Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Tuesday, November 30th

Scripture: Job 1:20
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship
Reflection: Immediately preceding the above scripture passage Job witnesses the death of his family – the latest in a string of incredible misfortune. 
            Job’s response to all of his ‘bad luck’, grief and trouble is not at all what we might expect from him.  We would expect anger, frustration and utter grief.  Instead Job’s first response to all of this is to fall before God and worship.  What?
            Job had a critical understanding of the nature of worship that we so often miss.  Worship is not a response to be reserved for when we have received something good or great in comparison to the rest of our lives.  But rather, the very fact that we are alive at all is cause for us to respond to God in worship. 
            We are to worship God for the life that we have been given.  We are to worship for the gifts, abilities and materiel possessions we have been made stewards over.  We are to worship even – or maybe especially – in difficult times because God will never leave us or forsake us. 
Question:  In what times or circumstances to you find it easy to worship?  When do you find it hard to worship?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Monday, November 29th

Scripture: Hebrews 1:6
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Reflection:  I think when we examine our lives and how we spend our time, we might realize that we idolize a lot of things that don’t deserve our worship: people, things, lifestyles.  And make no mistake, when we idolize something, making it an object of worship is exactly what we are doing – it is the very meaning of the word. 
            So as we begin to think about ‘worshipping fully’ this Advent and Christmas season, I think it is critical to begin with finding something or someone worthy of our worship.  When Jesus was born, angels sang heavenly anthems of praise to God, celestial fireworks were set off and ancient prophecies were fulfilled. 
            Beginning with his divine conception and his unique and celebrated birth to his miraculous healings and world altering teaching, Jesus every moment was a model of perfection and truly deserving of our praise. 
            Simply put, God is the only thing worthy of our worship and Jesus Christ is the tangible, visible connection to the God who deserves our worship.
Question: Who or what do you worship?
What idols do you have in your life?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Sunday, November 28th

Today is the First Day of Advent.  Each day during Advent I will post a short devotion including a scripture, a reflection and a question (or two).  These are taken from a devotional put together for Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church's participation in the Advent Conspiracy this year.  Because this is the first day, I am also including the introduction to the devotional.  I hope these devotions help draw you closer to the God that chose to come near to us.  

Advent means ‘coming’ and it is designed and intended to be a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.  It is about preparation, but not about putting up the tree, decorating the house or getting all the gifts on the list (not that there is anything wrong with those things – there isn’t!)
Instead, Advent is about preparing our hearts, minds and lives to celebrate and remember the miracle of Christ coming near to us. A common and important aspect of our discipleship and relationship with God is regular time in prayer, study and devotion.
This booklet is intended to be a tool to use in that setting to help us be more fully prepared as we come together to worship and celebrate God coming near to us. 
As our focus for the season is the ‘Advent Conspiracy’ each of the included devotions will focus on at least one of the four main themes of the ‘conspiracy’: Worship Fully; Spend Less; Give More; Love All.
A final word of reminder, the ‘Advent Conspiracy’ isn’t about taking the joy out of Christmas, not giving gifts or anything like that.  Instead it is simply a matter of recognizing where our real joy comes from, celebrating the ‘best gift’ while sharing that gift in all we do this Advent and Christmas. 
            The point of the conspiracy, and this booklet is to draw you into a deeper relationship with the God who choose to draw near to you and in so doing invite others into that same relationship by the way we live our lives. 

Scripture: Romans 12:1 -
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Reflection:  There are several definitions of the word worship and the word itself can be either an noun or a verb.  It can be a church service you participate in or an act that you perform.  It can be a state of mind or the attitude that you take toward a person or an object. 
            But however we define it, it is important that we think about what we worship and how we worship.   We so often think about worship as something we do for an hour or two on Sunday mornings or maybe we think of it as the way we feel about something or someone. 
            The verse from Romans above gives us a different view or understanding of what worship is.  God calls us to live as an act of worship.  God calls us to respond to God’s love, grace and peace – demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ drawing near to us.  We are called to ‘offer our bodies’ – to live our lives in response to the life Jesus lived for us. 
Question:   What does worship look like in your life? 
If you judged based on how you live your life, what would be the object of your worship – what are you living your life in response to?  

Remember me???

So, apologies that I have been absent from the blog for the last week or so.  A combination of being away for the Philadelphia Marathon, being away for Thanksgiving and the preparation for those two along with lots of other little things meant I have been unable to update for a while.
But, there is good news - if you like reading this blog, that is.  There will be at least one post for every day of advent!  Let me explain.  

