Monthly Archives: January 2018

Seeking God’s Will…

In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion around the sort of work that Charlie and I have been doing here in Europe. That discussion has involved a great deal of consideration of what we believe is “God’s will” for our family in this season, and whether we are maintaining an appropriate “focus” in our efforts to serve within the local communities here. For the sake of transparency within these discussions, I think I should begin by offering some disclaimer:

First, I am not a particularly wise person. Of course, I very much desire to know the ways and the will of God, but my “discernment” of His will is at best tainted with my own sinful nature and desires. At it’s worst my discernment of God’s will is just flat wrong. 

I am not a righteous person. Even on my very best day I deserve nothing more than the darkest depths of hell. I constantly struggle with the deceptions of self and entitlement. I often trip myself up, mired in some strange perception of my own “rights” – my right to be respected, even honored by people. My right to speak. My right to be heard. And I continue to seek my own sense of worth not by who I am in substance, but by what I can do, by what man sees me do. If I’ve apparently accomplished something “noble,” then I swell up with pride. If I fail to accomplish that “good thing” or meet that expectation, then I sink deeply into shame and condemnation. Even at my best, any real influence of a knowledge of or faith in God’s unfailing Word and love in my life is barely noticeable.

One of the common complaints against those of us working within the Western Church is that we do not know how to form or maintain authentic community with others. We always seem to approach new relationships with an agenda. I have been on both sides of this issue. That is, I have at times treated others as little more than a means for me to accomplish my own goals (or worse, as little more than a hinderance to those goals). On the other hand, other relationships that I believed to be genuine friendships have turned out to be no more than attempts to gain something through me. This sort of thing has happened enough times that I now struggle more with issues of trust and honesty in relationships, and often approach new relationships with a greater degree of skepticism and defense than I used to. (This is true even as I recognize that it is precisely with this same type of agenda that I almost always approach God.)

I know that when I speak this way about my weaknesses and struggles – particularly in the context of ministry – it makes people uncomfortable. But I think that it is so important, particularly as we attempt to serve others through our faith, that we recognize our own desperate need for the grace of God. The bottom line is that any service that I attempt to provide for others is going to be poor service, particularly as it is measured against the example of the life of service offered by Christ Himself. I know that everything I do in the name of Christ will be marred by my own pride, my own prejudice, my own sense of self-righteousness and entitlement. The revelation of this can be enough some days to make me want to give up all together, whatever that means.

I also am recognizing more clearly the blinding effects of some of my personal struggles – such as distorted perceptions of benevolence and spiritual superiority – in determining God’s calling in my life. For example, through the years I have become more aware of the devastating effects of pride in my life – which is not so unlike a spiritual cancer of the soul, seeking to consume and snuff out the good and sacred things, things like faith, and hope, and love. The fact is that much of the calling of God in my life is designed primarily to save me from the temptation of my own pride, the danger of my own spiritual death. Whenever opportunities for “ministry” or “service” make my own soul more vulnerable to the deceptions of self-righteousness or pride, it is by His grace and mercy that God often pulls me back and closes my mouth. 

Yet somehow, even through the thick film of my own sin and brokenness, consistently the grace and authority of God prevails, often abundantly and overwhelmingly. I really don’t know what to do with this reality – the reality of His unmoving love for me, and for the people I hurt, and the people who hurt me. The tendency for measuring my worth – the measure of how much I deserve to be loved – by my successes and failures is so deeply engrained in me. The notion that I don’t have to do anything – that nothing I can do will change the way God feels about me – leaves me sort of dumbfounded, and in awe, and a little frightened. 

There is nothing I can do. I can’t draw God nearer to me, and neither can I push Him away. My efforts to influence Him are not unlike attempting to stand on a beach and stop a towering tidal wave with my outstretched arms. He cannot be conquered. He cannot be moved. Even if I choose to ignore His presence, avoid meeting His gaze, He isn’t going anywhere. Whether I am ever willing to accept it through Christ or not, He loves me dearly, no matter what I do.

This revelation really changes the perspective of our discussions on “God’s will.” I have begun to recognize how strictly I have limited the movement and purposes of God in and through our lives. When I first began to get of sense of His calling years ago, I put very narrow parameters on that calling. I received His calling to seek humility in service to others, and to seek real understanding of what it means to love Him and to love my neighbor. However, I assumed that this was a calling only to a specific group of people, from a very specific region of the globe, in a very specific time, and through a very specific means.

