A Different Take – Good Times or Calamity

cropped-p_1600_1200_05d8dc43-f0d1-4db6-8232-59c9e16bf964.jpeg

I’m reading through Isaiah in my devotions and it struck me this morning how often it takes calamity to create momentum toward God for the people of Israel.  Here is a quick couple of verses to show this in Chapter 30 of Isaiah:

12b “Because you despise what I tell you and trust instead in oppression and lies,
13 calamity will come upon you suddenly— like a bulging wall that bursts and falls.
In an instant it will collapse and come crashing down.

18 So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.

God waits for us to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  And why so often does it take calamity to cause us to turn to God?  Why can’t it be in the good seasons of life?  If I could change one thing about human nature, it would be that the good times in life create a desire to draw close to God like the difficult times.

The Bible tries to warn us.  The Old Testament speaks of times of remembrance and sacrifices of thanksgiving that bring us to God in and out of seasons of life.  It is the genuine desire of God for us to stay close at all times.  But let’s face it.  We tend to drop our guard during good times and begin to rely upon our own strength.  I don’t know why that happens, but from personal experience I know that is the case at least for me.

So here is the bottom line:  Why wait for a difficult season to re-establish or strengthen your relationship with God?  Why not make the turn today and not wait for things to get bad?  I believe God wants to be our first response and not our last chance in life.  Why wait?  As a new school year starts for many of us, let’s make it a new start in our faith journey as well.

Messy and dangerous or tidy and sanitized?

Acts 9:10 (NLT-SE)   Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied.  The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”  “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!

Paul had found Jesus on the road to Damascus. Actually, it was Jesus who found Paul.  And not only did Jesus find Paul, he struck him blind and sent him into town at the mercy of those around him.  It was at this moment that Jesus asks Ananias to play a part in the story.  Notice how quickly in verse 11 that Ananias answer “Yes Lord.”  I am ready for sure Jesus.  Call on me!  And also notice how quickly  Ananias’ exuberance dissipated when he found out the purpose of Jesus’ visit.

You and I say we want to be used by Christ?  But is that lip service only?  Are we willing to hear the messy and sometimes even dangerous message Jesus brings us?  Or do we only want to hear from God what fits in our tidy and sanitized box?

Ananias was willing as it turned out.  And he was used to be the instrument through which God brought healing and empowerment.

If we pray the prayer “use me Lord” earnestly, God will answer it powerfully.  But be forewarned that it may not look like you want it to look.  Be forewarned that it may not even be something you have ever thought or dreamed of doing. Be forewarned that it may be something not even in your “strengths” box.  Be forewarned that you will never be the same.

Can you hear me now?

“Communication is not about SPEAKING what you think. It’s about ENSURING others hear what you mean.” — Justin Mayo

As someone who regularly speaks, I am not quite sure I agree with Mr. Mayo.  The communication process has many components that work together to create a message.  As a pastor, I am often surprised by what people tell me they heard during a sermon.  It is not unusual that what they heard was not something I had planned or even thought about.  It’s like a piece of art.  Interpretation of the message tends to be very personal.  We hear messages through our experiences and our preconceived notions.

I wonder how often I miss God’s message because I haven’t been open enough to truly hear?  I wonder if my times of study and prayer are more about validating my own desires instead of hearing God’s heart?

My challenge today is to open my heart enough to truly hear the message God is speaking to me today.  Rather than simply hearing what I want to hear, I want to hear what God wants me to hear.  Far too often that means I must understand my own hang-ups and default way of thinking in order to create a space for God’s message to penetrate and change me.

Jesus said if we want to gain his life we must lose our own.  I see how that relates to my study and prayer just as much as my eternal salvation.

Expectations

Hosea 6:6 (NLT) “I want you to show love,not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

Reading this passage today made me realize once again that what I think God expects from me and what God actually expects may not be the same.  Often we impose the world’s expectations on our relationship with God.  And God says over and again…I want you to love me more than anything you can do for me…I want you to know me rather than spend time trying to appease me.

For all of those perfectionists out there who think we must EARN God’s love…God is NOT Smith Barney who says they do things the old fashioned way and earn it.  God desires more than anything else to sit down and have a good old fashioned conversation with you.  A conversation where you share what is on your heart and God shares as well.  One where no hand is out (there is time for that for sure but not now) wanting something or a fist is raised in questioning (there is also time for that as well).

Simply a conversation.  And we call that prayer…

Quote from Wilberforce

Some clergy prepare their sermons; others prepare themselves.” – Samuel Wilberforce

This was a tweet from Asbury Seminary that caught my attention last week.  As I prepare to speak what I hope is a faithful word each week, it is a great reminder that my preparing my life is as important as my exegesis.

We have spent the last week as a congregation talking about spiritual disciplines.  These activities (prayer, study, fasting, worship, etc.) are the very ground in which God works to shape our lives, our families, and our communities.  And yet, my guess, based upon my own life, is that we would all like to be more consistent, more passionate, more connected to these practices.  I know that my hope is that they become a permanent lifestyle and not spiritual hobbies I pick up from time to time.

With Lent right around the corner, maybe this is a good time to pick up one of these disciplines and make it a regular part of your journey for 7 weeks.  My guess is that it will become a regular part of your life afterwards.

A post about doughnuts…sort of

Colossians 3:23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. (NLT-SE)

One of the biggest misnomers, lies, misunderstandings in our culture is that we have a secular life separate from our spiritual life.  Whether we are making doughnuts, retired, working in a hospital, teaching, a stay at home parent, or a clergy person, we all have the opportunity to give our COMPLETE lives in service to God.  I wonder what would change if we thought of our life as an integrated whole instead of a group of separate identities?

The key, for me at least, is to put things into my life that will constantly remind me to remain connected to God.  It is kind of like how my energy level reminds me of my need for caffeine!  Times of prayer, moments of Scripture, times of worship and service all have the ability, if I allow them, to keep me connected to God.

What are your disciplines that keep you grounded?  How do you stay connected?  Do you view your life as an integrated whole or as a sum or separate parts?

Gotta go.  It’s time to make the doughnuts…or for me, time to facilitate a small group meeting.

Evangelism Quote

“The power of a life, where Christ is exalted, would arrest and subdue those who are bored to tears by our thin version of Christianity and wholly uninterested in mere churchmanship.” From Discipline and Discover by Albert Edward Day

Christ creates within us a beauty that is unmistakable to others.  It is a life full of wholeness and drenched with the fruits of the spirit such as patience and kindness.  It is this kind of life that allows others to see Christ.  It is this kind of life that God wants to use to spread the Gospel message.

Evangelism, in my mind, begins with an inward journey of discipline.  But if it is truly spiritual will not remain there but overflow into all other parts of our life and the lives of those around us.  In my mind this means to reach the world with the Gospel mesage we don’t need to be more relevant…we need to be more like Christ.