Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sifted and Sown

My first official mission post was the spring of 2000 in Tulia, Texas. First Baptist Church Tulia saw a need to reach out to their community, particularly the children, who had been left behind in the wake of a controversial city wide drug bust.

 I was not the first choice for this job.  I started Citychurch Tulia with the young man whom I was engaged to in college. His heart was not in the work. For that and many other reasons I ended the engagement. The first matter of business we discussed at the end of our relationship was what to do about this new work. This ministry was only a few months old. In our last phone conversation he made it clear he was "done" with Tulia.

 The decision for me to take the lead happened at Pizza Hut the next week. I wish we'd had a secretary take official minutes of this meeting. They would be an amusing historical record. Present were Don Lane Sr. (my dad), and Charles Davenport the pastor at FBC Tulia. I sat across from these important men in my life, my face still swollen from crying all week, broken hearted, and confused by all that had happened. Dad and Charles saw something different. They were excited about putting me in a place of leadership. The move was seconded and made official before I could finish my salad or tell them whether or not I wanted the job.

 It was now my responsibility to plan and coordinate with volunteers from the church and to minister to the children. Now, if you are picturing little cherubs who sit and listen intently to Bible stories while they draw a picture of you and them walking through the park, let me just say, it wasn't like that.

The kids we ministered to in Tulia were a tough crowd. They didn't like me because I was white. They were angry because they felt like victims, and they saw everyone of us as "those people". Still, week after week we prepared a meal and served them demonstrating the love of Christ from our hearts for them.

 People like to talk about things in life that "make or break you". I think Tulia started the process of making me. It was a rough two years and I'm sure I never lived up to anyone else's expectations about what I was supposed to do. What I did discover in Tulia was my "grain". On one hand I felt like my life was falling a part, on the other hand there was part of my life being supernaturally protected and nurtured. What was being preserved in me was the part that concerns Jesus, the seed of the Gospel.

 The last couple of weeks for the Clement family have been exciting. We’ve had our weekly brushes with law enforcement, worked around financial issues and had our eyes open daily to why we are here. We have really encouraging  and discouraging moments.

 It just so happened that the lesson I’ve been preparing to teach last week was on the life of Job. We are following a timeline in the Old Testament otherwise I would have sidestepped this story. It’s difficult enough to answer my own “why questions”  when reading Job, even more difficult to answer the questions of children.

 One of the studies I listened to stated how some believe the conversation Satan had with God about Job was unique to the Old Testament. He pointed out the instance where Jesus exposed Satan’s plan to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31.  I looked the passage up for myself and the heart of Jesus for Peter, his disciple, comforted me.

31 “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 “Lord,” he told Him, “I’m ready to go with You both to prison and to death!”

34 “I tell you, Peter,” He said, “the rooster will not crow today until you deny three times that you know Me!”

First of all, I can relate to Peter’s blind passion. Jesus calls out his name twice, “Simon! Simon!” in the same way we would yell someone’s name to get their attention to warn them of danger. Peter is oblivious to the importance of Jesus’ message. At this moment in time there is no context of betrayal for Peter to file this warning away. Peter was so passionate about serving and following Jesus he could never imagine the day where he might fail completely in this pursuit.

The problem is, no matter how zealous we are, we can all be blindsided by our human weakness. The miracle happens when Jesus uses us anyway. I love the verse in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that says “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We are broken vessels and when we are filled with the Spirit of God he shines through our brokenness and Jesus is glorified.

Here Jesus sees Peter’s denial and He is warning Peter, “Listen, Satan has asked me for you, to sift you . . .”  This sifting is what they would do after the harvest to wheat. They would take the wheat and throw it up into the wind. As the wind would blow by the chaff would blow away. At the end of this sifting all that would be left was the part the farmer cared about. The grain. The grain of wheat is most useful part of plant, because it provided nourishment and could be used to produce more grain.

If Jesus wasn’t able to look past all of Peter’s “chaff” to the grain He wouldn’ have been giving instruction here. You don’t see an instance of Jesus giving Judas the same kind of warning. He knew Satan had consumed Judas. No part of Judas’ life was ever truly devoted to following Jesus; As a consequence his entire life was destroyed.

What encouraged me the most was when Jesus told Peter, “but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail . .  .” I wonder how many times Jesus has interceded for me at the throne of God. I know He has. There is no other explanation for my existence. There have been countless times, despite the horrible darkness of depression and fear, I’ve awoken to a new day. It’s not because of my own strength. I can hear a voice in my spirit say, “It’s too soon to give up. Keep walking with me and I’ll get you through this to where I want you to be.”

Just as it was for Peter, it has never been enough for me to just survive this life. The final word Jesus gave to Peter was some solid instruction in verse 32 “and you, when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus was saying, “Peter, you’re going to fall on your face. Don’t give up! I’m going to redeem you then I want you to go and preach the good news of this salvation you’ve experienced. Tell the whole hopeless story. Tell them how you came to know forgiveness and restoration. This hope, this redemption - this is “the grain.”

John 12:24-25 says  “I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. 25 The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

As a follower of Christ I’m still growing to see the importance of building a life around the things that matter to Him. That way when we fall, when we fail, when we feel like we’re losing everything we know that after the storm what will be left will be useful for eternal purposes when placed in the hands of our creator. If we keep the faith.

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