JUST DO TODAY WELL by Barbara Cook
Jerry Cook was known for memorable comments such as, "Just do today well." (And God will see to it that you are prepared for tomorrow.) Or, "When in doubt, just do the next right thing!" Statements like these first appeared in sermons, usually from Proverbs. Now they are very apropos for times of anxiety, such as we find surrounding us today.
Anxiety is a normal human reaction, whether it's felt as a mild unease or as a full-blown fear. "Things are not as they should be - my world is out of control; I don't know how to take charge again!"
A young husband shared his emotions upon learning his wife was pregnant, "I feel like I've lost control of my life!" I restrained my urge to retort, "Welcome to adulthood. Actually you were never in control in the first place!" (It so happened that Jerry and I had recently discovered that alarming fact ourselves - our children had become teenagers!)
We plan our lives diligently - five-year plans, ten-year plans, goals for our family, our health, retirement. In our society, planning is a solemn necessity. So is insurance. We can spend half the monthly budget insuring our health, auto, home, possessions, travel. But do any of these actually ensure that something will not happen? Especially consider Life insurance and funeral insurance.
I admit, I purchase insurance for the "peace of mind" of being covered if and when things do happen. For example, my recent need for a hip replacement, without insurance could have taken my last cent.
Our mistake, though, is to begin to believe the myth of control. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (Prov. 16:9) Every surprise in my well-planned schedule is a reminder that I am not in control of my life. I have a Lord, He knows what's ahead, and I have entrusted him with the path and content of my life.
It's a privilege to be able, in times of anxiety or crisis, to cry, "Lord, help me! Show me what to do. What is MY next right thing?"
FINISHING WELL: JERRY'S JOURNEY HOMEOne year ago today, January 11, 2014, Jerry Cook began his new life in heaven.
For us, his family, his passing was a devastating loss, still mourned. But, thankfully, we do not “sorrow as those who have no hope” (2 Thess. 4:13). We also find solace in the ways God ministered to him and to us during that time, helping us care for his needs and comfort each other.
In the past year, many have asked about the details of Jerry’s last weeks and days. They could be characterized as a close family time in the comfort of his home, with opportunity to say goodbye to friends and loved ones and savor their last words, prayers and farewells.
Jerry knew that his life had been extended far beyond the expectations posed back in 2006, when he was found to have cancer. Back then, there was a decision between “palliative (comfort) care” or battling the cancer; Jerry chose to fight with every aggressive treatment possible. He made that choice a second time when the cancer reappeared in 2012. His second battle had gone on for more than a year, when scans revealed that even the strongest chemotherapy treatment was now ineffective. He was advised to enter a pain management phase instead of continuing. On September 19, 2013, he enrolled with Hospice of the Northwest.
Almost immediately, he gained a happy new life, which was calculated to last only a short time, possibly one month. Relieved of the long trips to the cancer center and the side effects of chemotherapy, the pain could now be controlled, and he could enjoy his home with the pleasures of long conversations and prayer at our winter fireside. We read many books aloud together, took lazy drives around the Island where we live, indulged in the luxury of time and happy memories with friends who visited and called. The expected one month stretched into two, then to three and more.
One day in late November, Jerry said he was experiencing a real sense of completion; an assurance that he had done all that God had assigned him. Knowing his attitude toward death and “finishing well,” I was glad for this assurance, glad that he had no regrets, no wishes of what he should have done or should have said. We were both just grateful for the life extension which allowed him not mere hours of quality time with his family, but days and months of meaningful and loving closeness.
After an extended Christmas, December 30th marked the day our four children and their families returned to their homes and work. But a few days later, we were back together; our hospice advisors pointed out signs of Jerry’s approaching death. Our sons and daughters made a schedule of 24-hour care. They slept in shifts, with two of them sitting next to him at all times. This vigil continued as Jerry slept more and more deeply, seemingly unconscious during the last eight days (six days beyond his estimated time.)
Nevertheless, close to his bed, music was playing continuously – hymns, bluegrass, classical – the same music he had been enjoying and in which he found comfort in the recent months. He may have also heard the peaceful sounds of family voices. He loved being surrounded by his loving, supportive family!
While a person is moving from this world to the next, none of us watching can really know what he is experiencing. But, Jesus was with him in the journey – that much I know. It seemed apparent that he was seeing ahead to his future and became less and less aware of things going on around him.
A scripture that had always been a life motto for Jerry is Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Those familiar with Jerry’s preaching have also likely heard him quote C.S. Lewis’ observations in the Narnia series, “…all that came before” (on earth) “was only the cover and the title page; now the real story begins.” We look forward to reuniting and seeing Jerry’s story unfold.
