Category Archives: Pastor’s Page

From The Desk Of Pastor Stan

Hello Bethel Wesley and friends, I thought I would try something different to see if you like it. I would like to share my favorite sermon for the month. This month’s sermon is “Learning to Wait on the Lord” which I preached on Father’s Day. Please pay attention to the scriptures noted in the sermon, as they will enable you to get a better understanding of the point I’m trying to drive home.

QUESTION: “What does it mean to wait on the Lord?”

ANSWER: The command to wait on the Lord is found extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is more about waiting for the Lord’s providential care, but most New Testament references relate to Christ’s second coming. In all cases, it is about waiting expectantly and with hope. Fundamental to being able to wait is trusting God’s character and goodness. <!–split–>

Waiting on the Lord is something the godly do. It’s about holding on tight, hoping with expectation and trust, knowing that our Lord is not making us wait just to see how long we can “take it.” There are times when God will delay His answer, and we will at times wonder why He seems so reluctant to intervene in our affairs: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3). But, knowing the Lord, we trust that He will come at the perfect moment, not a second too soon or too late.

Waiting on the Lord necessitates two key elements: a complete dependence on God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms, including the timing of His plan. Trusting God with the timing of events is one of the hardest things to do. The half-joking prayer, “Lord, I need patience, and I need it RIGHT NOW,” is not far removed from the truth of how we often approach matters of spiritual growth and the Lord’s will. To wait on the Lord produces character in the life of the Christian in that it involves patience (see James l:4). Waiting involves the passage of time, which is itself a gift of God.

The word wait in the Bible carries the idea of confident expectation and hope. “For God alone my soul waits in silence . . . my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:1,5 ESV). To wait upon the Lord is to expect something from Him in godly hope, “and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). We wait on the Lord in a way similar to how we wait on the arrival of out of town relatives, with loving anticipation of seeing them again. All creation eagerly awaits God’s restoration: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). Those who wait for God to keep His promises will not be disappointed.

Waiting on the Lord involves being at rest in the Lord. Psalm 23 provides a lesson concerning being still. Sheep will not be at peace near rushing water, but they will lie contentedly by “still” water, and that’s where the Good Shepherd leads us (Psalm 23;2). The words “He makes me lie down” can be translated “He causes me to rest.” When we, like sheep, are still, we are resting in the Lord and trusting our Shepherd. Being still means we have ceased from following our own agenda or ingenuity; we have stopped trusting in our own strength and will power. We are waiting upon the Lord to exchange our weakness for His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” and, as he gains spiritual insight, he understands that the affliction is a protective suffering meant by God to keep him from sin. As a result, the apostle is content to rest in God’s grace. God does not remove the thorn; He gives Paul a place to be still in the bearing of it. Paul learned to be still and wait on the Lord.

To wait on the Lord is to rest in the confident assurance that, regardless of the details or difficulties we face in this life, God never leaves us without a sure defense. As Moses told the panicky Israelites trapped at the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). The heavenly perspective comes as we focus not on the trouble but on the Lord and His Word. When it seems God has painted us into a corner, we have an opportunity to set aside our human viewpoint and wait upon the Lord to show us His power, His purpose, and His salvation.

When we don’t choose to wait on the Lord, we solicit trouble for ourselves. Remember how Abraham and Sarah did not wait on the Lord for their child of promise; rather, Sarah offered her maid, Hagar, to Abraham in order to have a child through her. The account in Genesis 16 and 18 shows that their impatience led to no end of trouble. Any time we fail to wait on the Lord and take matters into our own hands – even when we’re trying to bring about something God wants – it leads to problems. When we “seek fir the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV), we can allow God to work out the rest of the details.

This doesn’t mean we sit idly by as we wait on the Lord to act on our behalf. We should not spend our time doing nothing; rather, we should continue to do the work He has given us to do. Psalm 123:2 says, “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he show us his mercy.” That is, we should look to God with the constant anticipation and willingness to serve that a servant shows to his master. The idea of waiting on the Lord is not like waiting for the dentist in the waiting room (thank goodness!) Rather, the sense of waiting on the Lord is somewhat akin to what a waiter or waitress does in a restaurant. Our attitude and actions should be as those of a waiter anticipating and meeting the requests of the one he’s waiting on. Our waiting on the Lord is not biding our time until we finally get the service we’ve been waiting for; it’s filling our time with service to the Master, always on our feet, ready to minister.

