Exodus 3:13-14 (NIV)
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Let me ask you something. How are you and God doing? What have your stretched circumstances done to the condition of your faith? When faced with your current situation, are you wondering about His relevance in your life?
I know that collectively, we are going through some difficult times right now. Individually, you are all going through something too. Maybe you’re enduring one of the toughest circumstances you’ve ever had to battle. Perhaps now you find yourself questioning God like Moses did. You’re doubting your relevance to God, and you’re doubting His relevance in your life. You know exactly who He is, but His absence, His lack of intervention during this struggle, is making you question everything.
You’re thinking, He used to help me. Why is He ignoring me now? We can all name a time when God intervened in our lives and blew our minds with His power. So why isn’t He stepping in now? You’re suspicious of God’s actions or lack thereof, even though you know He knows what’s best.
You’re being pushed and pulled this way and that way, and the circumstance has been so bad for so long that you wonder if you’ve lost your relevance. Even good news falls on deaf ears. You’re questioning if anything will help you or bring your life meaning again.
Gripping circumstances will do that to us, won’t they? They’ll make us believe so little, we find ourselves allowing our problems to define or confine God when we all know He is transcendent to our circumstances.
And what I have to say to you is this:
I am that I am!
Whether you’re suffering or soaring, God has eternal relevance. He will be present and take action in your life when He needs to. Understand this: nothing that happens from cradle to grave goes without passing through God’s providence. Every encounter, every battle, every step you take—whether painful or promising—He’s using this to make you His disciple. Maybe you think He’s taking too long. You can complain all you want, but God will still take you where you need to go, when you need to go. He is above human cognition; just when you think you have Him figured out, He will prove to you that you don’t even have an inkling of an idea as to what He has going on.
God exists above your circumstances. Don’t give your unfortunate circumstances the power to influence your faith. Let your faith shape your circumstances.
There are two months in the early part of every year when we are reminded of God’s deep and abiding love for us.
The first is February when we celebrate Black History Month and the second is March when we enter the 40 days of Lent.
What do these two months teach us? How can they change our lives? How can they deepen our understanding and bring us closer to God?
Let’s begin with Black History Month as it just came to a close.
This month was bittersweet as it is every year.
We rejoiced and celebrated so many of our blessings. We celebrated our accomplishments. We recounted our victories to our children and grandchildren. We were reminded of our journey, like so many of the great Biblical journeys in Scripture. It was a month of hope. We thanked those whose love shines like a beacon lighting our way forward.
But it was also a month of remembrance. We remembered our history. We remembered the sacrifices that were made. We remembered our heroes who loved us, fought for us and who died in the hope of a better life for all of us who came after.
Joy and sorrow. These are the two sides of our coin. And what do we learn from our history? We learn one of Christ’s greatest teachings. We learn that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV).
And then we have Lent.
Most of us think that Lent is about giving something up through fasting and abstinence. Denying ourselves some of the treats we love in order to honor Christ and His 40 day fast before His crucifixion. We think of emptying ourselves of temptations.
But Lent is also a time to fill ourselves up with scripture and prayer.
Lent is a time to think about the lessons of love which God teaches us. As we read in Joel 2:13 (NIV), “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity…”
And so these two months, Black History Month and the month of Lent both reinforce the greatest commandment of the New Testament that of all God’s gifts, the greatest is love.
Let’s make sure we don’t just think of love for two months but for the entire year.
What’s it like to be divinely inspired? From what source do we draw inspiration and strength if not from God? To whom do we offer gratitude and thanks for what we do have in life if that person–that entity–is not God? What does it feel like to know that true gratitude and an enveloping sense that prayer and faith are all that is needed to move mountains? Is it disconcerting because we are used to resistance and a constant fight—no matter our cause, no matter our audience? Or, is it completely satisfying to know that staying the righteous and faithful path is the right way to go?
