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Matthew Bauer
 

Matthew's Blog

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The Glorious Unknown

I’ve been struggling lately with my dreams. The other night, God asked me to surrender a dream that I’d been hanging onto, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to let it go. It was the FourSquare convention I ministered at a few weeks ago that stirred up the dream, but the dream itself has been alive for quite a while now.

I guess it all started about six years ago, while I was driving our church youth group to a conference in Hershey, PA. God said to me, “Matthew, you used to dream so big. What happened?” and as He explained to me that my dreams were from Him for the purpose of fulfilling His call in my life, He then gave me the permission – or the command, rather – to dream big.

It’s not that I had forgotten my dreams – I knew quite well the dreams and the call God was referring to – but I had forgotten that they were possible. I’d stopped believing in them. I’d been so hurt by life – I was so hurt by the path God had brought me down (seeming so far from the dreams I’d known) – that I brought what was a God-sized dream for my future and made it into something little, insignificant, and completely dissociated with God’s will and plan for my life. I’d put my hope and trust in me, and my dreams were now so shallow that perhaps I could fulfill them for myself, without the help of a God who had let me down, abandoned my expectations, and quietly ignored my cries for help for so many years.

So now God’s telling me to dream big again, but it’s been so long, and the dreams are so far from me now. How do I dream again? How do I trust again? How do I hope again? How do I believe again?

And so I fashioned a dream. It wasn’t the dream God had given me, but it was at least a lot closer. It at least seemed like it was in the right direction. But it was still something I thought I could do by myself.

I’d grown up in the church, my father was a pastor, many of my friends were pastors, I’d worked for the church for years, and I was already in my sixth year of ministry leadership. Leading, preaching, and pastoring were, despite the wrestling I did with the idea as a child, quite natural and comfortable and familiar to me. I thought that was what ministry was about, and I felt quite at home with the idea. Sure, it was a big change from what I was doing at the time, but it wasn’t that much of a stretch for me to think of myself as a pastor. A couple years back in school and a few more as an associate or worship pastor somewhere, and I knew that in no time, I’d be pasturing a church of my own and that I’d be quite successful at it.

And that’s when God interrupted me once again. Yes, He opened every door for me to follow my made-up dreams. He paved the way for me to do what I wanted to do. But then He gave me an option. He reached down deep in my heart – to places long forgotten – and touched something that hadn’t been touched in a long time. He touched the dream that He had put in my heart – His dream for my life – and it really messed me up. Here I was at the brink of discovering my own dream – this dream that I thought God was leading me to when He told me to dream big again – and now He does this?! And so He revived the bigger dream in my life, but it was not the timing or circumstances that I wanted, and so I struggled even further.

And then He showed me two roads. You’ve heard the story before. One road had everything planned out for it. I could see all the way to the end. And the other road, I couldn’t see down three feet. God was down that hidden path, and He called me to follow.

And here I am, five-and-a-half years later, pursuing that dream. There have been some great high places along this path, and there have been some big, big valleys, but through it all, God is clearly bringing me closer and closer to the dream He placed in my heart. And now here I am on the brink of His dream, and I find myself afraid. I’m tired. I’m weary. And when I think about how hard the journey’s been so far, I’m really not sure I want to go any farther down this path.

And so I come to this moment, where I’m at the FourSquare conference, and my heart just longs again to be one of them. To be a pastor. To be leading a church. To have a congregation – a family – a flock. To be comfortable and familiar and to know (at least generally) what lay ahead on the journey.

And for the last week, I’ve been wrestling with that dream – with that longing in my heart. And so just a few nights ago, unable to sleep, I found myself wrestling with it again, and God asked me to lay it down.

Situations like this give me a much greater appreciation for some of the fathers of our faith.  Abraham, for example, was asked by God to leave behind everything he knew to be safe and comfortable and go to a place that He would show to him later.  God called him away from the familiar to go into the unknown.

“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.’” (Genesis 12:1-2)

The unknown is scary, but it’s in that place that God strips us and molds us and makes us in His image. It’s in that place that we learn to trust God deeper, to know His voice more intimately, to follow Him more closely. It’s in that place that we find our promise. It’s in that place where we find out just what we’re made of and just what God is made of. It’s in the place that we have to believe that both God and ourselves are who He says we are, because if we forget that, we perish.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in Mark 6, “He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts— 9but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.” (Mark 6:7-9)

The unknown is a place of complete reliance on God’s will. It’s a place where we must fully believe in God’s calling on our lives – that He can and will complete it – and that He doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called. We’ll get out into the unknown, unprepared and unqualified. We’ll get there with no bag, no bread, and no copper. And if we’re not totally secure in God’s promise for us – if we’re not totally sure of His call and direction in our lives – we’re done for.

