Inconvenience Yourself

In my hometown in South Dakota, winters are somewhat mild but can be bitter cold and snowy. It is typically considered to be a nice winter day if there’s sunshine, no breeze, and higher than 15°F outside. But heaven help us when the arctic blasts come! In preparation for these days, it is customary for all the crafty do-gooders of the community to knit or crochet hats, gloves, and scarves for the permanently displaced folks in the downtown area. But instead of donating their yarn creations to a shelter, they draped them upon the dozens of bronze statue presidents on every corner in the downtown area.

To the outsider, the site of Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy sporting striped scarves and donated jackets may seem a bit fanatical or down right odd. At one point, the city attorney pointed out to these do-gooders that it was unlawful to “decorate” the presidential statues and asked that this practiced be ceased. Fortunately, the mayor intervened to reverse and modify the law to allow winter wear to be hung on the statues between certain times of the year. If you ask me, I love seeing the statues being adorned with knitted things. But I also know the do-gooders are missing out on something infinitely more valuable than being permitted to hang their knitted things…

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A little known fact about Altus, Oklahoma, it’s not a place many people are familiar with. It’s a quaint little town in the literally in the middle of nowhere whose agricultural roots and military operations are footnoted in America’s history. Unlike South Dakota, the winters in southwestern Oklahoma can be more brutal than its northern neighbors. Ice storms are more probable than snowstorms and there are no natural landforms for Altus to seek shelter from the winter winds.

In these times, folks usually band together; making sure their neighbors are taken care of and will even inconvenience themselves to be a helping hand. A five minute trip to Wal-Mart usually takes two hours – not because everything is scattered throughout the store, but because folks will stop and start conversations with you. They genuinely have an interest to know you!

The same could be said for a small group of Altusians I know who also like to knit scarves and hats for the homeless. But they don’t stop at Altus city limits. These folks purposefully drive down to Wichita Falls, TX (a 90 minute drive) and hand deliver their winter wear to the homeless, spending hours talking with them and loving on them. This ministry is called the “Church Without Walls”. The stories I’ve heard from this ministry would make your heart sink and your soul cry out for mercy. Out of all the provision bags, which contained toiletries, food, and clothing, the Church Without Walls volunteers brought, the most sought-after articles were the handwritten encouragement letters? The only needs that weren’t being met on the streets were human compassion and interaction.

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If we are forthright with ourselves, we know it is far simpler and more agreeable to give out of convenience. It is convenient to make a scarf and passively hand it off to the middleman president statue than it is to drive 90 minutes and strike up a conversation with the homeless woman with two kids. It is far more convenient to stop at Wal-Mart at 9pm in order to “get-in-get-out” than to shop during primetime, least you become inconvenienced with crowded lines. But when you live out of self-conveniences, what are you missing? Honest still, what blessing are you blocking by isolating yourself?

I love what Paul wrote to us in Romans 15. It’s essentially a battle cry to turn away from our self-centeredness and to inconvenience ourselves; coming alongside those who are faltering, troubled, or in need:

1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next…7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! (MSG)

Now before you mentally counter Paul’s call to action with self preservation-based arguments or go charging out the door with a new perspective, pray about it! Often times God wants us to do one simple act of kindness rather than take on a whole battlefront of injustice. Remember, Jesus was more intimate with the Father than He was with the people – listen with an open heart and receive Romans 15 into your spirit. Use this scripture as a mirror and let the Lord help you sort out the life you’ve lived out of convenience. It’s not too late to ask God for a change of heart! He promises that He can give us a new heart and a responsive spirit (check out Ezekiel 36:26, NLT) – just ask Him!

Abba, thank You that You first loved me before I first loved You. Forgive me for my heart of stone. I know it’s not what You had in mind for me. I release to You the things that made me comfortable instead of content. Open my ears to hear what You have for others through me in this season of caring and giving. Let me no longer live a life of convenience but a life for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

The Snickers Bar Rations

When I agreed to be a contributor for the church encouragement blogs, I knew I would have periodic writer’s block but I didn’t think they would be this bad!  Weeks and weeks went by the due date and still nothing.  I don’t want to write dribble or fluff pieces.  I want my writings to be as meaty as the blogs I enjoy reading.  My heart is to encourage those who struggle with the same struggles I’ve had.  But nothing was coming to mind!  It was like God put a stopper on my writing ideas.

Honest moment.

I’ll be honest.  God didn’t put a stopper on my writing ideas… I was the one who stopped coming to Him for ideas.  Life happened.  I moved.  I went on a week long vacation.  I’ve been trying to put a home together for my family.  I’ve been on the go!  I know we’ve all been there.  But like everything that needs energy, I ran out of fuel.  I was spiritually empty and in desperate need of a filling.  How can I expect to write and encourage when I have nothing to give?  Nothing to outpour?