The command to wait on the Lord means that we are to be near Him and attentive so that we may catch the slightest intimation of what He wants for us. We naturally think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We turn here and there and expect help from our own ability, from friends, or from circumstances. But in the spiritual life we are taught to distrust self and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Waiting on the Lord involves the confident expectation of a positive result in which we place a great hope – a hope that can only be realized by the actions of God. This expectation must be based on knowledge and trust, or we simply won’t wait. Those who do not know the Lord will not wait on Him; neither will those who fail to trust Him. We must be confident of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Those who wait on the Lord do not lose heart in their prayers: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us (I John 5;14). Waiting on the Lord renews our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Prayer and Bible study and meditating upon God’s Word are essential. To wait on the Lord we need a heart responsive to the Word of God, a focus on the things of heaven, and a patience rooted in faith.

We should not despair when God tarries long in His response, but continue to patiently wait on Him to work on our behalf. The reason God sometimes waits a long time to deliver is to extend the goodness of the final outcome. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18, ESV).

From the Desk of Pastor Stan

Our kids express themselves in a variety of ways.  This poem is from a Chaddock girl, and is an especially powerful expression of the hurt and hopes many of our children experience. <!–split–>

It’s hard to know that your mom didn’t want you and couldn’t take care of you.

But you need to remember that a family wanted you and did everything to fight for you.

You were hurt, but can still be loved.

You were scared, but can still be fearless.

You were weak, but now have strength.

You were broken, but you put yourself together.

You were called garbage, but are now seen as beautiful.

You were abandoned, but that was in the past.  Today you were chose.

You were sad, but can still be happy.

– A Chaddock Student

A Love Story That Will Not End

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me … Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”— John 20:16–17

The Resurrection is an unprecedented event in history. In the words of C. S. Lewis, it is a miracle of the New Creation. Something of which the world has had no previous experience at all has entered the old order and radically altered it. The great reversal has begun. The new wine has burst the old wineskins. Even familiar relations with Jesus in the old creation no longer suffice. Now, it seems he can only be recognized by those to whom he chooses to reveal himself. <!–split–>

The story of the Resurrection is also the story of human love at its best. When all else fails—even faith and hope—love comes through intact. It may be weak in comparison to divine love, but it is strong enough to move the heart of the Lover. Such is the love of Mary Magdalene.

What makes Mary’s devotion to Jesus unique may have begun early in his ministry when he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1–3). Mary had known the terrifying power of spiritual enslavement and the  exhilarating freedom of following Christ her teacher. Here was a Rabbi who treated women very differently. From that day, her admiration and love grew.

Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem. When all the other disciples fled (Mark 14:50), she stood in solidarity with other women to witness his agonizing death on the cross (Matt. 27:55). Love refuses to be cowed. Love perseveres when hope is extinguished. Mary witnessed Jesus’ limp body being taken down from the cross. He was dead! But love will not give up.

She continued to follow Jesus to the point where she could go no further. The tomb was finally clamped shut. Sabbath was about to begin. She had to leave, but not without first taking note of where his body lay (Mark 15:47).

Mary could not wait for the Sabbath to be over. At the first streaks of dawn, she hurried to the tomb. Love drove her back. Perhaps all she wanted was to be with the Beloved—if only to run her hand over the cold, defiant rock that blocks the tomb’s entrance. But further dismay greeted her: The stone had been removed and the body was gone. Without a second thought, she hurried back and reported it to Peter and John.

John reached the tomb entrance first and hesitated, but Peter, true to form, barged in. The sight defied  explanation, for they “still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Peter and John tried to figure out what might have happened. They were practical men looking for plausible explanations, and finding none, they decided to leave.

But Mary lingered. She would not give up so easily. But where is he? Why? No, it can’t be—perhaps a   jumble of foreboding thoughts filled her mind. Could it be the work of grave robbers? Perhaps anger welled up at the thought of unconscionable men desecrating Jesus’ body. Mary could take it no more; she broke down in tears.

