What are you called to do? Part 3

The LORD Calls Samuel
1 Samuel 3:1-10
The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel was probably a teenager when the Lord revealed himself to this young boy. The scripture from today’s reading tells us that this was in a time period where visions or revelations from God were rare. This word from God apparently caught Eli the priest off guard as well, as he twice told Samuel to go and lie down. It makes you wonder about how close or familiar Eli was with the God that he served. Eventually, on the third time that Samuel goes to Eli, the priest recognizes the voice calling as that of God.

I suppose that most people, both inside and outside the church, have a difficult time believing that God still speaks (in some way) to people today. When I tell people my calling story, I can’t help but notice that they seem somewhat skeptical of my personal encounter with God. Why do we find it so difficult to believe that God can communicate with us through dreams, in prayer, in worship, or through other people? God can also speak to us in ordinary, everyday life situations if we are only willing to listen.

Four years ago when I was struggling with my calling into ministry, I had a very vivid dream one night. I dreamed that I was floating above a small town that was in a much earlier time period. In the center of that town I saw a small white church and a large crowd of people around that church. I found myself gradually moving closer to a small group of men, all dressed in dark suits and white shirts. Something about this scene seemed very familiar and also very comforting. As I floated through the air, getting closer to the men, I began to move at a rapid rate of speed. Suddenly, I came upon a man face to face, who suddenly turned towards me and said, “You will be a pastor.” That man was my grandfather, Cleve Simmons, who I was very close to while growing up. I woke up immediately after he said those words to me. I have never experienced a dream, or anything, like the “vision” from God that night.

I have no doubt that God was speaking to me in that dream. Skeptics would say that I had been wrestling with the call for over a year and that was constantly on my mind. So naturally, when I would fall asleep thinking about God calling me, the odds would seem to favor a dream about that at some point. I can tell you that I have never been as sure of anything as I was that dream in which God used my grandfather, a very religious man, to give me my calling.

There are many in the world today that doubt God’s presence in our lives and in the events going on around the globe. Many people believe that we live in a time period where the word of the Lord is rare and there are not many visions. I would suggest to you however, that the word of the Lord is not rare and there are many visions. All it takes to recognize this is you saying to God, “Speak (Lord), for your servant is listening.”

Prayer: Lord, I believe that you want to draw closer to us in the world that we live in, the world that you created. Help us God, to open up our minds and to believe and have faith that you are fully involved in our lives and in the events of our world. Enable us to be observant to the many signs and wonders that you send our way. Slow down our busy lives so that we don’t miss out on the opportunities you place in our path. Lord, help us to realize that you are much closer to us that we can ever imagine. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Amen.

What are you called to do? Part 2

Acts 9:1-6
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

We first encounter Paul at the beginning of the 8th chapter of Acts. We are told that Saul was giving approval to the death of Stephen and then later on, other followers of Jesus. The book of Acts tells us that Saul was on his way to Damascus, Syria to seek out followers of Jesus (those who belonged to the Way – as these early believers called themselves). Saul was going to find them and take them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. Damascus was the closest, most significant city outside the Holy Land and it also had a large Jewish population. The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 150 miles, which would have been a four to six days’ travel.

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This is Saul’s first encounter with the risen Christ and this Damascus road conversion experience is not what you would expect. Someone reading this story for the first time might have imagined Jesus coming with an army of angels to avenge the persecution of the followers of the Way. We should know by now, however, that Jesus is going to do the unexpected. Jesus is nominating this tormenter of His followers to be the chairman of the church’s new outreach committee to enlist new members, the Gentiles.

Saul then goes from Damascus into Arabia. We are not exactly sure how long Saul stayed in Arabia but the book of Galatians suggests that it was at least three years, before he would return to Damascus and then to Jerusalem to begin his public ministry. Paul, in his writing in Galatians, seems to indicate that this period of three years was some sort of spiritual training in the Spirit. This is a wilderness experience similar to that of Moses and Jesus in which Paul receives and attempts to understand his calling.

