Tagged ‘Corinthians‘

Longing For Home

As I write this, I’m at my parent’s home in North Adams, Michigan. The town is a small farming community of about five hundred people in the southern part of the state. I was in the region for ministry, so I planned to spend a few extra days with my parents. They still live in the home where I grew up. It is an 1800’s, double-brick, two-story home with a sprawling front porch supported by grand white columns. The house is on Main Street, and yet we had a cornfield in our back yard. A vast amount of my youth was spent exploring the woods adjacent to our property.

When I was a child, my brother and sister and I split a paper route for the Jackson Citizen Patriot. My section of town was the closest to home since I was the youngest of the three. Seven days a week I climbed aboard my bicycle, slung a bag of newspapers over one shoulder, and rode the sidewalks to deliver the news to homes scattered across the eastern side of town.

Now, forty years later, a bit has changed. The sidewalks have crumbled a little more. A few of the homes have fallen into disrepair, and the local park down the street from my home now has a shelter built where a tall maple tree once shaded us as children. In all, much of the charm I remember from my childhood is still there, but there is also a sense that the community is slowly fading into the fog like Brigadoon.

I went for a walk to stretch my legs and retrace some of the route from my paper delivery days. As I walked, I thought about home. I thought about my childhood home and all it represents, both good and bad. I thought about the home in which I now live in Florida. Finally I settled onto a bench at the park down the street, and my mind turned to my real home, as in my final heavenly home.

I am looking forward to the day I finally get to go home. Not Florida. Not Michigan. Home. I am not discouraged or depressed. I am not on suicide watch. I am quite blessed actually. It is just that I want to be with the one I love the most. These earthly homes were never meant to satisfy. Even with all the material blessings I’ve enjoyed, on a clear starry night I still find myself looking into the heavens, longing to be with God.

Do you long to be home? Perhaps you understand how that feels.

I am reminded of the words Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. This is what he said: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

If you haven’t noticed by now, everything in this world is slowly decaying. Like the sidewalks on my paper route gradually returning to dust, everything we see is eventually going to dwindle away. It is the things we cannot see that really matter, because they are the things that are eternal.

Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3, ESV).

When we read those words, we tend to focus on what the place will be like, but the whole point of Jesus’ preparing a place is so that where he is, we can be also. It is about being with him. It is that place where we are finally restored in perfect relationship with him. The God who created us to be in relationship with him is preparing a place for us so that we can spend eternity with him.

Sadly, we’ve created a heaven that is all about us. We think we will have a nicer house in heaven, and we will be so wealthy we will use gold to pave the streets. Won’t it be grand! Just imagine! But it is a version of the health and wealth prosperity gospel couched in conservative Christian theology. In the end, it is humanism. Humanism is the belief that the end of all being is the happiness of man. The Christian version is that you can be saved so you can be happy after you die. But the gospel declares that the end of all being is the happiness of God. It is God who longs for restoration with his creation. He is the one who made a way through his Son so that he could be reconciled with us. He is the one preparing a place for you and me so that we can be with him, so that he can be happy. It is all about God.

My friend, the things that seem so important to you today will likely not matter after a thousand tomorrows. What is it that is weighing on you? Have you forgotten that this world is not really your home? Perhaps your challenge is only a reminder of what really matters – the things we cannot see.

When I eventually die, I think it would be nice to have “Finally Home” etched onto my headstone. But even that headstone will slowly crumble and return to dust. Of course, by then it won’t really matter.

I will finally be home.

This article was originally published in the October 2016 Newsletter.

Ishmael Moments

Abram sat in the door of his tent and pondered the idea. His wife Sarai had come to him earlier in the day with a radical thought. She was barren and longed for a child. She also had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. What if Abram took Hagar as his wife? She could be a surrogate mother for Sarai. It made sense. It was logical. It also interested Abram because ten years earlier God has promised him that he would be the father of a great nation. At this point, he was childless. Perhaps this was a way that he could see the fulfillment of the promise. It was an intriguing thought.

