Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More Thoughts on Faith

In difficult times, does your faith grow weaker or stronger?  For many of us, the challenges of life make us doubt God’s power and love.  We wonder where God is and why God isn’t helping us.  We grow hopeless thinking that there is no help out there.

For others, the challenges of life increase our belief in the divine.  We trust that God is on our side and know that, in time, our situations will get better.  It is our faith that gives us the strength to get up each morning and to persevere.

To me its obvious that having faith leads to greater happiness, but I often wonder why some people have it while others do not.  I’m not referring to people who don’t want faith.  They rely on themselves.  I’m talking about the people who wish they could believe in tough times, but no matter how hard they try, they just don’t believe anymore.

Disappointment can lead to disillusionment, and disillusionment can lead to depression.  That’s one way to see it.  But there is another way.  Disappointment can lead to a belief that there is something better for you and that God is just steering you in a new direction.  In this case, disappointment actually leads to hope, and hope can lead to inspiration.  It can energize you.

For all of you struggling out there, try seeing your failures, your challenges, your trials as opportunities, not only to grow, but to live into a better life.  God hasn’t gone anywhere.  God is still loving you and supporting you just like when things were going your way.  As it is written, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Beauty of Aging

Guess what product has become a 1.8 billion dollar industry with over 3 million users?  Ten years ago, you probably had no idea what this was, but now, it has become a household name…BOTOX.

Botox is technically a neurotoxin, a killer of nerve cells, and it is tremendously effective in medical cases where muscles are overactive, such as in the treatment of crossed eyes.  But about a decade ago, dermatologists realized it made wrinkles disappear, and the people of the world, literally, have never looked the same since.

Not too long ago I was with a good friend, and I have to say, she looked beautiful, the best I had seen her look in years.  I asked her what her secret was and she whispered one word, “Botox.”  She was 41 years old.

The Botox boom simply confirms what advertisers and L’Oreal and Rogaine have known for years.  People will pay anything to remain beautiful and youthful.  The quest for eternal youth is all around us.  It’s as though growing old is a bad thing.  Don’t many of us think of aging as a bad thing?

But really, aging is a blessing because it means we are alive.  Do you remember my friend I talked about a few weeks ago?  She is the one who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her mid-30’s and has fought hard to win the cancer war for a few years now.  Well, she just had a birthday, and this is what she wrote in her online journal:

“Thirty-seven, this is heaven.  I am so happy to be growing older.  When a doctor tells you with a sad face that you have a few months to live, each passing birthday is an event to cherish.  I don’t take the fact that I am getting older for granted because there are too many that don’t get this opportunity.” -Dayna Brown

I’m pretty sure prior to reading this journal entry, I was bemoaning the fact that I am getting older.  As you’ve probably experienced, it’s now harder to lose weight than it used to be.  Our skin is getting wrinkles and age spots appear where they had never been before.  And chances are, you have also had the doctor inform you that your blood pressure is high or your cholesterol is high or your triglycerides are high…or all three!  Aging does have its downfalls, but the fact remains, we are all so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate to even be alive, and we take this fact for granted every single day.

There is a great beauty to aging.  If we have lived well, we are now stronger than we were before, we are more loving than we were before, we are more understanding than we were before.  And so, the real beauty of aging is growing in wisdom.

Proverbs 19: 20 says,” Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.” 

What happens in our lives is how God gives us advice and instruction.  The day to day routine, the big events that occur, these are the moments that teach us and bless us with wisdom if we let them.  These are the moments that make us who we are. 

Now I know some of you may be thinking, what does she know about the beauty of aging?  She’s too young.  And I admit, I am by no means a wisdom guru, but I have learned some lessons in the last 35 years.  Today, I would like to share a few with you using Scripture as our guide. (I will quote ten verses from the Bible.  See if you can hear them all.)

We come into this world as babies, helpless and innocent, and God calls to us right then and there saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10).  From our birth, we must learn to be still so that we can dwell in the Lord’s presence and learn to trust in God’s mercy and grace.  We must learn to be still so that we can listen for the voice of God and hopefully to follow God’s instruction.

But as you know, life will shake us to the core quickly and destroy our once perfect trust.  We get hit.  We get knocked down.  We get sick.  We fall down.  We get laughed at.  We get put down.  It isn’t long before we start to experience the fear and anxiety of living in this sometimes cruel world.  There is so much to lose.  There is so much pain that is possible.  And that’s when the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6: 28-29).  The lilies of the field do nothing but be themselves, and still they are radiant.  They’re not toiling, they’re not spinning, they’re not stressing.  They are just living naturally as God made them, and so they are told, “Do not worry about your life” for God will take care of you.  We are told, “Do not worry about your life” for God will take care of us as well.