Throughout the Bible, God calls people that the world seems to pay little attention to (David, Moses, Saul, Samuel, Jesus). The world values fame, power, prestige, money, etc. If you follow God – you can’t follow the world, or what society values as important. Paul decided to follow God but it was a calling that was anything but easy. If you have any doubts, read the following passage from 2 Corinthians 11:25-30:

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Wow! How many times does Paul mention that he was in danger? That’s a tough calling. As followers of Jesus, we hopefully will not experience all of these things that happened to Paul, but we will encounter some of them. Like Paul, we must come to terms with our weaknesses, and we all know about weaknesses, because we have plenty of them. Paul reminds us that it is in our weakness that God’s power is made complete. God’s power was made perfect when He called Paul, and also when He calls you and I. As humans, we are all weak but God is all powerful. How will you allow God to use you?

What are you called to do? Part 1

It seems that a lot of people that I have talked to lately are struggling with what God is calling them to do or to be. While this “wrestling with God” can be difficult and many times unclear, it is a good sign that you are willing to be open and honest with God as you reflect on how God is speaking to you.

Some are struggling with a decision to lead a better life, one that is lived in accordance with God’s desire to draw all of us closer to Him. Others are struggling with a calling that God is leading them to make more of a difference in their community or in the world, but how, they are unsure. And some of us are seeking what God is calling us to be vocationally.

When I think about this “calling” from God, I find it helpful to look at how different people in the Bible were sought out by God. While the Bible has many examples of how God calls us, there are three “calling” stories in the Bible that I would like for you to consider: The calling of Moses, Saul/Paul, and Samuel. In this post I will focus on Moses and in my next two posts we will look further into the calling of Paul and then Samuel.

First up is Moses. In the second chapter of Exodus, Moses has just killed an Egyptian that he saw beating a Hebrew, “one of his own people.” (Exodus 2:11-12). Moses then flees to Midian, which is present day Saudi Arabia. It was in Midian, many years later, that God spoke to Moses from a burning bush. God tells Moses to go before Pharaoh and deliver a message from God and then to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Do you remember how Moses responds to God? Moses answers God’s call to him by trying to come up with every reason possible to get out of that call from God. The first rebuttal to God is: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). The second excuse was: If the Israelites ask for your name, “then what shall I tell them?”(Exodus 3:13). The third attempt to distance himself from God’s call was this response from Moses: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Exodus 4:1).

We have not heard the last of the excuses from Moses: The fourth one was, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). The fifth and final try from Moses to resist God’s call was: “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (Exodus 4:13). If we read the next few verses in Exodus we are told that, “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses.” However, God continued to provide Moses with a solution to each and every excuse that Moses offered up. This fifth excuse from Moses is one that I have used too often in my own life: “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” And if you are honest with yourself and with God, you have probably said the same.

We don’t want to be inconvenienced or challenged to go beyond our comfort zone which will cause us to be uncomfortable. Most of us want to follow God and his commands for our lives but we want to do so at a distance. The world that we live in suggests to us that to follow Jesus and his teachings are foolish. It’s much easier to say to God, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” This is what I did for about a year until God made it very clear to me that He would not release me from this calling to be a minister.

I continue to struggle with God’s call upon my life and I imagine that I will continue to do so until I die. God is constantly at work within us and all around us. We want God to work quickly and with as little pain as possible. God, however, must refine us and for that to happen we must be willing to step out of our comfort zone and follow Jesus. It won’t be easy but it will be rewarding. As you know, Moses did decide to follow God’s calling and he became a humble and obedient servant of God. Moses started off slow but after he made to decision to obey God, the Lord used him greatly in delivering Israel from Egypt. How will you allow God to use you?

The Fifth Commandment

Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:12
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

The command to honor your parents is the fifth commandment given by God to the chosen people of Israel. This promise was made to the Israelites as they prepared to occupy the Promised Land, which was Canaan. Paul also refers to this commandment in Ephesians 6:1-3 when he writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

My mother is celebrating her 83rd birthday today and I am thankful that I am going to be able to spend part of the day with her. I have been thinking over the past week of the many sacrifices that my mother has made for me over the course of my life. She did everything she could to raise me in a way that would be pleasing to God. I never remember my mother asking if we were going to Sunday school or church on Sunday morning. I knew that we were going and I didn’t even think to question that. My mother set an example that I was to follow and it is an example that I have set with my children today.

I think back on the many wonderful moments we shared together as a family. My mom and dad had to work long hours most days but they always placed a priority on family time. I remember the many family vacations that we took and the laughter that we shared. Those are memories that truly last a lifetime.

Spending quality time with me, as I was growing up, was another wonderful gift from my mother. She worked full time but she always made time for me, usually at the expense of having less time for herself. I don’t remember my mother complaining too much about the moments in life when things did not go her way. She just took the good with the bad and continued on, believing that God was in control and would care for and watch over our family.

