Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Monday, August 24, 2015

Like Isaac on the Altar

I was thinking about the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. I can see why God moved so mightily through Abraham's life because his faith was so strong. I was already impressed when the Lord told him to leave his home and just start walking and then later He would tell him where he was to go. That took a tremendous amount of faith. But then later God told him to take his own son, the son of promise that he had been waiting for so long, up on a mountain and to sacrifice him. I don't think I could have even looked in the direction of that mountain, much less walked up it with my son to sacrifice him. But Abraham did, because he was ready not to just make a sacrifice FOR his son, many fathers would do that. But he was ready to make a sacrifice OF his son, and I don't know any who would. And he was prepared to do that to glorify God through his obedience.
That story came to mind just as I was sort of feeling a little down about some things in life I have sacrificed for my service to the Lord. I thought about the many personal ambitions and interests I have set aside so that I could pursue my kingdom calling. Sometimes I look around and see others with their hobbies and happenings and realize I can't do much of that because my life is consumed with the work God has put my hands to. Even family time is often limited and interrupted because of my responsibilities to the Father. As I was thinking about all of that, and just at the moment I was about to both give myself a hug and a pat on the back, God brought an image of Abraham and Isaac at the altar to my mind.
That made me realize that I am no more worthy of pity or praise than Isaac for the sacrifice I am making for God. I now see that like Isaac, the sacrifice was not my choosing. God has led me up to my own Mt. Moriah, He prepared the altar, and He have made ready His sacrifice. In fact, I can't even claim to be as noble as Isaac. At least he went willingly and without struggle. I have gone only with kicking and screaming and complaining most of the way up here. I can't even pretend to be credit worthy for choosing God and then making a conscious effort to give up my life for Him. The truth is, God chose me, and He led me out of the life I once lived. The only thing I ever really did was call on Jesus to save me, and even the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to do that.
I understand that I am God's sacrifice, and I am ok with it. God is so good to me that I would rather be His sacrifice on the altar of my life than an exalted king on a throne in this world any day. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1, I am willing to offer my life as a living sacrifice. I remember what the Lord has done, and I know what lies ahead. So I don't mind being like Isaac on the altar.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Keep My Train on the Track

Recently I heard a colleague sharing with a group of us about his recent trip to Florida on a train. He spoke of how enjoyable it was, and that he'd taken one many times. That has got me thinking that I'd like to take a trip by train too. Not only does it seem like it would be a more relaxing and scenic way to travel, I'm guessing it may be safer too.
I don't hear about a train running off the tracks that often. That is a blessing because something that big, moving that fast, carrying that much stuff can cause serious damage. Makes me think about a movie I watched some time back called "Unstoppable". The whole movie was about the characters trying to keep this speeding training that had a stuck throttle and no breaks from running off the tracks and killing lots of people with the highly explosive cargo it was carrying. Needless to say, Denzel Washington figured it out. He always does.
I realize that life, my life.. could be like one of those trains. In some ways I see myself as the engine pulling a lot of cars behind me; my family, my church, job responsibilities, and many people who rely on me either directly or indirectly. Some cars are closer than others; some heavier than others. But they are all connected to me; they move with me, they stop with me, and if I did, they would run off the tracks with me. There have been times when I felt like I was going down hill with bad breaks and moving too fast. Things were getting away from me, and I feared I would derail. There were other times that I sat at the bottom of a high hill in life and didn't feel like I had the power move another inch, and I feared I would be pushed off the tracks. I know I carry around inside my own toxic, explosive issues that would destroy my life and the lives of others if I ran off the track. And I also know that even if small things caused me to run off the tracks just a little, where I sat halfway on and halfway off, halfway in God's kingdom, and halfway in the world, I would be doubly dangerous because not only will I not move forward, but I'll be blocking the tracks for all the other trains.
I think about these things, but I don't worry about them that much. I know that now God is driving this train. He built it, and He connected the cars, so I know He is the best one to conduct it. So, just as the Lord has been doing all my life, I know He will continue to keep my train on the track. When I go too fast, He will hit my breaks and when I go too slow, He will hit my throttle. He will Keep me on track so that through my life those connected to me will be blessed, and God will be glorified. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reaching Through My Fence

The other day on my way home from work, I noticed a herd of cows in a pasture I travel past all the time. I am so used to passing by this pasture, that I usually don't pay much attention to the cows, but the other day I did. And since then I have been thinking about cows. I grew up around cows. We always had some on the farm, and I have even raised some myself in my adult life. I love to watch them out in the pasture. There have been times that I just stood at the fence and watched them graze. I can't help but feel relaxed because they graze and move so slowly, taking their time, even slow to lift their head and look up if they hear a sound. They rarely rush and appear to never have a worry. I guess I could learn a thing or two from a cow.

One thing I have often seen and found interesting for a cow to do is to stick its head through the fence and reach out as far as it can with its neck to get a bite of tender grass. Though we have gone through a lot of effort and expense to put up a sturdy fence with strong posts and barbed wire, the lure of that tasty grass seems to be just too much for a cow to resist. I have seen them lean against the posts and push through the wire, even until the barbs are sticking into their skin, just to reach a few blades of tender grass. They will stretch out their lips and even stick out their tongue trying to get those few blades that escape them. I have thought to myself, that grass must be mighty good, or at least I hope it is for their sake.

