Faithful or Fusspot

Is there anyone in the Bible to whom you relate? Are you like Mary  of Mary & Martha and just can’t wait to sit at Jesus feet?  Or maybe you are more of a Martha, always busy and wanting everyone else to be busy too?  Are you an evangelist like Peter or Paul? What about a leader like Moses or Joshua?  There are lots of people to use as a yardstick for our Spiritual lives.  Throughout life, circumstances and/or decisions may change your view of yourself.

I often have used King David as an example.  He was “a man after God’s own heart” and he did some very questionable things.  His faithfulness was never in doubt, even when his human desires stepped in to take over the situation.  But lately, another well know name from the Bible has come to mind more and more:  Jonah.

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet that God told to go to Nineveh and preach for their repentance.  Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t think they deserved forgiveness.  So he did what every faithful follower does when faced with a distasteful assignment:  he ran the opposite direction.  We are all familiar with the story of Jonah and the Whale.  A big storm, Jonah thrown into the sea, a whale swallows him, after 3 days Jonah is vomited onto the shore. God once again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh.  At this point, Jonah decides to follow God’s instruction.

“This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.  Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.   Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”  Jonah 3:3-5  MSG

Jonah was successful.  The people heard what he had to say and repented.   And God forgave the people of Nineveh.   This was a reason to celebrate!  But, not for Jonah!

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of  forgiveness!  So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”  Jonah 4:1-4  MSG

Jonah was not at all happy.  He did not like it one bit.  He fussed and complained because God had given these horrible people another chance.  He went out of the city and sat and pouted and sulked.  We never find out if Jonah reconciled himself with God’s forgiveness.

If I’m completely honest,  Jonah’s reaction is very familiar.  I know there have been times that I just wanted to tell God what to do and how to do it.  In fact, I have done just that on several occasions.  I’m pretty sure I know who should be punished and who should be forgiven.  I’m pretty sure I know how things should be done.  And I’m more that willing to fill God in on the appropriate processes, especially when it comes to my worship services at my church.

  1.  There are people who just don’t deserve forgiveness.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  There are some people who have caused pain to my family that I do NOT like.  I’ve been very eager to point out how they did not deserve God’s forgiveness.  Fortunately, God didn’t consider whether or not I deserved His Grace.  He just forgave me.
  2. What’s wrong with the way “we’ve always done it”?  I claim that I don’t like changes.  But, I’m always ready for the next computer or cell phone or other technology that is out there.  So, why can’t I be as open about changes in the way God leads in my church or my worship?
  3. The kids aren’t being taught respect.  Just look how they dress in church. When I was a child, I had school clothes, play clothes and Sunday clothes.  I had dresses that were only worn on Sundays that were a bit fancier than my other clothes.  Through the years, the way we dress has changed for work, for school and for church.  Business casual is the norm at work.  T-Shirts and jeans are acceptable nearly every where else.  Dressing up is not the norm.  I did require my daughter to wear a “girl” top and my son to wear a collared shirt on Sunday’s.  The more relaxed clothing expectations has made it more comfortable for some to attend church.  I still object to short-shorts or work-out clothes at church, but I can only control my own reactions.
  4. I hate the music used in church worship.  It’s too old-fashioned (or modern).   Music has become one of the most divisive areas in our churches.  If you grew up with the hymns and hymnals, the new stuff is “too loud” or “too repetitive” or “not musical”.  If you didn’t grow up with hymns, then they are “old-fashioned” or “have too many word” or “don’t make sense”.  I remember the discussions that arose over changing from the Broadman Hymnal to the Baptist Hymnal and then  later to the New Baptist Hymnal.  There were too many new songs (like “He’s Everything to Me”  or  “Because He Lives”) in this newer version.  I may prefer the “old” hymns over the newer praise music. However, my preferences cannot be the most important ones.  God is in control.  He has a plan.  I need to follow His leadership instead of pouting on the sidelines.  And, I’ve learned to love some of the newer worship songs.  Especially the ones that include a taste of the “old” hymns.
  5. Real worship only occurs in the sanctuary of a church building.  Many of the  churches that are most successful at reaching the community are meeting in schools, strip-centers, etc.  The less “churchy” environment is more inviting some.  My church meets in a movie theater.  We have the most comfortable seats around!
  6. Real worship needs an organ and a piano.  I don’t like guitars & drums.  Some of my dearest memories are of the Mrs. Stapp playing the organ at church.  I’ve played piano in my several churches throughout my life.  Not every church can afford a piano and an organ.  Many churches have no one to play them anyway.  Piano lessons were a given when I was a child: everyone when through lessons and recitals.  That’s not the case any longer.  A well prepared band or even a single guitar player can greatly enhance the worship experience. God used the loaves and fishes to feel the multitude, can’t He also use a guitar to feel your spirit?

I’ve done my share of complaining and pouting.  I understand Jonah a little more that I would like to admit.  I may want to be more like David and be recognized as one after God’s own heart.  But, I know that I am so much like Jonah in wanting things done MY WAY.  Unlike Jonah, I want the end of my story to be clear: I followed God’s leading regardless of my own preferences.

What about you?  Will you known as one of the Faithful or as the Fusspot who grudgingly served God?

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I Have a Plan for You

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. ”   Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

This verse is often quoted when things are difficult or confusing.  It’s a comforting verse.  I’ve quoted it many times and have held tightly to it during rough periods of my life.  Today, I read the entire chapter.  It’s either the first time I’ve read the whole thing or the first time I’ve paid attention to it.  Either way, my eyes were opened.

