“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
My husband got this crazy idea 15 years ago that we should build our own house. I must be even crazier because I went along with it! We did our research, put down a hefty chunk of money and one morning we ended up with a tractor trailer load of logs and an 80 pound tome of blueprints.
We went to a weekend seminar where we learned all about constructing a log home. They even allowed me to use power tools! Believe it or not – it is kind of like building with a life size set of Lincoln Logs. How hard could that be – right? We left feeling confident that we could handle the job. We measured twice (or seven or eight times….because that’s just how my husband is) and cut once. Aaaaand the VERY first course was not even close to being right!
So – we called in some experts. We paid the company that we bought the logs from to come out and give us a little help getting re-started. They gave us some on the job training and we were off and running again…..for a while….until we got to the corners, and the windows, and the peak – and then we would call them in and get their advice and expertise to keep us going.
And whenever we had questions or concerns we had that incredibly LARGE stack of blueprints that we would refer to OFTEN. By the end of the construction process those blueprints were worn and faded and dog eared and crinkled on the edges, but the plans never changed. The lines and words on the pages remained the same no matter how often we referred to them.
Building our own home was an unbelievable amount of work. Even now, fifteen years later when I think about it – I’m not sure how we ever pulled it off. And because we worked our proverbial butts off in the process we value it so very , very much! I am so incredibly thankful for our home – it is one of the biggest blessings in my life.
You know where I’m going with this right? (I am pretty predictable with my illustrations) All of God’s blessings arrive – SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED – BUT they also come with the same kind of support system as my Lincoln Log house.
Sunday mornings are like the weekend seminars when we get helpful tips and advice to get us started. Then we go out into our daily lives and try to apply what we learned. Our small groups are like the experts that we turn to when the going gets rough and we need some additional support. They are designed to lift us up and give us that extra boost that we need to keep going. And always – whenever in doubt – refer back to the ultimate construction manual – our blueprint for life – any answer you need can be found in God’s word. Make sure your bible is dog-eared and crinkled on the edges.
The words on the pages will always remain the same.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8
It was a simple plan, really. All we wanted to do was re-tell the entire mega narrative of the Bible in four weeks. I proposed that we do it in reverse…from Revelation to Genesis…and Josiah created an adorable smiling VCR tape character to remind us all to “REWIND”. Steve Warrington came up with four brilliantly simple questions that would move us through the narrative each week. Perfectly simple so far, right? Then, “as it happened” apple updated their keynote app, the one we use on Sunday mornings, with a new ability to highlight on screen. Even Better!!! I decided that now I would be able to “white board” the story of the Bible, from trees in the Garden of Eden, to the “tree” on calvary, to the final two tree’s of Life mentioned in New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).
If you were there Sunday you KNOW that it didn’t work out that well actually… :-) (I knew I was in trouble when the flashes from everyone’s camera phones started popping as my shaking hands drew unintelligible shapes on my iPad.) Some really funny tweets followed. (I think “Caption this” was my favorite…although the one linking my “art” to actionkidz was right on target as well).
Here’s the thing though…I LOVE being part of a team that tries stuff like we did Sunday. Risky Stuff. Stuff that might totally back-fire. Even things that make me look really silly. :-) Because…every once in a while…hopefully more often than not…those risks will help someone understand a LIFE-CHANGING principle from scripture in a BRAND-NEW way! That’s why we do this every week. That’s why I can’t WAIT for you to see what we attempt next Sunday. I’ve been practicing…
For the last three weeks we’ve been talking about King Hezekiah from the Old Testament. This week, one aspect of Hezekiah’s life was particularly striking. In the the written history of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah was described in this way: “He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. So the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did.” (2 Kings 18:6-7a) That’s a pretty striking endorsement from history. “Successful in all that he did” has a pretty nice ring to it. I’m pretty sure you could fill a pretty large auditorium for the “Be successful in everything you do” conference, but scripture credits simply obeying God as the reason that Hezekiah was so effective as a King! Obedience was Hezekiah’s “secret” to success!
In case you’re wondering, I’m not booking a conference facility as I write this so that I can share “Hezekiah’s secret” with anyone willing to pay $79.95. :-) I think Hezekiah’s “secret” is kind of like the “secret” to losing weight: Eat less…exercise more. It’s not so much of a secret as it is something that most of us know…and most of us struggle constantly with actually DOING. There is ONE aspect of obeying God that is a bit tricky…one area that I hope I CAN clarify a bit. It’s simply this: How can you know you are being obedient to God? What does God want us to do? If I have “this feeling” that God wants me to do something…but how can I know I’m actually “Hearing from” God? These questions can paralyze us…stop us from actually being obedient to God…and coupled with our fear and insecurities can rob us from the success and blessing that comes from being an obedient follower of Christ.
So, how can you know you are obeying God? How can you know what he wants you to do? How can you know if “that feeling I have” is actually a prompting from God? Here’s some simple guidelines:
God won’t lead you to sin. Thinking that God might be telling you to hold up a convenience store, leave your husband/wife and family, start a fraudulent “Hezekiah’s secret” conference and/or lingerie line? Check again, that’s not God. :-)
When in doubt, check the manual. God Speaks to us as individuals…but we are blessed to have thousands of years of examples of God speaking to others in the Bible. Does it line up with examples already in scripture? Am I already following what I KNOW TO DO from scripture? Those questions will save you MUCH grief and embarrassment when it comes to obeying God.
