Thursday, February 16, 2012

When We Don't Like It

There is something to be said for obedience no matter the circumstances. When the call of God comes and we respond in faithfulness there is a closeness in our relationship with God that is rivaled by little else. Being obedient is easy when we like what it is God is calling us to, or what we are called to seems to be easy. This is obedience that should be celebrated. What about when the call is hard, and the task is difficult, and we simply do not really like what God is calling us to?

Following and trusting God especially when it is difficult and we do not like it is when obedience really kicks in. I think of some of the people called in the Scriptures, Moses was reluctant and did not want to transition from the Desert of obscurity to the challenger of Pharaoh. Isaiah was convinced God has someone better to be a prophet confronting the people. Even Jesus himself wrestled with God in the Garden asking if there was another way than for him to die on the cross. In the end of these and other accounts of difficult calls the response is the same, "Not my will but thy will." In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis reminds the reader there are two ways people respond to God, those who say my will be done on earth and those who say thy will be done. If obedience through the hard times was easy everyone would do it. The reality is we are so willing to walk our own path instead of the one God is beckoning us down.

What we do when we do not like the situation is more revealing of our relationship with God than when we like what is going on. Take for another example Peter. In the relative safety of wander the Galilean countryside he was able to be very obedient and identify with Jesus, but in the courtyard of the high priest we have a different story. Often we are way more harsh to Peter for his disobedience than we should be. Many of us would have followed suit. I do not like to admit that, but to say I would do anything else would be wild speculation. Thankfully, I do not have to stand in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus faces trail. I do however have to live my life with the ups and downs it brings my way. The question is not what will I do when I like what is happening and where God is calling me. No, the question is what will I do when I am standing in the place of not liking where God is calling me.

Let's see, I have thrown prophets, Apostles and Jesus into this mix, along with C.S. Lewis. So there is little harm in one more. Look at Jonah. God's call was clear. Jonah's disobedience was clear. The story of Jonah has a tragic ending. Jonah's worst fear comes true, the Ninevehites repent. Then instead of celebrating in the work of God done through obedience, Jonah goes to the edge of the city and whines. In the end Jonah is a bitter man not seeing the glory God called him to be a part of. I wonder how often we miss what God is doing and going to do because we are preoccupied with the ways things have been that we like?

I do not find a God in the Scriptures who keeps things as they have always been. This is true of communities and of individuals. Our obedience to God is celebrated and rewarded with greater opportunity for obedience. Usually the greater opportunity requires us to move into territory we would rather not. Rarely are we called from comfort to comfort. More often we are called from comfort to risk. This is the call of God that drips with one simple question, "Who's will is to be done today?"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When The Future Becomes the Past

I had one of those holy crap moments this morning. I looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway through February 2012. I am sure to most of you this has not come as surprise as you have by now stopped writing 2011 on things requiring a date, and your calendars are all on February. My shock was because I had been playing the role of the procrastinator for a good part of December. There were several tasks needing attention but I kept delaying them until I returned from a mission trip to Columbia. Because of this projection of activities I thought I had all kinds of time to get to these activities in the future. My realization this morning was the future of December has become the past of February. What was in the windshield is now in the rear view mirror.

It is with more than our schedule that we do this. There are those changes in our life which we know we need to make. This time of year they are called resolutions and if you are like most you have already failed on most of the resolutions you set out before yourself just a few short weeks ago. There was great intention of change, perhaps even a plan, but there was always tomorrow, better known as the day when I will get started. Then we reach today and find we have not gotten started and the intended start date is not longer in front of us but behind us. Rather than simply starting to change our lives we first lament about the ways we missed the opportunity. Rather than deciding today will be the day we do what we know we need to, we often give up because we feel like we missed the opportunity. In fact, that is what happens most often when the future becomes the past, we simply give up for a later attempt.

As I look around at this glorious mystery called the church I find we suffer from a similar affliction. I do not talk to many people who say there is not need for the church to change. To be clear they are out there, you know the people who think things are just fine and if the church dies with them that is fine. However, most people recognize the church needs to go through a season of adaptation if it is going to be a vital and healthy collection of disciples of Jesus Christ. The challenge is not in recognition it is often in action. Someday we will get started with making changes, or I know we need to change it is just that I know it will make people unhappy if we change things. There is my all time favorite, we want new people to come to the church, we just want them to do it on our terms. In other words sometime in the future.

For many a faithful congregation the future has now become the past and the death rattle has begun. The death rattle is the sound someone makes shortly before they die. I am sure there is a deeply medical reasons for the rattle but all I know is when I am sitting with a family as they say goodbye, I know when I hear that sound the time is short. For the better part of 25 years, some argue longer, the church has seen the need to change and adapt to meet the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in the present age. For the same time frame it has always been couched in a 3-5 year plan, in the future. Yes change takes time, however it cannot happen unless the first steps are taken.

Let us put an end to the procrastination. Personally, if it is time to do more than think or talk about the gym, get started today. If it is time to do more than stare at the closed Bible on the coffee table, do it now. If it is time for the church to adapt, take the first step today. It will take time. Still the future will once again become the past if we do not make a move.