Our church is joining with other churches around the world in participating in the 'Advent Conspiracy' this Advent.  To get a better idea of what the Advent Conspiracy is all about check out the website: adventconspiracy.org  
So, as part of our Advent preparations we have put together a daily Advent devotional, with each days scripture, thought and question focused on one of the four main pillars of the Advent Conspiracy.  
So each day I will post that day's devotion.  I will also post the messages I give, starting today, that are also each tied to one of the four themes of the Advent Conspiracy.  As much as I am able I will also be uploading regular lectionary thoughts and miscellaneous other thoughts on the 'normal' schedule of once a day during the week. 
So, anyway below is the message I gave today at Good Shepherd.   The message introduces the Advent Conspiracy and the first theme, Worship Fully.  I have included the Scripture passages as well as my opening prayer.  Thanks for your thoughts and your time.

Philippians 2:12-15 (NIV)

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky

Matthew 24:36-44 (NIV)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a]but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Prayer: Dear Lord, come and dwell with us know.  Open our minds to the fullness of your blessing and working in our lives and empower us to respond in full.  Guide our hearts as we seek to know your will, direct our actions as we work to follow your call on our lives.  Draw us into worship of you in everything that we do.  Hide me behind your cross, so you are what is seen and speak through me, so you are what’s heard.  Amen.

If you have been with us the last couple of weeks you know that today we begin the season of Advent – a time of anticipation of the coming of our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ.  You also know, hopefully, that this advent we are participating in something called the ‘advent conspiracy’
Advent conspiracy is designed to ‘restore the scandal of Christmas’ by focusing on four themes
Worship Fully                     Spend Less
Give more                          Love all
I want to spend a little bit of time thinking about what worship is and what worship isn’t.
Last night many of us spent some time here ‘greening our church’ – getting the church ready for the season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas. 
Now, I am running out of ‘firsts’ to participate in, but I loved being a part of everyone coming together.  I also loved how we closed the night with a few minutes of worship together.
Part of me wants to tell all of you that those few minutes that we sat and stood in these chairs were the only moments of ‘real’ worship last night, that the rest of the night together wasn’t worship – but it was – the problem is that for many of us this hour each week encompasses our complete definition or understanding of worship
I believe that is a very flawed and incomplete understanding
Our society – and most of us, really – like things to fit into neat, easily discernable categories.  We like to be able to define people and things in a 10 second sound bite and we don’t like when the lines between one thing and another get crossed or blurred. 
Blurred or crossed lines cause confusion and  nobody likes that
We deal with this just about all the time in our house, and it made me realize that this need or desire to neatly categorize all of our experiences is not something we develop – but it seems to be innate.
In North Carolina Charlie and Jack went to day care at our church.
Every morning – or just about – Charlie would ask if we were going to church, real church or school
School was Monday, Tuesday and Friday
Church was Wednesday and Thursday – days when we were regularly at the church after or outside of school,
And real church was Sunday          
These are the definitions and delineations that Charlie came up with on his own, but in many ways I think they are indicative of how we look at not just our faith, our ‘spiritual life’ and our worship, but really our whole lives
We separate our lives into categories or boxes that can be easily labeled
Work                     Play                              School
Friends                   Family              Church
Now, of course, many of those boxes have sub-categories, and church is no exception
Fellowship                                      Sunday school
Mission                                          Worship
But worship is not intended to be a small box sitting inside of another box in your life
Pastor and author Rob Bell, in a talk called, ‘everything is Spiritual’ – Highlights that there is no word for ‘spiritual’ in the Hebrew language – In Jesus eyes and understanding there is no separation from the spiritual world and the rest of the world we live in. 
They aren’t separate, parallel streams of our lives.  They aren’t even interconnected parts of our lives.  We only have one life, and everything in it is spiritual even if we don’t recognize it.
But we do try to separate them.  Eugene Peterson, in his book, ‘Tell it slant’ – says that we have a tendency to be ‘bilingual’, in that we have one language for talking about our faith or spiritual lives and a different vocabulary for the rest of our lives. 
He stresses the importance of the language we use, and how language – all of it – is a gift from God and how we should nurture all of our language to convey God’s blessing to those we encounter everyday
So, worship then, is not intended to be separate from the rest of our lives, it is not supposed to be merely or only something we do, but rather an integral part of who we are.
A few moments ago, we lit the first candle on our advent wreath.  The first candle is often called the candle of prophecy, but it is also often called the hope candle.
And that is an appropriate place to begin the season of Advent and our Christmas preparations. 
Because, as followers of Christ, we are people of HOPE.  People that respond to Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of our hope in him by responding in Worship.
Worship is intended to be at the very heart – the center of all that we do, and in fact all that we are. 
Worship is not simply – or just – an hour on Sunday morning or a service once a week. 
It is more than prayers and scripture and singing
It is bigger than the people in this room, this building we are in or even our denomination
Those definitions and parameters of worship are ones that we have put forth,  but Scripture gives a fuller and different image of what worship is:
Exodus 8:1 -Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
The Israelites were freed so that they could worship God.  We have been freed so that we can worship as well.  Don’t you think that is for more than just 1 hour a week
Deuteronomy is full of rules about when and where and how to worship.  There were lots of rules because there were only certain ways to get to the point of connection with God
Christmas is our celebration and recognition of Jesus coming to us and opening up the lines of relationship with and commitment to God so that all of us would be able to be reconciled to God – and then to worship God in all that we do, every day. 
Worshiping God isn’t about a weekly service and gathering for songs, prayers, scripture readings and teaching – that is a part of it, but
Worshiping God is about a state of mind or a way of being in and interacting with the world
Worship is about acknowledging who God really is and who we are in relation to God.  (i.e. we are the created and owe to our creator everything)
This completely changes the scope of what it means to worship because this understanding – this perspective – is something that we need to take with us everywhere we go, everyday
We need to worship God in all that we do, all day, everyday
That means allowing this perspective – this acknowledgement of God – to permeate every box, every category and sub-category of our lives