FINISHING WELLAbout the time his hair had grayed, one of Jerry’s publishers suggested he write a book titled Finishing Well.
“I really haven’t done that yet!” he responded. “And interviewing those who have done it would be tough – they’re all in heaven!”
Meanwhile, books of that title have doubtless been written by others, but Jerry concentrated his efforts on doing it. During the 25 years following that publisher’s offer, he influenced and blessed more people than ever before. He found himself speaking in far-flung nations of the world, writing books and philosophical papers, preaching in pastors’ conferences and churches of varied denominations. He served in leadership groups, college boards, even interim pastoring. He was awarded two honorary doctorates and numerous other tributes.
In short, he lived a very full life of Christian ministry. Rich friendships were formed; hundreds of younger pastors considered him a coach or a mentor. His professional accomplishments were well balanced out by two important considerations: enjoyment of his family and fly fishing, neither of which was ever neglected!
We prize the journals he wrote for each of his four children. (Each journal covers one year of his life, as he traveled or worked at the church.) We enjoy reading them aloud together, reliving the experiences of each year.
But he also kept meticulous fishing journals, discussing fish that were caught (or not!), flies used, the location, date and names of his companions. I am convinced that fishing extended the length of his life. He loved being outdoors, wading rivers or exploring by boat. There were at least three or four extended fishing trips every year, plus the single days of fishing closer to home. His beautiful canoe (custom made by Jim Day) visited many lakes. A church fishing club developed; this led to new adventures on the ocean, barely escaping whales in Canada, accidentally hooking seals, taking his sons to a floating lodge for days of catching salmon.
During his lifetime of 75 years, he probably had opportunity to fish as often and joyfully as someone who lived to be 100. For this I am grateful and much indebted to all those fellow fly fishers around the globe who planned or shared these pleasures, often including them in his visit to speak in their area. All of you gave a wonderful gift to us, his family, as well as to Jerry himself.
Up to the day he lost consciousness, Jerry Cook was finishing well; he was enjoying his family, playing games, singing songs and talking with friends on the phone. He was praying, discussing scripture, Jesus, heaven and enjoying hearing all of us praying for him.
God’s grace was richly present with us in the final 11 days as he made the journey home. If you’re interested in the details of his final finish, I will share it next week.
His example of finishing well is one of a spiritually rich and balanced life, invested in the kingdom of God, including dear friends and his family.
REMEMBERING JERRY AT THANKSGIVINGLast year on Thanksgiving, Jerry was enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie (three slices, I noticed!) His spirits were joyful. All four of his children were present at the table, with their families. All the usual fun of being together was undiminished by the knowledge that he was near the end of his earthly life.
He rested often, but also, Jerry played games, laughed, joked and carried on perceptive conversations about heaven, eternity and even football.
We were amazed at his courage, and although he was already at least two months beyond the medical prognosis, we were inspired to increase our prayers for his healing. (We know that God often surprises us with miracles and healings, despite the official expectations.)
Jerry preached many messages about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), always giving workable shoe-leather definitions to each. His working definition for joy: Living life with gratitude. And, what we will always remember: He did just that, to the full!
In September, when he began with hospice care, it was hard to know how to plan for Thanksgiving. However, the fruit of the Holy Spirit known as joy enabled him to walk with a grateful heart not only through Thanksgiving, but since this was a lifestyle for him, his gratitude continued all the way through the week-long family Christmas, into the New Year and all the way to the gates of heaven!
This Thanksgiving, may Jerry inspire us again to live a lives of joy and gratitude.
THE SPONTANEOUS CHRISTIAN
(Intuitively Responding to the Holy Spirit)
A sincere, serious man asked the question: “How do you conduct your devotional life?”
My response: “I resist stubbornly every temptation to have a ‘devotional life’, if it means I set aside a specific time when I try to force God to speak to me and do spiritual business with me.”
I’m aware that this is dangerous thinking. It may even be startling to some. Does this mean I never pray? Does this mean I ignore all Christian discipline? Of course not.
I do not have a “devotional life” in the formal sense of a compartment of my life in which I arbitrarily set the time, the length and determine the content. I have instead “a life of devotion.” My spiritual journey is determined by the Holy Spirit, not by me. Through His residence in me, the presence of God is constant. The awareness of this immediacy of His presence is what Paul calls “pray without ceasing.”
