Stretcher Bearers

7 11 2007

“For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you brother.”

Philemon 1:7

This post has been a long time coming, it’s been on my heart ever since Spring quarter last year. I was studying for a final and listening to Lifesong by Casting Crowns. When I heard the song called Stained Glass Masquerade, I had to take a pause from my work and sat there contemplating the lyrics for a while. I have to admit, many times when I listen to Christian music or even during worship I focus so much on the music that I am distracted from the words. This time, however, those words hit my heart; I think because it is a subject I’ve dwelt on for a long time and struggled with throughout my Christian walk. How genuine are we to each other? How can we be even more open and willing to share? What is the depth of our conversations and are we being superficial? There were so many issues brought up by that song and I think I’ve also been inspired to write this post by all the talk recently amongst our class about some of these issues.

I think there are several issues that we always discuss about GOC, many specifically related to the size of our fellowship. For our class the “gender gap” has been repeatedly brought up recently and I agree it is an issue for us. Also, talking with Andrew and other people, the problem of cliques and fringe people has been on my heart. Both of these issues are heavy on my heart because I feel that I am more of a cause of them then a solution. I am naturally introverted and when I am able to find people I am comfortable with and can confide in, I stick with them. I seek them after fellowship, hang out with them at gatherings, and pretty much form that clique. Most of the time those people happen to be guys just because of common interests, like sports and games, as well as comfort levels. I have realized that I use these reasons as an excuse, a crutch to justify my passive approach to people and relationships. There are people I observe all the time socializing and being proactive and I think to myself, “they will take care of other people” and “they will make the effort if they want to talk to me.” Yet, if I pass on those responsibilities and then everyone else follows suit, who is taking that initiative? Am I here to serve or be served? Am I loving people if I am not even willing to make a call or invite someone to lunch?

These issues all seem to stem from a deeper heart issue, at least for me, a lack of genuine care for people. Yes, there will always be subjects that we can only discuss with friends of our own gender. Yes, there will always be those we are always more comfortable talking with and holding accountable. Does that mean, however, that we forsake other people? If I am truly a child of God and a man seeking to be like Christ, I ought to love as He has loved me first. Even with my closer friends, many times I avoid the meaningful spiritual discussions in favor of the more “comfortable” superficial ones. I expect calls from them, I expect them to initiate the meet ups, and I expect them to bring up the conversations. How much deeper would my relationships be if I could turn to my brothers and sisters in Christ in times of struggle as well as in times of joy? How awesome would it be if we could bear one another’s burdens? How much closer would we grow if we could freely confess our struggles to each other?

I feel that there are several practical things we can do as a fellowship to reach this point, a point where we truly are a fellowship of stretcher bearers. The room hangouts are definitely a cool idea and just having meet ups in groups where we can overcome social awkwardness. Also, just for reaching out to people that we know are not coming regularly or may not be as plugged in to GOC. Like Justin always says, we should not need a follow up team; rather everyone should be welcoming newcomers and following up on others. Andrew was pointing out that if we each just got to know a few people really well this year, that we do not normally talk to, how much more welcome would each person feel? How much more would God be glorified as we become united by His Spirit? There are things I think we can personally work on such as not making such a big deal of guys and girls talking or eating together. Also, not just looking for the same people every time we meet up. These smaller solutions are great, but I also need to look at my own heart because I feel once I genuinely care as Christ did for me, then these will all be natural outpourings.

I guess this post was just a pouring out of my own thoughts, it was very stream-of-consciousness. Also, I hope it will keep me accountable and whoever reads this will continue to keep me accountable in my goals. I pray that I would bear the burdens of my brothers even more and that we would persevere together. I pray that I would love my class and GOC more and more as well as truly share with them without fear. I pray that I would reach out to people and care for those that are not as plugged in. I pray that I would help the freshman grow, serve them, and just spend time with them. I pray that I would be an encouragement to those around me and a person who values people more than temporal things. I pray that our fellowship would be characterized by our care for one another. I pray that our fellowship would not be hindered by its size, but that we would find even more stretcher bearers because of it. Lastly, I pray that our fellowship would live out the faith and love of the four friends in Mark 2:3-4.

“And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. And being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.”

