I was listening to talk radio yesterday on my way back from a meeting. The content of the conversation was revolving around the recent snow we received and the debate over when to cancel school. On the one hand you have people who say that it makes more sense to cancel it than to have a day of school with only half the students — this one man said that he felt like it was a wasted day. That got me thinking about Sunday morning here. We had our worship service in the midst of a snow storm. There were about 20 people here; was that wasted?
In the framework of life there are many things that feel wasted. I feel like I might say something to my kids all the time and they still miss what I say. I know in youth ministry I would have phone calls that would make me want to throw my phone against the wall. It is frustrating to see someone go so far in their faith only to turn so far backwards in an instant. It is in those moments that I wonder how effective my ministry really is.
When there are deep issues to deal with in any arena of life, it can make us weary. Even Paul in the book of Galatians got a little frustrated with the people. They had heard the Gospel and had receive it. So, why were they living in the old way again?
“I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Galatians 4:10
I think we all have days like that. Whether it is with my ministry or with my own family, I sometimes look at all that goes on and wonder “what am I doing here?” “Why do I even bother with this?” But when the dust settles I always end up landing right back where I began; with a deep sense of purpose in this life. I know that things won’t always go my way — in fact, if they do go my way I start to wonder if I am missing something. What I do know is that there is no such thing as “wasted efforts” if my efforts are done under the empowerment of God.
So what does that mean for you today? You will never have this day again. So let’s not waste it. If today is not a good day from your perspective, perhaps it is time to look for ways to praise God. I know I have a hard time being grumpy when I stand before the God who knows my heart. I know for me I will continue to press on in the challenges I face knowing that God is not wasting anything — including what I perceive as my time.
It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps. That is what I keep telling myself with the attitude toward some people in the church toward children. I have been in churches where they actually said “let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet” Sometimes the church brags about having children’s church for the kids, but it really is for the adults. In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” and “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.” That drives me crazy because if you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but just let them eat it wherever he wants and if you are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored. We must go beyond children’s church! I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally share something that will connect with them as well. But then again all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally. More adults need to do this. Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes. Show interest in them and remember their names. It makes what you say much more meaningful to them.
One of the big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families. What I mean is not that we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time. We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives. This past time we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that. The group teaching is geared at the kids, but the adults find the time to be encouraging for them also. Their kids are talking about God’s Word together! Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?
Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service. We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool. That day was a hot day so keeping the kids out of it was very difficult. But after we were done with the baptism, the kids went in, some of them in their clothes. We maintained the respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it. But once that was over with, it was time to get wet. This is just another piece, I feel, that makes what we are about as the Church authentic and inviting for kids. This is important because if it isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out. But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them, now, then perhaps they will grow to be an active part of it.
So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?
We are short-sighted people. What I mean is that we tend to forget all of the positive things when one negative thing shows up. This is not too surprising given the way negativity seems to overcome our lives. The car starts everyday with no incident and you don’t notice it at all. But when the car doesn’t start and you are late for work, well let’s just say that car has been cursed. I was driving back to church one time when the back suspension of my car literally broke in half. I had driven that car for probably 7 years and it had always been reliable. It was just that the break down came at a bad time.
God has been faithful to us again and again. He has been faithful to us in the positive situations and the negative situations. No one should have known that any better than the Israelites around the time of Moses. They had been in slavery and God delivered them out of it. Except they started to question God’s motives in it.
“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud” – Numbers 14:1
Can you imagine the sound of that? If the whole community was wailing, it would be quite the sight.
“All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in the desert! Or in this desert!.” – Number 14:2
People who are stuck in their ways do not see things any other way. If you had been in Egypt all your life, even if you were a slave, that would be the only life you had ever known. There is comfort to the prison. But God was actually taking them to a better place if they would only trust Him!
The next verses show a discourse between Moses and God with God replying to Moses “I have forgiven them.” God is so gracious to us, even in our grumbling.
It would be helpful for us to learn a bit from this because their grumbling did prevent them from entering into the promised land. Our job is not to know how it all turns out, but to trust in the God who does know. The path might not always be easy, but consider the alternative to walking with God! I would rather wait on Him than wait on myself.
It seems there are impossible circumstances and people all around us. In ministry I find the challenge is to balance out ways to help someone and be realistic about the results. It is those times when our faith is increased because it is something only God is able to do.
There is a story in Numbers 11 about Moses and Israelites. Naturally they are being an impossible group of people to lead because they are taking the blessings of God (freedom from slavery, daily food to eat) and complaining that they are not good enough. Really? Do you guys even remember what slavery was like?
But it was an impossible scene and God was not pleased with the people. Moses heard the complaining and he also grew increasingly angry. God decides he is going to give them meat to eat for a whole month and, as He tells them, “the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.” (I would add “and you will like it”) Moses, as the rational leader that he is, wonders how God is going to provide so much food for so many people for so much time. God answers Moses with such graciousness.