Out of this unceasing prayer He may call me to a time of private prayer. He may lead me to schedule hours or days of extended study. He may give me a structure for this. But I must always distinguish between the structure and His voice – the voice of his Spirit. The structure is totally fluid. It can stay in place for as long or as short a time as He desires. Furthermore, I must never think He is nearer to me at these times than any other. I must never assume He will speak only then and not in the rest of my life and doings. Any structure that He suggests for this time is not a separate compartment of my life. It is not a little mental room into which I put Jesus and me for our “out of this world” experience together. Nor does He sit alone and forlorn in this little spiritual place, hoping I will show up.
That kind of thinking sets us up for a train wreck of failure, disappointment and guilt. We impose our rules on our lives, then worship them and allow them to rule over us rather than Christ. Rather than devotion to God, we are devoted to our self-made idol of devotions. He alone is responsible for making me His disciple. “Follow me and I will make you to become” was his invitation to his disciples. I must not take over this process.
Formalism, the imposition of our forms and structure, and legalism, the imposition of our rules, is idolatry and must be recognized as such. God is never obligated by our forms. The Holy Spirit cares nothing at all about our rules. He is, indeed, the “wind blowing and we do not know where it comes from, nor where it is going.” It blows “as it wills” not as we will. It is the awareness of His presence and the ability to respond to His voice that is essential to Spirit-inspired spontaneity.
But what about the need to be prepared, ready to respond when He prompts us? Assuredly, we bring our training, our knowledge and life experience. He then adds substance and directs final preparedness for the moment. However over preparation on our part always paralyzes us. This is true because we then depend on our preparation. We force the moment through our grid of preparation. In this sense we formalize our living and speaking and responding. This dependence on our form is formalism.
When I say this, you may wrongly interpret my meaning to be that we should become totally chaotic and formless; floating mindlessly through our day, bumping from one event to another as though life was a huge pin-ball machine.
Spirit-filled and Spirit-led living is not careening through life, baptizing every random thought and emotion. Rather, it is living in the constant awareness of His presence, and recognizing His unique voice and prompting.
Understanding this, we must resist all temptations to compartmentalize our Spiritual journey. No activity is more spiritual than another. No location is more holy than another. Our work is lifted to him as worship. It has a different form than our singing and praise on Sunday, but is no less worship. Because I am a worshipper, my life, my day, my response to events is presented as worship to Him.
Isn’t this what “living to the praise of His glory” has to involve? How else can we “present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him” and understand it as “our reasonable worship”?
This seamlessness extends into all of our life. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that defines me as Christian. There are no Christian acts, there are only Christians acting. My actions cannot define me. I am not Christian because of the way I act. I act the way I do because I am Christian.
There are, indeed, active passages of scripture dedicated to our lifestyle. Of course, it matters how I live. Of course, my actions and life habits and behavior toward others matter. This is without question. However, scripture never hints that these behaviors make us Christian. Our lifestyle always results from who we are. It is this inner transformation, this metamorphosis that transforms our external actions. And, it is this person who is being “transformed by the renewing of his mind” that we take into all of life.
Any effort to formalize this process or force it through legalistic expectations is to paralyze it and ultimately kill it. But, how exciting and satisfying it is to live a simple life of devotion, aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within. Unplanned and unexpected opportunities appear, and we are led in surprising new ways to meet each one.
RESPONDING TO THE OPPORTUNITIES OF LIFE
As I have so often observed, I did not go after life; rather, life seems to have sought me out. The focus has not been to set goals and achieve them, but to recognize opportunities -- either immediate or in the future -- and prepare for, or respond well to them.
For example, the decision to become a pastor was not a career choice or goal. It was like an inevitable opportunity the Lord was giving me. My education was an effort to prepare well for that opportunity.
As a Christian, serious about living out Christ’s intention for me, it seems that to view life as a series of opportunities to respond to and maximize, is healthier than to see it as a collection of goals that must be achieved.
(I suppose it can be argued that goals open opportunities, or at least give them some framework. I agree with that to a degree. However, my singular goal is to be a follower of Christ, and I tend to see goals within the context of the opportunities that I’m presented.)
These are two very different ways to conceive of God’s involvement with our lives. The first is to set goals, plan our moves and design our strategies, then ask Him to bless them and us as we pursue them. This has always seemed like a using of God for one’s own personal ends. In my mind it has huge practical problems of faith, particularly when our plans and goals don’t wash out. It appears then that God has either refused to bless us, or has disappeared, or chosen to “test” us, or doesn’t love us as much as those he is blessing… the framework for doubt is unending. It is my opinion that most people define Christianity this way and are caught in the contradictions it produces. This is the stuff of “religion” with all its frustration, doubt and disillusionment.
