Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spiritual Learnings

I’m thinking about a lot of really big issues or thoughts on the Christian life. Occasionally in my life I experience these moments either through prayer, a conversation, a Scripture, or just a daily moment in life where it’s like God truly steps down and reveals something directly to me. It can be something I have heard hundreds of times before, but somehow hearing it again in just the right way causes me to think deeply about it and to understand what God is teaching me at that moment. This is actually God’s Spirit at work which I will discuss later.

1) Hard not Heavy

Jesus says, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:30). Christ’s burden that He carries is easy and light meaning He has plenty of strength to help us and carry our burdens in our place. When the Christian life becomes heavy – stressful, anxious, worried, controlling, burdensome – this is due to your own control and your lack of surrender unto Christ who will carry your burdens for you. We like to hold on to the reigns of our lives (even though we all know the final result of doing so ends in disaster) and control our lives making “bootstrap” accomplishments that we can pat ourselves on the back with and say to ourselves, “Well done good and faithful Ben. You had a problem and you took care of it yourself without even having to ask God for any help at all!” This is what the world praises right? Self-sufficiency. Individual accomplishments. Awards. Cinderella sports teams. Hear me now my family in Christ! If the entire weight of the world lay on your shoulders, it would not begin to describe the burden that is upon you without Christ! Jesus Christ is stronger than you are and He calls all people to lay down this burden that you cannot even stand under and give it to Him so He may free you from this stress, this anxiety, these desires. Jesus frees people from their own contradictory and self-destructive selves. If only I could just submit to God and let go of my control over my life, things would be so much simpler. Letting go is the hardest aspect of the Christian life.
So it is meant to be hard? Yes, the Christian life is meant to be hard, but it is not meant to be heavy. Does that make sense? Heaviness is you carrying an impossible burden on your shoulders. Hard is dying to yourself and letting go of your control over life trusting in God’s sovereign and loving nature to lead you through. Heavy is the pressure that is placed upon yourself to do and not just be.

2) The Spirit and the spiritual: the only way to learn, the only way to change

The Holy Spirit’s movement is the only way I can ever understand anything; it is the only way I can ever change or learn anything about God or about myself. Without it I stay the same man year after year, I read the same scriptures over and over having no ears to hear the words and no eyes to see the truth that lies within it. I said above that what needs to happen in the Christian life is a dying to yourself, a release of control. How can I give up control of myself, how can I die to myself?? The first lesson is recognizing that you don’t know how to do it nor do you have the ability to do it. I’ve been praying for God’s Spirit to work in me because without it, without Christ the vine, I can do nothing (John 15). Abiding in Christ simply means to remain as you are – don’t break yourself off from the tree. It is only by the Spirit that I can learn these truths. It is only by the Spirit that it becomes spiritual knowledge and not just information stored in my brain. It is only by the Spirit that these truths will actually stay with me long enough to have any effecting change. It is only by the Spirit that truth finds its way to action in my life. Yes I want to be more than do, but as you are being, doing will occur naturally and led by the Spirit of God rather than by your determination, drive, discipline, or boldness to change yourself (James 1).

It is good to feel God’s Spirit working in my life after a month of distance and distraction.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reluctant Leadership (the Moses in all of us)

Here's a little guide to keep you from getting confused: when I say Moses, I am referring to the Moses of the Bible, and when I say Moses A., I am referring to Moses Abele my Kenyan ministry partner pictured above.

Every now and then in life you come across an incredibly vivid and powerful analogy of Christian living drawn from an everyday life circumstance. Moses A. experienced something like that the first Sunday we were at the Word of Life camp. I was able to hear of his experience when we met together the day after for our first official discipleship time.

