Friday, February 22, 2013

Persecution Or Chastisement?

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? Hebrews 12:3,7 NKJV)

            As a Christian have you ever been in a hard or painful situation and pondered whether your circumstances were the result of persecution from people or chastisement from God.  One morning you get up thinking; how could people be so mean to me?  The next day you are wondering if your affliction is from God to deal with some unruly aspects of your heart.  Oddly enough, it could be a little of both.
            The commentator, Matthew Henry wrote; “Those afflictions that may be persecution as far as other people are concerned are fatherly rebukes and chastisements as far as God is concerned”.  Often when we are wounded by the hateful actions of people, it brings to the surface the sinful residues found in the depths of our hearts.  We are surprised by our responses.  The persecution did not create our wrong or sinful attitudes; it just brings them to the surface.  Although the actions towards us may be totally ungodly in nature, God uses them as avenues for divine correction.  So Ken, you are saying that my persecutors are doing me a favor. Actually, in a strange way, I am.  Unless the secret sins of the human heart are exposed they can never be dealt with properly, always attacking us from a camouflaged position.
            What should our response be?  The Bible instructs us.  ….“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, … (v. 5).  We must come to the realization that no matter how wrongly we are being treated that God has redemptive purposes in it.  How did Jesus respond to persecution?  He endured.  Instead of hating those who falsely accused Him, He loved them.  He forgave them rather than retaliate, as those around Him wanted Him to do. To embrace instead of despising our sufferings, it is imperative that we realize that they are for our own good.  …but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (v.10 NASB).  Without having fellowship with Christ’s sufferings, we will never share in His holiness.  As the commentator once said; “People persecute the believers because they are religious; God rebukes because they are not more so”. 

Pray with me.  Lord, help me to endure your loving discipline.  When I am hated, help me to love.  When people are unforgiving, help me to forgive.  Lord, without You I cannot do this.  I need Your grace.

Ken Barnes the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places”  YWAM Publishing

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's Not About Me

The Critical Eighteen Inches  Part 3 
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation

            Have you ever been envious or jealous of someone, maybe even the unrighteous?  Of course we have, because we have what the Bible calls the “old man.”  The Apostle Paul calls these the “deeds of the flesh”, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying…..” (Gal 5:19-21 NASB).  What is the antidote for the deeds of the flesh?  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh”( v16). But there is a problem, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another,…” (v 17). 
            There is a battle that rages in all believers.  One of the battlefronts in this epic struggle is on a line between head knowledge and heart revelation of believers in Christ. One skirmish in this battle that I fought took place in the unlikely setting of a steel mill.

