Home Word for Wednesday

Word for Wednesday

Hearing God’s Callings – Part Four

Genesis 35:1 (NCV) God said to Jacob, “Go to the city of Bethel and live there. 

When our three kids were 13, 11 and 6. Here is one lesson that I continued to learn as a parent, particularly with our teenager: Kids need clear directions and boundaries. Deep down they like authoritative commands and well-defined expectations. The more specific I am in dealing with my kids, the more they respond in a positive manner. For example, if I say, “after dinner tonight I would really like for you to do your homework, take a shower, if you have time clean your room and then you can play some,” thirty minutes later I am repeating myself over and over again for them to do what I have asked. Finally, when I specifically state my command to them, “you will do your homework now, then take a shower, and be in bed at 9:00 sharp,” then they hop to it. 

When my commands are unclear, they are unsure of what to do. But when they are very clear and spoken with authority, they understand and follow directions. (Most of the time.) 

Throughout the Bible we read about God’s callings for His people. His command to Jacob is very clear: He says “go.” God does not say, “hey Jacob, if you feel like it, if you think you can, if you don’t mind, if you have the time, how about going to Bethel and live there?” God says “go!” 

Feeling unclear and uncertain about a decision in your life? Do you think God is calling you to make a change or improve what you are currently doing and continue as you are? Ask yourself, “am I receiving an authoritative command from God? Is it clear?” If not, then continue praying about your situation. Ask God for a clear command. If what you think is a calling is unclear and murky, then I would seriously question where the “calling” is coming from. 

True callings from God are authoritative commands. Our God is not a God of ambiguity or confusion; He is a powerful, loving and authoritative God. 

1 Corinthians 14:33 (NCV) God is not a God of confusion but a God of peace. 

Lord, You are the Father and we are the sons and daughters, and help us to listen and hear your clear commands in our lives. Give us the strength, wisdom and courage to follow Your commands. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

David

Hearing God’s Callings – Part Three

I am often asked what the hardest part of my job as a Real Estate Appraiser is. With my tongue in cheek, but speaking from actual experience, I will respond, “finding the house.” 

I am well-prepared to find houses. In fact, there were so many maps in my car, that it became a fire hazard! (I’m now thankful for GPS.) Even with all my maps and GPS systems sometimes I still cannot find the house without calling the owner from my car and saying, ” I am here. How do I get to where you are?” Most of the time, the problem is that there is no number on the mailbox. 

True callings from God give us clear directions to follow. God is not going to call us toward what He wants for us, only to leave the “number off the mailbox.” The frustration for us comes when God decides to dole out only a portion of the directions. God will say, “you are here; I want you there. When you get there, I will tell you where to go next.” Notice how God calls Moses to bring His people out of Egypt. 

Exodus 3:10 So now I am sending you to the king of Egypt. Go! Bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt! (NCV) 

Our problem is that like Moses, we want all the directions and details at once. If the complete set of directions is not lain out before us, sometimes we give up hope and lose faith in God. We wonder why God abandoned us, when in fact we have abandoned Him. I would never find some of the houses to appraise if I did not simply call the owner for more directions. When we are feeling lost along the way in our lives, we have a direct line to God, through prayer. Don’t forget that God always wants what is best for us. He always wants us to ask Him for directions. I fear arriving in Heaven and hearing God saying, “David, I was waiting to give you the last part of the directions, but you never asked.” 

So, how do we apply this to our lives? How do we know if our direction is from God or from our own desires? Test the call. Get your toes wet. I have had people tell me, “I think God is calling me out of the secular marketplace and into a job with a Christian organization.” I will always say, “great, test the waters by doing a little volunteer work in the field. Send out some résumés and seek counsel from others that work in that arena.” 

If you are moving in the direction that God has called you, He will continue to move you in that direction. Where God guides, God will provide. 

Do you have a call to make today? 

Father, You are God. You are in control and in command, no matter what comes our way. You, and You only, have clear directions for our lives. Help us to be sensitive to those directions. Forgive us for doubting Your wisdom and Your guidance. Show us the way, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

David

Hearing God’s Callings (Part 2 of 6)

Suddenly during the sermon, the church felt empty of everyone except the pastor and me. The lights seemed dim and low. It was as if God were speaking one-on-one with me through the pastor. 

Driving down the road listening to a preacher on the radio, something clicked inside of me. I was crying and felt overwhelmed as I realized that what was being said on the radio was God speaking to me through someone. I knew at that moment, that I had to pull over and listen. 