John 4:23-24 (The Message) 23But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.23-24It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration."

In the passage from Matthew the understanding that we are to acknowledge and worship God at all times in all places is again reinforced
Also in this passage we get a simple explanation of what that ‘all the time, everywhere’ worship should consist of:
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you go to church or where you work – but do you stand before God in truth and as their honest selves – acknowledging who God is and what God has done for you – and thank God for that
Finally from Romans 12:1 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.

This is what we are called to do - offer our bodies and in fact our lives to God, today and every day.  Listen to the verse again, this time from the Message translation:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. 
Worshipping God means placing God at the center of all that you are and all that you do, acknowledging God at all times (not just on Sunday mornings)
This Christmas, this Advent season of preparation, bring the light of the world into your life and into the lives of all of those around you – this is what the Philippians passage is talking about. 
Shine like a star in this often dark and dreary world by worshiping and sharing Jesus Christ, the light of the world with all those in your world.  Today.  Every day.  All Day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Playing with matches and other daily activities

Today's New Testament passage from the daily lectionary is from James 3 - all of the lectionary passages can be found here:  http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/11/16/  - I want to look at and talk about just the james passage, starting with verse 5: 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue - a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
The tongue is compared to a fire.  And the passage above is completely dedicated to a warning against the power of the tongue and what damage can be done by a 'small member' of the body.  I think this is an important warning for all of us - and if you know me at all you know that I have, what the kids call a 'big mouth'.  So these words I take to heart and I am painfully aware that on more than one occasion my tongue or mouth has gotten me into quite a bit of trouble.  
I know that my mouth can get me into trouble, and I think most of us are aware of the trouble that we can make for ourselves and/or for others simply with the words that we say.  But in spite of that, I think we - myself included - dismiss or even worse, just don't even think about the effect that our words can have.  
The James passage does a great job of highlighting the dangers that our mouths or tongues can cause and the trouble that we often have 'taming our tongues'.   And, indeed, our words have the ability to quickly light a fire that we are unable to control and often burns others as well as ourselves.  
But I think there is an other side of this point.  Words - our mouths or our tongues - have real power.  Power that is often underestimated.  If the words we say can quickly set fire to the world around us, sometimes that can be a good thing.  
Our words have power.  What we say to others matters and can make a difference in the way we are perceived, the way others perceive what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and even how people perceive what God is really all about.  
Our words can quickly spread trouble and discord like wildfire, but I believe when we choose our words carefully and prayerfully we allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to work in us and speak through us and can set our lives, our communities and even our world on fire.  
The world has been changed  by words.  Words of hate have incited death, destruction and discord for centuries, there is no doubt about that.  But words have changed the world for the better as well.  The words of Jesus have transformed lives, communities and the world for two thousand years.  
Every time we speak we are potentially playing with fire.  Are we lighting matches to burn things down our are we lighting the way towards a transformed life lived in relationship with Jesus Christ?  