We have had a big start to 2017. We’ve seen the peaceful passage of power in this country and said goodbye to our elegant and gracious President of the past eight years. We have watched continued fascination over the opening of the African American History museum in Washington D.C. We have watched marches for women, heard the latest Oscar nominations–one of which features a movie shot here in Pittsburgh and was based on a book written by the city’s own August Wilson. No matter what we view, participate in, or read, as Christians we are rooted in our faith, secure that God has a purpose for us and will make known to us our purpose in the world.
Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails” (NIV).
Having just passed our Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, many of us are filled with the spirit of unity and peaceful progression. Whether we use that to move anything in our worlds in a positive direction is up to us. As the scripture here tells us, God and our sense of our service to Him should guide us in our endeavors. What feels right as a Christian? What does God ask of us? Sometimes, in these cases, the old adages hold true. “God helps those who help themselves” definitely paints a picture that is certainly relevant in today’s turbulent world. After all, you can sit and complain about your circumstance or you can do something to change it. This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy–and it is one brimming with hope. It is the bright core of what unites us when we need it most–and when our churches, communities, the country, and the world also need it most.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
We talk a lot about doing right by others, all year long. Recently, I’ve talked and blogged frequently about doing right by ourselves so that we can move forward with confidence.
The new year is always full of resolutions and promises to be a better husband or wife, to eat better, to visit your elderly parents more, to stop procrastinating in school or work, and more. The first week of the year always has record numbers of people showing up at gyms, and banks report that a lot of people show up to discuss finances, set up savings accounts, and get their personal affairs in order. Of course, none of this lasts into the rest of the year. And why? Why don’t people keep up personal disciplines? It feels good. It sets the right path for more improved behaviors. Yet, knowing all that, most of us can’t maintain it.
Spiritually, we often do feel centered most of the time with little to no issues with how we feel about God or with very few breaks in our worship patterns and schedules. If we are churchgoers, we stay churchgoers. What does happen, however, is a sort of stagnation. While we might be involved in ministry or in outreach through the church, we only go so far in terms of truly reaching a level of edification—of bettering our fellow man or woman—of taking the outreach a step further to actually understand what people need from the church or from others involved in ministry.
As a pastor, people come to me for many reasons. I see a lot of desperation, and I hear a lot of “I didn’t know what else to do,” “This has gone on long enough,” or “I need some outside advice.” This is all pretty common. People seek advice when they have nowhere else to go. We can’t always see what is good for us, so sometimes we need to bounce ideas off others.
But like Timothy says, we have to present ourselves to God and to others as those who are not vain, insensitive, or on a destructive pathway. So rather than strictly relying on advice from others and staying stagnant with the same old routine, we need to remember the ways we can raise up those who are down. We can edify people in need of support, reassuring them that they are talented, needed, and desired contributors to the church, family, or community. We can reassure them they mean something in God’s Plan. As individuals and as a church, we can do more than reach out. We can do more than get our personal affairs in order and help others to do the same; we can show, by example, the Way of the Lord and the pathway to all that is good in life. Now, these are some substantial New Year’s Resolutions!
He changes times and seasons;
He deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on helping us stand up and believe in ourselves so that we can help carry out God’s plans. Today’s scripture reference reminds us, too, that as we prepare for the assignments that God has planned for us, we also have to prepare for change and how to adapt to that change.
We aren’t always the instruments of change in our lives and in the world. Many times, God is that instrument of change. He shows us the way in how He transfers knowledge, allows for movement in our stations in life, and moves successful people aside to allow room for others to succeed too.
As we gather for the holidays and as we evaluate what we need to improve on or what we need to highlight in 2017, we should also focus on our adaptability. While we can’t be prophetic in how we approach what we hope and dream for in 2017, we can be prepared for whatever life might send our way. As Christians who attempt to honor God by rising to the challenge in our assignments from Him and in what may arise in terms of challenges for our family and friends, we owe it to our faith communities and to ourselves to understand that life is dynamic and many things can surprise us. Our season for success might slow down, our time to be challenged and rise might be on the horizon, or our life may remain even keel and “boring” for a time.
God is strategic in his recommendations for us and for how we live our lives. He gives us what we need when we need it. We can’t always decide what that is going to be, but we can be prepared for whatever He sends us.