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Saturday, November 28, 2015

You Light Up My Life

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 29, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 1:1-18.

            Those of you who read the newsletter may remember that I had planned to do a Christmas sermon series based on some of the minor characters in the Christmas story.  As I’ve thought about it, though, it seems like that might be a better thing to do in the context of the Christmas Eve service.  So instead, we’re going to take a different tack.  What we’re going to do is look at how the different gospels treated the coming of Jesus.  And we’re going to start with the gospel of John.  And when we look at how John deals with this, and really think about what John says, I think it’s some of the most incredible stuff there could possibly be.
            First, as you noticed from what we read, John does not deal with Jesus in the context of the birth story.  John starts before the birth of Jesus.  In fact, John starts at the very beginning of time.  John refers to Jesus as “the Word” and tells us that “the Word” was with God from the beginning.  In fact, “The Word” was God, from the beginning.
            But why does John refer to Jesus that way?  Why does John call Jesus “the Word”?  I mean, we know the Bible is the word of God, but why is Jesus “the Word”?  What does that mean, to say Jesus is “the Word”?
            Well, if you look in the Old Testament, that phrase “the word of God” shows up a lot.  When you look at the books of prophecy, many of which we just looked at in our sermon series on the Minor Prophets, it’s always described as “the word of God came to” whatever prophet we’re talking about.  Psalm twenty-nine talks about how powerful the word of God is.  God, just by speaking, breaks the cedars, twists the oaks, shakes the desert, strips the forest bare.
            The word of God is powerful.  The word of God is strong.  “The Word” is how God acts.  In fact, John goes on to say exactly that.  It’s through “the Word” that all things were made. 
So when John refers to Jesus as “the Word”, John is telling us something about Jesus.  He’s telling us that Jesus is powerful.  He’s telling us that Jesus is strong.  He’s telling us that God is about to act, and God is going to act through Jesus.  And Jesus is going to come to earth:  “The Word” became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
But Jesus was more than that.  Not that this would not be enough, but Jesus was more than that.  Listen to this:  “in him was life, and that life was the light of all people.”
Think about that.  Life is in Jesus.  And that life is the light of all people.  In other words, there is something of Jesus, something of God, in each person.  There is something of Jesus in you.  There is something of Jesus in me.  There is something of Jesus in everyone:  our friends, our enemies, people we know, people we don’t know.  Everyone has something of Jesus in them, because life is in Jesus and that life is the light of all people.
And listen to what John says about this light.  He says, “the true light that gives light to everyone…was in the world, and… the world did not receive him…Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children…born of God.”
If you and I believe in the name of Jesus, we have the right to become children of God.  Think about what that really means.  We refer to Jesus as the Son of God.  If we are children of God, that means we, too, are sons and daughters of God.  That means that, in the eyes of God the Father, you and I are just as important and just as loved as Jesus himself.  The Apostle Paul says something similar in Romans, Chapter Eight:  “we are God’s children [and] if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
Is that not awesome?  I sure think it is!  You and I are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  To God the Father, you and I are the equal of Jesus Christ himself.  We don’t have the powers of Jesus, obviously, but God the Father sees us the same way that God the Father sees Jesus.  If we believe in Jesus, you and I are just as special, just as important, just as cared about, and just as loved, as Jesus himself is.
That just strikes me as incredible.  We talked last week about how, when we start to get an idea of who God really is, we cannot help but feel reverence for God.  But now, we see that this same God, this God who is greater and more powerful and more holy and more righteous and more everything than we can ever imagine, looks at us, as weak and as puny and as flawed and as sinful as we are, and considers us just as valuable and as significant and as precious as Jesus himself, and loves us just as much as Jesus himself.  That thought just blows me away, really.
And yet, there’s something else in this passage that’s at least as important, if not more important.  Remember how life is in Jesus and that life is the light of all people?  Well, listen to this:  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The darkness has not overcome the light.  The darkness will not overcome the light.  The darkness cannot overcome the light.  The life that is in Jesus, the life that is the light of all people, the life that is that light that shines in you and me and every other person who believes in Jesus Christ will not and cannot be overcome.  The darkness will not win.  Jesus will win.  And if we believe in Jesus, you and I will win, too.
Do you believe that?  Do you really believe it?
It can be hard sometimes.  It really can.  Because when we look at the world, sometimes it seems like it’s getting darker and darker.  There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world.  You don’t need me to go through the list of it.  All you need to do is turn on the news.  And if you don’t want to turn on the news, just go online.  There’s a long list of bad stuff that’s going on in the world.  And some of it’s really serious.  And it can seem like the darkness is going to win.
It can seem like that in our own lives, too, of course.  We’ve talked about that before, but that feeling of darkness is a very present reality for some people.  Maybe some people sitting out here today.  And if you’re going through that, you don’t need me to go through a list of it, either.  And in fact, sometimes this time of year, around Thanksgiving and Christmas, can make things seem even darker, because it seems like everyone else is celebrating and you’re not.  Things can feel really dark in our lives.  And it can seem like the darkness is going to win.
But it’s not.  Because no matter how dark it seems like it’s getting, the light is still shining.  The light of life, the light of Jesus, is still shining.  It shines in every person who believes in Jesus.  It shines it you.  It shines in me.  It shines in millions and millions of people, all over the world.  And it will keep shining.  And the darkness will not overcome it.  That’s a pretty awesome thought.  That thought just blows me away, too.
This is the first Sunday of Advent.  We’re starting to get ready for Christmas, for the birth of the Savior.  Christmas is a lot of things, but one of the things Christmas is, is the fulfillment of a promise.  It’s a promise that was made in the beginning, because Jesus Christ, “the Word” was there in the beginning.  It’s a promise that those of us who believe will be children of God, will be just as cherished and valued by God the Father as Jesus himself is.  It’s a promise that the light of life, the light of Jesus, will always be there.  And it’s a promise that Jesus’ light will shine in us, too, if we believe.
So as the Christmas season approaches, and as we get busier and busier, and as life gets more and more hectic, and as we hear about more and more bad news—because that’s what the news is, all the bad stuff—and as we start to get more and more worried that everything is falling apart, remember the awesome promises of God.  Remember the awesome promises of Christmas.  Remember that you are a child of God.  Remember that if you believe in Jesus Christ, then the light of life, the light of Jesus, is in you.  And the darkness can never overcome that light.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Zero Shades of Grey