Moses A. is a great guy. I really enjoyed getting to know him while in Kenya, connecting with him, sharing struggles with him, and teaching him through my experiences. Moses A. has a natural leadership quality to him. No matter what I think people will always look to him in some way to lead, he cannot hide from it. Yet like all of us there is a reluctance to lead. Some have this reluctance from lack of self-confidence like the Moses of the Bible who five times gave excuses to God for the commission given to him by God (Exodus 3:11,3:13,4:1,4:10,4:13). Moses said, "I am not good enough," and God replied, "I will certainly be with you." Moses said, "The people won't know your name," and God replied, "I AM WHO I AM. They will know my name because they know my faithfulness to them in history." Moses said, "They won't believe that You have really appeared to me," and God replied, "I will give you signs and wonders as proof that I am with you." Moses said, "I cannot speak well," and God replied, "I made your mouth and will give you the words and ability to speak." Moses said, "Please send someone else," and God replied in ANGER yet mercy giving him Aaron for help but still giving His presence and power to Moses. Moses' reluctance to lead was based in his lack of self-confidence which adversely affected His trust in God's power; along with his self-confidence issues, he did not believe the people would even want to follow him - this is based in his thinking of himself as lowly and thinking of the people as un-trusting or unfaithful (not so far from the truth). The problem with both of these thoughts is that they are true by a strictly earthly view, but if you add God and His power into the equation, all things become possible. With God, you become a confident leader and the people become faithful followers. It is good to be lowly and humble in your own sight, but if it gets to the point where you stop trusting in Jesus, His power, and authority, it becomes a problem of unfaithfulness in God to use the lowly.

On that Sunday, Moses A. and the rest of the group had decided to go to the beach for an afternoon swim. The beach area right next to the Word of Life camp was not a good place to swim. Moses A. was the only person in the group at the time that had been there before and he knew of the perfect place to swim. So he was automatically placed as the leader of the group for a while. Moses A. began to lead the group on a 20-minute walk to the best swimming area. After about 10 minutes, some people in the group began to wonder how far this place was and asked Moses A., “Are we close yet?” The area they were walking through was very rocky and there also were a lot of sellers on the beach, which were causing some of the people in the group to get a little uncomfortable. As Moses A. continued leading, he began to doubt himself because the people were complaining, but he knew that where he led them was the perfect place to take them for swimming. He was the only person who had seen how good the place was, and so he pressed on because he knew what was best for the group.

This is exactly what we have been called by God to do every day. The commission that Moses received by God was to deliver His people from Egypt and the commission that we have received by God is to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to lead people no matter how we feel of ourselves – we are to be humble but not doubt in God’s power to use us. We are to lead people into the glorious relationship with Jesus Christ and then teach people how to ground themselves into a loving and fruitful relationship with their Creator. This will cause some discomfort in the people we are leading, but we must stay focused and continue to lead them because we have seen it is good and it is the very best place for them to go. This is the essence of a shepherd, and exactly what Jesus does with us everyday as we follow Him towards the very best things that He is giving us. For Jesus, the Shepherd, to teach us and grow us, He will cause discomfort so we will walk closer to His side as He leads us. Leadership / Discipleship always begins by being led by Jesus, by being a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Application of Learning

Claus, Anthony, Chris, & Ivan

Landon with Moses on the right.

Today, I want to tell you of a really neat situation that occurred during our discipleship - two situations actually. Meet Anthony, an 18 year old freshman from Dallas, Tx. Anthony has a dry sense of humor, a faithful and obedient heart, a love for God's word, and a really deep voice. Meet Ivan, Anthony's discipleship partner in Kenya. Ivan is a 30 year old Kenyan involved in FBC's college ministry at Mombasa Polytechnic. Ivan has a great smile, a servant's heart, and a passion for evangelism. Anthony was a little intimidated or confused when he, the youngest guy on our team, was paired up with Ivan, the oldest guy on the Kenyan team. "So Ivan's like 30," was Anthony's way of telling the American team that he was concerned about the situation. Throughout the course of the week we all found that the pairing couldn't have been a better fit. Ivan loves to act; he's a servant and evangelist after all. Anthony loves to study - he's becoming a man of the Word. With this, God had set up for Ivan exactly what he needed to learn the week we were with him. This was a direct answer to prayer of which I had asked all of you to pray - thank you for praying, God is good!

