Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are you there, Margaret? It's me, God. (Sermon July 25, 2010)

Our Scripture comes from the book of Revelation. Now some people hear that and go “ugh.” Revelation is one of those books that can be hard to interpret. This vision that John received – is it real? Is it not? Did he maybe just have bad Chinese the night before and have a really weird dream?

Regardless of your feelings on the book of Revelation the words that are contained within do speak to us. I will be reading from Revelation 3:15-22.

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Therefore, I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

There are at least 8-10 sermons in these 7 verses that I just read. But today we’re going to focus on about 8 words. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying.”

I think I mentioned in one of my sermons earlier this year that when I have my next birthday, it’s going to be a big one. I hit the big 4-0 this year. But anyone woman who is around my age, probably read a book. It was almost a rite of passage for some of us. It’s by author Judy Blume and the book is titled “Are you there God? It’s me Margaret.” It’s really funny. I went to purchase the book at Barnes and Noble and when I found it I thought to myself I remember it being a lot thicker than one-half inch and 150 pages. I reread it in an afternoon. And it took me back. The first time I read it I was in the 4th grade and a few of my girl friends and I had a pact. There was a boy in our class who was determined to read this book. And at 10 years old we didn’t think he had any business reading it. So when one of us finished, another one of us checked it out so he didn’t have the opportunity to read what we thought was inappropriate for a 10 year old boy to be reading. Oh, the things that are important to 10 year girls. Anyway, I digress.

Margaret is an 11 year old girl. And she is in the process of discovering who she is. She’s becoming a young woman and she is lamenting over parts of her body that she thinks are too big. She’s lamenting over parts of her body she thinks are too small. And she’s not an avid church-goer. He father is Jewish, her mother is catholic and they don’t go anywhere. They’ve decided that when Margaret is older, she can decide what she wants to become as far as her religious affiliation. The one thing, though – Margaret does pray and she prays quite often.  She always begins her prayers with this phrase. “Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

Now some of the prayers are the prayers of an 11 year old girl. She’s getting ready to attend her first school dance and she feels a need to pray. This is her prayer.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock, God. That’s when our dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him…just once or twice. Thank you, God.

But some of her prayers are quite profound for an 11 year old girl. Margaret has decided that it’s time to discover who she is spiritually. So she has started visiting different churches with her girl friends. After come home from one church service, she prays,

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I’ve been to church. I didn’t feel anything special in there God. Even though I wanted to. I’m sure it has nothing to do with you. Next time I’ll try harder.

She visits another church with another church with another friend and prays this:

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I just came home from church. I love the choir – the songs were so beautiful. [Huh! She came to our church!] Still, I didn’t really feel you God. I’m more confused than ever. I’m trying hard to understand but I wish you’d help me a little.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.

I wonder if God ever feels this way about us. Does God ever say, “Are you there, Amy? It’s me, God” I think perhaps He does. Because often times, we aren’t listening for Him.

Now we all have our stories and our differences of definition on what hearing and listening in. For instance, wives, can you relate with me? You’re talking to your husband telling him all kinds of important things that need to be taken care of and things that must be done and about half way through your spiel he goes, “Huh?” He’s hearing you but he’s not listening to what you’re saying.

Men, now I’m sorry. I don’t have the male experience to relate to – I’m a woman. I can only relate at a wife and a mother. Moms – how many of you can relate to this? You know when you hear your kids fighting what you can ignore. You hear the ruckus in the background. But immediately you know when to listen. You know when the cry or that scream means something is wrong! We’re hearing what is going on but we listen to what we have to.

I wonder what our excuse is for not listening to God. As I was thinking about this, I came up with several different reasons. The first is very simple - I don’t want to listen to God. “God, I’ve given you years of my service. I’ve done all of this stuff for your glory and your kingdom. And I don’t want to do anymore so I’m not going to listen to you anymore.” It’s almost a form of Christian retirement.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you in the report from annual conference that we heard from Adam Hamilton. He has everything from 2 day olds to 90 year olds in his congregation. And he regularly preaches to them that Christian retirement occurs when you die. Until then, keep working!

