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Posts Tagged ‘calling’

My favorite Bible story these days is about Saul of Tarsus.  He’s the villain of the story. And the hero, though rather a passive one.

 

The Christian Church is just getting started.  People are learning to pray together and preach the gospel boldly and see some miracles happen.  But Saul has been trained to be a Pharisee, and they know the rules, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not so big on rules.  Plus Jesus claimed to be God, something Saul didn’t approve of.  He knew the chief priests were on his side, so he decided to do something about it.  Executing Stephen for blasphemy had seemed to him to be a huge success; now the Christians were on the run, and with a bit more pressure, the whole blasphemous sect might be a thing of the past.  After acquiring official sanction from the Jewish leaders, he started hunting down the Christians.

 

But I think he knew better.  He’d studied the Scriptures.  He’d probably been around enough to at least hear of – if not personally witness some of Jesus’ miracles.  There was part of him that wanted God to be pleased with him.  He really believed in God.  A testimony like Stephen’s as he was dying doesn’t go without effect.  So he was zealous, and he was pushing forward in something that seemed godly to him, something he thought would be especially pleasing to God, something that, unfortunately for Saul, wasn’t God’s idea.  I suspect that there was some pretty intense spiritual warfare assembled, to discourage Saul from the calling God had yet to communicate to him.

 

And my favorite part is coming up here.  God was merciful to Saul.  Not only merciful; He had big plans for Saul.  Even Saul tracking down God’s elect to imprison them or worse wasn’t enough to keep God from accomplishing the ministry He intended through Saul.  In the Bible we see God doing lots of different things to people displeasing Him.  Sometimes He sends them prophets.  Sometimes He just has the earth open up and swallow them.  Or they die more natural deaths.  He spoke personally to Moses about His displeasure.  A lot of people in rebellion against God just continue on their wicked path, accumulating judgment for themselves.  Here we see that God took some drastic measures to bring Saul to Himself.

 

Saul is on the road between cities.  He has a few companions to help him with the Christian round-up.  But a light stops them in their path.  A loud noise frightens all of them.  Saul is literally blinded by the light, but he hears words.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads!”  Basically the God of the universe is speaking to him from heaven, and he’s using his name.  That’s pretty special.  Then he asks him a question – one of the gentlest things He could do.  It also implies that maybe if Saul had stopped to think about it before, he could have figured out that he was persecuting the Son of God.  Finally one of my favorite lines, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  From what I can tell, God had been prodding Saul in one direction, and by chasing down Christians, by resisting the gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been resisting that guidance.  But God still nails him on it!  There seems to be so much firm tenderness in that sentence, that I just can’t get over it!

 

And the end of the story is that Saul was convinced.  (I don’t know what it would have taken if being blinded by a heavenly flash and hearing the voice of God out loud didn’t work to wake Saul up!)  A few days later God persuades one of His other vessels, the prophet Ananias, to heal Saul’s blindness and to see that he receives the Holy Spirit.  Thus begins the ministry of the Apostle Paul (his Greek name he soon started to go by).

 

Isn’t that a fantastic story?

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A lot of Christians talk about the will of God.  Whether they are talking about a “call” for their lives, or direction for day to day choices, a lot of people are curious how they can know God’s will.  Part of the mystery is that whatever process we use for determining the will of God doesn’t seem to work.

We pray, sometimes using a specific method or for a scheduled amount of time.  We submit ourselves, “Thy will be done.”  We seek counsel.  We study.  And then a choice comes, and we listen closely.  Nothing.

We throw out a fleece, like Gideon, and still get nothing.  We put God in a box, making deals with Him, and however it works out we take it as confirmation that we should do whatever we want.  “God, if you want us to build that new sanctuary, supply the 1.2 million dollars for the down payment.”  Only $750,000 comes in, and we decide that God wants us to step out on faith. “I mean, it’s a big thing for God to bring in so much money for the project.”  Or we say, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, close the doors; stop me.”  And months later, we look back thinking, “The devil sure was resisting me in my service to God.  Look at all the persecution I went through!”  Which is the correct view?  Should we make deals with God?  Which voice is limiting Him?

Some people claim to know the will of God.  They get a sign.  They have dreams.  A quiet voice whispers to them.  How can we trust these mystical revelations, when the Bible has so many examples of people being influenced by other powers in the spiritual realm?

Why did the life of a prophet seem so much simpler?  How did he hear God’s voice?  When the early church gathered to pray, what did it look and sound like for the Spirit to say, “Set apart Paul and Barnabas”?  Men in the early church could not be stopped by chains or prisons or even stonings.  We see in these instances the disciples pressing forward, confident that God desires them out on the streets and in the courtyard, preaching the gospel.  What does it mean when Paul said that He tried to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7) but the Spirit prevented Him?  If Paul wanted to bring the gospel somewhere, but God wouldn’t let him, he was obviously not just trusting that his desires were from God.  So how did Paul know?