This verse is in the middle of God sending a message to His children.  The children of Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon.    Their only desire: to go home.  There were prophets that were assuring them they would be going home soon.  But, God had a different message:

“This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:   “Build houses and make yourselves at home.  Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.  Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.  Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.  Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.

” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree!

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   Jeremiah 29:4-11 MSG

God did promise to gather all of His children together and to bring them home.  After 70 years had passed in Babylon, that is.  I don’t think that was what the people wanted to hear.  God was telling them to make their homes there in Babylon.  They were to live their lives to the fullest.  In Babylon.  And, (I think this would be the hardest part for me), they were to PRAY for Babylon to do well!  Really!?!  They’ve carried me and my family away into captivity, and I’m supposed to pray for good things for them?

I don’t know about you, but when I pray for God to do something, I really want it done now.  Next week might work.  A month from now would be pushing things.  I’ve never requested or expected to wait 70 years.  Wow.  This changes the way I look at “plans to give you the future you hope for”. 

How many times have I kicked and complained with my lot in life?  How many times have I cried out to God and questioned His decisions?  How many times have I accused God of not listening or caring?  Truthfully, more than I would like to admit.

I’m currently living within some parameters that I don’t like.  There are rules and consequences that many times seem to take over my every moment.  My life is not always mine to do with as I please.  This will be my life for the foreseeable future.  When I read these scriptures, I knew God was reminding me to wait on Him.  I can live my life, captive to circumstances out of my control.  I can live fully and trust Him.  He doesn’t promise to remove the issues as I would prefer.  But, He does assure me that “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   

The next few verses are actually when the comfort arrives:

 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  Jeremiah 29:12-14a MSG

This doesn’t say, “Call out to me and I’ll give what you want.”  He does promise that I can always find Him.  He will always listen.  I will not be disappointed even in circumstances or trials that I just don’t like at all.  I need to make finding God my priority, not escaping from my “captors”.

So, I will always be glad that God has a plan for me.  But, my new goal is to this:

SERIOUSLY seek God and put Him above every circumstance in my life. 

Are you struggling with your own “70 year captivity”?

 

 

 

 

Service or Performance: Does it Matter

During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have all seen acts of service for others affected by the storm. Churches, organizations, businesses and first responders have all banded together to do what is needed to evacuate and to provide food and shelter to storm victims. Teams of people from schools, religious organizations, neighborhoods as well as out-of-state volunteers have come into the area to clear out debris and start the recovery process. The response has been immediate and awe-inspiring. The servant’s heart has had ample use this month.  The opportunities for selfless service have been endless as have the opportunities for those seeking the limelight of recognition.  Does the motive for serving matter?

Having a servant’s heart means to put other’s needs ahead of our own.  A person with a servant’s heart doesn’t look for rewards or recognition or even gratitude.  In our social media heavy world, we walk a fine line between giving information  and seeking recognition.  There were many, many groups posting on the various social sites about helping after the storm.  These posts were important because they  got information out to those that needed it in a rather efficient manner.  Volunteers were organized.  Needs were recognized.  It worked pretty well.  There were lots of photo ops with people working and helping both neighbors and strangers.  Our city came together to help.  As the days passed, I began to see more “LOOK AT ME” posts.  The transition was gradual, but the “where can I help” posts became selfies touting “look what I did today”.  The photo ops were still there, but the focus was changing to “ME”.  Needs were still being addressed.  So, I kept asking myself, “Does it matter why we serve?”

This is a question I ask myself, quite often for some very different reasons.  I have years of experience leading worship in churches.  I started singing in church when I was 5 years old and sang “Little Baby in a Manger” at the Christmas Program.  I’ve sung solos and in groups.  I’ve played the piano and the organ for several congregations.  I’ve even played my trombone on several occasions.  I know that I can sing.  When leading others in worship, I had to review my own motives every week.  Was I singing because I wanted God to be honored or was I really enjoying the spot-light?  To be honest, there was a little of both most of the time.  I love music and I love to sing.  During a season of my life, the only reason I had to be in a worship service was because “I” was on stage.  I did not participate in anything else.  I realized that I wanted (maybe even needed) the reward of recognition that came through performing on Sundays.  But, there were also times when the greatest worship time I received was in rehearsing to lead others in worship.  It was in those moments when I KNEW that God had given me a purpose.

In the 80’s, I heard a sermon that addressed the many people who had come to salvation through the work of some well-known and fallen evangelists.  Jim and Tammy Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart were known as ministers of God’s word.  They built their ministry serving others and reaching out to others in need.  The Bible was taught.  People were saved.  But supporting the ministry became the primary need.  People were no longer encouraged to be involved in their local church.  Once the performers became more important than the God they served, things came crashing down.   A lot of people were hurt and  turned their backs on God as a result.  I believe we have to look at our own motives for every act of service.

In most cases, I don’t know that it matters to anyone else why we choose to serve others.  As long as we are meeting the needs of those around us, we are fulfilling a purpose.  In the end, though, we have to stand before God and give an account of our lives.  I will have to own up to the times that I was more interested in the praise of others than I was in following Him as a servant.  I will have to admit the times I was fishing for a compliment.  I will have to confess the moments when I wanted my star to shine brighter than any other.  I will have to face the moments when performance and not service was my primary goal.