A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Introduction to First Peter

I Peter was written to suffering believers. In the 105 verses, I find at least thirty-four references to suffering, beginning in the very first verse; fifteen of those references are actually some form of the word suffer. Throughout the epistle Peter gives instruction about suffering; he especially desires that these suffering believers make a difference in their world, handling their suffering in a way that impacts others.

Being able to influence others in significant ways (when the suffering one would seemingly be the one needing help) would require something special. That kind of person would need a strong foundation, a profound hope, and a deep relationship with God. He would need insight and understanding about God and His work.

Peter provides that needed insight. In fact, the early part of the epistle focuses on those foundations rather than on suffering itself, as Peter lays the groundwork for what a suffering believer needs to know and think about. 1:1 introduces the suffering. 1:6-7 talks about suffering. 1:11 mentions suffering (Christ's). After this handful of mentions, this book saturated with the theme of suffering does not mention the topic again until 2:11 (a gap of 25 verses).

Instead Peter talks about what God has done for these believers. He talks about how God saved them, gave them new life, holds an inheritance for them, protects them, gave His Word to them, has a hope waiting for them, purchased them with a precious price, helps them to grow, shows His kindness to them, puts them in a special position, provides an example for them, and so on. Peter expounds these wonderful truths about the hope found in God so that the believers can endure the suffering and can be what they need to be through it.

After acknowledging in the first verse that his audience is made up of persecuted saints who have been chased from their homeland and scattered as aliens in foreign lands, Peter shares some wonderful truth. "Who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure" (1:1-2).

More important than the fact that these believers were scattered was the fact that they were chosen. These people were selected as favorites, as extremely special. This choosing was not by fairly insignificant people like neighbors or society, nor by special people like family or friends, nor even by powerful people like employers or rulers. No, they were chosen by God Himself. Being chosen by any of those other people would lack both the temporal significance and the eternal ramifications of being chosen by God. God's choosing means everything.

The believers were chosen by the foreknowledge of God. God knew ahead of time that He would choose them, because He has had all knowledge for all eternity. God receives all who believe, and He has always known who those believers would be. Throughout every moment of eternity and history, God has simply been waiting for them to be born and believe so that the choosing could come to fruition. For eternity, God knew each individual and thought, "Someday John or Mary will turn to Me, and I anticipate receiving him/her practically, as he/she is already chosen in My heart."

Part of God's foreknowledge is that He has also always known every person intimately. He knows every flaw, every shortcoming, every failure, every rebellion, every sin. He knows the wickedness and deceitfulness of the heart. Knowing all that, being completely aware of their condition both before and after salvation, God still chose them. Such unworthy people were chosen as special by the Most Worthy One.

The believers were chosen by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Spirit purified them and made them holy. This is why God can choose such horrible and unpredictable people: because He has the power to change them. They do not continue to be who they were before. There is an immediate change as God makes them new creatures and imputes Christ's righteousness to them, and there is an ongoing change as God progressively sanctifies them. This dramatic change cannot happen by self-effort, but only as the indwelling Holy Spirit teaches and convicts.

The first purpose for being chosen was to obey Jesus Christ. These believers are to hearken attentively to Jesus, comply with His wishes, and submit to His commands. They should desire to know what Jesus wants them to do, find it out, and then agree to do it. As a believer grows in sanctification, he will become more successful in obeying Christ. Obedience is the demonstration that sanctification is happening.

The second purpose for being chosen was to be sprinkled with Jesus' blood. Jesus' sacrifice paid for their sins. While obeying is in active voice, being sprinkled is in passive voice. It is a fact that when the Spirit sanctified these believers, without any effort or merit of their own, God chose to apply Christ's redemptive blood to them. This sprinkling established the relationship to God once for all, not through deserving or earning, but wholly because God chose them.

After this description of the amazing and completely unmerited blessing of God in choosing them, Peter indicates that the blessing is not exhausted. He desires for them grace and peace in the fullest measure. He wants these great blessings to be added on to their already wonderful position. He wants God to pour out on them rich and abundant expressions of His favor, giving them undeserved blessings. He wants God to give them quietness and rest in their knowledge of the complete provision of God. In fact, when God chose these believers, He extended the ultimate grace and the profoundest peace. Peter desires that these qualities multiply and abound so that these chosen and blessed believers will have every bit of grace and peace possible to face their suffering appropriately and triumphantly.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review - Shadow of the Almighty

Several books relate the lives and ministry of the five young missionaries who were murdered by the Auca tribe of Ecuador. Through Gates of Splendor shares the story of their attempted outreach. Elisabeth Elliot wrote another book specifically about her husband Jim, the best known of the five men.

Shadow of the Almighty has a different focus than Through Gates of Splendor. While there is necessarily some overlap between the two books, Shadow of the Almighty is written not so much about Jim's life events, but rather about what made him who he was. The book draws largely from Jim's own writings - letters and journals - to reveal the heart of a devoted servant of God.

Three major emphases stand out to me. The first is that Jim's life was entirely in God's hands. Jim did not die at the hand of the Aucas because God was not able to protect, but rather because it was the means for accomplishing God's purposes. God could have spared Jim's life, and He did so on multiple occasions when Jim was  mere inches or seconds from death. Narrow escapes include the bullet through his hair, the train that demolished his car, flood waters that swept the clinic building over a cliff, and a prolonged raging fever. Jim died when and only when it was God's time for him.

