Called To Be Sheep!

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By Bill Naron

Image courtesy University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The other night, my wife and I began talking, and not just small talk. We were talking about the topic of service. I know, so typical, let’s talk about service the week going into Thanksgiving. Well, give me just a few moments to be super cliché. So, back to my wife (Sam) and my discussion, which went super late into the night. We talked about what it may look like to begin to try to infuse attitudes of service into the fabric of our family. So, wouldn’t you know that after this conversation my biblical character calendar would be talking about hospitality/service, and I would stumble upon a story in one of my favorite blogs about a family who began serving together. I just have not been able to stop thinking about this topic!

Mark 10:45 (KJV) says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It says that Jesus Himself came to this earth to minister, or serve. He did not need to be served, but was sent to us to serve us people who were not worthy, people who were undeserving. He came to meet us in the place that we were in, no matter where that was. This makes me think of how every morning I drive down Portland Avenue, and it comes to a point where the road goes under an overpass of I-5. At this point, at any given point in time, there are numerous homeless people, and it just seems that more and more are filling the area day after day.

As a passionate follower of Jesus who desires to grow and change to be more and more like my Father and less like the world, I believe we must pull back the curtains and examine our hearts. I get the hindrances; there is just not enough time—we have soccer, piano, violin, and the list go on. Maybe we just do not feel called to do so, it is not in our ability, or maybe we feel it poses a lot of risk and danger. But Jesus Himself says that even He did not come to be served but to serve. And 1 Peter 4:10 says that with the gifts we received we should serve others.

If I am a passionate follower of Jesus, serving those around me is my calling, serving those in need is in my abilities, meeting people where they are at and serving and giving is something that is commanded of me! For Sam and me, the discussion has been, What would be a practical application of serving and a way that we can speak this core piece of the gospel to those around us? I believe that this is what needs to be done, especially if you have a family with small children. Find simple, practical things that can be done, such as making up care bags to keep in your car to give to those in need as you cross paths with them.

The next thing that was a huge epiphany for me was that I need to be willing to help and give to anyone who expresses a need, not expecting anything in return. It means that homeless guy on the side of the road. It does not matter what he does with what I give him; what matters is my heart in giving it to him. We are called to give and to serve and to not worry about receiving thanks or about whether they are really in need of it or not. Jesus served us, and we did not do anything to deserve it, and by that He set the example for how we are to serve.

In Matthew it talks about the Father separating the sheep from the goats in the end; He says to the sheep that when He was hungry, they fed Him, and when He was naked, they clothed Him, and when He was a stranger, they took Him in. To the goats He says to depart away from Him, for they did not do these things. And when the righteous asked when they had seen Him in these states, He said that what was done to the least of his brothers was done also to Him.

The challenge I see before us is this: if we view people through the eyes of a loving and caring Savior, then whatever service we do unto them, we are also doing unto Him, out of obedience to Him, and out of an abundance of love for our Father. So, the question is, Are we going to be sheep or are we going to be goats?

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The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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There’s gotta be more to life…

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By Bill Naron

No doubt life is a balancing act, learning to juggle — work, home, relationships with spouses, children, and friends. We spend our days racing from one place to another and from one activity to another. We must balance the checkbook, do the dishes, get gas and groceries … on and on it goes. We rush and rush and we try to hold on tightly to as much as we can. This is life in America, right? This is the American dream, isn’t it? We work 40 hours, sometimes more a week to get as much money as possible to line our pockets so that we can afford nice cars, houses, a yard that looks better than our neighbors’. But, is there something more?

Jesus has showered blessing upon us, in ways we cannot even fathom. A couple of years ago we lived in a house that was 990 square feet. It had three bedrooms and we felt we were bursting at the seams. Our little family of six at the time was outgrowing the house so fast, and we had no clue what we would do. We began to consider our options and as we did it started to feel overwhelming. The thought of moving and trying to purchase a home all seemed so impossible because we wanted more kids, which naturally meant we needed a larger house than we could afford in our price range.