Good times will come.  Good times will go.  Bad times will come.  Bad times will go.  And through it all we will become wiser and stronger because “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1).  Everything we go through teaches us something.  Your struggles are not in vain.  Suffering is not the end of the story.  God takes the strands of our pain and weaves them together to create a beautiful fabric.  Or as Paul says in Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28).  God uses the dirt and the brokenness for good, to bring healing and newness of life.

In the opening chapter of the book of Job, Jobs loses his possessions, his wealth and his children.  Imagine his torment.  Imagine losing what is most important to you.  And so Job makes a declaration about life.  He proclaims, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord”  (Job 1: 21).  Job learned the lesson that we all must learn at some time or another in our lives…that nothing lasts forever.  And that holding on just makes the pain worse.  When the Lord chooses to take away, wisdom calls us to let go.  But rather than turn his back on God after the calamities, Job praises God.  In good times and in bad, blessed be the name of the Lord.  Can we proclaim in good times and in bad, when the Lord gives and when the Lord takes away, can we proclaim, blessed be the name of the Lord?  If we can, we are wise.

There is a plan through all of the ups and the down, you see.  “For surely I know the plans I have for you , says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29: 11).  Now, life is a mystery, and it can only be understood in hindsight, but the promise of God is that he does have a plan for our lives, a wonderful plan with a hope-filled future.  Even when we are lost and drifting, we need not despair because the Lord has us in the palm of his hand and has written our days for us in the book of life.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Abundant life means a full life.  It doesn’t mean an easy life or a life without hardship.  It means a life filled with the things that life is supposed to be filled with.   A life with family and friends and all that goes with it.  A life of work and all that requires.  A life of purpose and all that both offers and demands.  When Christ offers us abundant life, he is offering us the full spectrum of human existence, everything from laughing and loving to crying and losing.  But here’s the thing.  It’s all okay.  It’s all okay because we are not alone.

Christ’s parting words to the disciples in the gospel of Matthew are: “And be assured, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20).  These words have given me great comfort in my most trying times because there is nothing worse than struggling alone.  When we fight the good fight with Christ at our side, we cannot lose.  For “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8: 35, 37).

You see, my friends, Scripture really comes alive, that’s why we call it the living Word, as we go through experiences, as we live we really do learn.  We develop and mature as spiritual beings.

The beauty of aging is growing in wisdom.  It’s experiencing life on a whole new level: taking it in, learning from it, and then making peace with it in your heart, that’s the goal, that’s the hope.  I believe you are already wise because I know you have been through so much in your life, but the depths of wisdom can never be reached.  There is always further for us to go.

The invitation this morning is to appreciate living and enjoy growing older.  The invitation this morning is to know that you are wise for wisdom comes from God and life is our greatest teacher.

My final words to you on this day:  the beauty of aging is wisdom.  It is a beauty that never fades away.  We have so much life to live.  Enjoy it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Brief Communion Liturgy

Minister:           The Lord be with you.
People:            And also with you.
Minister:           Lift up your hearts.
People:            We lift them up to the Lord.
Minister:           Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People:            It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Minister:           It is right, and we love to do it, God of mercy and grace.  You are so wonderful for you have given us everything we need to live a blessed life.  You have given us sunshine and rain, water and food, shelter and care from family and friends. 
People:            We bless your name, O Lord.   
Minister:           Shine your light upon us today as we come into your presence through the bread and the wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we might grow in our faith, be healed of our sickness and made whole and holy in your sight.
People:            Jesus, you are the light of the world, our rock and our salvation.
Minister:           Holy One, pour out your Holy Spirit on us.  How we need your love and compassion.  Fill us with that same Spirit that we may be your love and compassion in this world and for your people.  All honor and glory is yours, Almighty God, now and forever.

People.            Amen.  
Prayer of the Day:

Holy One, our lives are pure wonder, and we await with joy the unfolding of our futures.  Assure us of your presence once again that we may trust the mystery of life and growth.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Going Beyond What We Know

We do what we know.   Cooking is an excellent example.  We often cook like those who cooked for us.  “It’s a family recipe!” we say with pride.  But there are many other examples:  how much we exercise, how much we watch TV, how much money we spend. These are behaviors we learn from someone, usually our families of origin. Sometimes, when we do what we know, it’s rather insignificant, like whether we wash our car frequently or not, but other times, doing what we know has a profound impact on who we become and the development of our lives.

