Pastor Steve's Blog Posts
Life is a journey; so at the beginning of a new year how do we imagine our journey through this year will go? Well, who knows? I'm pretty sure that whatever I think 2012 is going to be like, I'll get to December 31 and say, "Wow! I never saw that coming!" That's what happens to me every year.
Still, if life is a journey, then perhaps a role model or paradigm for our life would be Abraham and Sarah. You know the story - Abraham was asked to trust God by letting go of his past-by moving away from his people and his country to find a new country and birth a new people. That journey starts in Genesis 12.
But by Genesis 22, now near the end of his journey, Abraham is asked to trust God once again, this time by letting go of his future-release his beloved son Isaac through whom the promised blessing is to be fulfilled. In both requests to trust, Abraham is faithful (though not without doubts and stumbles along the way), and by trusting in God during the journey Abraham comes to know God as the God who provides.
500 or so years later, the Israelites - Abraham's children-find themselves on another epic journey-from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. As the Israelites travel through the desert it's important to remember that they know the stories of Abraham! They know Abraham's journey of trust was their spiritual inheritance. They know God keeps His promises; they know God provides.
But they fail to apply the lessons of Abraham's journey to their journey. Every time they encountered difficulty they had the opportunity to experience the goodness of God firsthand-to apply the story of Abraham to their own story and to trust as Abraham had trusted. But instead of cultivating a life of trust, they responded with perpetual grumbling and complaint. You can read it for yourself in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Their spiritual endowment was being wasted. Either they lost their history or simply failed to see how it applied.
I'm pretty sure that every one of us will encounter a bump in the road of our journey through 2012. For some it will be more like a pothole ... or a dead end ... or it may feel like the road suddenly ended and you've driven off a cliff. Somehow, somewhere, at some time in 2012 we are all going to encounter a difficulty. Will we respond with grumbling and complaint? Or will we draw on our spiritual endowment as children of Abraham and cultivate a life of trust?
Here's another truth: We don't always get to choose what happens to us. Often we have no control over what someone does to us-a boss, a spouse, a child, a distracted motorist, a dishonest business partner. But we do have control over our reaction. And we will choose something.
We may choose to withdraw emotionally and silently sink into depression. We may choose seething rage-volcanic anger boiling just beneath the surface of our lives. We may choose retail therapy, numbing our disappointment by buying more stuff for an already full closet. We may allow vengeful fantasies to consume our days. But we will choose something. We always respond when we experience deep disappointment.
Sometimes our decisions don't feel like choices. Sometimes we have selected a destructive response so frequently that it has become an automatic reaction. It has become a pattern of behavior. It has become a reflex. Don't be fooled. It is a choice; and the choice is ours.
That choice is an opportunity. When we experience severe hardship, our faith is being tested-just as Abraham's faith was tested when God told him to leave his home and to sacrifice Isaac. The Israelites were also tested on their journey. So are we. Why does God test us? To help us grow. God used the hardships on the journey as opportunities to provide for the people God loves, and to teach us that we can trust in God and depend on God. The writer James teaches us that "the testing of your faith" develops perseverance (James 1:3). This is important! When things begin to spin out of control, our faith comes under fire. If we use those opportunities to choose to trust God instead of giving in to destructive responses, then we will develop perseverance and faith will grow. Helping people growing spiritually is part of our mission as First UMC.
So that's the question before us. In 2012 when trouble comes, (fill in the blank: unemployment, infertility, runaway teenager or runaway spouse, unexplained depression, humiliating financial setback, cancer or other serious health issue) will we embrace faith ... or complaint? Will we pass through this vast disappointment and still cling to the belief that God is good, that God is wise, that God is loving? Will we trust God? Or will our faith in a good, wise, and loving God evaporate as our patience grows thin and our spirits tire?
Generally, you don't have to extend an invitation for complaint to show up. It arrives on your doorstep as an uninvited guest. You return home from yet another frustrating day to discover that complaint has moved into your guest room, unpacked its luggage, started a load of laundry, and is raiding your refrigerator. Even when you seek to dislodge complaint-your move its bags to the curb and change the locks-it crawls back through a rear window. Complaint resists eviction.
Before we know it, complaint feels right because it is familiar; it is at home in our heart. With every struggle we become more and more like the Israelites and less and less like Abraham. And we miss the faith lessons. God desires to prepare us and build things into us, but we are hunkered down in our pattern of response. We need to wake up and notice what is happening! How do we evict that spirit of complaint?
In L.I.F.E. 201 (Living in Faith Everyday) we teach you how to develop good habits. If you really want to evict that spirit of complaint and distrust and develop the healthy habits of spiritual growth, I would encourage you to take the L.I.F.E. courses in 2012. In the meantime, we can discourage complaint's residency in our lives by inviting another guest to move in with us. That new guest is trust. When we choose to trust God in the face of deep disappointment, complaint has less space to maneuver. While attempting to unpack for an extended stay, complaint discovers that trust has taken all the drawers in the guest room and already occupies the empty seat at the dinner table. Trust evicts complaint. Trust and complaint are incompatible roommates. One inevitably pushes the other one out.
Who do you want living in your guest room this year?
Your servant in Christ,