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Sun can still stand still

Hello all.  Below is the scripture passage and the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  It was the second in a two week series inspired by Steven Furtick's book, 'Sun Stand Still'.  
Would love to hear your thoughts:

Numbers 13:16-33 (New International Version)
 16 These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)
 17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
 21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.
 26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

This week we are continuing to look at what happens when we dare to really believe in the promises of God and ask for impossible things from the God of the universe.  Last week we looked at the story of Joshua leading the Israelites to a great victory over a much larger army in order to secure the promised land for the people of God
The night before the battle God came to Joshua in a dream and promised a total victory for the Israelites – saying that not one of the enemy would be able to withstand them.  So Joshua asked God to make the ‘Sun Stand Still’ in order to give the army time to complete the victory.  God did – and the sun stayed in the sky for about 36 hours. 
The impossible became possible through the power of God when Joshua believed in the promise of God and acted accordingly.  We looked at Joshua and the way that Joshua lived out a life-changing faith that allows God to do the impossible in and through you. 
While there is no formula to living out that kind of life, we identified three phases to beginning the process.  First we have to Seize God’s vision – if you want to see God do something impossible in your life your heart and mind to God’s vision for your life: Remembering the simple and remarkable truth that God’s vision for your life is bigger than yours. 
Activate our faith - Audacious faith doesn’t really begin until we make the decision to step out (or take a leap of faith) with a strength that is outside of yourself.  Seeking after God’s outsized vision for your life, will, in the normal course of things, cause you to pray ‘Sun stand still’ prayers filled with an audacious faith.
Make your move – When we respond to God’s supernatural answers by acting boldly in faith we will find ourselves right in the middle of a move of God, the impossible coming to pass or maybe even a miracle.  Audacious faith in God and ‘Sun Stand still’ prayers are not passive activities, but rather they are the combination of an active belief in God joined with participation in the purposes of God.
But before we continue looking at how we can live ‘Sun Stand still’ lives ourselves and as a congregation, I think we need to back track a little bit.  Our Old Testament lesson from this morning goes back into the story of the Israelites and into the beginning of Joshua’s story
In Numbers 13 we are introduced to Joshua as he and Caleb are some of the spies sent to scope out the promised land as the whole Jewish nation is waiting on the other side of the Jordan river.  What made Joshua different?  What about the way Joshua lived invited God to do the impossible in and through his life?  
I think we can hear and see the answer in the difference between his report of the Promised Land and the other reports.  It begins with and understanding and it leads to a different perspective or way of seeing things.  
I really believe the heart of Joshua’s story begins with acknowledging the truth that God’s plan will be accomplished no matter what.
God’s will is always done  -  and for God time is not the concern that it is for us – So the question is how long will we get to participate in God’s will and in so doing enjoy the blessings that flow naturally from living a life in step with the will and mission of God. 
The question is not ‘will God’s will be done’ but ‘will I open my life to receive the full measure of God’s blessing by being faithfully obedient to God’s will and participating in God’s mission and plan for the world?
When Joshua, Caleb and the other spies saw the promised land – a land flowing with ‘milk & honey’ which essentially meant that it was a land overflowing with the blessings of God. 
But they also saw a land inhabited by strong nations and even giants. 
The Israelites were literally on the edge of living into the promises that God had given them and they faced a choice
They could continue to believe in the promises, the goodness and the greatness of the God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt, that delivered them through the Red Sea and from Pharaoh’s army and sustained them in the desert or they could choose to believe that the outcome of their situation was limited to their abilities and resources.
As you probably know the Israelites choose to let fear and a lack of faith cloud their judgment and reliance on God.As a result they spend the next 40 years wondering in the desert, until Joshua – who never questioned God’s ability or faithfulness – eventually led them into the promised land he was willing to take 40 years earlier. 
But, eventually God’s will and God’s plan come to fruition and the people of Israel enter into the land of Canaan.  And the milk & honey still flow.  But it is also still a land where the there were strong nations and giants waiting to defend their territory
40 years had past but the opposition they faced in living into their promise was still there. 
So what changed? -  They way that opposition was seen – the perspective of fear and doubt (our perspective) was replaced by a perspective of faith and blessing (God’s perspective)
Many times we see or encounter opposition and assume that we must not be in the will of God. 
We tend to think the Promised Land is where the blessings are going to be and that being in God’s will is where life is supposed to be easy.  Therefore, battle, opposition, struggle, and enemies must be a sign that we aren’t in the right place.
But God’s will does not come with the promise of ease and comfort.  In fact the very sign of the Promised Land maybe the giants you encounter there. Conflict. Opposition.  In other words, being in God’s will doesn’t guarantee a tension-free job. Or a conflict-free marriage. Or a trouble-free life.  Or a church that never has to deal with difficulty or struggle.
In fact, the very presence of tension, conflict, and trouble could be a sign that you’re right where you need to be.  You might be thinking that you’re not in God’s will right now. You’re going through all this fighting and it shouldn’t be like this. It must mean you’re in the wrong place.
Not necessarily. It might mean that you’re in exactly the right place. – I’ve heard it said that Satan doesn’t put up a fight to keep you from going in the wrong direction. 
What if you changed your perspective and saw what you’re facing as a sign that you’re exactly where God wants you to be, because giants live in the Promised Land?  That doesn’t make it easier, but it does move it from impossible to possible, remember:
There was opposition for the Israelites. But there was also a reward.  There were giants. But there were also grapes.  If you are walking in God’s will and striving to live into God’s plan for your life and God’s mission for this world the opposition you’re facing is not an impossible obstacle to overcome, but rather a road sign confirming you are headed in the right direction.
The situation you are in, the situation we are in, the opposition we are facing may seem impossible – but that is a lie. The truth is that with God you can actually overcome any opposition and nothing is impossible. And the reward that you will get for sticking it out will far outshine any opposition that you’re facing.
In us and through us God works the impossible, but God demands from us that we are willing participants.  We have to be willing to have an audacious faith in God that believes in the impossible and springs into the action that comes from that belief
God didn’t hand over the enemies living in the promised land until the Israelites were willing to trust God enough to enter into it.  God made the Sun Stand still, but only after Joshua and his army marched all night long to meet their enemies in battle
God is waiting to do amazing and impossible things through each of us individually and as a congregation. 
Waiting for us to have an audacious faith that is active – that shows itself in a life lived differently. 
Waiting for us to walk in faith that the obstacles and opposition we face are nothing for God
Waiting for us to ask for the Sun to Stand Still in our lives – and then live and act like it is going to stay in the sky as long as we need it to for God’s will to be accomplished in us. 
God’s will will be done – but will we get to be a part of it?  Will we get to see the sun stand still in our lives, in our families, in our community and in and through our church? 
When we face giants of opposition in our lives and in our life together will we see the impossible that we can’t possibly accomplish or will we see an opportunity for God to work in amazing ways in and through us? 
In the bright light of a Sun that has stood still, what do you see? 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thanks , , , I guess.

