Thursday, July 05, 2012

Lessons in Getting it Backwards: From Extraordinary to Just Plain Ordinary

Passage: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

At the first church I ever served at, I would often have teenagers invade my office all throughout the day.  You see, there was a Christian school that was connected to the church so during the school year there was a certain segment of the youth group that had unlimited access to stop in and visit whenever they had a study hall they wanted to get out of.  Many times they would come down to hang out, eat my candy, play video games and just waste some time until the next class they had to be at.  But there was one particular time that I remember that disturbed me.

I had a young man come down to my office who at the time was an upperclassman.  He was really wrestling with what he thought his future plans were going to be after he graduated.  And here is the dilemma he was having trouble with.  On one hand, he was beginning to sense strongly that God was calling him to be a missionary.  This excited me.  I was more than willing to help him in any way that I could. 

But I could tell that there was a problem, something that was causing him to struggle.  He began to tell me that his parents, who were prominent members of the church and leaders on the school board, questioned this calling and wanted him to go to their alma mater, Notre Dame, and pursue a degree that would reflect the skills that stood out on his various tests that showed where he had high scores.  

Now the way that this story turned out is that he eventually followed the advice of his parents.  He got his degree from Notre Dame, is an outstanding member of the military, and has settled into the American Dream.  His parents couldn’t be prouder. 

But I often wonder, what if? What if Bill would have followed what he believed to be God calling him to mission work? I know, as a parent it can be all to nerve-racking when God sidesteps our perfect plans for our kids and asks them to do something that was not in our plans; something that we cannot be in control of; something in which we can’t see what the future might turn out to be. 

In our Scripture lesson for today we come across a story in which the Israelites stood at the crossroads of deciding on an extraordinary life or an ordinary life. Having to choose to live what they perceived to be the good life over what could be the best life.  For many years the Israelites were lead by God himself.  Up to this point in the Hebrew Scriptures we can read of all of the extraordinary ways in which God used prophets, priests and judges at specific moments to rescue Israel in miraculous ways and establish them as a nation.  All of these offices were used to always point the people back to the God who was directly leading them.  

But now that Israel has established itself as a nation, it began to look around at the neighboring nations and comparing and contrasting themselves to others.  All of a sudden, they realized that they did not have a king like the other nations. 

Forget the fact that the King of kings and the Lord of lords was already leading them. 

Forget the fact that God used mighty and miraculous means all throughout their history to set apart Israel as his special people. 

Instead of celebrating the extraordinary relationship they have with the God of the Universe they wanted to conform to be just like everyone else. They wanted a flesh and blood king.  They wanted to live by sight, not by faith. 

We see that Samuel takes this as a personal rejection for all that he did as a prophet of Israel.  But God assures Samuel that this is not about the people rejecting Samuel more than it is about the people rejecting God himself. 

If there is one thing that is clear in the book of Judges it is that the people constantly drift away from God when times were good and began worshiping idols.  And then when God takes his hand of blessing away from them they cry out to him.  God would send prophets to call them back and judges to rescue them from their enemies.  But as soon as they were rescued and things got better again, they would turn their backs on the living God and worship gods that were created by men. 

So God shows Samuel that this is the nation’s rejection of God.  He tells Samuel to go ahead and give them what they want, but it comes with a warning.  If you want a king, these are the things you will have to endure:

 1. Your children will be used by the government for military purposes (as
          opposed to a mighty God who would fight their battles for them).

2.  You children will be used to serve the government: in areas of
          agriculture, weaponry, military, and textiles all to prop up the royalty
          over themselves. 

3.  Your own hard work will be observed and the best of what you have will
          be expected to go to the king: the best of your fields, servants and
          animals.  You will be taxed on all of these things.

In just about every important area of your life you will have to help support and maintain the government in a way that will ultimately feel oppressive.  Sound a little bit familiar?

The Israelites are wanting all of this over being lead by God. They want to trade in a rather extraordinary life over a very ordinary life.  Why?  And what does this story have to do with us?