The second emphasis is Jim's submission to "the Will" (as he called it). Jim was absolutely committed to following God's plan for his life; he was sensitive to God's timing and made deliberate choices based on his understanding of that will. Jim's personal preferences and desires were secondary to what he believed would best accomplish God's work through him. This firm passion to follow the will led to decisions about attending college, extra-curricular activities while in college, being a wrestler, spending time with his family, learning life skills, involvement in ministry opportunities, devotion to the Word, dedication to language study, postponing marriage, and much more. If something would help him to accomplish God's work, he would do it; if something would hinder him, he would refrain.

The third emphasis is that Jim was passionate but not perfect. He clearly had a heart that pursued God, and his writings reflect that intense heart desire. Through Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and so on, Jim attempted to protect and increase his devotion to God. His spiritual life was not, however, one of unbroken excitement and intensity. He faced times of discouragement and emptiness, when his spirit seemed dull and when nothing seemed to be happening. He battled through seasons when his Bible study and ministries seemed unproductive and profitless. Through these times, this man with a heart for God persevered and pushed through. He continued faithfully due to his conviction that walking with God really worked and really was worthwhile.

Jim Elliot was used greatly by God through his life and his death. Such effective ministers of God do not happen by accident. They happen when there is an individual who above all loves God, who deliberately pursues a relationship with Him, and who gives himself unreservedly to God's work. Oh, that more men and women today would live that way! Wherever in the world those people exist, that is where God is doing a great work.

Some readers will prefer the easier narrative style of Through Gates of Splendor, but a Christian who wants to be challenged in his walk with God would profit from Shadow of the Almighty.

Here is a list of other books about the five martyrs and the ongoing work among the Aucas. I knew about several of these, but found a more complete list on a blog by Natasha Metzler. Her post provides brief descriptions of the various books as well as some other related resources.

·         The Journals of Jim Elliot
·         Jungle Pilot: The Story of Nate Saint, Martyred Missionary to Ecuador
·         Peter Fleming: A Man of Faith
·         The Savage, My Kinsman
·         The Dayuma Story: Life Under Auca Spears
·         A Saint Among the Savages
·         Unfolding Destinies: The Ongoing Story of the Auca Mission
·         End of the Spear
·         Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear
·         Unstilled Voices: A Look Back at the Auca Massacre and the Lives It Touched and Changed

"He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Motivation for Ministry - Part 2

The previous post revealed wrong motivations for Christian service. It also provided the foundation of love as a proper motivation. There is much more to consider regarding a heart that lovingly desires to serve God.

Service for God is not like any other labor. It comes from people who have been changed by God and enabled to serve on a spiritual level, reflecting worship back to Him. "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1). "So that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6).

Service for God is based on deep gratitude for an amazing Savior. "Serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you" (I Samuel 12:24). "Let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). This gratitude should spark a deeply rooted desire. "Serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind" (I Chronicles 28:9). "I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Psalm 40:8).

A properly motivated Christian realizes that all service is ultimately for God. "Slaves, be obedient to . . . your masters . . . in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; . . .  as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:5-6). "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3:24).

 A rightly thinking servant knows that an all-seeing God will give all the reward that really matters. "And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:4). "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord" (Ephesians 6:7). "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).

Proper motivation comes from a heart of humility. "Serving the Lord with all humility" (Acts 20:19). "The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant" (Luke 22:26). "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). The servant expects no credit, realizing that he is a mere instrument in the hand of God who does the work. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

The humble servant willingly serves God and desires that ultimately all the glory go to the God who rightly deserves it. "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever" (I Peter 4:10-11). "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Even man's weakness, employed in service that would ordinarily be ineffective, is designed to glorify the God whose immense power brings success through inadequate vessels. "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:3-5). "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:27-29). "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (II Corinthians 12:9).

Should a believer not care at all how others evaluate his service or whether anyone else notices it? What about the pastor, for example, whose responsibilities include overseeing the ministries of the church and training leadership to assist in the service of the church?

In one sense, it should not matter at all what others think or see. If the believer is sincerely serving God with the right motives in the ministries to which God directs him, the evaluations of men do not matter. A servant might do something that no one else ever knows about, and that is okay. The primary benefit of someone else noticing and approving the work is that of confirmation that the servant has properly executed what God has asked of him. He can, however, accomplish that objective without the commendation of any human.

A spiritually discerning pastor or coworker will discern the same thing God discerns, making human approbation redundant of God's approbation. An onlooker who improperly discerns is unfortunate, but does not in any way diminish the effectiveness of the service or God's approval.

Either way, whether noticed and approved or not, the servant can glorify God. The God who sees all and who always properly evaluates will take care of the reward and of directing into future service.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Motivation for Ministry - Part 1

For several reasons, I recently volunteered to teach a class at my church's VBS. It enabled me to be a part of my church's ministry. It helped to fill a need. It allowed me to support the couple who was directing the week. It gave me an opportunity to teach Bible truth. None of those are bad motivations; in fact, I believe they are all in keeping with the mission of the church.