It probably won’t be easy. God rarely leads us to do things that are easily accomplished with our own skills and strengths. Hebrews 11:6 says: “And it is impossible to please God without faith”. One reason why it is impossible to please God without faith is that it is usually IMPOSSIBLE to accomplish what he asks (be obedient) without it…
You probably won’t want to do “it”…at least at first. I call this the “George Costanza Principle”. Just like George from Seinfeld found that his life was much more successful if he did the OPPOSITE of his every instinct, I have found that most of the important acts of obedience to God in my life (from becoming a preacher, to helping start actionchurch, and to be honest MOST of the times I have actually been obedient to God’s plan) came from doing the OPPOSITE of my original instinct. I didn’t want to…but I’m totally glad I did…and you will be too!
It probably won’t be popular. We live in a culture where people are celebrated as “brave” and “courageous” for doing what 99% of the media and popular culture applauds and agrees with. DON’T expect obeying God to be celebrated in the same way. In fact, one of the greatest gifts God gives us are fellow followers in our church family that WILL support us and encourage us as we do the hard work of obedience. Jesus spoke of a “narrow road” that leads to God’s Kingdom, and a “wide highway” that leads to hell for a reason.
Obeying God WILL BE the absolute BEST use of your limited time on this planet. Want to operate at your highest possible level? Want to know what you were created to do? Want to live the most fulfilling and purpose-filled life possible? NOTHING comes close to a life dedicated to the scary, exciting, often difficult path of obeying God. I’m hoping you will chose to obey God…live out “Hezekiah’s Secret”…and I also hope these simple guidelines will be of some assistance along the way.
Every year in February, actionchurch takes time to celebrate our “birthday month” as a church. It’s a great time to look back at what God has done for us in the past, and to share the stories of how we began with those who more recently became part of the actionchurch story . It’s a great time to point out the tremendous “Leverage” of faith that comes from trusting God enough to act even with very limited information, and then seeing him multiply our limited human efforts many times over in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. It’s also a great time to just celebrate…and since actionchurch is turning six this year…what six-year-old doesn’t like to invite their friends over for a party?
Another important part of “birthday month” at actionchurch is looking forward…asking God what he wants us to focus on in the coming year. It’s not creating a “plan” for the year, not “forecasting”, or even “setting Goals”. It doesn’t lead to a new mission statement or a new logo. But, James 1: 5 says ” If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” and every year we find that to be true. Last year, we were inspired by the way Jesus empowered and released his disciples to minister and spent the year focusing on equipping and giving individuals “permission” to minister wherever they found themselves in the POWERDOWN initiative.
This year my inspiration is a bit different…and when I say different, I mean it in the same way your mom called your cousin who collected McDonald happy meal figures and lived at home until he was 36 “different”. This year our main scripture is one of the weirdest stories in the Old Testament, which in itself makes modern Christians nervous because of it’s content. 2 Kings 20:1- 11 AND Isaiah Chapter 38 BOTH relay these strange events:
About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.” 2 When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 4 But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: 5 “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! 8 Meanwhile, Hezekiah had said to Isaiah, “What sign will the Lord give to prove that he will heal me and that I will go to the Temple of the Lord three days from now?” 9 Isaiah replied, “This is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised. Would you like the shadow on the sundial to go forward ten steps or backward ten steps?10 “The shadow always moves forward,” Hezekiah replied, “so that would be easy. Make it go ten steps backward instead.” 11 So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz! 2 Kings 20:1-11(nlt)
It’s a passage that Bible skeptics quote and preachers avoid. It’s filled with more questions than I can list, let alone answer. Medically speaking, how does a fig poultice cure a life threatening boil? Not a clue. (But even the word “boil” doesn’t stop me from craving fig Newtons). From a science perspective how exactly does the shadow on a sundial (or more likely the palace steps) move BACKWARDS??? Did the sun move? The earth? Axis tilt? Weather anomaly? Eclipse? No idea. None. Although some of you offered some really good theories since. Theologically speaking, did God change his mind? Did he merely test Hezekiah? How does that square with Numbers 23:19 that states that God never changes his mind or says something that doesn’t happen? No answer here…except that God is God…and he can do WHATEVER he wants to do. You can sort of see why there aren’t many sermon series based on this scripture…at least by wise preachers… :-)
Here’s why, in spite of ALL the unanswered questions I have about this event, I am inspired and challenged by it: Hezekiah asked for MORE! In the face of something as grave and final as a God telling him he was going to die, the king somehow mustered the courage and the faith to ask to live long(-er)! AND, somehow, God chose to honor that prayer and use both natural and supernatural events to cause it to come to pass! I believe 2014 is the time for praying those same kind of “-er” prayers…to ask for MORE as a church…and as individuals. To ask, NOT in a competitive sense, NOT to bring glory or attention to ourselves, but because we believe in our mission that God has given us. I’m praying for a LONGER time, GREATER influence, LARGER reach, BIGGER impact, MORE-ER resources…okay you get the picture. :-) I’d love for you to join me as we further explore this amazing story and what it means for us today this month on Sunday mornings. Most of all though, if you are a part of the actionchurch family and believe as I do that God has even greater opportunities waiting for us to Love God, Love people, and take action in the coming year, I’d love it if you’d begin to pray humble yet bold “-er” prayers to the God who can easily set the sundial shadow in reverse!