I can’t tell you how blessed I have been this past week, but I can tell you that I was dreading this week like the plague. I have known for several months now that we were going to be hosting ten pastors from across the nation who would be with us for three days, but I didn’t realize that their visit would come at a most inconvenient time. During the week before their arrival I could not get my mind off all that needed to be done and all that would be left undone for three days while I would be with the group. If I could have had my way, if I could have somehow changed the plan, then I would have told the ministers that we really should do this some other time. I am so glad that I did not have the freedom to cancel what God had ordained.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this past week we had pastors with us who serve the Lord in urban Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Tacoma, WA., Wichita Falls, Eugene, OR. and one pastor from Oklahoma City. They came to be with us to seek the Lord’s leading for their ministry and congregation. What happened was beyond marvelous – it was miraculous!
I listened to them share their stories with me and the other pastors who were present. I heard of their struggles, frustrations, joys, and passion. I have never been so humbled as when I heard one pastor tell of how she has served the same congregation for fourteen years. She lives on the second floor of the church and she said, “I have to walk by my office on the first floor to get to the bathroom. I have a hard time figuring out when I am at work and when I am home.” We listened to her share her story of God’s faithfulness in an extremely difficult environment. After she finished sharing her testimony we all gathered around her to pray. While we were laying hands on her and praying she began to weep. The weeping turned into wailing…loud wailing while we prayed. After we finished our prayer time she looked at us and said, “You know what hurts the most? When your colleagues in ministry marginalize you because you minister to the marginalized. They don’t understand why I do what I do so they distance themselves from me.” For nine of her colleagues to gather around and lift her up to the Lord, to value her labor for the Savior, that broke her heart with joy.
Another minister from Detroit, Michigan shared his story by beginning with these words: “I have been in Detroit for 11 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days and it has been hell. I know you didn’t expect to hear that, but I need to be honest with you. The pastor who preceded me abused the people and so now they don’t trust me.”
In the midst of deep feelings of loneliness and insignificance, I saw people from our church shower these precious pastors with love and honor like they had not received in a long time. Your hugs lifted their spirits. Your ministry gave them hope that the God who is able to turn this church around can turn their church around as well. I saw God move upon their hearts and mine. When they finally left on Thursday afternoon I was overwhelmed with what God had done through our church family to be a blessing to those who had come from so far. There was one conversation that jumped out at me and taught me a lesson I will never forget. Let me share it with you.
On Thursday morning we were talking about everyone’s experience and trying to determine if our time together was something that would be beneficial to try again in the future. The pastor from Seattle said, “I don’t want anyone to get the idea that our time together hasn’t been a blessing to me. This has been so inspiring and I have been incredibly blessed, but I have to decide I can be part of this group. I only have so much time and I have to see if this is something that will be a good fit for my time.” After he spoke one of the ministers from Detroit, an elderly man named Rufus Lewis spoke up and said, “I want you to know that whether this has been a blessing for you or not, all of you together have made this the most remarkable experience I have ever had.” He said, “You know, sometimes the Lord calls us to do something that isn’t necessarily for us, but it is for someone else.”
Rufus’ words reached out and grabbed me like a vice. Rufus hit on something that is at the heart of our faith – God has called us to be a blessing for those around us. The Church was given birth by Jesus to bless those who do not know of God’s blessings! We have been saved by the Lord to give our lives to His service. Just last Sunday night Joe White shared with us about Paul’s statement towards the end of his life. Paul said, “I am a bond servant, a slave, of Jesus Christ.” My life is not my own. My happiness is not my goal. My comfort is not my aim. My loss is Christ’s gain. I have been blessed to be a blessing, not to linger in my blessedness.
I know this is not the popular teaching of the Church today. Make no mistake about it, I am well aware that today most people are looking for what will make them happy and that is how they choose their church. They don’t ask, “Lord, where can You best use me? Where do You want me to be a blessing to those who are hurting, alone, and need to know the love that only You can give?”
