Friday, November 15, 2013

When I Attach “for God” to My Selfish Ambition

       “If I…  Then God…” statements have flooded my life over the years.  If I get a master’s degree in English or Education, then God could send me as a “tent-maker” missionary to a country not open to the Gospel.  If I completely pay off my college debt, then I will be able to give more to God’s work.  The rationale behind these statements is, “If I do this.., then God will be able to use me more effectively.”  But the truth behind the statements is, “I want to do what I want, but I want to feel good about it.  Therefore, I will attach a clause about how God can use it.”
       This way of thinking has caused me to hang on to my selfish ambitions because I have told myself, “It’s okay.  You want to do this for God.”  But no, I haven’t.  I have wanted to make a name for myself.  I have wanted to accumulate college degrees so others will value what I have to say.  I have wanted to have some say in where God takes me in life.  Truthfully, I have wanted all the say in where my life goes.  I have wanted to lead, and yet at the same time I have pretended that I wanted God to lead.
       Today Matthew 16:24 hit me like a ton of bricks.  “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.’”  My logic has always been, “I am going to the mission field so therefore I must be denying myself and following Him.”  God gracefully opened my eyes that denying myself and following Him does not mean that I am willing to go to another country.  It means that I am willing to give up my desires, ambitions and all that I want.  The exact words of the passage say that he who desires to follow Christ “MUST deny himself.”  It is a prerequisite for following.  The following cannot be done without the denying of self.  This denying is a daily choice to say, “Please Lord, take away my desires and ambitions for the day and show me what You desire.”   Then, and only then, are we free to follow. Following requires submission, patience, humility, listening, and willingness to say, “Not my will, but Yours’ be done.”  

       “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” –Matthew 16:25

       Desiring to “save one’s life” is the longing to be in control and to plan for one’s future.  All my life I have desired to save my life.  I have been unwilling to give my future into the hands of our God.  And yes, it is possible to quit your job, sell all your belongings, and be in the process of moving to another country AND STILL be desperately hanging on to control of your life.  I still do it daily.  My longing to cling to some sort of control of my life is the desire to continually be in school and accumulating degrees.  “Having degrees will make what I say more credible and open doors for ministry”, I would tell myself.  No, the truth is that I long to have a safety net to fall into if I fail horribly as a missionary.  I want to have a way to provide for my family in the future.  I want to save my life.  However, if I would follow my desire to constantly be getting more degrees then I would lose my life.  I would spend countless hours of time studying that God wanted invested in His work elsewhere.  I would spend thousands of dollars on tuition that God wanted invested in His Kingdom.  I would miss out and lose the life that God intended for me because I was unwilling to deny myself and unwilling to let go of the notion that I could save my life.  Might God call me to go to school in the future?  Possibly, but not now.  Right now He has called me to lose my life in every way I know how.  He has called me to give my desires and ambitions to Him.  If I hang onto them in a desire to control and save my life, it will result in me losing that which I long for.
       Only when “we lose our life” will we truly find life.   Discipleship is costly, but the reward is worth it.

       “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’”  –Matthew 16:24-25

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Even Missionaries Can Have Money as an Idol


      "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."   --Matthew 6:24

       I have been learning lately that being a missionary does not mean that wealth will no longer be a idol in my life.  It is easy to allow myself to think that I am giving up the pleasures of the world because Jamie and I are not buying a house and settling down.  Since we are going across seas to serve our Lord it is easy to allow ourselves  to apply verses like Matthew 6:24 to others.  Yet lately God has shown me, “No Mark, this is for you.”
       You don’t have to have a lot to still have wealth as your master.  That is something I never realized.  I always thought not having a lot meant that I wasn’t serving wealth.  However, I would allow my mind to wander.  I would see all the financial security commercials and hope that I might be able to save up enough to retire and buy a house someday.  I would tell myself it would be a small house so therefore it would be okay.  
       This week God opened my eyes to the fact that I have joined many other American Christians in replacing Jesus’ words for worldly wisdom.  I have always been told, “It is wise to save.” But what does Jesus say on the matter? 

      “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  --Matthew 6:19-21

       How can saving not be wise?  It seems so contrary to everything we know!  It isn’t the saving; it is why we save in our culture.  Just watch a commercial on investing and see all their catch lines promising “financial security.”  God has been showing me that I have been longing for financial security, but I can only find security in one thing: either God or money.  Many times I have been unwilling to give more to God's work because I needed to "wisely" store up for the future or an emergency.  What does Jesus have to say about storing up for the future?

      "Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
     “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."   --Luke 12:15-21
      What is your security in?  Are you storing up things for yourself or being rich in giving to God's kingdom work?