Whose Life Is it Anyway?

The movie The End of the Spear tells the true story of five men, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed Mcculley, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian, who, in 1956, were killed by the Waodani Indians of Ecuador while trying to share the gospel with them. Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, and Jim Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth eventually went to live with the tribe and succeeded in sharing the Gospel with the very men who murdered their brother and husband.

Rachel Saint lived out her life with the Waodani people and was often visited by Nate’s son Steve. Upon her death, Steve traveled back to Ecuador to preside over Rachel’s funeral and gather her belongings. Steve reconnected with the Waodani people and their leader, Mincayani, whom he calls Grandfather. In a very dramatic moment in the movie, Mincayani takes Steve to the very spot where his father was murdered. There Mincayani confesses that it was he who murdered Steve’s father, Nate. “I took your father’s life,” Mincayani confesses. After struggling with his emotions, Steve replies. “You did not take my father’s life. He gave it.”

Luke 9:23-24
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.”

What does that mean for me and for you? What does it mean to deny ourselves daily and follow Jesus? Back in 1956, for five men denying themselves meant moving to Ecuador and living with the Waodani people that they might win them to Christ. That decision cost them their lives- their futures. They never lived to see their children born and grow up. They never lived to see the Waodani people embrace Christianity and become a people of peace instead of violence. Some people would say their wasted their lives.

In this passage in Luke, Jesus poses some probing questions to challenge our assumptions about what is most profitable and worthwhile. Every decision we make in life will determine the type of person we are become. These decisions mold our character and to some extent determine our future. Are we going to live for ourselves? Are we going to pursue success as the world defines it, wealth, large houses, trendy clothes, the latest ipods, cell phones, the best car, etc. Or are we going to live for Christ fully committed to him and ready to lose our life for His sake.

My Life or God’s?

It is a choice we make many times each day. The cashier gives me back too much change. My life or God’s? A car cuts me off on the freeway. My life or God’s? A friend deeply wounds me. My life or God’s? A family needs financial assistance. My life or God’s? My physical health has taken a turn for the worse. My life or God’s? My spouse walks out on our marriage. My life or God’s?

Given the choice to serve yourself or serve others as Christ would, what would you choose?

Robertson McQuilkin is one man who knows what it means to lay down your life for another. Mr. McQuilkin was president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary for many years when in 1978 his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By 1990, His wife’s illness had progressed to where she needed full-time care. Robertson resigned his position to care for his wife. He writes this of his decision to resign,

“When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, ‘in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part’? It is all more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God’s love-the God I long to love more fully.”

When someone asked Robertson McQuilkin if he regretted giving up his career to care for his wife, he replied,“I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up. Our life is not the way we plot it or plan it. And so I guess all along I’ve just accepted whatever assignment the Lord gave me. This was his assignment.”

Jim Elliot said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim lost his life in 1956 along with Nate Saint at the hands of a Waodani Indian named, Mincayani. Mincayani now travels the U.S. with Steve Saint, grandfather and grandson, telling others their story of redemption, forgiveness, and how to find true life.

The choice in yours. Your life or God’s?

Do-Overs and Second Chances

As a child, whenever we would play a game and we did not like the outcome, we would shout, “DO OVER.” It meant you could start over. Didn’t like the roll of the dice-“DO OVER” Didn’t like the outcome of your opponent’s turn-“DO OVER.” What would happen if we could have “do overs” in real life? This thought has given birth to many movies over the years. Someone is given a second chance to “do over” the mistakes of their life thereby improving their life and the lives of others.

Do overs are a reality only in the movie and children’s games. The mistakes and sins we commit each day, each year cannot be erased. But Our God is a God of second chances! Each day God provides us with the opportunity to start our lives fresh, to wipe the slate clean. Lam 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Nowhere is this seen more profoundly than in the life of the apostle Peter. Peter probably had the most intimate relationship with Christ of all the disciples. Up until his denial of Christ, wherever Jesus was, Peter was there also. Peter is referred to almost two hundred times in the New Testament, more than any other disciple (John is referred to only thirty-one times). He was the first to be called by name by Jesus (John 1:40-42) and is the central character in many of the stories in the Gospels.

Peter was passionate, profound, yet impetuous. He was a fisherman, the equivalent of a blue-collar working man. Yet Jesus saw in Peter the making of a great disciple and evangelist. Upon their first meeting, Jesus bestows on Simon a new name, Peter or Cephas which means rock. It does not describe what Simon is but what he will become.

Throughout the Gospels we see Simon Peter saying and doing some amazing things. We also witness his mistakes, his pride, and his sinfulness. We watch him go from the incredible high of walking on water to the deep despair of denying his friend, the one he loved. I wonder if Peter would have liked a “do over” after that night in the courtyard.

Fortunately for Simon Peter and for us, the story does not end there. Peter, feeling the weight of his mistakes, decides to return to the life he knows best, fishing. His is out on the boat with the other disciples fishing and not catching anything. A voice from the shore tells them to cast their nets to the side. Peter recognizes it as the Lord, jumps into the lake and swims to shore. They feast on the bounty of fish they have caught. As they are relaxing after the meal, warmed by the presence of Jesus, Jesus asks Peter three questions. It is actually the same question asked three different ways.

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep….And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-17, 19.