Mark 2:3-4

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Guidelines for Spiritual Leadership

26 09 2007

Last year during small group Ed gave us a handout on guidelines for spiritual leadership and with the new school year I’ve been looking over the qualifications. I see areas of weakness that I truly desire to work on this year and I hope that whoever reads this will help keep me accountable in all these criteria. Anyways these are the guidelines he gave us…

1 Timothy 3:1-7

These are not actually small group leader qualifications, but elder qualifications. That said, the principle stands that anyone who occupies an office of spiritual oversight must prove themselves worthy of the task. Therefore, the qualifications listed below will serve as a guide to help you search your heart to determine if you have the prerequisites for service as a small group leader. It is important to emphasize that the desire is not sufficient cause for appointment to spiritual oversight.

1. You must be above reproach. This means blameless, or above criticism. There should be no pattern of sin in your life that others can look as a discrediting factor. For an example of blameless conduct, even in the eyes of his enemies, see Daniel (Daniel 6:4). This quality defies specific application. A general rule is to look at the fruit of the Spirit and measure your life in light of that. For example, do you model biblical love in your relationships, a joy in the Lord, peace in all circumstances, patience with all people (even roommates), kindness to those who are nice to you and those who are not, goodness (moral excellence) in your decisions, gentleness in how you give and receive correction, and self control (discipline) as a pattern of life, with respect to school, work, church, and personal responsibilities.

2. You must be morally pure in your thinking and actions. Be very careful how you act, or are perceived to act with the opposite sex.

3. You must be sober-minded and self-controlled. This is a call to stability in your emotions and conduct. Be sensible and mature. If your are going to occupy an office of spiritual leadership, you must be firm in our convictions and consistent in how you discern the will of God. Do not foster a reputation for being impulsive. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the way you govern yourself.

4. You must be respectable. Be this you must literally be worthy of respect. Be dignified, exemplary, and humble.

5. You must be hospitable. This is a love shown to strangers. Be aware of your responsibility to reach out to visitors and new students.

6. You must be able to teach. His requires handling the Word of God with precision. Strive to be ‘mighty in the Scripture’ (Acts 18:24), able to understand, apply, defend, and teach the Bible.

7. You must not be a drunkard. This is self explanatory. Don’t be controlled by any substance, whether alcohol, drugs, painkillers, or food. This is simply lack of self control, and an invitation to reproach. Note: consumption of alcohol is sin if you are under age (cf. Romans 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

8. You must not be violent but gentle and not quarrelsome. Be considerate, patient, and gracious. Do not hold a grudge, and do not be a seeker of revenge. Don’t be the one who is known for picking a fight. Don’t develop a love for confrontation and argument.

9. You must not love money. Don’t chase after material riches. Give instead, then your heart will be there and giving will be a joy. Be cautious about selecting a lucrative career path. that demands your allegiance, Remember, God will not reward you for making lots of money. Satisfying your or your parents’ pride with achievement will mean nothing in eternity. No human approval will matter in heaven.

10. You must not be recent convert. Leadership can make you proud. You must be proven over a period of time before being appointed to spiritual oversight.

11. You must be well thought of by outsiders. Maintain an excellent testimony with non-Christians. You need not be popular among unbelievers, but live with integrity before others who are not Christians, and let your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:5-6).





Fishing

16 08 2007

“And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him.”

Matthew 4:1-20

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men and this section of the book stood out because it introduced how God builds up a strong Christian leader. I have recently been thinking over the passage in Matthew describing the calling of the first disciples. Jesus called these men to sacrifice everything to spread the gospel, and they did so immediately and obediently. There was no hesitation, no period of wait, no excuses; they dropped everything for Him as humble disciples. Every time I read over this passage I am amazed at how eagerly and obediently these ordinary fishermen were to serve the Lord. I pray that I could have just a fraction of their faith and willingness to evangelize, that was why I decided to go fishing with Ed this past Monday. I was ready to overcome my fear of man and teach people about the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet I think I learned so much more about myself and my own faith.

