God Provides

Read 1 Kings 19:3-9a

Embarking on a journey requires planning and preparation. Packing all that you need while you are away must be thought out, taking into account weather, planned activities, and the amount of space for items, lest you forget something. Lately, if I am driving a long distance for my journey, I try to plan some snacks to have in the car to help me stay energized. When you have to make a trip in haste, you do not have time for  all this planning and preparation. The passage for today is one of those unplanned and hasty trips.

Elijah, a prophet of God, has been in a tussling match with King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. He has been holding Ahab accountable for the sins which he and Jezebel continue to commit. Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Jezebel’s religion. When Jezebel learns of this defeat through her husband, she declares that she will have Elijah killed. Since  she has already had other prophets  of God assassinated, Elijah has little doubt that this would be his fate as well so he flees. In his hasty flight, Elijah has no time to prepare. He has no plans for lodging, no plans for food on the journey, and no idea what he would do next. He just leaves as quickly as possible. God, however, does have a plan for Elizak and provides all the prophet’s needs in food, shelter, and rest.

There are times when we are required to act quickly and without an opportunity to plan everything out. God may be calling us into action immediately, or we may feel threatened so we act upon our fear. Either way, we have a Lord who never abandons us. God will provide for our immediate needs. Trusting in the provisions of God, we are able to make whatever journey may be necessary.

God GPS

Read Acts 8:26-35

There are times when our journey does not always make sense. In this age of GPS-guided travel, we can gain a fake sense of certainty in regards to our route. Having recently moved to a new community, GPS has been an important aid in my navigation. However, I have already discovered that Google Maps does not always provide the most ideal route for arriving at a destination. More than once I have said to Google (like anyone is actually listening), “Why did you take me this way instead of…”

Philip had been called by God to go on a journey. Like many calling stories in the Bible, God does not give a lot of details about this travel plan. While Philip is traveling, God’s GPS announces a route redirect. Philip takes the road he is directed to which leads him to encounter an Ethiopian eunuch. This encounter provides Philip with an opportunity to connect the Hebrew prophet Isaiah’s words to Jesus Christ. He is able to share the good news about Christ with the eunuch and the eunuch begins a journey of relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes we may be given a call by the Lord to go on a journey. We are asked to go with limited details at best. During our travels we may be redirected and that direction may, or may not, make sense to us. The key is to trust our God GPS. God knows the correct route and what we will encounter along the way. There may be an opportunity which is missed if we do not follow. Our Lord is more accurate in giving us direction than our trusty Google Maps. Take the journey. You could be surprised what the Lord has planned along the way.

What Is Needed

Read 1 Kings 19:1-9

Life can have moments of great discouragement. There can be times when a person perceives a great deal of effort is being exerted but little progress seems to be obtained. Some describe this as “beating my head against a wall.” The idea of giving up comes into the person’s mind. It may appear that there is no chance of success. The discouragement seems to take over a person’s thinking and will. Then a surprising and unexpected change occurs. A new energy emerges in the person. There is a renewed vigor to continue and move forward. A lot of effort may still be required yet a feeling of hope returns.

Elijah faced a great time of discouragement. He had been holding Ahab accountable as God instructed but Ahab was listening to the counsel of Jezebel, his wife, instead. Jezebel greatly disliked Elijah because he was a threat to her and her following of Baal. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and they were killed in the process. This angered Jezebel and she vowed to kill Elijah. Elijah fled in fear to the wilderness outside Beersheba. He is extremely discouraged and ready to quit. He even asks God to end his life before falling asleep. When Elijah is awakened, he finds food and drink provided to renew his energy. After falling asleep and waking a second time, he was encouraged to eat and drink more because the journey ahead would be long. Elijah was renewed and re-energized enough to travel to Horeb where he found shelter and rest.

Our journey can be a long one. We can become weary and discouraged. The idea of giving up can dominate our thoughts. During such a period, we would do well to remember Elijah’s story. When Elijah reached the point that he thought it would be better to die instead of continue, God provided what would be necessary for the journey to continue. God will always do the same for us. A certain person, a specific resource, a special message will arrive to join us on the journey. We will be fed, renewed and encouraged so with a new vigor we can journey on. When God perceives we have completed our journey, then rest will come and we will find blessing.

A Journey Companion

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:28-44 (NIV)

Having someone who can empathize with you and assist you in removing those aspects which hold you back in life is a great gift. We all need a person in our life who will walk the journey with us. The person may only be a part of the journey for a short period or for the whole of the journey. Who the person is may change as we continue down life’s path. These particulars are not important. What is important is recognizing the blessing we receive from having such a person on our journey with us.

For Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Jesus was such a person. We are not told how Jesus became so close to Lazarus and his two sisters. John records two stories in regards to Lazarus and Luke mentions Lazarus once. The first story John records is the one we read from today. Later in John’s Gospel he will tell of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. In the second story Jesus eats at the house and Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. Luke shares another story of Jesus coming to the house but does not mention Lazarus, only Martha and Mary. There is definitely a bond between Jesus and the three individuals.