She moved closer to the tomb and saw two angels. Their brief exchange suggests that they seemed harmless, ordinary folks. Just then Jesus appeared and asked: “Why are you crying?” But Mary could not recognize the voice. Thinking that he was the gardener, she pleaded with him to tell him where he might have carried away the body of Jesus, saying, “and I will get him”—I will carry him (John 20:15). She did not consider how she would do it. These are words of a determined woman. Whatever it took, she’d find the body and carry it back.

Was Mary so blinded by her tears that she could not recognize Jesus? Not likely. The Gospels record other instances when the resurrected Jesus was not recognized until he chose to make himself recognizable, such as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who only recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. For Mary, the voice of the “gardener” suddenly sounded familiar when Jesus called her by name.

Mary’s love had been stretched to breaking point—almost. But then Jesus revealed himself and spoke her name in the familiar voice that she had heard countless times before. In the depth of despair, her “teacher” had found her. She recognized his reassuring voice. She instinctively clung to him, driven by love that will not let go.

But she could not make Christ exclusively her own. Love must at some point yield to the will of the Lover: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ” (v. 17).

Following Jesus had brought Mary to the brink of despair, but love finally broke through the old order. She became the first witness of the risen Christ and the first bearer of the Good News: The Father of Jesus is now our Father and Jesus is now our brother (Heb. 2:11, 12). But Mary was not a witness in the formal sense, for in her culture a testimony was validated by at least two witnesses and among the Jews, the status of a woman as a witness was a contested issue. What Jesus did for her can only be understood as an act of pure love in response to her singular devotion.

Mary Magdalene’s relentless pursuit of her Beloved exemplifies the spiritual quest for deeper union with God. Like other contemplatives, mystics, and saints in subsequent Christian history, Mary teaches us that love never fails—even when hope fails. It sustained her through the dark night of Holy Saturday into the dawn of Easter. Even as Mary clings to Christ, she also learns to let go. The ecstasy of her reunion with the Beloved was not meant to be for her alone to enjoy. He called her to go into the world and bear witness to the Resurrection:   “I have seen the Lord!” From Mary, we begin to understand why love is the greatest theological virtue (1 Cor. 13:13). From her, too, we learn that however much we relish mountain-top experiences of intimacy with God, we must also descend to bring the Good News of the living Christ to a dying world.

— (from Christianity Today)

A PASSION FOR GOD!

If I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You . . . (Exodus 33:13)

Many people give up everything for an ideal, sacrificing themselves in order to reach the goal that is the  passion of their lives.  For example, an athlete preparing for a competition leads a rigorous life with severe privations.  Such passion ought to characterize Christians as they seek God’s face.  We must burn with the spiritual fire that burned in Paul (Philippians 3:8-11), Jeremiah, Moses – men who did not feel satisfied with themselves regarding their own spiritual lives.  They longed to know God intimately. <!–split–>

There was a time in my ministry when I would be told how tremendous the worship service was, but I was unsatisfied.  I would pray: “Lord, I know there are rivers and springs overflowing with the Holy Spirit.  I want to know You better.”  God put that thirst in me.  When I sought Him passionately, I found what I  needed.

When I understood that fellowship with the Spirit is more than addressing words to God,  I was transformed.  I reached a new stage in my life and ministry.  Everything was fresh and renewed with no religious routine.  Unable to sleep at night, I instead had fellowship with Him.  My experience affected crowds.

We must seek God’s face.  The people of Israel wanted to witness God’s great works, but they did not want God himself.  How different was Moses’ attitude!  He witnessed the miracles, but he prayed to know God.   (Exodus 3:13, 18).

From the Desk of Pastor Stan

Christian writer Kathleen Norris tells “the scariest story I know about the Bible” in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Norris recalls a conversation she and her husband once had in a local steak house with one of their South Dakota neighbors, a grandson of “dirt-poor immigrants” who now owned several thousand acres and bought new cars for his family every year; a man who had now begun treatment for a probable terminal cancer. That night this man of few words, who usually spoke about business when he did speak, began telling about receiving a wedding gift, many years before, from his devout grandfather.  <!–split–>

Norris says:   His wedding present to Arlo and his bride had been a Bible, which he admitted he admired mostly because it was an expensive gift, bound in white leather, with their names and the date of their wedding set in gold lettering on the cover. “I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet,” Arlo told us. “But,” he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that bible. The wife had written him a thank you note, and we’d thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always keep asking about it.” Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him. “Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book … over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I’d never find it.”