The second view, that of seeing life as opportunities beckoning me forward, is more complex and difficult to describe. It sounds much more passive than it really is. It has zero tolerance for religious gamesmanship. It depends utterly on trust and, for that reason, can feel insecure and frightening. But even with these side effects, it is to me the more Christian and the more meaningful. It is based on a relationship and type of partnership with God which leads to faith rather than doubt.
These opportunities come to me as I live with Christ in life. They are not the opportunities of random events—but the opportunity of life. The partnership involves the joys, the ups, the downs, the manic as well as depressive aspects. It is those things I welcome and also abhor. All of this is the opportunity of life.
These do not come from his hand as though he were externally dispensing them—standing aside from me and sending them into my life’s path. Rather, they are what we encounter together in life.
In the encounter I learn about Him and from Him. This partnering is how I understand Christian-ness. God does not invade my life with circumstances pre-planned to test my metal. He is, in fact, with me in all of life; influencing my understanding of it and thereby my decisions in it.
Being a Christian does not have to do with ritual or law or even religious activity. All of these can be done as a result of learned behavior with no acknowledgement of His presence whatsoever.
It seems to me the terrible flaw of religious activity alone is that it schools one in the art of looking Godly without effecting true Godliness. It enables us to do religiously warm acts with no awareness of or even desire for His presence. We find ourselves responding to the emotion of a beautiful scene or thought or the harmony of great music about Him, thinking we are responding to His presence—to Him.
Religion (which I am describing) teaches the art of Godly semantics without pressing me to substantially alter my life practice. I can live as I please—with the usual effort at good, wholesome and humane. I can have this vague idea of God that becomes more concrete in the emotions of religious exercise (worship, public service, occasional prayers, warm Godly stories, noble acts of Christian mission, etc.) but otherwise is latent.
It often comes to the fore in times of severe crises when I need a God of some sort either to help me or who I can blame, but otherwise is content to stay out of the way in my semi-conscious. This is thinly clad paganism. It needs no particular God to function. In fact, it can get along fine with only a misty idea of “otherness.” A personal, actual God is not necessary; a warm and fuzzy transcendent idea will do fine. A few good thoughts, nice acts and inspirational vibes are enough. Name them whatever you like.
In contrast, what I conceive as Christian is life lived and shared with a real, personal God. It is His actual presence that gives substance to my worship or any other exercise of life. The music or the liturgy, beautiful in and of themselves, is only true worship because it speaks and sings accurately of the God I am experiencing and expresses my true attitude and love concerning Him.
But these events are not all there is of this expression. When I understand that He is with me in life, in all of life, each moment becomes a liturgy. In terms of my main thought: the opportunities that come to me, come into this liturgy and are viewed as part of it. Learning to live in this way is my understanding of what it means to be Christian. It becomes very concrete when the specific issues of everyday life present themselves.
For example, this stage of my life (aging) is shared with God. Opportunities will come that are unique, and His presence will help me not to miss them or despise them. I have never walked here before. I could easily respond in fear or resentment, but I am not alone. He will help me see. He will help me learn. Opportunity will beckon me forward as it always has.
Easy writing! Easy talk! The disturbing thing is that there’s a huge gap between the idea and the actual application in real life. But, that is always the case—the ideal warring with the real; the tug of war between the idealist and the pragmatist. Yet, even here a life lived in His presence is more hopeful. He helps us be courageous in pursuing the ideal in the very real world of everyday. Both radical idealism and extreme pragmatism lead to hopelessness. To put it in Biblical terms, He helps with the balance of faith and works. The Bible states realistically, “faith without works is dead.” It is equally true that works without faith is also dead. This tension is made healthy by the sharing of life with Him and with Him responding into life as the great opportunity.
THE HOLY SPIRIT, SO...WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
“So…What’s the big deal?”
I was in a conversation with a young pastor who was struggling with the subject of the Holy Spirit and the idea of speaking in tongues in particular. My first reaction (unspoken, thank God) was, “How dare you! Who do you think you are to question the ministry and expressions of the Holy Spirit? You’re a pastor and you want to know what the “big deal” is?”
When I aborted my little inner tirade, I realized this was an important question which deserved a reasonable answer. Really now, what is the big deal? When you consider all the foolishness and extremes that have swirled around it, a case can be made for abandoning the subject to neutral generalities. No loving pastor wants to lead his congregation down the path to excess or fanaticism. As a serious Christian I certainly want to receive everything Christ intends, but I sure don’t want to be strange or goofy.