After much internal debate, at last he consented. It made perfect sense. It would solve so many problems. Abram took Hagar as his wife. In time, she bore a son. The son’s name was Ishmael. The world would never be the same. Unfortunately, this child was not the fulfillment of the promise God had made years earlier.

Abram would later be renamed Abraham. Sarai would later be renamed Sarah. Twenty-five years after the original promise, Abraham and Sarah saw the true fulfillment in the way God intended. Against all odds or human reasoning, Sarah gave birth when she was ninety-one years old. They named the boy Isaac. The nation that would come from their union would become the nation of Israel today.

Today, the religion adhered to by most of Ishmael’s descendants is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam. Ishmael’s descendants fill the ranks of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas. If only Abram had been willing to wait on God! How different would our world look today?

In Abram’s reasoning, he had figured out a way to help God. I call these moments “Ishmael Moments.” They are the moments when we debate giving God a hand in fulfilling his promises. They never end well.

Last month I wrote about the idea that when we follow God by faith, sometimes faith and obedience go hand in hand. We obey in faith when we have a clear directive from God. But what do you do when the path forward is not so clear? You’ve been praying and seeking God’s direction. Perhaps you think you have figured out a way that you can help God fulfill his promise. It makes sense. It is completely logical. Be very, very careful. You may be experiencing an Ishmael Moment.

Let me be very clear here. God does not need my help in fulfilling his promises! Obedience? Yes. But God does not need me to figure out how I can make his promise a reality. This is where I think many of us struggle. I know I do.

I have a situation in my life right now. I have prayed about it extensively. I have seen God at work in other areas of my life, so I know he is aware of my circumstances. I believe his promise regarding the situation. But I feel stranded in the Valley of Wait. As I waited, I figured out a possible solution. Then I brought my idea to God. I prayed, “Hey God, what if I did this? What do you think?” All I got in response was silence. Undeterred, I continued to pray about my solution. After all, it just made sense. So I repeatedly asked God about my idea. I sought counsel from other godly friends, but no one had any clarity on the issue. I read the word of God looking for advice. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Still I continued to pray! Surely my idea had merit. Surely it would be a blessing if I helped God out. It was so logical, but it was not from faith. It was an Ishmael Moment.

So why does God cause us to wait? Why does God drag out the fulfilling of a promise in our lives? Perhaps he is waiting for us to learn a lesson.

Thousands of years after that pivotal moment for Abram, Paul faced a great trial when he was ministering in Asia. He briefly mentions it in his second letter to the church in Corinth. This is what he says:

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, ESV).

That is quite a trial! The affliction was so severe that they felt completely helpless. They had even lost hope that they would survive the situation. In their minds, they felt like they had been sentenced to death. This is no small trial we are talking about. Perhaps you can relate.

What is important to note is Paul’s understanding of the value of the trial. He says, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, ESV). God’s purpose in the situation was to bring them to the point where they understood their reliance must be in God alone, not in their own abilities. This is very important.

When you and I face Ishmael Moments we have a choice to make. Will we figure out a way out of the situation, or will we rely on God alone?

When I read Paul’s words the other day, it was a moment of clarity for me regarding my own challenge. I immediately saw what God was trying to teach me through this time of waiting. My reliance must be in God alone! There is no room in this equation for me to help God out with my own great ideas. It must be God or nothing. Either God will come through, or I will continue to wait until he does. For me, learning to rely on God alone is far more important than a resolution of my situation.

My friend, what is your Ishmael Moment? What is in your life right now that you are trying to figure out? The situation has dragged on and on. It feels like God has forgotten you. As time has worn on, you’ve come up with a solution that you think will help God out. Right now you are debating whether to move forward or not. For some reason, however, there is no clarity, no clear word from God on what you should do. It may be your Ishmael Moment. You have a choice to make. Will you wait to move forward until you have a clear word from God? Will you rely on God alone, or will you try to give God a hand? Choose carefully my friend. The consequences could be more devastating than you could possibly imagine.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 Newsletter.

