When God Calls You to Stand Out

Cottonwood in St. Mary’s meadow, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Glacier National Park.

The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, heigh-ho, the derry-o the cheese stands alone.

Did you ever play Farmer in the Dell when you were younger? I have an early memory of doing so in the church nursery. It’s not fun to be the cheese, the last one picked, the one left standing in the middle of the circle when it’s all over.

If you’ve ever been left alone in life and complained about it, you’ve got company. There was once a man who ran terrified into the wilderness and cried out, “I am the only one left!” And again, hiding on a mountainside, “I am the only one left!” He was Elijah, prophet of Israel, and he had just won a fiery showdown over the prophets of Baal. But he freaked out when angry Jezebel vowed to kill him within the day. So he ran into the wilderness, full of despair.

Sometimes, we are alone because we run from the Lord. We step outside the kingdom work he’s called us to and turn our eyes inward. We put up curtains between ourselves and the world. Whether because of fear, anger, or despair, we hang our heads and cry “I am the only one left.” This is selfish aloneness, an utter absorption with our personal issues and sin.

Other times, we stand alone because we are called to, like Elijah did right before he crashed in self-pity. He announced, in a most hostile environment, that he was on the Lord’s side, and he commanded Israel to choose between the Lord or the prophets of Baal. In the midst of this showdown, Elijah proclaimed, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” This is kingdom aloneness: standing apart for the sake of the Lord, standing out because he calls you to.

Don’t ever think that the Lord calls you into selfish aloneness, that pitying of yourself which shuts out community. “Woe is me” may have a place in private prayer, but it’s a place to pass through, not to dwell in.

When God calls you to stand out, it may be a lonely place, but it will be a kingdom place as well. When God calls you to stand out, do not focus so much on the standing-out part as the God-calling part. Let your standing out be purposeful and hope-inducing. Beware the temptation to turn your eyes upon yourself, for as soon as you do, you will be like Elijah, alone in the wilderness crying “I am the only one left.”

God quickly corrected Elijah’s vision. Finding him in the wilderness, God revealed himself afresh to Elijah and called him right back into kingdom aloneness. “Go anoint Hazael as king,” he told Elijah, and immediately, Elijah was back in the fray of the battle.

The cure for selfish aloneness is to return to the work to which God has called you.

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Happy Thanksgiving

George Washington’s October 3, 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. It’s unreadable, but I like seeing one of the documents that organized our national holiday. John Adams proclaimed Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799, and James Madison in 1814 and 1815. Individual states celebrated Thanksgivings, but the holiday was not an annual national event until Abraham Lincoln’s October 3, 1863 proclamation that designated the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

From the Boston Public Library, entitled “Thanksgiving Day – The Dance”.
From the Boston Public Library, entitled “Thanksgiving Day – Hanging Up the Musket.” I love that woman’s face. She’s thinking, “I wanted to decorate with those little corns, but he had to hang his gun.”
An invitation to a dinner at the JarvisUSA Hospital in Baltimore. This is from 1864, during the civil war. I bet that hospital was full. And check out that food listed. This is obviously in the north. That kind of abundance was not found in the south by this year of the war.
A Currier and Ives lithograph from 1867 entitled Home to Thanksgiving. I bet “home to Thanksgiving” was extra special those years right after the civil war.
An editorial cartoon entitled “Turkeymobile” reflecting the economic panic of 1907 and hoping for future prosperity.

Isn’t it fun to look at pictures from our country’s past? These were found on Wikimedia commons.

Today, although I won’t be with extended family, I am thankful that all my basic needs are met. A beautiful blue sky is laid out above us and that special Thanksgiving feeling of rest and praise has settled in our house. We are wearing beaded necklaces made by our five-year-old daughter, and we will soon head to church to celebrate God’s goodness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The American Church – Up Close

“For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:44-45. Picture from Wikimedia commons.