Anthony found his time with Ivan very focused when going through our curriculum, The Timothy Principle by Roy Robertson as Ivan was eager to learn. Out of the four hours we had each morning, Ivan and Anthony would be finished with the lesson in less than half the time. These two men decided that the best use of their time would be found in evangelism on the beach. By Wednesday of our week at the Word of Life camp, two men that had approached a couple of our girls the day before with spiritual questions came to know Christ as their personal Savior. Chris and Claus had entered the family of God through the power of His Spirit and the faithfulness of His servants. On the same day, Landon and Marto were able to share Christ with a Masai man named Moses who also accepted Christ. I found it so wonderful that on that day the lesson in the Timothy Principle was about follow up and the lesson before it was about evangelism (the Bridge illustration). Anthony, Ivan, Landon, and Marto were taking what they had just learned and immediately applied them in action. Not only that but God was blessing their action with immediate fruit - the very fruit that we began learning about that Monday. "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." - John 15:16. "Go and bear fruit," "Go and make disciples," the fruit is new believers and their growth in discipleship. Throughout the rest of the week Ivan and Anthony continued to split their time - half in discipleship and learning, and half in evangelism and application (shouldn't our lives look so much like this daily? WOW!) We are hoping and praying that the Word of Life staff have continued to follow up with these men who really do not know the first thing about following God in a daily Christian walk, and you may pray with us as well. Conversion unto Christ is not the end, only the beginning of a long relationship with Christ. God has, we pray, chosen Chris, Claus, and Moses and appointed them that they may go (learn of Him and grow in Him) and bear fruit (of righteousness, faithfulness, and the Great Commission), and that their fruit should remain (meaning they themselves will one day share Christ with another Kenyan and disciple them as they were discipled).

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Humble Servant of God

I'd like for you all to meet my Kenyan friend and brother, Jay Jay. Or as Jill Senechal likes to call him "Pepe". One of the things I feel like I learned the most about God is how much He delights in His servants who humbly and daily die to their own desires or needs in order to serve and love others. I feel I was able to learn the most through the example of JJ. JJ, an old friend of Dennis Omondi's, was asked to help Jill host our team in Kenya as well as organize and administrate the Kenyan team. With Dennis in the states, Jill needed someone to help her with the loads of work that comes with hosting a short term team; also, it was important to have a Kenyan with her during any business transactions as it is commonplace in Kenya for a mzungu (white person) to be overcharged if not ripped off. JJ gladly accepted this task and took 2 weeks vacation from work in order to work with us. From the very first day in Mombasa to the very last day in Nairobi, Jill and JJ were with my team guiding us every step of the way and freeing us up to do the ministry which we came to do - disciple and cast a vision of discipleship with the Kenyan college leaders.

But this is not nearly the half of what God has taught me about service through JJ. I feel like we are impacted the most and even shown our own failings the most when we see someone who is doing it right and well in front of our eyes. This is one of the many reasons why discipleship works and an older person's association with the younger is the most important part of discipleship.

First of all, whenever I see a need whether it occurs right in front of me like an elderly person who drops something or I hear about something or someone in need and I am not in their presence, there is often times a hesitation to serve them or meet that need. This hesitation will often come from a variety of places. Selfishness: "I just have more important things to do right now. I feel bad, but what help can I be to them anyway." Laziness: "It's finally my day off. I just want to stay in and watch movies." Self-Consciousness: "They really don't want my help," or "We would both be embarrassed if I tried to help them." I think the last one is best explained with the example of chivalry shown towards women. With the world telling us men over and over again that women are equally strong and equally capable of taking care of themselves, it is hard to remember chivalry as an act of service these days. What makes it so hard is that self-consciousness, thinking that the other person does not want my help or service. Kind of hard to explain, and I digress. The great thing about JJ is that he doesn't really hesitate to help the needy or a friend. As soon as he sees the need, he's off and running to meet it. This made me really admire JJ in the end.

There are tons of little stories that could help you understand JJ's character and service to others, but there is one that illustrates this point the best. We were eating together as a team on our last night in Mombasa. As we got up to leave, Jill gives JJ some money to tip our waiter. As I walked out with Jill, she grabbed me by the arm and whispered, "I think our waiter is trying to pay JJ!" I looked at her confused. Once we got out of the restaurant, JJ came running up with a huge grin on his face laughing at the situation. "They paid me! Can you believe it! They thought that I brought all of you and so they paid me! HA!," JJ exclaimed. You see, we were a big group of mzungus and JJ is Kenyan, therefore the logical conclusion of the waiter was that JJ brought all of the business in and the waiter wanted to 'thank' him so that JJ might bring more mzungus in the future. JJ, Jill, and I rode home in Jill's car laughing and joking about the situation. As we were navigating through the Kenyan roads, JJ tells Jill to pull over to the side of the road in a specific place. JJ gets out without explaining and Jill and I look at each other thinking we are experiencing a cultural moment. 5 minutes later, JJ gets in the car and Jill asks, "What was that all about?" JJ responds, "Just meeting some people." What had happened was JJ knew some people in need that were on the way home, and he set it up to give them the money that he had so unexpectedly received. He gave it all away. No hesitation. No thought of keeping it for his own needs or desires. Like I said, he's someone to be admired.