Thursday, September 5, 2013

Growing Up - Seeking God in a Quiet Place

Did you ever measure your children by making a mark on a doorframe? I remember watching movies when I was a child and thinking that was just the greatest thing in the world, parents marking the height of their children as they grow up. We never did that in my house, because we moved just about every year. It’s kind of hard to track growth in a 12-month period. It just doesn't have the same effect! But, I've been in homes where families have done that. It’s so wonderful to see growth, to see progress.


What about your spiritual growth and progress? Have you ever tried to measure your spiritual growth? In the whole scheme of things our “spiritual” growth is far more important than our “physical” growth. But so few of us ever attempt to measure our spiritual growth. Churches have taken a stab at it, but really, historically, churches have only measured two things, contribution in the collection plate and attendance at worship. These are two easily trackable statistics. But do they really help us see spiritual growth? I know a lot of people with perfect attendance at church that do not act much like Jesus, and I know some churches with really big budgets that are not accomplishing as much for God’s Kingdom as the “little brown church in the dale.” We noticed this at Glenwood. Beginning this past January, we stopped publishing those two numbers in our bulletin. You may have noticed, no more attendance and no more contribution. We certainly still track those numbers, they have some usefulness, but we didn't want those things to be front and center for us to see every week. Because we might begin to believe that those things are what really matters. “If I continue to come and give…then I'll be growing in my relationship with Christ.” Brothers and sisters, it just doesn't always work that way!

A few months ago, we started looking for new ways to measure our growth. If we are a church that truly is committed to graciously helping a fallen world stand up again how will we know if we are on the right track? I think it is important that we ask that question! If we just go through the motions, offer programs, engage in ministry, what if we are doing all of these “things,” but no one is changing? What if we are doing all of these “things,” but our mission is not being accomplished? We want to be more intentional than that. You've heard me say this before, our mission is more important than our methods. If we find that our “methods” are not helping us accomplish our “mission,” we are not afraid to stop and try something else. Our mission is that important! Throughout the month of September, we are going to talk about these measures that we've developed. Set church attendance and contribution aside for a moment. We believe that if you grow in these 5 areas you will be growing in your relationship with God, you will be helping this family fulfill its mission.

Let’s start this week with our first measure: “Seeking God in a Quiet Place”

Do you remember the story of Elijah’s great, public competition? There were 400 prophets of Baal, a Canaanite storm and fertility god and 400 prophets of Asherah, The Mother goddess, joined them. Elijah issued a challenge. Both sides were to make an altar ready for sacrifice without any fire. The prophets were to call on the god of Baal to send fire. They do, and nothing happens. They try this all day long…nothing happens. The Bible says…

At noon, Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened…” (I Kings 18:27)

What a great passage. Elijah is talking smack to false prophets! Well, finally they give up. Then, it is Elijah’s turn. He builds the altar with 12 stones: one for each of the tribes. He dug a trench around the altar, and poured 4 jars of water on the altar and the wood three times. Elijah prayed once. Fire came down from heaven, burned the sacrifice, burned the wood, burned the stones and the soil and licked up the water in the trench! The people fell down and worshiped God. The prophets of Baal were slaughtered. What a sight! I wish I could have been there to see that! Elijah got to experience one of those moments, a life-changing event, and a history-changing event. Don't you just love to experience those great, huge moments with God?

But, did you realize that God shows up at other times too?

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”        I Kings 19:1-9 (NRSV)

Church, here is a picture of burnout. Look it up in the dictionary. You'll see a picture of Elijah! Elijah runs to Mt. Horeb (or Mt. Sinai) “I’mDid you ever measure your children by making a mark on a doorframe? I remember watching movies when I was a child and thinking that was just the greatest thing in the world, parents marking the height of their children as they grow up. We never did that in my house, because we moved just about every year. It’s kind of hard to track growth in a 12-month period. It just doesn’t have the same effect! But, I’ve been in homes where families have done that. It’s so wonderful to see growth, to see progress.

What about your spiritual growth and progress? Have you ever tried to measure your spiritual growth? In the whole scheme of things our “spiritual” growth is far more important than our “physical” growth. But so few of us ever attempt to measure our spiritual growth. Churches have taken a stab at it, but really, historically, churches have only measured two things, contribution in the collection plate and attendance at worship. These are two easily trackable statistics. But do they really help us see spiritual growth? I know a lot of people with perfect attendance at church that do not act much like Jesus, and I know some churches with really big budgets that are not accomplishing as much for God’s Kingdom as the “little brown church in the dale.” We noticed this at Glenwood. Beginning this past January, we stopped publishing those two numbers in our bulletin. You may have noticed, no more attendance and no more contribution. We certainly still track those numbers, they have some usefulness, but we didn’t want those things to be front and center for us to see every week. Because we might begin to believe that those things are what really matters. “If I continue to come and give…then I’ll be growing in my relationship with Christ.” Brothers and sisters, it just doesn’t always work that way!

A few months ago, we started looking for new ways to measure our growth. If we are a church that truly is committed to graciously helping a fallen world stand up again how will we know if we are on the right track? I think it is important that we ask that question! If we just go through the motions, offer programs, engage in ministry, what if we are doing all of these “things,” but no one is changing? What if we are doing all of these “things,” but our mission is not being accomplished? We want to be more intentional than that. You’ve heard me say this before, our mission is more important than our methods. If we find that our “methods” are not helping us accomplish our “mission,” we are not afraid to stop and try something else. Our mission is that important! Throughout the month of September, we are going to talk about these measures that we’ve developed. Set church attendance and contribution aside for a moment. We believe that if you grow in these 5 areas you will be growing in your relationship with God, you will be helping this family fulfill its mission.

