MM4G-MY MISSION FOR GOD
TRIANGULATING GOD’S DIRECTION
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Psalm 119:105, Ephesians 4:15
January 26, 2020
In this series of messages we have asserted we don’t go to Church…we are the Church! We are the hands, the feet, the voice of Christ in this world wherever we are, whenever we are attuned to someone in need of our Lord’s healing, hope-filled grace.
Yes, each of us, as the Church in the world, has a personal mission for God. So the question becomes “How do I know what my mission for God is?”
It begins with identifying our unique calling – that which God intends for us to be and to do. Last Sunday we talked about how passion + aptitude enables us to discover that calling.
This morning we are going to take this one step further as we seek to pinpoint when and where our Lord would have us employ our calling.
Did you know that you are never quite lost as long as you have your cell phone? If you have one bar of service and your battery isn’t dead, you can dial 9-1-1 and emergency personnel can begin triangulating your location between three or more cell towers. Yes, with technology that is way beyond my feeble comprehension, they can determine your whereabouts even when you have no clue about where you are. Amazing!
We need divine triangulation to identify when and where to employ the unique calling which God has bestowed upon us. Without such divine triangulation life ends up in the strangulation of consternation, rationalization and disorientation. Our calling comes to life and focus in that overlapping area between the cell towers of God’s Nudges, God’s Word and God’s People:
GOD’S NUDGES 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 1 Kings 19:11-13
Have you ever been in the midst of a time of quiet devotions when someone suddenly came to mind? You felt this nagging impetus to contact that person. And when you did so, they shared that they were having a difficult day and your call meant all the world to them, helping them to find strength.
That’s a nudge from God. Prayer creates a space for such nudges to happen, when God pushes us toward people and places that are beyond mere coincidence.
Prayer, in its simplest definition, is keeping company with God. Paul admonished us to “pray without ceasing,” to make such connectivity with our Maker a chief priority in our lives.
To keep such company often involves making scheduled appointments with our Lord. Just as Jesus made it a practice to rise early and often to commune with his Heavenly Father, so we are encouraged to do the same.
Now, when it comes to prayer, there is no set formula for “doing it right.” We don’t have to worry about using the right buzz words, the correct posture, etc.
Look at folk in the Bible: Peter knelt. Jeremiah stood. Abraham fell face-downward. Elijah put his face between his knees.
In Jesus’ day, most Jews stood, lifting their open eyes and open hands to heaven. Jesus’ mother, Mary, prayed in poetry. Paul occasionally prayed while singing.
Throughout the centuries, some have shouted to God, others have maintained absolute silence.
Sally, a seasoned, salty senior saint, crafted her own version of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the Senility
to forget the people I never liked anyway,
the good fortune to run into the ones I do,
and the eyesight to tell the difference.
Well, maybe the substance matters, but the style not so much! As Psalm 139 reminds us: O Lord, you have searched us and know us…You perceive our thoughts from afar…You’re familiar with all our ways. Before a word is ever on our tongue you know it completely.
The important thing is keeping that appointment to meet with God.
Whether we like it or not, all of us are creatures of habit. Habits are good. And the best habit we could ever cultivate is that of keeping a standing daily rendezvous with God for prayer.
We see Jesus speaking to God with the intimacy of a child talking to a parent. He presses home to us that we come as beloved children to heavenly Parent who loves us in advance and cares deeply about our lives. God is always waiting, always willing, to keep company with us.
And in such intentional time we find direction for carrying out our calling as Christian folk.
Prayer is also a constant lifestyle…maintaining a perpetual lifeline to our Creator.
Now, for me, this can be a bit of a challenge…but for our younger folk it’s a breeze.
I grew up with the notion that everything in life had to be very regimented, very linear, very compartmentalized. You get up, you exercise, you make a few minutes for God, you wolf down your pop tart, you go to work, you have lunch, you work some more, you come home, you eat supper, you watch Jeopardy, you read the newspaper, you go to bed.