In another instance, as I was reading the Bible, my eyes raced faster and faster across the words, because what I was reading was speaking directly to me about a current situation. I read it over and over, thinking to myself, “yes Lord, that is what I have been going through, and yes Lord, I know You can handle this situation; Your Word tells me so.” 

Ever have experiences like these? They are callings to us, directly from God. These are always one-on-one, person-to-person, direct-from-God callings. This is the first of five characteristics of God’s Callings. 

When people say to me, “I think I have been called into foreign missions,” the first question out of my mouth is, “Tell me about the calling.” They may respond, “Well, so and so said they were thinking about me and thought I would be good in foreign missions — why, they even tracked me down in the parking lot at church to tell me!” If they say that, of course the next question I ask is, “But what did God say to you when He called you?” “Huh?” 

See the difference? The first three examples are in the first person; they are one-on-one, direct callings from God. The foreign mission example is in the second person. This is not, in my opinion, a good quality calling, although I admit it may be the beginning of a call. 

Genesis 17:3 (NLT) Abram fell face down, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 

Throughout the Bible, we read about God speaking directly to people, or speaking through what is referred to as “an angel of the Lord.” Can God do this today? 

Certainly! It is my belief that God today has chosen to speak to us in the first person in three ways. First, God speaks through His Word, the Bible. Secondly, God speaks through His people — in other words, through fellow Christians. Thirdly, God speaks through an inner prompting of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in everyone who has accepted Christ as his or her Savior. 

Ok, great — the first characteristic of God’s calling is that they are person-to-person. “So David,” you ask, “what’s the application of this principle?” Glad you asked. 

You will never hear God’s calling unless you are where God calls. 

If you read the Bible regularly, God can use the Bible to speak to you. If you go to church, a Bible Study, or seek counsel from other Christians, then you will hear God speaking to you through others. If you pray, slow down, stop and listen to the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, then you will hear God’s callings. But if you continue to fill your life with busyness, noise, static, and avoidance of God’s methods of speaking, then you cannot hear the person-to-person callings. 

Lord, help us apply this first principle of hearing Your callings. Forgive us for not taking time for You, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

David Massey

Hearing God’s Callings (Part 1 of 6)

One of the top questions I was asked when teaching Bible studies is, “How can I know God’s calling for my life?” I am sure you have often wondered about the same question, so over the next few weeks, follow me through some steps to test decisions that you are faced with in your life, against some relevant Biblical principles that I have learned and relearned over the years. Walk with me as I lay out these principles to discern between our will and God’s call. 

Often when we think about God’s calling, we think of professional ministers. We harbor this misconception that God “calls” only ministers. The other common mistake we make is waiting for that “lightning bolt” experience that will show us God’s calling for our lives as clearly as a new, crisply unfolded roadmap. Often, God gives us only a small piece of the map at a time. For example, look at God’s calling to Abraham in Genesis. 

Genesis 12:1 (NLT) Then the LORD told Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you.” 

Notice the call is “leave your country,” and observe that the yet-to-be-seen calling is “the land I will show you.” God does not say to Abraham “leave your country and come to Canaan, where I will make you the father of a great nation.” God simply says, “leave, then I will show you.” My paraphrase of this verse is, “Abraham, first trust Me, then I will show you where your calling is leading you.” 

I personally believe God uses many different callings throughout our lives to guide us along our journeys. I agree there is usually an overall “big picture” calling for people, but God still uses prompting and other callings along the way to help us stay the course. In other words, the “big picture” calling may be for you to be a schoolteacher, and the other callings are used to guide you along the way to fully develop you into the schoolteacher God has planned for you to be. 

When did God first begin dealing with you? He started before the beginning of time. Look at the following verse: 

Ephesians 1:4-5 (NLT) Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure. 

None of the Biblical principles and truths that I am going to lay out over the next few weeks will work unless you have answered God’s foundational calling. His first and foremost calling is for you to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. This is the main calling that I can say without a doubt or hesitation, that God has in your life. 

1 Corinthians 1:9 (NLT) God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 

John 3:16 (NKJ) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

The five characteristics of God’s callings (there may be more) are: 

1. In the First Person 

2. Have Clear Direction 

3. Authoritative Commands 

4. Great Promise 

5. Create Change 

Next week, we will begin to look at the first of five characteristics of God’s callings, “In the First Person.” My prayer is for this series to help you stop, think and listen for God’s callings in your life. I look forward to our journey together. 

