"Loving God constantly opens up the door to life as God created it to be lived. The most important thing, the first thing above all else, is a loving friendship and a close relationship between you and God. We are called to love God with everything we have." -- Austin Gutwein, who founded Hoops of Hope at age 9, in his book Take Your Best Shot which tells how that happened.
A friend recently asked me to compile some notes on my involvement with missions to the poor overseas, and another friend suggested i blog. I was hesitant to do either, since my primary focus is relationship with God, and everything else i do tends to flow out of that friendship - i didn't want to focus on "good works" or "self", although i finally decided to try writing a bit, as i do see the value in using the gift of writing for personal reflection, sharing ideas and encouraging others.
I was listening to Heidi Baker's CD series "Learning to Love" (Core Values of Iris Ministries), and her first message, "Passion and Compassion" begins with a discussion of what Jesus called the two Greatest Commandments, which summarize "all the Law and the Prophets" [Mt 22:35-40, Mk 12:28-31]: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." [Deut 6:4-5] Then: "Love your neighbor as yourself." [Lev 19:18] An article on missions couldn't be my first blog; my starting point is that we are called to love God with all our hearts first - as we do that, He gives us His Love for ourselves and others.
Arthur Burk, in a teaching series called "The Blessings of Job," explains that Job was so righteous, God pointed out his impeccable behavior to Satan. Then he allowed Job's personal world to be blown apart. Why would He do this? Burk suggests that God's highest priority is not "good behavior" but knowing God as He really is. At the end of all his trials and theological protesting, Job's life is restored after he sees that God is far greater than he previously understood.
Lyrics from the song "Cannot Keep You" by Michael Gungor (CD Beautiful Things): "They tried to keep You in a tent, they could not keep You in a temple, or any of their idols to see and understand / they cannot keep You in a church, they cannot keep You in a Bible, for it's just another idol to box You in / they could not keep You in their walls, we cannot keep You in us either, for You are so much greater... Who is like the Lord? the Maker of the heavens, Who dwells with the poor, He lifts them from the ashes and seats them among princes, Who is like the Lord?"
[Yes, God is bigger than the Bible - as Bill Johnson says (my paraphrase from his book When Heaven Invades Earth), God will not contradict His written Word, but neither is He limited to our current understanding of scripture. There's a lot more in the Bible we haven't really seen or understood yet. And God is a Person, a living Spirit, a present reality, not just words on a page.]
Back to the song: "We've tried to keep You in our tents, we've tried to keep You in our temples, we've worshipped all our idols, we want all that to end, so we will find You in the streets and we will find You in the prisons, and even in our Bibles and churches... Who is like the Lord? the Maker of the heavens, Who dwells with the poor, He lifts them from the ashes and seats them among princes, Who is like the Lord?
"We cannot contain, cannot contain the glory of Your holiness (2x) /... the glory of Your Name
"Who is like the Lord? You took me from the ashes and You healed me from my blindness, Who is like the Lord?"
A few years ago, I felt frustrated that there seemed to be no place for me to exercise a gift of teaching in the local church - a gift God had given and revealed to me more than 20 years before. "Well, i thought, they (church leadership) can't keep me from loving and praying and sharing God with people outside the church!" A picture came to mind of the four walls of the church building falling down flat, so one could easily see the world outside, even from within the sanctuary. I felt as if God smiled at me a little, as if to say, "NOW you're getting it..." :) the real work of ministry (loving God and loving others) happens all the time, everywhere we go. I believe in the local church, and God does use me to teach there now - but I needed to learn some things first.
Part of what i needed to learn was the paradox of putting God first, surrendering all my gifts and desires for success or personal fulfillment - He takes care of all of that as i lay it down, yield myself to Him, and put Him first in all things. He loves me, He created me, and He knows best where He's called me to walk in this life. So as i focus on Him and allow my whole heart to open up to His Love, there is a security and wisdom that allows me to fulfill my destiny in this life - all that He's created me to be and do - and He gets all the glory. As Austin Gutwein discovered, friendship with God opens the door to a wonderful adventure - it's life as God created it to be lived.