So even though its Friday, there will be no 'running Friday' post today.  Not much to report from today's run - 8 miles, not good but not bad either.  No earth shaking insights either way.  
Instead I thought I might share a brief thought about today's lectionary passage (which as always can be found here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/11/12/  )
I don't really have anything earth shattering to say about the James passage, but the opening verses struck me as something I needed to be reminded of today and I thought that maybe the case for you to.  So James 1:17-18 it says: 17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
It is amazing how we can 'know' something but not apply that knowledge in our lives.  I stand up in church every Sunday morning before the offering and say something to the effect of: 'All that we have is not ours, the result of our labor or even the hand of 'luck' but a gift from God'  
I SAY THAT EVERY WEEK - OUT LOUD.  And yet I think I live most of my life things just kind of happen and if something good happens I probably deserved it or worked for it.  And if something bad happens I wonder, 'why me' or think about my bad luck.  
I wonder though, how different would our lives be if we lived our lives like we really believed that all the good things that we have, that we experience and that we will ever know come directly from God as a gift of love and grace to us.  
I think we would have no choice but to apply that knowledge in our lives by living with an attitude of grace and thankfulness that would be infectious - in much the same way a negative or bad attitude can be.  I also think if we really forced ourselves to recognize each day that All the good things we have or that have happened to us were from God would move us to be actively involved in working and doing for others.  When you have a real sense of what God has done and is doing for you, how can you not want to be more involved in the mission and work of God?
And this is not the point of this post - and I don't want to belittle the pain, suffering and grief we go through.  But I really believe if we are actively recognizing and Thanking God for all that he gives us and does for us that is good and that we enjoy at the very least it changes the tenor of the discussion when we ask why something bad has happened?  
Again I don't want this to be the focus of this post, but I think the way we think about God and why we are 'allowed' to suffer changes when the things that go wrong or are difficult to explain aren't the only things that we blame on God.  
I needed this reminder today and so I thought maybe you did too.  
Happy Weekend.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's no big deal and other lies we tell ourselves

