I think that there are many who confuse selfish ambition with faith. And I have been one of them.
Years ago, when I first stepped into ministry, it was a very heady experience. I enjoyed the approval of those around me and received praise from my peers. Like a strong intoxicant, I began to crave it more and more – so much so that I found myself in emotional withdrawals if I didn’t get my “fix.” I wanted to be the next great voice for the Kingdom of Christ – not because of Jesus, but because of personal ambition.
You see, I failed to understand what Paul meant when he said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).
It’s that last statement that gripped me: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I wanted those around me to think well of me, to approve of me. I wanted to be admired by men and this led me down a path where I no longer served the Lord Christ but my own ambition. However, I didn’t see it that way.
I looked upon what I did as advancing the cause of Christ. If I could become well-known, if I could be great in the eyes of men and be accepted as an influential voice, then I could REALLY serve the Lord. I transposed faith with ambition and deceived myself into believing my life was pursuing Christ. It didn’t work. And, let me tell you, the humbling power of God was on the way.
If you are a born-again believer in Jesus, and you have confused faith with selfish ambition, rest assured that God will humble you. Peter reiterates this, saying: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b, NIV). I won’t go into the details of how God humbled me because it will be different for everyone. Suffice it to say, it works.
As I look back, now, on the vanity and pride during the early days of my service to Jesus, I wonder how God could ever have chosen such an arrogant, self-serving person like me. I have learned what Paul meant in the text above. Personal ambition is no substitute for faith. True faith seeks the will of God and the delight of the Savior. True faith is satisfied when service is rendered, even when no applause are forthcoming. And, true faith does not seek to please men but to please God.
In the Gospel of John 5:44 (NIV), the Lord Jesus said this: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” The answer is: you can’t.
Let me conclude from the book of James: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16, NIV).
Alone, unaided and filled with passion, the man pressed on to bring the message of Christ to those under the power of the enemy. His name is unknown—he is the anonymous servant of Christ. He never sought recognition and never clamored for fame.
This man faced opposition. There were men who possessed positions of prominence and demanded that the man stop his activity. He was a rogue, an outsider. He didn’t have the sanction of their group and they demanded he “cease and desist.” You may be surprised at who demanded that he stop.
You may be thinking that I’m speaking of someone today. That in some remote region of the world a solitary figure is striking a blow at the gates of hell and paving the way for the Kingdom of Christ into the hearts of all who hear him.
“Teacher," said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (Mark 9:38).
This is the anonymous servant – and it was the disciples who tried to stop him!
I wonder if there are anonymous servants today – men or women who strive to serve the Lord Jesus and defeat the enemy of Christ, bringing hope and the gospel to those who need it, all the while being told by those who are “in” that they need to stop! How many men or women are told that “God wouldn’t use you… you’re not one of us?” I fear that there are many.
Here was this man, outside the circle of the disciples, going rogue in Christ and sharing in the power of God. How dare he! How dare he think that he could do something for the Lord Jesus without being a part of the twelve.
We all must hear the words of our Lord Jesus:
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40).
I think it’s time we stop determining who can and cannot be a servant of Christ Jesus. God’s word alone sets the parameters for service in the Kingdom and we will do well to adhere to them. Determining that a man or woman cannot serve the Lord Jesus simply because they fail to make the grade with us is ludicrous. Get over it. Jesus calls His own servants – and He never seeks our approval.
You might be one of those anonymous servants. Press on! Don’t let others tell you that you have no right to serve Jesus Christ. The man the disciples tried to stop is living proof that God can and will use anyone who has an open heart to Christ. Simply follow Jesus – be obedient to His word – and let God have the final say in who can or cannot be a trusted vessel of the Gospel.
I looked around me and saw towering skyscrapers that reached toward the heavens. Beneath my feet I walked upon asphalt streets and paved thoroughfares. Everywhere I turned was the concrete structures of man’s design and I began to understand – I began to see that I stood in the midst of manmade Christianity.
Yet as I looked I remembered a wide open field, a panorama of life and light with the gentle blowing wind of the Spirit of God that caressed the air and touched my soul. I remembered the faith of Christ. The life that He promised to those who believe is more like the open field than the concrete city. God is calling and His voice beckons me back to the freedom and life of Christ.
But I have grown accustomed to the city. I am habituated to the order and the restrictions set by men, the concrete towers all lined up like soldiers at attention. I know the city – I know the parameters of men – and I know how to live within the walls created to maintain the illusion of structure and stability. But deep inside, somewhere in that place where the echoed whisper of God is still heard, I remember… I remember!