I have been a pastor for 50 years; half a century. (And I’m so young!) I have seen excesses come and go in every conceivable format. I must admit, however, at times even I am shocked by some new twist on an old theme. My position often has simply been, “This too shall pass.” But, my young friend doesn’t have the benefit of the longer view. Perhaps he has seen out of control behavior and odd “manifestations,” attributed to the Holy Spirit, which were shocking and distasteful to him. The good, the bad and the ugly were all jumbled up together and spit out in the name of the Holy Spirit. Yes! Absolutely! He must be given a clear sensible and Biblical answer. That answer is the intention of this book.
Here is a short list of what not to expect:
Ok. Now, what you can expect.
You bet it is “a big deal” and this book tells why.
“The Holy Spirit, So…What’s the Big Deal?” is available for ordering here.
OPEN THE WORD AND COMMUNICATE WHAT YOU SEE
I am convinced that pure, raw, direct exposure to the Word of God will absolutely change people’s lives. In fact many pastors would do their congregations a favor if they would stop trying to preach and just sit down, open the Bible, and read it aloud.
My primary emphasis in teaching is to life-relate the Word. To do that, I must be immersed in the Word. I must live it. Its principles have to be mine. To this end, at a minimum I read the book of Psalms, the book of Proverbs and the entire New Testament every 30 days. That sounds like a lot of reading, but it is actually only 10-14 pages a day, depending on your Bible. It takes an average of a half hour a day, the equivalent of one TV newscasts or sit-com. It is so simple to cover an enormous amount of Scripture that way. Do it every 30 days, and what happens? The Word gets worked into your system. You are immersed in biblical content. Then you add to your reading whatever you want from the Old Testament and other books.
Added to my daily systematic exposure to the Word are my times of extended study. Once every two months, or at least every three months, I take two to four days totally away from my situation. I take off for the hills where my cell phone won’t work and nothing can bother me, and immerse myself in the Word.
All I take to read is a Bible and a linguistic help – a Greek testament and lexicon, perhaps. I take no commentaries. I don’t want my thinking restricted or my preaching to be just a revamp of someone else’s ideas. A lot of pastors would save time and energy for everyone concerned if they just told their congregation what website they were downloading from and let them do it themselves.
At the other extreme from pastors who parrot one another are those who knock themselves out trying to be creative and original. These pastors sometimes fall into sensationalism or strange far-out interpretations of Scripture. The quickest and most valid way to originality is to just be yourself. You see, I am an original, and so are you. As I “forgive” myself for being as I am – as I learn to trust God’s good judgment in creating me as He did and begin to accept myself – I am original. I can’t help it. God has put my brain together and tutored it so that no one else can pick up the Word and see exactly what I see in it.
For me, good preaching is opening the Word and communicating to the people what I see. That’s all it is. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). That’s what I’m about - equipping the saints to work. And there is no way to do that but through teaching the Word.
Excerpted from "Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness".
WHAT IF...? IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GARDENERby Christi (Cook) Karvasek
As I walked a familiar path, I pondered my goals and pursuits -- the progress or lack thereof, the advances and obstacles. Were my efforts having the desired effects? Were my primary purposes being met? These were pursuits I know God had led me to, called on me to participate in. Yet, while I could point to advances I had made, I couldn’t see tangible results I believed were God’s greater purposes. I could hear in my mind, “If only…” “If only this project were to reach that point, then it would be successful.” “If only I could get beyond this or that, I could really make a difference.” “If only…”
I recently wrote an article on how the phrase “If only” is a red flag for the temptation to reach beyond what God is already doing, to jump out ahead or create my own plan when things aren’t as I think they ought to be. On my walk, my own “If onlys” echoed through the trees. I knew I needed to repent. When I did, God responded in His typical fashion with patience, understanding, gentleness and fatherly love.
The path was familiar. I’d taken it many, many times. However, I hadn’t walked it in quite some time, maybe a year. As I strolled past the various neighborhood yards, I noticed how they had changed since I’d last seen them. Those that I remember being well cared for a year ago, were now more beautiful. The new starts had grown together in a nice pattern. Most of the foliage had become larger, with more blooms and looked more mature. I could see the yard taking shape as the gardener must have envisioned. Likewise, the yards that I had noticed were neglected the last time I was there had now grown more dilapidated.
Just then I heard the Father’s words. “What if…” and all the goals and pursuits I had pondered earlier were reiterated. Only this time, instead of hearing “If only they could have their desired effect,” they were each changed to “What if they were having their desired effect?” Wow! I hadn’t considered that for a long time. I had been excited for the results when I first caught the vision of each pursuit, but the steps are small and sometimes progress and results are imperceptible. Over time I carry the tasks as though all I can see is all there is. But hearing God’s gentle encouragement took me right back to my original excitement for each of my goals. What if they really were resulting in bringing about God’s purposes in the way He had originally showed me? What if they really were making the differences that motivated me to begin them in the first place? Well that would be fantastic! That’s all I had wanted. That would overshadow any “if onlys” I could think of.
