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Greater Than I

John the Baptist – what a chap.  He’s the guy that basically everyone has heard of but hardly anyone knows anything about.  He’s the famous “forerunner”, which means that he announced the coming of Jesus and helped prepare people’s hearts to receive what Jesus had to offer them.  The Bible says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit since before he was born.  And even though he was a little weird (he had a diet of locusts and wild honey while living in the desert), he made an incredible impact.  However, when people started pointing out to him that everyone was going to Jesus to hear His preaching and leaving John the Baptist in the dust, he replied in the most humble way.  In fact, his entire life’s mission could be summed up in this one statement he made in John 3:30:  “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

Why would he say something like that?  Because he understood that his purpose wasn’t to point people to himself, but rather to God.  His job was to blaze the trail for the coming of the message of salvation.  I am humbled by his announcement in Mark 1:7-8:  “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of His sandals.  I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

I am a missionary.  Some might say that is quite an accomplishment.  People both in my home country and in the country where I am serving have a great respect for someone with the title “missionary”.  However, lest I am ever tempted to think that I have arrived at a certain level, I am reminded of John the Baptist.

He had the most unsuccessful ministry ever.  He starts out famous, loses everyone to this Jesus guy, and then ends up with a handful of people called his disciples who spend time with Jesus too.  The final days of his life are spent as entertainment for Herod in prison, and he is beheaded as a prize for a dance.  His ministry went the OPPOSITE direction that anyone would ever want.  However, his life was successful, because he did what he was called to do:  he  pointed people to Jesus.

Over the past few days, I have been thinking about my goals in our ministry here; who I want to have discipleship studies with, who I want to go to the next Encounter weekend, how many of our contacts I want to be in leadership classes, how many Home Bible Studies I want to have, etc.  It is good to have a plan, and it is good to desire these things for people, but I have to take a step back and ask myself, “What is my purpose here?”

A few weeks ago, I sat on the steps with a good friend of mine.  She really holds my heart.  She is stuck between a rock and a hard place; stuck in a lifestyle that does not please God, but beginning to understand for the first time what God’s love really is.  She is facing very difficult decisions, and after she spilled her thoughts and heart out that day, she looked at me and waited for my response.  I breathed a prayer to God, “Lord, what would You have me say?”  And plain as day, I heard Him speak to my heart, “Point her to Me.”

I realized in that moment that this simple phrase is my entire purpose here in Ambato, Ecuador.  This simple phrase is my entire purpose on this planet and it sums up the calling of my life.  In the grand scheme of things, I am nothing.  I have nothing that I did not receive from God.  When I analyze who I am apart from Christ, I realize that I have nothing at all that is worth looking at.

I am unfaithful, but Christ is faithful…always.  I am selfish, but Christ offers selfless love.  I am often distracted and short-sighted, but Christ is the ultimate listener and sees the depth of each person’s heart.  It is only IN CHRIST that I could ever offer anything lasting and worthwhile to anyone.  It is only in becoming less and less of me that Christ can offer more and more of His transforming love to each person that comes my way.  It is only in saying to people, “There is Someone who is greater than I who holds everything you need,” that my purpose is fulfilled.  Eyes off me; eyes on Him.  “He’s the One you’re looking for” is the message that I must proclaim to every person to whom I speak.

You see, once upon a time Jesus found me in a dark place and without hope.  He rescued me from Satan, who had me chained down solid in his stronghold.  Jesus set me free!  Because of Him, I live every day with hope!  Because of Him, I have this amazing opportunity to talk to people all day, every day about what salvation really means.  It doesn’t make any sense to do anything different than that.  Missionary or not a missionary, I can’t keep quiet about this Jesus guy.  Salvation is nothing without the Savior.  Freedom is nothing without the Liberator – and He frees me every day.  He (not me) holds the key that can free EVERY SINGLE PERSON.  So I will spend my life leading people to Him.  I will not hesitate to tell people, “There is One who is greater than I.  He alone can set you free, shower you with hope, and give you a reason to live.”

Jesus is the only Son of God, who saw our hopeless condition and came to offer His life as a ransom for our sin.  He died on a cross and rose again, defeating death and breaking every chain that could hold us captive if we would but accept this salvation that He freely offers to us.  This is the message that I proclaim.  Maybe someday I will end up in prison as entertainment for someone, only to be beheaded as a prize for a dance.  However, if I am faithful to my purpose and to Christ’s message of salvation, my life will be a success.  So I hold true to this, praying that God would always give me the strength to humbly become less and less so that He alone might become more and more in me.  Maybe someday when people look at me, they will see nothing but Him.  What more could I ever want in this life?

