The Risk of Comfort, Idol of Security and Call to Follow without Terms  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

Had a great conversation recently with a guy about ministry and missions. Sometimes God has led this guy into some pretty shady parts of the world...alone. His family isn't always thrilled with where God takes him, even though God has always brought him back (so far).

He tells the story of a lady living in a country where preaching the Gospel is not accepted. She receives a dream and urging to go and preach the gospel outside the local police station. Everyone advises against it - it's a recipe for certain incarceration. Sure enough, she preaches for just a few minutes before being thrown into a women's prison. Within a few weeks hundreds of women have come to faith in that prison. The warden has her released from jail, charges dropped and offers to hire her because she had single-handedly eliminated the violence and revolt issues of his prison. She refuses the money but takes him up on the offer to have ongoing access to the women.

I listened to a sermon this weekend on the radio by a guy calling out the false theology that assumes being "in the center of God's will" is a place of physical safety, comfort and prosperity. Pitting that false premise against 1 Corinthians 6 and 2 Corinthians 11, the teacher highlighted that we must recognize that security in God does not equate to avoidance of very real risks. Ministry is messy and dangerous.

A sociology scholar named Friedman had this observation:

Today the issues most vulnerable to becoming displacements are, first of all,anything related to safety: product safety, traffic safety, bicycle safety, motorboat safety, jet-ski safety, workplace safety, nutritional safety, nuclear safety...This focus on safety has become so omnipresent in our chronically anxious civilization that there is real danger we will come to believe that safety is the most important value in life. It is certainly important as a modifier of other initiatives, but if a society is to evolve, or if leaders are to arise, then safety can never be allowed to become more important than adventure. We are on our way to becoming a nation of "skimmers," living off the risks of previous generations and constantly taking from the top without adding significantly to its essence. Everything we enjoy as part of our advanced civilization, including discovery, exploration and development of our country, came about because previous generations made adventure more important than safety.

Jesus simply said, "Follow." Sometimes it involved witnessing great miracles and ministry, other times it was not "safe."

What ministry work is God leading you to that is dumbed down because of safety alone?

Enjoy the Light (a confessional)  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

I’m weak. It’s a sad conclusion, but it’s one I keep coming back to. I boldly ask God to reveal plans and instantly I try to take them over, own them and then suddenly cry out as I find myself sinking. I feel like Peter – I see Christ on the water, jump out of the boat in enthusiastic intrigue only to be stopped by the overwhelming horror of realizing my insignificance compared to the water, storm and environment I’m now crossing towards Him. I’m overly aware of my size and the dimensions of my setting and distracted from the ultimate bigness of my God who beckoned me here in the first place.

I went to Big Bend for a physically active spiritual retreat. God kept impressing 3 lessons upon me: (1) I’m small and inadequate to the tasks He has planned; (2) He’s big; (3) He’s everything I need to accomplish that which He calls me to. Those 3 things kept recycling through my heart. It’s a combination of fear (on my own I will fail – there is no try) and exhilaration (God’s going to make it happen!).

Yet, by 2pm this afternoon I was back to the suffocation of fighting through “to do’s,” against fleshly feelings/thoughts and a manufactured attempt to hide an internal quiver of “it’s too much, God.”

In a moment of particular brilliance, I call a time out and escape to a quiet place with my Bible. I try to pray and get about as far as “Father, you’re so…might to save…I’m…gosh…” Nothing. Silence. A bird flies over head and startles me. Momentary jealousy passes through me as I see the bird carelessly enjoy exploring this oak tree nearby, seemingly oblivious to the “important stuff” weighing me down.

Something in my spirit whispers, “That bird isn't worried…why are you? It is joyfully discovering My purposes…will you? Open your Bible.”

Okeedokie. Like a theologically trained expositor of the Word (ahem), I flip it open to where I had stuck a “to do” list earlier this morning to see what the Holy Bingo method of devotional reading would give me. Job 33. “Interesting,” I muse, “let’s see what’s here.” Then 2 verses strike me a blow – verses 27 and 28. They read: “Then he [a man, or me in this case] comes to men and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.’”

“I will live to enjoy the light.” Wow. I quickly devour the next 9 chapters as God puts Job back in place, simultaneously restoring my perspective as well. He’s perfectly able to do all that He has planned. He’s big, He’s my sufficiency for all that He intends to do through me. Will I “live to enjoy the light?”

Perspective reset. Thanks God. Help me “live to enjoy the light” today…and each day after that.

Are you living to “enjoy the light” God makes possible? Today? Free of the “but what about…” out clauses?

Leadership Thoughts from...the Bible  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. (I Peter 5:1-3, the Message)

Not a whole lot of commentary needed on that one!

In some personal studying of Psalm 23 recently I was drawn to the action verbs associated with God as our Shepherd..."Making" us to lie down and find rest, but "leading" us in the paths of righteousness. I certainly prefer to be led than made...hopefully we reflect that same heart in our relationships with people.

Theology of Community: alone = bad  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

borrowed from another person's blog who is passionate about small groups, community, and discipleship:

1. We were created by community. God exists as three persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and God is one. Bottom line- God exists in community.

2. We were created for community. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.” In Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz asserted, “each person can be related to the image of God only within the context of life in community with others. Only in fellowship with others can we show forth what God is like, for God is the community of love…”

3. Community was destroyed by our sin.

4. Community is restored by Christ. John 17:20: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of your testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.”