Then I saw it. Just like those yards I had passed, it’s not about the plants or the ground – it’s about the gardener. The gardener plants small starts here and there, knowing that each will grow and fill in the gaps. He sees the full vision of the mature yard with each plant, shrub and tree blooming in its season and shaping beautiful landscapes. But mature gardens take time; they take continual care each week. If you were sitting in the garden day after day, you may miss the changes, the progress, the growth and the results of your efforts. But a passerby a year later would see an amazing change in the landscape, much more growth, color and shapes, like I did during my walk.
This is sometimes how our divine assignments progress – imperceptibly on a daily basis, but significantly over time. It’s not about my expectations or even my efforts. It’s about the Gardener. Trust Him to accomplish His goals in the pursuits He’s given you. Don’t be tempted by the “if onlys.” Instead, trust Him for the “what ifs.”
THE REVELATION OF CHRIST: MORE THAN HUMAN VISION
To those who want to know what Christ is like, having never seen him, we must point to more than human speculation or even the sublime “I ams” of Scripture. We must point to a spiritual revelation from God himself.
Take the case of Peter. When he expressed his ringing conviction about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus said, "Blessed are you…for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 16:16-17)
Paul also wrote about the need to see Christ with more than human vision. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Cor. 5:16)
You see, even if you had been on earth when Christ was here, you might not have seen God in him. Many people didn’t. They crucified him as a blasphemer precisely because they didn’t accept his claims of deity.
So, then, Christ is the true and adequate revelation of God, but you will never know what Christ is like, even by reading the Scriptures, as important as that is, unless the Father reveals Christ to you by his Spirit.
The revelation of Christ to us, or God’s disclosure of himself to us, is tied to several things in Scripture. Three that are consistently mentioned are:
A Seeking Heart
This matter of seeking God is easily misunderstood and misapplied. For many it conjures up the image of a poor sinner on a spiritual pilgrimage to some shrine. To others the image is that of entering a religious retreat to isolate oneself from the world in order to “seek God.” Another image is that of committing oneself to a period of fasting and prayer. I suppose those actions could be helpful, but they are not the focus of Scripture when it urges us to seek God.
What is the biblical focus? Take someone who believes that there really is a God. Let this person form the conviction that the true and living God can be known. Let the sense emerge: I will know him. The result is a person who seeks God.
Seeking God is Paul interrupting his writing with the exclamation, “O that I might know him!”
Seeking God is a young man sitting with me describing a new and deep hunger: “I’ve recently become aware that there really is a God. I want to know him. Can you help me?”
Seeking God is my sons and me looking through our telescope at Jupiter and its beautiful moons and murmuring, “There has to be a God, but what could the Creator of such a wonder be like? I want to know him.”
Seeking God is the deep conviction that no matter how much we learn of him, we will have only begun to understand him. Each discovery lays the foundation for the next.
Like seeking God, obedience can be, and often is, misunderstood. God deals with us first, last, and always by grace. That means our relationship with him is not based on works or performance. God is not grading us to determine whether our obedience qualifies us to know a little more about him today. He is not training us as we would train a dog. “OK, you obeyed; good boy! Here’s another doggie biscuit of revelation about me.”
There is, however, a connection between our having an obedient heart and the Lord showing himself to us. Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
Why is it that the person who obeys God because he loves him seems to perceive more about God? That is the question Jesus was asked at the time. “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (v. 22) Jesus replied, “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.” (v. 23)
We get to know people by spending time with them, and we really get to know people by living with them day in and day out. A couple may be in love and spend as much time together as they can. They may think that they know each other well, but when they live together each learns many things about the other that before were unknown.
Jesus said that he and the Father would move in and make their home with the person who loves and obeys him. As a rule, the “world” neither loves nor obeys Jesus, but it is possible to obey him without loving him. We can try to manipulate God, to put God under obligation to us.
We think, “He has to bless me; I kept the commandments.” This may creep into our thinking, and we hardly realize it. Someone said to me recently, “I have gone to church for years and done what Christians are supposed to do. Frankly, I’m more confused now than I have ever been. Why doesn’t God help me?” He assumed God owed him something for doing good and right things.
Loving obedience is not a mechanism for controlling God. Loving obedience is the psalmist saying, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long … I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your promises to my taste!” (Ps. 119:97, 102-3)
Loving obedience is George Beverly Shea looking at tempting offers that would compromise his faith and then writing, “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”
Loving obedience is the girl with shining eyes who has but one overriding concern about any choice she faces: “Would this please the Lord Jesus?”
