Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Road Less Travelled ...

Picture this. Jesus is in the garden of Gesthemane. He is deeply distressed … perhaps the most distressed we see him in the gospels. So distressed that he is sweating drops of blood. It is his dark night of the soul. His heart is overwhelmed with the magnitude of what lies ahead. He is looking to the path laid out before him – the cup of his suffering … and in this moment … this single moment in time, he calls out to God, “if there is any other way … take this cup from me …” In that moment, that moment of knowing, he is fully human in his grief and yet still God. We know the rest of this … that Jesus was able to say, “your will Father … YOUR will be done.” And it was.

I am so glad I worship a God who has walked down the paths we find ourselves on. He does not stand by impassively … he has lived it. He understands – more than we could ever know. Sometimes, as we follow God, we walk through dark places. And, as I said once before in this blog, sometimes darkness is really dark!

This weekend, I was a MESS. A friend said to me on Friday that God has a beautiful plan for Ruby. He made this comment having lived out the reality that God’s plans are not always ours and I have lived the same thing. It was hard to hear, because it immediately took me to a path and specifically, a fork in the path. I could look along one of the directions of that fork and I thought, I have walked this path before and dear God, I do not want to walk this path again. I had to face the fact that Ruby may have a short life. We don’t know. God does. It hurt my heart and I did not want to look at it. My heart cried out to God … “No! If there is any other way." I found it overwhelming.

Now here is the thing. In my struggle and wrestling with God this weekend, I know the following: this struggle is not about a lack of trust or a lack of faith. This struggle is not about believing God is on the throne and has a plan. This struggle is about the acceptance that I will follow God wherever the path may take – and I (like Jesus) have looked down one of those possible paths and found it overwhelming. I do not want to go there. I do not want Ruby to go there or, my family. Sometimes that’s what it is for us. Not a lack of trust … just a knowing of the nature of the path and a desire to avoid this … to avoid pain. My friend said to me, “Pain is good Sarah – you are feeling.” My response was, “I don’t want to feel.” Yet … this pain, this grief, this wrestling, this is the fire in which compassion, empathy and love are forged.

I am not through the other end of this, but I have the reassurance from Psalm 23 – when my path takes me through dark places – even in the shadow of death, HE is with me. He has walked there already and darkness is as light to him. We will get through.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What Do YOU See?

This is a devotion I shared with the staff of a friend's ministry over this past summer. Those of you more familiar with my blog may recognise a couple of stories, but the direction is not one I have shared on.

1 Kings 18:
Elijah has just had the stand off with the priests of Baal. The land has been in famine for 3 years – no rain. He sends Ahab off telling him that there is the sound of a heavy rain. Ahab is off eating and drinking and Elijah is up Carmel praying for the rain. He sends his servant off to look. The servant comes back reporting “nothing”. This plays out multiple times and on the 7th time, the servant comes back reporting a very small cloud coming out of the sea. Elijah sends him off to tell Ahab to get moving before it is too late. There is a difference between how Elijah saw and how the servant saw. In the midst of a bright sunny sky, Elijah knew the rain was coming. He sent Ahab off telling him he could hear the sound of it. Elijah saw the rain, the servant saw the sunny sky. Elijah persisted because he knew it was coming.

My question for you today is what do YOU see? Do you have God’s vision with what he can do with your life or do you have your own vision? Is your vision big enough? How do you know? God sized vision needs God sized resources. It’s beyond what we can do on our own.

Habbakuk has a few good things to say about vision.

Hab 2:2
God told Habbakuk to wait for the vision – although it lingers – WAIT. In this scripture, the word wait is not a passive thing. In the waiting Habakkuk did three things that I would like to look at in more detail:-
1. He stood at his watch
2. He stationed himself on the ramparts
3. He watched to see what God would say

1. He stood at his watch (Hab 2:1)

I will stand: ‘amad) (aw-mud)
Stand – to stand, remain, endure, continue, abide, endure, persist, be steadfast, hold one’s ground, to cause to stand firm, stop moving or doing, be in a standing attitude.

At My Watch (mishmereth) “guard, watch, obligation – placing a guard over an area for keeping in custody or protection.

Standing at the watch speaks of patience and consistency – being faithful – even tenacious! Is 21:8 - the watchman was faithful and consistant “day after day I stand …” “every night…”

The watchman is not just looking for himself – a city is at stake. Realise that God’s vision is for more than just you! It’s even more important you are faithfully at your watch. We all have direct circles of influence. Think about those in your circle and know that you are in an incredibly strategic position with the opportunity to stand for and watch over them (whether directly or indirectly). It’s a powerful responsibility. The challenge for us this morning (knowing we have this responsibility) is, are we in the right place? Are we regularly meeting with God? Are we there faithfully and consistently?

2. He stationed himself on the ramparts
Ramparts are a siege enclosure. People today are under siege – all around … they are bombarded in this world by sexuality, materialism, marginalism, hedonism. In this world of endless connectivity, they are lonely … crying out for authentic relationships. The world we live in is well described by Paul in 2 Tim 3:1 – 5 … People who are lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents … ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control …lovers of pleasure … Does any of this sound familiar? This is the world that is trying to mould us.

Habbakuk stationed himself on the ramparts. What does station mean?

Station (yatsab “yaw-tsab”) to place, set, stand oneself; take a stand, stay in position for extended periods’ be in a state of firm inner strength; take a defensive fighting position; present oneself – stand ready for service to authority. Commit oneself – choose a course of action and stick to it with dedication. As an extension of standing firm in a position; stand against = actively oppose or resist power.

