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Sept. 20, 2009–Keeping Company with God: Here are the Basics

25 Sep

KEEPING COMPANY WITH GOD…
Here are the Basics
Matthew 6:5-13

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INTRODUCTION
In last week’s message, we concluded with the conclusion that the true value of prayer is not about getting what we want–it’s about becoming what God wants us to be.
And yet, there are occasions when God works in mysterious ways to answer the deepest desires of our heart:
Dwight Nelson recently told a story about the pastor of his church. He had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc., but the kitty would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to the bumper of his SUV and pulled it until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.
And that’s what he did, attaching the rope, and inching slowly forward in his Ford Explorer. He then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten.
Unfortunately, as he moved the car a little further, the rope broke. The tree went “boing!” and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight!
The pastor felt terrible! He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen a little kitten. Nobody had spotted the poor little guy, so the pastor prayed, “Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,” and went on about his business.
A few days later he was at the grocery store, and ran into Marla, one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food … the woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, “Marla, why are you buying cat food when you despise cats so much?”
Marla replied, “You won’t believe this,” and then told him how her little girl Brittany had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days before, the child had begged again, so Marla finally told her, “Well, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.”
She told the pastor, “I watched my Brittany go out in the yard, get down on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won’t believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A calico kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right smack-dab in front of her!” [writeathome.wordpress.com]
Never underestimate the power of a child’s prayer, and remember God indeed has a sense of humor!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of guy. If I’m going to do something, I prefer to have a handy set of directions on how to proceed. For example, my wife and kids often get a kick out of mocking me whenever we’re getting ready to go on a trip–they call me Clark Griswald–I’ll spend days poring over maps, charting a detailed route to our destination–even though the GPS is on the dashboard of the van!
And that’s why, given my OCD nature, I’m particularly glad Jesus gives us some essential advice on the basics of developing a meaningful prayer life-of keeping company with God. It’s helpful to know the fundamentals of prayer.

I. THE SETTING FOR PRAYER
5″And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
As Philip Yancey notes, Jesus virtually invented private prayer. [Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, p. 63]
All throughout the Old Testament, prayer is a formal, public thing–uttered by kings, priests and prophets in the company of many. No one in the Old Testament speaks to God as Father, but Jesus comes along and does so 170 times. Jesus has this spontaneous communion with God that has no precedent. His disciples are truly amazed, and beg him to teach them to pray with such intimacy.
And the first thing Jesus reminds them and us is that we need a proper setting for prayer. It’s true, you can pray anytime, anywhere–I did a lot of fervent praying in my desk at school right before an exam. But if you’re going to have a significant prayer life, you need to find a proper setting.
My wife and I are busy people. And both of us know that when we need to have a serious conversation about something–be it finances, family issues, whatever, we have to intentionally set aside a time and place to have that conversation–it can’t be done on the fly or in emails or text messages.
If prayer is a conversation with God, then we need to be intentional about setting aside a time and place to have that conversation–where interruptions are few and we can focus solely upon our Lord.
As Jesus reminds us, we need a refuge where we can bare our soul to God, where we can drop our hypocritical masks and pious words and simply level with God about what is going on with us.
In the 1998 movie The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays an intense Pentecostal preacher with a big heart named Sonny Dewey. Some of the best scenes in that movie are when Sonny is praying alone in the upstairs of his house or out in woods along a river–he rants, he raves, he goes toe-to-toe like Jacob, wrestling with God. And that’s the kind of honesty God wants from us.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye keeps up this running dialogue with God, giving credit for the good things but also lamenting all that goes wrong. In one scene he sits dejected by the side of his road with his lame horse.
“I can understand it,” Tevye says to God, “when you punish me when I am bad; or my wife because she talks too much; or my daughter when she wants to go off and marry a Gentile, but…What have you got against my horse?!” I’m sure God appreciates such honesty.
We also need a refuge where we can quiet our heart before God, a place where we can be still and simply know that he is God. A quiet place, where we can clear our congested, crowded souls and be in conversation with God.
Some of us are fortunate to have such refuges in our homes, on our property, where we can close the door on noise of the world. It’s not so easy for others. Many of you have told me that your commuting time back and forth to work is your refuge. You turn the radio off and you become still before God…that’s where your conversation takes place.
For your Father knows what you need before you ask him….that’s an interesting comment of Jesus. Why pray if God already knows? Philip Yancey states,
Jesus treat(s) God’s knowledge not as a deterrent but as a positive motivation to pray. We do not have to work to gain God’s attention through long words and ostentatious displays. We don’t have to convince God of our sincerity or our needs. We already have the Father’s ear, as it were. God knows everything about us and still listens. We can get right to the point! [Yancey, p. 133]
Yes, God knows everything about us and still listens. Prayer invites God into our world and ushers us into God’s. So be intensely intentional about finding a good setting to have conversations with your Maker.