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 22, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Malachi 6:1-4.

            On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we come to the end of our sermon series, “Who Are These Guys?”  We’ve been looking at the Minor Prophets.  We finish with the prophet Malachi.

            Scholars think the book of Malachi was written somewhere around 400 B. C.   It’s not just the last book of the Minor Prophets.  It’s the last book of the Old Testament.  And while the entire Old Testament is not arranged in chronological order, a lot of people think Malachi is the book that was written last.  After this, there were about four hundred years that the Bible does not talk about, with the silence broken with the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

            The Bible verses we read today are the last verses of the book of Malachi, and so of course the last words of the Old Testament.  You may remember that last week, when we discussed Zechariah, we talked about the Day of Judgment.  Malachi picks up on that theme.  And Malachi basically says each of us has a choice.  We can follow God and be saved, or we can refuse to follow God and be destroyed.

            God, speaking through Malachi says that twice in just these six verses.  Here’s how the passage puts it:  “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire…Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  And later, God says, “I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

            It’s a pretty clear distinction God makes.  That can make us kind of uncomfortable, really.  You know, a lot of times we don’t like things to be that clear cut, to be that black and white.  We’re more comfortable with grey areas.  We like to think the answer always lies in the middle, that the answer always lies in compromise.  And in some situations it does, of course.  I’m not saying compromise is always a bad thing.  But when it comes to following God, there’s not a lot of room for compromise.  The way Malachi is written, we either follow God or we don’t.  That’s it.

            Now, I do want to point out a couple of things.  First, Malachi was written for the people of Israel.  The first words of the book are “A prophecy:  The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.”  The reason I point that out is that this means this book was written, this prophecy was made, to people who had heard the word, who knew who God was.  That means this prophecy applies to people who have the ability to make a clear choice whether to follow God or not.  It does not necessarily apply to people who don’t know God and are not able to make that choice.  Now, I still believe there will be a Day of Judgment for those people, too, but how that’s going to work is something for another day.  It’s not something that Malachi explicitly addresses, because again, Malachi was written for the people of Israel.