Take for example Mother Theresa. When I say the name, you immediately get a picture in your mind – I hope – of this little Catholic nun with her blue habit - a very frail looking woman who spent 69 out of her 87 years ministering to people. She began her ministry when she was 18 years old and she did not stop until she died. Even the weeks leading up to her death when she was weak and sick, she was still entertaining people. She was still mentoring them and helping them up until the final days of her life.

Now you might be sitting there saying, “Yeah Amy, that’s great! I ain’t no Mother Theresa!” I would respond, “Yes, you are!” You have your streets of Calcutta somewhere in your life. You have a calling that you were meant to do. There is something God is calling you do to.

One of the favorite shows that our family watches is “Clean House.” It’s a group of four people who go into a house that is just nasty with clutter and filth and dirt. They go in and they clean it and organize it. One of the reasons I watch the show is that I am able to look at the houses on TV then look around my own house and say, “I’m not doing such a bad job!” It’s a real morale boost for me.

The show gets rid of all the stuff in the house by having a huge yard sale and the families always balk at having to give up their things. The host of the show has a saying that goes like this: When your hand is open to giving something up, it is open to receive something even better.

When your hands are open and willing to do something for the Kingdom, they are open to receive wonderful blessings from God.

Maybe we need to start listening more.

Another reason people don’t listen to God is we’re scared to. He might ask us to do something that we don’t want to do. Luke 18 contains the story of Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. You might be familiar with the story. It says,

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments” You shall not commit adultery: You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness: honor your father and mother.” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.                                           Luke 18:18-22

The ruler didn’t want to do what God was telling him to do.

There’s another Biblical story about someone who heard God’s call and said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” His name was Jonah. God tells the Old Testament prophet, “I want you to go down to Nineveh and deliver my message of repentence to the Ninevites.” And Jonah said, “Huh-uh” and went and boarded a boat to Tarshish. What happened to Jonah for disobeying? He became whale food and spent a few days in the belly of whale. He didn’t want to go Nineveh. But he ended up going.

To really drive home the point, I want to remind you of an occurance in the final hours of Jesus’ life. Matthew 26:39 says this:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”

In just an hour or so, Roman soldiers were going to be there to arrest Jesus to take him to be crucified. Are we lucky that he listened to the call of his father?

Another reason we might not want to listen to God is that we’re scared He’s going to ask us something we don’t know how to do.

Jesus had just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist had been beheaded and he went off by himself to grieve. He had lost not only a cousin but a beloved friend as well. But as so often was the case with Jesus, he went to be by himself and the crowds followed him. “Jesus, heal me.” “Jesus, do this for me.” “Jesus, please I need your help.” And he had compassion on them, even in the midst of his own grief and continued healing them and continued teaching them.

Supper time came along and the disciples tried to make everyone leave so that they could eat. But Jesus rebuked the disciples and said, “Give them something to eat.” The disciples said, “Um, how? We have 5 loaves and 2 fish. How are we going to feed them? There’s got to be 5,000 people out there!” And Jesus said, “Give them something to eat.”

They started to feed the crowd and everyone ate until they were satisfied and there were 12 baskets of leftovers. God makes a way where there is no way. If you don’t know how to do something, He will tell you how to do it – show you how to do it.

Take for example, Moses. He’s out in the field one day tending the sheep and all of a sudden a bush starts burning. He goes to check it out and this bush starts telling him, “I’m going to send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

What does Moses do? Well, he doesn’t say, “Let me go home and pack.” He tries to get out of it. He says, “Pharaoh is going to ask me questions that I don’t know how to answer. Well, OK you’re going to give me the answers, but these people aren’t going to believe me. Well, OK you’ll send signs and miracles and plagues to help convince them that I’m telling the truth, but I can’t speak well. You know I stutter. Send someone else.”

But God didn’t send someone else. He showed Moses how to do it – how to fulfill the call he had be given.