II. THE BLUEPRINT FOR PRAYER
The disciples come to Jesus asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And what Jesus offers them is a blueprint, a template, a pattern–showing them how they might gain access to the dynamic presence and purpose of God.
Here it is:
9″This, then, is how you should pray:
” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.12Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive everyone who sins against us.
13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.’”

“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…”
The Aramaic word for father is Abba–Daddy. Jesus at the outset reminds us we are not conversing with some cosmic, amorphous, impersonal New Age force far removed from our lives. We are praying to a God who loves us with the tender love of a parent, who is intimately invested in our lives and well-being.
“Hallowed be your name” – Yet, this God who loves us is the same God who crafted the most magnificent galaxy of stars and the most miniscule strand of DNA, who is above all, before all, through all and in all there is. This God cannot be confined to the shallow boxes of our comprehension. He is worthy of infinite adoration.
As the psalmist puts in such timeless prose:
When I consider the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? Psalm 8:3-4
Dennis the Menace was saying his bedtime prayers. With a grin on his face and his eyes looking upward, he exclaimed, “That was an awesome sunset tonight, God! Thanks for letting me stay awake long enough to see it!”
Our God is an awesome God! And we should always acknowledge this. Begin your prayers with reverence for the one who is Holy Other.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
We then proceed to intercede on behalf of the needs of others. To pray your kingdom come is to pray that God’s perfect will–his perfect love and wholeness–would permeate the lives of all people.
One day that kingdom will be fully realized on the day of Christ’s return–every tear shall be dried, every hurt healed. But until then, we are God’s partners in helping bring about the purposes of his kingdom in the world about us.
He compels us to not simply pray the prayer, but to be the prayer!
Yes, we pray for the sick and hurting, but we can also help bring about God’s healing for them by going and sitting by their bedside in a hospital room.
Yes, we pray for the poor and helpless, but we can also help bring about God’s care for them by picking up a hammer and repairing their roof.
Yes, we pray for the lonely and despairing, but we can also bring about God’s presence to them by inviting them to join us for a meal at Cracker Barrel.
Don’t just pray the prayer…be the prayer!
Yes, long for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and to be a partner in those purposes.

“Give us today our daily bread.”
After acknowledging God and others, the third step of prayer is to ask God for our own sustenance. We pray that God would help us provide for our basic needs–food, clothing, shelter, employment. And I believe multiplies resourcefulness and skills to accomplish this.
But note, Jesus says our daily bread–our needs for this day–not our wants or pleasures. What was it Janis Joplin used to sing about–”Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I really don’t think God is concerned about our desire for luxury transportation.
But God does care that we have the necessities of life. And he will empower us to provide for them.
Yes, the 3rd step of prayer is to trust God for present needs, and be thankful as those needs are met.