            And the other thing I want to point is that saying we either follow God or we don’t does not mean we’re required to be perfect.  We’ve talked before about the fact that we’re not capable of perfection and that God understands that.  We are to revere God’s name and remember God’s laws and decrees.  If we revere God’s name and do our best to obey God, God will forgive our flaws and our flubs and our mistakes.

            So let’s look at that word “revere”.  It’s not a word we use a lot these days.  We remember Paul Revere, some of us remember the musical group Paul Revere and the Raiders, and some of us even remember when the Twins had an outfielder named Ben Revere.  Other than that, though, “revere” is not a word we hear much.  What does it mean to “revere” God’s name?

            Well, if you look in the dictionary, you find that the word “revere” means “to treat with respect tinged with awe”.  And “awe” means an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.

            Do we feel that way about God?  I think we should.  I think most of us know we should.  But do we?

            How many of us think we have the right to tell God what to do?  I suspect a lot of us do.  Now, we’d never say it that way.  None of us would ever say we have the right to tell God what to do.  But how many times has something happened, and we think or even say, “God, why did you do that?  Why did you make that happen?  And if you did not make it happen, why did you let it happen?  How can a loving God let such terrible things happen to so many people?

            I suspect a lot of us have said that.  After an attack like 9/11 or what happened in France last week.  After a disaster like a tornado or an earthquake or the flooding that’s going on in Texas.  After a young person dies in an accident or gets cancer or some other terrible disease.  After we lose a job.  When things like that happen, we say, “God, why don’t you do something about that?”  And sometimes we get upset with God when it looks like God is not doing anything about it.

            That’s not exactly revering God, is it?  That’s not exactly holding God in awe.

            But I suspect God understands when we do things like that.  That does not make it right, but I think God understands why, when we’re grieving, or when we’re scared, or when we’re stressed, or when we just plain cannot understand what’s going on, why we start trying to tell God what to do.  And I think God will forgive that.

            But I think there’s a subtler, more dangerous way that we don’t revere God.  It sneaks up on us.  It can happen without us even noticing it, which is why it’s dangerous.  It happens when we believe in God, and we believe in Jesus as our Savior, but we just kind of put that belief in a little box, a little compartment of our life.  We keep our belief locked away and don’t let it affect the rest of our lives.

            It seems to me that’s the tricky one.  We don’t flat out reject God.  We say we still believe.  Maybe we go to church, at least sometimes.  Maybe we even pray.  Maybe we even read the Bible.  It’s just that we keep that church time, that prayer time, the Bible time, separate from the rest of our lives.  We leave church, we say Amen, we close the Bible, and then we go on about our business as if nothing had happened.  And, in fact, nothing has.

            We talked last week about our need to pray for God to put God’s Spirit into our hearts, into our souls, into our minds, into every aspect of our lives.  I think that’s how we get that feeling of reverence for God.  I’m not saying it’s the only way, but it’s the best way I know.  When we pray for God to put God’s spirit into our hearts and souls and minds and lives, and when we do it sincerely and consistently, we start to get an idea of just how incredible, how great, how awesome in every sense of the word that God is.  And when we start to get an idea of just who God is, we start to feel that reverence for God.  In fact, when we get an idea of who God is, we really will not be able to do anything but feel reverence for God.

            Malachi sets this up as a pretty clear choice.  We can be among the people who revere God and be saved.  Or, we can be among the arrogant and the evildoers and be stubble that gets set on fire.  That’s pretty much it.  Frankly, it’s not the way I’d like it to be set up.  I’d like there to be more grey areas.  But God did not ask me how to set this up.  God does things God’s way, not my way.  And the way this is written, we cannot just sort of follow God part of the time.  We either follow God—not perfectly, because we’re not capable of that, but the best we can, asking for God’s Spirit to be in our hearts and souls and minds and lives—or we don’t.  Period.

            As the saying goes, we are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.  The consequences here are pretty big.  In fact, they’re eternal.

