Giving Up

Elijah

This morning I’m watching as Ethan, Ezra and Eli go through all their toys and make big decisions.   We assigned to each of them a travel bin, so they could choose what they want to go in it.  Whatever fits can come with us to Central America in November and whatever doesn’t—goes in our giant “Yard Sale for Missions” this fall.   As I listen to each boy struggle with what to “Keep” and what to “Yard Sale!” I have come to an obvious conclusion.   We have issues with Stuff!

We are not unusual in this regard but it’s apparent to me that we have lots of stuff.  Like a giant snowball rolling through life we tend to pick up things without even trying and before long, every available space we have is crammed with our “treasures”.  Perhaps we think nothing of it or maybe somehow we think those things will truly bring us (or our kids) happiness.  Either way, I wonder if we have more reason than most to be extra careful here, especially as Christians.

I think of this with the Parable of the Soils taught by Jesus (Luke 8:1-15).   In the third scenario of the four Jesus gives about the “seed” of God’s Word hitting the “soil” of people’s hearts we see Satan will often “choke” us with the very stuff we fill our lives with.  Jesus mentions three vices that Satan often uses to choke us spiritually and prevent maturity: worries, riches and pleasures.  

Luke 8:14

The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

All three vices are actually our choice to pursue or not.  Now, I don’t think Jesus would get much push back from Christians today on the damaging effects of “worries”.  However, in our society, I do think people would bristle with the vices of “riches and pleasures”.  In a culture that says, “If you can, then you should”, Christians often do and without even pausing to challenging this notion.  This verse haunts me because it makes me think that we’re actually tying our own spiritual noose every time we indiscriminately take in more and more treasures, riches and stuff to our homes.

This morning with our boys, I witnessed that there is undoubtedly a powerful attraction to our things and we have succumbed to it more than I care to admit but there is an up side to our experience as well.   I was reminded that if we can let go of our grasp on many of our things, then we might find that we are also releasing ourselves in the process.  In giving things up, we may even find another level of spiritual maturity and fruitfulness awaits us.  So if you sense that there is stuff you possess in your house or your life that Satan is actually using to choke or suffocate you spiritually, then it may be time to let go of it and begin to experience a new kind of unhindered spiritual breathing because the reality is that spiritual growth often comes through the stuff we give up; not through the stuff we pick up.

Eyes on Jesus

Matthew 14:28-30 (NIV)

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”29 “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Lately this story has been coming to mind more and more.  For one thing, I relate to Peter as an “act now, think later” kind of a guy and I always have; Because of that I usually pay particular attention to him in the Gospels.  In this moment, the motivation for his bold move seems to be out of fear.  He and the disciples are without Jesus in their boat and the waves are crashing into them on all sides.   When they see Jesus walking on the water it appears to be the last straw since they aren’t sure if it’s him or a ghost.  As an attempt to verify who it is, Peter invites Jesus to command him to do something impossible by natural law—walk on the water.

What occurred to me recently is that Peter probably does the impossible even before he realizes that he’s doing it.  It’s precisely the instant he begins to add up the facts and process the problems of “reality” around him that he begins to sink.

Here’s the encouragement I’m grabbing onto with this story.  Life is far from “normal” for our family right now.  There’s a lot of irregularity, unpredictability and unanswered questions and it is uncomfortable to say the least.  There are many things I could list but I am resisting the temptation to name them because it only seems to shrink my faith and shift my focus.  I don’t think that Jesus wants me to be unaware of my problems, like Peter was not unaware of Jesus commanding him to do something impossible, but knowing about your problems and focusing on them are different matters entirely.  Our faith and our focus must remain on Christ and not our challenges.   All I can think about is looking into the eyes of my Savior while putting one foot in front of another and doing something that I once may have thought was impossible (i.e. Going to the Mission Field).  Perhaps there is some problem or challenge in your life as well, that has received too much attention from you lately.   It may be time to plant and pivot and place your faith and focus deliberately on your Lord again.

In Christ – Jon Fowler

BELIEVE MUCH. LEAVE MUCH. RECEIVE MUCH.

 Luke 18:29-30 (NIV)

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Have you ever believed so much in something that you would leave your favorite people, places or possessions behind for it if called to do so?  What if you couldn’t see what you believed, would you still leave all those things behind?

Jesus made a promise in the first three Gospels to all those that would be willing to leave behind the things that they valued in this world because of how deeply and truly they believed in Him, the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.  (Matt. 19:28-30, Mark 10:29-31 & Luke 18:29-30)  He made it clear that they would receive much more here in this life and in the life to come in eternity.

Now some have taken promises like these and tried to reduce them to formulas in an attempt to manipulate God, as if such a thing were possible.   However that is not the point of the promise in these passages.