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Only A Breath

A few years ago I had the opportunity to volunteer for an organization called Crosspoint.  We worked with inner-city kids in an area where many families struggled with many different kinds of problems such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and other kinds of intense things.  Although every family and every child came from a different situation, being involved in the lives of these kids really opened my eyes, not only to a situation that was very different than mine, but also to experience the love of God in a way that I hadn’t before.  I realized at that point in a limited way that I wanted to always work with people who have experienced difficult things.

While I was there, I got to know a girl named Casey.  I loved that girl.  She was very different than the other kids.  She was super smart, super funny, a natural leader, a little rebellious and sarcastic (but I loved it), and she had an incredibly big personality and a strong loyalty to her friends and family.  I remember thinking every time I saw her, “Wow, she is such a beautiful girl.  She has the potential to do amazing things.”  Sometimes I would catch her looking at me like she was trying to figure out if I was worth trusting or not.  Who knows what she ever thought about me.

Last night I found out that she was killed in a car accident.  She was 14.

I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and stomping on my heart.  I hadn’t even talked to her in about 8 years.  However, my mind kept flashing back to the smart little girl I used to know.  It seemed so impossible that she could just be gone.  I have no idea where she was at with God or what has been going on in her life recently.  All I know is that she is gone.  Just like that.

And I thought, wow, life is such a mystery.  Sometimes we get to moving so fast in life and we forget that our lives are really only a breath.  What are 80 years really?  What are 14?  We are here and then suddenly we are gone.  And the world simply keeps going.

This morning I literally crumbled before God as my mind kept flashing back to the time when I was working with Crosspoint and the kids.  I made so many mistakes.  I don’t like who I was back then.  If I could go back and change my actions and my attitude, I would change almost everything.  But I can’t.  I can’t turn back the hands of time.  I can’t have a second chance to make an impact on Casey’s life.  I can’t change who I used to be.

I think I spent more time back then planning my escape from every meeting and dreaming of the future than I did living in the moment.  I wanted to do great things with my life, but I missed so many great moments because I was living ones that didn’t exist yet.

As I wrote down my list of regrets and presented them before God, He confronted me with questions that shattered my heart:  You’re afraid that you are still the same person, aren’t you?  You wrote down that you were unfaithful.  What if you still are?

As I let those thoughts sink in, I heard Him whisper to my heart, “But you see, it doesn’t matter.  If you are unfaithful, I am still faithful.  I will always be faithful to Casey, and I will always be faithful to you.”

I thought about our ministry right now in Ambato, and about how afraid I often am to fail those to whom we are reaching out.  I thought about the many ways I feel that I failed Casey.  Suddenly, I felt a peace as I realized the depth of what God had told me.  It’s not about me.  It is all about God.

What is my goal in ministry?  I thank God for the opportunities we are given to remember that.  I am here to point others to Him.  I am here to call others to a personal relationship with Him.  It is not about me.  It’s not about what I have to offer someone.  It’s about what Christ has to offer them.  I am just a clay pot with holes and cracks and imperfections of all kinds.  I can do the best I can, but it is not enough.  I am not what they need.  However, this Jesus – He’s the One worth looking at.  He’s the One worth knowing, and He is all the reason for this clay pot to keep on reaching out.

2 Corinthians 4:5 says, “You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves.  We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

You see there are millions of Casey’s out there who have been through a heck of a lot of things.  I thank God for the opportunity that I had to know Steve and Martha, to be a part of the Crosspoint crew, and to have a front row seat to their passion and selfless love for the time that I did.  In this life, time marches on and passes so quickly…and in a lifetime of experiences and friendships, there are truly only a few that make a lifetime impact on us.  My experience with Crosspoint was one of those few things that will forever mark my life and my ministry.

However, I can’t forget that right now I find myself in Ambato.  I am once again surrounded by people who are searching.  So I continue to reach out – not because I am anything special; not because I am sure that I won’t fail them.  I continue to reach out because I know a God who never fails.  I keep going and giving it my all because of His love and because He is the One who is offering just what they need.

And I need to give my regrets to God.  Maybe I wasn’t who I needed to be, and I’m not saying that it didn’t matter.  However, because of God’s forgiveness I can leave the past in His hands and offer to others TODAY what they truly need:  Him.  They don’t need me, but God chooses to use me to show them Him.  So I will do that.  I will take their eyes off this imperfect person and lead them to the only One who will never fail them.

Because this life we have is only a breath, but the love that God offers us is eternal.  Thank You, Lord, for being faithful to me.  May Your faithfulness shine through the cracks in my life so that others might come to know Your faithfulness as well.

And love Casey’s family for me.  Hold them close.  Be more real to them than life itself.  Thank You for blessing me with the opportunity of knowing her for the three years that I did.  She truly touched my life.

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