a breakthrough today? Peruse with me three insights from the Word…

“The Breaker [the Messiah] will go up before them. They will break through, pass in through the gate and go out through it, and their King will pass on before them, the Lord at their head.” (Micah 2:13) Need blazes on your trail? Gates not opening for you? Call on the Breaker!

“So [Israel] came up to Baal-perazim, and David smote [the Philistines] there. Then David said, God has broken my enemies by my hand, like the bursting forth of waters. Therefore they called the name of that place Baal-perazim [Lord of breaking through].” (1 Chronicles 14:11) I think it’s important to note here that we participate with the Lord in the breakthrough. He will break your enemies by your hand. 

“And when she was in labor, one baby put out his hand; and the midwife took his hand and bound upon it a scarlet thread, saying, This baby was born first. But he drew back his hand, and behold, his brother was born first. And she said, What a breaking forth you have made for yourself! Therefore his name was called Perez [breaking forth].” (Genesis 38:28-29)

I love the words of the midwife: What a breaking forth you have made for yourself! (Perez, the child by Judah and Tamar, is listed in the genealogy of Christ. Matthew 1:3)

Trust Him today to birth His promises in and through your life. Trust Him for the breakthrough.blaze_on_rock

Jesus always goes on ahead, leaving us a trail to follow.

The Other Four Stones

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“We will not sit down until he arrives.”  He knew there was a king amongst the sons of Jesse and there was only one that had not yet passed beneath his keen eye. Like Simeon to come, Samuel’s horn was filled with oil as he awaited the entrance of a future king. Prophets carry a sense of urgency within; the Holy Spirit beckoning through them: I’ve called this one; I’ve chosen that one. Raise them up; anoint them – to fulfill their calling.

The greatest prophet is Jesus Christ – the Bridegroom,  horn full of oil, sent to call out kings and priests into their assignments. Only a small fraction will be national figures like King David, but every one of us is called to be a giant slayer.

David was around 16 years old when he was anointed by Samuel. He would not actually rule as king till some 14 years later. In God’s training there is a selection process and there is a development process.

Even before he was called in from the field, he was learning valuable life lessons in his marketplace job. No doubt this included practice with the sling & stone. It took only one to slay the giant, but he had four others in his pouch.

Let’s look at the other four stonesfour principles, or life lessons, foundational to having breakthrough and being consistent in victory.

DAVID WAS FAITHFUL IN LITTLE BEFORE GOD GAVE HIM MUCH

Imagine yourself as a worship leader looking for a ministry assignment. A door opens up to serve at a church where the Holy Spirit has left the senior pastor and he is battling demonic oppression. What an opportunity!!

God leads him to function in the area of worship, serving this man who was no longer under God’s favor. I can only imagine Saul being a bit draining to be around. This would not be my choice of a man to serve under. Meanwhile, David’s part time job continues to be caring for the sheep.

DAVID OVERCAME A NON-SUPPORTIVE FAMILY STRUCTURE

One day, David was dispatched by his father to bring food to the troops. He made inquiry amongst the troops about what the reward would be for the one who killed the giant. His elder brother heard him and became angry: Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle. (17:28)

Jesus had a similar experience with his own siblings. “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:3-5)

The giants to be overcome are not just “out there”; they can also be right in the midst of our families or lodged into the identity stream of our memories.

Everyone seems to be tested in two family arenas: family of origin and church family. These are institutions ordained by God. They carry great potential for healing and great potential for wounding.

To the natural mind, it makes sense to avoid relationships, if you’ve been hurt. David could have easily just focused on his regular job and kept his distance from the dysfunctional families. (I can worship God just as well out here in the fields and not have to deal with these people!)

We will all have to deal with pain at some level over the course of life. We are hurt in the context of relationships; we are healed in the context of relationships.

DAVID KNEW WHAT WAS RIGHT AND COMFORTABLE FOR HIMSELF

Others may have molded you in the past when you had no choice in the matter but now you do have a choice. Let God into every area of your life, so that he can guide you into honing your gifts, calling, and ministry style. (Note: David’s refusing Saul’s armor is not to be confused with passivity or refusing to learn new skills. In other words, God will at times call you out of your comfort zone into something brand new. I would not advise using “Saul’s armor” as a loophole response.)

DAVID DID NOT REMAIN IN A DEFENSIVE POSTURE. HE TOOK THE INITIATIVE

Your giants won’t fall unless you go out to meet them. Victories are not won standing still.

God is calling us to “enlargement.” He will even motivate us to run to the battle by making our places of retreat and false security, too miserable to remain in.

The other four stones: let’s review these principles of preparation.

THE STONE OF FAITHFULNESS

Apply what God has already shown you. Be faithful in the little. David ministered to a lousy boss that even God left. He took care of some sheep in no man’s land, risking his life against wild beasts.

THE STONE OF RECONCILIATION

Wounds from the family must be resolved not buried.

THE STONE OF UNIQUENESS

Don’t wear what others put on you. Be who you are in Christ.