In the midst of my desire to be used as a servant of God, I also perceived thoughts of a different nature. To put it bluntly, I wanted people to think I was doing a good job. I wanted to be respected and valued as a teacher, at least partially so that I could be entrusted with other opportunities in the future. As I realized these desires for the praise of men, I knew they were not right, and I determined to adjust my thoughts with God's truth. I wanted to see more clearly what God says about motivation for ministry.

Jesus addressed the wrong type of heart behind spiritual service. He warned His listeners, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matthew 6:1). "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44). The notice and praise of men should never be the motivation for service.

Wanting to make people happy and pleased is another wrong motivation. A servant cannot effectively serve two masters. Devotion to pleasing men negates the ability to truly please God. "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh . . . not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ" (Ephesians 6:5-6). "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).

Self-promotion is a wrong motivation for service. Paul talked of men "who cause dissensions and hindrances"; these men who wanted to be seen as right were, in reality, "slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites" (Romans 16:17-18). Paul himself was okay with the description that "his personal presence [was] unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Paul knew that being compared favorably with others was not important or even wise: "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (II Corinthians 10:10&12).

It is wrong to serve God with a conceited mindset, assuming that no one else would be able to do the job as well. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude [humility] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:3&5).

The pursuit of personal profit is a wrong motivation. Paul speaks favorably of Timothy, who had a genuine concern for the church's spiritual welfare. Paul set Timothy in contrast to many others, who "all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:21). Not only is such self-seeking service ineffective in God's work, but it does not bring the results people seek. "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8).

Peter spoke harsh words to Simon, a converted sorcerer, who was enamored with the power of the apostles. Peter ascertained a dangerous motivation: "Your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" (Acts 8:21-23). Simon had some serious heart problems that caused him to desire the spiritual gifts of the apostles.

In addition to identifying wrong motives, thankfully the Bible also addresses proper motives for service. By word and example, Paul admonished the believers, "You must help the weak." He continued by quoting Jesus' words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"(Acts 20:35). It is good and right for believers to want to reach out to help their brothers in need.

Ministry to any need within the church must be motivated by love. "If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2). Without love, the service is empty. The Bible actually commands loving service. "Through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).

An even greater motivation than love for others is a love for God Himself. Love for God is the motivation behind the joyful and willing keeping of His commandments, one of which is to lovingly serve others. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3).

A believer who truly loves God will want to do what God wants him to do. Part of God's will is to serve others in need and to serve within the church. Love motivates a believer to perform this service willingly and joyfully, not seeking praise, prestige, or personal profit.

Was it wrong for me to want to do a good job? Not at all. I should desire to serve God to the best of my ability. My motivation, however, must be independent of the perceptions of others. I should want to do my best for God alone, whether people notice or not.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Can't

Humans are weak and fragile. The Bible provides the negative extremity regarding this topic: "For apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). People are absolutely powerless. Job described himself as "the weak" and "the arm without strength" (Job 26:2). Heman said, "I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength" (Psalm 88:4). Various verses compare man's weakness to grass that withers, flowers that fall, or vapors that vanish.

Since mankind is so weak, it is wonderful to know that God is not weak at all. "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27). "He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless" (Isaiah 40:23). "It is He who made the earth by His power" (Jeremiah 51:15). "'To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars. . . . Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:25-26). "Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power" (I Corinthians 6:14). "And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might" (Ephesians 1:19).

The next consideration provides hope. One could ask of God's strength, "How does that help me?" Actually, God pays a great deal of attention to weak people, not just out of pity, but because He wants to do His work through them. "Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-6). "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (I Corinthians 1:27).

Hope increases when the believer realizes that his mighty God gives some of His strength to His weak followers. "Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might" (Colossians 1:11). "He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. . . . Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Isaiah 40:29&31). "I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). "For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you'" (Isaiah 41:13).

How can a believer receive this divine power? The simple answer is that of expressing dependence. The needy believer must acknowledge his own weakness and cry out to the mighty God who can help him. The believer must rely on God alone to do through him what he cannot do on his own. "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm" (Psalm 40:1-2). "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:4&8).

When divine power is shown through weak mortals, how great can that power become? At the very least, it will be enough to do the job, but that is a bare minimum. In reality, God's power is enough to do what man cannot imagine to be possible. "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'" (II Corinthians 12:9). "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Corinthians 9:8). "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

This study began with the negative extreme - the realization that man is so weak he can do nothing on his own. Now the study has reached the positive extreme. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). There is no limit to what someone can do when he is relying on God and His strength to do what God has asked him to do. Nothing is impossible. Great things are possible.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind the reason why a mighty God uses weak people. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (II Corinthians 4:7). "To keep me from exalting myself" (II Corinthians 12:7). "So that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:29). No matter what God does through people, they are still weak, and rightfully He must receive the glory for what only He can do.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. . . . so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:17-18).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Too Short

One of our church's missionaries admonishes, "We have to reach the dead before they die." Unsaved people live a short time before being lost forever. It is also true that Christians have to reach the dead (and otherwise serve God) before we die. Believers also live a short lifetime of opportunity.

Lately as I think of all that I could or should do for God, I realize I don't have much time. Based on my health history, I don't expect to live a long life. While I'm not aware of any reason for imminent death, life is uncertain, and anything can happen.

As I consider my life and service for God, certain phrases come to mind. I think of the hymn text, "I wonder have I done my best for Jesus?" No, I haven't. I think of the famous quotation: "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him." I haven't been that person. I think of the common aspiration of wanting to "make a difference," and that hasn't been as true of me as I would like either.