When I say “American Church”, what comes to mind? Materialistic? Afraid to suffer? Intellectual? Luke-warm? Unfortunately, you’re probably thinking something negative. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve noticed it’s in vogue for Christians to criticize the American church as a means of spurring it on to greater holiness. Although this prophetic voice is not without fair cause, I’m uncomfortable with it (even though I’ve been guilty of it). The church, after all, is the bride of Christ, precious to him. We may be rife with cultural influences and weaknesses (as is the church in every nation), but how can you paint a broad-stroke label over a church with millions of members?

I had a realization the other night, surrounded by beautiful women who love Jesus (in other words, they are part of the flawed American Church). After discussing the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we started sharing testimonies of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. One lady heard the Spirit’s voice clearly when she was four-years old, a warning, “Stop” as she was about to unknowingly do something dangerous. Another woman experienced the guidance of the Holy Spirit in making some difficult decisions. And yet another woman nearly avoided a car crash thanks to the overcoming need to worship. As we spoke, the palpable presence of the Spirit began to stir amongst us. Such a sweet and real peace settled in our hearts.

This is the American Church, I thought. It’s alive with people who want to follow Jesus with every fiber of their beings, who have ears open to the Spirit, who are committed to doing the will of the Father. When we look up close at the individuals who comprise this American Church, we see there are many faithful, repentant, seeking followers of Jesus.

I write this to encourage you. It’s tempting to focus on denominational issues that question the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or on church splits, or media stories highlighting the failures of Christians. As we ponder exactly who is this American church, it’s essential to remember Calvin’s distinction between the visible and invisible church. The visible church is the church that we see – memberships, church attendance, people who profess Christianity. The invisible church is the church that God sees – the committed hearts, the faithful service, the Christ-honoring souls. The point is that God judges the hearts of men, and knows who his people are. We exercise discernment as we “judge a tree by its fruit.” And as I look up close at those Christians around me, I see a lot of good fruit.

Let’s choose our words carefully the next time we talk about the church, remembering that the church is God’s beloved Gospel-bearing vessel.

Plumbing the Well of Wisdom, a quick exegetical look at Proverbs 20:5

Photo by Nick Krantz

“Counsel [purpose] in the heart of a man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

“Counsel” – The Hebrew word translated as counsel, plan, advice, and sometimes purpose, is laden with theological significance. First, God’s plans are eternal and unstoppable (Isaiah 46:9-11), unlike man’s plans (Proverbs 19:20). Second, Israel is frequently called a people who do not listen to counsel. Proverbs picks up this theme of the wise verses the foolish, portraying the wise as those who heed the counsel of the Lord. Third, in Acts 5:38 early church persecutors decide to leave the disciples alone, reasoning that they will not be able to thwart the plans of God. Finally, Acts 2:23 states that the life and death of Jesus Christ was part of God’s foreordained plan.

The Counselor – John writes of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit, the “Counselor”, to us so that we will not be left as orphans. Christ has every right and authority to send us His Spirit, for Isaiah prophesies the coming Messiah as a “wonderful counselor”, and a man on whom will be the Spirit of counsel and strength (Isaiah 9:6, 11:2).

Well imagery – The agricultural image in this Proverb is that of a well. You couldn’t survive in ancient times without a water supply, which was often in the form of a well. People had to daily draw water for themselves and their livestock and crops.

Take away – Do not be like Israel, rejecting the counsel of the Lord. Do not pursue your own counsel or that of the culture (“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death,” Proverbs 14:12). But daily draw water from the well of God’s counsel which he’s placed within you, through His Spirit.

One Whole Person

I’m terrified of sickness. I’m probably border-line obsessive about it. Every sniffle from my five-year-old, every low-appetite meal from my two-year-old and my brain launches into “what-if” mode. What if we’re starting yet another round of colds, earaches, and respiratory illness? What if the stomach bug has infiltrated past the front lines of my strict hand washing policy? My mind then transfers this “what-if” worry game to my heart and pretty soon, my whole body’s not feeling too well.