But keep reading, because in 2 easy paragraphs, I’m going to solve the problem of the will of God!…  No, I’m not making that claim.  I think part of our problem is that we don’t want to walk by faith.  We want to know every step way in advance.  We want a list of do’s and don’t’s.  When we wait to hear from God, we get impatient and conclude that we won’t hear from Him.  God gave us brains.  Maybe we should work it out.  Or maybe God doesn’t care what we decide.

Some people really do take finding the will of God that far.  Should you give $50 to feed the poor, or $50 to send a missionary, or invest the $50?  None of those uses are sinful.  All can be good and God-honoring.  So it doesn’t matter which you choose.  God will bless you anyway.  God has a will for the big things, but the little things are up to us.  (People have to decide where to draw the line between big things and little things:  Prophecy must be a big thing.  Jesus coming to die for us had to happen.  Sometimes big things are whom we marry or where we go to school.  For other people, they consider those life-changing decisions to be some of the little ones where God leaves us to decide on our own.)  In any case, it takes a lot of study and extreme moral clarity to make sure that one of the options we’re considering is not sinful.  We’re left to make a score sheet for each choice.  And how do you add in factors like selfishness or vanity, good stewardship or discernment?  What is wisdom anyway?

Or maybe we should stop worrying about the will of God.  God’s in control, so everything that happens is what is meant to happen.  We’re not going to change that, so why stress?  Que sera, sera.  There’s an easy way to figure out God’s will: hindsight.

Here’s what I believe.  God is in control, and no one will change His plan.  His plan covers the details, even the details of how we decide and that we sought to please Him in our decisions.  His plan includes His guidance and revelation.  Wisdom is not knowing the tally sheet for all the different options.  It is a dependence on God’s perspective, even when His way doesn’t seem to be practical or likely to work out.  Part of having a relationship with God is waiting on Him.  He is faithful to provide the guidance we need, and merciful enough that, if we are seeking Him and asking for His help, our feet will not stumble; our lives won’t be ruined by our God-submitted choice.

Some things are clearly revealed as the will of God.  He desires our sanctification.  He desires us to be thankful and to pray to Him.  He tells husbands to love their wives, and disciples to preach the word.  To trespass those instructions would be sinful.  So the possibilities are narrowed down.

Duty is another way to make our decisions easier, by limiting our options.  We make a commitment (according to the will of God), and follow through.  A father may wonder whether to take a job in New Jersey or Texas, but he knows he must provide for his family.  A conference speaker may get to choose his topic or his wording, but he’s obligated to speak.  A mom must change a diaper.  My friend volunteered at an orphanage.  Once she was there, she had to do what she was told.  Her duty made the will of God for her simpler.  When Paul decided to heed his vision and go to Macedonia, he didn’t have to ask God:  “Should I move my left foot?  Now right?  What about my right foot?”

Of course God is helping us just as much to accomplish what we know He wants us to do as He helps us find out what He wants us to do.  It is easy to be relieved at knowing we are where God wants us, and forget to excel, forget to walk in the Spirit as we obey.  We think God sent us on an errand and now our own intelligence and strength will get it done.  There’s danger in duty, the danger of empty legalism.  But there is peace, too, in knowing what one ought to do: what must be done.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“And we urge you, brethren,

to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.”

1 Thessalonians 5:12-26

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Orion is out tonight, aiming his bow at the rising moon. We reunite each fall and winter, Orion and I. He is my companion in the stars, keeping the same hours as I. It’s chilly out tonight. Clear in that cool dry way that Colorado is known for.

I’ve been through a lot since last Orion and I were out together. My life is definitely patterned in seasons. Some years have had their own theme, but usually the lessons are shorter and more diverse. This year was a scattered year, learning things that built in each other but not in obvious ways. A soldier will learn to march and learn to shoot, and both are related in that they come in handy during battles, but they don’t really build on each other.

Last year when I was almost twenty-four I almost went crazy. I couldn’t believe the life I had; my life seemed inevitable, not chosen. And I didn’t know how to be a twenty-four year old in my situation. Never had my dreams imagined me here. Yet I came to the conclusion that I ought to be myself, trusting God, and not worry about what twenty-four year olds are supposed to be. So I have told myself many times these months.

I don’t miss the soul-searching that comes with autumn. It comes around each year, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I look forward to the restless questioning. My soul never seems satisfied in the fall, the season of Thanksgiving. This November opens with a focus on open-handed gratitude. That’s what I call it. Each day’s blessings are cause to rejoice, never a reason to demand more.

I don’t require more blessings, but I have learned to ask. Such was my summer theme: Hope. Do I have confidence in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, enough to discuss with Him what I want and rejoice that in Him all answers, yes and no, are yea? Will I dare holding out my heart to wait on Him? And when I did this year, oh! how the peace came in. Before, I was silly not to ask for His good gifts.

Spring was hard, an exercise in love. Love hopes all things. It holds on and does not abandon. But it speaks the truth and rejoices in it rather than in evil. Love means sacrifice in the sense of a drop everything to help attitude. It is consuming, on your mind all the time. God never promised love would be painless. Though love has to do with community, it often feels lonely.