            We each have to make that choice.  And none of us knows how long we’ll have to make it.  None of us is ever promised tomorrow.  We need to make this choice now, today.  And we need to keep making it every day.  We need to choose to ask for God’s Spirit to be in us, so we can truly follow God and feel reverence and awe for God.

            In a few days, it will be Thanksgiving.  Many of us will think about all the things we have to be thankful for.  When we do, let’s remember to thank God for giving us the chance to choose salvation.  And let’s make that choice, today and every day.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The End of the World As We Know It

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 15, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Zechariah 2:10--3:10.

            We’re nearing the end of our sermon series, “Who Are These Guys?”  We’ve been looking at the Minor Prophets.  Next week we’ll end it with Malachi, but today we look at the prophet Zechariah.
            Zechariah, scholars think, gave his message at about 520 B. C.  That’s right about the same time as Haggai, who we talked about last week.  But Zechariah’s message is completely different.
            Zechariah’s book is what is referred to as an apocalyptic book.  In other words, Zechariah sees visions of the Day of Judgment and the end times.  Zechariah actually has some similarities to Revelation.  You have the angel with a measuring line who is going to measure Jerusalem, you have the gold lampstands, you have the golden bowls, all that sort of thing.  There are a lot of things in the vision Zechariah had that are repeated in the vision John was given in Revelation.
            And so, as we talk about this, we’re going to need to talk about the end times.  That’s not a comfortable thought for some of us.  A lot of us don’t really understand these things.  We’re not sure just how we’re supposed to take them, whether they’re to be taken literally or whether they’re symbolic or what.  And so, because we don’t understand it, we’re tempted to do two things.  One of them is to just dismiss it and not even think about it.  The other is that we tend to be scared of it.
            I don’t think either of those is very helpful to us.  These things are in the Bible for reasons.  After all, as Christians, we claim to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to dismiss part of God’s inspired word and ignore it just because it’s hard for us to understand.  We may need to take more time with it so we can understand it, or we may need to use our faith and try to accept it even though we cannot understand it.  But just dismissing it from our minds is not a good option for us as Christians.
            But we also should not be scared of it.  The Day of Judgment may be bad news for some people, but it’s not going to be bad news for Christians.  It’s going to be wonderful news, really.  Because that’s the day God is going to step in and make everything right.
            That’s what God is trying to tell the people in our reading for today.  God, speaking through Zechariah, says, “Shout and be glad, daughter Zion.  For I am coming, and I will live among you…Be still before the Lord, all people, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
            And there’s more.  The Lord is going to rebuke Satan.  There’s a prophecy of the coming of Jesus, where God says, “I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.”  God goes on to say, “See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!...I will engrave an inscription on it…and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
            God is telling us that there is no reason for us, as Christians, to be afraid of the Day of Judgment.  We should shout!  We should be glad!  God is coming!  Our sins will be removed from us!  We should not be scared of the Day of Judgment.  We should look forward to it!
            But that, of course, leads to another question.  When’s it going to happen?  When will this Day of Judgment actually be?  We don’t know, of course.  While Jesus was on earth he said even he did not know, that God the Father is the only one who knows.  The one thing we know is that things are going to get pretty bad before it happens.
            And that leads some people to think it’s going to be pretty soon.  In fact, some people wonder why it has not happened already.  It seems like there’s either war or the threat of war all over the world.  There are lots and lots of people living in poverty.  We see people being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.  We see natural disasters happening all over the world.  And so, some people think, well, those are supposed to be some of the signs, right?  Does that mean God is going to act soon?
            But of course, we can look at it the other way, too.  We can say, well, there have been lots of wars in the world for all of human history, really.  There have even been world wars.  There have always been lots of people living in poverty.  We can think of many, many times in history in which people were persecuted for their faith in Jesus.  And of course, natural disasters have been happening for all of recorded history, too.  There’s nothing new about any of this.  So does that mean God is not going to act for a long time yet?
            I don’t know.  But I do know one thing.  At some point, God is going to act.  Zechariah tells us so.  Again, he says, “Be still before the Lord, all people, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
            Now, saying that God will rouse himself from his holy dwelling does not mean that right now God is asleep.  It also does not mean that God is just watching and not doing anything.  God is active in God’s world.  But for now, God is allowing things to play out as they will.  God, and only God, will decide when the right time to act.  But God will definitely act.
            And when God acts, it’s going to change everything.  And that can be scary, too.  Because what that means, really, is the end of the world as we know it.  And a lot of us are kind of uncomfortable with that thought.  We like our lives the way they are.  Or if we don’t like them, at least we’re kind of okay with them.  We’re used to life being this way.  We kind of know how to handle it.  When God acts, well, what’s life going to be like then?  There’s no way to know.
            But while we may not know exactly what life will be like when God acts, we know one thing—it’s going to be wonderful.  It will be the end of the world as we know it, but the world we don’t know is going to better than we can imagine. 
Listen to what God, speaking through Zechariah, has to say about it.  “The seed will grow well, the vine will produce its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew.  I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people…Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong… The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah…Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to seek the favor of the Lord.  I myself am going.’  And many peoples and many powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and his favor.  In those days the people from all languages and nations will…say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
            We’ve talked before about how, even though we believe in God, we so often have a hard time trusting God.  When God finally acts, we won’t have that problem any more.  Not only will we trust God, other people will come to have faith and trust God, too.  People who are not even Christians will come to believe and to trust.  Again, people from all languages and nations will say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.”  What an awesome thing that will be.  Can you even imagine it?  People storming the doors of the church, coming in and saying, "Let us in!  Let us in!  We want to be with you, because we have heard that God is with you!”  What an incredible thing that will be.
            And I don’t want to gloss over the greatest thing of all.  This was in our reading, and I mentioned it, but we have not talked about it yet.  Chapter Three, Verse Two says, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!’”
            Because Satan is active in the world now.  We don’t know how that plays out, exactly.  Right now, of course, we are fallen, sinful people.  We can make enough messes all on our own, without Satan’s help.  But we know Satan has not gone away.  And Satan will not go away until God steps in.  But when God does step in, Satan is going to be defeated.  And it will be a final, unconditional defeat.  It’s a defeat that only God can bring about.  And God will bring it about.
           We don’t know why God has not acted yet.  We don’t know when God will act.  But we know that, when the time is right, God will act.  We may not understand exactly how it’s going to happen, but that’s okay.  That’s stuff for God to know.  But God will act.  And when God acts, as Christians we don’t have to be scared of it.  It will be the end of the world as we know it, but only to make way for an even better, more wonderful, more incredible world.  A world in which God will be living with us.  A world in which Satan is defeated.  And a world in which everything will be more awesome that you and I can ever imagine.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Not Now, God