My distorted assumptions about God’s will have been based on a ridiculous notion that I might exert some control over His purposes and ways in my life. One impact of recognizing this deception has been a shift in the conversation of “God’s will” away from trying to sort out specific details – such as where we should serve, or which sort of ministry we should undertake – towards one, fundamental truth: that God’s will for each one of us, the reason that He Himself came to die for us, is so that we may each begin to comprehend the depth and authority of His love for us. Everything that He directs in our lives will be aimed towards that crucial purpose, and it is against the standard of God’s love that we must measure our perceptions of His will and calling in our lives. Without this, no other criteria we may use will be of any worth at all.

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Checking In…

Since beginning my studies in seminary almost 18 months ago, I have often found myself barely able to keep my head above water. While in the midst of a semester with 3-4 classes along with my other responsibilities, I am pretty much operating at my capacity (sometimes just a little beyond it) at all times. 

For this reason, some of my favorite pastimes have been forced to take a seat backstage for the time being, and this includes writing for this blog. This does not mean that I am not writing. In fact, I am not sure I have ever written so intensely in my life as I am currently in seminary, particularly for the online courses. But, we have decided that I will not take an intensive course for the January semester this year, so I am free from studies until the first week in February. So, I thought I’d try to use some of this time to touch base a little.

In this brief time, there are a few issues I would like to address. But as I only have a few weeks here, along with other areas of life that need some attention, I ask for grace as I may tend to ramble and meander through various streams of thought (although this may allow for a greater sense of intimacy, as this is the way I generally communicate in person as well). 

As I have had the opportunity to study a bit more the lives and writings of believers who have come and gone through the history of the Church, one of the things that has become clear to me is how very flawed each of these individuals truly was. Maybe there were issues of misogyny, or bigotry, or dangerous tempers. But all of them – ie Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Wesley – all had their own “thorns” that we in the modern Church often try to gloss over or ignore all together. I believe this highlights our strong inclination to idolatry. This practice may also allow us to set up the men and women who have gone before us in the Church on such high pedestals that we sort of our give ourselves an “out” from trying to walk out our own lives with the same sort of discipline and sacrifice that they exemplified. 

Recently, I was reading through the second Psalm, and was struck by the first paragraph: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’” (Psalm 2:1-3).

I’d never noticed this accusation against the kings of the earth before, that they are attempting to break the “chains” and throw off the “shackles” of the anointed of God. What are the “chains” and “shackles” here? From what are the kings of the earth conspiring to set believers “free”?

I remembered something from the passage just before this in Psalm 1, which says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

This is the “chain”, the “shackle” upon the life of the believer: the holy Law of the Lord. The Lord condemns the kings of the earth of conspiring to break the authority of this law from the lives of His children. God calls believers to find their delight in His law, to crave it and to meditate on it day and night. 

Well this really struck me, because this is not the message that I have for so long received in my congregational experience.
What is this “law” we are talking about here? What did Jesus say about this?

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

This is the law. This is the yoke from which the kings of the earth (often even “kings” within the church today) desire to set God’s children “free.” 

But, as I consider again those who have gone before us in the Church, the servants, the prophets, the reformers through whom the grace and word of God has been carried faithfully through the generations, even weaving through all of their dark, often crippling weaknesses and vices stands one, striking similarity: a sincere, sacrificial commitment to the law of Almighty God, in Christ Jesus. 

Over and over again we see that these individuals earnestly sought God through His Word (even as that Word appeared in the flesh), through days and weeks and a lifetime of fasting and prayer and meditation on the Scriptures and sacrificial service. Each one followed Christ through his or her own personal nightmare of the reality of the hell they deserved, sank dangerously close to unbelief through fits of terror and rage at the experience of having their eyes opened to the reality of the pain and devastation their own sin was creating in the world around them. These are men and women who’s intimate knowledge of the pain and suffering that comes with following Christ was so that even the utterance of the law of Christ – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” – would leave them weeping, broken, and hopeless, knowing that for them such a standard of law was utterly impossible.

Read Romans 8:2 again. It is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus that sets us free from the law of sin and death. There is no such thing as “lawless” life for the created being. If we are not continually seeking Christ, and waiting upon His grace, so that we may be enabled to submit ourselves to the law of the Spirit of Life, then we are by nature bound and condemned to the law of sin and death. It seems that there is no other option here.

I share all of this as a way to begin the conversation. As we step into this New Year by God’s grace, and as I try to share a little about where we are in this season, I guess these are some of the questions with which I hope to wrestle:  In what or whom am I placing my faith and my hope in these days?  Under which law is my life being directed? And how are these things reflected in my actions and in the decisions I am making? 

Thank you very much for checking in with us. With love in Him today, Miki

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