Heart Spelunking

Imagine a deep, dark, dank cave. Imagine delving into it and finding it’s bottom, a place where there is no light or hope or life at all. Conjure up in your mind the effect there would be if suddenly there appeared a blinding glow, bright as the sun and brighter. As if by magic, renovations of this hollow place begin, filling it with art, music, all the signs of life. The walls cover themselves with portraits of loved ones, or sweeping landscapes captured perfectly in paint. From the ceiling grow resplendent crystal chandeliers that reflect and refract the glorious beams emitted by the source of light. Cozy furniture springs up all around with lush blankets draped over them. This is now a perfect environment for a comfortable dwelling, a place even a King would be glad to inhabit.

You notice the floor; rich carpeting spreads across it, softer than moonlight, more vibrant than wildflowers in spring. But that’s when you see the small trapdoor in the corner. You realize it must have been there all along, but you never noticed it before, you’ve been too enraptured by the lavish decorations. Crossing over to it, you sweep the dust away and pull the heavy, rusted iron ring. With a painful creak the hinges give way and the smallish door swings open. Beneath the trap door you discover another cavity, somehow deeper and darker than the first. The smell of rot assails you and you want nothing more than to close the door, carpet over it and forget it’s presence altogether.

This cave is my heart, and probably yours as well. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is more deceitful than all else, And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” I am growing to understand this verse in new ways as God remodels the cavern within me. No matter how enamored I am at all the good things God is doing in and through me, there is inevitably a deeper, more sinister part of my heart that I keep hidden, trying to avoid the disease that exists there. But praise God that He is better at seeking than I am at hiding.

Practically, this looks like my own pride. As I serve God here in Austin, I consistently realize I’m trying to “power through” on my own strength. I’m trying to proudly display my own humility, as if that can even happen. Outwardly I do the work of a servant while inwardly my spirit whines and complains that I don’t want to be a servant. I secretly hope that if I force myself to pretend I am serving God from my heart, eventually I will gain recognition and be allowed to stop serving. But this is not a scriptural conclusion.

In fact, in Galatians 6, Paul tells the church that if they sow of the Spirit they will reap of the Spirit, and exhorts them not to grow weary of doing good. In Romans 5 he teaches that tribulations bring perseverance, which brings character, which brings hope, which doesn’t disappoint. My desire to serve should be coming from the Spirit and from fixing my gaze on the hope set before me.

If I desire to be seen as a servant and thus praised, but do not desire to be a servant and thus serve, I am sowing of the flesh and will reap corruption. And I have seen this! I have seen the bitterness, anger, jealousy, negativity and despair that “serving” as a means to gain honor brings. God remains good and faithful though, and with each wretched self-discovery, each additional abyss, He enters into my filth and scoops out the blight, scrubbing down my soul and filling me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Galations 3:3 “Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

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First world problems

When I got here on Saturday, I was impressed by the cool set up that The Austin Stone is providing us. A two bedroom, two bathroom apartment for me and three roommates, fully furnished? I’m ok with that. I’m also really glad I chose to err on the side of caution and bring less rather than more. There are a few things I’m wishing I already had with me (power strips and my bedside lamp to name a few) but I am overall very well established in this new city.

Today was my first day attending my new church home, and I got to work with two year olds who were completely adorable! I helped set things up (a little bit, I accidentally slept in and missed a lot of it) and then after service helped take things down and pack them up. Although it was not an “official” day of work for the church, today ended up being pretty filled with church related activities.

Through much of the day I had minor issues that kept popping up and left me frustrated again and again. From over sleeping my alarm to a long restaurant wait to missing exits to being locked out, to struggling with an Ikea dresser (or malm?) I found myself up against frustration after frustration and had trouble keeping my eyes consistently focused on the Lord.

Then, when I drove out to meet my roommate to borrow his key to get into the apartment, I met a man who introduced himself to me as Brother Boo. Sadly, I’ve forgotten his real name, which he also gave me, but his words to me were straight from the Spirit: “You know, kids in Uganda wouldn’t even understand the problems we have. They wouldn’t know they even had problems if they were dealing with the minor things we deal with.” That was a humbling reminder of how incredibly good God has been to me. My family and friends, my girlfriend, this chance to pursue my dream of ministry, His amazing provision for me through support raising and selling my car and moving from Dallas to Garland to Austin… God continues to bless me.