This is especially true when it comes to education and vocation.  For example, my brother and I both went to Ohio University, which is where my father and mother went to college.  My father probably went there because his father went there as well.   It was never even a thought that one of us would not go to college, and yet, it should have been.  Twenty years after his graduation, my brother said, “I didn’t need to go to college.  I would have been better off at a trade school.”  For someone who struggled in math and reading, but excelled in visual relationships and problem solving, a liberal arts degree might not have been the best thing for my brother.  As it was, he ended up majoring in fine art, specializing in the lost wax process for fabricating metal sculptures, which is a highly technical skill.  So, my brother went into a costly liberal arts program only to end up in a trade doing metal work.  Maybe doing what we know is not always beneficial...

Of course, there are exceptions to the premise that we do what we know, like when someone is the first person in their family to attend college.  This becomes a momentous occasion in the life of the family and a cause of great celebration.  This is going beyond what we know, and this is how we evolve as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations and as a species.

Depending on what you have seen, heard and learned, doing what you know can be very fulfilling and lead to a happy life or it can be limiting and lead to feelings of mediocrity.  God is always calling us out of a limited, mediocre life into an expansive, abundant life, and thus God is always calling us beyond what we know into unknown territory.  God pushes us into places we have never been so that we will grow.

Think about Jacob wrestling with the Lord.  We all know that a large part of the spiritual journey is surrender, letting go and letting God, but there is also a time on the journey when we need to wrestle with God.  We need to let God push us and we push back so that we enter into these new territories in our lives.  Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night and wouldn’t stop until God blessed him, but we know that at the break of dawn, God did in fact bless him. 

Think of your own struggles right now.  Don’t see them as meaningless battles in your life just meant to make you miserable.  See them as opportunities in which God is calling you to stretch and to grow.  At the end of the match, we can be confident that God will bless us just like God blessed Jacob, but we can’t be afraid of the fight.

Once we are convinced that we don’t simply have to do what we know, when we are willing to let God stretch us and grow us, life becomes one big opportunity.   On the one hand, this is exciting!  You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet or where your path will take you.  On the other hand, this is scary!  You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet or where your path will take you.  But I think faith makes the unknown more exciting than scary.  A friend once gave me a card that said, “To have faith is to believe the task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.”  I couldn’t agree more.  When you trust that God has your back even in the challenges, you can walk forward with courage and confidence, and you can take the next necessary step on your journey, which is the leap of faith.

A leap of faith is putting yourself out there, going for it, jumping into thin air.  Imagine a tall, stone cliff.  You are standing on the very edge.  Can you see land across the way or does the expanse just stretch before you?  In either case, whether you have some idea or none at all, you need to back up and get a running start and...jump!  Don’t worry about landing.  It’s the jumping that is most important.  Jumping is a spiritual act, an act of faith.

Many of us do not wrestle with God nor take the leap of faith into new realms even though it has the potential to lead to our happiness and fulfillment, and we do not do these things because we are afraid.  This is unknown territory that we are striking out and jumping into after all; we’re trying to go beyond what we know.  What will happen?  Even more important, where do I fit in?  We start to fear the unknown because we don’t know how to make it or even what it looks like to make it.  This is why doing what you know is so comforting.  Since you’ve seen someone else do it, you now know what to do.  But when you jump into the void, you aren’t following anyone’s lead.  You are just flying on the back of the Holy Spirit.

Two of the main fears preventing us from the leap of faith are failure and lack of finances.  Have you ever wanted to do something, but dismissed it, saying, “I can’t do that.”  If you want something, you cannot let fear of failure get in your way.  Failure is just part of our success really.  It’s a necessary step in achieving our goals.  Don’t be embarrassed about who you are; don’t think you are less than anyone else.  You have talents.  You have passions.  You have God’s grace all around you.  True, you never know what will happen when you go for it, but once again, that’s the beauty!  Trust that God is carrying you into your hope-filled future.

Beyond our psychological fears is a tangible, practical and realistic fear:  fear of not having “enough” money.  This is a very real fear for all of us to some degree.   We wonder, “Will I make enough money to support myself and those dependent on me?”   Each one of us has a unique financial situation and we have to wait until we feel the timing is right, but we certainly cannot allow money to be the only ruling factor in our lives. 

