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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.

God's Work or Ours

Making a distinction between “God’s work” and “our work” comes all too easy.  Prayer, reading the Bible, gathering for worship, being on a church committee… that’s “God’s work.”  Mowing the yard, doing a job for an employer, giving the kids a bath, balancing the checkbook… that’s “our work.” 

Tish Harrison-Warren shares that “the Christian faith teaches that all work that is not immoral or unethical is a part of God’s kingdom mission” (Liturgy of the Ordinary, p. 92).  I was reminded of this the other day as I was trying to empty my email inbox.  More accurately, I was just trying to read all my “unread” emails.  Reading and responding to emails is not something I normally consider all that “pastoral.” It’s just something that has to be done. 

That particular morning, I’d received an email sharing concerns and a question about “re-opening” our church building to activities in the current COVID-19 situation.  My initial response was to quickly answer the question, hit the “send” button, and move on to the next email.  But something made me wait. 

Where is God?  What is God doing?  Who does God need me to be? 

I looked again at the email sent to me.  I could see the love this person has for our church.  I could sense how God was working in them to be a part of us appropriately moving to “re-open.”  So, I went back and rewrote my response in a way that to the best of my ability was being the person God needed me to be.  In all of that I was blessed. 

And I wonder… If God can work in something as ordinary as email, what might God be able to do if you and I saw all that we do as “God’s work?”  

Remember

 

“They forgot God’s deeds as well as the wondrous works he showed them… God split the sea and led them through, making the waters stand up like a wall…” (Psalm 78:11-13, CEB)

We forget.  We need something to help us remember the most important things.

In Psalm 78 and the other 149 psalms found in the Bible, a consistent drumbeat is the need for God’s people to remember.  Throughout the Old Testament… the part of the Bible that comes to us from before the time of Jesus… the call is often to remember what God did to save the ancient Israelites from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea (see Exodus 14). 

In the New Testament… the part of the Bible that comes to use from after the time of Jesus… most often the call is to remember Jesus Christ’s life, words, death, and resurrection.  That’s nowhere more striking than when Jesus establishes the Lord’s Supper.  “After taking the bread and giving thanks, he (Jesus) broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me,’” (Luke 22:19, CEB).

The breathtaking experience of God bringing the people through the Red Sea on dry ground (think Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments or DreamWorks’ Prince of Egypt).  The heartbreak-to-joy journey of God saving us through Christ’s crucifixion and empty tomb.  Surely these mighty acts of God are etched into the hearts and minds of God’s people.  Scripture’s repeating call to remember would argue the contrary.

We forget.  We need something to help us remember the most important things.

May this Memorial Day serve its intended purpose of helping us remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their life in military service to our country.  And may we be grateful. 

Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

Several years ago, I was having a conversation with my pastor.  We were working together on a new thing our church was trying to get off the ground.  The change it would bring was causing some conflict in the congregation.  He was concerned that this might cause division in the church.  So, he suggested an alternative that he admitted would not be as effective, but might cause less discord. 

I was not nearly as concerned.  In fact, I remember saying something like, “I don’t think God is that troubled about conflict in the church.”  And just for good measure I threw in a couple of vague Scripture references to back up my claim. 

To my pastor’s credit he received my remarks, acknowledged my “hand-picked” Bible passages could be interpreted as such, and that sometimes “conflict” in the church was needed to fulfill God’s purpose.  However, I could tell from his look that he didn’t feel this was such a time. 

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NRSV)

I still believe there are times when living into God’s preferred future will cause conflict.  I need to look no further than the conflict that arises in me when God is calling me to do something that will bring deep change to my thinking and actions.  

But I also believe that the words of Scripture from 2 Corinthians above, and others in the Bible, clearly state that as a person reconciled to God, by God, through Christ… I’m called to be a reconciler and peacemaker.  I’m called to a “ministry of reconciliation” and so are you. 

As Tish Harrison-Warren shares in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, reconciliation is hard work! And that may be especially true in our culture where conflict and division seem to “just be the way things are.” Conflict and resentment seem the easier route and probably a whole lot less humiliating.  

So, I encourage you to start small.  Extend kindness to someone with whom you disagree.  Maybe that means just not harming the person you’re in conflict with.  Perhaps that will open the way up for you to be the one who’ll take the first courageous step of reconciliation.   

Warren goes on to say that it takes faith to believe that our small every day efforts to bring the peace of Christ to someone will bear any fruit.  And it takes faith to believe that through repentance and reconciliation God is making us into people capable of saying to the world through our small, ordinary actions, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me! 

I say, let there be such faith! 

The Word

“Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, CEB)

The Apostle Paul, a missionary in the first generation of the church, wrote these words in a letter to a young protégé in ministry named Timothy. Paul’s words, now considered holy Scripture themselves in the Church, share the foundational reason for importance of the Word.

Salvation: “…the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Through the living Word of God, the Holy Spirit convicts, invites, guides, and woos us to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Passages like Romans 5:6-8, 6:23, and John 3:16 are just a few examples.

Growing in Faith: “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character…”  The Word both instructs and challenges us to grow in faith and into living a life of faith.  I can’t think of a better example than Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7. 

Leads to God and Good: “…so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”  The Word is our primary means of grace, a way God meets us and changes us for God’s good purposes.  Psalm 23 is a passage of Scripture that continues to bring the people into God’s presence in almost any circumstance of life. 

May you and I be in the Word in ways that lead to all of things and more!     

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