Friday, October 28, 2016

Put God First

Way back in May we met in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church of Blue Bell. We talked about elephants. We did spend a little time discussing the gigantic mammals we're all familiar with, but the focus was on the metaphorical elephants we are faced with all the time. We talked about those giant elephants in our lives that lead to worry and fear. We all have those obstacles, those elephants, where we have no idea how we'll overcome them.

For so long I thought the key to overcoming obstacles was to first make an effort to overcome them on my own. If I got stuck along the way, I would then ask for help. This approach seemed perfectly logical and gave me comfort knowing I tried! In our discussion on Sunday, I realized there was a big piece missing from my approach. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, Paul tells us, "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed ... ".

I would save my prayers until I realized I couldn't overcome my obstacle. I believed if I went to God first, before putting in the effort myself, I would feel guilty. What I failed to recognize is going to God first does not mean I get to be lazy while God fixes things for me. Rather, going to God first is simply asking God to be with me as I face my obstacle.

God is with me either way, but the missing piece was me being with God. If I overcame something, I might believe I did it on my own. But as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, the power belongs to God. I shared a story during our discussion about a co-worker who was desperate to get back home to see her Grandfather. He was ill and did not have long to live. She booked a flight and, upon arriving at the airport, discovered it was canceled. She re-booked on a different airline and again the flight was canceled. She spent most of the night trying to get back to see him, but finally realized she would not be able to make it. She was able to speak with him over the phone. He could not respond but she was able to tell him good-bye. He passed away soon after and she was left feeling she failed him by not being there.

She shared her story with me and I asked her about the last memory she had of her grandfather. She recalled seeing him a few months earlier when he was healthy. She remembered him smiling and laughing. I told her I believed God was with her in the airport that night. I believe God wanted to protect that happy final memory of her Grandfather and she has no reason to feel she failed her Grandfather. He heard every word she said over the phone as God made sure she was able to say good-bye.

So many times in life, it is hard to see God is with us. Maybe the harder part is for us to be with God when faced with enormous elephants. In Romans 8:28, we read, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." We don't know God's purpose. Sometimes things do not work out the way we expect and overcoming our obstacles, may not be the resolution we're hoping for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Warnings have been issued! Now what?

Warnings are all around us all the time. Some warnings, such as those issued ahead of Hurricane Matthew, require us to take immediate action. The consequences of inaction can be dire; yet some directly in the path of the hurricane did not evacuate. Why?

When I was about 6 years old, a tornado warning was issued in my small NE Ohio town. It was not the first time we had such a warning, but this time my Dad took me down in the basement for safety. We waited out the storm and the tornado never came. I wondered what all the fuss was about until my Mom came home from work that night. She worked about 5 miles from our home and she  saw the tornado from the store she worked in. She saw the destruction of the tornado on her way home. Just because I didn't experience the destruction of the tornado first hand did not mean the danger wasn't real for many others. I learned to always heed warnings and stay vigilant in the face of possible danger.

Looking back, I wonder how my perspective would have changed if the tornado never came at all. I probably wouldn't take that second look when severe thunderstorm watches are issued. I wouldn't pay much attention to the so-called "weather experts". Maybe something similar happened for some of those people who ignored the evacuation orders. Consider how many times people in the SE United States have seen warnings issued where the storm didn't really pack the punch they were expecting. Shortly thereafter the weather experts will explain why the storm changed direction, or never materialized, but for many people it is too little too late. The weather expert's credibility is called into question and future warnings may fall on deaf ears.

The truth is predicting what lies ahead is very difficult to do, but it's even more difficult to share that message with people for fear of their reaction. As Christians we are on the front line of sharing a type of warning, the good news, with everyone. We often focus on the positive, hopeful and loving side of this message, but there is also the reality that accepting Jesus Christ as one's savior comes with responsibilities. It also is not a promise one's life will be free of adversity. Some do not want to hear this message, but we should not keep this message to ourselves just for fear of people's reactions. Consider this passage from Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die," and you give them no warning...those wicked persons shall die....but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness...they shall die...but you will have saved your life.

Ezekiel was tasked as the messenger to share the warnings from God with the people. Chances are Ezekiel had to share many unpopular warnings. Ezekiel likely upset people with the warnings he shared, but he was just the messenger. Ezekiel was not demanding they change their ways; rather, he was letting them know what danger lies ahead if they do not heed his warnings. Ezekiel knew there would be more harm than good for everyone, himself included, if he didn't share the message.

Warnings are all around us from our religious leaders, politicians, news media, friends, family, etc. Not all warnings will require we take action, but regardless we shouldn't ignore messengers who are trying to share a warning. Perhaps the warning does not apply to us this time, but it may apply to our neighbor. We must be like Ezekiel and share the warnings of impending danger with all who need to hear it in the hope we can save as many possible.