I haven't fulfilled these goals, nor have I come really close. Those goals of perfection cannot be accomplished by mere humans. My thoughts go to the Bible for a statement that God presents as a more realistic goal, that of hearing His welcoming words: "Well done, good and faithful slave" (Matthew 25:21).

I want to be able to hear those words some day from my Savior. Those words don't require a prominent position, abundant talent, or humanly-evaluated success. They simply require faithfulness - doing what God has assigned day after day, week after week, year after year. They require serving God with earnest effort and a sincere heart.

That is encouraging, because while most of my life has been spent in full-time Christian service, recent years have not been. Now I spend most of my life just making a living, with little time or energy left for serving God. The things I do for God seem small and limited, but God doesn't require my service to be grand, life-encompassing, or full-time. He simply wants me to faithfully do what He asks.

I don't know why God has chosen my current situation for me. My service for Him involves little things that come in scattered segments of an hour or two at a time. As I obey God, however, those acts of service really aren't so small. He chooses the size of the tasks and the proportion of my life that they comprise.

As I consider the avenues of service God has given me over the past seven-and-a-half years (of which I was in full-time ministry only one year), I am reassured as I realize that the ministries I have done and am doing are all in direct answer to prayer. At various points throughout these years, I have prayed the following prayers.
·        "Father, I'm unexpectedly unemployed. What do You want me to do with this time?"
·        "Father, I'm unexpectedly out of Christian service again. Will You give me some way to serve You?"
·        "Father, the way I want to serve within the church is not available to me. What can I do to be involved?"
·        "Father, I want to share the gospel, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Will you show me some 'fishing territory' or a good way to share the gospel?"
·        "Father, I want to do more. Will you give me opportunities?"

God has answered every one of these prayers by presenting some area of ministry for me. That is encouraging. It shows me that God wants to use me. It shows me that when I offer myself to Him, He provides avenues of service. His answers have not typically been dramatic, but God has repeatedly given quiet guidance and asked for my simple obedience.

God always wants to use people who are available and willing.
·        When God called Abraham to a difficult task, Abraham replied, "Here I am" (Genesis 22:1).
·        Joshua declared before all the people, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).
·        When God called Samuel, Samuel responded, "Speak, for Your servant is listening" (I Samuel 3:10).
·        David stated, "I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).
·        Isaiah volunteered, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8).
·        Mary yielded, saying, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 2:38).
·        The disciples prayed, "Grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all confidence" (Acts 4:29).
·        Paul proclaimed, "For to me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).

When Christians respond in like fashion, God is pleased to provide areas of service. They are not always grand; they simply require an obedient yielding to God's purpose, followed by faithful service. "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" (Romans 9:21).

I am still praying, "Father, can You make a way so that my service for You can become a bigger part of my life as opposed to secular work?" I don't know what God's answer to that request will be. Maybe He doesn't intend such a life for me, but I do know He is pleased with the willing heart that prompts the request. I also know He will provide me with ways to serve Him and with the energy to do so for my remaining days and years.

"As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, . . . soon it is gone and we fly away. . . . So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:10-12).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Friendship: Part 2

The previous post was about becoming God's friend and about how God extended the most profound level of sacrificial love to the most unsavory and unlikely of recipients. This post examines how to maintain and improve a friendship with God. Since God created relationships and declares Himself the Friend of believers, it is not surprising to see similarities between human and divine friendship.  

First, the depth of both human and divine friendship can increase. Deepening friendship is achieved through faithfulness over the passage of time and by increased commitment to the relationship. God is always faithful and is already committed as deeply as possible to the friendship. The challenge then lies with the believer, who has a tendency to waver or to be complacent. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). A believer must commit to God long-term regardless of difficulties and obstacles and must determine that he wants to go deeper with God.

Second, both human and divine friendships flourish as the friends maintain similar interests. Friendships benefit when similar interests persist but suffer when those shared interests diminish. A believer who wants his friendship with God to thrive must be interested in what is important to God: the gospel, the church, families, and righteousness. The deeper the common interest, the deeper the friendship can go. If, however, a Christian devalues the gospel, minimizes church, weakens his family, and ignores righteousness,  while pursuing interests that God does not share, friendship with God will suffer immeasurably. "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

Third, neither human nor divine friendships can prosper without frequent, honest, and clear communication. A believer must communicate with God often by hearing from Him through the Bible, both personally and corporately; one conversation per week is hardly enough for a deep friendship. Additionally, great damage is done by substituting popular thought, personal opinion, general impressions, and careless instruction for careful, accurate, and methodical study of the Bible. "Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors" (Psalm 119:24). While God knows man's heart, speaking to God in prayer is also important and beneficial. Prayer helps a believer to identify what is in his heart, to focus on his relationship with God, and to express his deepest thoughts to God. "Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

Fourth, human and divine friendships prosper when people spend time together. Even though no detrimental effect is planned or desired, friendships suffer when the amount of time together decreases. The causes of the decrease can be innocent and practical; nevertheless, the friendship is no longer the same. A Christian cannot be careless about his time with God. Instead, he must purpose to protect that relationship by diligently guarding against anything that would hinder his church attendance, Bible reading, and other time with God. "If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another" (I John 1:7).

