A Closer Walk

Mendocino_Coast_Botanical_Gardens4Genesis 5:24

About 23 years ago, I visited a beautiful locale just north of Mendocino, CA:  The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Let me give you a brief tour.  You begin in a rose garden… a maze of petals and thorns.  From there you take a path further in toward a shaded area with a variety of ferns.  From there you see a beautiful field (no doubt where many weddings have taken place).  If it is spring, you will find a spread of wild flowers soaking up the California sunshine.  Continuing down the path, you will spot an opening ahead arched by trees.  And if you have been listening carefully you won’t be surprised at what you see once you pass through it.  Suddenly and dramatically before you, your senses are assaulted with rugged beauty and glory of the Pacific Ocean.  As you walk along a dirt path you marvel at the large jagged rocks jutting up out of the ocean.    You can then sit in wonder as you witness chilly Arctic waters unleash their fury upon the ragged coastline.

Thirteen years ago I went to this beautiful spot in Mendocino county and the journey I just described to you is burned into my memory.  It is a parable of life for me.  For life has its roses and thorns, ferns and flowers, beautiful waves and a rocky coast.  It is also filled with amazement and surprise.  And like my journey that day, life is made sweeter when you walk with someone you love. In my case, I strolled and climbed and gazed with my bride to be, Janine.  It was a day burned into my memory… because… I did not walk it alone.  I walked with the one that I loved.

mendocino coast botanical gardens3Today’s Scripture is about a man named Enoch.  What do we know about him?  Not much.  Genesis 5 reads:

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

The man that fathered the oldest man that ever lived, Methuselah, actually “outlived” his son.  For while all the other names in chapter 5 end with “…and he died,”  Enoch “was not.”    No embalming was necessary when Enoch left this earth… because there was              no body in the casket at his funeral!

The life of this relatively “unknown” Scriptural hero is recorded here in Scripture… not because he could fight like Joshua, or pray like Daniel or preach like Peter.  Enoch is best known for the way he chose to live his life…  In the 56 words Moses uses to describe the man named Enoch… twice it was said of him that he walked with God.  Maybe there is some hope for us “unknowns.”  Our steps might be unknown to men… but they are noticed by God.

Author Eugene Peterson defines discipleship as “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  If that is a true definition:  Enoch modeled it.  And he well understood the words of the prophet Micah:

       He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, emphasis mine)

A old hymn says:  When we walk with the Lord in the Light of his Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. That sounds lovely.  But how does one go about walking with God? Is there a permission slip? Can I sign up at the Y?  What kind of conditioning do I need for it?

Actually, taking a walk with God begins when we realize that we are on a journey. When we discover that our lives follow not some twisted mess of chance and circumstance, but a path with a beginning (our birth day) and an ending (the second date chiseled into our tombstone), and we see that our days are actually progressing toward something, it is then that we can seek a traveling companion.

One day we will each near the end of our journeys.  Will we on that day have truly completed our journey?”  Will we find our faith to have fully developed?  Will we be able to say, “I walked with God.”

The secret to a memorable life… is sharing the journey with someone memorable.  I’ve never forgotten my date with Janine over two decades ago.  You don’t want to miss a moment of life’s journey either.  Make it memorable.  Walk with God.

And what a glory He will shed on our our way!

Hold That Note!

Hit That High Note1 Peter 4: 10-11

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I don’t believe I’ve ever shared this on my blog, but I love Oldies.  I listen to the 60’s on 6 more than any other channel on Sirius/XM and have over a thousand songs on my Ipod from the 60’s and 70’s.  (I’m listening to Fats Domino‘s “I Want to Walk You Home” as I type this.)  Many of my friends also know that my specialty is quirky stories about these songs.  I hope some day to start a blog called NOTABLES to feature some of these stories.

