God’s Plan

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5 NIV)

“The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:15 NIV)

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Several weeks ago I went to visit a church family that lives some distance from our community. There was no easy way to get to their home and you had to go up and down the hills, follow some curvy roads and make more than a few turns before you ended up at their house.

Knowing I was unfamiliar with the area, my administrative assistant took mercy on me and printed off careful instructions how to ge to my destination.  She said she wasn’t sure what the cell service would be like and that I might lose my signal if I used my phone’s GPS.  So just to be on the safe side, she had a hard copy of directions printed for me.

I did use my GPS, but just to be on the safe side, I kept those directions within reach.  As I made the drive I thought about how thankful I was to have an amazing convenience like GPS and turn by turn voice instructions.  I was also thankful for printed directions  that  made it that much more difficult to get lost.

Station to station voice direction, maps on our phones or tablets, even a (gasp) maps are wonderful things aren’t they?  They keep us from getting lost. They help us to find our way. And they help us not only reach our destination, but to be able to find our way home again. I like the security of knowing where I am going and how I’ll get home.  I imagine you do as well.

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If you are like me, you’ve often longed for same sort of  directions from God.  wouldn’t it be great if God gave us step by step directions on what he wants us to do in life?  Clear paths so that we could fulfill God’s plans for our lives? How often have I preached on the “burning bush” passage out of Exodus there and have someone come up to me afterward as say I just wish God would give me a sign like that and show me what he wants me to do with my life.

But I’m not so sure that he hasn’t. Maybe it’s not that God hasn’t genus directions for our lives, but that we refuse to follow them.  What if the problem is that we and God have different views of our destination?

The two Scriptures at the top of the page hold some remarkable similarities. Moses and Joshua are both contemplating what God wants them to do. Moses with his life and Joshua with the assault on Jericho.  God comes to both at their moment of crises.  And in both scriptures we see an admonition to “takeoff your shows you are standing on Holy Ground.

Before God gives Moses his plan for the Exodus he invites Moses to enter into his holy presence. Before God gives Joshua a plan for defeating Joshua He does the same thing. He invites Joshua to be in the midst of His holiness.  They are told to take off their shoes and they draw close to God. This is a reminder of God’s purity. We are not to take the dirt of life with us when we come before God.  drawing close to God, in fact destroys the dirt within us. God is pure and without sin. But I also see a desire for intimacy here. You are standing on holy ground, so don’t let here be any barriers between us. take off your sandals. Allow your feet to sink  into my holy presence. Don’t just see me or hear me. Feel me from the very bottoms of your feet.

Can you see the pattern? Draw close to God’s Holy presence. Leve ones impurity and sin behind, Become intimate with God. And become holy yourself. Before God ever tells Moses His plan, he invites Moses to first be transformed. Before God tells Joshua what to do about Jericho,  God invites him to be transformed.

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Transformation. This is God’s plan for us.  God’s destination for us is that we be transformed by his holy presence and become holy ourselves.  Everything else is secondary.   We ask, and very earnestly I might add, “God what do you want to do with my life?” ANd what we mean is , What are your plans for me? What job should I take, where should I go to college. Will I ever be married, will I have kids? God answers what I want is for you to come into my presence. Take off your shoes step away from your sin and stand on holy ground. Transformation.  But because he doesn’t give us the answers we are looking for, we feel as if he hasn’t answered us at all.  We don’t want to hear about being transformed. I don’t want to hear about my sin, or what I have to let go of. I don’t want to hear about  becoming intimate with Jesus’ Holy presence.  I want to know what to do to get a promotion. God speaks, we just don’t listen.

What God says to Moses and Joshua is what he says to us. “Look I have plans for you. But what good are the plans if you aren’t transformed?” What benefit is there to be used by God, but never transformed by him? There are far to many of us who are willing to be used by God but don’t want to be transformed by him.   God gives us his plan and directions for us all the time. We just don’t want to hear them.

Do you really want to know God’s plan for you? Then let me encourage you to follow His direction. Draw close to Jesus. Take off your shoes leave your sinful lives behind  and step into his holy presence. Transformation is our destination.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

End Goal

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;” (Romans 5:3 NIV)

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Yesterday was Father’s Day and I, like many of you enjoyed the day with your family, with your Father, or at least thinking about them.  Before Father’s Day I saw several interesting discussions from clergy as to if they celebrate Fathers Day in church. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see this discussion around Mother’s Day. There are some lines angels and clergy won’t cross.

But many of them said they do not recognize father’s day in church because it’s not a Christian Holiday.  Some of these folks to be fair, are trying to hold to a Christian calendar and keep the focus on Christ. At the same time for many it came across as a triggered response that anything male celebrated in the church must be bad.

Regardless it seems to me they are missing the point.  There is something inherently Christian about celebrating both Mother’s and Father’s Day in church.  Yes, our focus must always be on Christ. And in full disclosure while we did have some specific prayers around Father’s Day, I didn’t preach on it. I would have but it’s just not where the Holy Spirit was leading through the Scriptures.

 

But we celebrate because Fathers and Mothers represent in a tangible way the way God as our parent relates to us. They help us see and understand the loving nurturing side of God as well as the protective guiding part of God. In other words it’s easier to sing “Good, Good Father” when you’ve experienced what a good father is.

There is also a redemptive nature to this as well. No, not evevryone had a “good father” but we can experience what it means to have God as our father. No one needs to go through life without a father.  Psalm 68:5 says God is the father to the fatherless.