So, amid our running around frantically trying to figure out what we were going to do, we realized something: We had not sought out what God would do for us in this situation we were in. The Bible says that God cares for his children, and that He knows the plans He has for us. So, in our newfound clarity we decided to stop pursuing options and simply wait on the Lord to see what He would do.

Less than a month later we were offered the opportunity to move into the house we currently occupy. God brought us a larger house, in the exact perfect way that we needed it at the time, and in His perfect timing — because six months after moving into this house, our family of six would be prompted to enter a fostering situation where we would find ourselves growing in size, from six to eight.

I share this as a hopefully encouraging testimony of God’s goodness and provision that we have had the chance to experience, as a family. I have been reading on the topic of “reverence.” As we see God work in our lives, through the events and people we encounter, we grow deeper in our awe and respect for our Father. We learn that we can trust Him and gain an awareness of the way He is working within our lives.

I believe that this is the “something more” that is there beyond the facade of the so-called “American dream,” beyond the glamour we are encouraged to seek, beyond the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. There is a life lived in reverence to our Creator, Father, and Redeemer. There is a life lived in dependence on Him for our sustenance. There is a life lived as a disciple of Christ, where the desires of our hearts become the same as His. Where we desire to share the experiences that have made the power of God a tangible thing to us. Because our desire becomes like the heart-cry of the Father, that we who act orphaned would come home.

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Identity Theft!

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By Bill Naron

We have been talking a lot about identity lately, and it has gotten me to thinking about my own identity and where I am finding it. I think about when you have conversations with people and they will ask, “What do you do for a living?” Now normally one would just say, I am a mechanic, or a salesman, etc. I find it interesting because what we do for a living oftentimes can shape our own picture of who we are, and it can become our identity. But what allows us to move to a more stable identity, not centered in doing, but centered on being? I think that it is coming into a deeper understanding of who God is and His character, as stated in Matthew 6:26-33 below:

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (KJV)

We as a society love to associate titles to so many things and to people. People will say that they identify as this or that, but they are never full — they are always looking for the next thing to make them feel valued or important. What if our identity were rooted in the God of the universe, in the God who reigns over the whole earth? The Bible says, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). This means that He created everything, and since He created everything, He is not constrained in the same ways we are. This is what Jesus was talking about in the verse above not worrying but seeking the kingdom of God, finding your identity in relationship with the One who made you — not finding it in some societal title you are given or in the work you are doing, because our work is first and foremost the living out of the gospel and shining the light of Christ and bringing glory to God.

I would have been a person whose identity and value was rooted in position at work. But the reality is that in Matthew, Jesus says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. All the things that will be added are the things that our Heavenly Father knows that we need. You may be wondering what all this has to do with identity. God’s Word says that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I would argue that amongst the things that the enemy wants to steal is our identity. The ways in which it gets stolen is when we buy into how the world says we should acquire identity by pursuing whatever fad or trend the world says should define us. Or maybe we dive into what we do for a career and place our careers above all other things and soon our identity is derived out of who we are at work and how successful we are.

When our identity is rooted in the things that we do and the things we can accomplish, we are not leaving any room for our lives to be pictures of God’s glory and of His grace and mercy. We begin to shape our lives through the gospel, we begin to look at things differently. For myself for example, I now see differently my role at work. My role is not to work hard so that I can make more money and gather more successes; my role is to do my best work and to perform the tasks I am asked to with joy and a cheerful heart because that is what God expects of me as a passionate follower of Him. I perform my tasks diligently so that glory is brought to the name of Jesus, because He is the reason that I am able to do my work in the first place. We are in this place and in our jobs for a reason, and it is not so that we can be more successful and serve ourselves — it is so that we can help accomplish the work that God is doing in that place.