So its not Friday, but I have running related post anyway.  If you have read this blog before or if you know me, you probably know that Traci and I are running a marathon next Sunday (oh dear, its getting close!) So last week was my last long run before the marathon (20 miles) and so from then until the marathon I am in the 'taper' part of my training, where I decrease mileage and 'maintain' fitness until the race. 
So today was 'just' a 6 mile run.  Did you catch the problem?  'Just'  is a funny word, and I think it almost never ends in good planning or good things for us. Now before I get going, I have to say that I didn't have a 'good' run today, but it wasn't terrible either.  So I am not trying to blow this out of proportion or anything, but I think it illustrates a point and the danger in 'just'.  
So as I have been training for the past 3+ months I have gotten into a pretty good and pretty standard routine prior to my runs: good hydration, the right combination of nutrition, and other sorts of preparation.  But as this was 'just' a 6 mile run I really didn't pay attention to any of that stuff today - or last night, which is when the hydration part starts.  
Again - I din't have a terrible run today, but it certainly wasn't as easy as it should have or could have been.  Because I didn't give it the attention it deserved and I was focused on other things.  
I think this happens to us all the time in our lives as we try to grow in our faith.  It is easy when things go bad or when we know that we are up against long odds to stop and pray: who hasn't said a prayer before a test - even or maybe especially if you haven't properly studied; and the saying that 'there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole' exists because in difficult situations it is obvious and natural to turn to God and ask for help.  
Where were run into trouble is when we think we have everything under control, all by ourselves.  We run into trouble when we think it is 'just' this little thing or 'just' that minor responsibility.  
And the more we view something as 'no big deal' or say that it is 'just' whatever the more danger we are in of allowing temptation to get the better of us or of simply not being able to give our best effort to whatever it is that God has put in front of us.
And that is the real point - if we are living our lives for God, really trying to put God first in all that we do everyday then there is no such thing as 'just' whatever and there is no such thing as 'no big deal'.  
Because everything that is done for in God's name and for God's glory is a big deal and everything you and I do, even the little the minor and the mundane has eternal significance if if it done for Jesus Christ.  And we never know when God is going to use something we do or say (major, minor or barely remembered) to do something amazing for the kingdom of God and to invite others into relationship with him.
My run on Friday is 'just' 8 miles, but I am planning on taking it a little more seriously.  What has God put before you that seems minor or insignificant, that God might be waiting to use if you would just see it as a little more seriously?  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is your 'relationship' with God more like a one night stand?

So, if you are reading this blog, you probably know that I am a big Steelers fan.  As I watched them last night on Monday Night Football, I kept comparing what I was seeing to examples of faith in my own life and in the Bible.  
Lot's of people have 'religious' experiences watching football and to many in our country and around the world football or some other sport (like the 'other' football) are watched, played, followed and experienced 'religiously'.  But that is not what I am talking about today.
So, in the game last night literally from the opening play the Steelers were dominant, creating a turnover and scoring a touchdown a few plays later.  The game was a blowout and the Steelers were up 20 points with a little time left in the 3rd quarter.  The game was, essentially, over.  But, as these things go, it wasn't over.  In fact in the end the Steelers won by just 6 points and needed a great defensive stand and a little bit of luck to stop a fourth down play inside their own 10 yard line with less than a minute left.  
What happened?  To most of us watching it seemed like the Steelers, like the rest of us, thought the game was won and that the fight was over.  Their effort and their intensity was maybe not completely gone, but it was certainly no where near where it had been in the beginning of the game.  They had worked hard for a big lead, and due to their complacency and lack of focus - they almost lost it.  
So what does any of this have to do with us or with faith?  Well, I think all throughout the Bible we see similar situations played out.
God calls his people to do something, usually something extraordinary or seemingly illogical - or both.  Sometimes the people rebel, but often they respond with excitement and enthusiasm but when it doesn't go as quickly as they first thought they lose focus, fall away or  just stop trying.  
But God's call on our lives is not about a singular moment of decision - it may begin there, when we make a decision to accept Jesus.  But what that means, or what that needs to mean is that we are making a choice to accept Jesus as the Lord, director and guide of our lives.  The moment in time where we make that choice is a moment when we choose to begin to live your lives for God.  The point is that that moment when we become Christians or followers of Christ is only really meaningful if it marks the beginning of a relationship with God and a journey towards greater faithfulness to God's call.
This is what Jesus is talking about in Luke 14, today's lectionary gospel passage (which can be read here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/11/9/  )  In the passage Jesus talks about 'picking up your cross and following him'.  And then he immediately talks about how when you begin a building project you don't start unless you have figured out what it will take to complete the project and know you have enough to finish.  An unfinished construction project, Jesus suggests, is a source of public ridicule.  
The point is that our faith - if it is real is not about a moment in time that is located somewhere in our past.  Our relationship with God is not a one night stand, but it is - it needs to be, if it is going to be pleasing to God - a long term relationship.  That doesn't mean there aren't bumps and bruises, if you have ever been in a real, long relationship then you know there highs and lows but the point is that you are on the road together, headed in the same direction.  
So where is your 'relationship' with God?  Have you called lately?  Spent any time together?  Worked on the relationship?  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sun Stand Still

First,  sorry that I have been absent for a few days.  Life and ministry and responsibilities meant that there just wasn't time for a post.  But this week we are back in the groove.  And, as has become a habit, below you will find the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  Before we get to that, an important note that, as I will mention this message was based on and inspired by the book 'Sun Stand Still' by Steven Furtick.  It is a great book with a challenging message for all of us that would claim to be followers of Christ.  Much, in fact most, of what is below is taken from the book and I would strongly encourage you to pick it up.  Thanks for journeying with me!  And see you tomorrow.

