< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: July 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Putting God in His Place Part IV

Another way we can put God first in our lives is to get control of our time. I don’t know anyone – at least adults – who say they have enough time. Yet supposedly Americans have more free time then ever before in history. But, we’ve all read the articles where someone has figured out how many years we spend sleeping, how many waiting inline, how many sitting at a traffic light or on hold on the phone.

Time can be spent, but not bought, saved, but not stockpiled, given, but not loaned. It can be remembered, but not reversed. You can waste a lifetime, but you can’t create an extra hour. Time waits for no one and nobody really knows where it goes – it’s just – gone!

We get angry if the car in front of us is going the speed limit, if the person in the grocery line in front of us writes a check – and then heaven forbid why does she have to enter the amount in her ledger here! Take the receipt home and do it where you’re not holding up the line!

We put in more time to earn more money to buy more things that we don’t need that require time to keep in good repair even though we aren’t using them!

Our compulsions with schedules and calendars make time our enemy. Busyness takes a toll on our emotions and spirit. Somehow – we need to make time our friend instead of our enemy.

Pastor Milo Arnold wrote, “Jesus didn’t need longer days nor extended years. He just took the time He had and fitted life into it so that His work was done when His time was gone.” Yet He always had time for people and spent much time alone with God. Jesus is a worthy model of effectiveness of time.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way it became a status symbol to be busy. The multi taskers became people for us to emulate. And when that happened a lot of just plain good living was sacrificed.

God gave us Sundays off. Most of us don’t take them. Many of us though will skip the one thing He did tell us to do on Sunday so that we can “get more stuff done.”

We all have more control of our time then we think. Time is ours: only truly significant issues are worth large investments of our time. We need to use our time on purpose.

To get back on track we need to put clocks and calendars back into their rightful place as helpful servants – not uncontrollable slave drivers. We need to ask ourselves – How can I make my life count? How can I make today count? What needs to be done? Who really needs me? Ask yourself what would you do if you only had 6 months to live? What wouldn’t you do?

We can start evaluating every demand on our time by assigning it to 1 of 3 categories: trivial, important or essential.

A 30 minute Bible study everyday requires you to give up something else you would have spent 30 minutes doing. A weekend church retreat requires you to give up 48 hours. If you have a problem deciding what choice to make with your time, Bob Benson, who wrote Disciplines for the Inner Life, once said, “If you will ask God what He would do if it were His life, He would gladly tell you.” We need to live on purpose. We need to really think about what to spend our time on. We need to set priorities.

A dedicated cardiac surgeon will place patient care ahead of a golf game.
An effective teacher will stay after school to help a student rather then go shopping.
A committed critical care nurse is more eager to take care of her patients then fill out insurance forms.
Some executives are voluntarily downshifting to spend more time with their families.

Decide your goals – making sure they fit with God’s goals – and then control your time for those goals.

Throughout history Christians have been drawn to monastery type places to recuperate from shallow living. To renew their spiritual energy. We may not be able to go off and do that, but we can certainly take an hour a day off with just God and ourselves. It gives us strength and balance.

We should also slow down so we don’t miss life’s memorable moments. Savoring such moments – being present in the present. Build a cushion into your schedule even as much as 25% extra for those unexpected moments you don’t want to miss.

Basically refocus your life on what really matters.

Ask yourself at the beginning of the day how many hours you are willing to place in God’s hands for Him to use as He chooses. If life happens in the interruptions like I’ve heard Gloria Gaither say – we can’t be too busy and tied to our schedules for God to interrupt us

In the book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says God gave us 5 purposes:

To become a member of His family
To model His behavior
To magnify His glory
To be a minister of His grace
To be a messenger of His good news

And he suggests that when we stand before God in Heaven, God will ask us 5 questions:

Did you put Jesus in the center of your life?
Did you develop His character?
Did you devote your life to serving others?
Did you communicate His message and fulfill His mission?
Did you love and participate in His family?

Our calling is the same as the rich young ruler’s. Get your priorities straight. Get your loyalties straight. Get your life in order – let go of whatever is holding you back. Accept God. Trust, obey and follow Him. Put Him first in your life and then give Him all you’ve got!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Putting God in His Place Part III

Another part about centering our lives on Christ is relationships with His people.

Social networking on line is huge! MySpace, Facebook, forums, chatrooms….On Facebook it’s all about sharing pictures and who writes on your wall, On MySpace it’s picking your top 8 friends, which are the ones that show up on your first page. Even the cell phone companies have a plan where you can pick your 5 (or however many) special friends to be in your network! I don’t think these things are meant to exclude anyone, it’s just that everyone has such a strong desire to included!