***

I knew little about how to practice Christian faith when I first began attending church, in my early days. But I had heard the Bible is The Book for Christians. So I started reading… It didn’t take long to figure out the Bible is a book made up of many shorter books, booklets, gospels, and letters, in all, 66 books-within-The-Book in Protestant Bibles (more in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles), written by many different authors over a range of times. And it almost goes without saying that I found some of the Bible much easier to read than other parts.

Some of what I read in the Bible made sense immediately. Other parts began to make sense with prayer and more thought. Still other parts made little sense even after quite a bit of prayer and pondering. But I don’t usually mind pondering… And I was aware Christians have seldom if ever been entirely all of one-mind as to what the Bible means… So I read the parts I liked often, the other parts less often… A few parts not at all…

Till one day, reading the liner notes of Duke Ellington’s first Sacred Music Concert record, where Duke wrote saying he ‘began to understand the Bible a little, after reading it cover to cover, three times.’ Equal parts shamed and inspired by Duke, I resolved to read through the Bible three times – reading three or four chapters a day of the Old Testament along with daily readings of a few psalms, and a chapter each of the New Testament gospels and letters. (This got me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament several times in a year.)

Forty-some years later, I’m still reading the Bible nearly every day, and still learning what life and the Bible are about every day… There are still parts of life and the Bible I don’t understand well. I have been given gift Bibles, and though I haven’t found money stuck inside the pages of any of them, I have found in all of them the gift beyond price. (See Matthew 13:44-45.)

I still don’t understand all of the Bible – but I have come to understand – reading the Bible prayerfully and studying with other believers are two sides of one essential spiritual practice for Christians – and prayer, worship, witness, and works of mercy, justice, and love, our other most basic practices – all depend on listening to God through God’s word.

May God give us grace to open wide the scriptures – and find treasure far beyond price.

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Savior be with you,  Pastor Stan

Through a Glass Darkly (Editorial by Rob Renfroe)

Recently I read an editorial in the magazine Good News: Leading United Methodist to a Faithful Future. The article entitled, Through A Glass Darkly, focused on the Special General Conference to be held in February and the decision on human sexuality in our denomination as we move forward. Is there any hope? Yes, God is good and God is sovereign I believe he still has a plan for the people called Methodist.” Read it, pray about it and may the Holy Ghost lead you in forming an informative decision.   – Pastor Stan   <!–split–>

What will happen at the special General Conference this February? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess.  We see through a glass darkly, not able to predict with confidence what the delegates will do and knowing that God can always surprise us and provide a solution to our problems that none of us imagined.  Frankly, that’s what I’m praying for.

However, there are a few options that, at this point, seem most likely.  Two that we can take off the board are the Simple Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

The Simple Plan goes too far.  It redefines marriage as two adults, condones sex outside of marriage, prevents conservative annual conferences from refusing to ordain practicing gay persons, and allows pastors throughout the connection to marry gay couples.  Whenever similar proposals have come before General Conference in the past, they have been defeated by a wide margin.  The majority of the UM Church has not yet moved this far in a progressive direction.

The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) creates three jurisdictions, each one with a different sexual ethic.  No coalition has formed to support it and no group is doing the hard work of promoting it to the rest of the church.  The CCP requires numerous constitutional amendments and there is little likelihood that a super majority of both General Conference delegates and then later of annual conference delegates around the globe will support it.

The plan with the greatest likelihood of passing is the Tradition Plan (TP).  It maintains our present position of affirming the worth of and welcoming all persons to the ministries of the church without allowing for practicing gay persons to be ordained or for our pastors to marry gay couples.  The Traditional Plan has several provisions that would allow the church to enforce the Book of Discipline more effectively when pastors and bishops violate our policies.  Each of these provisions will need to be approved individually.

Why is the TP most likely to pass?  Because it is most in line with what delegates have supported at every General Conference since 1972.  It was the plan that the majority of the delegates supported less than three years ago in Portland – most of whom will be voting again in St. Louis.  Whether all of the enhanced accountability measures can be passed remains to be seen.  But it is most likely that a Traditional Plan of sorts will prevail. And a Traditional Plan provides the most hopeful path to a faithful future for the United Methodist Church.