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Our God is a merciful God, and only he can enable us to truly put the past behind us. Only God can bathe us in the waters of forgiveness, cleansing us and giving us a new beginning. And so, the 4th step of prayer is to take a long hard look in the mirror, and confess our sins to him–those things that we have done and left undone that hurt God, our neighbor and ourselves.
But here’s a great paradox that Jesus throws into the mix: God can never forgive us until we have forgiven others. Why? Because bearing unforgiveness, grudges, spite, hatred toward another human being erects a wall of kryptonite through which God’s Spirit cannot penetrate.
The most sickly, miserable, downcast people I encounter in my line of work are those who spend their lives keeping a database of persons who have wronged them. You gotta let it go…
Jesus tells us to seek God’s mercy for past sins, while extending that mercy to others.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
This is the final leg of Jesus’ blueprint for prayer…petitioning God for guidance and strength for when we meet those testing situations that may come our way in life that would erode and even destroy our fidelity as Christian people.
We live in a world that constantly bombards us with the seduction of sex that is safe, drugs that are recreational, divorce that is no-fault, crime that is white collar…The list is endless. We owe it to ourselves to indulge, or so we believe.
The world tells us the end always justifies the means. So do whatever it takes to gain a step up on the other guy, even if you have to stomp on him.
But is this the highway God calls us to drive on? I think not. His way is a narrow way, filled with responsibility and right living. He leads us from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness. And he delivers us from the evil one, if we keep company with him daily.
The 5th step of prayer is to appeal for God’s guidance and strength in dealing with future trials.
Well, there you have it–a blueprint for prayer–the Lord’s Prayer…
• Have reverence for God
• Long for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and to be a partner in those purposes.
• Trust God for present needs, and be thankful as those needs are met.
• Seek God’s mercy for past sins, while extending that mercy to others.
• Appeal for God’s guidance and strength in dealing with future trials
Find a refuge where you can hash these matters out with the Lord, and you will be well on your way to a meaningful prayer life.
But there is one final note: Remember that prayer is a conversation! You must take time to listen for God’s response. God may speak to you in a serendipitous Bible verse, a strange compelling or nudging in your heart, the wise advice of a Christian friend and in a myriad of other ways. But you have to be attentive and sensitive to hearing his response. Don’t be like the preacher in this video clip:
[show Coffee with Jesus]
Prayer: Lord, you are always waiting to hear from us. You always desire to keep company with us. Instill in us the desire to be in conversation with you. We come, just as we are, to share with you, and to listen for your response. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the

 
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Sept. 13, 2009–Keeping Company with God: Give Me One Good Reason to Pray

24 Sep

KEEPING COMPANY WITH GOD
Give Me One Good Reason to Pray
Mark 1:35
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Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35 NIV)

INTRODUCTION
“Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward, to the front at the altar,” the preacher says. Ellwood gets in line, and when it’s his turn, the preacher asks: “Elwood, what do you want me to pray about for you.”
Elwood replies: “Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing.” The preacher puts one finger in Elwood’s ear, and he places the other hand on top of Elwood’s head and prays and prays, fervently and loudly.
After a few minutes, the preacher removes his hands, stands back and asks,”Elwood, how is your hearing now?”
Elwood replies, “I don’t know, Reverend, it ain’t till next Wednesday.”
I wanted to kick today’s message off with a bit of humor, because we are going to be exploring a subject over the next 4 weeks that is a very serious matter to most of us. Yes, we are going to be investigating the landscape of prayer.
It may come as a surprise to you to know that I, as your pastor, have always felt very inadequate at prayer. My prayer life has often been filled with wouldas, shouldas and ought-tos…maybe it’s because I much more of a doer than a contemplator, but I have always struggled with this spiritual discipline. And from conversations we have had in several of our small groups, many of you have voiced the same struggle.
The School for Congregational Development I attended last month was a life-changing event for me. Out of that experience I felt God calling me to a more meaningful prayer life.
God led me to a particular book that has proved invaluable in helping me come to terms with my frustrations with prayer, as well as providing a framework for discovering a deeper prayer life. It is called Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? The author is a very profound writer and theologian, Philip Yancey. I highly recommend it to you, and I will draw upon its insights time and time again over the course of these four Sundays of messages.
By the way, the title of this sermon series is “Keeping Company with God”–to me this is the essence of prayer–it is keeping company with, staying in constant communion with, hanging in the presence of the One who creates, redeems and sustains us. And how we go about keeping this close company with God–i.e., developing a more meaningful prayer life–is what we’re going to be hashing out in these Sundays together.
So let us begin by seeing if we can come up with one good reason for praying in the first place…

I. SOME QUESTIONS & OBSERVATIONS
When it comes to prayer, we’ve all probably had these questions at times:
• Is God listening?
• Does God really care about me?
• Why do answers to my prayers and the prayers of others seem so inconsistent, so random?
• Does a person on the prayer lists of dozens of churches stand a better chance of being physically healed that a person with just a couple of friends?
• Is prayer about changing God or is it about changing me?
• And here’s a good one–If God knows everything, what’s the point of praying in the first place? (My Presbyterian friend and pastor, Mark Stanley, being a good Calvinist, used to brood over this!)