Josh.10.1-15 (NIV)
1Now Adoni-Zedek a king of Jerusalem b heard that Joshua had taken Ai c and totally destroyed [1] d it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon e had made a treaty of peace f with Israel and had become their allies. 2He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, g Piram king of Jarmuth, hJaphia king of Lachish i and Debir j king of Eglon. k 4“Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace l with Joshua and the Israelites.”
5Then the five kings m of the Amorites n —the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.
6The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: o “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”
7So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, p including all the best fighting men. 8The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid q of them; I have given them into your hand. r Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” s
9After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10The Lord threw them into confusion tbefore Israel, u so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. v Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon w and cut them down all the way to Azekah x and Makkedah. y 11As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones z down on them, aaand more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
12On the day the Lord gave the Amorites ab over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. ac ”
13So the sun stood still, adand the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on [2] its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar. ae
The sun stopped af in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting ag for Israel!
15Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

Matt.17.14-20 (NIV)

Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy a

14When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures b and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
17“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.
19Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
20He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith c as small as a mustard seed, dyou can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. e Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Impossible.  It’s a word we use a lot.  Impossible is a situation we run into in our personal lives at school or work, on athletic fields or in our lives together.  And while I think the word is probably overused – sometimes when something is simply unlikely, amazing or impressive – we all know how to define impossible.  If it’s impossible it simply can’t be done.
But since you are sitting here, in church this Sunday morning – instead of sleeping in, eating brunch or something else – then I am going to assume that you have experienced or at least are aware that being in relationship with Jesus Christ sometimes allows you to brush up against the implausible and the unlikely, if not the impossible. 
The Bible – both Old and New Testaments are littered with stories of the miraculous.  Unlikely and even impossible things that happened through the power of God.  Sometimes these miracles are just examples of God choosing to act on our behalf.  Often these miraculous and impossible things happen when people trust in God, listen to the call God has placed on their lives and respond by acting out in faith.
We have looked at several of these stories this fall.  Stories of resurrection, healing, walking on water – and even stopping the sun from setting.  One of the things that all of the miraculous and impossible acts that we know of and read about seem to have in common is that they happened a long, long time ago. 
Why don’t we hear about God doing the impossible today?  Why don’t we see examples of God doing the impossible around us?  And maybe most pointedly why don’t we experience God doing the impossible in us, through us or for us? 
The answer, in short, is that we have stopped asking for God to do the impossible in our lives. 
But what if God doing the impossible wasn’t just meant for Bible times and people like Moses and Joshua – but was actually meant for people like you and I and for the people of God, just like Good Shepherd. 
This idea is the focus behind a book I read recently, written by a pastor in Charlotte, NC named Steven Furtick, and the book is titled ‘Sun Stand Still’, taken directly from the story of Joshua that we heard just a few minutes ago.  To be honest there is a lot more from the book and behind this idea than can even fit into two messages.  But I am going to try and give you an overview and a sense of the main ideas – and encourage you to borrow the book from me or pick up your own copy if you are interested in learning more. 
The book begins about where we pick up the story in Joshua: Joshua is leading the Israelite army against the forces that have aligned against them to try and keep them from settling in the promised land.  The odds are steep, and the Israelites are definitely outnumbered.  But God has promised Joshua (in verse 8) that ‘I have given them into your hand.  Not one of them will be able to withstand you’
So after an all night march (scholars say at least 20 miles and mostly uphill) Joshua and the Israelites rout the Amorites and give chace after them.  And almost without knowing it, we are at a crossroads.  Today has been a good day, a very good day, for the Israelites.  They have a won a great victory.  This is where most of us, likely where you and I would thank God for victory and blessing and call it a day.
But the victory isn’t complete – there are still many Amorite soldiers fleeing from them. 
Once night falls any hope of tracking the Amorites down and capturing them will be lost and this great victory will be turned around, because the surviving Amorites will be able to regroup and eventually mount an attack against the Israelites.   
So the crossroads for Joshua is this: believe and act according to the reality he was faced with: that it was a great victory, but there simply is no way to completely conquer and capture all of the Amorites.   Or to believe in the promise God had made in verse 8 – that not one of the enemies would escape or withstand his hand.
