Ryan Strother

Serving The Lord Can Be Depressing If You Forget This

 

If you think you have ever faced a difficult task, listen to what Jesus told His disciples to do: “. . .you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

Wait—to where?

How were 11 men and the other few faithful followers of Jesus at that time ever going to be able to accomplish that mission? They didn’t even know yet how large the earth was, let alone how to get to all of it!

If you think your work for the Lord is overwhelming or impossible, then you’ve forgotten that God’s mission is fueled by God’s Spirit. It is easy to begin working out of human strength to do divine work because we are naturally proud. We have the intellect or skills to get the job done. Or so we think.

If you keep reading in Acts, you will see how Acts 1:8 unfolded.

Jerusalem. The believers were in Jerusalem when Acts 1:8 was spoken, and once the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost (recorded in Acts 2), they began proclaiming the good news about Jesus. Their ministry focused in Jerusalem until Acts 8, after Stephen’s martyrdom: “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1)

Judea and Samaria. So, ministry began in these regions when believers were dispersed from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:4–5, ESV).

It wasn’t like the disciples sat down one day and drew out a map of how they could get to the end of the earth—they didn’t even know where those places were! The Holy Spirit will orchestrate God’s plan better than you ever could.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was really disappointed after my first Easter weekend at my current church. So much planning went into the events of that weekend several months before. The events were organized well, the promotion was catching, and the services were very thoughtful and designed for impact. Lots of time and work went into it and when it finally came around, less people attended that Easter service than what the attendance had been for the couple weeks before.

I spent days wondering why more people didn’t show up and why there weren’t salvation decisions and people coming forward for prayer. I realized with some help from godly men that I am not in control of the Lord’s work. I’m just the vessel he occasionally chooses to use, and the Holy Spirit empowers the work just like He did with the disciples.

It was the powerful movement of the Holy Spirit that moved God’s people out beyond Jerusalem, and it is the Holy Spirit who continues to empower the work of His servants in taking the gospel to the end of the earth.

It’s true—serving the Lord can be depressing if you forget that God’s mission is fueled by God’s Spirit.

Five To Focus 36. Don’t Throw Marshmallows at A Brick Wall

The counsel of the Lord and His plans stand forever. In a chaotic world, v.18 tells us that we can be thankful that God has his eye on those who fear him and who hope in his steadfast love. This episode is 3 of 4 of the natural worship service order seen in Psalm 33.

 

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Gaze and Go: God’s Glory Motivates Us To Mission

In Acts 1, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  He reminded them of their mission (verse 8) and then the disciples saw something indescribable: Jesus ascending to heaven.

He had already been crucified and resurrected and lived on the earth another 40 days to speak about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). But the ascension of Jesus to heaven was more glorious than any bride’s first appearance before walking down an aisle.

The disciples just stand there gazing into heaven. I’m convinced that they were experiencing the glorious presence of God in a paralyzing way. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9, ESV)

God’s presence has been symbolized by a cloud before—  

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21–22, ESV)

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:10–11, ESV)  

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17, ESV)  

We probably would have been staring too.

Then in verse 11, two men in white clothes suddenly appear to the disciples and say “. . .why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In other words, Jesus will return the same way you see Him going now. Don’t worry about Him coming back. Instead, be occupied with what He told you to do.

As they are marveling at Jesus and His glory, these two angels had to redirect their mission. They were gazing at the King, all while forgetting that they were to be building up the kingdom.

Some Christians spend all their time gazing into heaven while the world around them is going to hell.  

Don’t misunderstand—it’s a good thing to gaze into heaven.  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, ESV)  It’s a good thing to be occupied with the glory of God and give Him praise for who He is.

But God’s glory should motivate us to God’s mission.

Abraham understood this.  Just by hearing the glory in God’s voice alone give him instruction, he left every comfort to follow God.

Moses understood this.  The glory found in the burning bush moved him past his insufficiencies.

Nehemiah understood this.  Seeing the wall of his city torn down and desiring to see the glory of God to be seen in his city again, He went through the pain of organizing the people and rebuilding the wall.

Isaiah understood this.  When he saw the glory of God fill the temple, He said “Here I Am” without knowing any details.

Jesus understood this. He humbled Himself to come to this earth to take the sin of the world on himself and reconcile sinners to God for God’s glory to continually be revealed on this earth.