One of the joys of serving a new church like Vision of Hope is that people are honest with you.
If I were to ask someone at a long-established church “Are you satisfied with your prayer life?” there would be this sanctified, sanctimonious response, “Why, of course I am–mind your own business!” And they are probably lying through their teeth!
But so many of you have been quite blunt with me. You say your prayer life is more of a burden than a pleasure. It can be frustrating just to pray for 3-5 minutes. And only occasionally do you sense the presence of God when you do pray.
I certainly feel your pain. And we feel so guilty, so spiritually inferior, when we hear of persons such as the nuns in Mother Teresa’s former convent who would get up at 4:00 am, take an ice cold bath to awaken themselves, and then pray for three solid hours before starting their day!
For many of us, the great preacher George Buttrick’s comment rings true: Prayer seems to be nothing more than “a spasm of words lost in a cosmic indifference.”
Well, where do we begin in the quest to find one good reason to pray?
It has to start with faith, opening the eyes of our hearts to
1. Believe that God exists
2. Believe that God is capable of hearing our prayers
3. Believe that God cares about our prayers
Without these three ground rules, these three core beliefs, I’m only having a conversation with myself. Yes, you must trust that there is a God and that God is vitally invested and interested in you.

II. WHY PRAY?
But that alone doesn’t give us the best reason for praying. We pray because Jesus did. Simple as that. If prayer was of ultimate significance to Jesus, who was the almighty Son of God, then it should be to us as well. I can think of no better reason to pray than because Jesus prayed.
The gospels speak of a dozen specific prayers by Jesus. He also provided several parables and teachings on the subject. Time and time again Jesus would seclude himself to spend time with his Heavenly Father.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35 NIV)
As Philip Yancey notes, our prayers mostly fall into two categories: trouble or trivia.
We instinctively cry out to God when trouble strikes. “Oh, my God!” are the first three words out of a person’s mouth when something tragic happens.
On my Monday rounds as a volunteer chaplain at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, I have never met a patient, even those who claim no faith affiliation, who did not want me to have prayer with them before they went into surgery.
I recall my nephew Matt commenting on how that old statement “there are no atheists in foxholes” is definitely true. The Marine platoon he commanded was dug into a foxhole on the evening Operation Desert Storm began. He said every one of his 18-19 year old Marines, along with himself, were praying fervently as SCUD missiles flew overhead.
I receive a half-dozen emails each week requesting prayer for children with injuries or illnesses. It is simply a natural thing to pray for kids in such distress.
Jesus prayed in times of trouble. Jesus prayed intensely as he fasted and faced tremendous testing in the Wilderness. As his rendezvous with death approached, there in the Garden of Gethsemane he poured out his soul to the point his sweat became as drops of blood. Three of his seven cries from the Cross of Calvary were prayers.
Certainly Jesus personified for us the natural need to turn to God in tough times. As the psalmist proclaimed, “God is our refuge and strength, and very present help in times of trouble.” – Psalm 46
At other times our prayers could be said to border on being trivial in nature.
I’ve had church members ask me to pray that it won’t rain on their church picnic or their softball game.
I remember one woman telling me she often prays for a parking space to open up near the entrance to the mall so she won’t have to walk as far.
One morning I stopped by the 7-11 store for a cup of coffee. (it’s a lot cheaper than Starbucks–and in my opinion, a lot better!) While I was stirring the sugar and creamer in my cup, out of the corner of my eye I saw a gentleman around the corner of the coffee kiosk with his eyes closed, fervently praying for all he was worth.
I could not quite make out the words he was mumbling, so I moved a little closer. He was asking God to give him the correct numbers for that evening’s Powerball lottery drawing!
Now, while Jesus prayed in times of trouble, he showed little regard for trivial things. He did mention petitioning God for daily bread. But Jesus’ prayers showed a remarkable lack of concern for his own wants and wishes. “Take this cup of suffering from me” may have been the only time Jesus asked something for himself.