We aren’t meant to go through life without friends. We need relationships for support, encouragement, fun, relaxation, accountability and to make us feel like we matter. People are searching for that online. Why not at church?

While sometimes we crave a chance to get away and be by ourselves – no one likes to feel lonely. And the worst kind of loneliness is when you are surrounded by people, but have no real relationships. Polls taken have shown that most people have 10 or fewer real friends throughout their lifetime. I think this suggests that people are going around with an unmet hunger for acceptance, which can cause all kinds of bizarre and even harmful behavior. And I think this explains the internet social networks too.

A couple generations ago people didn’t move so much. A large percentage were born, lived and died in the same town and had a lifetime of friends built up there. That’s not the norm now. Jobs don’t last and people move. Divorce splits up families. Busyness keeps neighbors from sitting on their front porches after dinner talking.

Relationships require constant tending. Every human being was created with a need for love, trust, service with others and to be close to others.

As a church we need to be there for everyone who walks through our doors. We need to provide insights and courage to help others live a life of faith. We need to help others be better people because we expect them to be. Kids in school who have a teacher who expects good things of them, who acts like he or she believes the student is capable of greatness – do better. Employers who expect their employees to be talented, upstanding, etc – usually have employees who are. We should love people unconditionally while at the same time show them the potential we see in them.

Which means the church has to be a center of acceptance and love. No quarreling, no bitterness, no cliques, no Peyton Place - just encouraging each other to discover meaning and to follow Christ.

The author of the book Growing Your Soul says that when we do this, empty churches will fill up again. Faith living will begin. Believers will salt society in factories, governments and corporations. The Bible will be respected again as the authority for living. Pastors will be reenergized. Brokenness will be healed and peace will reign.

Where can we find a church like this? The most effective answer is to improve the one we’re in. We need to infuse every relationship in our church with the life of Christ. Then every person will feel valued and discover how fulfilling a Christ-saturated life can be.

Isn’t it true that when someone loves you it’s easier to love them back? If someone encourages you – it’s easier to encourage someone else? So logic would say – go ahead and make the first move. Get the ball rolling. Treat every person you meet as a person who has the potential to be a friend AND to bring you closer to God.

Of all the gifts you give to family and friends, none is better then the gift of yourself. Let people know you’re available to them. And then be available. Go out of your way to be helpful. Listen fully to the person talking to you. Love grows with expression just as commitment expands with practice.

Share dreams and spiritual discoveries with others – When we share our spiritual journey with someone else it keeps us from back sliding – it makes us accountable. Spirituality needs relations to really grow and flourish so our faith journey will be strengthened

Give people a reason to know that your support is dependable and lasting. Paul wrote “out do yourself in generosity, in loving, in service.”

Avoid anger, forgive quickly and forget retaliation! Practice unexpected kindness. Rejoice in other people’s good fortune. Sympathize with their pain and sorrow.

If we do all of these things as individuals – our church will become like this as a whole.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Putting God in His Place Part II

Centering our lives on Christ clarifies our self-understanding and provides us a sense of direction for living. Basically centering our lives on Christ shapes our thoughts, monitors our conversation, questions our attitudes and evaluates our achievements. It helps us sort out the passing from the eternal.

It helps us develop healthy, happy homes, restore relationships, give up destructive habit patterns in both thought and conduct. It takes away our fear of the future. While it won’t keep bad things from happening to us – it will help us deal with those things when they do.

To begin shifting our thoughts from self to Christ we need to pay attention more to our motives and intentions and less to our good appearance and impression. And actually this is probably the biggest stress reliever we could adopt.

Here are some suggestions for centering our lives:

Think small – It’s not all going to be mountain top experiences. Bigger is not always better and louder is not always more true. There is a lot of good to be found in ordinary days and quiet times. We should cherish each day. And resist distractions – our world is full of airplanes flying over, barking dogs, ringing phones, crying babies, beeping computers and blaring TVs – how can we hear God above all that racket? We need to be still sometimes.

Make a faith statement with your living. Thomas R. Kelly said that a centered life is a heaven directed life and our way of life advertises what we believe. Our choices either give credibility to our values or undermines them. And our lives catch people’s attention the most when we are spiritually strong dealing with problems.

