Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do You REALLY Want to Know God's Will?

Sometimes I hear people ask, "What is God's will for my life?"

I've asked it. But I wonder...

Do we REALLY want to know what God's will is for our life?

Be careful. The answer may surprise you.

If I'm honest, sometimes I get suckered into the trap of thinking God's will is IDENTICAL to my will for my life: nice house, good kids, new car, lots of money in the bank, great health, the perfect marriage, being liked by everyone, a life of ease and luxury.

Unfortunately, if you take all of Scripture together, it becomes impossible to believe such things are always God's will for us. How did we come to believe such a ridiculous equation?

It's just not true. Not always. Maybe not even usually.

Henry Knight writes about John Wesley's view of God's will:

"Wesley...suggests that asking what is the will of God may be a misleading question; it would be better asked in each situation what will further one's improvement or growth in grace, and what would make one most useful to God?" (The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace)

Boiling it down and putting in everyday language, it reads like this: What would make me more like Jesus?

Think about that for a moment.

Is it possible that the very thing that will "improve (my) growth in grace" is not someone being nice to me, but their being thoughtless or mean to me?

Is it possible that the thing that makes me most useful to God is not having plenty of money, but being short on cash?

If I asked God what would make me most Christlike, am I ready for Him to say, "You know, I could really you when things stink in your life, when you lose your job, when you are sick, or when you're unjustly embarrassed"?

I have to confess to you that I hope He's NOT thinking that about me or any of you right now. But...

...I also have to confess that He just might be. Scripture tells us in our weakness, He is made strong.

So ask yourself again: how badly do I REALLY want to know God's will for my life.

And once I know it, am I willing to cooperate with God in it? Even if God calls for a path I wouldn't choose?

Isn't this what Jesus was saying when he prayed in the garden, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39b)

A friend of mine mentioned that a frequent theme in the Gospels is Jesus going away to pray, looking for some alone time with God. We might wonder, "What kind of prayer sessions did the Son of Man have with the Everlasting Father?"

We might get all starry-eyed thinking about the possibilities of being in on such a sacred conversation. We might be ready for goose-bump moments that make the hair on our neck stand up in a holy hush.

However, those moments might have been much more down to earth. Did you ever think, this might be it: "Not as I will, but as you will."
That might have been the recurring theme of those conversations.

God the Father says, "I need you to pour your life out and live as a servant of those around you."
Jesus replies, "I wish you'd take this path from me. But your will, not mine be done."

Maybe Christlikeness isn't as complicated as we make it. But that doesn't mean it's easy, does it?

Maybe loving God with the totality of our being and loving our neighbor as we want to be loved really is the sum of the Gospel.

I recently attended a presentation of the musical "Godspell". (Did you know "Godspell" is the archaic version of "Gospel". And did you know "Gospel" simply means "good news"?) At one point in the presentation, the Christ figure is wrestling with doing what he knows he has been called to do, or giving into demonic voices that call him to back away and take a different path.

Not so unlike the choices each of us face everyday.

Will I be kind and patient with the person who has been thoughtless and insensitive to me?
Will I exercise self-control in that area of my life that has been so out-of-control?

Someone once said, "When you come to the fork in the road, take it". I agree. Don't back away from the wrestling match or the difficult place in your life. In it you may find God's will for your life.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Art of Forgetting God

Have trouble remembering?

Maybe you forget where you put the car keys.

Maybe you forget someone's birthday or anniversary.

But how 'bout forgetting God?!

Listen to what John Wesley had to say about such a habit.

"Forgetting God was talked about by Wesley under the term 'dissipation'. The term was commonly used to describe a person 'violently attached to women, gaming, drinking; to dances, balls, races' and fox hunting. But Wesley uses the term more broadly to include 'the serious fool who forgets about God by a close attention to any worldly employment'; indeed whoever is habitually inattentive to the presence and will of their Creator is a dissipated person. It is the art of forgetting God."

Now you may be thinking, "Who's caught up thinking about dances and balls?" Tell me, does our society get fixed on parties, feeling good, and getting drunk or high?

And how 'bout gaming? Where would we be without ESPN? ESPN2? ESPNU? ESPN360? ESPNClassic? Seriously.

But it is Wesley's "broad" use of the word that gets me: forget about God by a close attention to any worldly employment.

When God tells us via Moses, "Do not worship any god except me. Do not make any idols...Do not bow down and worship idols" (Exodus 20:3ff), I think He had in mind that same thought: any worldly activities, attitudes, or things that would distract us from him.

Anything that would hold too high a place in our lives.

Anyone that would gain too much of our affection.

Read on.

"Wesley equates dissipation with ungodliness, that is, living as if there was no God...A minimal piety and common moral respectability cannot stand up to the radical claims of the living God revealed in Christ."(The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace, Henry Knight III)

Did you catch that?

forgetting God = living as if there was no God = ungodliness

You don't have to be a math major OR a theologian to know forgetting God is trouble.