At 12 I met Ed at the bear, we prayed for the people we were going to meet and then headed out. The people we met came from a range of spectra, from the believer to total antagonism against Christians. It was awesome to see that some of the people we talked to had been fished before and actually had some interest because of that willingness to serve them. I think God meant for that hour to be a time of self-evaluation and humility. When we spoke to the first few people I barely uttered a word, I felt at a loss of words. Ed went up to people so calmly and the conversation seemed so smooth, but I felt so uncomfortable sharing the gospel to these people. The first guy we met was willing to talk a little and said he knew parts of the gospel, but admitted he did not have the complete story and had only gone to church because of his parents. He did not know why his family started going or why they eventually stopped. We then met Ben, who is a believer, and it was cool talking to him about his beliefs and just knowing that there are other believers all around campus. The next person was Andrew and he was a Catholic, but did not go to church regularly. It was difficult discussing the gospel with him because his ideas were misconstrued. At one moment I would be nodding in agreement, but the next I would have a puzzled look over my face. Next was John, who had heard of GOC before, but was hesitant to attend because of the literal translation of the Bible. He struggled with the interpretation of much of the Old Testament events, especially Genesis, because of his scientific background. The last person we talked to was extremely antagonistic and was not willing to hear anything.

So what I wrote above is a draft from what seems like ages ago and I never seemed to get around to finishing up my thoughts. Since I have time now, I’ll try and continue those thoughts and include some of what I’ve been meditating on recently. When I first resolved to go fishing I had a somewhat foolishly hopeful mindset, that I would touch people’s lives and have all the right answers about the Bible and science issues. Talking to those first people, however, completely humbled me as I seemed to forget everything I knew about witnessing and Christianity. I have so much more to learn about my own walk with Christ and the faith I believe in everyday. Meditating on my own walk has shown my lack of passion and zeal for God, revealed in my lackluster prayer life. A couple Sundays ago Tony preached about prayer and a point he mentioned really pierced my heart, a point made about prayer meeting. He said that if we’re not attending prayer meeting, how much time are we really spending in prayer outside of church? I know there are some that cannot attend and others that have strong prayer lives even if they don’t attend, but for me this question rang true in my heart. My prayer has always been infrequent and minimal, so all his points about prayer convicted my heart that our church needs prayer now more than ever. We cannot just go out and irrationally hire pastors and a children’s worker, but instead have to go humbly before God in supplication. If it’s in His will anything can be done and outside of His will nothing can be accomplished. Relating this back to fishing, I have come to see that despite all my knowledge or understanding, people will not be saved unless it is in God’s will. God breaks hardened hearts and opens previously blind eyes to see His majesty and grace. I pray that I would see evangelism as Paul did…

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

                                                                    1 Corinthians 3:7

 

 

 





Gospel-True Belief

22 04 2007

Last Friday we went to Skid Row to share the gospel and pass out some food. I was not sure of what to expect, although I’ve done missions there before during the day. As Ben Du related his previous experiences and the changes that occurred in the previous years, it seemed like it would be an entirely different world. Observing the settings as we drove through LA, I was amazed. I knew that the rich area was in close proximity to Skid Row, but as we passed through, the area seemed to completely transform within a few blocks. Even within the area of Skid Row Ben pointed out million dollar lofts towering above such an impoverished area. Meeting the people and talking with them was an amazing experience and incredibly humbling and enlightening. One of the things that most affected me, however, was not their situations or lack of materialistic things. It was how many of them knew the gospel so well, being able to recite verses by heart. Yet, I wondered, how many of these people truly believed what they were saying?

Of course I know that only God knows the heart of these people and our own hearts. But it brought about my own self-examination throughout this past week. This whole year has been focused on the heart with Justin’s preaching on the Sermon on the Mount and our small group going over 1 Corinthians, an edification for the Christian church. Yet, as I spoke to each person on Skid Row, I wondered if my heart had become hardened to the Word of God and even more specifically to the gospel. A few weeks ago Ed mentioned in small group about passages specifically about the gospel and our own reflection on them. As I meditated on some of these passages: Isaiah 53, Ephesians 1 and 2, and Hebrews 12, I was mixed with emotions. I felt a peace just remembering the promise of our salvation and deliverance. I felt a wonder at God’s glory, love, and sacrifice. I felt a humility over my own sin and Christ’s suffering. Even more, I felt a guilt of being hardened to the cross and not remembering the need of unbelievers for it.