The Challenge of Change

I don’t know about you, but I really do not like change. I like things to stay the same. Even if something is not working right, at least it is predictable that it is not going to work right. At some level, I just prefer things to stay the same.

This morning one of the apps on my phone notified me that there was an update available. I use this particular app on a daily basis, so I accepted the permission requests and downloaded the update. When the download was complete, and the app had updated, something strange happened. The icon was missing from where it normally shows on the screen. I went to my complete list of apps and looked for it, but the app was gone. That was odd. How could an app update and then disappear? I finally found it in another area. It had a new name and a new icon. That was weird.

My frustration began when I opened the app. Remember, I do not like change. But in this app, everything had changed. Even though it was an update from the previous version, in reality it was a completely new app. The name was different, the layout was different, the colors were different, even the way it worked was different. I missed the old version. I missed the predictability. I was not a happy camper.

It reminds me of the way I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I like things to stay the same. I like predictability. But that is simply not the way God works. God is always changing me. He is always working to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, change is inevitable. But to be honest, sometimes I like the changes, and sometimes I don’t.

The problem is that whenever we change, we must let go of what was once familiar. It is just the nature of change. This is true if you change jobs, change your relationship status, change where you live, change your diet, change your routine, etc. When we change, we have to adjust to a whole new set of circumstances.

Consider what happens when we first make a commitment to follow Christ. Everything changes! Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth wrote this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17. ESV). We read this, and we celebrate the work that God does in our lives. Thank you Lord! But while we rejoice in this, I think we also have to accept the challenges that come with this kind of change.

At some point in your life, as you follow Christ, you will have to let go of something in order to take hold of the new life he is giving to you. Paul acknowledges that this process of change is not easy. Here is how he describes it in his letter to the church in Philippi:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:8-9a, ESV).

Notice the phrase, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things….” This is an important truth that we can easily overlook. Paul realizes how much better his life is in Christ, but in order to change from the man he was into the man that God wanted him to be, he “suffered the loss of all things.” Ouch. Did you get that? He suffered. The key is to understand that what we are gaining is so far superior to what we are giving up. Again, notice what Paul said in this phrase – “For his sake….” It was because of what he was gaining that he was willing to suffer the loss of all things. He was gaining Christ himself! Wow!

You and I face similar circumstances every day. God invites us into the same kind of relationship with him that Paul enjoyed. Part of that relationship is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. He is constantly changing us. My problem is that I often resist his work in my life because changing means I have to let go of something familiar. Remember, I like predictability. Even when something isn’t working right, at least it is predictable. I hold onto what is familiar with an iron grip. When I do, it hurts because God has to pry my fingers apart in order for me to let go of what I am holding onto. You see, I can never take hold of what God is offering me if I am continually clinging to the past.

My friend, perhaps you are like me. You may find yourself facing a choice. God wants to change your life in amazing ways, but you are afraid to let go. I understand. I’ve been there. Looking back, it seems silly that I would desperately hold onto something if I understood what I would gain by letting go. So let go. Let God change you into the image of Christ. Right now you may be suffering, as you consider all that you are leaving behind. God understands. Lift up your eyes and consider what you are gaining as a result. I think you will find there is no comparison. With Paul, we will then be able to say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8, ESV).

After a time, I begrudgingly had to admit that the new version of the app on my phone was in fact better than the version I had before. I let go of how it used to work, and I am embracing the improved version. Maybe this morning you woke up and discovered that God has an update waiting for you. Like that phone app, he has prepared a new life for you that is so much better than what you’ve had before. Give the Holy Spirit permission to make the changes he longs to make in you. Let go of the past version of yourself, and take hold of the new version he has prepared for you. In the end, you’ll find his new version of your life is always better than what you have right now.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 Newsletter.

Pray and do not lose heart

This morning I was reading through Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. As I was reading, my attention was drawn to a simple statement that was repeated a couple of times. It was this: “Do not lose heart.”