Here is one today from Tom Jones‘ Discography.  In 1965 Tom Jones began his career with his first big hit, “it’s Not Unusual.”  It went to #1 in England and reached #10 here in the U.S.  He was new and successful so he was asked to sing for the new James Bond movie, Thunderball.  He sang the title cut.  The end of the song features a note that is very high and sustained.  He delivered it all right, but passed out in the recording booth afterward.  Asked about that monster note in a later interview he said:  “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

That is dedication!  To hit and sustain the notes God is calling us to sing in the chorus of life also requires such dedication.  Peter says that we have each been given a gift.  We are to be good stewards of that gift.  In my analogy, we have all been given a voice and we are each called to keep that voice in tip top shape.  Then Peter reminds those that have speaking gifts to speak as though they were speaking “the utterances of God.”  Sloppy or ill prepared oratory isn’t going to cut it.  Peter then reminds those that have serving gifts, to serve as though God were powering their efforts.  A half-hearted sense of duty will not sustain you.  Why not just go ahead and hit that (grace) note of yours and then sustain it!  Put everything into it.  Give it your all!

Maybe you have be doing your particular ministry in your church for a while now.  Maybe you have it down cold.  You don’t have to put as much effort into it as you did when you started.  It practically runs like it’s on autopilot.  Do some evaluation this year.  It might not be on autopilot… it could be on life support!  Stretch yourself and your faith.  Go for that note!  Sing it with all the strength that God supplies you.

Enough said…. I Gotta go…. The Classics IV are now singing “Traces.”  Love that song!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

A Feast in the Wilderness

Psalm 63:2-5feast

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

I listened to pastor Tommy Nelson recently tell about one of his favorite baptism.  He was baptizing a man who came up out of the water sputtering and spitting out water.  When he asked him what happened the man responded:  “I wanted to all of me to be baptized, so I thought I should make sure you got my tongue as well.”

In the portion of Psalm 63 today, David gets his whole body in the act.  He wants his eyes to see God.  He wants his lips to praise God.  He wants his hands to lift in prayer.  He wants his teeth to sink into God and find his soul satisfied.

Think about the last GREAT meal you have had.  One that lives in my memory was from a church member in Cloverdale, CA.  Gloria Owen prepared for us one evening: Blue Cheese Ravioli’s, Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese on a bed of Romaine Lettuce and Blue Cheese Dressing.  Chicken breast stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers… with Scallops.  Chocolate Souffle with a truffle inside topped with Homemade Carmel Sauce.  (I can only say with Grandpa Jones of yesteryear:  Yum!  Yum!)

What is the mark of a good meal?  Satisfaction!  David says in 63:5 – “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness.”  The NIV translates that last part… “with the richest of foods.”  That is a health conscious translation to say the least.  Marrow and fatness… the good stuff… that is what communion with God is like.

The question, though, is not whether or not God will satisfy our souls.  The question is how engaged we are in pursuing him.  Do we, like David, get our whole body into the act.  Do we seek him in our place of worship? (v. 2)  Do we praise him throughout the day with our lips, even when we are in the desert?  (v. 3)

A. W. TozerA. W. Tozer once wrote:

“I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain.”

When your soul is dry and you are in a weary land.  It is then that we learn to desire God all the more (v. 1).  And when we seek God will all our hearts… it is there that God provides a feast.  Remember the words of Jesus:  “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Throw yourself into a little worship today!  Let that Ipod blare some Chris Tomlin!  Sing at the top of your lungs to some old hymns!  Ashamedly worship in prayer and with tears and joy… alone or in the sanctuary.  Want Him with all of your being.  Pursue Him with all that you are!  There is a feast waiting… enjoy your God!

Desperate for God

desertPsalm 63:1

A psalm of David, When he was in the desert of Judah.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

It is 2 a.m. and you are awakened by your cellphone, dancing and playing its merry little tune on your nightstand.  Sleepy eyed you reach over.  It is not like you were sleeping well anyway.

Answering it you hear the frantic plea of a dear friend:  “Get up and get out immediately!  Your son is on the way and he’s bringing his gang banger friends with him.  He’s going to kill you!  That kid of yours has murder in his eyes!”

His words startle you awake.  You jump up and grab your car keys.  You tear out of your drive way in your Lexus with just the clothes on your back.  2 hours later you pull into a freeway rest stop… and attempt to collect yourself.  At a lonely picnic table, you ask yourself:  “How did it all come to this?”

You knew your son was capable… he had already murdered his half-brother.  He killed him to avenge the rape of his sister.  It was such a difficult and twisted time.  You haven’t spoken to that blood thirsty kid since.  But your silence has done nothing but fuel your son’s animosity.  Now he is after your head!