I think the Lord drew my attention to those cows so that He could deposit a thought in my mind. And in thinking about cows, I realize there have been times where I too was leaning against the posts and pushing through the wire. I know that God loves me enough to put up boundaries for me, my own fence that keeps me from going too far; not to deprive me but to save me. I know that without my fence, I would be like those cows and roam wherever my eyes and appetite may lead me. So He blessed me with a fence. But also like those cows, some times I try to test my limits; I try to reach through the wire for blades of grass that I am convinced are better than what I already have. And I know it's not necessarily all bad stuff; sometimes they are good things, just not things that are meant for me, or maybe not meant for me right now. But yet and still I sometimes lean against the posts and push through the wire.

I know the spiritual scratches on my neck and nose bear the signs of my disobedience and impatience. Forgive me for times I've gone too far. I want to live for the Lord within the boundaries of what He has intended for me. So I ask God to bless me with contentment for the grass I can already reach so I can honor Him with the life I live inside my fence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reaching Past My Issues

Issues....issues, issues, issues. There's always some issues. Issues in the world, at work and at home. Issues that last for a little while, issues that last a lifetime. Everybody has issues, and of course I would much rather talk about theirs than mine. But I guess since mine are the only ones I am responsible for, then they should be the ones I take to God in prayer.
I read in God's word about a lady who had issues too; actually she had one issue that seemed to overshadow all the others. She had an issue of blood. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it must have been pretty serious. In Luke chapter 8 it says that she had it for 12 years, and she spent all she had with doctors trying to get rid of it. But..she still had her issue. I would imagine having that issue for 12 years was something to go through. I mean, having an issue for 12 months is enough to make you want to throw your hands up; but after 12 years she probably felt like her life was then consumed and defined by her issue. In fact, in God's Word, her name is never mentioned; she is only known as the woman with the issue. I'm sure that after 12 years she felt like she was trapped and her issue was her cage.
I am really impressed by this lady. For most people, if they were trapped in that same cage, for the first few days, and weeks and even months, they would stand at the door waiting for someone to come and open it. Probably after 12 months they would maybe look at the door from time to time with hopes that there was still a chance someone would come and set them free from their issue. But after 12 years, they would likely forget there was even a door to be opened, and that issue would just simply become a way of life for them. Not only would others define them by that issue, they would begin to make it a part of how they defined themselves. Father, that's when people say things like, 'That's just how I am', or 'I've learned to live with it because some things just never change". ....But not that lady!
Not only did she never back away from the door of her issue prison, she never stopped reaching out through the bars. It's not recorded, but at first she probably reached out to family and friends, but they couldn't help her. Then she reached out to every doctor who would see her, but they couldn't help her either. Then she reached out to the Lord, literally. As Jesus was passing by, she pressed through the crowd and reached out to touch the hem of His garment. She never stopped reaching until she reached the One who could set her free.
That speaks to me because I have issues too. Sure, some of them last only a while, and as soon as get all worked up over them, they're already on their way out the door. But, there are some that have been around for a long time. Some even more than 12 years. And I have at times felt like I was trapped inside my issue. Before I got saved, I thought I had no choice but to make myself satisfied inside that cage. But since I met the Lord, I know there's always hope for change. So no matter how many issues I have to reach through, I will always keep reaching for Jesus.
My believing is my reaching. I believe God can change me, and I believe just one touch is all I need.So I will keep reaching past my issues.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

I Will Follow the Rules

When I think about it, there are all kinds of rules everywhere for us to follow. Everything from laws to labels. There is always something for us to read, know and do (or not do). Sometimes I wonder if I can keep up with it all. Even a place we stayed at on vacation some time back, I noticed a list of rules that were posted. No loud music; no more than two cars parked at your unit; put your trash in leak proof bags and put the leak proof bags in the designated receptacles; don't hang wet towels off the balcony rail; don't you hang off the balcony rail; keep your dog on a leash and keep his poop off the ground (or something like that). The list was actually much longer. Rule after rule. But, it was ok because I understood why they had those rules. All of them made sense to me and had a valid reason behind them. In fact, I appreciated those rules and probably wouldn't have wanted to stay at a place that didn't have any. I wanted to have a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable family vacation experience, and those rules helped to make it so.
I must admit that early in my life, my view of the Bible was that it was basically a rule book; a long list of do's and don'ts. At that time, my heart was in a place that it wanted what it wanted and it certainly didn't want any dusty old rule book in the way of getting doing what I wanted. Of course I always wanted at least to have the notion of being a Christian, and Heaven was always a place where I wanted to go. But all those...rules; seemed like so many and so contrary to what felt right to me. I kept hearing it preached that through Jesus I could have joy, but it appeared to me God just wanted to steal my fun.
Well, that was then and this is now. I thank God that my eyes are wider and my brain is wiser. The Lord has helped me to see that this Christian walk is not about rules, it's about relationship. God's Word is first and foremost about me getting to know Him and how He loves me; and because He loves me, He want what's best for me; and He helps me find what's best for me by giving me rules to live by. Some may think "rule" is a 4-letter dirty word; I know I used to. But it's not. God and I both know I need rules. I need lines painted on my road to help me stay out of the ditches. Just like the rules at the vacation house was for a better vacation experience, God's rules help me to have a better life experience. Now I understand what the psalmist was feeling when he wrote in Psalm 119:1 "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord". So, with God's help, I will follow the rules.