THE STONE OF ACTION

Move towards the place where boundaries are enlarged. Don’t run from the battle. Don’t play “defense” all the time.

Do we have these stones in our pouch?

When your Goliath is not falling, there will be clues in one or more of these areas.

photo credit: StevenANichols via photopin cc

Mystery Incarnate

Over the past forty years of following Christ, I find the path behind me strewn with clarity. God is faithful. How could I have ever doubted? Yet when I am hedged in by difficult circumstances and unanswered questions, not knowing the end of my current story can feel lethal.

Continue reading here

The Fruitful Vacancy

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We live a lifetime of transitions. “Things end, there is a time of fertile emptiness, and then things begin anew.” I love the pairing of these two: “fertile” & “empty” – a productive, fruitful season of being vacant. We must learn how to navigate these transitional waters in our marriage journey.

We often describe this launching pad to change as a trial or a wilderness season. In our humanness, we just want it to end so we can feel good again and have tranquility in our lives. God sees the deeper purpose, working the faith muscle to build strength. A friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t pull me out of what He can perfect me through.” I have discovered over and over again that what God prizes is the interaction with my heart. One sign of maturity is when we prize intimacy, our encounters with God, higher than the end of the test.

Transitions are predictable, planned, and welcomed. They are also unpredictable, not planned, and traumatic; which is what I experienced in year twelve of our marriage. We had been on pastoral staff of a church for ten years and felt fruitful, comfortable, and content. (Does the word “pruning” come to mind?) Our three children, ages 8, 10, and 11, were integrated into the church family, had good friends, and we lived in a very nice, upscale parsonage. None of us desired to move. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to be initiated into a new adventure.

We were chosen to take the reins of a small church in a nearby city, whose pastor was retiring. It was challenging, as the church had suffered a failed building program, leaving them saddled with debt. One night after a board meeting at the new church they took us to see our proposed new living quarters. We went from “upscale” to “no scale!” It was pretty bad. The house had an oil burning furnace; we could see black soot on the furniture. The carpet was old and soiled and the odor was less than fragrant.

We decided to rent an apartment for a year while the church had the house remodeled. It was a major downgrade from our last house but it was livable; kind of cute actually, like a little cottage. My boys had a bedroom with a slanted roof, which had been an add-on to the back of the house. As they grew taller, we had to move their beds to the “short side” of the room. My daughter’s bedroom was the former exterior shed that was adjacent to the house. It was small, but enough for the essentials – bed, dresser, and guinea pig cage.

I know other guys in ministry whose wives would not have settled for such a scenario. But my beloved helped me to embrace the ending, endure the in-between time, and start afresh. Our new pastorate had its ebbs and flows like all churches do. The chapter ended after ten years when we turned over the reins of the church and went back to working regular full time jobs for the next four years. We were facing another ending.

Anne and I grieved the loss as our identities underwent change. People didn’t call me “Pastor Mike” anymore; we were not leading worship every week, which we both loved to do. Waves of vacancy beat upon our shoreline and it felt many times like our purpose was gone. On the sweet side, we spent the next four years just being “normal” people; husband and wife at the dinner table, no ministry talk. The circumstances became a new frame for our marriage portrait; we rediscovered the painting, the treasure of our friendship.

Further transition ensued a few years later with the death of my Dad, the last living parent between us. New beginnings must come, and with them – endings. So I’ve resolved to face the fertile emptiness when it comes. This I know – the waves will recede but the fruit remains.

Father of Lights

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It gets complicated; I understand. Being fatherless hurts; being fathered wrongly hurts too. I respect the wounds endured by children. And though it’s very, very hard at times, we must learn how to trust when God makes a promise.

Much of life is learning to trust in the Father of Lights – provider of every good and perfect gift. Salvation is the chief gift and the one by which we were born again, becoming “first-fruits” of his transforming power. His is the light that will never be eclipsed; in Him there is no shadow of turning. (James 1:17-18)

Writing to encourage believers to endure trials and suffering, James assures them that God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. But we are tempted by our own evil desires, which give birth to sin and eventually to spiritual death. Do not be deceived is the warning; for the Father of Lights is full of nothing but, light. One chief component of Satan’s strategy is to wrestle us into a belief system where God cannot be relied upon.

The epic contest of light versus darkness requires the full participation of the army of God on earth. “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues people under me.” (Psalm 144:1-2) Even to connect with our loving God at a deep level can be an intense battle in and of itself. He trains our hands for war, in the midst of war.

Today, we have the tangible foretaste of light and glory, which serves as a constant reinforcement in the battle: “God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

Earthen vessels are fragile; jars break easily. Our weakness and life’s brevity serve as an aid to humility. “Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.”  It is in this weakness that His strength is perfected. I am not invincible but God is.

One of the last promises in the New Testament assures us:  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:4-5)

Thank God for the measure of transformation we’ve experienced; what a gift! But there’s more. Many other gifts, each good and perfect, are coming down from above, as the Father of Lights – Abba Father – showers us with redemption in this world of shadows.

 

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