Friday, November 28, 2008

Ministry Update

SURVIVING THE DEATH ZONE

At 29,029 feet, Mt. Everest represents the virtual top of the world and to climb it is an incredible challenge. A total of 630 people have reached the peak since 1921 but 144 have died in the attempt. That's a death rate of nearly one in four! The most experienced climbers are the local Sherpas. Their skill and endurance are legendary. They have served as both guides and equipment transporters for most other climbers. One Sherpa recently summited for the 18th time!

Every climber faces incredible dangers of wind, rock and ice. However, the most critical challenge is coping with oxygen levels that decrease with each ascending step. Beginning around 26,000 feet, climbers enter the infamous "Death Zone." Typically, climbers can only endure the Death Zone for two to three days. At this altitude most people lose all ability to acclimate to the low oxygen levels. Accordingly, their bodies begin to deteriorate and die. If they don't descend, they will likely experience High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). This life-threatening condition is the result of swelling of the brain from fluid leakage.

One day Jesus and three of His closest disciples climbed another mountain. At the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face and clothes became brilliant. Soon Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Him. The disciples were overwhelmed with the experience, especially Peter. He managed to blurt out, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

However, Jesus knew something the disciples did not realize - He knew the danger of them staying too long. They were not above 26,000 feet but the disciples were facing the same deterioration in the spiritual realm. Prolonged exposure would likely lead to spiritual pride (swelling of the brain) and a overinflated view of their abilities. They must return to the base of the mountain in order to survive.

VISITORS NOT SETTLERS

Early in Israel's history, God sought for a king after His own heart. This brought Him to an obscure shepherd boy. He elevated young David through the slaying of Goliath. Soon he became part of the Saul's royal court where he played his harp for the troubled king. But it wasn't long before Saul's dogged determination to hold onto the throne put David's life in jeopardy. Miraculously, David was delivered from the king's hands to become the second ruler of Israel.

As king, David oversaw the growth of a nation. He ruled with love and justice but ironically fell victim to a tragic rebellion engineered by his very own son. David was forced to abdicate his throne and flee once again for his life. Only after the death of Absalom, was David able to reestablish his kingship.

David is an example of someone who was elevated but then taken down several times during his lifetime. Unlike Saul, he accepted his frequent ascensions and descensions as an important part of his spiritual journey. Because he desired to follow God whatever it may cost, David fulfilled his spiritual destiny.

One of the keys to the Apostle Paul's success was an understanding of this spiritual dynamic. Prior to conversion he enjoyed an elevated position of religious Pharisee. However, on the road to Damascus he lost his reputation among peers and was treated cautiously by fellow believers.

During his ministry, Paul experienced incredible revelations and blessings. But his frequent life-threatening experiences and trips to forgotten prisons helped maintain spiritual submission and humility. Rather than resistance, Paul embraced everything God wanted for him. "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:12-13).

LIVE TO CLIMB AGAIN

On a national level, our country has experienced years of unprecedented blessings and favor. However, there are now clear signs of a loss of world dominance. How will we respond to this new reality? Will our country continue to cling to its lofty position despite clear signs of altitude sickness? Could our economic downturn actually foster a desperation for God and reestablish our dependency on Him?

There have been many churches and ministries that have enjoyed years of power and prosperity. Unfortunately, some religious leaders have tried to maintain their lofty position even though it was killing them spiritually. Other Christian organizations have been faithful yet also face reduced attendance and a drop in financial support. Will our Christian organizations be able to see the silver lining of downsizing? Will they be able to shift from going higher to going deeper with God?

Millions of individual Christians have experienced extended periods of blessing - both materially and spiritually. However, many now are facing home foreclosures and loss of jobs. Others are suffering from physical and mental stress. During these difficult times, will we become angry and fearful at what has been lost or trustingly follow God so we can live to climb again?

I believe now is the time to join with King David, the Apostle Paul and others, who surrendered to God's ways - whether it brought elevation or abasement, honor or dishonor, blessing or suffering. Let us accept the God-directed fluctuations in our lives so that we will not only survive but fulfill our spiritual destiny!

"There is no strength to resist the ravaging lion as he prowls about seeking whom he may devour, unless our hearts have learned to accept the unexplained in our own lives, and the delays and disappointments and reverses which often come where our prayer for others seems to fall into silence and we see not our signs, and all is under snow. Accept the snowfall as the appointed providence for the winter months and wait till the voice which the winds obey calls to His south winds, 'Blow upon My garden'...it is in the forge of infirmity that strength is wrought to perfection [maturity]...'Rest upon God to do for you more than you can understand.'" - Amy Carmichael