I remember sitting beside my mother in Harmony Baptist church in the late spring of 1976. She didn’t know that I had been talking to my Sunday school teacher for two weeks about being saved. For some reason I just didn’t tell her that I had been saved and was going to join the church. I remember being very nervous throughout the sermon, wondering what my mother would think when I got up to go tell the pastor. As the pastor offered the invitation and the congregation started singing, I remember looking at my mother and saying that I needed to go talk to the preacher. She just nodded and smiled at me and I walked up the aisle. It was as if she knew what I had been thinking and struggling with all along. Mothers are like that though – they usually know their children better than we know ourselves. Happy Birthday Mom!

Great is Thy faithfulness

Scripture Reading: Lamentations 3:19-23
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The author of the book of Lamentations is uncertain, although many ancient Jewish and early Christian traditions ascribe it to Jeremiah. Jeremiah has been called the “weeping prophet” because he so often would express the anguish of his spirit. Jeremiah was a prophet of doom and not surprisingly he only attracted a few close followers. God commanded Jeremiah to not marry and raise children because the Lord was going to soon send a divine judgment upon Judah that would sweep away the next generation.

Lamentations is not the only OT book that contains individual or community laments. (A large number of the Psalms are lament poems, and every prophetic book except Haggai includes one or more examples of the lament genre.) Lamentation is the only book, however, that consists solely of laments.

The book of Lamentations mournfully expresses the people’s overwhelming sense of loss that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as well as the exile of Judah’s inhabitants from the land that God had covenanted to give Israel as a permanent national homeland.

In 1923, Thomas Chisolm wrote one of the greatest modern hymns about the faithfulness of God from this text in Lamentations. In the first stanza he writes about the character of God and how it does not change. God is compassionate and that compassion will last into eternity. In stanza two he writes about God’s faithfulness in maintaining the order of the universe. In stanza three he writes of God’s faithfulness in forgiving our sins and providing strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Each stanza leads to the great culminating chorus that declares the victorious words of Jeremiah, “Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin And a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, With ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, as your followers we know Lord that you love us. We believe that you watch over our lives and that you guard us each and every day. Help us to remember that your love is unfailing and your compassion is everlasting. Give us the strength and the hope to arise every morning remembering how great your faithfulness is to each one of us. In spite of what the previous day has brought into our lives, we awake with a new hope, a hope for a better and brighter day. And we have the promise that you are there Lord and that your compassion upon us will never fail. Amen.

Sources used:
NIV Study Bible Zondervan
Dailyencouragement.net

The Temptation to be Spectacular

Scripture Reading
Luke 4:9-13

The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’
Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Jesus, after being baptized in the Jordan, was led by the Spirit into the desert. It was there that Jesus was to stay for forty days and be temped by the devil. Luke tells us that Jesus did not eat during those forty days and at the end of those forty days he was hungry. So the first temptation that the devil gives Jesus is to turn a stone into bread. Jesus is hungry and the temptation to turn that stone into bread would seem like a difficult temptation to turn away from. Jesus quotes scripture to his tempter and refuses to succumb to temptation.

The devil then tempts Jesus by telling him that he will give him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him. And to that enticement Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

The last temptation was for Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple. Jesus refused to test God’s faithfulness by again quoting scripture to the evil one. The devil was tempting Jesus to do something that would attract a lot of public attention in a very dramatic way. I believe that one of our greatest temptations in the church today, is the temptation to attract attention to ourselves instead of giving it to God.

Henri Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus, calls this the temptation to be spectacular. This type of temptation causes the individual to attract attention to themselves in order to draw praise and applause from their audience. Nouwen says that “stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the church. There too the dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone.”

The evil one is hard at work tempting us in the worldwide church today. We desire to be noticed, praised, and respected for our good works and deeds. It is a desire to be relevant and to accomplish things on our own. Jesus rejected this temptation and as followers of Christ we must reject this temptation also.

Nouwen writes that, “in today’s church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests.” That would also apply to not only our ministers but our Sunday school teachers, committee leaders, deacons, etc. We believe that we should be able to do everything well and that it can best be done on our own. We feel that we alone can write inspiring sermons, have standing room only in our Sunday school classes, and lead committees and deacon boards to accomplish great things. This is the temptation to be spectacular, to go our own away.

