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Surviving Or Thriving?

I took this picture the other day when my wife and I were out hiking. So many questions… What happened? When did it happen? How had the tree managed to survive? 

The details might be a mystery, but it’s plain to see the tree was impacted in a very unexpected and negative way. Yet it’s is still growing up, not from it’s top, but from its side.  Despite the challenge, it’s not done being what a tree is created to do. It’s reaching up for the light it needs… not just surviving, but thriving! 

There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like the picture of this tree… expectedly pushed down, troubled, or challenged. You? How about so far in 2020?

The Bible tells us to expect difficult times, but it also that difficult times are not to define us. 

“God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ… We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-9, CEB) 

As people of faith, in all circumstances of our lives, we keep reaching up for the light of God that’s reaching down in Jesus Christ. At times we may be troubled, but not crushed!  We may be knocked down, but not knocked out!  We don’t just survive, but we thrive!

My prayer is that we will all be more like “tree-like!” 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve

Are We There Yet?

Are we there yet? That’s every parent’s favorite “back seat” question on a long family road trip. I’m sure I asked it often growing up and remember hearing it from my kids. How about you?

Are we there yet? In some form or another we still ask that question, especially when we want something to be different.  We may want to be somewhere else. We may want to be doing something else. We may want things to return to “normal.”  Are we there yet?

“…those who had gathered together asked Jesus, ‘Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?’ Jesus replied, ‘It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather…’”   (Acts 1:6-8, CEB)

The risen Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. The twelve apostles want to know, “Are we there yet?” They want to know if this is when Jesus will use his great powers to make everything the way God wants it to be, at least the way they think God wants it to be. 

Jesus’ answer isn’t yes or no, but neither. “Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8, CEB).

Are we there yet? Only God knows. My prayer is that in the meantime, we hear and live into Jesus’s call to be his witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit; first to those we know and are comfortable with and then to those we aren’t.  Doing that, may just get us to wherever “there” is! 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

 

Simply Seek God

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.  When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.

These words from verse one of the church hymn, “Abide with Me”, were written by Henry Lyte. God is described as the “help of the helpless,” the one who can and will help when all other helpers fail. In my life experience with God, that’s an appropriate description of who God is and what God does. How about you?

It’s interesting that in the opening verse of this classic hymn of the church, not once is God, the help for the helpless, ever asked to help. Rather the request, made multiple times, is for God to simply abide and stay with the one singing the words. 

In my life, it’s usually the other way around. More often than not, I reach out to God to receive some benefit from God; help, healing, guidance, strength, peace. I often seek God’s help, but less often do I just seek God. Sound familiar?

So, I want to encourage you to simply seek God. Just seek God to be with God. Maybe you can use these words from “Abide with Me” to help with that. Sing, or say the words to verse one and then stop, be still, spend a few moments in God’s abiding presence, and just see what happens next. 

Click here to listen to more (June 28 sermon). 

You partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Let God Be God

Several years ago, my 8-year old son and I were riding in the car when the song “God Is in Control” came on the radio.  When it came around to the song’s chorus he loudly sang along, “We know… Oh God is in control. Oh God is in control!” 

As the song ended, I sensed a teachable moment.  “So, you really like that song, don’t you?”  “Oh yeah Dad, it’s a great song!”  “So, what do you think those words mean, that God is control?  My son, thought for a moment, “Well,” he said, “it means God is in control of everything… God makes everything happen.” 

After a bit I said, “So, if God is in control of everything, what was going on this morning when you were fighting with your little brother?  Was God in control then?” My son just smiled and said, “Dad, everybody knows God has to take a break sometime!” 

 As with my young son, so it is with us.  It’s just a whole lot more convenient to be in control of our own lives when we want or to let others feed us with what to think, say, and do. 

But God is to be the ultimate authority in our lives. God alone is to be God!  This is a non-negotiable of the life of faith and of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus said it this way, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other…”  (Matthew 6:24, CEB)

Let God be the ultimate authority in your life.  Let God be God!  Click here and listen to more (June 21 sermon). 

Clarity

In my experience, concrete moments of complete clarity are rare. 