Finally, I think one of the reasons we don’t listen to God is that we don’t know how to listen to God. I’ve been on this ordination process for three years now. The end is in sight. But every committee that I’ve come up against, every group that I’ve had to pass inspection with, always asks this question: “Tell us about your calling.”

I’ve often wished that my calling were a little bit more exciting than it really is. I don’t have an impressive calling like Paul on the road to Damascus. I wasn’t struck down blind. And it can be a problem to say, “Well, you know, I just kind of fell into ministry because I didn’t want to go teach music in Fredonia, Kansas.” That doesn’t tend to go over very well. But what I’ve learned in these three years is the Paul on the road to Damascus experience is not the normal form of a calling – it’s unique. The norm is a still, small voice. In the Greek, it’s actually called silence: Listen for God in the silence. The norm are those little, random thoughts that pop into your head that won’t go away, those feelings that there is something you need to be doing. That’s God calling you. Are you listening?

The issue is in our busy, crazy, techno-crazed world, we don’t’ know how to listen for that still small voice. First, we aren’t still long enough. I’m not talking about periods where we sit and veg out and do nothing. I’m talking about specific, intentional periods of inactivity where we are diligently seeking an encounter with God – where we have the opportunity to hear his voice. Second, we aren’t satisfied with the dull and mundane. We don’t want the little, nagging feelings and voice. We want the Paul on the road to Damascus experience to be convinced that it really is God talking to us.

Today, we’re going to take an opportunity to listen to God. I invite you to sit and be still – not just a period of inactivity but a period where you are intentionally seeking an encounter with God.

This can be hard. We’ve been taught that if we just sit and do nothing, we’re lazy – a bum. That’s what our world has taught us. That’s not what Christ has taught us. Listen for what God is saying - what He wants you to do.

Maybe he’s already told you and like Jonah, you’re trying to avoid it. Ask him to help you not avoid it any longer.

Maybe what I’m asking is too much for you to handle right now. That’s OK. Please read the following words of the song “Word of God Speak” by Mercy Me as a prayer. The Holy Spirit wants to meet you here now. Please don’t stand him up. Listen to what he is saying to you.

I'm finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it's okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You're in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak

I'm finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You're in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak

I'm finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it's okay.

I hope you have had an encounter with our risen Lord and Savior. God does want your obedience.  But more than that, He wants your love. I hope you’ve had a chance to show Him your love.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Long & Winding Road

The last time I was in Wilmore, Kentucky attending a class at Asbury, a good friend of mine and I took a walk. We were staying with a professor who rents out extra rooms in his house to Asbury students who come for a week long class. He lives outside of town down a country road.
We started off on our walk and came to something very unusual - the road went underwater! Well, maybe the more accurate way to describe it is that a creek that is usually dry was full and the water running through it came up over the road. It wasn’t very deep. If we had decided to wade across it, the water might have come up to mid-calf level. But we decided to turn around and go the other way so we wouldn’t get our feet wet.

Sometimes our life is like this. We’re walking along with things going pretty smoothly and all of a sudden we come across a stream that we aren’t sure we want to cross. It might not even be a deep stream but we don’t want to get our feet wet. So we turn around and go a different direction.

The next day, my friend took another walk. (I had homework to do) She came to the stream and this time it was river. She decided to wade through it and the water came up to the middle of her thigh. She’s about my height so that gives you an idea of how deep the water was. She told me that before she went through, she prayed, “Lord, tell me what to do.” She heard the answer, “Go slowly and you’ll be just fine.” She ended up wading through the river twice – one time going and one time coming back.

Proverbs 3:5 says Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Our paths often are not straight – even when we are trusting God. We are going to have twists and turns in our road. We’re going to encounter streams and rivers we must wade through. The road can be anything but a straight shot. That’s not what the verse necessarily means. What it means is that when we trust God we travel the road He wants us to be on – even with all the twists and turns.

So wear a good pair of walking shoes!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Big Brother REALLY is watching!

I have to preface my post with three stories.

