Lenten Thoughts: Chosen

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I wasn’t picked for spelling bee teams or kick ball teams. So it was a very exciting thing when I moved to a new town just as I entered high school and found a group of young people who seemed to want me. I attended a retreat with the youth group from church, and while there was plenty of fun, there was also enough of the gospel presented that my heart was strangely moved. I heard the message I had been chosen by the one who loved me best.

In the Word there are many references to our being chosen. I found this one while thumbing through Isaiah the other day: “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away(Isaiah 41:8-9, NLT).”

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Have you ever felt thrown away? What gets thrown away? Things that are useless, broken, spent. Things that are no longer needed. Things that are no longer wanted. We throw things away every day. Have you ever thrown away a person? Have you ever felt thrown away? Maybe you’re one of the blessed ones who has no clue what it would be like to be thrown away. But there are people walking through life with a far greater experience of being trashed than chosen.

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What kind of difference would it make in our interactions if we looked at and treated people like they were chosen by God? I’m not suggesting a short course in evangelism. I am suggesting we consider the annoying checker at Walmart, the pain in the neck co-worker who just took credit for your idea, the jerk weaving in and out of traffic. The person you can’t forgive. See them as chosen. Even the person who left you—they’re chosen.

Paul knew what it was like to be distrusted and surrounded by people who would rather throw him out than work with him. He had been murdering believers in God’s name. Murdering. Leaving families without fathers, or mothers. And then he experienced God’s grace and his own chosen-ness on his way to Damascus. How could God use him? Surely, his being chosen was a mistake. Nobody, including Paul, could believe God would use him after what he did; after the life he lived. Throw him out!

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But Paul penned these words: 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4, NLT).

We’ve been picked for God’s team. You may have made some pathetic choices, the hounds of shame may be nipping at your heels. I know what that feels like, but I also know that I am his servant and he will not throw me away. Not because I’m broken or because others might label me as trash, but because he loves me. His Word is true: he loved us before he even made the world.

He wants us on his team. How cool is that?

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Rebuilding With Nehemiah, Chapter 9 Day 2

Tuesday: Come Apart

Text: 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. (Neh. 1:2)

Neh 9 1 Ptr 2-9

Teach: Separated. Chosen. Picked. That’s what God’s people are. Peter declares it this way: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). In the original language, to be holy is to be set apart for special use.

Take: Jesus in one of his final recorded prayers (see John 17) speaks to how his followers will be in this world, but not of it. Paul expounds on this when he urges the Roman believers: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2a). We’re in this world, but the way are needs to reflect whose we are. Separate doesn’t always mean far away. We need to be sure the world can see the difference in us.

Neh 9 conformed or transformed

Task: Inventory time. As you pray today, ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the ways you are different, and perhaps where you have compromised. Are you ready to separate yourself?

Prayer Patrol

As I began the year, I asked God to give me a word or theme that would be a guide for me as I journeyed through the days. The word that seemed to bubble up for me was prayer. Right on the heels of that I found and ended up teaching Will Davis, Jr.’s book, “Pray Big” at church. No sooner had I started that than I was asked to participate on a parachurch weekend team in the position of prayer. I like it when God makes things that plain.

This weekend is the time when I will be sequestered away and focused on prayer. I can barely describe how honored and humbled I feel to be given this opportunity. I have been part of the music ministry, given talks, and even been responsible for the spiritual direction of the weekend, but being asked to pray…wow.

During our last team meeting I was sharing with someone how blessed I feel to participate this way. I mean, when was the last time someone told you that all you had to do for the next three days is pray? Some might consider that boring or a daunting task. Not me.

Now the downside to this hit me last Sunday as I sat quietly in my pew at church preparing for the worship service to begin. I read over the list of prayer concerns within our congregation and was immediately aware of a heaviness in my heart. My eyes filled with tears as I realized that to really be engaged and involved in the ministry of prayer is be broken, broken and open to the needs and hurts of others and broken and open to the God of Heaven whose deepest desire is to meet those needs.

I have thought about that a lot this week. I have walked through the week with a new sensitivity and awareness. Prayers have been whispered immediately so as not to be forgotten. I gained a deeper connection with the way the Word describes how Jesus was moved with compassion as he looked out at the people of that day. Are you familiar with those passages? Two places in Matthew’s gospel, Matthew 9:36, and 14:14, describe how Jesus responded when he looked out over the crowd and saw their needs, both physical and spiritual. Later, in Luke 15, we find the story of the Prodigal Son, which could be called the Loving Father. In it we find that when the son finally comes to his senses and is walking home, practicing his apology along the way, he is swept off his feet by his father who deaf to the son’s words meets him “filled with compassion.”

I have often been put in the position of pray-er because of my former ministerial roles or my personality, spiritual and extrovert. It’s like being given the job of secretary in a group because you’re the only girl. I used to respond with a ready, “Have prayers will pray.” I never minded it, but I don’t think I really got the real deep meaning until recently. Being looked to as one who prays is an awesome responsibility.

I remember how this awareness came to a church I attended many years ago. Our beloved pastor was dying due to the ravages of cancer. It got to the place where the cure was worse than the disease and were put in the position of standing beside him as he finished his journey. Fortunately, our congregation had several retired or unassigned pastors, I was one, who were able to divide the responsibilities and make sure that there was no lapse in spiritual leadership. During this time, the prayer life of this congregation reached a new and deeper level, and the really amazing thing was how it went beyond the walls of our building. People in the community began to see how our lives and the life of the fellowship was being changed by prayer. We began to receive calls from people asking for prayer, people who had no ties to our body, but who were moved by the prayers of the people there.

I want to be that kind of person of prayer. I don’t want to be a “rent a pray-er” or someone who gets the job just because of a role or theological training. This broken feeling is heavy, but I don’t want to lose it–not because it makes me special, but because it forces me to go deeper in my relationship with God. There are moments when I just feel I can’t not pray. (Yes, I know that’s a double negative.) I’m praying as I walk through Walmart, at the bank, for the loud kid and frustrated parent at the Library. I pray for the car speeding by me that they will arrive safely and if they’re speeding because they’re trying to get to someone at a hospital (because no one should be in that big a hurry for any other reason…). I’m starting to see that anything and everything can be turned into prayer.

I feel ready for this weekend. That’s a little scary. I believe that there are going to be some tough spiritual battles this weekend. It won’t be a cakewalk. But the words spoken to Esther by her uncle have been ringing in my ears: you have been chosen for such a time as this.

Have you ever wondered what you have been chosen for? What will God accomplish through you this weekend? Do you believe that he wants to be that intentional in your life? Will you be open to it?