I can remember exactly when and where I was, when I first thought that a good friend named Natalie (my wife now of 35 years) was someone I could share the rest of my life with.  Took me 6 weeks to muster up the courage to ask her out on a date, but I knew, in that moment.  

There are a few other moments in my life like that, rare moments of complete clarity that seem to come from out of the blue.  In hindsight, I can see they are the culmination of months, or even years, of conscious and subconscious of “tumbling things around” as I like to say. 

Clarity when it comes to the call or will of God, sometimes seems agonizingly elusive. But one thing I’ve come to know is that this elusiveness comes more as a result of me and my actions rather than of God. In fact, God is relentlessly resolved to break through and be heard. 

Just ask Samuel.

In the story found in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel 3, God calls out to Samuel three times, waking the young boy up in the early morning hours. The boy’s spiritual mentor, the priest Eli, finally recognizes it’s God who’s waking Samuel up.  Eli’s advice?  The next time that happens, say “Speak. Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, CEB). 

When God called out as before, “Speak. Your servant is listening,” came Samuel’s response.  Then God shares with great clarity, a “ear tingling” new thing that’s about to happen!  Click here to listen to more (June 14 sermon).  

Receiving clarity from God, seems to go hand-in-hand with our desire to really listen for God speaking into our life. So, take a cue from Samuel and use his sentence prayer to sincerely make the time and space in life to clearly hear from God… “Speak. For your servant is listening.” 

God's Keynote

“Have we learned to sing after hearing God’s keynote?” Oswald Chambers

Recently as I was reading from Oswald Chambers’ classic daily devotion book, My Utmost for His Highest (June 5 reading).  The question above jumped off the page! 

What does Chambers mean here by using the word “keynote?”  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines keynote as: 1) the fundamental or central fact, idea, or mood, or 2) in music the first and harmonically fundamental tone of a scale.

It’s the second definition that Chambers seems to apply here. Can we hear the first and fundamental tone or note that God is singing over us?  If so, what is that keynote?  And if we know God’s keynote, have we learned to sing our life’s song in a way that’s in harmony with it?  These are great questions!

Are we making the intentional time and space to really listen to what God may be singing or saying into our lives?  Singing or saying?  Take your pick, but personally I love the idea of God singing over me or singing into my life (Psalm 32:7, Zephaniah 3:17). Either way, hearing God’s keynote normally takes being intentional on our part.

What might God’s keynote be? To be true to the use of the word in the devotion I was reading, Chambers was sharing how God’s constant assurance to us is: “I will never… forsake you.”  I believe God’s keynote can just as likely be something unique to a specific situation or time. 

Lately a keynote I feel God's been singing into my life are these words of Scripture.

“He (God) has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

Maybe that is a keynote God is singing into your life too.  My prayer for us, is that we learn to tune ourselves to it and sing life’s harmony well!

The Spiritual Practice Of Sleep

May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ enfold you this night.

Several years ago, my wife and I loaded up our two young sons and moved a 12-hour drive away from all both our families’ home base.  The food plant I’d been working in had closed and this looked like the best option for a next step in my food industry career.  I started a 2nd shift supervisor job there.  This new role soon consumed many more hours than expected, with 6- and 7-day summer work weeks. 

Thankfully we had found a good church connection.  But for the first time in my life, I was not able to be involved very deeply in church and couldn’t always attend worship on Sunday mornings.  At one point, exhausted and loosing connection with those I cared for, I got together with our pastor. 

I shared how working night after night and getting precious little sleep was negatively affecting all of my life… including the spiritual side of things.  He already knew of my sporadic connection with the church.  I also confessed how I rarely prayed or read the Bible anymore.  

When I stopped talking, my pastor said something I will never forget.  “Steve,” he said, “sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to sleep.” 

In our workaholic, image-barraged, overcaffeinated, entertainment addicted, and super-charged culture… we need to embrace ceasing and relaxing into sleep as the act of reliance on God and the spiritual practice that it is. So, whatever anxious thoughts, worries, or unfinished tasks seek to prevent or interrupt your much-needed daily sleep, I encourage you to use the blessing prayer above to embrace sleep.

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