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It’s also appropriate for us to celebrate because parenting is, well, it’s hard. Yes, its wonderful, it’s rewarding etc.  But it’s also really hard. It’s staying up with babies because they won’t sleep. Staying up late when your kid isn’t home because you are worried and now you can’t sleep. It’s doing things that are hard, or allowing your child to go through painful situations not because you don’t love them, but because you do.

I vividly remember one of my pastors telling the story of being a missionary in India. he and his wife and three small children. The little boy had something wrong, a deformity with his feet. The doctors in the area lacked the equipment and skills to do the surgery and the family probably couldn’t afford it even if it had been available.

But one Doctor told them to take coffee cans and roll them on the bottom of the child’s feet several times a day and force a correct alignment. They were warned this will be very painful for the little boy. he won’t like it. But do it anyway.

The Dr. was correct. The little boy screamed every time they rolled the cans across his feet, benign and pushing him to straighten them. The little boy would begin to cry as soon as they got the cans off the shelf.  He would beg for his father, who had always been there to protect him, to help him. At times the father would go up on the hill-side behind the house and weep.

The minister told us, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Yet 14 years later I sat an watched our son win a tennis championship in college. What the little boy saw as punishment the father knew was the greatest expression of his love. He cared about what the little boy would become more than his momentary comfort.

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I believe that’s what Paul is getting at in this Scripture. We rejoice in difficulties not because we are masochists. But because in the end, we know we have a good father, A father who cares about the type of person we will become. A good father who weeps with us but who loves us enough to allow the fires of our problems, temper our souls.

You have a heavenly father who loves you. At times when we struggle it might seem as if he doesn’t but he does.  whatever you are going through today, know that God does not abandon you and he will use every situation, if we let him, to help us become who he has always dreamed we would be.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

The Inconvenience of Blessing

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

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I complain a lot about our Annual Conference.  For one thing, our Annual Conference doesn’t even gather in our own conference. West Ohio’s Annual Conference meeting place is actually in East Ohio.  It’s a great example of United Methodist logic, creating equality by making it inconvenient for virtually everybody. The meeting hall has no Air Conditioning so in the years when the temperature reaches over 9, it’s not only uncomfortable but potentially dangerous for some.  The cost of housing rises, potentially making it difficult for us to be represented by younger laity who can’t afford to be delegates. WiFi and cell phone service can be spotty (which could be more of a joy than a concern for some I guess).  And there are years, it seems we could do all of the work within a day instead of several.

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But for all of that, I do truly enjoy Annual Conference. I like the process of gathering, worship, and debate. I relay like the debate. It gets tedious, but at the  same time it’s what comes with being in a denomination where everyone, clergy and lay have some say in how we do ministry and live out our covenant.  For all it’s inconvenience, we meet in a beautiful setting. The evenings of seeing friends, talking and getting reacquainted are an annual joy.

But there was one guest that was conspicuously absent this year.  I hear they will show up this week for east Ohio, but they were absent in our gathering. Yes, this year we had no visit from the mayflies.  If you haven’t ever seen a mayfly, let me show you one.

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No reason to be alarmed . They don’t bite or sting. They don’t really do anything. They hatch bred,lay eggs all in a few days and then they are gone.  They don’t buzz or annoy. So what’s the big deal? When they come, they come in droves. I mean droves. I’m not sure that if you haven’t been on Lake Erie in those weeks of June when the mayflies appears that you truly understand the infestation. There have been years, and I am in no way exaggerating. Where the mayflies are so thick you can’t drive your car at night. And I’ve seen shop owners actually using a snow shovel to shovel them off of their front steps.

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Yes, I know they make you shudder just a little bit. And they can be an incredible inconvenience. Yet they are also a blessing. The Mayflies tend to indicate a very healthy Lake. The healthier the water in Lake Erie the more mayflies breed, which means the more fish feed on both the eggs and the mature mayflies. which makes for more fish. When the lake isn’t healthy there tends to be a drop in mayflies. So the blessing of a healthy lake brings the inconvenience of the mayfly.

But isn’t that true of most blessings? I’ve found that almost every blessing God has given me, too many to count and more than I deserve to be sure, always come with a inconvenience of some sort. The blessing of a home comes with the inconvenience of mortgages, repairs and cleaning.  The inconvenience of a car comes again with car payments, and maintenance.  The blessing of children come with the inconveniences of priority changes in life, staying up late nursing them through a stomach virus and still having to be at work the next day.  Becoming a chauffeur for their friends.

Sometimes we allow the inconveniences of our blessings to overshadow the blessing itself. At times we can become so focused on the inconvenience that we stop seeing or appreciate the blessing all together. Focus on the inconvenience for too long and not only do we lose our thankful heart, but we can actually begin to resent the blessing.

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But we can reset that attitude. First, every time you have an inconvenience in life train yourself to look for the blessing behind it. You’ll always find one if you look long enough.  There is always a blessing behind the inconvenience.  When you find it, give thanks for it. Stop at that moment and pray a prayer of thanksgiving. Even if you aren’t completley sincere when you do it, I encourage you to do so anyway. Over time, that attitude of thanksgiving becomes infectious and color how you see and deal with the world. You’ll not only become more thankful, but you’ll begin to become more aware of just how much God blesses you every day.

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When we pray the prayer at the top of the page, God does answer. He will bless us. But blessings are never sterile.  They are messy. They come with an inconvenience, or two.  Bu they are still blessings. And they are all around if we only learn to look.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><