Monday, November 19, 2012

Possessing a Heart of Gratitude

Is your heart right? Then be thankful. Praise the Lord for His distinguishing mercy, in “calling you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). Think what you were by nature. Think what has been done for you by free undeserved grace. Your heart may not be all that it ought to be, nor yet all that you hope it will be. But at any rate your heart is not the old hard heart with which you were born. Surely the man whose heart is changed ought to be full of praise.
~ J.C. Ryle

Old Paths, “The Heart”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1999], 356.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What Does Your Worship Say About God?

If an outsider came into your Sunday meeting and observed you worshiping, what would he conclude you think about God? 

Does your expression of worship say how great and glorious, delightful and exciting you think God is? Does your worship say you’ve found God to be faithful and good, loving and satisfying?  Would an outsider conclude you believe God to be real and present?

Or does your worship say you find God about as exciting as an exam on protein chains (maybe you bio majors would get excited about this – I wouldn’t).  Do you sing with all the enthusiasm of someone who has just been asked to shovel 2 tons of manure?  Does your worship say you believe God is distant and uncaring?

What does our worship say about what God did for us? Do we sing like those who have been redeemed eternally from the wrath of God? Like those who have been seated with Christ in heavenly places? Like those who are grateful to have every sin wiped away? Do we rejoice like those who have the king of the universe living inside them?

We should worship God expressively, not for a show or to impress others, but as a way of saying to him how much we love him. That we consider him to be infinitely great and glorious and majestic. That we consider him to be praiseworthy.

Worship is primarily an issue of the heart. So someone could worship God wholeheartedly and not show it on the outside. But I like what I once heard John Piper say – worship begins in the heart but should not stay there. It should be expressed.

Our glad hearts should overflow with thanks for all God did for us in Christ.  Hey, Jesus DIED for us. He was tortured, spit on, mocked, pierced, so that we could be with and enjoy God for ever and ever.  Essentially, Jesus went to hell so that we don’t have to.  Isn’t that worth getting excited about?

We should worship like rich people! Because we are. We’ve been given every spiritual blessing in Christ! We should sing with more enthusiasm than if we just found out we won the lottery.

We should sing like those who know God is working all things for good in our lives. Like those who are being transformed into the very image of Christ. Like those who will worship around the throne for eternity.

God has designed us to express delight in things excellent and beautiful. We gush when we see a glorious sunset. We clap and shout at Coldplay concerts and Steeler games (well, maybe not if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan). We give standing ovations for outstanding accomplishments. Our cheers show what we think of that diving catch or that guitar solo.

Again, our worship isn’t some kind of performance we put on for others. Our worship is for God. But it says something about what we think about him.

This Sunday let’s show God what we think of him and sing the roofs off our church buildings.

Originally posted on The Blazing Center blog, by Mark Altrogge on October 19, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Humility and Hospitality

By Kimberly C.

Many people have told me I am a hospitable person. I guess one can get prideful in these affirmations and think that we have it down and don't need to improve, but this recent season of moving and baby-having has taught me I have a lot of room to grow in this discipline (and it is a discipline).

The famed Merriam-Webster defines hospitality as: given to a cordial or generous reception of guests. And as one growing up in the South, I often think of hospitality as decorating your table nicely for a meal and baking something scrumptious. Neither of these definitions really hit at the heart of what I think true, biblical, gospel-driven hospitality is.

How I would define gospel-driven hospitality is this: a Christ-like attitude that welcomes ALL others as Christ would welcome them - no matter your location, cooking skill, or budget.

Let me give you a biblical example, then a personal example, and end with some take-home points:

BIBLICAL EXAMPLE: David and Mephibosheth. Mephibo-who? Take a few minutes to read it: 2 Samuel 9 (I'll wait...) Here is my KDC version: David was King. He could do anything he wanted with whomever he wanted. His feasts were one-of-a-kind. Mephibosheth was related to King Saul. David had every right to extinguish Mephibosheth or at least not be kind to him. What did David do instead? He invited him to sit down at HIS table and DINE on HIS food. He literally was hospitable to a potential enemy. David showed grace where grace was not demanded. This is one of my most favorite Bible stories.

PERSONAL EXAMPLE: I was talking with Eric while we still lived in Durham and we were talking about who we wanted to come see baby Elijah. I wasn't feeling up to having many visitors but I would say things like: "But, I don't want them to come over.", or "Well, of course they can come and stay as long as they want; they are my friends." I only really wanted people around me who were my friends. I obviously wasn't desirous of hanging out with people with whom I wasn't close. I heard those sentences come out of my mouth and I froze...I wasn't being hospitable. Hospitality demands us to be impartial. Christ doesn't show partiality. We need to extend grace to whomever we can.