My friend Bradley worked in a law firm as a paralegal, and he did not like it at all.  He did not like his boss, his hours, his responsibilities. Bradley did not come from a family with money and so he felt very dependent upon himself to make a good living and acquire security.  He worked at that firm for 10 years before he found himself in a situation where money was no longer the dominant, controlling factor in his life.  When that day came, he took a deep breath and said, “I’m quitting my job and going back to school to be a therapist.”  There it was.  His dream could no longer be contained.  Bradley decided that six months ago, and as of today,  Bradley is still planning on taking the leap of faith, but has not.  I suppose the smart thing to do when transitioning from one vocation to the next is to go at your own pace.  Take it slow if you need to.  Get something going over there before you quit over here.  No matter how gradual though, there will always be one moment when you are required to jump!

Each of us is on a journey of discovery to become the child of God we were born to be, but if we simply stick to what we know, we might miss our true callings.  Certainly, God does not just want generation after generation of coal miners or cab drivers or ministers or doctors.    You are made for one thing, and I am made for another.  The truly great adventure in this lifetime is walking your path honestly with God so that you become more fully, more completely you.

Remember the parable of the talents from the gospel of Matthew?  In this story, a master leaves one person five talents, one person two talents, and one person one talent.  Both the person with five and with two talents double their money by using it, but the person with one talent buries his money in the ground because he is afraid.  When the master returns, he praises those who have used their talents wisely and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  But to the one who was too afraid, afraid of failure, afraid of having nothing, the master was very displeased and punished him for wasting what he had.

We don’t want to waste the “talents” God has given us because we are afraid of anything.  It’s all a gift.  God has gifted us with our skills and passions, our creativity and our minds.  Let’s use them.  Let’s give them to each other like an offering to God.  What I give to you, I give as an expression of love that overflows from the divine.  May it somehow bless you.  The same with what you give to others.  May we use everything that we have to glorify God, uplift one another and build up the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Erma Bombeck, a columnist and wise woman that she was, said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'” You can use everything you are in this life, just don’t be afraid to wrestle with God and to take the leap of faith into the unknown.  We begin with what we know, but we progress by going beyond what we know into our destinies.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spiritual Leaders of the Way

A lot can happen in 3 ½ weeks.  You could meet the love of your life.  You could get a promotion.  Or you could receive a bad diagnosis from the doctor.  You could have a falling out with someone you love.  A lot can happen in 3 ½ weeks; things you never expected.  Don’t underestimate the probability of change in this world in which we live.

Just 3 ½ weeks ago, we recalled Jesus eating his last supper with the disciples, which was probably the worst night of his life seeing as he knew what was going to happen to him.  I think the most heart-wrenching part of the story is when Peter, one of Jesus closest friends, denies knowing him three times.

Listen to what the gospel of Luke says.  This is Peter’s third denial.  “But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’  At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’  And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22: 60-62).

That moment when the Lord turned and looked at Peter must have shook them both to the core.  Betrayal amongst friends is one of the worst feelings that we can ever have.  I can picture Jesus’ eyes when they meet Peters.  Not filled with anger or malice, but sadness and compassion at the same time.

Scholars suggest that the text we heard just a moment ago in which Peter tells Jesus he loves him three times is to rectify his denials, his betrayal.  Peter is proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus and the Way, the Way being the path followers of Jesus walk along, their guiding principles.

When Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me,” not once, not twice, but three times, Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I do.”  Then, each time, Jesus instructs Peter to “feed my lambs” or “tend my sheep.”

You see, Jesus wanted to ensure that followers of the Way, the community, the family that he built with God’s power, would not fall apart in his absence.  Much like we don’t want our families to fall apart, Jesus had high hopes and great love for the family of believers, and he wanted them to be unified and in harmony and to grow. 

So he tells the disciples to take care of his flock.  He calls them to love, to serve, and to be spiritual leaders in the Way.  This morning’s passage from Acts recalls how Peter was even imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit so much so that he was able to bring Tabitha or Dorcas back from the dead.

Of all the things we talk about in the church, being a disciple, being a servant, loving our neighbor, we cannot neglect the importance of our call to be spiritual leaders.  Not that these roles are mutually exclusive of each other, but the different names imply different functions.

A disciple is someone who follows a leader.  For example, Peter following Jesus.  A servant is someone who cares for another.  For example, when the good Samaritan rescues the man who had been beaten up and left by the side of the road.

A spiritual leader is someone who guides, inspires and helps to transform others.  As the inside cover of your bulletin reads: “The spiritual leader's task is to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”   We are ALL called to be disciples, servants AND spiritual leaders. 