Two aspects of what we read today stand out. The first is verse 35. Often referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible, it contains only two words, “Jesus wept.” The significance of these words is they demonstrate to us the empathy and love Jesus has for these two women and those who were mourning. This empathy and love make Jeans someone who is valuable on life’s journey. Even though Jesus clearly knew what was about to happen, he still stood beside those grieving and spent time with where they currently were before leading them forward.

Second aspect which stands out is found in verse 44. The final sentence of the verse when Jesus instructs the grave clothes to be removed so that Lazarus may go, or be free to live again, is important. Jesus is telling them to remove the things which bind Lazarus to his previous life and hinders the man from living the new life which Jesus has now given him. Again, Jesus as the companion on the journey is a blessing because he assists in removing that which holds a person back from living life to the fullest.

Jesus is always the right companion to have on the whole of our journey. He empathizes with us exactly where we are. He weeps with us, laughs with us, lies awake with us, and celebrates with us. Jesus has given each of us new life. With the gift, and as he journeys with us, he assists us in removing the grave cloths from our lives so we are able to experience and enjoy this new life.

Invite Jesus to be your companion on life’s journey. You will not sorry that you did!

Leading the Way

 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9 (NIV)

Being placed in a leadership role can be scary. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, there can be times when the role may be daunting. The health of the organization may add to the burden of leadership if there are issues of concern. Transitions within the organization and/or its direction can also create leadership challenges. Many times there is no playbook on how to navigate these situations. Insight from other leaders and the organization’s 

own governance documents and policies may be of some assistance. Leaders can often feel alone. Leaders can experience high levels of stress accompanied by a multitude of concerns. A sense of inadequacy for the leadership role to which the person has been called can enter her/his thoughts.

A leadership transition is occurring in today’s reading from Joshua. Moses has died and his assistant, Joshua, will become the new leader of the Israelites as they enter the promised land. The Lord is giving Joshua instructions as the new leader of the Israelites. The Lord tells Joshua as the people cross over the Jordan that they are to strictly follow the law Moses gave from God. Success will come by following what God has said. God reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous in his leadership. God promised Joshua to always be with him.

These words must have been important to Joshua because he was dealing with a multitude of issues at the time. Moses was Joshua’s leader and mentor. Joshua probably assumed that Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the new land and help them to become established but now Moses was dead. Joshua quickly goes from being an assistant to being the leader of a rather rebellious group of people. Even though Joshua had watched Moses as he led by God’s guidance, there was no handbook to follow outside of God’s commands. God gives Joshua the pep talk and assurance which Joshua needs to be a leader of people entering a new land.

We may not be called upon to lead people into a new land but the Lord’s words are still helpful to us. Whether we are called to  be a leader of a large or small organization, or to be the leader in our own house, these directions from the Lord apply to us. It is important that we use God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings as our guides in navigating life’s journey. Knowing that the Lord has promised to always be with us wherever we go provides the confidence we need to face whatever may lay ahead of us on our journey. So let us go boldly into each day whether that day we are leading or following. The Lord has given us guidelines to follow and a promise of being present with us wherever we journey.

Travel Light

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6:6b-13 (NIV)

There are a variety of ways people pack when going on a trip. If it is a business trip a person must pack business attire with a few casual outfits included. Packing for a vacation requires a much different type of clothing. Destination also impacts the choice of apparel as well. The amount of items packed varies among individuals. Mode of transportation will influence the number and weight of luggage chosen. Duration of stay is a variable in packing decisions. I usually monitor the weather forecast in the community to which I am traveling so I know the type of clothing to pack. I always take extra clothes in case I get something on what I plan to wear or if there is a delay with my return.

Jesus gives packing instructions to the Twelve disciples who he is sending to other villages. In Mark’s account, Jesus is traveling from village to village. He calls the Twelve and gives them authority to teach and heal. The Twelve are told to skip packing altogether. They are not to even take along a spare shirt. Jesus wants them to rely on the hospitality of a stranger. The disciples are vulnerable and dependent which would humble them. This would project a non-threatening image to the people. Such an image encourages open dialogue. Jesus tells the Twelve that if they encounter resistance, they are to leave that village behind and forget about it. Mark records that the disciples experienced much success.

A lesson can be learned from this story regarding how we are to approach others with the Gospel. We are to be humble and vulnerable in our approach. Vulnerability encourages openness since there is no sense of threat. Another important point is leaving baggage behind. We may be tempted to bring along all the trappings of our religious backgrounds. These can be overwhelming to those who we are approaching and can deter them from listening to us. The other message Jesus communicates here is not taking rejection personally but instead we are to move on and no longer be concerned about the one who rejects us. The Lord will choose what the next step is for them.

The Lord sends you, remember this lesson as you prepare to go.