In that moment of revelation my heart is enraged and I want freedom – I want liberation – I want out of this concrete captivity! The walls of men surround me, but they no longer support… they suffocate. Man’s order is not God’s and I want to break free, to feel again God’s breath of life like the morning breeze and to walk in the vale of God’s ever-present love.
Behind me I hear a voice whisper, “Give it time.”
When I look, I see a small blade of grass, a simple growing thing breaking through the asphalt and tearing down the concrete walls of man’s design. My heart leaps in delight! God’s life cannot be held back, it is stronger than all of man’s efforts to contain it.
As you read this, know that the order of God is filled with beauty and life, rich in love and abounding in grace. The order of man is a prison, no matter how well constructed it might be.
(This was originally heard on Alive in Christ radio - www.aliveinchristradio.com
When the early church began to grow, what foundation was set for the people of God to stand upon? For years I’ve heard how the church needs to “assimilate” new members and that the only way for new members in the church to maintain a healthy attachment to the congregation is to provide avenues of involvement. However, pot-lucks and programs are not the formula for spiritual vitality and maturity in the church.
It seems to me that a current trend in many churches is to build a fellowship that is geared toward the self-interests of the congregants. That is to say, many churches have adopted ministries and programs that only serve to feed the constant demand for entertainment and emotional hyperactivity. Pastors must be performers and the musicians had better be marque or the membership will move on to more pleasant pastures.
There was something different about the early church. Their leaders were “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). They had no marque members, no organized social events, no Sunday school, no eight-week study course on spiritual formation and no building to meet in that could be decorated according to the whims of the women’s auxiliary. The early church didn’t stage protests – they prayed. They didn’t organize marches – they ministered. And they didn’t call people to a self-imposed religion – they called people to a self-denying repentance. And they changed the world.
What was it about the early church? They were devoted, not to a cause but to Christ, and that devotion was played out in every aspect of their lives. It is a devotion that is sorely lacking in the hearts of many Christians today and it is what we will be exploring, with a call to embrace the same principles that built the early church and gave it a strong and secure foundation. If we ever hope to build a Biblical culture, it has to start here. So let me encourage you: take these four commitments as a challenge for your own life. You may be surprised at how God will use you when you follow them. Acts 2:42 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
· Apostles Teaching – Devoted to the Word of God
This is where it begins. Without a true devotion to the Word of God, there will be no real foundation that can be trusted. But this foundation cannot only be knowledge of the Word of God, that’s just where it starts. The true foundation is built through obedience to the Word of God.
This is how discipleship is built: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock
” (Matthew 7:24).
The Great Commission of God concludes with this: “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you
” (Matthew 28:19b).
Love is seen in obedience: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him
” (John 14:23).Personal Commitment - Commit to participating in a regular Bible study
· Fellowship – Devoted to the People of God
God has called us to live in fellowship. There are Christians today that harbor the idea that they can be the “Lone Ranger” Christian and live their faith without the structure and support of the church. But God has purposed that only together will each individual Christian grow and develop as God intended.
Through fellowship we become mature: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work
” (Ephesians 4:16).
It provides the means of mutual encouragement: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching
” (Hebrews 10:25).
The evidence of real faith: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us
” (1 John 2:19). Personal Commitment - Commit to gathering with the church every Sunday unless God prevents it
· Breaking of Bread – Devoted to the Worship of God
The issue of “breaking bread” together is two-fold. First, it is the remembrance that Christ has given us when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is an expression of worship and a reminder of why we have salvation – the sacrifice of Christ. Second, it is an expression of sacrifice toward those around us by bringing them into our homes to “break bread” with us, especially those who cannot repay.
It is a call to self-examination: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup
” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
It shows a heart of generosity: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous
” (Luke 14:13-14).
Christ is honored in this: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me
” (Matthew 25:40).Personal Commitment - Commit to a personal sacrifice once a month for someone who cannot repay
· Prayer – Devoted to a Life with God
In all healthy relationships communication is critical. No marriage truly grows in depth and happiness without it. No family can survive when communication is lost. And no believer in Christ will have any hope of truly knowing and living in a relationship with the Lord if prayer is not an essential devotion in their lives.
Prayer is personal communion with God: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you
” (Matthew 6:6).
Prayer should fill the fellowship of God’s people: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him
” (Acts 12:5).
Prayer is essential for spiritual readiness: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints
” (Ephesians 6:18). Personal Commitment - Commit to daily, vocal prayer at home and at least once a month with your church
People are devoted to many things. Watch a football game and see how devoted the fans are. The team might be losing but the devoted fan will cheer them on as if they’re ready to take the Super Bowl. People are devoted to causes, political endeavors, altruistic philanthropy, medical research – and all these can be good. But the Christian must be devoted, first and always, to Christ Jesus our Lord. This devotion is played out in four arenas: the Word of God, the people of God, the worship of God and a life with God. This is how the early church anchored their faith and grew in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The modern church must return to this or risk losing her identity to the world.