Today, I’d like to encourage all of us to live into our calling to be spiritual leaders.  I have six suggestions to get us started:

1.      Spiritual leaders start by just being there for people.  In ministry language, you must be “present” to the person in their need.  This can be a challenge because we are all so busy, but it’s important to make time for people.  I know a woman who has MS and is confined to a wheelchair.  She gets very depressed about her condition, hopeless even, but she told me that receiving visitors is the highlight of her days.  Simply being present can profoundly affect a life because, simply put, we need each other.

2.      Spiritual leaders listen to others.  People need to get their thoughts and problems off their chests so just open your ears and be engaged with the person and what is being said.  Don’t feel like you have to give advice or solve their problems. You know how people say men want to fix things when women just want them to listen?  The same holds true when you are being a spiritual leader.  Listen first.  Then, maybe, if you can, help fix it later.

3.      Spiritual leaders pray.  You pray with people, not just for them.  Praying with people is an intimate act and many of us fear we won’t know what to say so many of us are hesitant to do it, but it is well worth the risk because praying together is both powerful and healing.  You know this if you have ever been prayed for with someone.  To take some of the pressure off when you pray with a person, ask what they want prayers for and pray for those things.  You’ll be amazed at how praying with a person can bring you closer together and closer to God.

4.      Spiritual leaders compliment others.  I think conventional wisdom is that you are supposed to compliment at least three people a day.   It’s our job to see the best in people so they can see the best in themselves, so they can live up to their full potential.   Just like you would encourage a child whom you love and believe in, so too should we encourage each other.

5.      Spiritual leaders have faith for the person even when he or she does not have faith anymore.  This is one of the most important aspects of being a spiritual leader so let me tell you a story. 

Tonya was 34 when I met her, and she was like a shining star.  She just lit up a room when she walked in.  She was a highly successful fashion designer for Donna Karen, and she had recently started dating a new love named John.  Tonya seemed to have it all.

Two years later, not long after Tonya’s 36th birthday, she started having health issues.  She was never hungry and she couldn’t keep food down.  When she went to the doctor, she received the worst news possible, news she never imagined would happen to her.  Pancreatic cancer at 36, which quickly spread to her lungs.  Tonya’s life would never be the same again.

She has spent the last two years in and out of hospitals and in and out of chemotherapy lounges.  She had to go on leave from work because she is so nauseous and tired most of the time that it’s hard enough to get from her bed to the couch.

But Tonya has done everything she can to stay positive.  She married John and got a pet pig.  She opens her home up to her family, which visits often, and she has friends over for game night.  Tonya also shares her story with everyone she knows via a website called Caring Bridge.

Just this week, Tonya put up a post saying that she had been to the doctor and the tumors in her body were continuing to spread.  Now, she has to start a new, more aggressive form of chemotherapy.  It was very sad news indeed, and I couldn’t help but hear Tonya’s grief as she reported it to her friends.

Still, Tonya ends every journal entry with a list of three things that made her smile that day.  They are simple but important things like the joy of holding her husband’s hand while receiving chemo or seeing her pet pig lay in the sun.  Recently she wrote, “You, my family and friends, make me smile.  I cannot thank you enough for your kind words of support.  I don’t know how I’d make it without you.”

You see, sometimes when life is hard and the challenges seem overwhelming, we need other people to keep our spirits lifted.  We need other people to believe for us because we are so sick and tired we cannot believe for ourselves.  With every day that passes, Tonya is getting more and more sick, but with every day that passes, those who love her are rallying around her with more and more support.  It is the love and faith of others that is sustaining Tonya, helping her to live while she is still alive.  When we have faith in God and in each other, it helps those of us who are hurting to also have faith in God and in ourselves.

6.      Spiritual leaders remind people of the promises of God.  This might be a spiritual leader’s greatest contribution to humanity: to spread hope.  In light of all the tragedy we face, cancer and divorce and natural disasters and bombings, both personal and communal tragedies, someone needs to remind the people that God is in charge, and that God is a very present help in times of trouble.  Someone needs to remind the people that the miracles and victories God did in the past, God is doing now, and God will do in the future.

     What do we do here every Sunday morning?  We worship, but in worshipping, we always read the Scriptures to hear about the saving work of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If you leave this place without hearing about the hope that comes through faith in God, then the Church is missing the mark.  A spiritual leader brings a message of hope as we recount the God who blessed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The God who brought Israel out of slavery, through the wilderness and into a land flowing with milk and honey.  The God who gave us his Son as our teacher and Lord.  The God who raised this same Son from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to be our comforter and guide.  Our God is the God of hope, and we are called to proclaim that hope to the nations.