“How did things come to this?”  you utter again holding your head in your hands… and then… you remember… it was you.  It was you that started this whole drama in your family… when you had that affair 2 years ago.  You began a slide in morality that is now an avalanche of sorrow.  Where do you go from here?  Where can you turn for help and relief?

(this intro is based on an introduction from A. T. Stewart in his sermon, “Finding God in Your Devastation” on sermoncentral.com)

What I just shared with you is not an episode of “Without a Trace” or “Law and Order,”  but is a day in the life of King David which is the background of Psalm 63.   This Psalm has a title:  A Psalm of David when he was in the Desert of Judah.

The son in question is Absalom, who had killed his half-brother, and then wooed the hearts of the nation of Israel before taking David’s throne in a coup.  Now he was seeking David’s head on a platter.  This is why David in the wilderness.

It is from this desert setting that David cries out:

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water.

This reminds me of a hiking trip I took with the men of our church at Lake Sonoma.  It was the first overnight journey I had ever under taken and I wasn’t prepared for how hungry and thirsty I would be.  I was so thirsty.  I never had to rely so much on a water bottle before.  And I couldn’t even imagine hiking like that in the summer heat without streams to keep my bottle filled.  The amount of water you would have to carry for such a journey without the possibility of refilling would have been far too heavy a burden.

Well David didn’t get to choose his hike.  He was forced out into the wilderness.  A stream for him would have been a life saving find.

So he says:  In a dry and weary land where there is no water, I thirst for….  GOD(?)  One would think that David would say… well, water!  But during a time of trial, the thing we think we need the most… a healing, a check in the mail, a restored relationship… often takes a back seat… to a swelling need within our hearts… for God Himself.

David longs for God just as his flesh longs for water.

Often we wonder why we don’t find more satisfaction in our religious activities.  Howard Hendricks once wrote:  “Much of our religious activity today is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life!”

We aren’t satisfied because often we are terrified of the desert.  And the desert is where we feel our need for God the most.

When things come our way that we don’t understand we have more than a curiosity about God.  We have more than a desire to go to church to see our friends.  Bible reading becomes more than just a duty… it becomes a life line.

WE WANT GOD!   Nothing else will quench our thirst.

Hear the words of C. S. Lewis:   “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Mere Christianity)

Are you in the desert?  Through your own doing or the perhaps the sin of another?  Seek God as you would seek water!  He alone can sustain you there.

[more on Psalm 63 in blogs to follow]

An Intelligence Test

Acts 17:16-18Test

On the Tonight Show, host, Jay Leno, has a frequent segment called “Jay Walking.”  He goes out into the area surrounding their studio… talks to real people (only to about 15 people and then about 9 make it on the show) and after about an hour of shooting they are ready to go.  Here is a sample of what Jay finds:

A Man who thought the first president was Benjamin Franklin.

A Woman who when asked how many stars were on the American Flag atop a nearby flag pole answered:  “I can’t tell, the wind is moving it too fast.”

My favorite:  A graduate from college still in cap and gown was asked what the Gettysburg Address was.  After hemming and hawing, Jay asked her: “Have you heard of it?”  She responded:  “Yes, I’ve heard of it.  I don’t know the actual address though.”

When asked what separates the inner ear and outer ear, one bright person said:  Your brain?

Another was asked:  Who lives in Vatican city?  Their answer:  Vaticans.  Jay responded:  “No, but he has a tall hat.   Answer:  “Abraham Lincoln?”

Shows like that make me feel smart.  I love shows like that.  Jeopardy, not so much.  Those contestants seem to know everything.  “What is the weight of a ball bearing off a Boeing 747, Alex?”  “Correct!”  They are smart, but that is only Jeopardy smart.

Then there is “Brilliant” smart… it is an intelligence that goes beyond remembering facts… these people have the capacity to understand things at an ultra complicated level.  They can be intimidating.  Particularly if they come to conclusions you don’t agree with.  The atheist with his book about why God doesn’t exist has a lot of degrees after his name.  You know he is wrong, but how do you reason with someone so intelligent?

Often when met with “brilliant” smart, we just stay silent.  Obviously we have nothing to say.

Paul is about to step into the world of the culturally elite.  He had to feel a bit intimidated as he entered Athens.  But he knew he was defending the truth and to stand up for the truth is always the intelligent thing to do.

