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A Time for Silence

[God] said [to Elijah], “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….Then the LORD said….” I Kings 19:11-12, 15a

The United States is probably the only country in the world where success is measured by how busy you are.  Before the recent economic downturn Americans were increasingly working longer and longer hours.  They are way in front of all industrialized nations.  One UN report said they worked 2 ½ weeks more than Japanese, 6 weeks more than British and 12 ½ weeks more than German workers.  An economist who oversaw that report said, “It has a lot to do with the American psyche, with American culture. American workers are eager to make the best impression, to put in the most hours.”

We fuss about being busy with too crowded schedules.  We lament that we don’t have enough time for the important things like devotions and ministry for example.  But it looks suspiciously like all our protestations are really a way of saying to people, “Look how important I am,” or “Look how successful I am.”  Because we continue to make choices that keep us busy rather than enabling us to slow down, simplify, and prioritize our lives by what we say are the really important things.

One of the victims of our busyness is silence.  I made a phone call about our long distance service and as you might expect was told something like all our representatives are busy serving other customers, your call will be answered as soon as possible.  Then I was treated to silence!

I was reminded of that later when I read an article on silence in worship.  Silence is a rare experience for harried, busy, successful getting-ahead-people.  Chances are if you have an experience of silence it makes you uncomfortable, uneasy, irritated.  Waiting for someone to answer your call is not an opportunity for silence but an irritation.

As one writer observes, even in worship, “Silence, it seems, is to be filled.”  She continues, “I suppose we inherit this sense of silence as ‘dead air time’ from radio and TV, where every second of time not pulsing with a voice or image is ‘lost’ or ‘dead.’”1

Silence is difficult to find in our daily lives even for those who seek it.  We have become so accustomed to so called “white noise”–whine of refrigerators, idling motors, florescent lights, neighboring boomboxes, passing cars, etc. we are startled by silence.  Our life style our technology all make it difficult to find stillness, silence.  It is true that every new technology changes the way we live.

To be sure there are times in which it is sinful to be silent.  To face evil and say nothing is sin.  To keep silent when God is to be praised is sinful.  We are told there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7 NRSV).  Yet, the Bible places a great emphasis on silence.

It is a sign of wisdom—If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! (Job 13:5 NRSV)  Jesus certainly demonstrated it was important to him.  Do you regularly use silence as a part of your discipleship practices?

John Wesley was once advised to preach faith until he had it and then to preach it because he had it.  I’m not there yet in regards to silence.  But by God’s grace I hope to get there.  I invite you to go with me.

Some reasons for silence

1Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Small Groups: Problems

Here is a thoughtful article by Randal Neighbor, someone who has devoted his life to Small Group Ministry.

Some Old Bones + A Breeze=An Army

a valley;…full of bones…. and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army. -Ezekiel 37

“Some  Old Bones + A Breeze=An Army”

In an article about a reunion of old time aviators, the lead read: “Two veteran aviators met here yesterday for the first time in 40 years and discovered that of all the things that fly, time is the fastest.” (RD,2/89,p.114)

A human being has dreams, hopes, aspirations.  It is the soul and substance of life’s meaning.  It is, in fact, part of the definition of human.  This is best seen in the young before the corrosive effects of time take’s its toll. Lorraine Frontain, a kindergarten teacher, told about a little girl named Gina, whom she had warned several times, to pay attention.  It was to no avail.  Finally in desperation,  she asked, “Gina, why are you so excited?”  “I can’t help it,” she replied.  “My daddy said I could have a horse when I’m 35.”1

The anticipation of the young.  Dreams, hopes, plans are laid for life.  But as surely as we have dreams, we also have failure of dreams and hopes, set-backs and reverses.  Dreams and hopes can be lost, abandoned and not replaced.  It may be hard for youth to identify with that.  For them, hope is easier.  But few escape defeat which can lead to lowered expectations and hopelessness (loss of dreams).  Sometime ago an article on social workers quoted one as saying,  “I wanted to make a difference for the kids. Now I realize it was a totally unrealistic expectation.”  Lost dreams, cynicism.