It was one of those moments when I felt the Holy Spirit was reaching out through the pages of his Word with a message specifically for me. Lately I’ve seen God at work in powerful ways. At the same time, I have had moments when the pressures of ministry have gotten me down. I have had times when the work of ministry as an Elder in my home church has left me discouraged. Privately, I carry a heavy heart for the state of the Church in North America. I long to see revival. I long to see churches functioning in a Biblical fashion. Sometimes I reach the point where I begin to doubt if we will ever see change, and I begin to question if it is really worth fighting for. I’ve prayed about it at length. It consumes the vast majority of my thoughts throughout the day, and sometimes I have found it difficult to go to sleep at night because my mind is occupied with thoughts in this regard.

In that context, when the Holy Spirit directed me to his Word with a simple message to not lose heart, I listened! Then I looked for other places in Scripture where that same message was repeated. What I found was very interesting.

One day Jesus was teaching the people gathered around him. As he spoke, he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man,” he said. “And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while the judge refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

And the Lord said, “Take note what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

The men gathered around looked at one another as Jesus paused. The parable was finished, but Jesus was not finished speaking. He had one final question to ask the audience, a single question that cut to the heart of the parable he was sharing. At last, he spoke.

“Nevertheless,” he asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Adapted from Luke 18:1-8, ESV).

This singular thought is the same question God asks of you and me today. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? After all is said and done, do you have faith in God? Do you have faith that he is in control? Do you trust him?”

Please note that the focus of this parable is not the widow lady. The parable is not teaching that we need to keep pestering God to get what we want! Instead, the parable shows the difference between the unrighteous judge and the righteous judge. The contrast is in how each judge responds. Jesus is using the parable to teach us about the character of God, the righteous judge. He is trustworthy, and we need to trust that when we pray, he hears us. Even when the answer to our prayers seems to be delayed, he is in fact working speedily on our behalf. He doesn’t put us off. He doesn’t require us to pester him into submission. Our responsibility is to pray with confidence that God has heard us and not to lose heart in the waiting. That is the point of this parable, that we should pray and not lose heart.

In the end, the question God asks all of us is this: Do you trust me? Do you have faith in me? Are you willing to pray, to wait, to believe – even against all odds, confident that I am in control?

Consider also these verses:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).

“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13, ESV).

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV).

I’m confident the circumstances I am dealing with are part of the overall work that God is doing in my life and ministry. You are likely in circumstances far different from mine, but the tendency to lose heart is the same. I offer this encouragement to you. Whatever you are facing, pray and do not lose heart! Have faith in God! Chose to have confidence in the character of God. He is good. He is kind. He is in control. Even as we wait for the Son of God to return, we will have faith in God!

In the end, God is the one who is responsible to bring about the changes we long for. I am responsible to pray and not lose heart.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 Newsletter.

Finding strength through weakness

Most of you know I began a writing sabbatical back in November of last year. I was excited to have the time to work on the book that I believe God has led me to write. I was hopeful I could finish the book and get some rest as well. Over the past couple of years I have grown weary of being on the road, and the time at home seemed like a welcome respite. What has surprised me is how difficult it has been to find the creative space to write, and how I still feel worn out after four months off the road. This morning I was talking with God about all of it, and I want to share with you what I believe he is sharing with me.

I think I am beginning to understand how weak I really am, and that is a very good thing. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain.

I finished the rough draft of the book around the end of January. I was encouraged by the progress I had made. But then the distractions began to pile up, and I have been unable to finish the first rewrite. I have put off taking care of some physical issues. Now I am juggling doctor appointments and physical therapy appointments, working through several problems at the same time. At the same time, my Florida home has been a bed and breakfast with family and friends coming and going. I am also an Elder in my home church, and during the time that I have been on sabbatical, God led our church to permanently join forces with another great church in the area – an exciting move of God for sure, but an area that has required a great deal of work and focus. I also love my neighbors, and since I have been home it seems the needs around me have grown. At one point I even took in a homeless, elderly, widow lady who had been evicted from her home. I moved all of her possessions into my garage. She spent one night sleeping on my couch, and then I was able to find a Christian organization that would care for her. As I write this, her belongings are still stacked to the ceiling in my garage. What I thought was going to be a restful sabbatical has been exhausting. And always in the background, I hear this voice in my head telling me I am a failure for not finishing the book.