That's why we hammer the ideas of:

- regularly reading your Bible

- spending consistent time in prayer

- building your schedule around church and gathering with other believers

What steps are you taking TODAY to destroy the art of forgetting God in your life?

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fan the Flame

Someone believes in you.

They have invested in you.

They have walked with you as a friend.

They have walked ahead of you as an example.

You know their life is authentic.

You know their faith is real.

Such is the situation when the Apostle Paul writes these very personal, very powerful words to his friend Timothy.

For this reason
I remind you
to fan into flame
the gift of God,
which is in you
through the laying
on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6 NIV)

The old Apostle reminds the young pastor of others who have lived the life before him.

I have been reminded of your sincere faith
which first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and, I am persuaded,
now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5 NIV)

Who has invested in you?

What did they do to bring you into God's story?

How are you fanning God's gift into a roaring flame within your life today?

Grace & peace

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Making New Efforts

But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control...against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

One part of self-control is motivating yourself; doing what you know needs to be done.

Often that comes in the form of making new efforts.

Trying again.

Digging in and giving a new commitment to change and growth.

You see something that isn't quite right in your life.

Either you let it go or you decide to do something about it.

"We applaud the concept in most things. We know, for instance, that even people who were married years ago have to keep working at that marriage consciously and intently every year thereafter, or the marriage will fail no matter how established it seems."

"We know that people who own businesses take inventories and evaluations every business year or the business fails."

"We too often fail to realize, however, people who say they want to find God in life have to work everyday too to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory." (The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister)

This Friday will be a special opportunity to give attention to bringing the Presence into focus; drawing closer to God; seeking the Spirit's reviving work in your life.

Join us at 6:30 for a potluck dinner. (You only need to bring food to share. The Church will provide table settings and drinks.)

Pastor Bob Moulding will be sharing about bringing God's presence into focus in his own life, particularly through difficult circumstances.

Hope to see you then.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A New Thing

...this is what the LORD says - he who created you...he who formed you...
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.

Read it again.

Read it s l o w l y.

And read it out loud, if you can. (Even at the volume of a whisper). But make your ears hear your voice.

Go ahead.

I'll wait.

Pretty amazing, huh? The God who formed YOU. The One who redeemed YOUR life. He is calling for YOU right now.

This is an intensely personal relationship from an intensely personal God who speaks an intensely personal message. Here it is:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Interesting, isn't it? God doesn't promise that we won't go through water and fire. But God does promise that we don't have to be alone. We won't be forgotten. And we don't have to be unprotected.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Do you like new things?

Sometimes I do.

Sometimes new things are faster than old things.
Sometimes they are more efficient than old things.
Sometimes new things are bright and shiny and fun.


...sometimes it can be painful to take on a new thing.

Because it means letting go of old things.

Think about these "new" things:

- Dropping your child off at their first day of school
- Going through a divorce
- Letting go of bitterness and anger
- Making a trip to the funeral home for someone who died too young

Taking on a "new thing" means giving up things we'd come accustomed to.
It means letting go of our usual ways of coping.
It means letting go of comfortable habits.
It means letting go of hurts.
It means letting go of attitudes
that have become a part of us.

That's the problem, really, isn't it? Letting go of a part of who we are?

And those things don't leave so easily, do they?

When God asks, "Do you not perceive the new thing?" I have two thoughts.

We may not see new things because we don't "have eyes to see or ears to hear". We just plain miss it. Much like we miss a turn or an exit. We didn't do it intentionally. We must "missed" it.

However, other times we don't see the possibility. We don't hear what could be. We're overwhelmed by what "it" would take to move in a new direction or be obedient to God's new thing. We see "it". But we don't see what "it" could become.

But listen to what He is talking about doing:

I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:1-3, 18-19 NIV)

That's pretty amazing, isn't it? A God who makes a way where there is no way; a path where there has been none. One who makes streams of water spring up in the middle of the desert; One who knows we're thirsty and there appears to be no possibility of quenching that thirst for miles and miles.

He knows.

And He's able to help.

If only we'll let Him.

Today, my prayer is that God would give you:

- Vision and hearing to be aware of the new thing He wants to do in your life

- A willingness to obey and do what God is calling you to do

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Broken Things

But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control...against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

"Things broken must be mended;
Things running away with us must be curbed;
Things awry in us must be set straight.
What we may have to face in a culture in which self-control is too often seen as self-destructive, is that none of that happens by accident. It requires discipline - conscious, honest, continuing some way that is honest and real." (The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Jungle Doctor

Are you familiar with this quote?

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
(Matthew 16:24b-25, NIV)

You might have heard some of those words before. You may have even read them before.

