Sunday, October 9, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

The Rev. Rick Barbare

Isaiah 40:29-31- [God] gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. [NKJV]

Why the wait? We often think a thing is denied if we ask God to intervene in our lives and nothing happens right away.  We think, “I prayed, but God has denied my request!”  The wife of a famous pastor in the early Twentieth Century was fond of saying to those who were impatient, “God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.”

We often expect God to act immediately when we pray.  We say the right things, don’t we?  We love everyone as we ought? Why then do we not have ___________. (Fill in the blank of that sentence with what you are asking of God and yet have not seen happen.)  He has not said “no,” nor has he rejected the one praying.

We are not waiting because God wants us to merit his blessing through harder labors or more ardent sacrifices.  I hope we are certain Christ has paid the full price for our forgiveness and blessing!  The wait cannot be because we are not good enough yet, because we are already “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).

Still there is waiting. Why?  Bill Hybels in his book on prayer gives a memorable aphorism for us to use to examine ourselves to see why God may be delaying his answer to our prayers.  Hybels suggests there are four possible answers to prayer when we are waiting for long periods for God to act.

·         When the request is not right, God says, “No!”  We are grateful later when we see his wisdom in not giving us what we ask for.

·         The request may be right, but we may not be right with God concerning some other matter. At that point God says, “Grow!”
·         At other times, the request may be right and we may be right with God on all other matters.  However, the timing may not be right. Then, God says, “Slow!”

·         But, when the request is right, we are right with God, and the timing is right; God says, “Go!”

Waiting, while praying for God to act, is not a futile action.  It is meaningful if we are seeking God while we are seeking his blessing.  William Jay, early nineteenth century preacher used to tell this story.

A sailing vessel sank in the Atlantic Ocean, but the crew was able to safely enter the lifeboat and escape. As the small lifeboat drew near a large ship, a crew member threw them a rope. Looking at the rescue no one would think the small boat is drawing the large ship closer to it. No. It is the other way around. The ship’s crew is pulling the small lifeboat to the large ship—to safety.

Jay would then make the application to prayer—

In prayer, Christians are not pulling God down to them to compel him to act on their behalf. In prayer, believers are drawing themselves and their needs closer to God so he can act in his way, for their best interest, and in his own time.

Prayer—waiting on God—is a relational matter.  God draws us closer to himself as he prepares to act on our behalf.  We see him at work in us and for us.  We then go to others and speak first-handedly of the great things God has done for us.  We were close to him when he acted, so we can speak with personal experience about it.  Through our testimony, they are encouraged to trust him too!  We ought not to despair of God’s ability and willingness to act for us if we are waiting long in prayer. Our wait is never wasted. God is at work through it all.

If we are at present going through a painful wait, C. H. Spurgeon’s words will be of great comfort—

Father, prepare us for the height of blessing to which you have called us. Help us to receive gratefully the painful preliminaries necessary to fully receive your highest good to us.

To his prayer, let us always add in faith, “Amen!”

The Spiritual Lives of America’s Young People

By Fr. Rob

Two very interesting books have been the focus of my reading recently: Soul Searching by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton (about the spiritual lives of teenagers 13-17); and Souls in Transition (about the spiritual lives of young adults, 18-27) also by Christian Smith.  These books are based on surveys done concerning the spiritual lives of young people.  I found a few surprises and a number of affirmations.  I will attempt to summarize them for you:

1.      Young people with spiritual roots and church connections statistically do better in life.  This includes such areas as social interaction, relationships, school, and general happiness.  They tend to exhibit less guilt over behavior and past wrongs, are more future oriented, and are more effectively seek meaning, purpose and productive direction for their lives.  It is clear from these studies that these life outcomes trend in the positive direction with deepening levels of faith commitment.

2.      A common perception is that there are fewer teenagers and young adults than in previous generations seeking connection with God and His Church.   These studies do not support this assumption.  While religion is definitely not a priority for most teenagers, many today are remaining in the church, usually in the faith community of their parents, and the number doing so is not significantly different from teens 40 years ago. 

3.      It is true, however, that many struggle with articulating their faith, and many simply lapse into a form of “moralistic therapeutic deism” (a faith based on God expecting them to live right but who is otherwise detached and uninvolved… In other words, they are on their own).  This displaces for many an authentic Christian experience based on a loving, growing relationship with God and neighbor, one that empowers, transforms, stabilizes life and provides purpose.

4.      We all know that the teen years involve a growing independence and an absorption into peer groups.  The message parents often get is “butt out,” and American parents are frequently willing to comply.  This is particularly true on issues of spiritual growth.  As a pastor, I have often heard as a pastor something like this:     “My teenager doesn’t want to come to church or be part of the youth group, and I think he should make up his own mind.”  The result is that many younger teenagers find themselves uncomfortably on their own with some of life’s toughest and most basic questions, such as their true identity and what is real, true, valuable and morally right.  Studies show that most teenagers very badly want loving input (after all, it’s a scary world out there), but they want input and engagement on re-negotiated grounds that take into account their growing maturity and desired independence.  This is when the art of parenting can be its most challenging, but also its most rewarding.

