Monday, November 18, 2013

Perception vs. Reality

Perception is not always reality, especially for Christians. Having been reminded that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), then perhaps what is seen is not always the whole story.

Over the course of a twenty-five year ministry, I was fired four times. That sure doesn't look good. I know of other ministers who have spent fifty years with the same congregation. That looks great! For the last two and a half years, I have not received a paycheck from a regular employer. That doesn't look good. I know others who have steady jobs and do a wonderful job of financially supporting their families. That looks great! But haven't you heard? Looks can be deceiving!

To the world (and even most of my family), it seems as if I do nothing. I am not employed by any congregation, and I have been unsuccessful – to the present – in securing any secular employment. There was a time when I, too, worried about such things, until the word of God reminded me that “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

“But no church will hire you!”

You see, it is in response to that observation that I found spiritual truth. The local congregations that I have served were never my employers. The One for whom I have consistently “worked” is the Lord. I have served Him faithfully for almost twenty-eight years. Every message preached, every lesson taught, every article written, every person counseled or consoled, edified or evangelized has been under His employ. What support I have received – whether from congregations or individuals – has been at His discretion.

Like Timothy, I have been instructed, “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Such a command is in no way dependent upon a paycheck. The apostle Paul did not minister because of compensation, but because he was compelled to do so. “For I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Not“woe is me” I won't get paid, but “woe is me” if I don't respond to the Lord's call.

Therefore, I continue to go where the Lord leads, preaching and teaching the truth of the gospel as God provides opportunity. I have never stopped being “eager to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15).

“But you don't get a paycheck! How will you pay your bills and support your family?”

I used to worry about that, as well. Then I remembered the command of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ [32] For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [33] But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

“But … but ...”

But what? Consider Elijah, called by God. Upon delivering the Lord's message of impending drought, the prophet's “work” took him to the brook Cherith where he spent the next two and a half years being fed bread and meat by ravens (1 Kings 17:2-6). Then, when the brook dried up, the Lord led him to a nearby widow who continued to provide for his needs (1 Kings 17:7-16).

“But that's not a REAL job!”

Isn't it? Upon whose reality do we make such a determination – man's or God's? The end result of his time spent with the widow seemed to produce exactly the spiritual result that God intended, as “the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth”” (1 Kings 17:24).

Consider Jesus' apostles. What evidence is there to suggest that any of them ever again held secular employment after submitting to the Lord and becoming fishers of men? The brothers never again worked their father's boat for profit. Matthew never again sat at the tax collector's table. After the birth of the church, they didn't even have time to wait tables, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

And what of Jesus Himself? What “work” did He do to provide for Himself? The answer is: He didn't. Didn't receive a paycheck, that is. Absolutely, He worked! “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). But that “work” didn't provide a roof over His head, as He states, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Nor did that “work” pay His taxes, but when confronted about what was “owed,” the Lord sent Peter fishing! “Go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matthew 17:27).

“So you believe that the Lord is going to pay your bills?”

Does it matter? What matters is my obedience to the Lord. So far, I have not missed a meal in two and a half “unemployed” years. I still have a roof over my head, and I still have clothes on my back. The majority of this provision has been the result of three individuals who have not “paid” me for a “job,” but who have supported the ministry to which they know the Lord called me.

“But what do you do when the bill collector's call?”

Perhaps the Lord will provide me with vessels of oil to pay the debts (2 Kings 4:1-7). Perhaps he will eventually provide a means of secular employment. Or perhaps I'll end up in debtor's prison. If so, there are ample biblical examples of men who accomplished great things for the Lord from behind bars. Regardless, I cannot prove disobedient to my heavenly calling (Acts 26:19). Just because I don't know where God is leading me, doesn't mean He's not leading me. Again, perception is not always reality.

I no longer own a house. I own no property. I have a 240 sq. ft. RV, and a burning compulsion to share the word of the Lord. I haven't been provided with gas money, so obviously the Lord doesn't want me going anywhere at the moment. Therefore, I will sit and write. I will reach out via the Internet as long as I still have that access available.

God Himself declares, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; [11] So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). I believe that with all my heart. Therefore, I will continue to obey! I must “work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Certainly I don't like to be in debt. Without a doubt it is uncomfortable not knowing whether I will be able to pay next month's lot rent. No one likes to scrape through the change jar for enough to buy a gallon of milk. And – like Paul's “thorn in the flesh” – I have prayed that the Lord would alter the situation. But His response to me is ultimately the same one given to the apostle, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. [10] Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

My marching orders have been issued: “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). If the Lord has so employed me, then I know He is able to fully supply my need (2 Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:19). Spiritual reality trumps worldly perception every time.

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