5. The Kingdom of God is expanded by community. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Stories: a worship art and spiritual discipline  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in , , , , ,

The past few weeks have been precious as my life groups have shared and listened to stories crafted by God. It truly is a form of spiritual discipline and worship to intentionally recall and testify to the work of God in our lives. It’s His story He’s written, and I marvel at how intimately involved He’s been in bringing us each to the place we are today. To think that the Almighty God – the God of Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – is intimately involved in forming us, preparing us and using us! Wow.

I was meeting with a friend today and he was sharing a heart burden for the lack of testifying about God’s ongoing work in our lives as a general deficit in churches everywhere. He made the comment:

The local church should be either irresistible or utterly repulsive to everyone who encounters it. Irresistible because the stories of life change and God’s working are intoxicatingly rich. Utterly repulsive because the culture requires you to be drawn into a consuming relationship with God or spit out.

Pretty strong language! “Irresistible” or “Repulsive.” A Christian life of things you do/don’t do, say/don’t say, and attend is pretty lifeless. A Christian walk that’s full of looking for God and testifying to His work in and through us is pretty darn exhilarating! Is your walk in Christ irresistible or repulsive to a nonbeliever today?

I never grow tired of hearing us share our stories. The word “remember” occurs over 230 times in Scripture, “testify” 52 times, “witness” over 100 times. It’s a sweet aroma, pleasing and good to God when we give glory to His name through the stories of His handiwork. It’s important to reflect. It’s even more critical to be intentionally aware in the present – how is God leading, changing, forming, growing, preparing, disciplining or using you today? At work – in that tough situation, with that unique set of coworkers, with that project? At school – with that professor, student group? At home – with those relationships and situations? In the quietness of your heart and study…what is the Spirit of God doing? Testify to it!

Worship doesn’t require music or talent. It requires perspective that recognizes the glory of God and reflects it back to Him. Let us continue worshiping God this week and join together often to share the latest chapters of His handiwork!

Stores are a worship art, a spiritual discipline and a component of discipleship. Jesus conveyed life-changing truths through parables (fiction) - just imagine what He can convey through the LIVE story of people He's inhabiting!

When your mind is idle, where does it park?  

Posted by archie

The mind is an incredible organ of the body. It is constantly at work both in your conscious and sleep. Both in the forefront, in the background and in between. It is always working. It is the ultimate multi-tasking machine.

The Word says something about praying without ceasing. It says to chase after God with all your heart. Peter says to put your mind at action to be Holy. I've often thought how in the heck is it possible to 'pray without ceasing'. Yet, the advice is given.

Brother Lawrence says that our goal is to be in the presence of God all the time. He apparently worked in the kitchen as a monk and many times he found his mind drifting from the presence of God. In the pressure of work, he would quickly identify where his mind had gone and refocus it on God as he performed his duties.

How can it be possible for someone to have a realistic expectation of staying in the presence of God? For Brother Lawrence, it was not a question. It was a way of life. As a leader in the body, "When your mind is idle, where does it park?"

Are You Willing to Suffer for the Gospel?  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

I met with a native pastor from the ranchlands of Argentina recently, David. David and his wife are sold out seekers of God and His Kingdom. Their stories of ministry in their home country were amazing. More than 40 churches planted in a region that had never had an evangelical Gospel presentation - all planted within the past 10 years. Not a lot of funding, programs, or resources - just relentless sharing of the Gospel, discipling families to Christ and then an exponentially growing "rinse, lather, repeat" movement.

In many of the villages they plant churches, colonial-era Catholic parishes are dominant. To entertain David and his wife and then engage in Christian community usually involves loss of jobs, social persecution and other resistance. People throw stones and bricks at them as they walk down the streets sharing. Are they discouraged? No! They are excited about the power Christ is demonstrating despite the opposition.

Most moving was how God used a season of suffering to grow His Kingdom. David had gone to a Bible institute in Buenos Aires to prepare for a life of ministry God had called him to in the early 1990s. Near completion, amidst getting ready to go where he knew God had called him to he begins to lose his eyesight. A retina disorder dooms him to rapidly deteriorating vision, with inevitable blindness in a matter of months. Learn braille quickly was the only advise local medical professionals could offer.

"Tragic! Why God? You call me to minister, I go and learn and now you take my eyesight? How am I supposed to do anything now?"

It turns out the only hope is a hospital in Cuba that has expertise with the dangerous surgery he needed. God opens the doors and he's able to go to Cuba, but after the surgery he must spent 3 weeks in a hospital room with his eyes wrapped. While in that room a nurse finds his Bible and begins asking questions about it. He can't read - so he has her read the Bible out loud and then he teaches about what she reads to him. Quickly his days are full of 6+ hours with 8-10 locals gathered around his bed as he shares the Gospel and preaches the Word. Many were saved, some even went back to Argentina with him to continue being discipled and then returned to lead others in this new life in Jesus back in Cuba.

God used blindness and getting "derailed" from the course David saw to spread His Gospel message in places David could not have gone under his own will power. God used the suffering of his servant, David, to spread hope and love to people in darkness. David was obedient. He wasn't clear on the "why" just yet and was sincerely frustrated at the change in plans, but was obedient and faithful to seek "what would you have me do now, God" in the situation.

Discipleship to Jesus is obedience, and that obedience is life-long. David's story gave a fresh picture of the Biblical principle of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Are we willing to suffer for Christ's sake if He would have us? Are we looking at situations that seem like a "pointless delay" with eyes seeking to discern God's bigger purpose?