“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” – Numbers 11:23
It seems every day is a new day to question how God is going to take care of a situation. These are opportunities for Him to get the glory and for us to stand back and praise Him. I know of lives that are in complete shambles, but we are seeing God’s work in lives in the smallest, yet most profound ways. I have seen situations where our own family has been wondering how we would pay a bill and God has reminded us that His arm is not too short.
The arm of God is not too short. It is so wide and powerful that He knows every part of the vast Universe . His arm is wide enough to climb the tallest mountain, leap over the oceans, and yet still find each hurting heart right where they are at. God’s arm proved to be just the right length too as Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, spread His arms on the cross to do the impossible. He took sinful man and God back together again!
May you be encouraged today in whatever you face. God’s arm is not too short for whatever you face today.
One of the most significant things any Christian can do is to uphold the Word of God. There are a lot of people out there who think they have the answer when they have not really taken the time to study God’s Word. There are even people in positions of spiritual authority who abuse their position and deceive many. The distortion of the Bible is nothing new. If you got back to 1 Kings 13 there is a story about a prophet who is told very specifically what to do. He was not to eat the bread, drink the water or return the way he came because that is what God said. He went where he was supposed to go and the king offered him food and water. What did he do?
He obeyed God’s Word
This is one of those victories for the believer because he is so resolved in his conviction. He says he would not even go if he were to give him half his possessions. Do you see that? The value of the Word of God is so powerful and real to him that he is not going to jeopardize that. He believes it and he does it. He then leaves, going a different way because that was what he was told to do.
This is when things get troubling for him. There was an old prophet who decided to chase him down and lie to him.
“The old prophet answered, I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD” Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat brad and drink water. (But he was lying to him.” – 1 Kings 13:18
He gets fooled by someone who should have been honest with him.
A prophet is supposed to be a truth teller. How hard would it be to ignore a man who is supposed to be a prophet? You would think it would have been easy if you knew that God said something else. God wasn’t going to change his mind! He should not have let his guard down. But it only took an instant and he was deceived.
I think this is so powerful for any of us because we can so easily be deceived if we don’t remain steadfast in what we know God says. The right answer would have been “that is not what God said!” In today’s context there are many who just don’t know what God said. We need to stop thinking with our emotions and start thinking through the grid of God’s Word.
He gets punished
The next section we see the man getting killed by a lion. That seems harsh on the surface. We need to understand that he knew better and he made a choice to completely ignore what God told him. The problem here is not God’s judgement; the problem is the sinful man who disobeyed.
So this serves as a fair warning for all of us. Are you being pushed around by popular culture or by people who have written best-selling books? You do realize that the Bible is a best seller too, right? Let’s make sure we have things in the right order. The prophet in this story put the words of some prophet over God. That is a costly error- one that I don’t want to make.
Despite the inherent right that we have to remain silent, we sure don’t exercise it very often. The need to talk or at the very least fill the silence with something is overwhelming for most people. There is a young man who drives around the streets of town with some sort of speaker system in his car commenting on what he sees as he drives around. It is only funny the first time. This need to fill the quiet is something I wrestle with as I allow for a moment of silence at the end of a sermon so that people might be able to respond to what God is saying to them. There are people who want more and there are people who just cannot bear the dead air. And to be fair, I live in a house with 4 children (3 boys) so there isn’t a whole lot of silence in my home. If there is we probably want to figure out what is going on.
Even before God it is hard to be silent despite the fact that we can all recite the verse “be still and know that I am God.” We wonder if being still is something that actually involves moving and talking. Maybe “still” is a word that when we go back to the original language actually means “be boisterous.” Or perhaps being still is something we do while we sleep?
Silence is an appropriate, often overlooked, response to God’s Holiness. Silence helps us take time to listen to what God might be saying to us. Silence puts our heart in a posture to revere God in ways that we can’t when we are rattling off a list of prayer requests or lamenting about something in our lives.
I was reading Leviticus 10 the other day and was completely blown away by the phrase at the end of verse 3. “Aaron remained silent.” What was that in response to?
Aaron’s sons were doing what boys do- playing with fire. Except this wasn’t just any fire, it was fire that was to be used for God’s purposes. It was holy and needed to be looked at that way. The boys were playing with fire and they should have known better. The text says that they offered unauthorized fire, which of course means that there was time and place for this fire. They did not follow the rules and fire came out and consumed them. I guess their dad never mentioned that if you play with fire you will get burned. But here is what Moses said to Aaron:
“This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” – Leviticus 10:3
Do you see what was at issue here? It was not about the fire; it was about the holiness of God. We can approach God so flippantly, but He is to be revered and honored as Holy. And so Aaron’s response, to me, was the more genuine response he could have had. Most people would wail at God for that, but Aaron was just silent! I mean, what could he say?
Do you need to spend some time in silence before God? I would encourage you to do that because I know there is real refreshment in that time. Are you experiencing heartache or struggle? Be silent before God and worship Him. There is fresh perspective gained as God is honored in our lives. It is time to exercise your right to remain silent.