Serve in obscurity?

…rather than make a name for myself, make His name known…

“He must become greater; I must become less.” – John the Baptist

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” – Jesus

Have you ever considered the meaning of these words? What does it really mean to become “less”? And, how is it that of all the people Jesus chose to commend it was John the Baptist, an obscure, well-worn man living solo in the Judean wilderness? Why is it that Jesus didn’t sing the praises of Abraham, Moses, or David? Jewish tradition holds all three in high regard.

As I attended a local women’s conference this last weekend, I was confronted to reconsider these words. The theme of the weekend was “Finding Your Voice.” It centered on developing our intimacy with Jesus so that we could truly find our voice whereby we could live out our purpose in this world.

Sitting in the auditorium, listening to the message, one thought kept coming to mind, interrupting my ability to focus on the message being given… Sure, I guess I need to find my voice… I was telling myself… But what if God would rather I focus on His voice being heard?

My mind trailed deeper down the rabbit hole of that line of thinking… Rather than being known, what if it pleased God more that I be unknown? Or be known completely only by Him? My good works, my heartaches, my quirks… Rather than make a name for myself, seek to make God’s name known? Rather than advance my own reputation, advance God’s? And, then came the zinger of a question… Am I willing to serve God in utter obscurity?

*Gulp.*

Pondering such questions, I began to consider those who have answered that question in the affirmative… I mean, how long did Mother Teresa go about her business of caring for the poor, diseased, despised, and wretched before the world took notice of her noble work? How many others do the same in our day? Would I be willing to do such work without acclaim?

Coming back up to reality, the struggle is real… In all honesty, the answer is, “no.” (Besides, if I was keeping record, I’d already say I’d lost since I’m so connected through social media.) Nonetheless, I not ready to disappear into the void of anonymity, comforted solely by the fact I’m completely known by God. Yet, I know that that is every Christian’s call…

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

And so, the thought deepens… What if true freedom is really found by losing oneself? Isn’t that what Jesus said…?

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” – Mark 8:35

AND…

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33

Alright, so, to lose our life is to gain it? And to seek to make something of our lives for our own sake is actually to lose it? It sounds so contradictory… Yet, I can imagine the freedom and joy it can bring… To not be bound by other people’s expectations or approval… To be unbridled by your own fears and uncertainties… Free to do what is right when it’s not popular because you’re unconcerned with your standing and secure in who you really are…

You are His.

Risking Grace.

…risk grace to reap generously…

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously… And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work… Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9:6, 8, 10-11

Okay, so, I’m not naturally a “risk-taker.” Perceived “risks” that I’ve taken have all been calculated. If I was going to step out on a limb, I was going to be sure the limb was large enough to hold my weight and the tree was firmly rooted in the ground. I’ve not been one to reach out for a broken branch on a dying tree, clinging to life on the side of a cliff. Danger has been my nemesis.

While on a hike through the woods recently, a new thought began to form in my mind regarding risk…

Life is about risk.

Hmm… Risk.

Chatting with friends along the way, we began to share our yet-to-be life dreams and goals. Even as I shared mine, this thought occurred to me… perhaps the reason some of these dreams are still unfulfilled is because I’ve failed to risk stepping out on a limb to see them become a reality…

Whoa.

Could that be it? That I’m actually my own worst enemy? That if I was to risk more, I would actually gain more?

I’ve longed to own my own house, but never felt financially able to do so despite a sterling credit score. To own a house means to risk being able to make payments or repairs.

I’ve longed for marriage, but have shied away from male friendships. To marry means to risk being vulnerable or enduring heartbreak.

I’ve considered going back to school, but am not keen on taking out a loan. To increase one’s credentials costs money and time.

You see, I’ve seen my problems as bigger than my God… I’ve seen the risk as larger than the reward… My focus has been on the cost, rather than on the payoff…. on the risk, rather than the resulting joy.

Have I forgotten the God whom I serve?

After telling Mary, Jesus’ mother, the good news that her once-barren relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age, the angel Gabriel reminded her, “For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37

Nothing is impossible with God.

God has given us grace along the way so that we would give life our best shot… He affords us grace to risk making mistakes… Grace so our risk would result in great victory… Grace to reap generously for His kingdom… Grace to give it a go… But if we never risk, how can we live in that grace? Could living a “safe” life be to reap sparingly…? And besides, isn’t He our Redeemer? The one who can redeem all things…?