You need to know that although this type of thinking is totally foreign in the Church today, this teaching runs like a mighty river throughout God’s Word. Going all the way back to Genesis, when God called Abram and told Him that He would be the Father of many nations, we see the teaching that God blesses us so that our lives will be a blessing to others. Take a look at Genesis 12:1-5,
1The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:1-5 NIV)
I want you to notice something really interesting about God’s blessing of Abram. God’s first words to Abram are, “leave” and “go.” “Leave your country. Leave your people. Leave your father’s household. Leave your comfort. Leave everything that is familiar to you. Leave your desires. Leave your preferences. Leave your daily routine. Leave your buddies. Leave your soft king size bed. Leave your three square meals a day. Leave your golf outings with your friends on Friday afternoon. Leave your dinner dates with Sarai at The Olive Garden and McDonalds. Leave your cable tv and Blockbuster video store. Leave everything that you have come to love and enjoy over the past seventy-five years of your life and go.”
God says to Abram, “go.” “Go to the land that I will show you. Go to the unknown. Go to the unfamiliar. Go to the place where you will have to trust Me like you have never trusted Me in your whole life. Go to where I will have to provide for you. Go and watch Me be your road map, your atlas. Go and watch Me be your provision. Go and watch Me be your Bread of life and your Living Water. Go Abram and watch Me be your all in all, through it all. Go and I will bless you.”
It is hard to hold on to the Lord when our hands are full of everything that gives us security and comfort. I see how so many of us in America have become so aware of our emptiness that we are grapping for anything that promises to keep us company. We try to find peace in surrounding ourselves with things that will dull our sense of loneliness. Things will never satisfy, but God can. People do not have the power to quiet the storm of our soul, but God can. It is hard to cling to the Lord when we are so enmeshed in the things have become familiar to us. God called Abram to rip himself away from all of these things so that he could find out that God, and God alone, is the source of our security, He is our provider, and He alone can supply us with the things that will endure throughout time.
We who live in America are so vulnerable to allowing ourselves to rest upon what we have instead of clinging to the Lord. How can we sincerely pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” when we have grocery stores the size of malls and shelves that are lined with food surrounding us? How can we fervently pray, “forgive us our sins,” feeling the weight of our sin, when we have so many around us who seek to convince us that we’ve really not done anything that anyone else hasn’t done? How can we sincerely live each day like it is our last when we have the best healthcare that money can buy? When we make 5 and 10 year plans like they will happen tomorrow? God called Abram to leave all of these things, to jump off into the unknown, and to trust only Him.
That is scary isn’t it? To think that God might call us to leave everything that we have worked so hard to secure? To think that God might call us to rid ourselves of the things that have brought us a sense of security? Yet, God told Abram that He would bless him. Abram leave it all and watch Me bless you! The trade off for Abram leaving and going was that God would bless him and he would be a blessing to the world.
My friend, the promise holds true for you and me today. God is calling us to pull up our roots in the rot of this world and sink our lives deep into the unknown of trusting Him day to day.
I will assure you that if you were to take a poll and ask folks, “Do you want your life to be a blessing or a curse?” 9 out of 10 people would like for their lives to bless rather than curse those around them. The only problem is that apart from trusting God, apart from letting go of what we love most so that our hearts belong only to Him – there is no way for you or me to be a blessing to those around us. God is the source of all blessing. We don’t have the ability to bless. Let me explain to you what I am talking about.
The Hebrew word used in Genesis 12 for “bless” is the word, “%r;B”‘ (barak). The word means, “to bless.” This word and its derivatives occur 415 times in the Old Testament. To bless in the OT means, “to endue with power for success, prosperity, fruitfulness, longevity, etc.” God is the only one who can endue you and me to succeed, to be prosperous, to be fruitful, and to experience longevity. If God removes His hand of blessing then we are sunk my friends. It is like cutting off a person’s oxygen and asking them to take a deep breath. It is like cutting off a man’s legs and asking him to set a new record in the 100 meter dash. It is like stealing the sun from the sky and expecting the plants to grow. For God to remove His hand of blessing and expect a life of blessing is absurdity at its zenith.