Joshua chose to believe in the promise of God and asked for the impossible.  An impossible thing that would allow he and the Israelites to fulfill and receive the promises that God had made to them.  Joshua asked God to make the Sun to stand still and, well you know the rest.
Now of course we can’t just gloss over the ‘Sun standing still’ part of all of this – because understanding that God really can and does the impossible is essential to seeing how this matters for our lives.
There are all sorts of questions: Did God actually stop the earth spinning on its axis?  Was there some sort of artificial daylight (is it artificial if God created it)?  What really happened?  There are entire books written about those subject, but I choose to believe that the same God that entered into history to bring his Son back to life, is able to intervene for his people then and now.
But the better, and deeper question we should be asking is this: Could it be that God intends for us to have the same kind of audacious faith – the kind that dares to believe God for the impossible – as a normal way of life?
What does it mean to have audacious faith?
Audacity is the opposite of complacency.  It is an approach or a mind-set that approaches God with confidence and believes him for the impossible.  Audacious faith isn’t some new idea, but rather a return to the simplest core of what it means to be a Christian: trusting Jesus completely in every area of your life. – That is audacious!
Before we can begin to truly pray a ‘Sun stand still’ prayer in our lives we have to have the audacious faith to believe that God is able to answer our prayers by doing the impossible and that – if they are in line with God’s will that God wants to answer those prayers with a resounding and even impossible yes – remembering if we have the audacity to ask, God always has the ability to act
Audacious faith takes God at his word and seeks to find how we can form our lives around the promises God has already made and prepared for us.
Before we can really ‘activate’ or begin to live out this kind of faith in our lives we have to align ourselves with the mind of God.   In the book, Steven Furtick talks about getting a glimpse of what God had in mind for him on ‘page 23’ of a Jim Cymbala called ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’.  The quote was ‘I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf’
In reading that Furtick realized that God has amazing things in store – available for us – if we would but ask God to work in us and through us and then be available and open to the Holy Spirit. 
The ‘mighty work or showing’ of God on our behalf is different for everyone.  But it is for everyone, it isn’t just for superstar Christians or pastors or just the session members, but for every one. 
So how does this work?  Unfortunately there aren’t 5 steps or 7 habits or anything like that – but there are three phases or ways of relating to God that help us get to where we are trying to go.
First we have to Seize – if you want to see God do something impossible in your life your heart and mind to God’s vision for your life:
And this is key – God’s vision for your life is bigger than yours. 
Ephesians 3:20: him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us
Essentially our vision is a kids cup and God’s vision is the crazy 144 oz insulated thermos that you see people carrying around everyone in a while
Activate our faith - Audacious faith doesn’t really begin until we make the decision to step out (or take a leap of faith) with a strength that is outside of yourself.  Seeking after God’s outsized vision for your life, will, in the normal course of things, cause you to pray ‘Sun stand still’ prayers filled with an audacious faith.
Make your move – When we respond to God’s supernatural answers by acting boldly in faith we will find ourselves right in the middle of a move of God, the impossible coming to pass or maybe even a miracle.  Audacious faith in God and ‘Sun Stand still’ prayers are not passive activities, but rather they are the combination of an active belief in God joined with participation in the purposes of God.
I hope this all sounds great and exciting to you – because as I read our Bible passages this morning and as I read and studied this book and our scriptures I got excited about the change living with an audacious faith and praying ‘Sun Stand Still’ prayers might bring  ( so I really hope I conveyed that excitement)
But if you are anything like me when you listen to a message like this, it all sounds good . . . but.   But how am I ready or qualified or capable of being part of incredible, and impossible things? 
The good news is that if we are feeling unimpressive or unqualified for whatever it is we think God is calling us to – we are in good company. 
Jesus didn’t pick the ‘best and the brightest’ for his disciples, but common, ordinary and often uneducated men as his disciples
In a story we heard just a few weeks ago, God had Gideon dismiss thousands of his soldiers so that God’s glory would shine more clear
Etc., etc., etc. 
The bottom line – for this week anyway – is that God isn’t interested in what we think is possible or within our skill-set or comfort zone.  God is interested in our active faith in his Goodness and greatness. 
God call not to match our skills, gifts and abilities against some heavenly ‘chore chart’.  God makes the impossible possible through you and I when we are willing to step out in audacious faith beyond what we can do on our own . 
This is what Furtick says: ‘The impossible becomes possible for you only as you carefully observe and faithfully obey the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, God wants to increase your influence and multiply your impact in more ways than you could ever imagine. But he doesn’t always do that by calling you to make drastic changes in your life overnight.  God probably won’t call your family to relocate to a remote jungle before the end of the month.  Most likely, some ordinary opportunity or responsibility in your everyday life will seem to catch fire.  Faith opens your eyes to see the potential to serve a God who is already at work on your behalf.’
More next week on how to pray a ‘Sun Stand still prayer’ and live a Sun stand still life and what impossible thing God might be calling us to do as Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church.  Amen.