Dear Lord, guide us and direct us to be all that You have designed us to be. Help us to distinguish between our will and Your calling. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

David Massey

Light

Geoff LaLone

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”
Psalm 119:105


Last summer, on account of a ridiculously busy schedule, I occasionally found myself cutting the lawn in the dark. It wasn’t something I set out to do; it just happened. There would be plenty of light when I started, but by the time I was through, it was nearly impossible to tell where I had mowed and where I hadn’t. To lessen my chances of missing a spot here and there, I would tie a flash light to the front of my mower, or try to hold it between my knees. It helped, but was a less-than-perfect solution.

Wanting to avoid a similar situation this summer, in early spring I purchased and installed a 5-Light LED fixture on my mower’s front bumper, then ran a wire to a switch I had mounted on the panel where my ignition and throttle were located. I immediately began looking forward to my first opportunity to try it out, but no such opportunity came. All spring and into summer, much to my disappointment, I somehow avoided putting myself in a situation where the light would be required. I began to feel like installing the light was nothing more than a big waste of time and money. Then finally, this past Monday, I got my chance. One of the belts on my mower broke while I was in the middle of the job and by the time I picked up a new one and put it on, it was nearly 9:00. Knowing I now had a light on my mower, it didn’t bother me one bit. By 9:45 I was done, and the yard has never looked better. My light worked perfectly!

In Psalm 119, the psalmist refers to God’s word as “a lamp to his feet and a light to his path.” Walking through this world of darkness without stumbling and making a major mess out of our lives, is impossible without the light of God’s word. Even more so than trying to cut your lawn in the dark without the assistance of any kind of light to guide you. Unfortunately, we don’t always realize how much we need the light of God’s word until the darkness envelops us.

Not all of our walking through this world is in total darkness. Much of the time we may find it easy to see the things that can trip us up or cause us pain, so we can avoid them on our own. This leads us to think the light of God’s word isn’t necessary and we begin to feel we are wasting our time by reading it. But nothing could be further from the truth. We never know when life circumstances can plunge us into greater levels of darkness than we have ever known. When that happens, we will want to be prepared. We will want to have the light of God’s word to guide us. So make reading God’s word a daily activity, even when walking seems easy, so that when you find yourself in darkness, you’ll be ready.

Loving the Unlovable

Geoff LaLone

“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”
Luke 7:47


This past Sunday the sermon focused on the “new commandment” Jesus gave his disciples in John 13:34, that we love one another as he has loved us. We acknowledged that when it comes to people with whom we have much in common and enjoy spending time with, it’s a fairly easy commandment to follow. But it becomes rather difficult when it comes to those people that we find unlovable. Maybe they have very different opinions than we do, or they have hurt us in some way, or they simply get on our nerves. Whatever the reason, we find it very hard to love them.
Loving all people as Jesus loves us is not simply a matter of the will. It is a supernatural feat, and therefore requires a supernatural power, a power only God can provide, which he makes available to us through his Holy Spirit. But this power must be accompanied by a realization and admission on our part, that we are not so lovable ourselves.

In his gospel, Luke tells the story of a sinful woman who come to visit Jesus while he dined at the home of a Pharisee. As far as we can tell, no words were shared between the woman and Jesus…only actions. First, the woman bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Then, she kissed his feet and anointed them with costly perfume. As far as Jesus was concerned, it was an act of great devotion and sacrifice, and an expression of great love. The Pharisee, on the other hand, thought it was scandalous, given this woman’s reputation.

To justify the woman’s actions to his host, Jesus presented him with a scenario in which two individuals had their debts canceled by their debtor, but the debt of one was ten times greater than the other. When Jesus asked the Pharisee which individual would have appreciated the forgiveness more, the answer was obvious, the one with the greater debt. This woman, who was keenly aware of how great a debt she had been forgiven, was responding by demonstrating great love toward the one who had forgiven her. The Pharisee, in contrast, had shown hardly any love to Jesus. This could be explained by the fact that he felt he had very little for which he needed to be forgiven.

In telling this story Jesus was not suggesting that the Pharisee had a lesser debt to God. No matter what we have done, we all stand in need of forgiveness. His point was that because this woman had a more accurate view of the depth of her sin, she likewise had a more accurate understanding of the depths of God’s love and grace. Loving Jesus in such an extravagant way was the most natural way for her to respond to this realization. The same is true for us. The more we come to realize how much God loves us, the greater our loving response to him will be. When we truly love Jesus, we will find it easier to love the people he has created, all of them, not only our favorites. We will understand none of us is without faults, that God’s love and forgiveness extends to all of us, and that to love the creature is to love the creator.

