Monday, March 14, 2011

Getting down the mountain is as easy as the person who is guiding you down

Below is the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  For Lent we are talking about submitting to God.  This is not exactly an exciting topic, but I think it is a crucial one.  I hope it holds for you a word from God.

James 4:7-10 (NIV)
 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Mark 1:35-39 (New International Version, ©2011)

 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

As you have likely heard me say many times, in this season of Lent we will look at how we can submit or give over specific areas of our lives to God so that we might be able to more fully follow God and so that we might come closer to who God intended us and created us to be.  
But I think it is important, before we talk about how we can submit more fully, that we talk about why we need to submit to God and what submitting really means.
What does it mean to submit?
For me, if I am being honest, the word doesn’t have a great context.  Submitting is synonymous with losing or quitting or getting beaten at something.  But this isn’t quite the real meaning of the word.
The word submit has a couple of possible meanings, the first two I found are the ones that I think are applicable for us: 1. To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.  2. To subject to some kind of treatment or influence.  This is what we are doing when we submit to God. 
We are choosing to yield to the power and authority of God and asking God, through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit to not just influence our lives, but to guide our thoughts, plans and actions. 
As such, I think submitting begins with admitting that someone else has more knowledge, power or ability than you.
When we think about that, it makes sense that we often think of submitting as losing or admitting defeat
In a world where independence and self-reliance is seen as maybe the ultimate value, admitting that someone – anyone, even God – is more capable of planning and guiding your life is a hard pill to swallow. 
But this is what we say we believe.  We say that we believe that God has good things planned for us.  We say in confession and in many other ways that we are not perfect and have fallen short of God’s – and our own – plans for our lives. 
We say that we have faith that God is good and wants the best for us.
So, submitting to God, if we believe what we say makes sense.  God not only wants what is best for us, but knows what is best for us.  God is in perfect position to guide our lives to be all that they can be, if we would simply submit to God’s power, authority and influence in our lives.
Even so, it is still hard – and in fact seems to go against our natural will, to submit to God, we want to rely on ourselves. 
No one had more right to think this way than Jesus – Jesus who, while being fully human was also fully God.  Yet let’s look at how Jesus viewed his relationship with God and submitting to God’s authority:
First, from Philippians 2:5-8
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,  being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
And then a familiar scene from the last week of Jesus life, taken from Luke 22:
 39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them,“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 
So in these two passages we see the depth of what it means to truly and fully submit to God
In these passages, we see Jesus example of perfect submission – but Jesus also had something to say about submission, and I think it is important for us to look at that as well
In John 15, starting at verse 13 listen to what Jesus says about submitting :
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you
We don’t normally think about submitting to a friend – but this is what Jesus offers us and asks of us
Jesus doesn’t force our submission, guilt it out of us or try to scare us into it.  Instead Jesus invites us to follow him.  Why?
Because Jesus knows the way, knows what is best for you and has been where you are and knows where you need to go.
Submitting to friend is about trust and faith.  Trust in the friend’s intentions – that they only want what is best for you.  And faith, faith that the friend you are submitting to, the friend that you are following and listening to knows what they are doing.
When I was 12, I was away at a camp called Summer’s Best Two Weeks.  As part of the camp we were on a 3 night camping trip.  On the afternoon of the last day we were hiking down a fairly steep mountain and our group was faced with two options – follow the path as it zig zagged gently down the long way down the hill or take the more direct route, mostly straight down the hill – basically free climbing down the hill.
Did I mention we were 12 year old boys???? (as for our counselors, well, they were old boys too, 20 year old boys, but still just boys) so it’s not so surprising that they let us go straight down the hill. 
All was going fine – and it was quite a bit of fun  - until I was about halfway down the hill.
I hadn’t even noticed, but I was the last one in the line going down the hill, and before I knew it everyone else was at the bottom and I was still only half way down.
Basically, there were a few tricky steps and I got nervous, then scared and then I just froze.
One of my counselors came part way up the hill and tried to talk me down – but I didn’t budge.  Nothing worked and I was still stuck halfway down the hill.  That was until my friend, Artie, came partway up the hill and started talking to me.
Artie was one of my best friends at camp.  He was a really good friend, but more than that he was the one that got me to go on this hiking trip.  He was an avid hiker and rock climber and kept telling me about how much fun it would be.
When Artie reassured me that it would be fine, I believed him.  And when he started to give me step by step instructions on how to get down, I listened and followed.  
I trusted Artie because he was my friend and because I knew he cared about me and my safety.
I had faith in Artie, because I knew he knew what he was talking about: He was a hiker, a camper and a rock climber – this was his element.           He told me that he had just been where I was.  He said that all I had to do was follow in his footsteps, do what he told me to do and I would be fine.  He guided me along the path down, step by step and before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the hill.
Our lives of following Christ are as simple as my way down that hill – we simply have to submit to our friend Jesus and do what he tells us to do.
Jesus has been where you are today.  Jesus knows where you need to go and Jesus knows how to get you there.
Jesus invites us to listen to him, to follow him and submit to him because that is the only way we can be unstuck from our lives of missed opportunities, wrong turns and faults and get to the path that our lives were designed for.
Our response to Jesus invitation is to submit to God by trusting and having faith in him.  Now as great of an idea as that is, it doesn’t happen magically or simply because we say that is what we are going to do.
Really, truly and fully submitting to God and learning to trust and have faith in Jesus takes time, work and discipline.  And that is the bottom line for us.
If we want to be who we were created to be.  If we want to be who God is calling us to be we need to know Jesus well enough to trust him and to have faith in him.
Submitting to God begins with spending time dedicated and devoted to talking to – and listening to God. 
As always Jesus is our role model, and we saw it in our Gospel lesson a few minutes ago.   Jesus – as was his custom – up early to be alone in prayer with God. 
Following God, submitting to God begins with submitting or giving of our time. 
So as we begin this season of Lent and we start to focus on Christ’s journey to the cross, we must begin to give God some (or some more) of our time.
Make this the moment – as a Lenten discipline – to dedicate focused time to God each and every day.  For you it maybe, like Jesus, that you get up early before anyone else is awake
Maybe it is after everyone is asleep at night, or in the car to work or the bus home from school.
Where ever and whenever it is, if we submit time to God each and every day we begin to hear  the voice of Christ and hearing that voice we can trust enough to follow the call of Christ.  Knowing that in faith, the God that has been where we are, will lead us to where we need to be.

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