Heard the story recently of Courtney Ellis, a former graduate student at Princeton:  “When I attended graduate school for English, there were many occasions when my fellow students openly ridiculed the name of Christ. To my great detriment, I stayed silent. I was quite vocal about my belief in Christ at church and with my friends, but I was terrified of what might happen to my reputation if the people at my school found out I believed in Jesus. … Most of them were just ignorant about who Jesus is. Several of them had never even met a Christian before and assumed that all Christians were the uneducated, judgmental stereotypes we sometimes see in the media. Yet, I was still afraid.

As the program went on, I began to feel guiltier for these silences. If I couldn’t be obedient to Christ in such a central thing, how would I be able to serve him in other ways? God was faithful in my rocky road to obedience—opportunities to speak up for Christ continued to come my way.

One day a fellow student asked me flat out—right before class, when many other people were around—if I was a Christian. I was at a crossroads. … I had a clear decision to make.

I took a deep breath, and, with God’s help, I said a soft, shaky, “Yes.” The student looked at me for a second, skeptically.

“Interesting,” she said. “I always thought that Christians were like circus freaks…but you’re actually kind of smart!”

It was a small step, but even the smallest step made in obedience is progress. God tells us not to fear for our reputations, because the truth will always win out.”

[More to Come]

The Great Bible Heist

BibleMark 4:1-20

“And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v.9)

It was Easter Sunday morning in my church back in Petaluma, CA.  I was dressed in a nice new dress shirt… unusual for me in my northern California church. (I usually wore a polo.)  I entered the sanctuary from the front and was humming to myself “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” when I heard :  “Pastor, come quick.  I need you!”  One of the women of our church was calling me from the back.  I quickly perceived that my church member was engaged in an altercation with a strange woman I had never seen before.  It seems that this woman had wandered in the front door and exhibiting signs of mental illness became obsessed with our Bible on display in the foyer.  It was one of those large coffee table Bibles.  When my church member called me, the woman suddenly grabbed it and was made off with it.

“Stop her!” my church member yelled to me as I approached… “She’s stealing the church’s Bible!”  As I reached the back of the church she was already half way across the parking lot.  I suddenly caught a vision of me scuffling on the blacktop with this Bible thief… in my nice clothes… on a Sunday morning… just as Easter worshipers were arriving.  It responded:  “Let her go.  It’s hers!”

As I watched her with this 50 pound Bible tucked under her arm making her getaway… I had another thought:  “At least now it might get read.”  It reminded me of the coffee table Bible we had in our home as I grew up.  Never saw it opened.  Never saw it read.

Jesus once told a parable:  A farmer went to sow seeds:  some on the path in full view of hungry birds, some on a rocky hillside where the plants could not put down roots so they withered in the sun, some were sown  among thorns where the plants grew up but were then choked to un-fruitfullness… but some were sown on good rich soil where the plants grew tall and plentiful.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the soil that grows the big crop.  I don’t want be some sickly garden; I want my life to be robust and healthy.  I want there to be fruit in my garden to share with others.  But I’m not sure my soil is always soft.  You see, I get seed slung at me all day long… and most of it is not God’s word.  My email inbox, the Nightly News Cast, a casual conversation with a friend, or a blog about something that interests me, they each throw at me… opinions, ideas, theologies, and world views each hoping to raise up a crop in me.

What happens after being bombarded day after day?  My soil gets hard.  I become less a student and more a skeptic.  And yet… I still want that good crop!  How do I get it?

There is a word that can help you and I get to a rich crop of righteousness… that word is “receptivity.”  In Jesus’ parable, the seed is sown… and all the soil can do is accept or reject the seed.  Are you adept at accepting the Word of God?   Or does it sit unopened week after week… its life changing message doing nothing for you.

Soren Kierkegaard reminds us:  “To truly hear the word of God is to say over and over again to yourself, ‘It is talking about me, and it is talking to me.’”  He who has ears to hear… let him hear.  Yes, Jesus was talking about you, and he is talking to you.

What condition is your soil?  Do you have ears to hear today?

(By the way, this heist wasn’t unique apparently.  Read:  http://999thepoint.com/woman-busted-for-stealing-a-bible-from-bookstore/)  Blessed reading!