Glory

Geoff LaLone

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory in this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”
Colossians 1:27


I remember how excited I was to get to watch an “R” rated movie, and at school no less. I was in eighth grade at the time. I imagine it was not the first “R” rated movie I had seen, but this was officially sanctioned (as long as my parents signed the permission slip). The title of the movie was “Glory.” It told the true story of the first all-black regiment to fight in the Civil War. It received an “R” rating because of the way it graphically depicted the horror of war.

The word “glory,” when used as a noun, can mean things like magnificence or high renown. Similarly, when a person is glorified, they are recognized as having become something more than they already are, or at least perceived to be. The movie “Glory” is appropriately titled because the regiment whose story it tells, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Army, demonstrated a level of heroism no less than their white counterparts, all while dealing with a much greater level of adversity.

Glory is something many people aspire to possess, and something the rest of us are more than willing to bestow. On some level, we all want to achieve magnificence and become something more than we already are. Perhaps it was this desire that Paul was appealing to when he told the Christians in Colossae that the mystery of the Gospel, that Christ could live in them, would fulfill their hope for glory. Of course, the glory that is ours on account of our relationship with Jesus is both similar and different than the glory most people seek.

It’s similar in that with Christ living in us, we can become much more than we are, or could ever be, in our own power. We can become more gracious, more loving, and more generous, all while becoming less vindictive, self-centered, and greedy. This is just a glimpse of how different we can become. There is no end to the miraculous transformation that can occur in our hearts and lives because of Jesus. But since it is only because of Jesus, all the glory belongs to him. Being okay with that, even to the point of seeking after God’s glory, instead of our own, is probably the most significant change that happens.

I’m reminded of what John the Baptist said, when made aware of Jesus’ growing popularity and the diminishment of his own. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). This statement, spoken with sincerity, is evidence of a level of spiritual maturity that we should all aspire to. Everything we do should be for God’s glory, and for his alone. To paraphrase the Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God is the purpose for which we have been created.”

How God Speaks

Geoff LaLone

“Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’”
Numbers 22:28


I’m ashamed to admit it, but as a young pastor, fresh out of seminary, I’m certain I had an inflated view of my ability to speak for God, along with an unhealthy skepticism that God could use anyone without similar credentials to speak his word to me. It was in this state of arrogance that I first read the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. It’s possible I had heard the story before, but this time I finally started to pay attention.

Without going into too much detail, the donkey was attempting to protect Balaam from an angel that God had sent to prevent him from taking a certain journey. The donkey could see an angel, sword in hand, directly in front of them, while Balaam could not, so the donkey refused to move forward, in spite of Balaam beating him repeatedly. After hearing his donkey speak, Balaam’s eyes were opened, and he finally realized the danger he was in.

At the time, the story served as a humble reminder that God doesn’t need people with seminary degrees to get his point across. If he can use a donkey, he can use anyone. So we should never automatically assume who can and cannot speak for God, and we should be open to the myriad of possible ways he can speak to us. A short time after reading this story, I saw a man standing in a very busy intersection near Hanes Mall, shouting at the top of his lungs, “You must repent!”, and wearing a sandwich board that said something about the end being near. My immediate reaction was to dismiss him as a religious fanatic, but then I remembered Balaam’s donkey, and decided it very well could have been God who told him to do what he was doing.

Our church recently received an anonymous letter. Really, it wasn’t so much a letter as a copy of an article about another church, and how God spoke to them about making some pretty drastic changes to the way they operated. I can think of all kinds of reasons why we should dismiss the letter. The fact that it’s anonymous, that it’s about a church with which we probably have very little in common, that it was postmarked from somewhere in Missouri, or the fact that a lot of good things are happening in our church, are just a few of them. But it could also be God speaking to us. If it is, I pray that we listen.

Spring

Ronnie Isley

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit”
Luke 6:43-44a


A word for the starting of spring, a fresh new season. In Luke 6:43-45, we are told that we are known by our fruits. We often don’t think of what we say and do or our actions as fruit, but they are, just as much as our good deeds. John 15:5 tells us that those who abide in Jesus will bear fruit much fruit. I guess one of the greatest ways to be fruitful is follow the greatest commandment, which we can find in Mark 12:30-31. First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and with all of our strength. Second, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do this, we will surely bear good fruit. Let’s all start off this new spring planning to grow good fruit. God bless you all.

Special Ash Wednesday— With All Your Heart

Geoff LaLone

The following is the homily from today’s Ash Wednesday Services. The passages of Scripture referred to are Joel 2:1-2,11-17 and 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10.