Jesus did often pray for others. He prayed for children brought to him by their mothers. He prayed for persons standing there grieving at Lazarus’ graveside. In his final prayer, one last gasp of grace, he asked on behalf of his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Now, all of this is not to say it’s wrong to pray to God about trivial matters…because what seems to be trivial to one person may be of great importance to another. That woman seeking a parking place near the entrance to the mall had emphysema, and walking was a struggle for her.
However, let us keep in mind that the vast majority of Jesus’ prayers were for the sake of someone besides himself.
In fact, the only glimpse the New Testament gives us as to what Jesus is up to right now is found in Hebrews 7:24-25–he is at the right hand of God “interceding” for us.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Jesus teaches us about prayer, though, is that it’s much, much more than a transaction begging God for something in our times of trouble or in our times of trivial pursuit.
He teaches us prayer is about deepening our relationship with God. It’s about finding an intimate friendship with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.
As Philip Yancey notes, “The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God!”
Jesus’ prayers were about magnifying his relationship with God, seeking to align his will with God’s will, rather than the reverse. He poured out his heart with candid honesty before God.
Jesus directly addressed God as Abba–”Father”–some 170 times. That word would be better translated as “Daddy”. And through such intimate encounters Jesus came to grasp his Father’s will for his life.
The fall of the year can become a gigantic zoo for many of us. We deal with the grindstone of work, and then there are dozens of meetings, school activities, kids’ sports, church expectations…you name it…people tugging and pulling at us constantly, wearing us to a frazzle. We often feel like we’re totally encapsulated in some cocoon with no way out.
But then there comes one of those crisp, clear Shenandoah Valley days when we finally break away and make the trek up to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We go hiking along the Skyline Drive, perhaps walk that trail to that scenic overlook at Big Meadows. And we see the world, we see this valley, as a place of peaceful beauty. And our day-to-day issues no longer seem so foreboding.
Prayer is able to accomplish that miracle in our lives on a daily basis. Taking the time to draw close to God enables us to rise above our circumstances and see them as God sees them. We come to discover his will and are able live that will and find peace in it.
In the Old Testament we read of Job and the calamitous pain that filled his life. He questioned God, he ranted and raved at God, yet he never lost touch with God. He gained a new perspective on his life and situation through his close relationship with God. And he was able to persevere with the assurance that “I know my Redeemer liveth, and he will stand at the last days upon this earth!” -Job 19:25
Yes, of all that you and I can pray for…the greatest prayer is to simply ask to abide in the presence of God. To be in relationship with him. To “be still and know that he is God.” -Psalm 46
The end result of such meaningful prayer is we are enabled to catch a glimpse of the world from God’s point-of-view. And that has the dynamic power to change us.
This past Thursday I was getting ready for a colonoscopy, which involved fasting pretty much for a day-and-a half. And wouldn’t you know it, my devotional guide that day pointed me to Acts 10…a passage about Peter and his dining habits. I was salivating on the Bible!
9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14″Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
What a strange vision! Yes, Peter went up on that roof praying about eating, and came down convicted of legalism and racism. He was led to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile…and Peter swallowed his prejudice, sharing a meal with the Gentile and his family, and out of that encounter the Christian faith crossed a major boundary. Cornelius became a convert and a leader in the Christian movement, and Peter became a better and much less narrow-minded person.
Yes, prayer changes us by enabling us to catch a glimpse of the world from God’s point-of-view.

CONCLUSION
Friends, we have opened this series of messages today by discussing some of the frustrations we deal with in praying. And yet, we do it ultimately because Jesus did it. We are his followers, for he is the one who leads us to God.
Jesus taught us that prayer is a strengthening thing in times of trouble, and yet, he did not apply it to trivial pursuits. Above all, though, Jesus’ prayers were all about knowing God, about magnifying his relationship with God, seeking to align his will with God’s will. And that should be the goal of our prayers as well.
Indeed, at the end of the day, the true value of prayer is not about getting what we want–it’s about becoming what God wants us to be.
And to that end, let us close this message with this time-honored prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

 
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Sept. 6, 2009–Occupational Expectcations

08 Sep

OCCUPATIONAL EXPECTATIONS
Colossians 3:23-24
September 6, 2009 Labor Sunday

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23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