This year has brought thoughts about truth and calling and compromise. Faith and that not-tame God have kept popping up. I asked myself what I was willing to suffer for Christ, and for the first time truly doubted that I would rejoice to risk life and happiness and all I’ve worked for. Rejection has been on my mind lately. I’m more honest about reality than I used to be: eyes open to the vanity and hopelessness apart from the work of God to grace us.

And now that I’m facing twenty-five in the next several weeks, I must praise my God that I have a life that I run after. The friends I have are ones I choose. My weeks are spent doing things I believe are important, not just floating through an existence. Though twenty-five seems to have come upon me without my consent, the rest of my life is intentional. That is due only to the grace of God. He has helped me through some hard decisions. Some of my waiting and patience has ended, and other parts remain.

By many standards this year has little to show for it. I still have not written a book or started a successful business. No prince charming has swept me off my feet. Like Orion, I’m back and rising over the same horizon. But those who know astronomy realize that relative to the rest of the firmament, Orion’s position has changed. He will move among the stars and planets like he has not done in my lifetime. And a new year is here: the Hunter is chasing life down.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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“One may steal your thunder, but the lightning is always God’s.” – my family (a collaborative quote, in which we were stealing each other’s thunder)

Several weeks ago – this post is way behind, so sorry – my brother gathered a group of our friends who, along with others of our acquaintance, have independently sensed the call to do something with our knowledge and fellowship.  We are so good at parties, but we lose focus.  So many of us have been wondering where God wants us to act.  My brother gathered us to pray and share Scripture, seeking God for where He wants us to serve, why, how, who, etc.  It must be a God thing, or it is nothing. 

Last year for a few months I attended a young adult Bible study and worship time in which I sensed that most of us were passionately eager to serve God, to have a part in His work, but He hadn’t told us where to go.  He has been building faith in a young generation, like armies in waiting.  And we gathered to wait on Him, to encourage our readiness, and to seek God’s marching orders.  Some days I think there are so many causes, that I wonder why it’s difficult to find mine.  And then I remember that God has us waiting.  Until God speaks, I can wait. 

Karen Hancock’s allegory, Arena, is a vivid description of Christian living.  At one point all those “saved” are waiting, studying and training, in a well-provisioned safe haven.  They must wait for the exact moment at which God will give them a sign to move out and cross the enemy-infested lands to the portal to home.  If they leave too early or too late, they will run across lines and camps of enemies and be lost.  So they wait.  So we wait. 

But we believe God is at work.  Over Memorial Day Weekend I attended the New Attitude Conference in Louisville, KY.  Put on by Sovereign Grace and featuring Josh Harris, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper as speakers, the young adult conference attracted 3,000 soldiers in waiting.  I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to find most of them as directionless as me.  Ok, most of them had college degree or career goals, but spiritually we weren’t sure where God wanted us.  Some of us, in the midst of waiting, felt like the fight to keep heads above water while treading was all we could do.  Maintaining a devotional and prayer life, passionately worshiping God and memorizing His Word were high orders. 

Then John Piper spoke on William Tyndale, who most certainly had a calling and was not about to waste his life.  He translated the whole New Testament and several Old Testament books into English for the first time.  And he wrote books and campaigned for the Bible to be printed in the common tongue and made available to the people – at the risk and cost of his own life.  The challenge went out and resonated with the three thousand in attendance. 

Why does it resonate?  Because God is at work, in the grassroots, you might say, reviving our faith in a big God.  Twenty-something Christians, though comparatively immature in our marriage and childbearing rates and economic productivity, are getting excited about the truth, about a God bigger than themselves.  Rejecting the shallow self-help and entertainment-driven church culture, they are reading up on Jonathan Edwards and getting excited about William Tyndale, singing theology-rich God-centered worship songs like Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God, or Isaac Watts’ hymns. 

This is the subject of Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’  He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty.  Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West.  Why is God doing this?  We wait to see. 

Not only are our discoveries and conversions to Calvinism different; the lifestyles and trappings in which we couch our belief in the sovereignty of God also run a spectrum, which Collin Hansen (a writer for Christianity Today) describes with excellence: from liturgical and traditional presbyterians to charismatic and modern Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney.  Then there’s the unusual mix of Baptists and Calvinism (which for the moment describes me, though I find myself pretty much in pieces of everything).  On of the most interesting parts of Young, Restless, and Reformed to me was the chapter on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Al Mohler’s Calvinist makeover of the college.  So that’s why my friends at Elect Exiles are Election-affirming and Baptist.  I’m from a church that, in my observation, has been more typical of 20th century S. Baptists: in between Calvinism and Arminianism and reluctant to debate the issue.  The tides are turning.  I’ll confess belief in a big, sovereign God was a prerequisite for me to vote for our current pastor. 

This is a book I will recommend to pretty much everyone.  The only disappointment I had was that the chapter on New Attitude, titled “Forget Reinvention,” didn’t say much about the conference.  If you want to know about that, the New Attitude website has plenty of info to get you hyped about next year.  I read the book in a few days, and told everyone I know about the book for the next several weeks.  Read it, talk about it, and be encouraged by all the others God is calling.  Keep waiting. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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