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 8, 2015.  The Bible verses are Haggai 1:1-15.

We’re starting to get close to the end of our sermon series on the Minor Prophets, a sermon series we call “Who Are These Guys?”  Today we look at the prophet Haggai.
            And as we read from Haggai, you may have noticed something that makes him different from the other Minor Prophets we’ve looked at.  Haggai does not have a message of doom and destruction.  He is not here to tell everyone that if they don’t change their ways and ask God’s forgiveness God’s going to wipe them out.  Haggai has a more specific message for a more specific situation.  But the reason Haggai’s message is in the Bible is that his specific message is one we can also apply in our lives.
            To do that, though, we need to know a little about the specific situation that influenced Haggai’s message.  Haggai gave his message in 520 B. C.  That’s another difference with Haggai—scholars are pretty sure they know right about when it was that Haggai spoke.  At this time, there was very little territory left in the nation of Israel.  All there was, was Judah, which included Jerusalem and a little territory around it.  That was about it.
            Judah was a part of the Persian Empire, but it had a certain amount of independence.  As often happened in Old Testament times, the kings and rulers, whoever they happened to be, did not care much what the people of Israel did as long as they kept paying taxes and did not cause any trouble.  And in fact, about fifteen or twenty years earlier, the king, King Cyrus had explicitly given permission to the Israelites, who had been in exile, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the house of God, which had been torn down and destroyed about forty or fifty years before that.
            So, the people of Israel went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  And they got started, and things went okay for a while.  But then, the people thought, “You know, we need to have places to live ourselves.”  And so they started building houses.  And then the people thought, “You know, we need to make sure we have enough to eat.”  And so they started planting crops.  And then the people thought, “You know, we need to make some money so we can buy the stuff we cannot make or build for ourselves.”  And so they started getting jobs.  And the rebuilding of the temple got delayed, and then it got delayed again, and then it got delayed some more, and pretty soon everybody just forgot about rebuilding the temple and went about their daily lives.
            Now, notice something about that.  No one ever made a decision that they were not going to rebuild the temple.  In fact, if you’d asked them, most of the people probably would’ve said, “You know, we do need to get back to that.  We really do need to get back to rebuilding the temple.  We should do that.”  And then, they’d have gone back to going about their business.
            Now, it’s not that the people were lying.  They really meant what they said.  They knew, on some level, that they really should rebuild the temple.  They knew that was what God wanted them to do.  They knew that was the whole reason they’d been sent back to Jerusalem in the first place.  But they did not let that knowledge impact their lives in any significant way.  They knew rebuilding the temple was the right thing to do.  But they had no intention of actually doing it.
            Any of that sound familiar?  I suspect it does.  How many times do we know what the right thing to do is, but have no intention of actually doing it?  How many times do we know what we should do, what God wants us to do, but just not let that knowledge impact our lives in any significant way?
            There are a lot of times in our lives where we do exactly what the people of Israel did.  We don’t make a conscious decision to disobey God.  We just think, “You know, I really need to do this first.”  Then we think, “You know, I really need to get that taken care of first.”  Then we think, “You know, I need to take care of myself and my family first.”
            A lot of the time, at least, we don’t make a conscious decision to go away from God.  In fact, if we were asked, we’d say, “You know, I do need to get back to God.  I really do need to get back to church and taking time for prayer and all that stuff.  I really should do that.”  And then, we go about our business.  Again, we know what we should do.  We just have no intention of actually doing it.
            That’s pretty much where the people of Israel were.  And then Haggai comes along.  And God, speaking through Haggai, basically asks the people of Israel the Dr. Phil question.  “How’s that workin’ for you?”  And the answer, apparently, is “Not very well.”  Listen to what God, speaking through Haggai, says, “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but have harvested little.  You eat, but you never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm.  You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it….You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little.  What you brought home, I blew away.  Why?  Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”