Fifth, neither human nor divine friendships continue effectively when faced with long absences. When friends move far away, whether for a year or permanently, the friendship changes dramatically. The friends reassure themselves, "We'll always be friends"; this may be true to some extent, but inevitably something of the closeness is lost. Similarly, God will always be the Friend and Savior of His children. When a believer ignores Him for weeks at a time or walks away for months or years, however, he loses something valuable, and there is an unmistakable impact on the friendship. It is possible to return and rebuild that friendship, but there is definitely a price to be paid for extended absences. "A voice is heard on the bare heights, the weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the LORD their God" (Jeremiah 3:21). "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).

Sixth, strong human and divine friendships are built on trust, forbearance, and forgiveness. One must overlook shortcomings, give the benefit of the doubt, restore fellowship, and believe in people's stated intentions even in the midst of failure. Refusal to make these concessions erects damaging barriers. God is not the one who struggles here. As He looks toward men, He is long-suffering and always ready to forgive. God understands human weakness and failure. He rejoices to grant forgiveness and to restore fellowship. As a believer looks toward God, he must remember that God never fails. There is nothing to forgive God for and no reason not to trust Him, but unfortunately a Christian sometimes makes it seem that way. He gets bitter at God, accuses Him of making wrong decisions, and argues that He has failed. A believer is wrong to think or act in these ways; not only is there no valid basis for these reactions, but they also drive damaging wedges into the relationship. "You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:68). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Relationships require the investment of time and work. God offers all the time in the world, and since He is both powerful and perfect, the relationship is no work for Him. A believer must commit his time and effort to growing his relationship with God. He must earnestly seek to eliminate obstacles that would cause damage, while pursuing efforts that promote a deepening friendship with the best Friend possible. The reward for such effort will be dramatic.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Friendship: Part 1

I'm not an expert on friendship, but I have enjoyed some good friendships. I've also misunderstood friendships enough to have learned something from that perspective. One observation regards the formation of friendships - what brings friendships about, and more significantly, what doesn't.

Often unconsciously and benignly, we try ineffective approaches to friendship. One common tactic is trying to make someone be your friend. You can't force friendship. If someone doesn't want to be your friend, you can't make it happen by persistent attempts or repeated invitations.

A second unsuccessful approach is trying to convince someone to be your friend.  Arguing convincingly about how much you need a friend or how much that person seems right for you may produce a sense of guilt or obligation, but will be ineffective in establishing true friendship. The targeted person might agree that you need a friend, but will defer that role to someone else.

A third ineffective tactic is trying to earn friendship. You can't buy friendship by spending money or giving gifts. You can't earn friendship by doing special things for people. True friends will perform those actions because the friendship already exists, but not to obtain it. A friendship on this basis will not be genuine or lasting.

I believe the best foundation for friendship is mutual interests and similar personalities. You typically get along with others who are like you. Common bonds can be based on church, work, life status, hobbies, background, or family connections. As far as personality, friends often have in common that they are shy, bold, talkative, adventurous, easy-going, reserved, serious, or other qualities. The qualities you possess seem right and comfortable to you, and you appreciate them in others. Part of personality compatibility involves being reasonably likeable; friendships will struggle if there are glaring personality flaws, destructive habits, or anti-social behaviors.

Rarely, we might experience or observe  a friendship that contradicts everything written above. It is truly special when, out of a generous heart of compassion, someone deliberately chooses to befriend someone who needs a friend, although neither common bonds nor likeable personality exist.

"God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God" (Romans 5:10). "You were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds" (Colossians 1:21).

These are just three verses that describe the condition we were in when God reached out to us. We were sinners, enemies, alienated and hostile. Using human analysis, this friendship shouldn't have happened. We had nothing in common with God and didn't share a similar personality. We had glaring personality flaws and anti-social behaviors that would have discouraged anyone else from even trying.

God offers the most incredible example of a generous heart of compassion. No one else has ever approached the level of His deliberate overtures toward someone who desperately needed a friend. No one else has ever been willing to overlook so much.

The wonder does not stop there. We recognize differing levels of friendship, distinguished by the depth of expression of love. In the human realm, there are some rather shallow friendships. From that minimal position, friendships exist at every level of a spectrum until we reach friendships in which one person sacrifices for the other, perhaps even risking his life. In general, the amount that someone is willing to sacrifice indicates the depth of love.

Here God's love shines superior once again. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God" (I Peter 3:18). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (I Peter 2:24). Our amazing God actually offered the ultimate expression of friendship to us when we were completely unlovely and in no way inviting or welcoming His friendship. That is incredible!

In considering human friendships, two aspects have probably been the most painful and disappointing to me. The first is the realization that many friendships are temporary. People's lives change, people move away, and many other things happen to effectively end a friendship as far as practical manifestation. That will never happen with God. His love is eternal, and He will never leave me and never forsake me.

The second disappointment has been in realizing that a friendship was more valuable and meaningful to me than it was to the other person. I often considered someone to be on my "top ten friends of all time" list, only to somehow discover that I was one of hundreds for them, nothing more than a casual friend. Again, this will never happen with God. He loves me with a level of love that I can't even imagine. There is never a danger that I will lose my importance to Him or my special place in His heart.

Charles Gabriel wrote a wonderful hymn titled "My Savior's Love."