1. My maiden name was Sifford. My married name is Seifert. This will be important to remember for the next story.

2.  When Todd and I were first married and heading to St. Cloud, Minnesota my dad co-signed a loan with us for a small Toyota pick up truck.  We had discovered that it probably would be a good idea to have a reliable 4-wheel drive vehicle in an area that receives mounds upon mounds of snow each year.  Upon arriving in Minnesota, the Minnesota Tax Commission required everyone listed on the loan to be on the title of the vehicle.  The similarity of the names (see story #1) caused major issues.  Ultimately, the title was issued like this:

Todd Seifert
Amy Sifford
David Seifert (my dad with my new married name)

3.  My dad passed away in November 1999.

16 years after the messed up title was issued, two cross country moves later and almost 11 years after my dad's death, I receive mail addressed to David Seifert.  This is something that has occurred regularly over the past 16 years.  I have received offers for everything from mobility scooters to invitations to join social organizations to club membership offers.  AARP was so persistent in sending mail to David Seifert - even after I called and requested his name be removed from mailing lists - that I finally called and said that since they seemed intent on him receiving a membership that I would take it and make use of the discounts even though I was only 31 years old!!  The membership invitations stopped.

The latest pamphlet came from a local Utah company telling dad how he can improve the quality of the insulation in MY house .  Keep in mind that I moved to Utah after dad died so he most definitely did not co-sign the loan on this one.  So how in the world does the state of Utah know that David Seifert, er uh, David Sifford even existed?!?!

Quite simply actually.  Somewhere over the past 16 years the Minnesota Tax Commission sold their car title list.  Now that really isn't so surprising.  What is surprising is this.  How in the world is his name associated with me 16 years and two states after it was added to the Minnesota state database and 11 years after his death?  After all, this mail comes addressed to him at my current address in St. George, Utah! 

Did you ever read Orwell's book "1984?"  Remember how we all thought that this would never be possible?  Maybe Orwell was a prophet because it seems like anyone can be tracked down anywhere at any time - even people who don't really exist!

I guess what is really funny about this is this fact: Since David Seifert never really existed, apparently he can't die either.  So in the mean time I guess I will keep watch over the offers he receives at his new home in Utah and, if it's a really good deal, maybe I'll order it.  Maybe since he doesn't really exist he won't have to pay for it either!


Friday, July 2, 2010

It's all a matter of perspective

Many years ago when I was a senior in college, I had to prepare for my senior recital. As a music education major, my senior recital was a requirement for graduation. There were many requirements that had to be met in my recital. It had to be a certain length of time with a certain number of songs. Some of the songs had to be memorized. Needless to say, it was a big deal and there was a lot riding on the successful completion of the recital - mainly, my graduation.

I remember my piano teacher giving me this advice one time when she saw how anxious and stressed I was about my recital. She told me that the human body produces the same chemical - adrenaline - when we are nervous and when we are excited. How we choose to look at it is a matter of perspective. "You can choose to be nervous or you can choose to be excited. Which are you going to choose?"

I think that advice applies to a lot of situations in life. How we choose to look at something determines whether or not it's going to be a pleasurable experience or a miserable one. Unfortunately, I think most people navigate toward the miserable experience. I wonder why we willingly choose to be negative rather than positive.

It seems like I've been surrounded by a lot of change in my life lately. Mention the word change around some people and they immediately stick their fingers in the ears and start repeating, "I'm not listening! I'm not listening! I'm not listening!" Some people don't like change and they will do everything in their power to keep a situation the same - automatically choosing to view the change as negative rather than be excited for the possibilities it can bring.

It's funny how, even when a change is for the best, people still rebel against it. Why are we so sure that a change is going to be a bad thing? Why is it hard for us to look at new possibilities? What if by doing something differently, we do it better? What if by embracing change we find something wonderful?

Changes in life are going to occur no matter what we do to try and stop them. Why make them worse by fighting them so much? Try to find the exciting and new possibilities a change brings with it! You might discover hidden blessings!