Which leads me to this morning. As the morning sun began to lighten the sky, I sat in my chair overlooking the back yard with a cup of coffee in hand and talked with God.

“God,” I said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like such a failure. I guess I thought I could do this thing, this book project, and I am beginning to see how weak I really am. I just can’t seem to get it finished.”

In the stillness of that moment, God spoke to my spirit. “Tim, I never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish my will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that my power is revealed in you. My power is made perfect in weakness, not strength.”

I was reminded of Paul’s words in the second letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. God had used Paul in powerful ways. But in his physical life, he was struggling. Three times he pleaded with God for healing, but each time the answer was “No.” In the end, this is what Paul had to say about being weak:

“But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV).

Paul was content with being weak. He realized that the grace of God was sufficient for his moment of weakness. He understood that the power of God was displayed in his weaknesses, not his strengths. I am beginning to understand the same thing.

Here, then, is the challenge. When I see God at work in my life, I tend to think, “Wow, this is exciting! Look what God is doing. This is what I was created to do. This is my place in the body of Christ. I’m going to serve God and use the abilities he has given me for the sake of the kingdom.” And then, because I am a type-A personality, I go for it, giving all I can for the kingdom of God. Sounds great. But is this really what God intended? I’m not so sure.

God gives each of us abilities and expects us to use those abilities for the kingdom of God. But he is the power that enables those abilities to be used. He is the hand. I am simply the glove. We don’t have the power in ourselves to do anything for the cause of Christ. He alone is our strength. I needed to be reminded of that truth today.

I do believe God will help me to finish the book when it is time. But I also know that God wants me to understand how weak I really am. Oddly enough, there is a peace that comes when I understand I cannot accomplish the work of God through my human effort. I am pitifully weak. But God is powerful beyond my comprehension. Because I believe he is in control of every event that comes into my life, I believe he has orchestrated these past few weeks and months to bring me to this understanding. Once I understand that being weak is really what God prefers, I can let go of the desire to be strong for him. I can also let go of the self-condemning voice that whispers, “You’re a failure.” After all, it is in the failing that I realize how weak I really am. And that, my friends, is actually a very good place to be. I find strength when I understand my weakness.

Friend, where are you at in your relationship with God today? Are you weak? God understands. It may be that he is bringing you to the understanding that his power is revealed in your weakness. Can you be content with that? I pray that you will. Consider these verses:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV).

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10, ESV).

As you read these words today, you may find yourself in a place where you feel helpless to do anything. Your weakness is staring you in the face and mocking you with reminders of your personal failures. In the stillness, you’ve reached a point where you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you need to have a talk with God over a cup of coffee. May I suggest a simple prayer for you?

“God, today I am weary. I am weak. I don’t know what to do. But I believe you understand my weakness. I believe you have orchestrated the circumstances of my life to bring me to this place. I come to you today in my weakness asking that you would help me to be content in you alone. Your grace is enough for me. I will rest in that understanding today.”

Friend, God never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish his will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that his power is revealed in you. His power is revealed in your weakness, not strength. My prayer is that someday we would all be able to say with Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses.”

He is the hand. I am simply the glove. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This article was originally published in the April 2014 Newsletter.

Serving the King of all Kings

This article was originally published in the August 2013 Newsletter.

I rounded the last corner of the route back to my home and picked up the pace of my cadence. I was finishing the last mile of my morning cycling and was looking forward to a cool drink at the house. I had gotten a late start that morning and the Florida sun was blistering hot in the mid-morning sky. The humidity was high from rains overnight, making the stifling air feel like a wet blanket draped across my face.