How does this connect with humility? In my personal example, it came down to pride. I thought I was better than those people I didn't know. Humility requires that I think of myself less. If the Holy Spirit was working humility in me, then I would be more than willing to have anyone in my home (friend or stranger) and would talk more about them and serve them than I would want to talk about myself.

So, some take-aways:
  1. Ask the Spirit to put people in your life to whom you can intentionally show hospitality. He will work! He wants to work Christ-likeness in you. Be prepared.
  2. Ask the Spirit to work humility in you, as well. This will come as an even bigger shock, but God is humble and we are called to be like Him. Christ served us when He came to earth. He was hospitality and humility in the flesh.

As the Spirit continues to shape your heart to look like His, consider this practice of humility and hospitality.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 3)

By Caitlin D. 

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

You know how Scripture pops into your mind when you're praying sometimes? As soon as I asked Him, "What do you want me to do?" I suddenly remembered Micah 6:8 "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

At last, I think I'm beginning to see. Wherever you are, whatever you have, you can serve the Lord. The point is to do what you can to serve Him, and live only for His glory. Whether He calls me to a pampered life in the States or not, I can use what He gives me. Everything is for His glory. Whatever I do, I can do for Him. I'm not going to miss His will for my life if I truly want to live for His glory. He won't let me out of His will. There's no way that I can live for Christ and find myself in a cage living a wasted life. That's not what He wants for me. And He isn't reproaching me now for the life I've lived...I think He's giving me a new perspective. I still don't know what He wants me to do with my life, or in what areas He wants me to serve; I still feel kind of like I'm spinning in mid-air after all that I've seen today, but I feel certain now that He'll show me what He wants me to do.

I tried to explain some of this to S. I'm not sure how much she could make out from my confused words, but pretty soon we begin talking about household matters, and I'm reminded that I offered to help her make some brownies for the company that's coming over tomorrow night. I re-offer and head into the kitchen. She shows me a recipe, and I take over.

A curious enthusiasm awakes in me. I'm so glad to have something tangible to do with my hands! I've felt so awfully helpless all afternoon, and now I can do something to serve!

And then with this new perspective, the world around me falls into recognizable order. I'm no longer spinning; I know where I am, what I'm doing, and why. Joy and thankfulness bubble up inside me as I realize that perhaps as I was crying out to God, "What do you want me to do?" His answer to me was (with a smile): "Go and make those brownies!"

God is pleased with everything that is done for His glory, even if they are things we think are mundane or unimportant like mopping the floor, cleaning up trash, or changing a baby's diaper. When done with a joyful attitude of service, we can perform the smallest chore for God's greater glory. Of course, to say that God's answer to me was to make a pan of brownies is a bit of an oversimplification. There is no easy answer to that, but He doesn't answer that kind of question all at once. What His answer seemed to be was, "Just start serving, and I'll show you where to go."

If ever brownies were made for the glory of God, those brownies I made that night were. They were chewy and irresistible, and D. and I and a few of the kids made sure none of the batter went to waste. I even put in my special multicolored sprinkles that I'd brought from home. But equally sweet was the new, fresh perspective God gave me that day. Through hospitality and brownies.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 2)

By Caitlin D. 

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here.

After the study, a certain lady invites us to her home, and we go. Like many other ladies, she asks S. if I am her sister. Apparently they think we look alike. S. laughs and explains that I am her friend from her country. This lady looks at me, and her eyes are positively glowing. She lays her hand on my shoulder and she says that she feels she loves me already and that she is so, so glad that I am here.

I'm grateful, but I feel like an imposter.

She has us come into her house, and S. begins to show me around. I step into the doorway of a mud house. Inside it's as black as night. I stand inside and know that I'll never forget this. It's a house built of mud. There are no windows. S. shows me a circle of burnt wood, and she explains that that is where she cooks her meals. I feel my stomach tighten inside me.

Beyond is a slightly larger room, where she sleeps with all of her children, and that's all there is to the house. She then takes us outside, where she has a wooden bench next to a table, and there's a colored canopy spread over it. On the table is a tiny sewing machine, and S. explains to me that that is how she earns the money she and her children live on. She tells us to be seated, and so we sit. She wants to serve us some food, which is the height of hospitality in India, I'm told.