Are you feeling run down? Is it hard to get up? Then try Pastor Michael’s miracle cure! It’s all the power you need in one handy capsule. And after just one dose you’ll feel brand new!
Okay… that’s not actually true. There is no “miracle cure” that will enliven and uplift your life. In fact, just the opposite is too often true. Men and women searching for that rush of euphoria end up becoming slaves to whatever it is that has captivated them. The cravings for drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power, etc. have a downward spiral that leads to destruction and leaves a crater where once a life used to be.
How do we do it then? How do we find that power to live when life falls apart and our world is failing? You’re not alone in the search. The Apostle Paul had the same struggle. Do you know what God told him? It’s the same thing He will tell us – you need to be empowered by grace. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and then follow along these next few moments as we explore this text.
First - you must see your present affliction. How is a person afflicted? Often through trials and temptations, with the constant reminder of the failings of the past, will come the enemy of our souls. There are some who think that Paul's "thorn" was his bad eyesight. However, that doesn't agree with the reality that his "thorn" was a messenger of Satan. What does Satan come to do? He is the accuser of the brothers, the tempter, the one who comes to "steal, kill and destroy." This "thorn," by my speculation, was the constant reminder of Paul's failings - his sins. All are afflicted in a similar way and in the midst of it must be empowered by grace.
Second - there is always a plea for deliverance. The afflictions in our lives cause us to cry out – to seek God’s rescue from pain. Jesus did in the garden, Paul does here, and we all want to find deliverance. God's answer, however, may not be deliverance from affliction, but deliverance through affliction. And, ultimately, our cry must be "not my will, but Yours be done."
Third - you come in contact with the power of grace. When you truly know the Grace of Christ and have received it in its abundance, the thorns inflicted upon you will become the points where God’s strength dominates. Instead of finding destruction and despair you will see how much God has done for you, even as the enemy himself stands to accuse you. His accusations will fail because the true Judge has already issued you a pardon through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Fourth - this leads to the promotion of humility. In what do you boast? In this world people often boast over the arrogant successes of men. But God has a higher place for us – and that is the place of humility. When you are empowered by the grace of God you will have no room to boast except in the Lord Jesus Christ. His ways become yours, His life is yours, and His power is your source for all that you are. There is no room for self-boasting in a heart empowered by grace.
Fifth - this brings your pronouncement of faith. It is a declaration of faith to say that you can delight in the sufferings that come as you walk with Christ Jesus. From the inward turmoil to the outward attacks, all things must be seen through the eyes of faith. You will take every experience and tie it together with your relationship to Christ, declaring with certainty that even your afflictions have been God's tools to shape you, until Christ's power, and His power alone, rests on you.
As we begin this New Year, many thoughts are turned to the idea that 2012 might be the year that ends it all! Movies, Mayan calendars, and doomsday prophets have all had their say in the great debate surrounding this year.
But I see this as a year of hope. There is something grand about the turning of the time, the resetting of the calendar to a new day - a new year and new opportunities presented by God.
But, to get to this "Brand New Day" there are some things that must transpire. Let me encourage you to read Psalm 40:1-3 before you go any farther.
Okay... if you've read the Scripture, let's begin.
First: Patiently Wait. Know that God has a plan and purpose for you and it is not to leave you in the mud and mire of life. He waits for you to cry out to Him, and when you do, trust that He will hear and respond. So many who are hurting and hungry will ask: how long? When will God show up? Be patient, and wait, for the Lord has promised deliverance to all who hope in Him.
Second: Trust God's Powerful Work. He will lift you up! God’s powerful work is to give you a firm and permanent place to stand. Reach up to Him and know that He will take you from the mud to a Solid Rock—from the mire of sin to the firm place of salvation.
Third: Express Passionate Worship. On this brand new day, voice your praise to the God of your salvation. The delivered soul cannot help but worship Him. The redeemed of the Lord will lift up their voices in songs of praise and in passionate worship of Him who has secured their lives.
Fourth: Become a Personal Witness. God has delivered you! Now is not the time to become closed off to humanity and never let your light shine in this world. An artist will sign his or her masterpiece in order to verify its authenticity. You are the masterpiece. You are not a cheap imitation but the signature portrait of God’s great love, the handiwork of the Master who others will look upon and sense the powerful draw to Jesus Christ.
Remember: This is the day the Lord has made - let us rejoice and be glad in it! You have a brand new day, a new opportunity, a refreshed hope to accomplish what God has purposed for you. Let me encourage you to take this year and make it the very best for Jesus Christ.
All for His Glory