Yet, our teens find it totally plausible to sit at a computer working on schoolwork, while snapchatting with friends, while streaming a video, while devouring a Hot Pocket. They remind me that it is possible to multi-task.
And yes, it is possible to “pray without ceasing”–to be enough of a multi-tasker that we can keep prayer running through our veins throughout the day while we are involved in a myriad of other ventures.
Rather than see prayer as a task we are constantly striving to achieve, we can come to view it as a continuous state we rest in, keeping God as part of our ongoing, unfolding day.
And through prayer the Holy Spirit instills a compassionate intuition. I’m reminded of the prophet Elijah seeking direction for his life. In the pivotal moment in 1 Kings 19:11-12, we read 11 Then God said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
Through keeping company with God, the Holy Spirit is able to lead us to people and places where our calling can be best utilized. That still small voice, that quiet inkling, that nagging feeling, that gentle nudge…it points us in the right direction…
But alongside God’s nudges, we also need
GOD’S WORD Psalm 119:105, John 17:17
Says the psalmist, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
The Bible- biblios – means “collection” of books. It is a collection of 66 books – 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament – that map out the saga of God seeking to relate to his people. It is the story of God striving to get back what belongs to him, namely you and me and all the history of humanity.
As such, the Bible can certainly illuminate our course in life. In a Bible study a few years ago we were dealing with the topic of forgiveness. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son was the key passage for the evening – the story of how a father managed to welcome his son home in spite of his son dissing him, letting go of the bitterness and anger.
Sharon, a participant in that Bible study, had been feeling the nudges of God’s Spirit over the past year to mend fences with her estranged daughter. They had not spoken in years. Seeing and reading the words of Jesus in the Good Book describing such forgiveness gave Sharon the conviction she needed to pursue that calling. She reached out, she offered forgiveness, and a relationship was restored.
The Bible illuminates our course. It also provides our guardrails. We find much instruction concerning what not to be about. John 17:17 – Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. There is never a calling that would contradict the solid and sure truth of God’s eternal Word.
For example, if you follow the truth of the Ten Commandments – showing God proper reverence, keeping a sabbath for rest, respecting your parents, avoiding murder, adultery, theft, lying, coveting – life is going to go pretty well for you. But if you go against the grain of such divine instruction, expect a gravel-load of grief.
Yes, pinpointing when and where to employ your calling from God requires triangulating the cell towers of God’s Nudges and God’s Word with the third tower
GOD’S PEOPLE Ephesians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Paul tells the believers at Ephesus: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
We indeed need the honesty of mature Christian friends in helping us clarify our motives rather than surrounding ourselves with persons who simply tell us what we want to hear.
Remember that strange Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes? He crafted that little parable to teach how pomposity and collective denial can produce stupidity and how childlike honesty can cut through it all.
The tale centers on a self-worshiping emperor and a circle of courtiers and subjects who were willing to play along with the delusion. They were willing to ignore the elephant in the room in order to avoid insulting the emperor and to placate him—so the emperor is parading around buck naked until an innocent child calls him to task.
When we are discerning when and where to employ the calling we believe God has given us, we need Christian peers who won’t pull any punches with us, who will speak the truth in love to us.
Paul also preaches: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Sometimes our calling is to difficult people and places. We need the support of mature Christian friends in helping us strengthen our resolve. We need individuals whom we can lean on when we can’t see above or around the frustrations.
Yes, we need a Big Al Lecraw!
The phone rang early Monday morning. The voice on the other line stated, “David, it’s Al. I know you’re in town today. Get your butt in gear. I’m picking you up at 11:30 am. We’re going to lunch.” Before I could protest, there was a loud click on the other end. And I was going to lunch with Big Al Lecraw.
Big Al was the Lay Leader of the largest church on the Mt. Pleasant UM Charge, Mt. Hermon. Average attendance-22 per Sunday. The other three churches averaged 15, 12 and 7, respectively. I was not setting the world on fire as a student pastor there.