(part 2 continued in March Chimes)

New Beginning

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a book’s best friend. I recently read this thought about two journeys for the soul. One goes from place to place seeking something or someone to             satisfy. It is often disappointed and soon picks up and journeys again. The other is a journey to Jesus Christ. There one finds a peace that is lasting and a presence that satisfies and fulfills. So New Year is supremely a time for decision. By the mercies of God we have been brought and blessed with the opportunity to begin again. The New Year, however is not altogether unexplored territory. As we move through it, we shall find some well-trodden paths, and we shall see the footprints of the saints who have walked the way of God before us, the way that God himself marked out when he clothed himself in our flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.  <!–split–>

There will always be a familiar sign in front of us. “This is the way; walk ye in it.” This year let us follow that sign and we shall move toward that city whose maker and builder is God. Should we choose to ignore that sign and wander into the path of our own devising, and soon the territory of  tomorrow will take on the dreary, futile appearance of all our wasted yesterdays.

 —Pastor Stan

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR STAN: “The Undivided Heart” (part 3) by Carolyn Moore

The people did what people mostly do.  They allowed the voice of fear to drown out the voice of potential and it cost them dearly.  That day, God turned them back from the border of promise.  He sent them out into the wilderness again where he promptly vowed that not one of their generation would see the land flowing with milk and honey.  Fear would not be woven into the DNA of his chosen people, not if God had anything to do with it.  <!–split–>

So the people got in the wilderness what they were most afraid of getting in the Promised Land.  They were destroyed by their own choice.  For 38 years they wandered like dead men walking before another generation found itself toe-to-toe with God’s purposes.

I wonder if most of that first generation even knew how close they were to greatness?  I wonder if, way down the road, some of them sat around campfires and wondered aloud, “What do you suppose would have become of us if we had listened to Joshua and Caleb?  How do you suppose it would have turned out?”  Did they even stop to think about it as they poked their fires or packed up their tents yet again or held their cups beneath water flowing from rocks?

Did they think that deeply? Did they assume, like most people, that what they had twenty or thirty years out from that decision was all there was?  Did they ever stop to imagine more than mediocrity punctuated by death?  Or did they simply go about their lives, making grocery lists, making beds, making a living, making do?

I wonder, but I can’t judge.  After all, I am an Israelite myself.  I peek over into spiritual promises and my little internal band of spies reports back, “That’ll never work for you,” and far too often I listen to those voices of fear or laziness or institutional caution and I miss out.

Who knows how long I’ve wandered, unaware of the promises I’ve turned down, while God in his mercy determines to kill of all in me that reeks of fear?

Who knows how long our denomination as a whole will wander, while God in his mercy determines to kill off all in us that reeks of fear?  What if, even now, we are wandering in a desert of our own making, unable to image more than mediocrity punctuated by death?  Friends, fear is a killer.  It kills spirits and can even thwart great moves of God.  I hope we are not hanging on to an institution simply because we are afraid of stepping into God’s vision for us.

Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly?  Not half-heartedly.  Not with your spare change and spare time.  Not only as far as your comforts will take you.   Not fearfully, but wholly to God and God’s work?  In your study and worship and fellowship and serving and in the truth you share, be passionately committed to the pursuit of wholeness so you can be in passionate pursuit of the presence of Christ.  Without that kind of vulnerable, wholehearted faith it is impossible to please God.

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR STAN: “The Undivided Heart” (part 2) by Carolyn Moore

Paralyzing fear takes away our power to fight the enemy.  We become reactionary and prone toward survival-level decisions.  Fear makes for terrible career choices.  What spiritual work do you need to do in order to admit to and deal with the irrational and self-limiting fears in your life?  Are you resolved to do that healing work?  Resolved does not mean “only if it gets out of control” or ‘until something better comes along.”  Resolved means surrendered, submitted, committed, sacrificially obedient.  Being resolved to devote myself wholly to God means going after wholeness in my life, no matter the cost. <!–split–>

Too much of our conversation in The United Methodist Church is driven by fear.  For decades, fear has kept us from talking lovingly and honestly about our differences.  Fear is keeping congregations from frank discussions about our current crisis.  Fear has kept us in a defensive crouch.  Fear has kept us from acknowledging the depth of our divide. We have wanted to characterize it as a simple paper cut when it is in fact a gaping wound breeding infection.  By minimizing the differences, we may stifle a crisis that is actually our opportunity – if we’re bold enough to accept change as a good thing – to give clearly unique theological positions a chance to live with more integrity and to prove themselves by their fruit.