Set Your Sail!

sailboatPick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

Part 4 of 5

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Acts 17:10-12

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Now what did Paul and Silas do next?  They set their sails and when to Macedonia.  This will determine whether or not you will ever discover the will of God for your life.  God more often calls the willing.  If He knows that in calling you to Macedonia you will spend forever reading travel brochures and learn native customs and read articles about how Macedonians think… and never get around to booking passage to the country… He would rather call someone else.

Amazama Ministries

Amazama Ministries

I concur with Katie Davis, the 20 something missionary in Uganda in her book, Kisses from Katie:

“I don’t always know where this life is going I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part.  Courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.”

Kathy Lang heard such a calling.

“A veteran surgical nurse for over 25 years, Kathy was looking for a new job. An agency that staffs nurses offered her a position at a prison. Without hesitation, Kathy replied emphatically, “No!”

A few days later in the car, she was listening to a Keith Green CD when her ears were startled by the lyrics: “I was in prison, and I rotted there; I’d prayed that you’d come.”

Over the next ten days she was bombarded with prison references everywhere she turned. On the TV and the radio—prison news. Her devotion book had references to prison. Kathy finally relinquished: “Okay, God, I get it!”

When she arrived home, she called the agency, but the job had been filled. Undaunted, she visited a local youth detention facility to inquire if they needed a nurse, only to learn there was a hiring freeze. For the next four months she kept calling agencies to inquire. And she prayed.  One night, Kathy and her daughter Jessica were driving home from the store. As they passed the prison at exactly 9:00 p.m., she and Jessica prayed, asking the Lord to open the door if it was truly his will for Kathy to work there. She promised to never stop praying for those girls.  Exactly 12 hours later, at precisely 9:00 the next morning, the agency called to offer her that job. …

[As Kathy worked in the clinic,] she had the idea to give every girl a Bible. Through a small grant, Kathy was able to get a few hundred of them for the cost of shipping. …  At the end of each appointment [Kathy had with a female prisoner], she offered the girl a Bible, briefly explaining how to use it. Their responses were mixed between joy and refusal.  Kathy’s heart ached for these girls, most of whom were from difficult backgrounds with little hope for change.

After [Kathy] gave out the first batch of Bibles, her vision was expanded to do more. She contacted various prison chaplains and was able to place more than 6,000 Bibles in four years. …  Kathy’s goal is to see a Bible in the hand of every prisoner. And she has kept her promise to God—she never stops praying for them.  Kathy’s guiding verse for her mission with these troubled youth comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Cindy Huff, “Taking Jesus to Jail,” Today’s Christian, July/August 2008.)

Have you heard a calling from God and then sat on it?  Earlier I said God more frequently calls those that are willing.  But he also calls a few Jonahs.  Maybe you are one of those.  I know where I am suppose to go… but I am unwilling to.

Get those sails up!  Take that first step.  Make that call.  Start praying.  You will be able to do more than you could ever imagine.

Their Cries… Your Calling!

Pick Up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life – Part 3 of 5

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Acts 17:9prayer2

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas had never stopped praying on that second missionary journey.  Even after so many shut and locked doors.  Even when they reached Troas and what appeared to be the end of the line.  They kept listening for a specific call of God and eventually they heard it.  That is when things got interesting.  It is the same for us today… to keep asking and praying and listening always proceeds the most interesting moments in life.

Psychiatrist Gerald May wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call the heart.  We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but the desire is always awake.”

Pastor Craig Barnes commenting on May’s quote, said:  “When the desire becomes too much, they can try to bury it beneath excessive work, another purchase, or another move to another place.  They can try to numb the desire, but that will only lead to addiction.  They can even spend most of life trying to tame the desire with respectability and the construction of a good reputation.  But the wild desire just keeps breaking out of the closed chambers of the heart in unguarded moments.  G. K. Chesterton has called this “the divine discontent” that incessantly reminds us we were created for something else.  – Craig Barnes (Searching for Home:  Spirituality for Restless Souls, p. 64.)

Blessed is the man or woman that has found that something else!   Blessed are those that have discovered their God given calling.

It is interesting that Paul and Silas’ call here comes in the form of an actual call from a specific group of people.  Their cries [the Macedonians] became the call of God for Paul and Silas.