The temptation for many Christians is to stand and gaze into heaven and forget our mission in this world.  

We can be great at gazing into heaven: attending worship services, reading our Bibles, singing praises, praying for people, reading Christian books. But God’s glory should motivate us to God’s mission.

Yes, gaze upon his beauty and glory, and go be his witness. How can you gaze and go this week?

Five To Focus 35. Praise God for His Powerful Word

If God’s Word brought forth everything in this earth and in the heavens, then surely His Word that we can read can transform our lives as we live it out! This episode is 2 of 4 of the natural worship service order seen in Psalm 33.

 

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Be That Somebody Else

Note: This article was written by Kelly Marsh, communications director at Central Baptist Church, Marion, OH, and used with her permission.

 

Somebody should, Someone needs to……

It’s a phrase I hear often today and it’s a phrase that tends to bug me when I hear it. It’s an attitude that so many take and it’s a frame of mind that is growing, and I don’t think it’s a good thing. As a mother of teenagers I would often get frustrated when I would find empty plates or cups lying around, clothes dropped in the middle of the living room carpet. I would gripe at the kids, “Who do you think is going to pick this up? “Do you think if you just leave it there and walk away, somebody will take care of it?”

It frustrated me to no end that they were so self absorbed, and disrespectful to not pick up after themselves and just assume they could leave things for someone else to take care of.

Last weekend my husband and I took the afternoon to ride the full Tallgrass bike trail. On our way down the trail we passed a much older gentleman on a trike bike, riding along and balancing a leaf blower at the same time. He was peddling down the trail blowing off the leaves. I was blown away (no pun intended) at his thoughtfulness of doing this.

It was amazing how much nicer the ride was with the path blown off for us and so many others. It was not for just a small section, but his path went on for miles. I thought of him my whole ride just how neat it was for him to do this.

Yesterday we again went to the trail to get a ride in, and not to my surprise we passed him on his quest to clear the trail. I tried to say hello and thank him as we rode by, but I felt a bit guilty because he did not hear us coming over the blower and jumped a bit when I said “thank you” as we rode by :).

Since yesterday I have not stopped thinking of him and his willingness and kindness to serve others in this way.

Two things strike me I feel compelled to write about.

First….at a stage in his life when some things are more challenging and frustrating, he is still finding a way to contribute and help others. How much easier and natural would it be for him to sit at home, feel sorry for himself, throw his towel in and say “someone else can take care of that.”  

He has seen a need and he finds a way to step up and serve his community. He may not be able to do all things he wants and would like to do, but this is something he can do, and he does it. He could resolve to thinking a task like this should be done by someone else, someone younger, someone more agile, yet he finds a way to still contribute and fill a role that is important and needed.

Maybe there are parts of things that each of us can’t do, that’s ok…find what you can do and be selfless enough to do it. Thank you sir for stepping up and doing a job that means so much to many. You are a fine example to so many and a reminder to me of the blessing you can be when you put yourself aside and serve others. You ARE a blessing to me and I appreciate you and your selfless heart.

Second…no matter what age and stage you are in life, try to BE that somebody else. Too many people sit back in the peanut gallery and constantly offer up their contribution statements of “someone should” or “someone needs to”. Who is that someone? Who is the somebody that needs to? Why can’t YOU be that someone?

It’s easier to sit back and pop shots on what all should be done than to step up and lead these needs. It’s like we think in every school function, church ministry, work project, and community need- there is a mystery staff of people behind the curtain that is responsible for making things happen. We offer our opinions of how it should be done, criticize how it is being done, and even suggest ideas of how it needs to be done.

Who do we think is responsible for DOING it and why aren’t we asking ourselves what part of this can I step up and help do? We are all busy and we are all stretched thin, I get it, I live in this same busy life too.

I’m not suggesting that we need to jump in and lead in everything, this can be very unhealthy as well. But I will be as forthcoming to say I’m tired of the attitude that someone else will do it. Someone else will lead that group, someone else will plan the meals, someone needs to pick up this conference room, and I wish someone would organize  _________ (you fill in the blank).

BE that someone else. Try switching your mind from thinking someone needs to step up and lead and fix or do something better, and accept that you can be that somebody else.

