Writing

Loving Others Is Worth The Risk

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If you are sufficient for your task,
it is too small.
– John Piper

Expect great things from God.
Attempt great things for God.
– William Carey

I love board games. Actually, I love fast-paced games with quick rounds (like, Taboo, Tangrams, or Codenames.) I’ve never been into longer games, especially ones that require strategy (think, Monopoly or Settlers) and I used to say it was because I didn’t have enough patience for them. But in recent years I realized the real reason I didn’t like them: I’m a sore loser.

I don’t want to invest an hour into a game that I might not win. Connect Four is preferable because even if I lose, I can insist on another round–and win it! Is that bad? Probably. Ok, ok, yes it is. But these are just board games, so, not a big deal.

I’m realizing though that my aversion to losing does not only manifest itself when it comes to game night, that I am by nature risk-adverse because I hate failure and would rather not do something than do a less-than-excellent job. This shows in board games, yes, but also in other areas of my life.

This year, God has me in places where I’ve been serving out of weakness, in situations where he has given me enough skill to be of service to others, but not with so much natural ability that I feel I’m excelling. And while some may say, “This is the best way to serve– so God will look great when he helps everything go awesome-ly!” that’s not how it’s been. Rather, he’s allowed me to flop, falter, and at times, fail, and I’ve walked away wishing there were someone else who would take over or feeling silly for trying in the first place.

But I am grateful. Because as I reflect on these experiences, the thing God has been impressing on my heart lately is this: Do not give up. Because risk, for the sake of loving others, is right.*

First, risk for the sake of others is right because what I have is not mine. Paul says that all I have, I have received (1 Cor. 4:7). We are all stewards of our gifts, opportunities, relationships, jobs, and possessions. All that I have came from and belongs to God. So for me to withhold my time, gifts, love, and service out of fear of failure is to, like the wicked servant Jesus spoke of, take the one talent I’ve been entrusted with and bury it in fear or laziness.

Secondly, risk is right because as a steward, life is not about me. There are some that would encourage us to pursue our passions for our own sakes– for the possibility of fulfilling our dreams. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but as Christians, we are not told to pursue our own glory or fame, much less to do so in the name of Christ.

So I think instead of the people in history who have attempted and done great things for the glory of God. For them, working toward national reform (King Josiah) or abolishing slavery (William Wilberforce) was never about self-actualization. But neither were they restrained by fear. Rather, they took risks and dreamed big because they were not thinking about themselves. They were pursuing the glory of God and the good of others.

My life is not my own. It has been given to me for the sake of loving God and loving others. For me, then, it is sinful self-centeredness to be motivated out of self-protection and fear of failure.

So here’s the challenge: Christian, how are we being called to take risks for the sake of love? Fruitfulness in ministry is not guaranteed just because we pour out our hearts, prayers, and time– but it is worth it because our hearts, prayers, and time are given to us by God and because people are worth it. Developing your creative gifts for the sake of building up the church is worth it even if you’re not the best, because it’s not about you being the best. Receiving critical feedback in service to others is worth it because you are learning how to maximize your return for the King.

And here’s the comfort: Christian, you are in the most secure place to take risks. Why? Because, for one thing, nothing that is done for Christ is ever in vain; as long as your service is done unto God, he sees, he knows, and he receives your acts of service as worship to him. We may look at outer appearances, but God looks at the heart. And what may look like loss to the world, is gain if it brings us closer to our Christ.

Furthermore, as you risk, you are also secure because your “worth is not in skill or name / In win or lose, in pride or shame / But in the blood of Christ that flowed / At the cross”. (My Worth Is Not In What I Own)

In other words, you are held firmly in Christ, apart from your works, because of his work. As God’s worksmanship, we joyfully walk into doing the good he has already prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10) but we who do good in the kingdom of God never do so for our ultimate sense of purpose and acceptance. Our worth is found in Christ. Our joy and hope are not tethered to results in ministry, acknowledgement from others, or our own flawless performances. Thus we are the most free people, liberated to lavishly love others.

Praise God! May we risk it all, for the sake of others and his great name.

 

 

* Though I wasn’t thinking about it as I wrote, I absorbed the phrase “risk is right” from a helpful small book written by John Piper called, of course, Risk is Right. It was helpful for me in making a major family decisions a few years ago, and I recommend it!