INTRODUCTION
Labor Day–our uniquely American, end-of-summer holiday that celebrates work by not working!
It began as a parade on September 5, 1882–a parade paying tribute to the American worker. It evolved into a holiday–a brief respite between the long stretch of weeks between July 4 and Thanksgiving–the other 2 days that Americans had off from work besides Christmas.
Now, of course, it is one of our hallowed 3-day weekends…when folks sit idling with kids screaming in traffic for hours-on-end– trying to make it to the beach one last time before the unofficial end of summer.
At the risk of boring you to tears, I would like to take a few minutes on this Labor Day weekend to explore a subject I’m sure few of you have ever considered–the theological underpinnings of work–or to put it more plainly–what does what you do have to do with God?
I certainly believe God has ingrained in Christians a desire to be gainfully employed at “doing” something. Now occasionally you meet a trifling, Randy Quaid-type character who says he’s “holding out for a management position.” But most people want to work. It is simply a part of our DNA.
And that is why there is such psychological and spiritual torment whenever persons face downsizings, layoffs and terminations. Be it homemaking, haymaking or HP computer-making, we all are involved in various careers that provide for us and our families.
Now, if a career is what we do to take care of ourselves, a calling entails what we do for God.

Yes, our Lord takes the spiritual gifts, abilities, skills and personality traits that are unique to each of us, and he blends them into a calling that will serve his will quite well.

I. A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF WORK INVOLVES CALLING AND CAREER
Now, for some of you, your calling is fulfilled IN your career. That is, the job that puts money in your wallet and food on your plate is also what you feel God has called you be about in serving him.
Let’s look at a well-known person in the Bible–Simon Peter. Simon was a decent fisherman plying his trade on the Sea of Galilee–it was the family occupation and it was a living.
Then one day Jesus drops by the shoreline. Jesus says to Simon and his brother Andrew, 19″Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.
And Simon embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. Jesus sees in him tremendous leadership potential. He will give Simon a new name and a new identity–Peter–petros-”rock”. And Peter will spend the rest of his life as a disciple and apostle for the Lord. His career and his calling will be one and the same–he will be the leader and chief spokesperson for a fledgling enterprise known as The Way, or as we know it– the Church.
It is wonderful thing when what you do for a living also happens to be what you feel called to do for God.
There’s a popular, hardworking singer named Jimmy Overton who plays regularly around the Valley. He performed for our church picnic a few weeks ago.
Jimmy is a delightful guy, the son of a minister. And wherever he sings, he always spends time beforehand getting to know the people in the audience, listening to their life situations, then performing songs out of his tremendous repertoire that speak directly to their hearts.
Jimmy told me he is very blessed to be able to make a living at what he feels called to do by God. He loves being able to use music to lift and encourage folks.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us had careers that could support our callings? But, in most instances, that is not the case.
Yes, for most of you, your calling is fulfilled ALONGSIDE your career.
You have your day job that pays the bills and provides the resources enabling you to serve God in other avenues.
Proverbs 31:10-31 speaks of a woman whose believes her calling from God is to provide for her family and her community.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
This woman of faith employs her multitude of vocations as a gardener, a seamstress and as a trader to enable the wellbeing of her family and others as well.
Likewise, we read in Acts 16:13-15 of another strong and gifted woman named Lydia:
13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
14One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.”
Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who was the first person in Europe to be converted to Christianity by the Apostle Paul. She subsequently became the leader of the church in Philippi, using her substantial resources as a merchant to fund the outreach of the church.
And that’s the way God often works. He takes what we do for a living and provides us a calling that serves his purposes alongside that career.
For years Eddie Lambert has been the owner and chief contractor of Lambert’s Plumbing, Inc.–a very successful plumbing and heating firm in the Verona area. And yet, it was his two sons that led Eddie to find his true calling–that of being a scouting official for the Boy Scouts of America. He has had a positive, maturing influence upon the lives of hundreds of teenagers throughout the Shenandoah Valley through his dedication to scouting.
Eddie’s calling as a scout leader has been fulfilled alongside his career as a contractor.
And for some of us here this morning, your calling has been fulfilled AFTER your career.
Abraham and Sarah provide some insight into this:
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Genesis 12:1-5
There Abraham and Sarah were very much retired and very much settled at the Leisure World resort community on the outskirts of Haran. Life was good–18 holes of golf in the morning, lounging by the pool in the afternoon, romantic dinners and evenings under the stars at night.
But there was something restless, something stirring in their souls….a calling from God that Zantac could not bring under control…a calling from God that would not let them go. And so they loaded up the camels and took off in pursuit of that calling, and ended up being parents of the three major religions of the modern world.
Yes, you can retire from your career, but God doesn’t put an age limit on your calling.
When Hurricane Fran struck the Valley in 1996, devastating the Naked Creek area of eastern Rockingham County, our United Methodist Committee on Relief sent a retired couple from down South to oversee the recovery and relief work there.
Jim and Nancy had run a hardware store in their hometown for many years, always wishing they had the time to use the tools they sold. Upon retirement, they felt called by God to do short-term missionary work, helping others, and so they became involved with UMCOR. They bought a 5th wheel camper, and soon began spending 6-9 months a year working wherever there was a need.
Jim was adept at assessing physical damage to a devastated home. Nancy was adept at assessing spiritual damage to those who had been living in that devastated home. Together they formed quite a team in ministering God’s love and hope to others.