There is an interesting and mysterious story in the Bible which tells about a vision given to a strange man called Ezekiel.  In the vision, Ezekiel sees a valley full of old dry bones.  As he speaks God’s word to them, flesh and breath are restored and they come to life—a vast army.

It is a vision symbolic of a people discouraged, defeated, hopeless as bleached out bones in a desert.  But God says he can and will bring life back to dead bones of shattered dreams and lives.  When we lose, when we fail, when a dream goes up in smoke, when life throws us a wicked curve, what can we do?

We can pick up the pieces because what left is usable by God, even old bones.  We can learn, we can adjust, we can “roll with the punches.”

In 1920, a young man by the name of Oswald Smith had a dream to be a missionary.   He had   prayed and dreamed for the opportunity and now stood before a board selecting missionaries.  He was turned down.  Did not meet qualifications, failed the test.  Decided if he couldn’t be a missionary, he would build a church that could send missionaries.  That church, People’s Church, Toronto, Canada became one of the greatest resources for missionaries in history,  sending hundreds to share God’s good news about Jesus.

Nothing given to God is lost.  A Christian, who gave money to build Baylor University,  later lost everything he had.  Someone asked him, “Don’t you wish you had the money back that you put into that school?”  “Not at   all.  It is all that I have saved.  If I had kept that money, I would have lost it too.”

We just need to let God breath life into what’s left.  When you do, life is an adventure(not easy, comfortable, predictable) but adventure.  We are too focused on winning or loosing, success or failure.  We miss the pure joy of living.  Gene Stallings tells of an incident when he was defensive backfield coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins.  They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the final score?”2

When you love and are immersed in the game, the score doesn’t matter all that much.

Walter Peyton was one of greatest running backs in National Football League history.  During a telecast of Monday Night Football, one of the announcers remarked that he had gained over 9 miles rushing in his career.  The other said, “Yeah, and that’s with somebody knocking him down every 4.6 yards!”  That’s 3443 times!

Life will knock you down, wreck your dreams, but God is not foiled by that.  Just remember WHEN YOU’RE DOWN, THE WAY OUT IS UP.

God’s word to Ezekiel was “Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

1Reader’s Digest, Jan., ‘89, p.80
2 Penney F. Nichols, Leadership

A Burned-out Florescent Tube

          Theologian Myron Augsburger once told a story about a man who wanted to discard a burned-out florescent tube from his office.  Past hours, he planned to dump it at a construction site on his way home. “He carried the seven-foot tube down the street, into the subway station, onto the train.  But how do you sit down with a seven-foot tube in your hand?  So he remained standing, holding the tube upright.
          When the train stopped at the next station, five people go on, and four of them grabbed hold of the tube.  Now what?  Pretty soon, it occurred to him that all he needed to do was to get off at his station and leave the pole.”1 That could be a parable of many of our contemporaries. We’re all looking for something to hold on to for some stability.  However, sometimes what we grab, like that burned-out florescent tube, only has the illusion of support.
          Archimedes,  a Greek mathematician and engineer, said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”  Blaise Pascal, considered to be one history’s greatest minds, left notes on a book intended to tell about a “center of stability” he had found.2  Rick Warren, author of best selling book of all time (outside the Bible), The Purpose Driven Life, wrote, “You need an unshakable center.”
          Something to hold on to, a place to stand, what we can depend on—stability, certainty, trustworthiness are all necessities for meaningful life.  In our chaotic world, the good news is that Jesus provides what we need for this life and eternity.  Place your faith in Him and hold on for dear life.

1Marguerite Shuster
2 Elton Trueblood, A Place To Stand

The Faith of Our Father

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, … to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)

What is faith?  More specifically, what is Biblical faith?  Faith can be a tricky and sometimes illusive concept.