The Steel Mill
I  felt like I was working in the bowels of the earth. Where was God now?
            Here I was working in a steel mill just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I worked in an old open-hearth furnace, which produced raw steel. I labored in the flues underneath a huge battery of furnaces. It was hot and dirty. It felt as if the soles of my work boots were going to melt. Sometimes it felt like hell to me.
            How did I arrive at this place? Several months earlier we had finished a Youth With A Mission (YWAM)  discipleship training school in Hawaii. We were sure that God had called us back to western Pennsylvania. I assumed that God was going to open to us a ministry opportunity as we obeyed him and returned to the area where my wife and I both grew up. Things did not go as planned, however, and obedience did not bring the expected new ministry adventure that I had envisioned. I went through a couple of jobs in which I was either marginally successful or not successful at all. In a last-ditch effort to survive financially, I returned to the steel mills where I worked during summer breaks while attending college. This was not supposed to be happening. Had we missed God? We were confused, but it still seemed that God wanted us back in this area for some reason.
            The weeks stretched into months, and I drudged through the soot and heat and darkness of the underworld of this steel mill on the banks of the Monongahela River. I pondered the fact that I had given up a good teaching position and was now in what appeared to be a dead-end job. I thought about friends and acquaintances of mine who were involved in teaching or ministry ventures, and I was stuck here in this dungeon with seemingly nothing of any eternal significance happening. Doubt and unbelief began to wrap their filthy little hands around my heart.
            I started to feel like I had stepped out for God and he had pulled the rug out from under me. I shrank back into a shell, just trying to survive. No one in my work crew knew I was a believer; I just didn’t know if I wanted to stick my neck out for God again. The truth was, I was on the brink of backsliding. I was moving away from the God I had always wanted to serve. I realized that I was coming to a crossroads in relation to my faith. Would I continue to serve the God I had met on my college campus, or had I tried the God thing and it had not worked? Interestingly, God used a little sticker to direct my steps at this intersection of faith and unbelief.
            Weeks earlier in a Christian bookstore, a little sticker caught my eye. It simply said, One Way, Jesus. I bought the sticker with the intent to put it on the hard safety helmet I wore in the mill. I never placed the sticker on my helmet, but I never lost track of its whereabouts, either. This sort of summed up my condition. I wanted to serve God, but I could not get past the struggles I had faced since returning to Pennsylvania. A battle raged in my mind between thoughts about the goodness of God as described in the Bible and other mental impressions about the reality of my dismal circumstances. Who would win this battle?
            One day I took the sticker out of my dresser drawer and put it in my pocket as I left for work. On one of my breaks I went into the bathroom, took the sticker out of my pocket, and gazed at it. The same thoughts pervaded my mind as had been there since I first set foot in that place. One set of thoughts said, God is good, and he is worthy to be served. And others screamed, If God is so good, why has all this happened to you? The sticker seemed so small and insignificant, but I realized it could have major ramifications for my life. Affixing this little sign to my helmet would be saying from my heart several things: First, no matter what had happened, God was good; his goodness was not based on my circumstances; it was not about me. Second, God was worthy to be served in the bad times as well as the good. And third, if God had called me to work in this mill, I would serve him here to the best of my ability. I took the sticker and carefully placed it on the side of my helmet, I opened the door and I took the first step, spiritually speaking, out of the pit and eventually back into God’s presence.

The Meaning behind the Message
            What was God up to in this story? He was trying to find out (or more correctly, he was trying to help me find out) who he was in my life. Was God just a means to an end, or was he an end in himself? Had all the sacrifices I had made—like giving up my job, finances, a home—been for God, or were they just to get from God what I wanted? Did I love what I wanted to do for God more than I loved God? Wasn’t this the central question God was posing to Abraham when he directed him to place Isaac on the altar? Sometimes you can only know the condition of your heart by losing something you desperately want.
            Are not these the types of questions God is always placing before his people? Who is first in your life? Whom do you love? Whom do you serve?
            A second strand imbedded in this story is that our happiness or fulfillment does not depend on our circumstances but on God himself. As long as I was dwelling solely on my trials and challenges, I could not live a victorious life. Paul Hawkins, my friend and one of my mentors in my early days in YWAM, always exhorted us: “Never judge God according to your circumstances, but always judge your circumstances according to the character of God.” How true this is! Many times we live in what I call the “shy side of why.” We continually ask the why question and never seem to get an answer. Maybe in the mill I should have been asking the what question. “Lord, it is what it is. What do I do with it?” As the late Keith Green used to say, “If you find yourself in the valley, farm it.”
            Finally, I think God was teaching me what it means to serve. Why was I discontented in the steel mill? Because I thought I deserved a better job, a better opportunity. Other people I knew had good jobs and ministries, but I was stuck in a filthy, dark place. The test was whether I was willing to serve God and others even in this place. Or would I hold on to my wounded pride and growing doubt and serve only myself?
            Would I stay in this mill and serve him first, and then actively seek to bless others? Or would I allow jealousy and envy to rear their ugly heads and sit around and feel morose because God was using others and not me? Was it still all about me, or was it about him?  The answer came as I walked down that road from head knowledge to heart revelation.  
Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other SacredPlaces: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 59-64.