1. I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

2. For me it was in the garden He prayed, "Not my will, but Thine."
He had no tears for His own griefs, but sweat drops of blood for mine.

3. He took my sins and my sorrows; He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.

4. When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see,
'Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me.

Chorus: How marvelous, how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me!           

"No longer do I call you slaves . . . but I have called you friends. . . . You did not choose Me but I chose you" (John 15:15-16).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Subtle Pride

Shortly before His death, Jesus shared startling news with His disciples: "But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:21-22).

This statement was quite shocking to the disciples. They couldn't imagine that any of them would do such a thing. "The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking" (John 13:22). The disciples were "deeply grieved" on hearing such a prediction; "they each one began to say to Him, 'Surely not I, Lord?'" (Matthew 26:22).

While it seemed unthinkable that anyone in their group would betray Jesus, I suppose each individual in the group thought himself least likely to be the betrayer. Peter was so sure of himself that he vowed, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Matthew 26:33). He continued, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You" (Matthew 26:35). "All the disciples said the same thing too" (Matthew 26:35).

This dilemma led to an interesting conversation. "And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing" (Luke 22:23). This couldn't have been good for morale or mutual trust. As much as they wanted to deny Jesus' prediction, their discussion by its very nature weakened the unity and confidence within the group.

It is quite logical then that the first discussion quickly blossomed into another. "And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest" (Luke 22:24). If the initial question was "Who is most likely to fail?" it was closely followed by "Who is most likely to be faithful?"

In the disciples' difficult pondering and disputation, they may have found it impossible to reach a conclusion about who would be guilty of betraying Jesus. The best they could do was to narrow down the options. Surely, they could at least come up with a list of who definitely wouldn't betray Him. We don't know which names ended up on the short list of suspects (or even how long that list was), but each disciple's desire was to prove that he could not possibly be on that list. After all, he was in the competition for being the greatest.

I don't believe any of the disciples started out with the intention of displaying pride. They were rightfully horrified that any of them would prove disloyal. They didn't want that to be true of them. In their individual desire to be true to Jesus, each looked for some type of indication, proof, or support to convince himself (and the others) that he would not betray Jesus. Just like that, pride crept in. Suddenly, the men were looking internally for something of value or strength in themselves.

In spite of their arguments, the sad truth is that none of them fared very well in the following hours. Judas, the one of whom Jesus had spoken, led the soldiers and religious leaders to Jesus' location in a pitiful act of betrayal. "Then all the disciples left Him and fled" (Matthew 26:56). John was the only one who followed Jesus and gained access to the venue of the trial (John 18:15). Bold Peter "was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest," where he "sat down . . . to see the outcome" (Matthew 26:58). Subsequently, he denied three times that he knew Jesus, even cursing in his vehemence. The other disciples are not mentioned after their flight.

Their intentions were right. Their heart and desire were right. None of the disciples wanted to fail Jesus. They wanted to be true, faithful, loyal, and dependable. These were the men who had learned directly from Jesus and had ministered with Him for several years. If anyone would stand with Jesus, it would be these men, yet even they failed.

While Christians today do not have a specific prediction like Judas did, falling is definitely a danger. Probably every reader knows of at least one previously faithful Christian who has slid into complacence. Worse, each reader probably knows of formerly faithful Christians who have completely walked away from God, perhaps denying His existence or becoming combative. Some readers have likely found themselves tempted to do the same at a crisis point in their lives. Any believer who asserts, "I have never been tempted like that," is on shaky ground, but the one who vows, "I never will be," is in great danger.

If, like the disciples, we start to think, "I would never deny God. After all, I'm one of the best Christians," we would do well to relate to the apostle Paul, who realized, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:18). Jesus said it well: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. . . . Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

When we observe someone who has fallen, may we never think, "Not me!" Oh, the weakness and deception of the human heart! Only the grace of God enables us to be faithful. Only the grace of God keeps us and draws us closer to Him. We are powerless to achieve any such success on our own, in spite of noble and determined motivation. When we think we are strong, that is when we need to rely on God the most and call out to Him for help. "Father, I need You!"

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (I Corinthians 10:12).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Thankful Game

Several months ago I designed "the thankful game"; it's a bad designation, but I needed an identifying title. I could have used "strategy" or "tool," the world's terminology. What I established, however, was far more serious and important than a game and far deeper and more meaningful than a tool.

In a time of continued discouragement, I often found my thoughts (and emotions) going in the wrong direction. I wanted to escape the negative and focus on the positive instead. I wanted to think right things so that my focus and demeanor could change. While I didn't ignore negative or disappointing aspects of life, there was no profit to me in dwelling on those things - quite the opposite, in fact.

The game, as I designed it, was implemented by this brief challenge to myself: "Quick! Give me five things you're thankful for." I tried to play this game at least two or three times a day, often more. It was a good way to start my day, end my day, get me to work, and get me home from work. If I felt myself getting discouraged or mired in negativity, that was a good indication to say to myself, "Time for the thankful game!"

The longer I did this, the easier and more natural it became. I found myself often going past the required five items. I found it easier to come up with five items (even if it was my fourth time to play the game that day). I found myself becoming more specific. Initially, my morning thanks might be for sleep, breakfast, clothing, a car, and an apartment. Later, one of those aspects would branch into five by itself: a good night's sleep, that I didn't have bad dreams, that the fire siren didn't go off during the night, that God designed the concept of sleep, and that God gives the gift of sleep.