Jesus did not come to this earth in order to exercise his divine power. Jesus emptied himself and he became like us. As followers of Jesus we are called to share with others the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and to give all honor, glory and praise to God: our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.

Witnesses

Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus was giving instructions to his disciples in the scripture verse today before He ascended back into heaven. Jesus had appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days since the resurrection and now Jesus was giving the disciples their marching orders to go out into the world and to be witnesses for Christ.

One thing that we often overlook in this passage is the words of Christ at the beginning of verse 8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and then….you will be my witnesses…” It is the power of the Holy Spirit that must come first before the disciples can set out on mission. The Holy Spirit would guide them and would enable them to carry out the mission of being witnesses throughout the world.

We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit as often as we should in church today. We know that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity but what exactly does the Holy Spirit do? Many times we don’t understand how the Spirit is working and we try to follow our own instincts instead of being a Spirit led people.

Four years ago, my pastor and I went on a mission trip to Liberia, West Africa. That trip has been on my mind a lot lately as you can tell by the photos that I have posted on my website. I’m not sure why we felt called to go or if we even thought that we were called to go to this war-torn country. But somehow, my pastor and I, felt led by God to travel to this West African nation.

On our first day at the church we were visiting, I was giving a talk on the role of deacons in the contemporary church today. Many deacons from other congregations were in attendance and there was a lot of discussion about the role of deacon and the role of the pastor. The pastor of the church that was hosting us stood up and said that there was something that he wanted to say. He said that many of his church members were unsure of whether they would be able to understand two men from America and they questioned whether or not they should attend. Their pastor begged them to just come the first day and see if communication was going to be a problem. (English in the language spoken in Liberia but the dialects are very different). The pastor said that he was amazed how everyone was talking and that everyone seemed to understand everything that was being said. “The Holy Spirit is truly present here with us in this church today”, he said.

I also believe that it was the Holy Spirit that spoke to their hearts to invite us to come and it was the Holy Spirit that worked within our hearts to convince us to go.

I felt the Holy Spirit at work in that church in West Africa many more times that week and it was a powerful experience. Jesus told His disciples some 2,000 years ago and His disciples today to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And that is what I thought that I was doing. But after going to Liberia, it was my brothers and sisters in Christ there – that were witnesses to me. The Holy Spirit does work in strange and mysterious ways.

Faith

Scripture reading: James 1:2-3
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

This past week has been very challenging for me and I have fallen behind in writing my blog. My mom and aunt have been very sick this week and I have made four visits to their house along with three trips to the doctor. Their health is very fragile and they are afraid as they begin to lose some of their independence. I must admit that I am afraid also as we try to figure out what comes next. Amidst the many moments of uncertainty the only certain thing that we can cling to is our faith. A faith that God is in charge and that He is present with us as we struggle.

I also have a friend that is in the hospital in Atlanta and she is facing a long, difficult road to recovery. Her faith is strong and she is a very determined person and I know that she will be able to regain her former lifestyle in the near future. I have several friends that are looking for work, some after being told in no uncertain terms, that they are no longer needed. There are people that I know that are struggling with physical and mental illness and they are worried and depressed. Others are unhappy in their marriages and with their families and they are ready to walk away and give up.

In times like these it is tempting to just give up because it can seem that God has forgotten about you and your situation. And we are not alone in that feeling as we discover when we read the book of Psalms. Psalm 42:9: I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” Psalm 38:21-22: O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O lord my Savior. Like the writer of these Psalms, there are times when it feels that God is far away, but actually He is there with us in our times of struggle.

Someone said to me the other day, I’m just tired of trying, I’m really tired of trying to do the right things and then having bad things happen to me.” That reminded me of something I once heard someone say. This person said, “Don’t ever grow tired of doing good. No matter what trouble comes your way, continue to do the right thing and persevere, continue to have faith.”

And to me that’s what faith is all about. I often need to be reminded that we all stumble and go through difficult times in our lives. Faith helps us to remember that God promises to be there with us in our heartaches and in our struggles, we are not alone. Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. God is closer than we often realize.

As I drove up to my mom’s house the other day I listened several times to the song, What Faith Can Do, by Kutless. This song always speaks to my heart when I also feel just about ready to give up. Two lines from the song really speak to me and I want to share them with you.

Don’t you give up now
The sun will soon be shining
You gotta face the clouds
To find the silver lining

Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing

Keep believing and have faith, a faith that can move mountains! God bless!