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Looking Unto Jesus

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If you’ve studied physics (or ever played QBasic Gorillas), you know it only takes a slight difference in launch angle to completely change the trajectory of a moving object. Likewise, in the Christian life, there are many seemingly subtle nuances which actually have massive impact on our worship of God and lives with him.

I enjoyed this devotional from Charles Spurgeon on “Looking Unto Jesus” and am struck by the fact that though there is a world of difference between looking to Jesus and looking to ourselves, sometimes the initial shift feels so slight we don’t realize we’ve turned our gaze inward.

Sometimes, it isn’t until we find ourselves despairing, doubtful and discouraged that we trace back our struggles to trying to find hope in ourselves and our own faith or spirituality. And sometimes, we need to hear someone articulate for us the difference between hoping in Christ and hoping in self to make that connection.

So, here’s an excerpt from the prince of preachers today:

“Looking unto Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2)

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

( June 28, Morning by Morning. Tip: Access Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening daily devotional at Biblegateway.)

Yes!

The Christian’s hope is not how much faith he has. It is in Jesus who trustworthy.

It is not in the progress in sanctification she’s making or how she is doing spiritually compared to others. It is in Jesus who sanctifies.

It is not in yesterday’s experiences or our own “decisions for Christ.”  It is in Jesus’ finished work on the cross and his ministry of intercession for us today.

It is not in our promises to “do better next time.” It is in he who finishes the work he began in us.

It is not in our penitence and sorrow over sin, but he who receives and purifies repentant sinners.

It is not in our fruitfulness as branches. It is in the life-sustaining vine.

It is not in our faithfulness as sheep, but the Shepherd’s steadfast care.

Dear Christian, look to Jesus today.

And take heart. Because in the final count, what matters most won’t be how well you did looking to him, but that his gaze was ever upon you.

Church & Ministry

I Just Didn’t Know His Name

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We sat in the campus cafeteria and talked about Jesus. I told Cathy about how our sins keep us away from God and why we can’t make our own way back to him. I shared about how Jesus came to save us through his death and resurrection. And when I asked her if she wanted to confess Christ as her Lord and Savior, she said yes.

“Are you sure?”

I was surprised at her eagerness (it was the first time we’d ever met) and I wanted to let her know there would be a cost. It wouldn’t be easy. God said there would be hardships. It would mean obedience to his will. Some say you’d have to be crazy to follow Jesus. She should think more about it.

Yes, she was sure. And, 11 years later, I remember her next words verbatim:

“Because I always knew there was a Lord and that he could save us— I just didn’t know his name.”

Continue reading “I Just Didn’t Know His Name”

Writing

A New-ish Blog Beginning

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I never thought I’d choose to write. In high school, I complained about English class as I crunched out last minute essays in the school computer lab and in college, I celebrated after taking my last mandatory writing course ever.

But then again, I’ve always written even when I didn’t have to. I’ve “blogged” ever since the days of Asian Avenue (anyone else remember that?) and Xanga (eprops were the pre-Facebook “Likes”).  And though, thankfully, those cringeworthy entries about high school crushes and Jess of Gilmore girls are no longer public, I remember enough of my Xanga site to mentally trace a drastic change in content over time. Continue reading “A New-ish Blog Beginning”

Church & Ministry, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

We Quickly Fly Away, But…

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I don’t normally talk to inanimate objects, but there’s this one time I got mad at a flower.

During this particular day, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and happened to look down. That’s when it did it. Or at least, that’s when I noticed what it was doing. A tiny flower, no taller than 2 inches or so, had bloomed in the little patch of dirt. It was pretty and colorful and it was just standing there, being all flowery, and as far as I could tell, happily so.  I, on the other hand, completely drained and empty inside, exploded, yelling in my mind, “Why do you even exist??!”

Here’s the context: though only in my early 20’s, I was burning out in ministry and probably showing signs of depression. For me, life had been boiled down to what I accomplished in ministry and the purpose of life was being fruitful (ministry-wise). I was laboring for the sake of what I understood as eternal (visible conversions, explicit discipleship), seeing other parts of life as superfluous and worldly, and by the end of two years I was running on fumes.
Continue reading “We Quickly Fly Away, But…”