As Job reminds us, I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” – Job 19:25

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So, as I continue on this path of faith, seeking out God’s vision for my life, I’m realizing that perhaps it’s time to “risk” more… To sow sparingly, is to reap sparingly. To sow generously, is to reap generously. Where have I been stingy with my resources? Where has my faith been meager? Yet, where does my heart desire to see growth, fruit, abundance? I should carefully consider how and where I may need to risk more in order to experience more… Where is God calling you to risk more?

pc: Sarah Coffey, Utah

Unfettered…

…live unfettered and let God achieve the unachieveable…

…he soars into the yard, wings extended… quickly closing them up under his breast as he touches down on the green grass… looking for the proverbial worm to fill his belly at breakfast… at a moments notice, his white and black striped pinions open high and he’s off over the fence… searching another lawn for the juicy grub…

Around here black magpies fill the air, the yards, the parking lots… Their coloring is striking… black and white… a shimmer of teal reflecting from the black feathers… I’m always drawn to them…

In watching them, it got me thinking… what would it be like to be completely unfettered? Free to roam, fly where you choose, unfettered by the cares of this world?

To many, I seem like a “free spirit,” and in many ways, I suppose I am… But for a very long time, I have stressed about many things… money, relationships, career, purpose, ministry… being enough… So many goals… seemingly unachieveable in my own eyes and perhaps even the eyes of the world… especially based on my track-record and current status… How can they come to be?? And, even if I was to give up stressing about figuring them out, how would that get me any closer to achieving them? To let them go… wouldn’t that mean giving up on them?

Yet, as I sit here, considering life… it occurred to me… stressing out and trying to “figure” it all out hasn’t really gotten me much closer… it’s just gotten me more stressed, bitter, tightly wound… and that is not living…

Isn’t our God bigger than that? Isn’t He bigger than our puny attempt to try to figure things out? Bigger than our failures? Bigger than the dead ends we think we find ourselves in?

And, just maybe by living more carefree, giving up trying to figure things out, that would actually get us closer to seeing them come to fruition…! I’d be free from worry, burdens, cares… and so, perhaps I would be more myself, a relaxed self, a beautifully unfettered self…!

Luckily, there is some solid advice from God’s Word… He seems to know us so well…!

“…look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”*

“For nothing is impossible with God.”**

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”***

 

*Matthew 6:26-27

**Luke 1:37

***Hebrews 13:8

pc: The Internet – The National Audubon Society (I couldn’t sneak up on them fast enough for a nice photo.)

But to live Dangerously…

…everything Jesus calls us to do is dangerous…

So, this Spring I took an intercultural class, the “kick-the-bricks-of-your-foundation” kind of class… we discussed all kinds of things, but at one point we came to “the state of world need…” One article kicked off with these words of Jesus…

“…Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me…” *

As I read, it occurred to me…

Everything Jesus calls us to do has been deemed dangerous, too dangerous to actually obey

To clothe the naked means to meet them in their nakedness and be exposed to their compromised state…

To give lodging to the homeless or stranger means to invite the unknown and unwary into our corner…

To feed the hungry means to forgo saving the extra for our own possible future need and instead lavish it on the starving…

To visit prisoners means to enter the jailhouse, not fearing the risk of our reputation or that of the inmate’s… offering freedom that supersedes prison bars… reminding them they are not forgotten…

All these things disrupt our cookie-cutter, Christian life; the perceived “cleanness” with which we live… We often deem it too dangerous to enter into such situations or make such acquaintances…

Yet, God cares about such people… People the world has cast aside, God has not forgotten…

As I’ve been settling into my new community, my mind has been mulling over these ideas… Not only how can I make this new place home, but how can I continue to serve “the least of these…” in my community… How does Jesus want me to be His hands and feet, here? How am I to get “dirty” in the mess of life here?

The amazing, awe-inspiring life Jesus lived speaks volumes…

Jesus renounced His Kingly title to become a peasant

He left a comfortable lifestyle in the lap of stratospherical luxury, celestial beings at His every beck and call, to get uncomfortable, wandering the dusty streets of the Galilean countryside…

He accepted ridicule and betrayal

He rejected the credible reputation as the “carpenter’s son,” to be viewed a vagabond

He accepted being misunderstood, people calling Him crazy, just so He could be with the outcasts… the broken… the guilty… the dirty… the small… the insignificant… the ugly… So, that He could be with US…! Because WE are ALL those things…!

All of heaven was renounced so he could fully identify with us… with ME

So, if Jesus was willing to risk so much for us…

To leave His “cushy” life in a heavenly palace, for a life on the streets of heartache…

To leave the comfort, familiarity and safety of home…

To enter the unpredictable, foreign, and hazardous world we live in…

To go to the “dangerous” places so that He could find, call, and fully identify with us in our need

If He did all that for us… And if He calls US to follow Him… For us to trade in our security blanket for a simple compass and step out into the unknown where He is… Are we not actually to follow, obey, and go? Are we not to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison…? And doesn’t He know it not only could, but WILL get ugly, messy, and dangerous…?? Yet, He went just the same…

The apostles James and John have some sobering words for us…

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”**

“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”***

And now I will echo the words of the apostle Paul…

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

*Matthew 25:34-36

**James 1:22

***1 John 2:6

****Philippians 3:12

pc: Sarah Coffey, Victoria Falls, Zambia