And that’s when I saw her. She was about 50 yards ahead of me headed toward me on the sidewalk. As I drew closer I could see she was breathing hard in the smothering heat. She was stooped over two small bags of groceries lying at her feet as she rested her weight on a cane. Her shoulders drooped. Her head hung down and she did not raise her eyes as I passed.

I was already past her as I squeezed the brakes and brought my bike to a crawl. I looked back over my shoulder and saw her form in the distance. Quickly I turned the bike back in her direction and pedaled up to her.

“Good morning!” I said, as I pulled up beside her and came to a stop. “It’s a hot one, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” she replied as she glanced up at me.

I pulled off my sunglasses so she could see my eyes and I smiled at her to ease her mind. I’m sure she was wondering what this guy on the bike wanted from her. But all I wanted was to help her. As we talked, she told me that she was in her late 80’s and could no longer drive. She had no family in the area. Her husband died years ago after a bout with cancer. She was alone and had no one to help her. To get groceries, she had to walk a quarter mile to the grocery store on the corner. She would buy just enough so that she could carry them home. But today, the heat was winning the battle. Looking down at her grocery bags, I could see she had bought a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. It was the milk that broke her. It was just too heavy. She didn’t know what to do. She had given up and wasn’t sure she could make it home.

I felt deeply for her. She could easily have been my Grandmother. “Why don’t you let me carry those groceries for you and I will help you get home” I said. She hesitated, glancing back at me, unsure if she could trust me. Finally she agreed. I picked up her bags and hung them on either side of my handlebars. I slowly walked beside her, pushing the bike, as she began to shuffle her way home.

It took nearly twenty minutes to walk that quarter mile but in those few moments she shared her story with me. She often glanced at me as she plodded along and spoke as if she were dictating her memoirs. Occasionally her eyes would dance as she described her husband and children. But then her eyes would drift to some point in the distance and a cloud would pass over her face as she shared in somber tones a tale of loss and trial. Finally we arrived at her home and she placed the cane against the wall before turning the key in the door. I followed her into the kitchen and set the bags of groceries on the counter. Before I left, I wrote my name and phone number on a slip of paper and told her to call me if she ever needed any help.

It was a small thing, a very small thing indeed. I had not spoken to a crowd in a packed auditorium. I hadn’t done a radio interview. I hadn’t done a concert. But what I had done was to serve the God of all gods. It was a small thing, but a very important thing. I was serving God.

Consider this verse:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

So many times we think that serving God is for pastors, missionaries, or other full-time Christian workers. Or we think that serving God means committing to help with some program of the church. These are all good things. But I don’t think it cuts to the heart of what God intended. I think it is much more.

Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV.

Once you understand that you have “been bought with a price”, then the idea of serving God changes. Being a servant is not something you do, it is someone you are. It is no longer a question of if you will serve God, but of what kind of servant you will be. Will you be an obedient servant or a disobedient servant?

Will you take care of widows and orphans? Will you give a carry-out bag of food or a glass of water to a homeless guy that is hungry or thirsty? Will you visit someone in prison? Would you ever open that extra bedroom in your home to a homeless person to sleep? How about your couch? Would you ever clear out a portion of your closet to give clothing to someone who had little or none?

Now you may say, “But Tim, some people make bad choices and there are consequences to those choices” and this is true. But serving others is not dependent upon the other person’s deserving it. It is dependent upon who you are, not who they are and you, my friend, are a servant of the most high God, if you claim to be a follower of Christ. Remember, you were bought with a price.

You might also say “But Tim, think of the risk” and there are risks for sure, especially if you serve to the extent of bringing someone into your home, which, incidentally, I have done. But are you aware of the risk involved if you do not? Consider carefully what Christ said:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:33-46, ESV)

The relationship I have with God should be evidenced by a lifestyle of service. If it is not, then I should question whether my relationship with God is legitimate. It is one of the key ways the Scriptures describe our relationship with God. He is Lord, or perhaps a better way to say it is that he is the Lord. He is the Master. We are the servants. But somewhere along the way, we in North America have forgotten this one simple truth.