Let’s start this week with our first measure: “Seeking God in a Quiet Place”

Do you remember the story of Elijah’s great, public competition? There were 400 prophets of Baal, a Canaanite storm and fertility god and 400 prophets of Asherah, The Mother goddess, joined them. Elijah issued a challenge. Both sides were to make an altar ready for sacrifice without any fire. The prophets were to call on the god of Baal to send fire. They do, and nothing happens. They try this all day long…nothing happens. The Bible says…

At noon, Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened…” I Kings 18:27 (NRSV)

What a great passage. Elijah is talking smack to false prophets! Well, finally they give up. Then, it is Elijah’s turn. He builds the altar with 12 stones: one for each of the tribes. He dug a trench around the altar, and poured 4 jars of water on the altar and the wood three times. Elijah prayed once. Fire came down from heaven, burned the sacrifice, burned the wood, burned the stones and the soil and licked up the water in the trench! The people fell down and worshiped God. The prophets of Baal were slaughtered. What a sight! I wish I could have been there to see that! Elijah got to experience one of those moments, a life-changing event, and a history-changing event. Don't you just love to experience those great, huge moments with God?

But, did you realize that God shows up at other times too?

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  I Kings 19:1-9 (NRSV)

Church, here is a picture of burnout. Look it up in the dictionary. You’ll see a picture of Elijah! Elijah runs to Mt. Horeb (or Mt. Sinai) “I’m the only prophet left,” he says. One would think that after all he’d seen Elijah would be equipped to handle Jezebel! But you know what: even the strongest among us need to rest and God teaches Elijah that lesson right here. Elijah sits under a tree to rest. Elijah slept. God sent angels to bring him food. Then Elijah slept again. God sent angels again to feed him. In this pivotal moment in his life, God reminded Elijah that he needed silence & rest. Yes, God was with Elijah at Mt. Carmel, but God was with Elijah, alone in the cave too. I really think that is a lesson God is trying to teach Elijah here. And God does it a bit more explicitly after Elijah has had his nap! He makes Elijah stand outside of his cave and look at the presence of God pass by.

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

God was not in the powerful wind. God was not in the earthquake. God was in the gentle whisper. Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? I thought God was only there in the huge, gigantic, busy moments of our lives, Mt. Carmel? The moment you were baptized, Or, the time you went to the Ukraine and conducted a VBS for children, or the time the church went into the inner-city and fed all of those people, or the time when we rolled up our sleeves and worked hard for God! Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? Because I think God wanted to remind Elijah…and us…that He also comes in a whisper. When you close your door and pray, all alone, God is there. When you spend time in quiet with God, away from the busyness of life, God is there. When you are still and allow God’s presence to envelope you in the silence, God is definitely there.

Maybe we need to stop looking for God in the busyness of life and be still long enough to hear the whispers of God all around us. When you try to measure your spiritual growth, may I suggest that you start here? Ask yourself:

How often am I seeking time with God in a quiet place?

If you are not being still and quiet and alone with God, you cannot hope to be shaped into His image. I think God wanted Elijah to understand that. I think God wants us to understand that too.
As part of the Glenwood family, we want you to measure this aspect of your life on an annual basis. Compared to where I was this time last year, how much time am I spending alone with God? How much has my desire to spend time alone with God increased? We want you to grow in that area. Because if you are growing there, there is a good chance God is changing you. There is a good chance you are helping this family fulfill its mission to graciously help a fallen world stand up again.

the only prophet left,” he says. One would think that after all he'd seen Elijah would be equipped to handle Jezebel! But you know what: even the strongest among us need to rest and God teaches Elijah that lesson right here. Elijah sits under a tree to rest. Elijah slept. God sent angels to bring him food. Then Elijah slept again. God sent angels again to feed him. In this pivotal moment in his life, God reminded Elijah that he needed silence & rest. Yes, God was with Elijah at Mt. Carmel, but God was with Elijah, alone in the cave too. I really think that is a lesson God is trying to teach Elijah here. And God does it a bit more explicitly after Elijah has had his nap! He makes Elijah stand outside of his cave and look at the presence of God pass by.

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

God was not in the powerful wind. God was not in the earthquake. God was in the gentle whisper. Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? I thought God was only there in the huge, gigantic, busy moments of our lives, Mt. Carmel? The moment you were baptized, Or, the time you went to the Ukraine and conducted a VBS for children, or the time the church went into the inner-city and fed all of those people, or the time when we rolled up our sleeves and worked hard for God! Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? Because I think God wanted to remind Elijah…and us…that He also comes in a whisper. When you close your door and pray, all alone, God is there. When you spend time in quiet with God, away from the busyness of life, God is there. When you are still and allow God’s presence to envelope you in the silence, God is definitely there.

Maybe we need to stop looking for God in the busyness of life and be still long enough to hear the whispers of God all around us. When you try to measure your spiritual growth, may I suggest that you start here? Ask yourself:

How often am I seeking time with God in a quiet place?

If you are not being still and quiet and alone with God, you cannot hope to be shaped into His image. I think God wanted Elijah to understand that. I think God wants us to understand that too.
As part of the Glenwood family, we want you to measure this aspect of your life on an annual basis. Compared to where I was this time last year, how much time am I spending alone with God? How much has my desire to spend time alone with God increased? We want you to grow in that area. Because if you are growing there, there is a good chance God is changing you. There is a good chance you are helping this family fulfill its mission to graciously help a fallen world stand up again.

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