A surge of emotion wells up inside me as she leaves to bring it to us. This is hospitality at its peak. This woman has so little, and yet she earnestly wants to share and make us her guests. She brings us out some roasted corn, and two little glass bottles of Mountain Dew. Wait, she's bought us Mountain Dew??

"Oh Lord, protect my stomach, please," I hear S. say with a grin. I pray the same thing. All these flies are buzzing around us, and I'm trying my best not to flinch too obviously like a spoiled Westerner.

S. digs right in, and I follow her example. I have never seen true hospitality until today. I have never seen it so self-sacrificing and so happily given. I look into this lady's shining eyes, and I feel such shame and disgust at myself that it's working its way into a sick feeling inside me. I'm trying to keep it down so that I don't begin weeping right now in front of her.

After we finish eating and drinking, S. visits with her, and after a farewell, we drive back home.

The house is quiet, and even though I'm not tired, all I can do is lie down. I'm overwhelmed by what I have just seen, and yet I can put no words to my emotions. I have to sort myself out.

I think about this afternoon. The hungry hearts, the mud house, the stark poverty, the lifestyle of toil and hardship. Then I see her eyes, shining with joy and love. I think of her words to S: "Didi, I need nothing! I have everything in Christ!"

I close my eyes and feel a struggle forming within me. What I have just seen is the polar opposite of the only lifestyle I have ever known. Of course I've read about things like this. Of course I've heard about them from missionaries that come to our church. I've even seen the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," a powerful movie about a boy who was born in the slums of India. But actually seeing this kind of poverty with my own eyes has almost unmade me.

At least that's how I feel now. Unmade.

Nothing can ever be the same again. What I have just seen demands a response from me. But what kind of response? I have no idea.

I'm smote inside with guilt at the pampered life I've led. But God gave me those things, so they weren't sin for me to have. I probe deeper into my heart. I'm aware of a frantic fear that I'm trying to control, but what is it?

What I find myself praying is, "Oh, Lord! What do you want me to do? What ever can I do? Just tell me...what must I do?"

Then I understand. I realize that I must never forget what I have seen, but I don't know how to live my life in the right response of it. What does He want me to do? I'm suddenly aware of how He owns my life and how He can demand anything of me. I'm afraid because I want to obey, but what will He ask of me?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 1)

By Caitlin D.

Some weeks ago, S. asked me to go with her as she led her ladies' Bible study in the village, and I accepted.

As we drove, she began to tell me about the living conditions in the village. The houses are often made of dirt, and when the heavy rains come, sometimes the houses fall in on top of them. The water that they use is pumped by hand from the underground streams that branch off from the Ganges River.

I listen to her as she describes all this, and I think about my comfortable home in the States. I think of my cushy lifestyle, and of how easy it is to be a Christian in my part of the world. Shame and uneasiness begin to creep over me like a dark cloud. But I kept a cheerful face and resolved to play it by ear and simply do my best.

We come to a little house and women and children gather around S. She begins to talk merrily with them, and when she introduces me, they all smile.

We all sit down, and she begins a song. They all join in and they clap their hands in a lively rhythm. I don't know the song, but I clap along enthusiastically. I hear everyone singing, as we say in the States, "with gusto." (May I just say right here that any Christian who refuses to let his voice be heard because he or she "doesn't have a good voice," would do well to visit another country and see how eager everyone in the tiny churches are to praise the Lord together, whether or not they "can sing." It does a heart good to hear wholehearted, unpretentious singing!)

S. begins to teach, and absolute silence falls. I watch the faces of the women and children. Their eyes are riveted on her face. Some of them are actually leaning forward a little, intent on catching every word. The children are crowded round the door, and they too are absolutely spellbound. I look at the pictures that S. holds up, and I watch her gesture with her hands. I listen to the tone of her voice, and I find I can follow along a little. What strikes me most is S's face. She is radiant. Her eyes glow from their very deepest depths, and I can hear love and joy and delight spilling out in every word she utters. She is placing a spiritual feast before a group of starving sisters. This is what she does. She left her comfy life in the States so that she could be like Christ, serving the "least of these."

I look deeply into her eyes, and I feel passion stirring up my soul. I want to serve like that. I want to live a life that is useful to Christ. I want to help others in my life, just like her. I want that kind of joy, and as I look at the faces of these needy hurting hearts, I say in my heart, "Oh, Lord, please make me useful to You! Let me live a life that helps others, so that I can further Your kingdom!"