Even though I have grown up in the church, even though I have heard these things before, it spoke to me, and as I reflect upon it, I think it is because I myself struggled with my identity being wrapped up in my job and in the things I was doing. It was tied to the successes I was having and that was driving me to want to devote more and more of myself to my job. Everything would filter through how it would affect my job. Then, as I read and reflected on the verses in Matthew 6, it became clearer to me that if I am to be a disciple and my identity is to flow out of that, then the physical places that God has me are my mission field, and they are the places that God has put me to fulfill His purpose and to be a light and a voice that draws in and calls back the lost sons and daughters that He wants to redeem. And I do not need to worry about anything, because God will provide, just as He does for the grass and the lilies and the birds of the air. He will provide the things I need, and I do not need to worry about where they will come from.

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“You have to fight for your right to …”

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By Bill Naron

Sitting in my plush green chair in the sanctuary this Sunday, I made a connection between something that my wife and I had been talking about and what Brian was speaking from the front. It was Jesus’s kingship! I was really intrigued as a video popped up on the screen and the speaker on the video was talking about the vastness of the universe and how the farther and farther out you go, the smaller and smaller everything looks. So, I got to thinking about Jesus and the Father. I began to think about creation and like we read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ….” Jesus is the Word, and He was there at the beginning; the Bible says that all things were created through Him and all things are held together in Him.

I love the story of creation; it is my favorite part of the whole Bible. But then, who does not love the beginning, when everything is awesome and perfect? When God created everything, day after day new things were spoken into existence. On the sixth day, God created man. The Bible says that He formed man from the dust and then something happened that had not happened up to this point: God breathed life into him through his nostrils. It is amazing — God creates this being that has a mind and an ability to think and process, and this being is created in God’s likeness and image! Then this creation is given all other creation to enjoy, and he gets to be in constant communion with God, walking and talking with Him in the garden. But then, because of sin, this relationship is severed; but God is not done — He sends the Word that was with Him. He sends Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God.

See, we were talking about Jesus’s kingship and how it affects our decision-making and how we should examine everything we do through this filter, and this is where my mind went: I began to think about how amazing it is that God breathed life into man at the very beginning. We were different from the rest of creation, we were given the ability to choose to either do the right thing or do the wrong thing. The situation of Adam and Eve in the garden and them having the choice to follow God or to follow their own selfishness and be their own god is the same choice that we are presented with daily. We are put in situations and surrounded by a culture that says, “Do whatever makes you feel good, do whatever makes you happy, be the driver of your life.”

No doubt, there are probably ideas that pop into our minds that we know we should not entertain because they are not beneficial to our health or they are things that we know to be wrong. Do we ever take the time to analyze and think about how the things that we watch or the music we listen to or even the books that we read may influence us and draw us away from our priorities? There are so many things in this world that appear to be good and harmless but are really just little pebbles that cause us to trip and stumble into something bigger. Therefore, I think it is so important that we examine everything we allow in our lives and in our homes through the filter of Christ, because Jesus is King and everything we do should be an example of Him to the world. So many things in the world are beckoning for our attention and trying to consume our time and efforts. This is where my wife and I have found ourselves in contemplation lately, especially when it comes to investing in our kids. We have six small children and an awesome field of discipleship with them. So, it is important for us to analyze how we can maximize our ability to speak life to our kids and how we can be that example of Jesus to our kids when we are around them inside and outside of the house.

Jesus has shown me that in some ways there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. For example, if television, or music, or “fill in the blank,” is taking time away from our priorities, which should be God and our families, that is too much of a good thing. See, we are not the makers of our own destinies or the masters of our fate. We are creations of the God who spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into man, who gave himself up to reconcile His broken and fallen creation to Himself. We are cared for by Him more than the birds of the air or the flowers of the field. Everything we have in our lives we have because He has given it to us, and that is what should give us the desire to live in a way that reflects Him. I encourage you all to take some time and look at what may be consuming your time, what might be hindering you from reflecting Jesus to the world. Grace be with all of you, my dear church family. Amen.

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