Finding God

It might be while taking a walk along the beach. Maybe it is when you are walking along a trail through a wooded area. After entering the sanctuary of a great cathedral might be one of those moments. While you listen to some beautiful music you may sense it. These and other experiences can be specific moments and experiences when a person senses they may find God. But what if you do not experience one of these moments? What if you feel like you are on an endless search and never have been able to find God? Does God not want to be found by you? Are you not worthy enough to find God?

The search for God has been a quest which people have undertaken over the centuries. Some quests have gone by different names. At times individuals have not even been able to name what they were in search. Yet there seems to be something within each of us that drives us to seek out God, even if we use a different name for that which we seek. We appear to have a hunger to find someone or something which is bigger than we are or even our collective selves.

My experience is that it is a journey, definitely a quest. Like all spiritual journeys there are times of great confidence. There are also times of great doubt. I can name specific moments when I have felt connected to God in indescribable ways. As easily, I can name times when I thought I had totally disconnected from God. Moments of great surprise have occurred when God seemed to show up even though I was not looking. All these experiences are pieces of my journey with God, a journey that shows no sign of ending.

From my experiences, let me address the questions which I posed at the start of this post.

What if you do not experience one of these moments?

This question followed lists of potential ways in which people find God in their midst. The truth is that not every person is attuned to the spiritual aspect of an experience. Some may feel like there is something different but cannot articulate what. Every person is created differently and experiences life a little differently. There are people who do not think in terms of “feeling” an experience. Just because a person does not experience one of those listed above, does not mean the person is incapable of finding God. If you are one of these individuals, give yourself a break and do not worry if you cannot name such an experience.

What if you feel like you are on an endless search and never have been able to find God?

A question such as this one can be associated with what was said in the previous response. The question might also arise during those times of doubt which I mentioned from my own journey. I usually have this feeling when I am in one of those “radio silence” times. These times can be brought about by life situations where I do not feel God is “doing” what I want done. Sometimes it can feel like an endless search when I expect to arrive at a specific destination instead of understanding that I am walking down a long path. In all of these circumstances it comes down to me making the quest about me instead of about God.

Does God not want to be found by you? Are you not worthy enough to find God?

I am going to deal with both of these questions together because I think they have the same root issue. Both of these questions imply the idea that God does not want everyone to be in close connection with God. This cannot be any farther from the truth. God seeks us out long before we even begin our search for God. In fact, it is God who prompts us to even begin the search. The answer about worthiness is that according to human standards, we are far from worthy enough to find God. But from God’s perspective, we have been created to be beloved children of God. Created as beloved children gives us worthiness beyond compare to any earthly standard. God desires to be so closely connected to us that Jesus speaks of God being in us. Do not ever fear that you are not worthy enough and therefore God will not allow you to find God. Instead, know that God walks with you on this quest and will reveal God’s self to you at varied points along the journey. Just open your spiritual eyes. God is right there.

Your quest is yours only, yet you are not on this quest alone. Every person on this earth is on the same quest even when they cannot name it. God is walking beside you on this quest as well. Let us sojourn together and together we will find God.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.

Purpose of the Church – Part 1

Why does the Church exist?

This is a question that has been asked by numerous people over an endless number of years. It is a question which challenges church leaders, worship attenders, church members, and those who do not wish affiliation with any type of church. Yet, I find this to be a very fundamental question to understanding life as a Christian who has spent a majority of his life associated with the Church. So where to begin?

I have chosen to begin with a list of what the Church is not. Before I give you this list though, I wish to explain why I capitalize the word “church” at times and at other times I do not. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if the word is being used regarding the name of a specific congregation, you capitalize the word since it is part of the formal name. If you are using the word to reference the entire body of Christ on earth, then you capitalize the word. If you are using the word as a generic term then you do not capitalize the word. Now on with the list.

What the Church is not:

  • A place to go to be “saved”
  • A place for only perfect people
  • A place to be “fixed”
  • A place to be part of the in-crowd
  • A place to be noticed
  • A place at all

You may have other items to add to the list but I wish to spend some time on the last item which I have on my list. I think it is a mistake to view the Church as a building or a location. While church buildings have specific locations, this is not how I see the Church. There is a song which I learned as a younger person, “We Are the Church,” written by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh. In this song, Avery wrote this line of lyrics: “The church is not a building place, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” This stanza from the song is at the core of how I understand the Church.

Beginning with an understanding that the Church is a people, gives us a launching point to discuss the question of why the Church exists in the first place. This also helps us to see why it is so difficult to understand the Church and how imperfect the Church really can be at times. People are not always the easiest to understand and definitely lack full perfection. Yet, for me, this actually allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. I can cross perfection off my list of requirements if I am going to be associated with the Church. I also have the freedom to experience the Church in a multitude of ways.

Now that I have laid out for you what the Church is not, we can move on to examine what the Church truly might be and what is its purpose. I invite you to join me on this exploration. In my next post I will be giving my definition of the Church. I would also like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject so please leave comments and questions as we journey this path together. Hint: the thought of a journey together will come into view again.