Jesus had encountered the Rich Young Ruler, who became a living teaching illustration for his Disciples that Jesus wasn’t about to waste.  Here was a young man that literally had it all and couldn’t leave it – why?  He couldn’t see the value of what he was leaving those things for.  To see that would require believing hard in Jesus, the Gospel and the Kingdom of God and that was a different kind of faith for him.

As Christ followers we must be careful to remember that we don’t obey Jesus and follow him away from ourselves, our lives or our ways because of what we will get.  Rather we leave them because we believe much in him and his words! Certainly we do receive much more in the process, which God has left undefined on purpose but those things are up to him to determine as much as when we receive them.  All we know for sure is that Jesus promised we will receive much more. And it’s a promise worth clinging to while we prepare ourselves to leave anything else behind!  His words are always true…and we will never hear Jesus say that we believed too much!

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The Blessing of Multiplication

Worship with Tim Fehl at Cecil Alliance Church

We’ve been on quite a journey raising support for the mission field.  It has been difficult at times and yet we have seen God do so much.  We have been stretched and yet our faith continues to grow as we see God move as only He can.  And then there are the unexpected blessings too.  As if seeing God provide for our every need were not enough, He gives us even more, “bonus blessings”.  Those little things that the Lord allows you to see or experience along the way that speak to his sovereign hand at work in your life.

A few weeks ago we had the privilege of visiting the church of one of “our kids”, Tim Fehl. He was one of our former students from our days in Youth Ministry at The Bible Chapel.  Jon brought the message that morning and I had the chance to sing with their worship team.  What a treat this was for us to be able to minister along side Tim, as he lead worship for his congregation!  Not only is Tim leading worship but he is doing Youth Ministry at his church as well.  During our time at The Bible Chapel, I saw Tim grow and develop in his relationship with the Lord.  I also saw him begin to discover his gifts and passions as a worship leader.  It was such a blessing to be able to minister along side him and see how far the Lord has brought him!

As we learn more about what God is calling us to do in Panama, we are thinking so much about multiplication.  Not just doing ministry, but also equipping others to use their gifts and passions to serve the Lord.  Little did we know that all those years ago when we were serving in Youth Ministry, the Lord was writing this part of the story.  Preparing in advance, the “bonus blessing” of seeing the result of a ministry focused on multiplication.

We Got A Job To Do.

600+ Teens Listening to the Gospel
600+ Teens Listening to the Gospel

In Panama, there is such a tremendous openness to the Gospel.  Our friends have been working their for years sharing and teaching about Jesus Christ. The day this photo was taken we were with them at a public High School delivering the Gospel through a 90 minute presentation. That day many of the students gave their lives to Christ and I even remember teachers coming up and asking for our materials to take home and pass out to their friends and neighbors. There is so much to get excited about with this kind of openness but there is also a tremendous responsibility.

Over our years in Youth Ministry, I have seen many teens commit their lives to Jesus Christ, but I have also noticed that the days and weeks following that decision are vital.  I have learned through this, that if people aren’t brought into an unconditionally loving community that holds to the Word of God with uncompromising conviction soon after their decision, many of those people fizzle out spiritually and never grow or may even begin to question if their salvation is real. According to David Garrison, “there is a 50-80%  attrition rate among new believers who do not become integrated into a church fellowship.”  We have a responsibility.  Our desire is to be fishers of men in Panama and encourage the start of more of these critical communities that will help with the growth of these believers! We want to see an explosion of church starts all over the country of Panama in the days ahead!!!  Please pray with us toward that goal and consider supporting us to make this happen.

Praying for World-Wide, Heavenly Advance,

Jon & Bianca Fowler

Fixing Your Eyes

focusHeb. 12:2 (NIV)

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

It all starts and ends with Jesus.  It’s that simple.  He is the only one that deserves the consistent focus of our eyes.  That seems more and more critical these days for us.  During this season of support raising and running in multiple directions at once, for work, ministry and all the other family circumstances we have going on, fixing our eyes on any one thing seems impossible sometimes.

We are tempted to focus on our support numbers; or on the waiting or other times we want to focus on our family and friends that we’re around here in Pittsburgh for at least another 7 months.  However this verse… this verse… reminds my heart to come back home.  Jesus wants my eyes.  Jesus deserves my eyes.  He wants me to set my heart focus on him as my true north in the midst of other competing circumstances.  Ironically though, He is the ONLY ONE worthy of that kind of focus in my life and when I do that, I find that the other things that I was so concerned about, he takes care of anyway. The true test is whether or not I am willing to trust Him to handle all those other things for me as I learn to fix my eyes on Him.