And with their camper parked outside of Furnace UMC, the two of them helped rebuild the homes and lives of folks dwelling along the banks of Naked Creek following that great flood of 1996.
Yes, you can retire from your career, but God doesn’t put an age limit on your calling.

II. WHO’S THE BOSS?
Now let’s talk about attitude for a moment. In my position as a pastor I hear people everyday whining and complaining about their jobs. They talk about increasing workloads and stress levels. And yet, most of them do say they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else for a living.
So maybe what’s needed is a look at things from a different vantage point:
When you pound the off button on that alarm clock in the morning, and then head out of your driveway muttering under your breath I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go, have you ever considered who your real Boss is?
God is the ultimate boss of our career and our calling. He is the one who has made us and given us the strength to lead a purposeful life. All that we are, all that we hope to be, we owe to his benevolent hand.
That is why Paul, a career tentmaker for the Cabela’s outfitters corporation and a called apostle of much renown with the Lord, proclaimed these words:
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Be industrious and take pride in what you do, knowing that ultimately what you do serves the Lord.
One of the summer jobs I had during my college years was working at the Craddock-Terry shoe manufacturing plant in my hometown. Of all the dirty jobs I’ve had over the years, from toiling in a lumber mill to doing stoop labor in tobacco fields, this was by far the worst.
Mind you, there were few OSHA inspectors in Southside Va. The plant had little or no air conditioning, with temps reaching 90+ degrees on many days. There was also little or no ventilation, and you would have a migraine headache from the minute you walked in the door from inhaling the fumes from a variety of glues. The work was backbreaking, and it was simply a noisy, nasty place.
But there was this very Christian lady named Doris who was an absolute ray of sunshine in that bleak environment. This thin, hard-working woman with a deformed cheekbone was never without a smile on her face, always laughing and encouraging everyone around here.
When Doris found out I was planning to go into the ministry, she let out a loud “Praise the Lord!” And every week she would hand me $2 to put toward my books at school–I would protest vehemently, knowing she really didn’t have that money to give–but she would insist that I take it.
One week, when Doris was out with the flu, I asked a coworker in our department, “That Doris must have one super-nice home life to be able to stay so happy in this stinking joint!”
To which she snapped at me, “Are you kidding? Have you noticed the side of Doris’ face? That’s where her drunken husband nearly killed her, breaking her jaw with a 2″ x 4″… he’s now doing a 5 year prison term. She has 2 lazy sons who mooch off her constantly. She often only eats one meal a day so she can feed their sorry selves. And to top it off, her sister, the only person in the world who truly cares about her, is dying of cancer, and Doris stays up all night many nights each week taking care of her….yeah, she really has a nice home life!”
I’ve never forgotten what Doris used to say to me when I would start griping about my job on the loading dock at Craddock-Terry…”David, whatever you do, remember you’re working for the Good Lord!”
Doris died some years back. I’m sure Jesus met her at the gates of heaven. And I’m sure he hugged her and told her, “Well done, my good and faithful servant–enter into the joy of your Master!”
Doris certainly made an indelible impression for Christ upon my life. She was one who was never ashamed to raise the cross of Christ where she worked. George McLeod once commented, “I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It was the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. That’s where he died. That’s who he died for. And that’s where Christians ought to be Christian and what Christians ought to be about.”
To raise the cross of Christ is to love others sacrificially as Christ loved the world sacrificially on that cross. It is to see our workplace as an opportunity to live out this sacrificial love in the way we treat our colleagues.
We can be an encouraging, caring, Christ-like presence for others, no matter how crappy our jobs may be.
This is the occupational expectation and the common calling we all share–to raise the cross of Christ wherever we labor, that others might know his saving love.
Remember these words of the Apostle Paul:
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

 
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