For us as a church family this means that we need to engage teens and young adults wherever and whenever we can.  We need to help them bring faith issues out of the background of their lives and find a Faith that can positively shape their lives.  We need to encourage young people to respect the faith of others but move beyond the modern cultural distortion that it is necessary to water down their own faith convictions in the process.  Finally, knowing that parents are and have always been the key to the spiritual development of young people, we need to bring parents into our church fellowship and talk about the criticality of faith development along side physical and mental development in the life of their teens.

Holy Trinity: A Community of Grace

Grace refers to the unearned favor of God showered upon our lives.  It is God dealing with us not on our worthiness or merit, but on our needs, simply because we are the object of His unconditional love.  This is the foundation upon which the “Kingdom of God” is being built.  Holy Trinity, as an outpost of the Kingdom of God, is therefore called to become a “Community of Grace.”

We who are tainted with the ways of this world find that being a grace-filled community doesn’t come naturally; however (thanks be to God!), it does come supernaturally through the inner working of the Spirit of God in us and in our community.  It is God who makes us a “Community of Grace.”  We are the recipient of God’s grace and therefore called to be an instrument through which that grace is extended to others.  We are therefore a community who is becoming…
Ø  A place of unconditional love that is a sanctuary for the sinner, the broken- hearted and the wounded.
Ø  The workplace of the Holy Spirit and a crucible for transformation and healing.
Ø  A community from which God’s Truth is shared with the world. 
Ø  A place where people can be invited in just as they are, but knowing that God loves them too much to leave them where they are.
Ø  A people learning to be loving and gracious because we ourselves have been treated with love and grace.
We are also a fellowship that is moving day-by-day toward holiness of life, not by our own works or merits, but by the grace of God’s activity within the community.  Holiness is within our grasp because God has “graced” us with His Holy Spirit. The Church calls this “Sanctifying Grace.”  Through God’s Sanctifying Grace, God has given us access to the marks of holiness, which are the “Fruit of the Spirit,”- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Jesus showed what grace-filled life living looks like: 
Ø  He treated all people as having great value            ,                                     (Luke 7:36-50)
Ø  Regarded each person as a beloved child of the Father,                          (Matthew 18:10-14)
Ø  Hung out with the least desirable and the marginalized,                         (Matthew 9:9-13)
Ø  Conveyed to God’s people unambiguous and un-compromised Truth,  (Matthew 5:17-20)
Ø  Taught that only God is to judge,                                                            (Matthew 13:24-30)
Ø  Demonstrated that we are not to judge, but to forgive                            (John 8:1-11)
Ø  Cared enough to listen and be the instrument of change for the stranger (John 4:4-30)
Ø  Provided redemption and salvation to those who were lost to God.,      (Luke 19:1-10)
Ø  Conveyed a hope and a purpose for this life.                                          (Matthew 6:25-32)
 So, how are we to be a Community of Grace?  By…
Ø  By not condemning, but helping others become aligned to God’s call on their lives
Ø  understanding that others are a work in progress, just as you are (Matthew 7:3-5)
Ø   unconditionally loving the unlovely, even when they are unable to love us back.
Ø  caring for the stranger. (The Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-37)

In other words, extending grace to others the way Jesus extends grace to you.                       

A Day with Moses

Exodus 3:1-5
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian…
Maybe it’s not working for your father-in-law, but perhaps for you it is just another day like any other day.

 and (Moses) led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Many of us can describe the landscape of our lives as “desert.”  Your desert, your wilderness wonderings through this life, may be arid, lacking vision and hope, bearing no fruit.  For you, it may be living day after day with the affects of past trauma.  It may be pain, disappoint… anxiety about the future… guilt about the past… broken relationships.  There are a lot of things that can take a life and turn it into desert.   Is there a far side to your wilderness?  You hope there is!  Perhaps you feel beyond hope… There seems to be no far side to your wilderness. 

For Moses, his wilderness is framed by an abandonment of identity… Is he a prince of Egypt and master all things worldly, or is he just a shepherd who knows how to get by?  Moses’ real identity, it turns out and He is soon to re-discover, is as a Hebrew, counted among the people of God, with a home in the very presence of God? 

Moses’ wilderness is also framed by a loss of purpose and destiny.  Does not God have something more for Moses? …for you?  Jesus says that He came not just to bring life, but to bring it in abundance?  Where is the abundance in the middle of your wilderness?  What does God have for you on the far side of your wilderness wonderings?

 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
God was on the far side of Moses’ wilderness just waiting for him to draw near.  When he does, he gets a glimpse of the divine.  How about you?  Are you there yet?

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
In a tone of submission, obedience and awe, Moses says, “Here I am, Lord.”  Like Moses, is this your day to submit to the Almighty?  There is an alternative: You can turn around and head back out into the desert.

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
God is inviting you into His holy presence, onto “Holy Ground.  Does God intend to sanctify your life and make it holy?  That is obviously His plan for Moses.  That is, for sure, God’s plan for you.  Will you allow it?  Will you today, perhaps a bit more than yesterday, open yourself  to the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit in you?  This is the only way is you will be able to eternally remain in His presence and on this “Holy Ground.”  The Church has long understood Christianity to be God’s invitation into the very presence of God, but first He asks us to take off your sandals” that are so covered with the filth of our not-so-holy wilderness wonderings. 

The story is far from over for Moses.  God sets him on a grand adventure punctuated with power and purpose.  What does God have in store for you as you move forward from this day?                                                         

Father Rob