Listen to people and events. God can teach us in a thousand ways, but we need to cultivate a willing receptivity to understand His will and purpose. We need to dig in to Scripture. To ask questions of other Christians who may be further along the journey then we are. We need to ask – What is God saying to me here? We can learn something from every person we cross paths with if we let ourselves

Practice God’s presence. This tunes us in to Him. To practice His presence, we may think of Him reading the letter we’re writing to someone, listening to a phone call we make or a conversation we’re having, reading the book we’re reading over our shoulder, sitting in the same room we are, etc.

Be satisfied with enough. It seems like everyone has a problem with money. They either don’t have enough – they have enough, but want more or they worry about keeping what they’ve got! We can trust God to take care of our needs.

Try to act like you think Jesus would in a situation.

And we learn how He would act through Bible study and prayer. God meant prayer to simplify life. It’s like a kid who has a problem, going to his or her dad for either the answer or a solution or just a hug. The kid feels better just going to his dad. Humans have made it more complicated. We are the ones who have divided it into 5 classes, “Adoration, Confession, Petition, Thanksgiving and Intercession.” We tend to stick thees and thous in when we would never say that in a normal conversation – and how often when we are asked to pray in a group do we say – “lets have a short prayer” – Have you ever heard anyone say “lets have a long prayer”? Why do we feel like we need to say “this will only take a second.”?

There are lots of questions people have about prayer – do we need all the answers before we pray? No – I don’t really understand how I can talk on the phone to someone half way around the world, but I do it! And it works!

We work so hard at getting the prayer “just right” so God will be pleased and give us what we want!

But, prayer really is just talking to God. Telling Him what we think, what we’re worried about, what our hopes are for a situation or for the future. Asking for His help – which could be anything from taking the problem away to giving us the strength to live with it!

The more time we spend in prayer and reading the Bible – the more we will begin to see where God is coming from in things. Sometimes just talking to God about a problem organizes it in your mind, calms you down enough to get perspective and helps you see what He might think of the whole thing, which then gives you an idea how to handle it.

Commit to stop dabbling in religion and give your all to God through your church.
Do we come to church on Sunday mornings out of habit? Or to worship God? Do we come to be entertained? Or to Praise His name? Do we come because we think it’s right that our children should go to Sunday School? Or to show them by joyful example how to live their lives?

If we would all just quit dabbling in religion. Quit thinking that just showing up for a little while Sunday mornings was enough, and commit ourselves to jumping in wholeheartedly – we would have a church on fire for God and people would flock here to join us!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Putting God in His Place - Part 1

Reading the newspaper can be very depressing. We read about war, violence, crime and corruption on a daily basis. At the same time we see “inspirational” books and articles come out by the hundreds about; finding meaning in life, how to be happy and how to be successful. As a Christian, I find this almost as discouraging as the news.

The reason I say this is: people are running to these books and ideas and gurus because they are searching. They’re hungry and even a little desperate. But, they are searching in all the wrong places.

What is the Christian church not doing – or doing wrong – that they are not turning to us for answers?

Positive thinking helps… but it’s not the answer. Organizing our homes and our lives aren’t bad things…but they’re not the answer. Getting good grades, having a successful career are nice…but they’re not the answer.

As Christians we need to say “enough” and then reach out and help.

Everyone has a built in hunger for God. He created us that way – with a little hole inside that can only be filled by Him. We don’t always recognize that, but it’s there. We think it’s something else and go after money, fame, security, material items, power, - but nothing fills the void.

One by one everything else fails us. As Christians, as a church, it’s time to start paying close attention to God. It’s time to start being transformed into the image of His son. It’s time to grow our spirituality and share the answer with the people who are searching.

“Spirituality is an inward relationship with God that fills every part of living with Christ.” It’s a molding process to make us into the people God wants us to be and we want to be.

If we want the world to change – we have to start first with ourselves and then our church. Spirituality enables us to see God at work in everything. Then when we don’t totally understand the why we still believe that God never wastes a relationship or situation in developing our interior life. That’s why we can “always give thanks for everything in the name of Christ Jesus.”

SO – if we decide God’s time IS now – we need to open our hearts; read and digest the scripture. Include Christ in every detail of our lives; examine all we do in the light of what we know He wants from us. Give Him all our excuses and commit to obedience.

If the goal of a Christian is to know and love God and then live with Him forever. Living toward that goal is what makes an abundant and quality life.

When we seek God’s will we need to remember that the “where” and “what” are less important then the “who”. God wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to believe that His Son is who He says He is. And to tell others that every time we get a chance with both our words and our actions.

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