I was not taking care of my spirit that constantly hungers for the Word and the Voice of God.  Only after did I come to a complete sputtering halt in my spirit did I take the time to sit, put on worship music, and be still.  Now, when I say be still, I mean it in the holistic sense: body, mind, and spirit.  So I waited on the Lord to speak.

But my mind doesn’t sit still:

“Well what if I wrote about this?  Oh! What am I going to do tomorrow?  I forgot to put away dishes.  No!  Shhhh. Let the Lord speak.”  Honestly, me silencing my thoughts is like playing Whack-A-Mole.  Every time a thought pops up I had to whack it back down.  But the Lord is faithful when His children press-in, no matter how messy it looks.

Look up Matthew 4:4 said a still, small voice.

Oh?  Ok, Lord!  And so I did.  Now, I know I heard from the Lord because I’m not this good at Bible roulette.  Here’s what it says:

“Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive.  It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth’,” Matthew 4:4 (MSG).

Consider myself gently reminded.

How many of us would stop here?  God spoke; you read a section of scripture and received some measure of filling, and then continued your day without further ado.  It’s the Snickers Bar Ration.  You weren’t feeling yourself because you were spiritually hungry, so you got yourself a Snickers bar-sized portion of scripture thinking it will fill you up and carry you through the rest of the day or week.  Is that how you want to live?  Surely there must be more than that.

 

God grabbed my attention with a morsel but it was up to me to feed my spirit a real meal. So I read more.

The scripture leading up to Matthew 4:4 tells how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and stayed there for forty days and forty nights.  He was physically weak, most likely mentally exhausted, and dehydrated.  Jesus knew He was going to be tested by the devil and prepared for the test by removing Himself from distractions, including food.  At His weakest, satan came.  Typical satan.

Continuing beyond the passage of Matthew 4:4, satan does what he can to tempt Jesus to indulge in His humanity but fails to best Jesus.  In the end, Jesus tells satan to beat it.  Jesus for the win!

As I chewed over this story, the more I realized just how off base I’ve been.  By all medical understanding of the stages of starvation, Jesus should have been at a point when apathy and listlessness sets in due to the prolonged absence of nutrients.  In other words, He was most likely in a state where He shouldn’t have cared about the Father’s Will (apathy) or had the grit to tell satan off (listlessness).  By the way, did you know that a synonym for listlessness is spiritless?  But that’s not what we read, is it?  Quite the inverse actually.

When Jesus’ physical and mental health was at its lowest, His spiritual health was at its peak!  How?  Why?  Didn’t we just read that His state of starvation would have made Him apathetic and spiritless?  This is probably why Jesus said that we cannot live off of bread alone, that it takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.  I believe Jesus was literally surviving off the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.

Think about it.  Sure, Jesus built up a spiritual food supply of scriptures in His heart that He resorted to for nourishment.  But I think there’s more to it than that.  A steady stream of words from God’s mouth.  Folks, what if the whole time Jesus was in the wilderness, His spirit was being freshly fed from Father God with tender whispers of I love you, my Son, You are so pleasing to me, I’m so proud of you, I am with you, remember this verse? I was thinking of you when I wrote this.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not a Snickers bar of spiritual food, that’s a whole 5 course meal with a serving of sorbet in between courses!  No wonder He was able to withstand the temptations of satan!

And here’s another food for thought (pun intended), does our spiritual health look like a physical starvation?  Are you experiencing spiritual apathy and listlessness?  Are you starving your spirit with Snicker rations of scripture like I have been for weeks?  If you are, I encourage you that there is hope, there is a well that never runs dry, there is something more than bread you can live off of.  Abba Father wants to take you out to dinner and lavish you with His best dishes everyday (and I can probably guess it’s not a Snickers bar either)!  So ditch the snack bar, pull up a chair, and start devouring the words that God is speaking over you today; I love you, my child, you are so pleasing to me, I’m so proud of you, I am with you, remember this verse?  I was thinking of you when I wrote this.

Lord Jesus,

Thank You for showing us what we can do when we’re spiritually fed properly.  Forgive me for neglecting Your Word and only taking small portions when You have so much more for me.  Holy Spirit, guide me into scripture and let it come alive to me.  As I read, let every word I read become bread for my spirit.  As I sit quietly, let me hear the words You speak over me.  May I be nourished in spirit so that when I am tested, I can tell the devil to ‘beat it’ too.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!