I believe that all of us, everyday are faced with this challenge.  Do we go about the rather ordinary, mundane patterns of regular life that we can map out and make some sense of, or do we allow God to lead us to do the extraordinary, the leap of faith, taking the step outside of our comfort zone?

I think for our graduates, I personally catch myself asking the wrong question -  

So what do you want to study at college? 
What are your plans after you graduate?  

I wrestle with the fact that the question really should be:

 What do you believe God is calling you to do with your life? 

Think about the differences between those two questions.

One is focused solely upon them.  The other calls us to seek God’s will for our life.

One is about pursuing an occupation and a paycheck, the other is about pursuing a calling and purpose in life guided by God himself.

I think for adults, the reason we see so much pain with relationships that break up, affairs, materialism and a overall narcissism is because many of those I consider my friends have come to a point in their life where they are bored with what seemed to be the perfect plan for their life several years ago:

get a job,
settle down,
start a family,
buy a nice house and cars for everyone,
get that nice little vacation spot to get away for R&R. 

We see so many who achieve the apparent “American Dream” only to hit a wall called the mid-life crisis.  They have succeeded in pursuing the ordinary life and now they have become bored with the routine, mundane patterns of their life.  They feel that they need to do something to spark some new excitement or energy into their life.  And all too often, in their pursuit for something extraordinary, they end up creating a bigger mess of their lives. 

We constantly need to correct our thinking and shift from one old paradigm to a new one.  Instead of trying to plan out our ideal life, it is time for us to open up ourselves to God who wants to give us an extraordinary life. 

Instead of trying to pursue yet another new fitness program, or bigger house, or new diet fad, or new car, or new girlfriend or boyfriend, what if instead, we pursued God and allowed him to bring purpose and meaning into our lives that transcends all our stuff. 

What if we actually believed the things we learn in church, to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to not lean on our own understanding.  But in all our ways acknowledge him, and allow Him to direct our paths, to pursue his ways over our ways, to set our minds on heavenly treasures over earthly treasures? 

Just imagine what this world could have looked like if Israel followed God they way they were supposed to:

          1)  No manmade government.  God is our King.
          2)  No mandated tax system. I could give freely as God leads me.
          3)  No need for military. God protects us from our enemies.
          4)  No boring life.  God leads us to do extraordinary things.

I can’t imagine a more perfect world. 

No more electing imperfect people and political parties into office. 

No more sending off teenagers and the poor to fight wars to protect our “national interests”. 

No more cable news talking heads arguing for or against the government. 

A world where God is our King and we are his children. 

I have good news!  We have the opportunity right now to start living into this reality, knowing that our future will fully live into this when Christ ultimately returns.

Now I know, it is a little bit scary.

Abraham dropped everything and followed, not even knowing what the plan would be. 

Joseph went through some extremely painful experiences before he realized how God was able to use it all to save Israel and Egypt.

Moses actually tried several times to say no. He didn’t want to do it, but God convinced him otherwise. 

Samuel gave his life to be a prophet of God.  Only to feel very underappreciated at the end.

Yet the Israelites completely missed it all.  With a history full of amazing stories of God’s leadership, guidance, protection, deliverance and care, instead they wanted to trade all of that in for a man-made government. 

Will we be a people who learn from the mistakes of those who have come before us, or will we continue to repeat the sins of those from the past?

Graduates, have you wrestled with the deeper question of what might God be calling you to do with your life, instead of just what you want to do to get a job and earn a paycheck?

Adults, by American standards, many, if not all of you have achieved more than you probably thought possible when you were just a high schooler. 

Have you allowed God to fully redeem your life and give you purpose and meaning in all areas?

Or do you catch yourself looking at godless people who are trying to find meaning through worshiping the gods of our culture? 

Is your life infused with a higher calling in all areas of your life knowing that what we do here will impact eternity? 

Or do you catch yourself looking for the next quick fix? 

May we as a church body be focused on the mission and work of God who wants to use us to do the extraordinary.  Never, never, never settle for an ordinary life that we can manage and control ourselves.  Not my will, but THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN.

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