Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Set the Tone; Live in the Moment (Chapter 7)

Set the Tone; Live in the Moment

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [1]

I was recently at the funeral of an 18 year old girl.  She was severely handicapped from birth and had not been expected to see her first birthday.  The Rabbi conducting the service, her dad, and others who spoke mentioned the fact that Louise lived “in the moment” and they encouraged us to do the same.  Louise had no choice.  She never worried about what happened or didn’t happen yesterday, nor was she concerned about what might happen tomorrow.  She communicated with her caretakers and others through her huge smiles and her grunts and disagreeable looks.

The message to us was that we would gain by setting aside our concerns about the past and the future.  Our friend Roberta has lived that way for the 17 years she has been working in Haiti.  The motto she has lived by has been “God will provide.”  [2]  She tells the story about sitting down to dinner with the children she had taken into her home to provide for them.  There was no food in the house and one of the children asked. “What will we eat?”  Her response was consistent with her life style, “God will provide.”  Soon there was a knock on the door and a neighbor was there with a live chicken – dinner!

I am sure there have been similar times in your life when you got to the end of your rope, tied a knot to hold on, waited for God, and nothing happened.  Those are the hardest.  But he did promise.  And he does sometimes take an opportunity to teach us patience and perseverance - though we wish he wouldn’t bother.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about what to eat, drink, or wear, but that we should seek his kingdom.[3]  These are not metaphors about our next promotion.  He is writing to Haitians who have good reason to be concerned about what to feed their children tonight.  He is telling them not to worry about it; he will take care of it.  And they look around and see their neighbors with nothing to put on the table.  And he says to be concerned for their souls and for our own.  Either we believe in a God who is in charge and who is able to keep promises and who will keep them, or we don’t.

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?  If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?”[4]  The answer is, “Because we can.”  And maybe, “Because we must.” 

Imagine “being concerned” about the health of a family member, on a situation at work, or a relationship issue and someone says, “Just relax; it will all work out for the best.”  Is that a relaxing direction, or doesn’t it just add to our consternation?  "Oh bother, now not only do I have to deal with all these issues in my life, but in addition I have to do it in a peaceful way!”  I don’t recommend going around telling people to relax.  It probably won’t help.   But that is what God wants of us.

God wants us to love him and trust him and to know that he will take care of us in the long run.  And knowing that and trusting him to keep his promises is what it takes to become a confident, peaceful representative of the truth and of the good news here on this earth.

[1] Matthew 6:34
[2] Genesis 22:8
[3]Matthew 6:31-34
[4] Luke 12:25-26

Friday, December 14, 2012

Take a Break and Let the Spirit Get Back in Front.

“He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me,
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand, He leadeth me.”[1]

I am sure you have heard this old story.  There is a small group of hikers eating their lunch beside a mountain trail.  Soon a man comes huffing and puffing up the trail and they invite him to stop for a rest.  He says he can’t and asks if they saw a group of Boy Scouts go up the mountain awhile ago.  “I have to catch up with them,” he explains, “I am their leader.”

The story is often used to introduce a discussion of the nature of leadership, but I think it illustrates our relationship with the Spirit as well.  Like the energetic young scouts, we want to run out in front.  We don’t need a leader – until we get into trouble that is.

The Spirit leads us quietly
We do so want to direct our own steps, to plan our own course, to map our own way.  It is the American way.  It is the American story.  We start with the cards we are dealt and we play our way to the top.  And we get to define the top: the top of our profession, the manager`s job at work, the nicest house or car or boat in the neighborhood,  the biggest TV among our friends. 

But God says it is not in us.[2]  That is not a put down.  He is not saying we are not capable of developing a business plan and carrying it out.  He is just saying that our vision is too limited to direct our spiritual lives.  We cannot see what he can see.

On to peace
But his spirit will lead us to peace if we get out of the way.  Peace is one of his promised fruits.[3]  We need to quit being concerned about who and what people think we are.  Isn’t that a major part of what concerns us?  What will my coworkers and friends think of me?