            The people of Israel did exactly what you and I do so often.  They believed in God.  But they did not trust God.  They believed in God, but they believed they had to take care of themselves.  They believed in God, but they did not put doing God’s work first.  They put themselves first.  They took care of themselves first, and they only gave God any time, money, or ability they had left over.
            It’s such an easy trap to fall into.  We don’t disobey God, at least not intentionally.  We just say, “Not now, God.”  Not now.  First I need to get my schooling taken care of.  Then I need to get a job.  Then I need to get some stuff, a car, a house, that sort of thing.  Then I need to meet someone and get married.  Then I need to start a family and make sure that family is provided for.  Oh, and I need to make sure I take care of myself in retirement, too.  I’m going to do what you want, God, really I am.  Just not right now.  I have to take care of all these other things first.  You know how it is, God.  You understand, right?
            And God does understand.  What God understands is that we’re putting ourselves in first place, and we’re putting God in second place.  In fact, sometimes we put God in third or fourth or fifth place.  And it works out for us about the way it worked out for the people of Israel.  Not very well.  We keep thinking that after we’re done with all these other things we’ll serve God, but somehow all these other things never get done.  There’s always something else to do, something else we need to take care of, something else we need to finish first.  When we try to take care of our needs and our wants by ourselves, we never get it done.  We always have more needs and more wants.  “Not now” becomes “not ever”.  That may not be a conscious decision we make, but that’s how it works out.
            So what do we do?  Well, first we have to decide whether we really want to do anything.  And again, that comes down to a question of trust.  Do we trust that, if we put God first, God will take care of us?  Or do we think we have to take care of ourselves?
            That’s the first step.  And it’s the most important step.  Because if we’re not willing to trust God enough to put God first, none of the rest of it matters.  As long as we keep thinking that we’ll get around to serving God later, as long as we keep thinking we have to take care of ourselves first, nothing else is going to matter.  Any other steps are going to be irrelevant if we don’t take that first one.  If we’re not willing to trust God enough to put God first, we’ll never take any of the other steps.
            How do we trust God enough to take that first step?  Well, I don’t have the whole answer.  All I can tell you, really, is what I try to do.  And in saying this, please understand that I am NOT trying to put myself forward as the role model that everyone should follow.  There are plenty of times I don’t trust God enough.  There are plenty of times I don’t put God first.  This is not me saying I have it all figured out and you don’t, not by any stretch.  I struggle with this as much as anyone.
            But this is the best way I’ve found to try to overcome it.  Pray.  Pray about this consistently.  Pray about it every day.  Pray that God will put God’s spirit in your heart, in your soul, in your mind, and in your life.
            And the thing is that, even as I pray this, I know that I’m going to resist it.  If God starts to put God’s spirit in my heart, in my soul, in my mind, in my life, I’m going to resist.  I’m going to throw up roadblocks.  But I pray it anyway.  I pray for God to overcome my resistance and put God’s spirit in my heart and in my soul and in my mind and in my life anyway.
            I’ve been doing that for some time now.  Has it worked?  Not perfectly, that’s for sure.  You all know that.  You know there are still plenty of times I put myself first.  You know there are plenty of times I go my own way.  And if you don’t know it, ask Wanda.  She can give you plenty of examples of me doing that.
            But I think I’m better than I used to be.  I’m still a long way from where I should be, but I’m better than I used to be.  And I think if you pray for God to put God’s spirit in your heart, in your soul, in your mind, in your life, it’ll help you, too.  You’ll find that you do trust God more.  You’ll find that, sometimes at least, you don’t say, “Not now, God” and instead put God first.
            God wants to take care of us.  And if we’ll just get out of our own way and put God first in our lives, God will take care of us.  Let’s stop saying, “Not now, God.”  Let’s trust God now.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Changing Focus