When the Biblical writers want to talk about faith, they most often talk about one man, described as “the father of those who have faith.”  His name is Abraham.  His descendants are described in this passage as those who “share the faith of Abraham.”  What can he teach us about it?

First, Abraham knew his own insufficiency. All faith begins with a sense of need.  It is an awareness that God has something more for us, something which we do not yet have and cannot attain by ourselves.  It may begin with a sense of longing, a vague sense that something is missing or there may be some specific vision of what we could or should be.  And there is always the realization of our own inability to achieve it.  God came to Abraham and Sarah with an utterly crazy idea (humanly speaking).  In their old age Sarah would have a son, an heir.  Impossible, they knew and yet God said it was his plan for them.  He hoped against hope.

What does God want for you?  What sin does he want to deliver you from,  what quality does he want you to have in your life?  Yes, I know.  You’ve tried all too often–it’s impossible.  You can’t do it.  And sometimes you even wonder if God is able to do that too?

Well, Abraham had his doubts too, but he overcame them and became strong. If you’ve never had questions, you’ve probably never faced yourself and the real issues of life.  One of the reasons for our inability to get over doubts is sometimes that we try to believe certain things, rather, than believing God.  The difference is crucial–it is not so much what we believe but who we believe.  One of my favorite Peanuts scenes, repeated periodically, features Lucy, Charlie Brown, and a football.  Lucy tells CB she will hold the football for him to kick it.  But CB has seen this before and knows that just as he is about to kick it, Lucy will pull it away and he will fall flat on his back.  So He refused.  But Lucy is persuasive and finally convinces him to try again.  Of course with the same result.  Then she says, “I admire you CB.  You have such faith in human nature.”

To act on our faith is a lesson Abraham had learned early in life and that becomes the real secret.  To live by our faith rather than our doubts.  When Abraham did this the Bible says he “was strengthened in his faith.”   Just as physical exercise increases physical strength so “faith” exercise strengthens faith.  Then follows a critical step–Abraham “gave glory to God.”    What we want from faith is sometimes an unworthy goal and it fails.  We want success, or health, or happiness.  But in the phrase Rick Warren made popular “it’s not about you.”  We should understand that the goal of faith is always that God be honored and glorified.

So– Abraham believed what God said,
did what God asked,
received what God promised.

May it be so with you.

Signs of Growth

One of the hardest things to do is to evaluate spiritual health and growth.  It is impossible to look into a person’s heart, or into the “heart” of a congregation for that matter.  However, it is important to try and there are certainly indicators, evidence which helps us to do that.

Perhaps the most important sign is an inner sense that God gives to his people.  Outward signs are important but an awareness of God’s presence, and a sense that God is at work are vitally important.  Explicit witnesses to the fact that God is working in lives are necessary indicators of God’s work.  Not only that, individual testimony to what He is doing is also a means by which He works.

Another sign is the beginning of new opportunities for ministry. That is vitally important to continued growth and faithfulness.  There are three key ingredients for that to happen:

1-     We need to keep our spiritual house in order.  We must keep close to God–praying, listening, and following Him.

2-     We also must keep our relational house in order.  It is imperative that we love one another and not allow those ordinary kinds of things that erode personal relationships, like personal agendas, petty differences, jealously and personality conflicts.  Be sure that Satan will try to exploit anything to sabotage God’s work in our midst.

3-     We must have people who are willing to step forward and provide leadership in ministry.  We cannot grow beyond our ability to produce new leaders.  As one example, right now, our small group development is pretty much “on hold” as we wait for new leaders.  Church consultant, Carl George says, “The creation of pastoral, ministry-capable leadership must become the core value of the church of the future, second only to listening to God in prayer.”

Folks we live in a time of great spiritual hunger and need.  I believe that God can greatly use this church to fill some of that hunger and meet those needs.  Would you please covenant with me to pray about these matters on a regular basis and then ask God what He wants you to do?  It is an exciting time to be part of His church