Three times the question was asked, but not because Jesus needed Peter to repeat himself. Jesus asked him three times, once for each time Peter denied knowing Christ. Jesus was sending Peter a message. I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you. He chose to do this in the company of the other men to show them his forgiveness and restoration of Peter.

This moment became a turning point in Peter’s life. He would leave the fishing business for good and become a shepherd. Two months after this encounter with Jesus, Peter would preach the most powerful sermon of his life. He would cast out his gospel net and three thousand souls would be caught. He would go on to preach before rulers and magistrates, fishermen and shepherds. He would be jailed, beaten and crucified for his devotion. He would become “Peter, the rock,” all because our God is a God of second chances, and third chances, and……….

We don’t get “do overs” in this life, but with Jesus’ forgiveness we do get new starts. He mercifully covers our sins each day and sets us on the right path. The gospel of Luke says, ….His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. …He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.” (Luke 1:50, 54 The Message)

I pray that you will take time to consider God’s mercy in your life, how it flows in on us wave after wave; how God piles it on high. Thank Him each day for the opportunity to live out your devotion to Him.

The Quiet Whisper of God

My son Joel is a student at Biola University. Several years ago God called him into ministry and he is now in training for that calling. About 7 years ago Joel was on a mission’s trip in the Philippines with the youth group from First Baptist Church. At one point in the trip, Joel was having a conversation with a young Filipino pastor about ministry. The pastor said to Joel, “When you are a pastor, you will know.” That comment reverberated in Joel’s mind for many weeks and months later. Joel said, “What struck me was the pastor said when you become a pastor, not if.” God used that comment to whisper in Joel’s ear “I want you in ministry.”

In the book of 1 Kings we find God whispering to his prophet Elijah. Elijah is God’s appointed prophet for this appointed time. After Solomon’s reign the kingdom had been divided in two. The northern kingdom was Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. Israel was ruled by Ahab and he did “what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than the kings before him.” (I Kings 16:30) Ahab was married to a princess Jezebel who turned his heart even farther away from God. (Jezebel was so evil that her name has become a description for all wicked women).

God uses Elijah to show Ahab, Jezebel, and the people of Israel that He alone is God. With Ahab watching, Elijah instructs the worshippers of Baal to prepare an offering of a bull and set it on an altar. The prophets of Baal are then instructed to pray to their god to set fire to the offering. All day they pray for fire but it never comes. Finally Elijah prays to God and immediately the Lord sends fire down from heaven to consume the bull and everything around it.

Ahab goes home to Jezebel and tells her what Elijah has done. Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah and so he flees to the mountains and hides in a cave. Discouraged, he tells God that he has had enough. This man of God who watched the Lord do mighty miracles is now cowering in a cave.

Then the word of God came to him:
“So Elijah, what are you doing here?” I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.” A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” I Kings 19: 9b-13 (The Message)

Elijah had a misconception of God’s presence in his life. He tended to believe that God was present if he could see his power revealed through mighty acts, such as what he had just witnessed with the consuming of the offering by fire from heaven. Elijah thought that God spoke only in big and mighty ways. But God showed Elijah that He also speaks in the quiet whisper. In our day we often do not hear the quiet whisper because we are too busy or our lives are too noisy to hear God speak. God spoke to the boy Samuel in I Samuel chapter three when Samuel was still and attentive. We must learn to still our minds and be attentively listening for God’s voice.

God speaks to us through His Word. I have found that the time I hear God the clearest is right after reading or hearing God’s Word.

Many years ago I attended a conference in Nashville. After a weekend of hearing God’s word taught, I clearly heard the voice of the Lord calling me to a new ministry. It was not an audible voice, but a confirmation in my spirit from the Holy Spirit that God was going to take me in a new direction in the future. I did not know when that would be but I had that assurance. It was more than a year later when I finally got the go ahead from the Lord to step into that ministry.

In most of our lives God speaks to us in quiet ways. The unsettling of our spirit when we have sinned against another, the urging of our hearts to say a kind word or do a kind deed are all ways in which God speaks with a whisper. When we respond to God’s voice, He is glorified and we are blessed. Sometimes he speaks to us directly and sometimes He uses other people to speak to us.

My friend Chris was driving with his son Tyler one day when they passed a homeless man who held a sign that read, “Hungry. Can you spare some food?” Tyler is ten years old and it is already evident his spiritual gift is mercy. He had some candy that he had saved for later in the day. Realizing that this man was hungry, Tyler insisted that Chris turn the car around so they could give the candy to the homeless man. Chris did not want to discourage his son’s mercy and generosity so they did indeed turn around. Tyler handed the man his candy. The homeless man took the gift of food, looked Tyler in the eyes and said, “God is with you.” Tyler’s mouth dropped open and he turned to his dad and said with astonishment, “How did he know!”

From our adult point of view we may think that the man says that to everyone. But to Tyler it was as if the words came from God himself. Perhaps Tyler was responding as Samuel did to the voice of God when he felt compelled to give that homeless man his candy. As result, Tyler himself was blessed. And the homeless man blessed Tyler by affirming that God had indeed spoken to him and was with him……a huge lesson for a little boy.

Is God whispering in your ear? Perhaps He is asking you to come out of your cave and serve Him. Elijah finally left his cave per God’s instructions and found Elisha and anointed him as God’s next prophet. Keep your ear finely tuned to hear God’s whisper through His Word. You never know when your obedience to the Lord’s voice might feed a hungry person or affirm a calling.