I also found myself giving thanks to God randomly, without having implemented the game. I found that my overall spirit was lifted and that I was a more thankful person. I no longer play the game as deliberately and routinely, but the time of deliberate thankfulness has had a lasting effect.

I mentioned that the world would call this a tool or strategy. While it was in part a strategy for lifting my spirits, thankfulness is much more than that. It is more important for me to have a thankful heart than it is for me to feel happy. It is more important for me to give God the thanks He deserves than it is for me to be distracted from negativity. The game did improve my spirits; more importantly, it challenged my character. Giving thanks is good because it is right, not because of personal benefit.

The Jews constantly offered sacrifices of crops or animals. I don't live under that requirement, but I can offer frequent sacrifices to God. Lips that speak thankfulness are an offering that God desires from Christians today. "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).

My giving thanks two or three or five times a day was a good starting point. The more often I gave thanks, the closer I came to what God desires. It is easy to think, "I don't know what to thank God for." The answer is everything - everything in my life, both good and bad."Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Ephesians 5:20).

It is also easy to think, "After a few days of doing this, I will run out of things to be thankful for." Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that there are innumerable things for which to be thankful. "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits" (Psalm 103:2). God's benefits and blessings never cease. The danger is not of running out, but of failing to recognize His bountiful benefits.

I started out primarily by giving thanks for things: a good night's sleep, strength for the work day, my family, a place to live, and so on. I discovered how easy it is to branch out from those temporal things to spiritual blessings, focusing on the character of God. "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting" (Psalm 107:1). For example, thanking God for a good night's sleep could lead to thanking God that He never sleeps but constantly watches over me. Thanking Him for strength to work could lead to thanking Him for His amazing power in creation and in orchestrating my life. Thankfulness for my family leads to thanking God that He is my Father, a perfect Father who perfectly does and provides and gives and loves. Thanking God for a place to live naturally leads to thanking God for the home He is preparing for me.

Another area of thanks is in the experiences of life. "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17). I can thank God as I am doing each activity, whether that be working, eating, relaxing, going to church, interacting with friends, reading a book, etc. If it is a good and appropriate activity, I can thank God for the opportunity and ability to partake in it.

Finally, there is no bad time to play this game, only lots of good times. I played it in the car, at work, in the shower, in the kitchen, on a walk, and yes, even in bed. "At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous ordinances" (Psalm 119:62).

"It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High" (Psalm 92:1).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

50 Ways to Serve When You Can't Serve

Every church member (see question #6 of previous post) should have some way to serve within the church. No one should be doing nothing. God Himself teaches that every member is important and is designed by God to fill some role within the church.

"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly" (Romans 12:4-6). "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. . . . But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (I Corinthians 12:11, 18).

Some people have legitimate limitations that restrict their service. If someone is weak (for whatever reason), this does not mean he is worthless. "On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary" (I Corinthians 12:22).

Many people face challenges of health, family, work, or other responsibilities that make it difficult to serve within the church. A sickly or elderly member might have significant restrictions on what he can do. A willing mom might have her hands so full with children that she can't commit to regular involvement. A gifted teacher might not be able to put in hours of preparation each week. A talented singer might not be able to commit to the structure and frequency of the choir.

I am particularly concerned for our senior saints. They have such rich experience with God and such depth of wisdom, yet often they (apparently) have no active role in the church. Seniors often struggle with the perception of uselessness; a failure to be involved can intensify that struggle. The church needs these seasoned Christians and needs what they can contribute for the good of the church.

Whatever your condition or position, the church needs you. If you want to serve, but don't know how you can within your limitations, here are some suggestions. Most require little or no money. They include both regular and sporadic service, but with no major time investment. The energy required is minimal. Don't try to do them all, but choose one or two or three that fit your capacity, and start serving.

·         Develop a daily, weekly, or monthly prayer list to regularly pray for church needs.
·         Be a substitute Sunday school teacher.
·         Be a helper for a larger Sunday school class.
·         Meet regularly with an individual or couple that is newly saved.
·         Share a testimony whenever the opportunity is provided.
·         Write devotional thoughts to share with a particular person or group.
·         Ask your pastor if there is an individual or family that could especially use encouragement or prayer.
·         Sing special music on an occasional basis - solo or small group.
·         Play an occasional offertory or prelude.
·         Invite a friend or neighbor to church.

Practical Ministry
·         Be an emergencies-only nursery worker.
·         Take the nursery toys (or bedding) home to wash.
·         Help the treasurer count offerings.
·         Take attendance.
·         Inventory Sunday school materials.
·         Come in each week to fold the church bulletins.
·         Stamp new supplies of gospel tracts with the church information.
·         Help prepare mailings from your church.
·         Do Internet/phone research for a church project or consideration.
·         Prepare the communion elements.
·         Make the communion bread.
·         Bring flowers to decorate the church.
·         Help prepare crafts or decorations for special events (VBS, conferences, holidays).
·         Help with minor repair projects.

·         Make a phone call to someone who was absent.
·         Visit church members who are in the hospital.
·         Send cards to shut-ins (or visit them).
·         Take a meal (or other treat/gift) to someone in need.
·         Be sensitive to people who are hurting - childless women on Mother's Day, singles or widows on Valentine's Day, widows on anniversaries, bereaved parents on birthdays, etc. Show your love and support with a hug, prayer, card, gift, or meal.