David Brainerd who won many thousands of American Indians to Christ, once said, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went thru, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke, it was the first thought that I had, the thought of this great work.”
He caught a vision hearing the American Indians crying, “come over here and help us!”

Hudson Taylor

David Livingston, the first man to take the gospel into the heart of Africa, said, “I must open a way to the interior or perish!”
It was do or die…and he caught that vision when he heard the Africans crying, “come over here and help us!”

J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer Missionary to China, said, “I feel as though I cannot live if something is not done for China.”  His life came alive when he heard the Chinese cry:  “come over here and help us!”

It is one of the saddest things in the world to miss or choose not to hear God and not to hear the call of those who cry for help.

The story has been told of the little church in Germany sited near train tracks that carried Jews to their death.  “Each Sunday Morning,” the German man telling the story said, “we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!”
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.”
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard  them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it much any more; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

What cry have you heard and chose to ignore?  The cry of the inner city?  The cry of Africa?  The cry of unwed mothers?  The cry of those caught in the sex trafficking trade?  The cry of the orphan?

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us:  13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

How dare we sit in our comfortable church buildings and sing our songs and eat our fill at our potlucks and enjoy our sweet fellowship, and then walk out those church doors deafened to the cries of the world?

Want to better understand your calling?  Let their cries become your calling.  And then things will start to get interesting.

Running Out of Real Estate

Pick up the phone 2

 

  Acts 16:6-8cliff

  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”

Paul is seeking and reaching and praying… and he isn’t getting anywhere.  The Holy Spirit stops him from preaching in Asia.  The Spirit of Jesus won’t let him touch Bithynia.

This is different from his first missionary journey.  It was wondrous.  Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia, founding churches and setting people on fire for the gospel. But after returning home things cooled off a bit.  They come back to a less than rapturous welcome from a Jerusalem church, who wanted to know what they were doing baptizing Gentiles!  Then there was a fall out between Paul and Barnabas.  The dream team splits.  Barnabas heads off with Mark and Paul journeys with Silas instead.

Now this trip is not going so well!  Bouncing from city to city they can’t plant a toehold in any of them.  They were prevented… they weren’t allowed!  Whatever form this took, it sounds to me like a lot of angry faces and slammed doors.

Faced any rejection lately?  Impeccable skills and a flawless resume have not turned up one good job interview?  Your past experience in a certain ministry field is now turning out underwhelming results?  What gives?  What can you do to find where God can use you best?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said we were to “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  You have probably heard somewhere before that the verbs for “Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are all present tense verbs in Greek… meaning they should be translated:  “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking.”

That is what Paul does.  He can’t find the place he is suppose to serve… so he keeps moving.  He Troaskeeps going and going until he reaches the city of Troas.  Now Troas was a sea port.  That means that Paul and Silas plumb ran out of real estate!  In the next few verses God is going to open their eyes to a brand new mission field.  But first, imagine the two of them “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  They are painted into a corner, at the end of the road… Troas!  Maybe that’s where you are right now…  out of options and very desperate.

God may have you there because he wants to open your eyes to a whole new way of viewing your world.  And this often comes at the end of where your own ingenuity has taken us.  So don’t despair.  Keep asking!  Keep seeking!  Keep knocking!  God will grant a vision in His timing!

Many years ago, a young writer interviewed the legendary IBM president Thomas J. Watson.  He was given some unusual advice by the industrialist:  “It’s not exactly my line,” Watson said, “but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success?  It’s quite simple, really.  Double your rate of failure.”

Watson continued, “You’re making a common mistake.  You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success.  But it isn’t at all.  Failure is a teacher—a harsh one perhaps, but the best.”

Then he looked at the young writer and asked him a critical question:  “You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts?  That’s great!  Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason.  Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason?”

Arthur Gordon, the man who had interviewed Watson, went on to become a nationally known author and editor.  He had originally gone to Watson for an interview, but Watson gave him something much more precious.  He gave him a new perspective on failure.   (Gary J. Oliver in How to Get it Right After You’ve Gotten it Wrong, pp. 26-27.)

Failing?  Running out of ideas?  Do what Paul did… keep moving… keep listening.

God may be ready to completely blow your mind with what He has in store for you.