It's easy for those of us who deal in the currency of Scripture to become numb to them, however. So I was hearing them again with new ears this morning as I read the writing of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Born in 1875, Dr. Schweitzer was an organist, an organ-builder, philosopher, and theologian. But he sensed God's calling on his life to do something else.

So he went to medical school. And once completed, he moved to equatorial Africa and became a medical missionary.

Friends objected. Family scoffed. Why would such a gifted, bright individual waste his life in such a ridiculous way?

Dr. Schweitzer writes about his own life to that point:

"It struck me as inconceivable that I should be allowed to live such a happy life while I saw so many people around me struggling with sorrow and suffering. One brilliant summer morning in 1896, as I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return. While outside the birds sang and I reflected that until I was thirty, I could consider myself justified in devoting myself to scholarship and the arts, but after that I would devote myself directly to serving humanity. I had already tried many times to find the meaning that lay hidden in the words of Jesus: 'Whoever would save his life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall save it.' Now I had found the answer." (From Out of My Life and Thought, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)

That one sentence vibrates within me like a semi-truck going down my street rattles the windows in my house. "I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return."

It reminds me of why I do what I do. The reason I have agreed to many of my tasks and roles is because I am convinced there is something bigger than me for which to give my life. There is Someone who has generously given me my life and the only reasonable thing I can do is give it back in the way I live it each day. I am convinced Dr. Schweitzer and Jesus are right: such living, such "losing" of your life, is the path to "finding" life that overflows with meaning and joy.

Such a sense of satisfaction and gratitude can affect the way we choose our occupation and the course we choose for our education. It can direct the way we interact with the community. It will shape the organizations for which we volunteer our time. It will color the way we deal with family and other relationships. It will dictate to us how we spend our time, talents, money. Such an attitude begins to create a world in which we want to live. What we have is no longer simply for my enjoyment; it is meant to be shared and given away.

Imagine what our community would look like if we each became determined to "give something in return." It would transform our churches, our schools, our Chambers of Commerce, our shops, our offices, our factories, our homes, our marriages, and our children. My prayer for us is that we would each find such meaning, such a Reason for a sense of living out and giving away our lives.

Grace & peace

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Last night I was talking with our teens about what jobs they wanted to do when they grow up.
I asked them rank a list of nine characteristics of jobs they might want or want to avoid. They included things like:

- Making lots of $

- Being your own boss

- Becoming famous

- Making a difference in the world

- Doing manual labor

- Finding a job I like

- Working with others

We talked about choosing your job. It was interesting to hear the various tasks people were thinking about. Some included:

- Farming

- Pediatric medicine

- Veterinarian medicine

- Coast Guard rescue

It was a great time to hear about their hopes and dreams. I heard them thinking through how they might want to spend their life. Pretty powerful stuff.

But today I read something that reminded me of this fact: sometimes we don't choose. Sometimes we are chosen.

Think about the word vocation. Webster's New Concise Dictionary gives two definitions for vocation:

2. occupation

1. calling

Think about that second definition for a moment. Is it possible that things you are doing in your life, things you enjoy doing, aren't simply a job (boring, monotonous, insignificant), but are actually a calling? Could it be the things that excite us most may be places where we are responding to something or Someone outside of ourselves?

If we are called in our vocation, then there is A Voice who vocalizes; One who calls us.

Think about Moses (Exodus 3:4). God called to him from within the bush.

Think about God speaking to Noah to get ready for the flood (Genesis 6). A little bit like Evan Almighty, with a few modifications.

Or think about my personal favorite, Samuel. God calls the boy, Samuel, three times before Eli (the priest and spiritual leader who was supposed to know this was The Voice), finally figures out what is going on. (For the whole story, read 1 Samuel 3.)

I am convinced God's calling is not just for a few. It's not just for the pastor or the priest. It's not just for huge tasks like leading a nation out of slavery or becoming President.

I am convinced the Voice calls us to many tasks, both great and small, short-term and long-term, some seemingly insignificant or others with obvious significance.

So my question is this: have you ever stopped to reflect upon what you do, why you do it, and why it makes a difference? Have you ever asked yourself if you chose your vocation or if Someone was calling you to choose that path?

If you're really willing to ask and wait quietly for an answer, there's no telling what the response might be.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why So Downcast?

Why so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you...

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me -
a prayer to the God of my life.

Why are you so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5ff)

That's a great Psalm to commit to memory.

Don't we all have times when our soul is downcast?

When we can't help but look down.
When we're only seeing the negative.
When we can take a sunny, cloudless day, and still find something to complain about?

Did you notice the beginning of this Psalm? The Psalmist begins with familiar words,

"As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God."

Are you like me?

Do you ever get confused between the gifts God has given and the God Who gives the gifts?

Sometimes I "pant" for things.