God said to Abram, 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2 NIV) Not only will God bless Abram, but He would bless others through Abram. God desires for our lives to be a blessing to those around us and yet without His blessing we will be a curse. You may think, “I would never curse anyone.” Oh really, I have known parents who loved their children and yet were a curse to their kids. I have known friends who cared deeply for their buddies and wanted to bless them, but they were a curse to them.
Jack didn’t know much, but he did know that he loved his son more than anything in life. His boy was a chip off the old block. His boy was the sunshine of his life. He would often dream of the day when his son would be grown and he would fantasize about his successful life and all that he would accomplish. When Bo was barely a teenager he went to a church youth group meeting and his heart was broken when he heard that Jesus had died for his sins. Bo left that meeting that night and Bo knew Jesus as Lord of his life. It was remarkable how Bo suddenly had a hunger to know more about Jesus and to really live his life so that it was pleasing to Jesus. He never missed Sunday school at that little church. He called kids to invite them to youth group.
When Bo graduated from high school he wanted to go to a Christian college where he could have Christian friends to study, work, and play with while in college. He told his dad, but dad wasn’t excited at all. Dad knew Bo would grow up to be a successful businessman and for that to happen he would need to go to the best college to prepare him for success. Bo was clear about what he wanted to do and it wasn’t business. Bo wanted to be a missionary. Bo’s dad told him that if he wanted to go to a Christian college then he would have to pay his own way, but if he chose to go to a college with a strong business school then he would pay for his education.
Bo went to Wheaton College where he studied for the ministry and Bo’s dad rarely stayed in contact with him. His disappointment rang through loud and clear every time they talked on the phone. Bo’s dad never intended to be a curse to his son, but he was.
Without God leading us and pouring His blessings into our lives there is no way for us to be a blessing to those around us. Without our seeking the Lord and His will for our life with passion and reckless abandon we will never see the Lord’s blessing flow through our lives into the laps of others.
The prophets of Malachi’s day were good churchgoers who had been given the responsibility of leading others to the Lord, but they had chosen to take the easy route and do their own thing. It wasn’t that they necessarily wanted to do something wrong, they just weren’t seeking the Lord with all of their hearts each moment of each day. God spoke to them through Malachi and said,
1″And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me. 3″Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. 4And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the LORD Almighty. 5″My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. 7″For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction-because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty. 8But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the LORD Almighty. 9″So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.” 10Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? (Malachi 2:1-10 NIV)
God said that He would make their “blessings” curses instead. Why? Because they turned away. They were still going to church. They were still reading their Bible, but their hearts were far from God. Where is our heart today? Have you surrendered your all to the Master? Have you loosed your grip on the things of this world so that you can cling to the Savior?
God desires to use us, you and me, to be a blessing to those around us. Lord knows that this world could stand for a few more people to seek above all else to bless those who are hurting, those who are lonely, those whose lives ache with sorrow and sin. In a world of so much need it is easy for us to say, “What difference do I make?” “What difference can I make?” I will never change the world, but God can use me to change the life of one person. He can use me to change the life of one child!
I received a newsletter this past week from the first church I ever served in and I want to read it to you. If you are like me it will leave you dumbfounded.
Someone had taken the time to figure out what it would be like if the entire world’s population were shrunk to only 100 people, with all the existing ratios remaining the same.
There would be:
* 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere, and 8 Africans.
* 52 females and 48 males.
* 70 persons of color and 30 who are white.
* 70 would be non-Christians and 30 Christian.
* 89 would be heterosexual and 11 would be homosexual.
* 6 people would possess 59% of the world’s wealth ( with all 6 living in the U.S.)
* 80 would live in substandard housing.
* 70 would be unable to read.
* 50 would suffer from malnutrition.
* 1 would have a college education.
* 1 would have a computer.
Here’s even more:
* If we have never experienced the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, we are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
* If we have food in the refrigerator, clothes on our back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, we are richer than 75% of the persons of the world.
* If we have money in the bank, in our wallet, and spare change in a dish some place, we are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
* If our parents are still alive and still married, we are very rare, even in the U.S.
We have been blessed to be a blessing to a world that is desperately in need. They are in need of the Lord. They are in need of someone to teach them to read. Someone to help them put food on their table, clothes on their backs, and hope in their hearts. What will you do?