Worry rots our guts. It isn’t confined to bouncing around the walls of our brain. It leaks slow and steady into the stomach, the intestines, the blood stream, depleting the energy-levels of our bodies. We cannot compartmentalize our anxiety. We can’t cage up our emotions. We can’t watch them prowling around like lions behind bars at a zoo. We are whole people, with minds, hearts, bodies, and souls integrated into one magnificent system. Indeed, I feel emotions prowling from my head to my toes, settling as a burning sensation in my esophagus, sitting heavy on my immune system.Thankfully, worry is not the only thing that can invade our bodies. Praise does the same thing.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name” (Psalm 103). Praise starts in our souls, and is directed to God, but it reverberates through our inmost being – our hearts, minds, and guts.

Which would you rather have rattling your bones – praise or worry?

A question to ponder. Meanwhile, a picture to enjoy, taken by my father. I’m missing my Northwest home this time of year and the juxtaposition of fall color and evergreens. I’m grateful that we’ve had a beautiful fall here in North Carolina.

Pond by Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. Photograph taken by Nick Krantz.

Tensions

“How far are you, how close am I
I know your words are true and I don’t feel them inside
Still I believe you’ll never leave
So where are you now

You’re all I have, You’re all I know
Your breath is breathing in my soul
Still I am gasping, aching, asking
Where are you now

Cause I just wanna be with You
I just want this waiting to be over
I just want to be with You
And it helps to know the Day is getting closer

Every minute takes an hour
Every inch feels like a mile
Til I won’t have to imagine
And I finally get to see You smile”

{Chris Rice, Smile}

This song came on the radio the other day. Immediately I had a skeptic response. Aren’t we supposed to enjoy life now? Aren’t we supposed to invest ourselves fully in this world? Hasn’t the Lord said that what he created was good?

Living in the moment and longing for our heavenly home are both Biblical ideas. I know friends in difficult situations in which longing for heaven and the end of pain is all the hope they have. On the flip side, the craze of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts proves that Christians are longing for ways to enjoy life fully, and gratitude (being thankful right now, right where you are) is providing that path to full living.

So what does God want for us? He wants us fully engaged in this messy world through service, appreciating his blessings and the beauty of this world. But the truth is, the pain of being in this world often triggers that place within us that knows we don’t belong in this world eternally. And that part of us longs for final, complete communion with Jesus.

Paradox abounds in Scripture. Simply defined, a paradox is something that appears contradictory, but holds truth. Consider these things in Scripture that seemingly pull opposite of each other:

  •  God is sovereign and has chosen us before the creation of the world, and yet, he gives us free choice to accept his salvation.
  • We are saved by grace alone through faith and yet faith without works is dead
  • Ecclesiastes 3, “…a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to build up and a time to tear down…”  All of these opposites find an appropriate place in life.
  • God is a compassionate father. He is a warrior.
  • Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it, and yet, he stormed into the temple and upturned the vendor’s tables.
  • A compassionate Jesus talks with the woman at the well. An angry Jesus spits out woes against the Pharisees.

These juxtaposition of these tensions can leave our truth-questing minds exhausted. How do we make sense of these seeming contradictions?

  • Consider the whole of Scripture. It sounds like common sense, but I’m always surprised at how unfamiliar people are with certain parts of Scripture, be it the Prophets or the Pentateuch (and those poor sections are often the neglected ones). When verses or stories are taken and used as a foundation for a position without consideration of other parts of Scripture, theological angst occurs. If you shy away from certain parts of Scripture, and are also struggling to understand a theological concept, it might be time to search those unread parts of your Bible.
  • Consider the feebleness of your mind. Ultimately, we are arrogant to think we can fully understand God. “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!” Paul’s proclamation in Romans 11:33 follows three chapters of his discussion on God’s sovereignty and the salvation of the Jews. His words are good words for us to echo when we come up against a tricky theological issue.
  • Consider grace. We are accepted by God the Father, not on the basis of the strength of our faith, but on the direction of our faith. He gives us unmerited favor because he loves us, through Jesus. Relax in this grace as you face the tough questions of Scripture.
  • Read a good book. Talk with other believers. The tensions we find in Scripture have been the grounds for theological wrestling matches for centuries. How have other theologians handled the integration of Jesus’ divinity and humanity or faith and works?