Five To Focus 34. Tie-Dye Shirts and Your Heart for Worship

When you live in this state of praise, your relationship with the Lord is constantly refreshed. This episode is 1 of 4 of the natural worship service order seen in Psalm 33.

 

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What You Worship Shows Where You Seek Satisfaction

When you are seeking, look in the right direction.

We were playing hide and seek as a family once a couple years ago and everyone had been found except four-year-old Sydney. All six of us were looking for her and after a while, we got a little panicked. Did she run off, did somebody grab her when no one was looking?  

We looked in the backyard, the neighbor’s yards, and the pond that was across the street until we finally found her–underneath a blanket in the garage, sleeping! We were across the street and she’s asleep in the garage!

When you are seeking, look in the right direction.

David shows us in Psalm 63 that we worship what we think will satisfy us. So when you are seeking satisfaction, make sure you look in the right direction. Or in other words, look in the direction of our Creator God; worship Him and you will find satisfaction for your soul, the innermost part of your being.

David paints a clear picture of his condition and desire for worship in Psalm 63:1: I seek you earnestly; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  

Get the picture? A desolate condition of searching for what will satisfy the innate longing in his soul.

What do you do when your soul has that kind of desire in a world that is full of earthly deserts?  Verse two gives the answer: Thus, I have seen you in the sanctuary, to see your power and your glory. This is a declaration of worship, and we will only find satisfaction in our souls when we are in the proper place of worship (sanctuary) and the presence of God (power and glory).

Regarding the place of worship, however, there is a difference between David and us. In David’s day, the sanctuary would have been the Tabernacle and later the Temple.

But in John 4:21-24, Jesus states that the time is at hand where we will worship in Spirit and Truth. God is spirit.

Today, worship is not assigned only to a certain space but is always possible because of God’s presence in you through His Holy Spirit.  

You can have the Holy Spirit  in you by repenting of your sin and believing in Him.

You do have the Holy Spirit  in you, then, when you are saved.

When you are seeking, look in the right direction. The natural desire in your soul will lead you to worship. We were created to worship. Make sure you look in the right direction, and then find satisfaction for your soul.

 

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Five to Focus 33. Jesus: For His Glory or Your Greed?

Are you willing to praise Jesus no matter the cost? Or do you just go through the motions and think more about what’s in it for you?

In other words, are you willing to humble yourself or are you looking to be exalted?

Scripture Reference:  Mark 14

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One Tip for Handling Criticism With Grace

Criticism can be difficult because it can be easily interpreted as an indictment on your competence and worth.

Last week I wrote about one idea in Amy Baker’s book on perfectionism and now i want to share and expand on another of her thoughts. Baker gives this tip for handling criticism: start with what God says about you, not what someone else says.

This reality can be a tough reminder because Psalm 14:2-3 says,

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Now wait–why is this the verse offered and not something we might think is more uplifting? Here’s the point: God’s assessment of us is the most damning criticism we will ever receive, yet He has graciously made the way of forgiveness and freedom possible when we go to Him in forgiveness (see Amy Baker’s book, Picture Perfect, pg. 134).

Unlike some who just see our faults and condemn us, God sees who we really are and still sent His Son to pay the price for our sins (Romans 5:8). With that in mind, we can listen to criticism and not be completely crushed because we have hope since we will not stand in ultimate judgement before any earthly critic but before a loving God.

This is the message of Romans 14:10: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God”. Constructive criticism is possible and helpful, but I’m referring to destructive criticism in this post, which is what is in view in Romans 14:10. Some can’t seem to refrain from criticising for reasons that might be the topic of another post, but the focus here is on your response to criticism. The command to not pass judgment on your brother is rooted in the fact that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. In other words, be more concerned about God’s judgment than man’s.

It is wise to listen for any truth in criticism and to repent of any sin if present. But let criticism stir you to a greater understanding of your worth by realizing that the One who truly knows you inside and out doesn’t hold that over you but chooses to forgive through Christ (Romans 8:1) and offer life to its fullest (John 10:10).

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

Five To Focus 32. I’m Scared To Adopt

Moses and Gideon are examples of how to be faithful in serving the Lord even if you feel timid. Ryan’s quick testimony of fear through the process of adopting some of his children can be applicable to your fearful situations and help encourage you to not let fear distract you from following Jesus.

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