One of my favorite parables that Jesus told is the story of the prodigal son; you are familiar with it. There was a man who had two sons, and one of those sons grew tired of waiting for his father to die so he could receive his inheritance; so he asked for it in advance. His father complied, and gave the son what he wanted. The son promptly took the money, left home, and spent it all on frivolous things, many of which brought great shame and dishonor on his father’s good name.

Eventually the son hit rock bottom. His money had all run out, and he found himself working as a pig farmer. Just to survive, he had to eat some of the food he was giving to them. One day it occurred to him that his father’s servants had far better lives than the one he was living, so he decided to return home and beg his father to take him back, not as a son, but as a slave.

What he didn’t know, is that his father had been awaiting his return since the day he left, often looking down their road, looking for any sign that his son was coming home. As he saw his son approaching, he ran to him (which is something grown men did not do in that society), and when he finally reached him, wrapped his arms around him in a warm embrace. He welcomed him home, not as a slave, but as a son, and called for a huge party to celebrate his return.

It’s a great story. One of the reasons I love this story is because of the picture it paints of God and his love for his children, even those who have wandered away, and have brought shame and dishonor upon their heavenly Father, their creator. It reminds us that at any point, no matter how far we have run from God, no matter what we have done, no matter how far we fall short of his will for us, we can return to our Father and find him waiting for us, arms wide open, running toward us even, to welcome us home.

Many people think this portrait of God is different than the one portrayed in the Old Testament, where they see God presented as angry, vengeful and vindictive. The first part of the passage we read from Joel kind of reinforces that point of view. It refers to the “Day of the Lord,” which it describes as a day of “darkness and gloom,” and a vast, terrifying army sent from God to punish evil doers. In verse 11 the prophet makes this observation, “Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed—who can endure it?”

But in the verses that immediately follow we read this, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

The Father in the story of the prodigal son and the God Joel describes are one in the same. Through Jesus we have gained a fuller, more complete picture of God than Joel could offer, but even then, Joel understood that God longs for his children to return to him. Rather than punish, he wants to forgive, restore, redeem and transform. That has been his desire from the very beginning.

Thanks to the writers of the New Testament, people like Paul, we understand this is all made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul reminds us in the portion of his letter to the Corinthians that we read a few moments ago, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We see Paul extending the very same invitation to these early believers that Joel extended to God’s people so many years ago. Return to the Lord! Be reconciled to God! There is no time like the present to return to the God who created you, to be forgiven of your sins and begin this life-long journey of transformation into the image of Jesus.

That is what we want. If that were not true, we wouldn’t be attending an Ash Wednesday service. For some of you, it may be the complete return to God that you desire, the kind Joel and Paul were talking about, because you know you’ve been running away from him, moving in the opposite direction of where you should be headed. For most of you, you have returned to God, you have been reconciled to him, years ago, maybe even decades ago, but you know you have room for improvement. You know there is still plenty of work for God to do in your heart and life to make you who he created you to be. You want to be more loving. You want to be more holy. You want to be more like Jesus.

There is an old Negro spiritual that talks about this desire we all have. Historians believe it was written sometime in the 1750’s by slaves in Virginia. The slaves who worshiped in this church could very well have sung it here, in this place.

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.
Lord, I want to be more loving.
Lord, I want to be more holy.
Lord, I want to be like Jesus.


This is what we want. It is God who places this desire in our hearts. But desire alone is not enough. We must join our intention with action. Joel called the people of God to return to him with all their hearts. The Jewish people believed the heart was the place where action originated. So it’s a call to match up desire with behavior.

Becoming more like Jesus is not an action we can perform. Any growth or transformation in our lives is all God’s doing. Our action is putting ourselves in a position where God’s grace can do its work. It’s not unlike the work of a gardener. We cannot cause a plant to grow, only God can do that. But we can create an environment where growth is possible, by exposing a seed to good soil, water, and sunlight. So we create an environment where God’s grace to bring about new growth or transformation in our lives.

How do we do this? It’s really not that complicated. We spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. We make corporate worship a priority. We discipline ourselves to focus more on God and less on ourselves and the distractions that surround us. For centuries Christians have been using the season of Lent to be more intentional about doing these things, either by giving something up for the Season of Lent, or committing to doing something new, or both. If you haven’t decided to do these things during this season I would strongly encourage you to do so. It’s not too late.

Our desire to return to God and become more like Jesus, and our discipline to join that desire to action must be compelled by the humble realization of who we are—dust, and the reminder of what God has sent his Son to become like we are, so that we could become as he is, and live forever with him.