Wow!  It’s already November.  For a while, I was saying I didn’t know where the summer went.  Now I’m saying I don’t know where the fall went.  As I write this, it’s a very nice day and it still feels like fall, but we know that once we get to November winter is not far behind.  In fact, some years, by the time we get to November winter is already here.

I heard for years that as we get older, time seems to go by faster.  I know now that this is true.  I heard an explanation for it once that kind of made sense.  It said that, when you’re five years old, one year represents twenty percent of your life.  Because of that, one year seems like a long time.  But when you’re fifty years old, one year represents two percent of your life.  So, one year does not seem like very much at all.

But I think there’s another reason life is going by so fast for me.  I have a lot of stuff to do, and I enjoy almost all of it.  When your life is full, when there’s nowhere else you’d rather be and nothing you’d rather do and no one you’d rather do it with, the days seem to go by in no time at all.  So do the weeks and the months.  And that’s a pretty awesome thing.

But of course, sometimes we reach a time when our lives are not so full any more.  Sometimes that’s by choice.  Sometimes we decide that we want to slow our lives down and take time to do things or go places or enjoy certain things.  Sometimes, though, it’s not by choice.  Sometimes, there are lots of things we’d love to do, but we just cannot do them any more.

You may be dealing with that now.  It’s not easy.  I wish I had a nice, simple solution to it, but I don’t.  I can’t even really say I know how it feels, because I haven’t had it happen yet.  I know it’s got to be hard, and I can sympathize, but I cannot feel what you’re feeling.  The most I can do is make a suggestion, which you’re obviously free to ignore.

My suggestion is that you try to change your focus.  I know it’s hard—I don’t mean to act like this is easy.  But try.  Try to stop focusing on the things you wish you could do, but can’t.  Instead, focus on the things you can do.  Try to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Again, I don’t mean to act like this is going to be easy.  The sadness, grief even, over the fact that you can no longer do things you used to do is very real.  You’re not going to be able to just flip a switch and stop feeling it.  You’re still going to feel it, but you can, maybe, stop thinking about it so much.  Instead, you can start thinking about something you can do:  either something you can do to help someone else, or just something you can do to increase your enjoyment of your own life.

It may be hard, but I know you didn’t get this far in life by giving up.  Keep trying.  If you work at it, you can do it.  You can change your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.  And you can make the most of every day, no matter how fast it goes by.