I hear echoes of angels in this moment before us, encouraging “Be not afraid.” Meanwhile, we shrink back, for fear of what we might lose if we act boldly.

Fear is the great enemy of wholeheartedness.

Two years after the Israelites were delivered from their five hundred years of oppressive slavery in Egypt, they found themselves standing on the brink of the land God promised them.  To get to this place, they had seen waters part and enemies drown.  Yahweh was intimately involved with their lives.  They knew him.  They followed him.  And just two short years after packing up and moving out of bondage, there they stood on the brink of God’s best.  Yes, there were vicious armies and untamed wilds on the other side of that border, but they had the smoke and fire of God blazing their trail.

Then it happened.  Human nature kicked in.

They became more cautious than optimistic.  There at the edge of God’s plan, they sent a dozen spies into that question mark of a promise to check things out.  Then returning spies slinked back with a warning: “Don’t do it! It is great real estate, but the people are giants.  We will all die if we go over there.” The majority report was full of fear and trepidation.

The other two spies – young men named Joshua and Caleb – looked on that land and saw a future with hope.  For them, the land was more possibility than problems.  “I think we should do this,” they challenged.  “This is God’s land and God’s fight.  Let God defend us!”

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR STAN: “The Undivided Heart” by Carolyn Moore

Most anyone who has ever held a part time position in a church will be the first to tell you there is really no such thing as “part time” in church work.  “Part-time” is a carrot they dangle so they can get you on the payroll and soak up every minute of you, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  This work, however, is not meant to be carried out with our leftover time or leftover money.  Jesus never gave us that option.  He calls those who follow earnestly to take up  crosses, die to self, leave it all on the table.  We are even told that those who preach and teach are held to a higher standard.  “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers,” James warns, “because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). <!–split–>

If the only option open to us is wholeheartedness – being wholly devoted to God and his work – then how do we know we have it?  What is the litmus test for wholeheartedness?  What spiritual work must we tackle before we can give ourselves completely to this vocation of serving Jesus?  We know from both Scripture and experience that it isn’t our skill set that gets us there, nor is it our awesome connections or superior ability to do everything just right.  This business of wholeheartedness is a spiritual operation.  It is what it says it is:  heart-level wholeness.

What does it mean to become whole, by biblical standards?  Surely it begins with Paul’s advice to work out your own salvation daily with fear and trembling.  Stay in it, Paul advises, and wrestle with what it looks like in your life.  Let the daily wrestling expose the cracks and wounds.  Deal with the unholy fears that paralyze you, leaving you stranded out there in the desert, unable to make the journey into the promises of God.  Acknowledge your doubts, and dare to believe God can handle them. To become wholehearted, we must deal with our wounds and hesitations, fears and doubts, even as we develop eyes to see what God sees.

When I was a little girl, I often had nightmares. I’d wake up petrified and run for my parents’ room.  I wanted my mother’s comfort.  But it was dark, and things in the dark look ominous. If there was anything on the floor of their bedroom – clothes, bedroom shoes, anything that could be misinterpreted in the dark – I’d end up standing paralyzed in the doorway, just feet from their bed, unable to reach my mom for fear of what that thing on the floor might be.  I always assumed the worst.

Carry the remnants of those early fears into adulthood and they begin to look remarkable familiar to many of us. We allow all kinds of things to generate fear within, to stand between us and the comfort we so desperately need.  We become afraid of getting too close to others, afraid of losing control, afraid of going too far with God, maybe even afraid of succeeding (too much pressure!).  We can become paralyzed by irrational fears.  The writer of Leviticus has our number.  He describes a conversation between God and his people.  If the Israelites continue to disobey, their land will be devastated and the people will be scattered.  “And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies.  You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing.  You will run as though fleeing from a sword and you will fall even when no one pursues you.  Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword.  You will have no power to stand up against your enemies” (Leviticus 26:36-37 NLT).

(CONTINUED NEXT MONTH)