Jesus said, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” (Luke 10:21) He also said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
The thing about children is that they are obviously dependent. How dependent we are upon God! Not only do we enter his kingdom with the humility of a child, but we can keep learning of him only by maintaining that same spirit. When it comes to God, nobody knows it all, but he delights to reveal himself to those willing to be children in his kingdom.
An excerpt from “A Few Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew it All.”
HELLO...THIS IS GOD CALLINGThe greatest issue we face in being Christian is not one of ability, but of identity.
Recently I have had a number of fascinating conversations on the subject of “calling”. As a Christian, what does it mean to be called? Isn’t everyone called? What's the difference between a call and a career? Isn’t the important thing what your gifts are? Won’t your gifts lead you to your calling? These intriguing questions tend to heap up on one another as we talk.
One thing seems to keep coming through…we have a pretty good idea of what calling is in general. We don’t have much of an idea of what it means specifically. Calling is often thought of as investing my gifts in some Christian or church endeavor. “Gifts” and “passion” are words often heard in the discussion.
When people are called in the New Testament, they are not called to do something, but to be someone.
• Paul was called to be an Apostle – Rom. 1:1
• The Roman Christians were called to be saints – Rom. 1:7
• The Corinthian believers were called to be holy – 1 Cor. 1:2
• The Galatians were called to be free – Gal. 5:13
These are not assignments to be done but identities to be embraced. Some of these identities were shared by all (saints, holy, free). Apostle was given only to 12 of which Paul was one. In describing Paul after his conversion, the Lord told Ananias that Paul, “is my chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15). This is identity.
Now, here’s what I am saying. God’s call is what He sees you to be. He calls you Free. He calls you Forgiven. He calls you “dearly loved child”. These are “the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
But for some there is a more specific identity beyond this. For Paul, Apostle. Paul did not do certain things to be an Apostle. He did everything as an Apostle, therefore everything he did was Apostolic. God related to him through this specific identity. He was an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
This specific call is not the result of identifying a certain complex of gifts and then finding a place to apply them in Christian service. That has its place, but not in this unique sense.
A Case in Point
I remember clearly when I understood unmistakably that God was calling me beyond my identity as His child to be a pastor. In my inexperience I thought He was calling me to pastor. I thought he was offering me a job and I really didn’t want it. However, over time I came to see that He was explaining who I was and how He intended to address me. Along with all the other things that identified me as His child, I was also, Pastor. He was telling me it was a fact of my identity that my influence would be pastoral wherever I was and He would place me where He wanted me whenever He needed that influence. I respond to His assignments from within this identity. As I do nothing to be Jerry, I am Jerry whatever I am doing; so I do nothing to be pastor. As I respond to His understanding of my person, I am pastor, whatever I am doing.
In this call, there is no vote or negotiation. It is His call and my identity no matter what I may want to call myself. He addresses me as pastor. If I choose to hear him as though he is calling me by my own preference, i.e. Engineer, I will never get His message quite right. I will only hear clearly when I hear Him through His identity for me. Furthermore, if I am calling myself Pastor when He is not, the message will be garbled and wrongly interpreted.
Now, I want to ask the question I have been setting up in all of this. Are you hearing Him call you? Do you hear Him call you Free; My beloved Child; Blessed and Forgiven? Or, are you trying to talk Him into calling you by the name and identity you have chosen for yourself?
And, even more to the point: Is He calling you with a more specific identity? Pastor? Missionary? Any one of many influential identities within His Body? Something you can’t negotiate? Something that will impose itself on you and wield majority control over your choices for the rest of your life? It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a reward for being spiritual nor an acknowledgement of his pleasure or your giftedness. It is simply and completely His choice; His Call. If it is not there, you will never be able to manufacture it nor talk Him into it. If it is, you will never get away. You might as well say yes, tell someone who is spiritually significant in your life and see where He takes you.
It is the recovery of this profound sense of calling that is essential if the church is to be led and equipped to express the presence and person of Jesus in our world.
THE IDOLATRY OF FORMALISMOver-preparation on our part always paralyzes us. This is true because we then depend on our preparation and are terrified of anything that does not fall within its parameters. We force the moment through our grid of preparation. In this sense we formalize our living and speaking and responding. This dependence on our forms is what I call “formalism.”
When I say this, you may wrongly interpret my meaning to be that we should become totally chaotic and formless; floating mindlessly through our day, bumping from one event to another as though life was a huge pin-ball machine.