I blamed it on my class schedule—I commuted two hours each way to Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC four days a week, leaving at 4 am and getting home by 11 pm. But to be honest, I just didn’t give a rip anymore about being a pastor or a theological student.
By that May of 1984 I had already been a student pastor and seminary student for four years with no end in sight. And I hated it all. No fire left in the belly.
I took out a lot of my frustration on my wife, who continued to love me in spite of my hatefulness and in spite of her own horrendous schedule commuting to JMU in Harrisonburg. We had no money and, thanks to my surliness, not much of a relationship.
And on top of that my dad had died the previous spring. I had never really allowed myself to grieve his loss. Just sucked it up, kept my nose to the grindstone, and plowed forward…until I now had hit the wall.
And I was planning to give it all up. I was a misery to myself, to my wife, to my churches and to life in general.
Al Lecraw knew me better than any member of my small United Methodist Charge. A retired Pentagon worker, he and his wife Dot had retired to western Shenandoah County. He was a gruff, no-nonsense guy with a big heart.
I had spent many long hours with Al at the occasion of the death of his daughter-in-law Suzanne. She had fallen off a horse in a tragic riding accident and died of a head injury. I guess I was one of the few persons Al felt he could shed tears in front of—he tried to remain strong for his son and his wife. He was a good, decent Christian man, and a good friend to me.
We had a long, quiet ride out to the Sky Chalet restaurant later that morning. I knew he had something on his mind, and he knew I had something on mine. I sat there staring downward at my grilled cheese sandwich as I began spilling my guts to him how pathetic my life was and nothing was going my way and this preaching business was a crock.
I told him how I had begun putting out resumes in the hope of starting a new career as a probation and parole office. I told him I felt surely that is where my real calling was and that the Good Book said we ought to be help prisoners… and Big Al listened intently, occasionally stroking his beard and taking a swig of tea.
He sat there listening to me intently in that tense lunch in that Sky Chalet restaurant. He took in every self-pitying remark I made, letting me speak my piece without interruption. After stating what I thought was an excellent case for me quitting, for giving up some self-deluded pipedream of being a pastor and moving on to a much better calling as a probation and parole officer, I glanced his way.
Al cleared his throat, and simply said this to me:
“You know, for the last half hour I’ve heard everything that Dave Burch wants for Dave Burch, but I haven’t heard a damn thing about what God might want for Dave Burch.”
And that’s all Big Al had to say. He paid the check. He dropped me off at the parsonage. And his words haunted me for days, until I finally swallowed my pride and broke down and actually had some long, hard, honest conversations with my God.
Fast forward to the fall of 2008, the phone rang one morning here at Vision of Hope. Long ago I had lost track of Al Lecraw, and yet his booming voice was immediately recognizable on the other end of the line. He was living in a rest home in Woodstock. His beloved wife Dot had passed away some years prior.
Al had seen an article in the Daily News-Record about our new church being built. He saw my name, contacted directory assistance and decided to call and chat a while and congratulate me on Vision of Hope. I took down his address and told him I would try to get down sometime to see him soon.
His last words to me before he hung up were these: “Hey, David, I’m so glad to see you didn’t quit!”
Sadly, things got busy for me around here. I never made that visit to Woodstock. Al died a few months later in February, 2009 at the age of 85.
Because Big Al Lecraw possessed the faith and guts to speak God’s honest truth to a very self-centered, self-deluded young man on the brink of stupidity some 36 years ago while yet still remaining supportive as a dear friend, I stand here as your pastor today.
Because of Al Lecraw, I didn’t quit the calling, the direction, which God had originally intended for my life through the prayerful nudges of God’s Spirit and the clear guidance of God’s Word.
Yes, we need the triangulation of God’s Nudges, God’s Word and God’s People to pinpoint where and when to employ God’s calling for our lives.
And thankfully, our Lord is more than willing to provide all three!