The other day I read of a pastor of a large church in Washington state who was facing 15 years in prison. He had the ability to gather large crowds. He was wealthy and the ministry was blessed. But he was caught having an affair and dismissed. He turned to smuggling marijuana to maintain his lavish lifestyle. Again, he was caught. Will this now define his life?
Then there was the young missionary who went to the Sentinelese island people and was killed by them. They are a very isolated and vicious people who want to be left alone. The world is condemning this young man for wanting to change the beliefs of others who have lived that way for hundreds and thousands of years. Will this now define his life?
Our church building is for sale. The church has been closed. The roof leaks. As I walked in the other day to “pawn” off some of the contents to pay for the roof repairs, I noticed that more of the ceiling had come down. It was not an encouraging moment. Every time someone goes through the building looking for a “deal” it’s like someone going through your personal lifelong possessions after you’ve died. Will this now define my life?
In times of crisis, death, or significant life changes, we can ask why we are here. What is our life purpose? Did we miss God? Whether it be our life’s work, our personal relationships, or our very identity, we often create misery for ourselves by subtly accepting expectations that God never put on us. The pastor facing prison couldn’t accept that he would no longer be a highly successful minister in the eyes of men. The world can’t accept that it is a reasonable thing for a young missionary to give his life to reach a lost tribe, even if he never succeeded in his own lifetime. Many a minister, and many a business man has put upon himself the expectations of this world and made himself miserable. It’s the ultimate mid-life crisis in a sense.
What were the expectations that Abraham accepted? His was a demonstration of a life based on faith through grace alone. What are we to do? Believe: Who are we to be? Those who fear God. What are we to believe? The blessing of God is given by faith, not by human potential. Abraham’s call had purpose. He didn’t have authority for authority’s sake. His preoccupation was not to be about his success based on numbers. My purpose is not to be a pastor, to be an evangelist, to be a prophet. It is not to preach or to heal. I am to be a picture in life of the faithfulness of God. Oh, I can preach about it, prophecy about it, demonstrate God’s healing touch. But it is my life story that is the real message. It is my human failures and how God dealt with it. It is my travels and hardships and sicknesses, and how I overcame through Jesus. My walk talks louder than my talk talks – as a human man.
“Abraham believed God. Abraham obeyed God. Abraham feared God.” It is all seen in how he lived his life and how God treated him. It is what God did for him. God called him. AND he went. He obeyed by faith and God blessed him. His message is his life story. His calling was the authority to live his life as he did and to be memorialized as an object lesson of faith and obedience. He had failures in his life, as did all of the men and women of faith whose lives are recorded in scripture.
The call of a man is not to exemplify a perfect life of faith and obedience. It is to display how to walk as an ordinary human being, as one who is relatable to everyone he speaks to. We show them how to live as failing people who need, and who have, a Savior every day. If we are perfect, everyone will be depressed that they are something less than they should be. But the real call is to show them how an ordinary human man lives and overcomes in his failings. We are here to validate and justify God, NOT ourselves. How many ministers have read the books about the millions of souls saved, the thousands of people healed, the astronomical growth of a congregation, and they’ve then been told the “secrets” of success? How many of them tried and failed? How many saw what they thought success looked like, and determined that they were failures? Most of them! It’s because they accepted an illegitimate measuring rod of their own lives and calling. They minimized their own call and felt like they had let God and men down. But their success was in their walk and their love for God, their faithfulness, and their families. They didn’t end with big churches, but as John the Baptist, James, Stephen, and most of the other disciples.
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. Gen. 13:14 So Abram moved throughout the land, noting all that would be his. How do we relate? God isn’t giving us a geographic inheritance. Abram believed God’s promise. It was about promise. Paul goes through a lengthy teaching in Galations about Abraham receiving the promise by faith, not by works. He would have to learn from Isaac and Ishmael that he was not going to be able to make the promise happen by his own efforts. Through it we would all understand that the things that significantly mark our life journey are not part of our story because of our efforts, education, intelligence, the breaks we get, the people we knew, or the resources that we’ve had. We will get no credit for this!
Abraham would strive with his wife’s maid and bare a son of the flesh. He would journey for years until all of his own imaginations and abilities were exhausted. Nothing would come to him because of what he could do, but because of who he believed and who he feared. Fear betrays our heart of unbelief. It exposes our carnality. It identifies us as idolaters. God allows it to be seen, not to judge and defeat us, but to perfect us. Great and long lessons shape and sift us along the journey of promise. Our hearts have a hard time believing in this inimitable grace. This is the nature and character of God whereby He gets the glory, the credit for all of our blessings. Do we sometimes struggle with free grace because we are secretly thirsting for some of the glory in our ego driven souls? The desire to be successful in the ministry, or in any career may very well carry the hidden seeds of our apparent defeat. We may easily win the battle for riches, fame, and men’s jealousy, yet wind up in the ditch concerning our life’s true purpose. Success in not in the size of the crowd, the billboards, resumes, and brochures, but in being a lover of God and men.
There’s nothing like living your life with the sense that your journey is a divinely ordained walk of faith and destiny. Let God be the ‘Determiner’ of your direction, destiny, and resources, and you will move ahead day by day with the consciousness that God is going before you, preparing your encounters, your defenses, and your daily resources. You are marching ahead as ancient Israel with a purpose and power that will declare the glory of God, His love, faithfulness, friendship, holiness, and wisdom. You exist to display in life the message of the Kingdom of God in operation. “This happened to me today,” is a sermon in life, a witness of His glory, and a testimony of what God did. It is beyond argument to those who will see or hear, because it is something that happened to you. It is just like the lives of the saints of scripture. Most everything that you read in the Bible is a journal of what happened on their life journey that displayed the nature of God to those who would have ears to hear. Most would miss it, but the joy of the journey is in the journey, not the responses of men.
I’d forgotten that my dad saw me in a vision before I was born! He saw Jesus standing in front of a cradle – two nights in a row! I grew up in turmoil. I was saved in a really obvious supernatural way. God just came into the room while I was hungover. I was baptized in the Spirit in a very vocal outflow of the Spirit. At my water baptism I gave my first message in tongues as I came up out of the water. 2 ½ years later I was a senior pastor. A couple of years later a man was raised from the dead in one of our services. I have known struggle all of the 40 years of my ministry life. I’ve known homelessness and great financial blessings. I’ve been betrayed and befriended, blessed and cursed. My life has by no means been ordinary.
A friend was praying for me one day, and the thought came to him – “I am setting him apart.” My first thoughts about being set apart: I am called to be different. Being set apart means not worrying about being like other people or worrying about their judgment of me as if I don’t fit into their mold. I am not called to fit in. All of the things that have happened to me, and to you, are a part of our gospel message in life. Our journey is our real message. Through them, God is setting us apart for Himself.
Being set apart means not being like the world. It means being not conformed to this world. It means letting go of worldly things that seek to be my God, and things that cause me to be conformed to something other than Christ’s image. It means not having expectations of my own based upon the world’s mindsets. Such is a life of peace and promise.
What Is Your Life Message?