Sometimes I "pant" for gifts that used to be in my life but are no longer there.

Sometimes I think what I need most are the little blessings I've gotten used to living with.

But the Psalmist is determined NOT to let that happen.

"I pant for YOU, God" he reminds himself.

I need to do that too, from time to time. Remind myself Who I pant for.

How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Landslide

Have you voted yet today?

I will take advantage of a relatively open morning schedule and hope to go when the line is shorter.

I was thinking: I'm a bit of a political geek. I will spend a significant amount of my evening watching election returns. I'll watch some states go red and others go blue. I'll here the phrases, "Too close to call" or "We're ready to call this race..."

I'll pay attention to the various proposals and excitedly watch to see what passes and what goes down in defeat. I anticipate some results will make me happy. Some won't.

But I stumbled across some reminders that put things in perspective. The Psalmist writes:

My heart is stirred by a noble theme (it's not healthcare or tax breaks)

as I recite my verses for the king (when is the last time you read God's Word back to Him?)

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever (no worries about term limits here!)

a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom (a leader who is all He appears to be...AND SO MUCH MORE!)

I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever (victory is guaranteed!) (Psalm 45:1, 6, 17 NIV)

How will you "perpetuate" God's name today?

Sometimes the early election results look good. Sometimes they look devastating. But God's promise is sure: He has no equal and He WILL reign forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, amen.

No polls needed. No fear of filibuster (though it seems like it, doesn't it?).

So cast your vote today:

- prayerfully

- and with the confidence that our God reigns.

May Your Kingdom come. May Your will be done.

Grace & peace

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election: What Christians Are NOT Saying

nI'm writing the day before the 2008 Election. Tomorrow we will elect national officials (a new president and vice president), state officials, county officials, and local officials. We will vote on several proposals (such as stem cell research, medical marijuana, and a millage regarding our county community college.)

We have been inundated with ads. Some partially true. Some mostly false. We dread picking up the phone or the mail because we know "they" will get at us in every conceivable form.

In those ads we've heard a variety of reasons to vote for this person or not vote for that person. We've been told how this proposal will devastate this area of our life or that proposal will be the "game changer" (one of the pundits favorite phrases this election cycle).

Running in the circles I do, I hear a lot from Christians about how to vote. In some cases we refer to the what the Bible says about a certain topic. In other cases, we infer what would be the proper vote to cast for the issues on the ballot.

That's fine. It's appropriate. Our democracy needs vigorous debate and expects us to vote our conscience. Certainly our religious teachings and experiences help shape us, for better or worse. I trust that people of faith who vote do so prayerfully and thoughtfully.

But there are parts of Holy Writ that I don't hear the faithful quoting. Parts that are relevant not only on Election Eve, but every day, every year. Here's one:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, interecession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

I'm curious. How many of us regularly make prayers and thanksgiving for our current President or Governor? (Notice, one is a Republican and one is a Democrat. And Scripture instructs Christians to be praying for both; for "all those in authority".)

I wonder. How many of us are willing to make that pledge, right now? Will you, regardless of how tomorrow goes, pray for our President and Vice-President on a regular basis? (Notice, I did not say pray "against" them.)

Now I can hear some of you already. "That was fine back then. But have you seen our leaders today?" Right. I forgot. Jesus and Paul had a great relationship with their government, right?

No. They were passionate about living the life of godliness, holiness, and self-sacrifice. If only we were as passionate about living lives that look like Jesus as we are about getting our people elected. If only we were passionate each of the next four years, not once every four years.

I recently heard from a pastor of another congregation who said something like this: "I wish my people were as concerned about the people who live around them as they were who gets elected and which proposals would be passed. I wish I would receive as many e-mails from my parishoners about helping their neighbor whose in a faltering marriage, working with someone facing eviction from their home, or their friend whose battling addiction as I do about how to vote on November 4."

Ain't it the truth?

Am I saying we shouldn't be passionate about candidates and issues? No. But if you're not willing to obey scripture that obviously instructs us to pray for our leaders, don't expect anyone to take you seriously about your candidate or your proposal.

And if you're not too keen on promising to pray for one of the presidential tickets, consider what the Apostle Paul writes to young pastor Titus.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1, NIV)

Did you catch that? "Be subject...and...obedient". Really? It gets worse.

"(B)e considerate and show true humility." Ugh.

Now I get a good laugh from political pundits and satirists like you. But can we also recognize that there is a fine line between good-natured humor and disrespectful slander? There is a difference between honest, respectful disagreement and toxic, name-calling animosity.

Sometimes in the Church we like to be prophetic about particular issues. "Thus saith the Lord."
There are times we should do that. But let us "be the Church" in season and out of season. Let us live out scripture (be subject to authorities, peaceable and considerate, praying for all those in authority), when we're in power and when we're out.

Grace & peace