·         Purposefully and routinely greet people as they come into church.
·         Be available to open the door for those going in or out.
·         Choose a visitor or recent attendee to speak to every week.
·         Talk to someone who looks lonely.
·         Attend faithfully.

·         Send the pastor a card of appreciation.
·         Send cards or letters to missionaries.
·         Each month do something special for a different Sunday school teacher or church worker (card, gift, meal, note of thanks).
·         Make a meal for your pastor's family.
·         Host a missionary in your home.

·         Smile.
·         Show kindness.
·         Give a hug.
·         Hold a hand or touch an arm.
·         Give a kiss. (Older ladies can get away with this.)
·         Pray with someone.
·         Tell someone you are praying for them.

Show interest outside of church time
·         Purposefully interact with fellow church members on Facebook.
·         Send someone a card for no reason except that you think they could use it.
·         Send birthday and anniversary cards.
·         Have a widow (or other solitary person) over for a meal or activity - or for no reason.

Recently I had two experiences on two Sundays in a row, both from elderly ladies who might think themselves unable to serve. The first week, a lady stopped to talk to me after the service. As we talked, it became evident that I was struggling some. She extended her time of talking, showed care with her eyes, and touched my arm as she left. The next week a different lady greeted me. She turned her handshake into a hug and told me she loved me. Were these "helpless old ladies" ministering within the church? You better believe it!

Is your service limited? Consider the list above. Choose several items that you already do or that you could do; start doing them regularly and deliberately as your purposeful service within the church.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Should I Serve?

Someone recently asked my input about continuing in a particular church ministry. Not long ago I personally considered the same question. Below are some guiding questions for decision-making about ministry.

1) Is there a need?
The fact that my area of ministry exists does not necessarily indicate a need, nor does the fact that something has not previously been done negate a new need. A church's needs change over time. I was once in a church that evaluated its existing programs to be sure each was contributing to the church's mission. A non-contributing ministry is not a need. If there is a need, that doesn't necessarily mean I should be the one to continue it, but I should be influenced by the reality of the need; if there is not a need, then discontinuation is legitimate.

"Let all things be done for edification" (I Corinthians 14:26).

2) Can I do it?
In many cases, this question alone provides much of the answer. If there is a needed ministry that I have been doing and am able to do, I should probably faithfully continue doing it, rather than placing an additional burden on someone else. If I can no longer do it effectively due to declining health, changing responsibilities, or increasing difficulty of the task, then I need to question my on-going involvement. God can give strength and ability beyond what I have naturally, but He has also designed me as a human being with limitations and with a brain to evaluate those limitations.

"In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy" (I Corinthians 4:2).

3) Is there another qualified person who wants to do it?
If my questions about continuing in my role coincide with the desire of another brother or sister to take on that ministry, God could be orchestrating a transition. Even if my doubts are not strong, there is a place within the church for selflessness and teamwork. It is important for newer and younger Christians to be trained and to become involved in the work of the church. Maybe that means I should step aside or reduce my role, focusing on the training and transition.

"The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).

4) Is there a reason why I shouldn't do it?
Often people feel obligated to continue doing what they have always done, but there are many legitimate reasons for stepping out of a ministry. These could include changing health, a different work schedule, or evolving family responsibilities. Due to age or inflexible work schedule, some may find that they can no longer commit consistently. People can also have spiritual needs that make ministry difficult and ineffective. For a time, they may require being ministered to rather than ministering to others. Important spiritual things happen in church, including worshipping together, encouraging one another, fellowshipping with each other, and hearing the ministry of the Word. A struggling believer especially needs these spiritual ministries, but even spiritually healthy people should not overextend themselves to the point of unduly curtailing those spiritual influences.

"For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain . . . to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13).

5) Am I doing it out of love?
If I am not serving out of love, my ministry is worthless. Ministries  started in love do not always continue that way. To use the world's terminology, people can become burnt out. If I find myself dreading or resenting my ministry, I either need to rekindle my love or I need to discontinue the ministry until I can again serve out of love.

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (I Corinthians 13:1).

6) If I don't do it, how will I be serving within the church?
Every part of the body of Christ is important, and every member has something to do for God. Granted, some people are very limited, but exceptions aside, the expectation is that everyone share in the ministry. If I stop doing the ministry I am doing now, will I still have a way to serve? Maybe I've been overextended and need to step back from some things, but I should still have some participation in God's work. If my desire to step away is so that I can sit back and do nothing, that is a problem.

"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Corinthians 12:7).

7) Does God want me to do it?
Each of the above questions is subservient to this question. If God wants me to do something, He will provide the opportunity, He will give the strength, He will give me wisdom in working with others, He will remove the obstacles, He will help my heart motives to be right, and He will let me know how much He wants me to. God might want me to do something in spite of these deterring factors. He may even want me to do something that is not in my primary area of giftedness. My response must be to humbly say, "Yes, Lord," to whatever aspect of service He chooses. If, based on God's leading through the above questions and through prayer, He does not want me to something, my response must be to humbly say, "Yes, Lord." I must step aside and allow God to direct in the continuation of that ministry.

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).