The other day I sat in the parking lot of a church in New England with the engine running, the air conditioning cooling off the interior as I set the GPS for the place I was going to spend the night. I had just finished giving a concert at the church and I was tired. God had clearly moved during the service and it was satisfying to see. I was about to leave when suddenly my cell phone began to ring. I didn’t recognize the number, but saw that it was from my home area code in Florida. I almost let it go to voice mail and then at the last minute decided to answer it.

The voice that greeted me by name was old and feeble. My mind was racing to figure out who it was that was calling. Finally it hit me. It was the woman I had helped with the groceries! It had been months ago that I had walked her home but she had saved my number. Another heat spell had hit and she needed milk. She wondered if I could come over and drive her to the store. I smiled as I looked back at the church where I had just ministered. It was an important ministry I had just concluded, but another ministry event was calling, one that has a special place in God’s heart. I explained that I was in Maine and would be returning home the next day. I would be glad to help if she could wait long enough for me to get home.

I pulled the car out of the parking lot of the church and began to work my way down the road. After a night of rest I would fly home, to where a really important ministry event waited, where the next day I would have the privilege of serving the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.

Are you ready for your next ministry event? It could happen today. I pray that you will understand the privilege of serving God in the opportunities that come into your life on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and yes, sometimes even on Sunday. Love God with utter abandon. Love others selflessly. Serve the King of all kings.

Imitators of Christ

This article was originally published in the July 2013 Newsletter.

I grew up in a tiny town in southern Michigan in the middle of farm country. We lived on Main Street and had a cornfield in our backyard. I loved that simple, hard-working lifestyle. As an adult, one of my best friends owned five hundred acres planted with corn and soy beans. I loved working on his farm with him. He was a dear friend and father figure to me. I highly respected him. A big part of me wanted to be just like him. The longer I knew him and the more time I spent with him, the more I started to look and think like him. I began to understand the business of farming and listened to the grain market updates on the radio to learn the current trading price of corn. I wore jeans, work boots, and a John Deere ball cap. Over time I grew in my knowledge of farming and was able to keep his entire operation going if needed. I even drove the semi to the mill, fully loaded with corn. Those were some of the best times for me and I remember them with a sense of longing.

The interesting thing is this: the more I loved my friend, the more time I spent with him, and as I spent more time with him, the more I began to look and act like him.

This is the essence of being a follower of Christ. I love him and love spending time with him. The more I grow in my relationship with him, the more I look and act like he would act. This is the heart of discipleship.

My natural tendency is just the opposite. I think that if I discipline myself, I can work hard and be a better Christian. But that is not the way it works! Instead, I focus on my relationship with God, and as I grow in that relationship, I find myself wanting to spend more time with the One I love. When I spend time with Jesus, I find myself becoming more like him. I become a disciple of Christ, living my life the way he lived his. I start to look like him in my actions. I begin to think like he thinks. What is important to him becomes important to me. In the end, I become an imitator of Christ and my life is completely changed.

Consider these verses:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1, ESV).

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 1:6, ESV).

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (Paul writing in his first letter to the church in Corinth, I Corinthians 11:1, ESV).

I pray that you are growing in your relationship with God. I hope you are falling in love with him so that you will want to spend more time with him. As you spend more time with him, I believe you will find yourself becoming more like him. In the end, let us all be imitators of Christ.

My farmer friend passed away several years ago. I still think of him in the spring when the fields are plowed and the smell of freshly turned soil fills the air. I find myself wondering what the price of corn will be this year and how the crops are growing in those fields in southern Michigan. And sometimes I still wear my old farmer hat just to remember how it felt to work those fields. In my heart, I guess a part of me will always be a farmer.

But today I have a different love, and slowly I am becoming a little more like Christ every day. I still have a long way to go, but I love spending time with him and I want to be just like him.

Join me, won’t you? Fall in love with God. Spend time with him. Become an imitator of Christ.