How often do I preach the gospel to myself? How often do I share the gospel with others? Am I investing in the eternal or focused on the here and now? Looking back on C.J. Mahaney’s message on the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), I have been motivated to remember the foundation of my faith. The gospel is foolishness to the world, it is a ridiculous message that seems unbelievable. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23) Yet, this is what redeems us, I am not saved or sanctified because of my own wisdom or gifts. It is solely the work of God and in His wisdom He has chosen each believer for His kingdom. I remember listening to Mark Driscoll’s sermon about the cross, including the pain and suffering Jesus endured. However, as C.J. said during Resolved, God was sovereign over this, He crushed His son for our sin. How can I be hardened to such a significant sacrifice, the very fundamental message of my faith? Many times I feel overwhelmed by all the sermons I hear, sometimes I forget previous applications and even lay aside the gospel. As a maturing Christian am I seeking answers to “more theological” doctrines? Am I past the need of the cross?

I pray for myself and others in Christ that we would continue to remember the cross and our daily need of it. Our faith is hinged on this simple message of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love. I hope that everyday I would preach the gospel to myself and I hope everyday I would be freshly amazed by His love. I trust in God that as I fill myself with the gospel and it pierces my heart, that it would pour out into my life. People say our strongest testimony is how we live, if we our consumed with the gospel how can others not see it in our lives and be transformed by it also?

“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”

Philippians 1:27





For conscience’ sake

13 04 2007

So I decided to go to the dark side and start a blog of my own. It seems like a useful tool to help me organize my thoughts and reflect on what I learn. Before coming to UCLA I had so many preconceived notions about college life and my own spirituality, many of which have disappeared in the short couple of quarters I have gone through. Many of my opinions and perspectives have changed about my own spiritual walk as well as the behavior of others. Seeing the humility and wholehearted love displayed in many of my Christian brothers, both upper and underclassmen, I have re-evaluated my own motives, reasoning, and actions. One such evaluation occurred Wednesday during small group during our study of 1 Corinthians 10.

First reading the chapter it seemed to have little application, and those few applications that jumped out seemed to be the same reoccurring themes I constantly hear. Glancing through the chapter it seemed so distant, being based in the Old Testament in times where God smote thousands to edify the Israelites. I questioned to myself, “Is this really useful? When will God every send poisonous snakes upon me or plague our nation for an act of disobedience?” There were basic truths about not holding idols in our hearts and not testing the Lord, but overall it seemed basic. Yet, as we pored over the text two lessons hit me, about my testing of God and my behavior around believers. I might cover the testing of God later, but I think verses 23-31 impacted me the most.

As we seemed to be blazing through the text covering this old topic about gray issues in the church and how to approach them, Dan Lin brought up the point if we would really carry out the commands of Paul. I thought we had thoroughly covered the issue in chapters 6, 8, and 9 about Christian liberty as I questioned Ed about many of the debated gray areas such as dancing. Our decided approach seemed reasonable, it is all a heart issue as Justin McKitterick has been preaching on in Matthew 5. Do things as long as it does not cause another to stumble. Looking at the meat market analogy, as long as we are obeying God’s Law, we should act in order to help another’s conscience. Somehow this turned into one of our common, yet intriguing, hour discussions on one or two verses. Specifically, Daniel brought up the idea of playing video games and listening to non-Christian music and how we would react if say another Christian was struggling with our involvement in those things. Ed mentioned approaching the other believer humbly and explaining your motives and using passages such as this one about Christian liberty. I definitely agreed with this approach and with Ed’s explanation about the listening of Christian music. The conversation took an unexpected turn when Daniel still questioned, but what if they do not change?

We debated our actions and I insisted that as long as we do not do these things around that particular believer there is no sin. It is our liberty to play games or listen to secular music as long as we are not committing some outright sin. According to the passage we have the right to participate in these things as long as we avoid causing another to stumble. But upon further discussion, my heart was pierced and humbled. I questioned why I was so eager to defend these gray areas. It was not for the edification of another or the defense of the truth, but for the defense of my own selfishness I harbor in my heart. I personally pictured myself as this believer being asked to sacrifice these activities. Why should I give up my own liberties just to ease the conscience of a misled believer? I have enough struggles with actual sins in the first place. The question remained, would I give up these activities? Even further, activities that I truly treasure? I truly believe that I would not, my heart has been hardened against even my fellow brother. I would not even sacrifice fleeting entertainment for the spiritual walk of another. At that moment I was broken, I fully saw the manifestation of my fleshly selfishness. I saw several areas of my life that existed not for the glory of God but for my own glory. God opened up my eyes to my lack of love towards others and in turn my lack of humility towards God. Am I a stumbling block to another? This idea has been the main focus of my heart recently, am I living for myself or for God?

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only {do} not {turn} your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13