Thursday, October 4, 2012

Through a glass clearly

Declaration 7 [part II]:  The new creation that I am will inhabit her identity.  She will not long for the adventure or husks of others.  She will give others the freedom to do the same: to be whom they were created to be. 

For the Designer is the Greatest Poet, and we are His poetry.

Tuesday was fairly straightforward, and if you’ve read much of this blog, you’re aware that it’s a personal refrain of mine:

Be the you God created you to be. 

So why a part II for this declaration?  Because after years of toiling under the impression that I have to fit into a particular mold, acting in a certain way, in order to be a good Christian woman and now slowly learning that this is not, in fact, what scripture is teaching us, I have found that there is another perilous side to being who you are meant to be.  It is the dangerous place of striving to be who you’re told you’re going to be.  While we must not only beware of trying too hard to be like other people [or like a list of traits], we must also be wary of being who others want us to be.   
Mentors are wonderful gifts.  They can identify and call out in us traits of which we were unaware.  They can challenge us, encourage us, champion our growth, and even rebuke us when we’ve strayed too far from where we should be going.  They can help us find the path on which we will blossom and bring the greatest glory to the Lord.  And they can help us along this path, employing their wisdom and love to our greatest benefit. 

However, because all mentors, even the paper ones, are human, they are fallible.  Thus, sometimes they can be wrong; and they can lead us astray.  Not with malicious purpose, and not necessarily outside the bounds of God’s plan for us.  But blindly following their lead, believing solely what they’ve spoken into our lives, about who we are, can, in some instances, be detrimental to becoming and being the person who God designed us to be.  For as fallible humans, they can only see God's design through a glass darkly, and cannot fully know the plans of God.
Consider for a moment three men in Acts: Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark.  Barnabas was one of the first Christians in Jerusalem to accept Paul [the formerly murderous Saul], to care for him, to minister to him, to minister with him.  Barnabas and Paul were missionaries together, helming the inclusive movement to incorporate the Gentiles into the Way.[1]  What we find in the pages of Acts is a beautiful friendship and partnership.  These two men toiled long and mightily together, on behalf of the gospel and a people whom most Hebrews thought were never worthy of grace.  We can glean so much from their relationship, even 2,000 years later.  Yet there came a time when these two “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted ways” [Acts 15:39].  And this disagreement was over one man’s desertion of their work.  Eventually, Paul continued his ministry without Barnabas; and Barnabas took John Mark alongside him to do the same. 
Paul, author of almost half of the New Testament; Paul, to whom Christ appeared post-resurrection and to whom God gave an experiential vision of Heaven.  This very Paul found John Mark unfit for service; untrustworthy in matters of the gospel.  And he felt so strongly about John Mark, that he parted company with a man who had no doubt been a great comfort to him and a dear friend.  I won’t waste time projecting what each man might have felt; but I believe that it is likely in each of our lives we have experienced something similar.  Perhaps you were the one who was absolutely certain that a particular individual was utterly unfit for promoting the gospel, based on their past behavior.  Maybe you were Barnabas, the advocate on behalf of a sinner, who had to stand up against unyielding leadership and lost friends and co-laborers in the process.  Or maybe you were the John Mark, someone who made mistakes in your service or your past, that others felt disqualified you from preaching the gospel.  And despite your great desire [and dare I say calling] to do it again, those in positions of leadership told you: NO.

But what we find later in scripture is that Barnabas continued to preach the gospel and that Paul uses his service as an example to other believers [1Corinthians 9:6].  John Mark worked alongside Barnabas and eventually became associated with Peter [1 Peter 5:13].  He was included in Paul’s first imprisonment and “by the end of Paul’s life, he came to admire [John] Mark so much that he requested him to come to be with him during his final days” [2 Timothy 4:11].[2]  Thus, we must conclude that all three men were destined to preach the gospel, to glorify the Lord, to be used by God for His holy and divine purpose. 
We cannot, nor should we, speculate about whether these three should have remained together; nor can we truly posit that it was more beneficial that they parted ways and thus reached more people separately than they might have together.  For who among us can claim to know the mind of God?  What we can say is that God is a God of relationship, not separation; and His purposes will be achieved regardless of human failings.        

Listen, dear one, to what the Holy Spirit is telling you about who you are and what you were made to do.  Yes, seek counsel about this.  Yes, test everything you hear against the scriptures.  Yes, search out a mentor who is willing and able to pour into you their experience and love and who will call out in you traits you didn’t know you possessed and who will encourage you to be exactly who you were made to be.  But don’t ever allow anyone’s opinions or judgments or declarations of “I heard from God” steal from you your purpose or your identity.  Neither should you permit anyone to tell you what you were meant to do, what ministry you are destined for, what call has been placed upon your life. 

Only God, and His Holy Spirit, has that authority.      


[1] The partnership of Paul and Barnabas can be found in Acts 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.
 [2] Zondervan 1984 NIV Study Bible: notes on Acts 15:39

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