This isn’t to scare you, though I guess this is what’s scaring me so much lately, but it’s to say that if we’re going forward on this journey – if we’re going to step into God’s promise in our lives – we can’t take anything with us. That includes our dreams, and so now, taking such a clear step deeper into the unknown, I have to let my dream die.

Abraham was also on the brink of stepping into his promise, when God asked him to lay down his own dream.  “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” (Genesis 22:1-2)

Isaac was as much Abraham’s dream as he was God’s, and Abraham had to lay down his part of the dream before God’s could be realized, or Abraham’s dream would have got in the way. But laying Isaac on the altar meant again facing the unknown.

And still, with all the stories of those who went before me, and even with my own experiences of deliverance and all of God’s kept promises, I’m scared. I don’t like the unknown. I don’t want this responsibility. I don’t mind being stretched a little bit, but I just want a comfortable life. And while maybe there’s some of that at the end of my dream, I know the distance between here and there is harder than anything I’ve overcome so far in my journey. Like Moses and Elijah and Jonah (among others), I want to tell God that He’s got the wrong guy. Like them, when faced with the reality of the journey, I want to find another way – an easier way – a more comfortable way – a safer way. But then, I don’t figure I have much of a choice. If God proved anything with Jonah, it’s that He’ll have His way with or without our obedience. But our obedience will make it go much better for us, even though I don’t see Moses’ or Elijah’s journeys being much easier.

So I don’t have an answer for you today. It’s difficult even to encourage you at this moment, because I’m still searching for that encouragement myself. But I know that this is the way God has chosen for me, and as uncomfortable as it gets – as scary as it gets – as hard as it gets – His promise is still out there. His dream is still there, pursuing us – drawing us into His perfect will. And if, like Abraham, we’re faithful to follow – to step into the unknown – to give up our own way (the way we can see and predict and establish for ourselves), we’ll see that promise – if not in this life, than in the next.

Posted: 10/31/2010 12:24:31 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments


The Fourth Person in the Fire

fourth man in the fire At our team devotions this morning, one of our staff spoke on “The Fourth Person in the Fire”.  If nothing else, the title broke through for me with much needed hope and focus for today.  In Daniel chapter three, we see the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, as they refused to bow down to the idol of Nebuchadnezzar.  The King was so furious at their betrayal of him (especially since these young men had his favor – and don’t we know that it’s the people closest to us who often hurt us the most) that he ordered the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual, so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw them inside.  And I must note here that this shows some dedication on behalf of the soldiers.  I think I would have stopped long before I got that close and just pushed the young men in with a long stick.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”

They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”

“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

And no matter how many other directions you can go in teaching this story, I must say that what hits me the most right now is not the boys’ faithfulness and resolve to give even their lives unto worshiping God.  It’s not about Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion.  It’s not about ridding my life of idols or about the dedication of the soldiers.  What really gets me is the fourth person in the fire.

I don’t know what kind of fire you’re going through, but as I talk to people all over the country, I find the fires getting hotter and hotter and hotter.  Marriages on the rocks, people losing multiple family members in one day, cancer, addictions, financial difficulty… it seems all around me, the heat is rising.

But isn’t it comforting to know that there is a fourth person in the fire?  And he looks like the Son of God!

Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire.  And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.

And because of this one, who would walk through the fire with us, we have this promise that we will come out unharmed – that we won’t even smell of the smoke!  There won’t even be evidence of that fire in your life anymore, because of the one who walks with you.

Is it hot?  Yes.  Does it seem unfair or unjust?  Yes.  Is it uncomfortable and frightening and uncertain?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But just to know that there is a fourth person in the fire – what a difference that makes for me today!

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Thank you, Lord, that you’ve never left me nor forsaken me.  Thank you for walking with me through the fire, and thank you that even when I walk through these times when everything seems to be be going up in smoke around me, you’re there, and you say that I don’t need to be afraid.  You will bring me through, if I keep my eyes on you – if I put my trust in you – if I will just follow you and put you first in my life.  Then together, we will walk out victorious, without any sign of this trial that lingers on.  May it bring you all the glory.  Amen.

Posted: 10/1/2010 6:58:52 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments


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