Spirit-filled and Spirit-led living is not careening through life, baptizing every random thought and emotion as the “voice of God”. Rather, it is living in the constant awareness of His presence; recognizing His unique voice and promptings and responding to them.
We must understand this! We must resist all temptation to compartmentalize our spiritual journey. No activity is more spiritual than another. Our work, our homemaking, our recreation…are all lifted to Him as worship. They have a different form than our singing and praise on Sunday, but they are no less worship. Because I am a worshipper, my life, my day, my response to every event is presented as worship to Him.
Isn’t this what living “to the praise of His glory” has to involve? How else can we “present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him”, and understand it as “our reasonable worship”?
This seamlessness extends into all of our life. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that defines me as a Christian. There are no Christian acts, there are only Christians acting. My actions cannot define me. I am not a Christian because of the way I act. I act the way I do because I am a Christian.
Does it matter, then how I behave? Of course it matters. There are entire passages of Scripture dedicated to our life-style. This is without question. However, Scripture never hints that these behaviors make us Christian. Our life-style always results from who we are, never the other way around. It is this inner transformation, this “metamorphosis” of Romans 12 that transforms our external actions. It is this person who is being “transformed by the renewing of (his) mind”, that we take into all of life. Any effort to formalize this process or force it through legalistic expectations or practices is to paralyze and ultimately kill it.
EVERYDAY EVANGELISM: CHRIST IN YOUYou are called not so much to do great things, as to be a great person--and that person is Jesus Christ. The Church is the resident presence of Jesus in the world.
No matter how big church attendance is on Sunday, it will never penetrate the culture with Jesus. The reason is clear: The church on Sunday is experienced by the church community; it is only observed by the unbelieving community.
However, Monday through Saturday, the church operates in the experience of non-believers. It lives on their turf, moves in their society, and operates in their culture. On Monday Jesus becomes incarnate through you. And because He can be seen and touched, He can be received or rejected. True evangelism is possible.
Your Strategic Placement
Most Christians have been trained quite well to be the church on Sunday. But what does it take to be the church on Monday?
The first step is to recognize your strategic placement. “Strategic placement” means this: each redeemed, Spirit-filled Christian has been strategically placed by Jesus, the Lord of the church. Where each believing man or woman lives and works is part of that strategy. Christians are people of destiny, purposely placed deep in our culture. We are God’s points of penetration. Because of us Jesus is present at the very heart of society. And it is this strategic presence of Christ that opens the door for his revelation as Savior to man.
Incarnational Christianity doesn’t try to get people to God. Many men and women don’t want to get to God. Others are unaware there is a God to get to! The incarnation was God coming to us; in a similar way, incarnational Christianity brings Jesus to man.
That’s the basis for true evangelism: in the believer the presence of Christ reaches out to others. It’s also the basis for true discipleship: in the believer the presence of Christ walks alongside the new believer. Thus, the two main activities of the church–conversion and discipling–are wed, as they were meant to be. The Great Commission, after all is not simply to go into all the world and make converts; we are to go and make disciples.
Jesus said simply, “I am the way. If you have found me, you have found God.” Unfortunately, the church often adds a debilitating step to the divine program. We say, “Jesus is the way to God, and the church is the way to Jesus. Come to the church and find Jesus, then Jesus will take you to God.” We must never allow the church institution to be the way to God. Jesus himself is the Way. The goal of the church on Monday is to make the Way present and visible in the world.
Open for Business
Of course, it does no good to have a strategic force in place if the people don’t know they are strategic, don’t know they are a force, and don’t know they are in place.
Most Christians give mental assent to this idea of strategic placement, but they have no concept of its implications. Some think of inviting hurting people to a church program, others think of using some type of soul-winning gimmick to make a convert. Most, however, don’t do anything with the idea at all. It simply floats around, untapped, in the background of their experience. They’re strategically placed, but they’re not “open for business.”
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) means you are filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus is present wherever you go. You are capable of responding to the needs of others exactly the way Jesus would. The gifts of the Spirit are how Jesus works through you to touch people’s lives.
Our time on earth is about being Jesus in our world. Jesus didn’t come to our planet on vacation; He came on assignment. Likewise, you and I have not been born here and now accidentally. We don’t just happen to bump into hurting people. There’s divine strategy at work. You are where you are because God strategically placed you there.
I’m convinced that if more Christians were open for business, then more business would show up. Evangelism as a primary goal is often artificial and powerless. But when it’s a serendipity of spirit-filled believers being Jesus in their world, it is natural and unstoppable!
Excerpted from The Monday Morning Church by Jerry Cook.