Each of the tiny setbacks and hassles I’ve dealt with today are nothing compared to the problems facing tons of other people the world over, so today I am choosing to be thankful for how smoothly things are going and how much of God’s goodness I am getting to experience right now. And if things turn south and everything falls apart, I will choose to be thankful for the fact that God doesn’t have to give me what I want to be good. I will praise Him for salvation and for His sovereignty even if I don’t see another material/circumstantial blessing from not till the day I day.

I’m super excited to actually start work on Tuesday, and will be raising the last 10-15% of my support from Austin while working, so I think it’s probably good that God took some time today to remind me that He is good even when I’m stressed out!

Beggars and Choosers

Whether you call it support raising, fundraising, ministry partner development, or some other name, the process of inviting people to invest in a ministry is daunting. Sometimes I want to sit back and exclaim the immortal words of Inspector Gadget: “Wowzers!” Sometimes that exclamation would be out of frustration or stress, other times out of sheer awe at what the Lord is doing in my life and the lives of others though this process.

When I first started raising support, I think my attitude was that I was begging others to give their hard earned money to a ministry they knew little about. I was, by my flawed view of things, asking them to provide for me financially so I could chase a dream. I felt like a beggar. And there are many days when I still have those thoughts, and I’m sure that many people who know what I’m up to see it as that. But when I search scripture and open my heart to the truth of God, I remember that what I’m really asking people to do is trust in God with every aspect of their lives, including their finances, as I do the same thing. I’m asking people to see the importance of loving children and teaching them how to love and to help me do those things.

Jesus, when He sends out the 12, and when He sends out the 70, commands them not to take their own provisions, telling the 12 that the worker is worth his keep. Paul takes a similar stance on the idea, reminding Timothy that the ox is not to be muzzled while working and that the worker is worth his wages. When I read of the way the church supported Jesus and the disciples, and then Paul, and the way the Levites had their provision from the tithes of the other tribes, I realized that as I seek to become involved in “full time” ministry, there is nothing wrong with asking others to support the ministry, in fact, an approved workman is not ashamed, Paul wrote.

However, the way I ask, and my expectations of the responses I will receive, matter greatly. My attitude is not to be one of arrogance or manipulation. I am not entitled to anyone’s support. I am free to ask, but those I ask are free to deny. And their choice to give or to refrain from giving doesn’t change my attitude toward them. The love I have for others is dependent only on God’s love for me. I love because he first loved me. My love flows from an overflow of God’s love to everyone I come across, not from material wealth to those willing to provide said wealth.

When describing to a good friend of mine the support raising process, I compared it to any other charity; people believe in the mission and thus are willing to support it, knowing their money will not be returned to them. And to some extent that is accurate. Just as Aggies support the Association of Former Students because they believe in the mission of the organization, my ministry partners believe in mission of the Gospel to seek and save the lost, to make disciples of all nations, but there is more to it than that. I fully believe that giving to ministry is an investment. No, you won’t be leveraging God; giving to support my vision for ministry will not obligate God to return more to you. He may do that, but He may not. However, I am firmly convinced that as we seek to view our possessions as God’s possessions on loan to us, and as we seek to offer them to Him, He will return to us a multitude of blessings. I have seen this in my own life as I supported friends in ministry over the last year. Countless times I would be at work, having a terrible day, frustrated with life in some way, doubting that God was working in my life, only to have a notification on my phone that I received an email from one of the friends I was supporting. Each and every time, I would be uplifted, encouraged and reminded that God works in all circumstances, even the bad or frustrating. I can imagine God reveling at my marvel when I read about the way my small gift was helping His message of grace and truth to spread through east Asia.

I don’t just want my supporters to believe that what I’m doing is important, I want them to understand that what THEY are doing is important. I don’t want them to feel like an observer of the ministry, but an active participant, because they are. I went them to feel like choosers, not obligated to donate to a charity cause, but electing to involve themselves in God’s work in places they can’t physically be.