Who are we really?
We need to figure out first of all who we really are.  Some of us don’t really know.  We are so concerned with our image, so focused on what others think of us that we have not spent any time figuring out who we really are.  We need to do that.  We should be able to put it in a few words and know that it makes sense.  And we need to put it in the context of what role God is calling us to play in his kingdom.  What does he want us to accomplish for his work in our workplace, in our family, in our neighborhood, in our church and civic club, among our golf or fishing partners?  Once we have defined those roles, we have figured out who we really are – and who we are not.

That may be the hardest and most important part – figuring out who we are not.  We are not defined by the roles we have been assigned at work or in the family, church or neighborhood.  We are not the manager of so-and-so or the deacon of whatever.  We are not the “head of the house” or the secretary of the board of such-and-such.  We are instead ambassadors of God,[4] each of us with a separate set of good deeds programmed for us from the beginning of our time here on earth.[5]

“Be still and know”
How do we do that?  How can we know what role God wants for us?  Remember the story of Elijah?  God wanted to speak to him.  But God was not in the strong wind that passed by.  Then an earthquake came, but God was not in the earthquake either.  Then there was a fire, but God was not there either.  As Elijah waited for God he was able to find him only in a still small voice.[6]

You see that is what we must do to find what God wants us to do.  We must be still and listen.[7]  We will have to know the scriptures because if we conclude that something is God’s will for us but it is contrary to the written word of God, we can know that it is a thought that was planted by Satan. [8]

This will likely be some agonizing work and might take quite some time.  Be patient.  One of the fruits of the Spirit is patience.[9]

And pray.  These are answers you cannot work out on your own.  God’s spirit has to show you the way.  And work really hard at getting yourself out of the way.   This is not about you.  It is about your neighbors in the broadest, Biblical sense of that term.[10]

Resign from the cast of the play
Once we have figured out who God wants us to be, and we have it firmly in our mind, and we are diligently working toward really being who we want to be and should be, we need to admit it to ourselves and others.  Quit trying to appear to be who you are not.  That will be a hard thing for some of us.  We have worked so hard, so long on our image that it has become a part of who we are.  Breaking the habits connected with being someone else may be as hard as breaking a smoking or drinking habit.  But with God’s help, we can do it.

I need to pause here to ask you to think about your church family as well as your personal family, co-workers, neighbors, and friends.  What is the image you have been trying to convey to your church?  Who is it that you have wanted them to think you are?  That may be an even harder role to break out of than the image you have been trying to convey at work.

We are all just people, but God loves us anyway.  We all slip up.  None of us has a right to claim salvation by our own doing.  We are no better than those we seek to teach about the good news.  Once we can own that fact, God can put us to work, and not until then.

Move your feet
But at that point, we need to be ready to move our feet.  God can’t use us very effectively if we are just sitting in a pew or if we are sitting on our couch at home with the doors locked.  We need to plan how we are going to meet people in our neighborhoods and at our workplace.  Someone has suggested that we should be doing things like being a repeat customer at the same establishments so we can get to know the clerks, joining a civic group or a hobby club, taking a class.  That is, we need to be strategic about how we get to know people and about how best to represent God’s love to those around us.  Our prayer each morning should include something about how God will use us that day to show his love to others and to help someone who needs help.

[1][1] J. H. Gilmore, 1862
[2] Jeremiah 10:23
[3] Galatians 5: 22-23
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:19-20
[5] Ephesians 2:19
[6] 1 Kings 19:11-13
[7] Psalms 46:10
[8] 1 John 4:1-3
[9] Galatians 5:22-23
[10] Luke 10:25-37

Monday, December 3, 2012


Another excerpt from "Peace on Earth?" By David May

What is the Proper Place for Fear in our Lives?

“God is bigger than the boogie man,
He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV,
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he’s watching out for you and me- ee-ee, hey!”
-          Junior Asparagus[1]

Enough said.  God is indeed bigger than anything in this world that we might choose to be afraid of.  Jesus has overcome the world.  He said so.[2]  And he tied that directly to his desire that we be at peace in the world.  He was not talking about some esoteric peace in the sky bye and bye.  In the same verse where he spoke of us having peace, he mentioned our troubles in the world and then affirmed that he has overcome the world.  That is where our peace comes from.  He is our shepherd and our guardian and he is in charge!