So the six duties of a spiritual leader are: to be present, to listen, to pray with others, to compliment others, to have faith when others do not and to recount the promises of God as much as possible to as many people as possible.

Your family, your friends, your church, the people who do your dry cleaning, the doctor who does your surgery, the homeless man on the street, EVERYONE needs your spiritual leadership.

Don’t be frightened or worried about that.  God will equip you.  Just like the Holy Spirit gave Peter the power to raise Dorcas from the dead, the Holy Spirit works in us and through us that we might have the courage and wisdom to lead.  God does not call the equipped.  God equips the called.  That means God has already equipped you and will continue to do so when you need it most.

Jesus asks all of us, “Do you love me?”

And we respond, “Yes, I love you, Lord.”

Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”

Yes, he means physical food, but he also most definitely means spiritual food.  You are the messengers of the Gospel, you are the instructors of the Way.  You are spiritual leaders.  Use this knowledge to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

God's Plans > Human Understanding

Goals and great expectations.  We all have them.  We are told that it is good to have them, that that’s how we will fulfill our dreams.

But there’s a difference between a goal and an expectation.  A goal is something you hope will come true, and you’re willing to work towards accomplishing that goal.  It requires your effort.

Now an expectation on the other hand, is when you think something should happen, that you are entitled to it.  You want it, whatever it is, and in your want, you start to think in your mind that this specific thing will happen, that it must happen in order for you to be happy. 

Have you ever heard the saying, “Hope for the best.  Expect the worst.”  Its practical wisdom from the millions of people before you who know the tough truth, which is that our expectations often lead to disappointment.  We are to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst so that we won’t feel devastated when what we want to happen doesn’t come true.

Now God puts gifts into our lives all the time.  Great gifts.  Today is evidence of that.  But gifts from heaven don’t always look like we have imagined them.  Today is also evidence of that.

In Jesus’ time, the people were expecting the Messiah to be a mighty king, someone who would take over and use his power to bring justice to the land.  And boy, were their expectations smashed when Jesus came around.  Rather than be a king who executed judgment, he was a servant who exercised forgiveness.  Rather than be a ruler who would overthrow the current regime, he was a lamb sacrificed for the salvation of the people.  Rather than be exulted in glory, he was hung on a cross.

It was foolish to the people then, and for many of us, the logic still seems foolish.  Why would God come in power only to die on a cross?  Where is the victory in that?  But as we know, what seems like foolishness to us turns out to in fact be the wisdom of God.

Because on the third day, after his friends had betrayed and denied him, after the crowds shouted, “Crucify him,” after the sun refused to shine on that fateful day, after the curtain of the temple was torn in two following Jesus’ last words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” something amazing happened...  


You see, what we expected and what happened were totally different.  But not different in a bad way, different in a miraculous way.  We thought Jesus should never die and live a full life on this earth, but God had something even better in mind.  That Jesus should die and be raised from the dead.   Now that’s a plan to defeat sin and evil and death! A plan none of us could have come up with.

We must always remember that God’s plans are greater than human understanding.  

We must remember that what seems foolish to us might just be the wisdom of God rising us up to a higher calling.

We often don’t know “why”.  We don’t understand why Jesus had to die, or in our own lives, we don’t understand why the child gets sick or the marriage fails or the debt piles high.  But God has plans for our live that we can’t see ahead of time.  That’s why we walk by faith.  That’s why we need to trust in the goodness of God.

Jesus is risen!  Jesus lives!  That means death has been defeated.  That we have found new life, eternal and abundant life.  The message is one of great hope, but we must ask, what does this mean for us?  How can we live into this resurrection story?

The first thing we can do is get rid of our expectations because you know how to make God laugh right?  Tell him your plans.

You don’t know what God is going to do with your life.   You might want one thing, but get something very different.  And this is the wisdom of God.

Know this:  if you have a checklist in your head for your perfect spouse, or a checklist in your head for the perfect career, or a checklist in your head for a perfect life, give it up now.

You see only in part, but God sees the whole picture and gives you only what is for your benefit, for your transformation, for you to live into the promise of eternal life.

What will God do with you?  Relax and enjoy the surprise.  Let go of any preconceived notions.  Amazing things are happening around here.  And you are a part of it! 

Jesus Christ has been risen from the grave!  He lives.  And because he lives, you too shall live.