Thursday, May 05, 2016

How God is Speaking to This Recovering Sin Addict

I try to start each day in a quiet time with God. I use the "Stop, look, listen, respond" method for meeting with God each day.

As explained here, I stop, look, listen, and respond in order to interact with God before I "hit the bricks" of everyday life.

A few days ago, I looked at Matthew 16:5-12. This is The Message translation, an rendering of Scripture I'm using right now in order to break open truths from God that I may have previously missed because the renderings of other translations have become so familiar to me that I miss out on God's Word for me. Here's what I read:
On their way to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring along bread. In the meantime, Jesus said to them, “Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.”

Thinking he was scolding them for forgetting bread, they discussed in whispers what to do. Jesus knew what they were doing and said, “Why all these worried whispers about forgetting the bread? Runt believers! Haven’t you caught on yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves of bread and the five thousand people, and how many baskets of fragments you picked up? Or the seven loaves that fed four thousand, and how many baskets of leftovers you collected? Haven’t you realized yet that bread isn’t the problem? The problem is yeast, Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.” Then they got it: that he wasn’t concerned about eating, but teaching—the Pharisee-Sadducee kind of teaching.
As I looked into the passage, God underscored important truth for me. This is what I wrote in my journal:
The disciples realize that they've forgotten to take bread as they travel across the lake. Jesus gives a cryptic warning about avoiding the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," two religious sects who dominate first century Judea's life. The disciples think that Jesus is chastising them for not bringing bread. 
But Jesus asks if they don't remember how He'd fed the 5000 and the 4000 miraculously. 
Bread isn't the issue. Jesus can provide daily bread. 
The problem Jesus is warning the disciples to avoid is in approaching the questions of daily life--like bread--in the same way as Pharisees and Sadducees. Their worldview was me-centered, not God-centered. They even thought of righteousness as their achievement. 
But everything comes from God. 
"Remember," Jesus is saying, "I provide bread without you doing a thing. The religious leaders commend a righteousness of their own making, detached from Me or dependence on God. Be different from them! 
How different we are to be is shown in Matthew 16:24-27. We're to embrace Christ and His cross; that's where life is, not in "the world's bread." Jesus is the bread we need.
Next, I listened for God to tell me what I needed to know and apply from this truth that day.

God has never spoken to me in an audible voice, though I have sometimes heard His whispers in my soul and felt His touch on my shoulders when I'm on my knees in prayer.

But since the Bible is God's definitive word, often I sense Him pressing certain truths on me as I keep silence before Him after I delving into a passage of Scripture.

When this happens, I sometimes write what I feel God is telling me as though He were the speaker. God seemed to say this to me on this particular morning:
Too often, you settle for being half-Christian, Mark. You embrace suffering with the cross until the suffering comes. You seek to live pleasingly to Me, until it becomes inconvenient or threatens your "right" to ease. You fantasize about worldly vindication and success. You splinter your commitment to Me by your commitment to you. I said to follow Me; you follow, but take plenty go selfish detours along the way. That's not following!
One of the things about the devotional method taught by the Navigators that I love is that, when it comes to the "respond" part of our time with God, the method acknowledges our humanity, how hard it is to keep any resolutions for us, especially when we drift into thinking that we must keep them in our own power.

Being a recovering sinner saved by God's incredible grace given to us through Christ is like being a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, food addict, or compulsive gambler.

In this life, we always remain addicted to sin--addicted to our inborn desire to "be like God."

But each day--in a practice Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal"--we come back to God to help us face this day, to seek the power of God's Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to all who trust in Him, to live as free grown-up children of God.

So, the Navigators say, just seek God's help to respond to His Word--be it His Word of direction, correction, promise, or grace--through the day you're entering. Don't resolve to live differently for the entire rest of your life. That's too daunting and way beyond our capacity to fulfill.

This then, was my simple response to what God taught me in Matthew 16:5-12, a few days back:
(1) Today, Lord, help me not to complain; (2) Today, when selfish thoughts come to me, help me to crowd at my self-serving penchant by praising God, thanking God, and praying for someone else.
Within twenty minutes of my quiet time, I was in the shower and a selfish thought crossed my mind. I remembered what I had asked God to help me to do. I filled my time in the shower with praises for God, petitions for the needs of others, and special prayers for friends and family.

I almost remembered to respond to God as I resolved to do through much of the day. Like a recovering alcoholic, I've fallen off the wagon more than once since then. I get full of myself and tell myself to get my attention off of me and back on God and my neighbor. And I ask God to help me to remember.

Last week, during a study of Mike Foss' book, Real Faith for Real Life: Living the Six Marks of Discipleship, I decided to read these entries from my journal to the Living Water folks who were there. Though I occasionally share journaling of my quiet time with God, I don't make a habit of it because my quiet time is all about my own relationship with God, seeking to grow as a disciple of Christ, not a project for my call as preacher, teacher, leader, minister of Word and Sacrament.

But I also want people to know that just because God has called me to this work doesn't mean that I'm not a child of God in constant need of His guidance and reassurance. Fortunately, God makes guidance, reassurance, and so much more in His Word.

Martin Luther said that Christians are the Holy Spirit's workshop. Each day, through His Word, God chisels and scrapes, remodels and renews, those who are willing to submit to Him, and in the submission, experience the freedom of being made over--often slowly and with fierce blows to our egos--into the image of Jesus Christ, heirs of God's grace.

If that isn't as true of the subset of redeemed sinners called to be pastors as it is of laypeople, pastors shortchange God, ourselves, and the people we are called to work among as servant/leaders.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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