In 1 John the author is talking about contrary spirits, those who would deny the divinity of Christ.  In the middle of that conversation he confirmed that because we are from God we have overcome those spirits, “because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”[3]  That has to be the text for Junior Asparagus’ little reassuring song about God being bigger than the boogie man.  Junior, by the way is one of the characters in the Veggie Tales series.  I’d love to watch those writers at work some day.  They must have a great time.

We are overcomers!
One chapter after the “Greater is he” quote, John reiterates: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith.  Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”[4]

We are believers and we have nothing to be afraid of.  But sometimes we act in ways that deny the truth of that fact.  Particularly to outsiders, we tend to look very afraid.  We are afraid someone is taking our country in the wrong direction.  We are afraid of the collapse of the American dream.  We are afraid of Al- Qaeda and other terrorists.  We are afraid that immigrants will ruin the good deal we’ve got – a better deal than most anyone else in the world.  What we fail to understand is that God is bigger than all of that and more.  And he is on our side.  He has our back.

Why are we afraid?
Why are we afraid?  Because we don’t trust.  And because of how we view this world in which we live.  Have we never really sung and believed the old song “This world is not my home”?  We have put down roots here; unlike Abraham who just packed up and moved when God said “Go” without even knowing where he was headed.[5]

I love this nation.  It is the best deal we could find or build on this earth.  Could it be better?  For sure.  Could it be worse?  Are you kidding?  Have you read a newspaper or watched the news in the last ten years?  In fact that’s what we are afraid of, isn’t it?  That we will become what we read about in the rest of the world.  Yet we need to understand that America is a part of the material world.  Sisters and brothers, America is not our home.  We are ”…Just a passing through.  Our treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”[6] 

We have been commissioned to make America as loving a place as we possibly can, but we are not charged with preventing its financial or military collapse.  If we finish our lives sneaking around on Sundays to meet with other Christians for worship in order to avoid arrest by the ruling Muslim powers, we should understand that God is still in charge.  And we can continue being his loving people is spite of what else is going on around us.  Just like the little bird, singing away in the middle of the cat 5 storm.

Do not be afraid
For us not to be afraid must be one of the most persistent parts of God’s message to us.  He must have understood the difficulty of that request.  Over 60 times in the Old Testament he said to mankind, “Do not be afraid.”  And again in the New Testament he kept saying it, “Do not be afraid.”  Whether it was through Moses speaking to the people as they were preparing to go in and take the promised land,[7]  or through an angel appearing to Mary to tell her of her future[8] the message was the same: we are not to be a fearful people.  Reassuring the Israelites, Moses, speaking for God said, “He will not fail you or forsake you.”  That is still his reassurance to us today and his reminder of why it is that we are afraid.  We are afraid because we do not trust that God will truly take all of what is happening in our horrible lives right now and will work it together for our good.[9]  But he will.  He promised.  And he keeps his promises.

When the disciples woke Jesus up on the boat to calm the stormy sea, he had to calm his students first.  “Why are you afraid?” he asked.  And he accused them of being of little faith.[10]  You see that is the answer.  We are afraid because our faith is weak. Our trust is weak.  And when we are afraid, whether it is because of big scheme political reasons, or over the potential loss of a loved one to sickness or divorce, or because of the potential for financial loss or loss of face among our friends or coworkers, we need to ask God to increase our faith.  And we should ask our friends to pray the same prayer for us. 

Courage has to be a major part of the peace Jesus wanted to leave us with.   But it is not a courage that comes from being sure of ourselves and our own abilities.  When Moses spoke to Israel just before they went in to conquer the promised land, he told them to be strong and courageous, not because they were a powerful army or because the enemy was weak, but because God was going with them.  He told them not to be afraid or tremble at their enemy.  “He will not fail you or forsake you,” Moses said.  God says we don’t have anything to be afraid of because he has our back.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_Asparagus#Junior_Asparagus
[2] John 16:33
[3] 1 John 4:4
[4] 1 John 5:4-5
[5] Hebrews 11:8
[6]Words and Music by Albert E. Brumley
© 1965 -
[7] Deuteronomy 31:6
[8] Luke 1:30
[9] Romans 8:28
[10] Matthew 8:25-27