You are in a key position. You are functioning like that watchman on the ramparts. Be encouraged. Ensure you are at your watch and then be resolute in being stationed there. Take your stand, commit to your action plans and be faithful to the vision God has given you. Habbakuk resolved to position himself so he might obtain the earliest and clearest information. This brings me to the most important thing I want to challenge you with today.

What do you see?

3. I will watch to see what God would say
… And will watch – (tsapah “tsaw=faw”) to look out or about, spy, keep watch, observe, watch closely; intently watch a situation using primarily the eyegate”

To see (ra’ah – “raw-aw”) – look at, inspect, perceive, consider; to have vision; look intently at

What he will say - (dabar – “daw-bar”) to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing; speak with one another – talk.

Firstly … are you on the ramparts … are your eyes scanning looking to see what he will say, or are they looking at other things? A couple of years ago God challenged me about a wrong area in my life – an area where my eyes were on the wrong things. I had a mental picture of a castle wall over looking a big valley. It was night and the enemy was backing up a huge truck with a cherry picker. It was loud, it was clanging and banging and making that loud truck reversing beep. The enemy was coming in to steal and they didn’t need to be careful. Why? Because the watchman had been lured away and was off looking at other things. My question for you today is what are you looking at? What captures the focus of your gaze?

The ability to look or see is perhaps one of the most important gifts God has given us. The ability to look ahead separates child from adult. It is the thing that will keep our lives on track as well. Several summers ago, I had custom lasik on my eyes. It has been an amazing gift. My vision was so bad that if I was looking at an eye chart, I would be squinting on everything below the big E. What do I love about Lasik? Well, I love waking up in the morning, looking out the window and seeing the beautiful leaves on the trees and the detail etched on each one. I love walking in the rain with my head up (rather than staring at the ground so I don’t get rain on my glasses). I love walking in and out of shops in the summer and being able to flip my sunnies up on my head instead of opening my bag, pulling out one case, putting away my sunnies, opening another case and pulling out my glasses and then repeating the whole sad performance when going outside. I love not driving my car in the summer time with ski goggles! (I kid you not. When I could not afford prescription sunglasses, and my eyes could not cope with the bright New Zealand sun, ski goggles provided relief as they fitted over the top of my glasses! They were also fantastic for pulling up at traffic lights and staring into the car parallel … :) ) The freedom I have now is wonderful.

20/20 vision is not a gift I take lightly. Sometimes our vision can become clouded without us being aware. As glasses were very expensive, I did not replace mine too often. The last time I had new glasses, was (no pun intended here!) a real eye opener for me. I went to the university to get tested. At the end of my eye exam, the girl took my glasses out to put them on a machine and get the prescription. She was consulting with her supervisor and left me to sit alone with my thoughts in the exam room. These were rudely shattered, as I heard a very loud American voice exclaiming in disgust and saying, “people that let their glasses get like this, shouldn’t have them!” As I continued to listen, I realised, “that’s ME. He is talking about MY glasses.” I was a little bit ticked off. Thought no more of it until I got my new glasses. I was given them at home group and my friends were all about me putting them on asap. However, new glasses are always scary things when you change them every 8 – 10 years! (You try a radical change on YOUR face after looking at the same thing in the mirror everyday for 10 years). So later that night, when I got home, I sat up in my bed and tried them on. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was everything sharper … it was also clear and crisp. I thought, “this can’t be.” So I put on my old glasses and it was literally as if a fog came down in the room.

I pulled them off and looked closer. They were so scratched and battered, I could no longer see without looking through a haze. This had happened gradually and I had lived with it for so long that I assumed this was normality. What a great analogy for life. Every now and then we need to stop and get a vision check up. Sometimes we will be surprised at how clouded our vision has become.

Spiritually speaking, God tells us he will give us dreams and visions. How many of us take the time to allow ourselves to dream. I once heard Joyce Meyers say, “when did you last use your imagination for God exalted things?” I come back to my original question: “what are YOU looking at?” Matthew 6:22-23 tells us, “the eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Lets break down that scripture. The word lamp comes from the greek “ophthalmos” which refers to sharpness of vision. Metaphorically it speaks of the eyes of the mind and the faculty of knowing. Interestingly it comes from the same root word “ophis” from which we get serpent. To the ancient greeks, the serpent was the emblem of cunning and wisdom and also was an early symbol of the devil.

What an interesting link … our eyes are our faculty of knowing and this is one of the biggest ways temptation comes to us. Not just through the obvious visual temptations like pornography but also through more subtle ways such as wrong focus and allowing our vision to be filled with things that take us away from walking closely with God. These things might be resentment, envy, a love of comfort, materialism, hurt, injustice. Pretty much anything that becomes our primary focus.

“Full of light” – comes from “photeinos” which means of bright character and well lit.

“Darkness” – comes from “skotos” which means darkened eyesight or blindness. Metaphorically it refers to ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, accompanying godlessness.

We are not called to live in darkness. We are called to be full of light and reflect this whichever way we turn. Christ in us is a beacon in a dark world and God can use us to shine a light of hope. In saying that, be aware that God doesn’t want us to stay in the same place. He is a God of enlargement – he wants us to go to a new level (Is 54). This new level means greater impact and greater influence.

How do we get there? Good question. I don’t know, but I know the one who does. When your heart is overwhelmed with the challenges … when there seem to be walls everywhere like a maze … be like the Psalmist in Psalm 121. Lift your eyes up – our help comes from the Lord – our maker. In the maze of life, he looks down and sees the beginning from the end. We can wander around endlessly, or look up, put our eyes on him and walk through with purpose.

In closing … back to Habbakuk … What do you see? wait for His vision … stand at your watch … station yourselves on the ramparts … check your focus and look to see what he will say. Though it lingers … wait for it because it WILL come. What do YOU see?