September 28, 2018

Changing With the Seasons

There's a new season at Walt Disney World! Summer ends quicker, and the activities surrounding Fall begin right away. The Epcot Food and Wine Festival has kicked in and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is already going. Christmas is right around the corner for the Disney resorts as well. Change, change, and more change.

Change is coming to the parks. Some good and some a bit questionable. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is now about a year away. Guardians of the Galaxy are invading the Universe of Energy building, and Tron is making its way from Shanghai Disneyland to the Florida's Magic Kingdom. Some things may seem strange or out of place. You never know what the Disney suits will do in order to keep us hardcore fans returning! Even if you're not headed to the parks soon, change is coming. You can feel it in the weather.

Has change been good?

If you've been even the slightest bit spiritually minded, you can sense change has been all around you and more is to come. It’s the way it always is as we follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit is always at work in our world doing new things.    
It can be scary, and yet God is in control, He’s always in control. I’m reminded of the words of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah:

“Look, I am about to do something new. Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it? Yes, I will make a road in the desert and paths in the wilderness. The wild animals of the desert honor me, the jackals and ostriches, because I put water in the desert and streams in the wilderness, to quench the thirst of my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, so they might praise me.”
(Isaiah 43:19-21)

All this change, I wonder a lot about what's going on. I'll ask you the same questions I have been asking myself, starting with this primary one:  Why are you a believer in Jesus?

Answering this question is one that can give me grief. When I look at what the followers of God did in both the Old and New Testaments and I see the difference between how they live and how I live, it's easy to question if I really am a believer. They put their lives on the line every day, opening their mouths to share the truth of Jesus' own words as He being the only way to Heaven. They lived their live sin a way that meant being a Jesus follower required always being ready to share what they believed and being willing to move from place to place as God led so they could tell the Good News to as many people as possible. It also meant if necessary, they were called to die for what they believed. 

What's missing here since this has seen change?

So, I'll ask you as I've asked myself, 
“What seems missing?  "What is next?” 

All too often I can find that I go my own way with my own plans, and I expect them to do good things and bring praise to God for his goodness and his faithfulness. When this happens, I find I can get disappointed or even frustrated that things didn't do as planned. I'm starting to finally discover that God has a better way.

The truth is our obedience to God brings true success and lasting impact. Let me tell you why this works the way it does.

Jesus explained several times that He only did what He saw the Father doing.

He said it to the Jews who were persecuting Him (John 5:16-19)
He said it to the Pharisees who hated him and questioned his authority (John 8:28)
He said it to His Disciples (John 14)

Why is it so important that we are in tune with God- to hear Him and obey Him?

 “If you love me, keep my commands.” – That’s pretty direct, no bones about it straightforward! These are Jesus' own words out of the book of John, Chapter 15 verse 15.

You can probably figure out what I'm asking myself after this!

Sometimes change requires demolishing the past
in order to embrace the new.

God speaks to us in His Word, the Bible, and also through our times of prayerful intimacy with Him. He also speaks through others, through dreams and signs, and lastly through circumstances- all in agreement His Written Word.

How does this all work? 

Let's take a look at Jesus' own words from the book of John 16:7-15:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (The Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me;  about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

What's happening in these verses? What does Jesus mean?

God Himself goes before us- doing the preparation work that needs to happen in people's lives (making them aware of their sin; making them aware of God's righteousness and His sacrifice to pay for their disobedience from God's laws; and letting them become aware of God's coming judgment to those who believe and those who don't. That means eternal life with God for those who believed Jesus died on their behalf and rose from the dead- but eternal separation from God and damnation in Hell for those people who reject God's payment on their behalf).
Jesus says the Holy Spirit will speak to us, directing us in how we should live and whom we should share the Good News. We do not have to do this in our own strength! He will direct us- the pressure is off. What a relief!
God's Holy Spirit is in us! This gives us the power we need to do His work. It's not like we have to drum up the strength and have the right words and do the right things.

You never know what adventures lie ahead 
as you step out in obedience to God's words!

In order to really see God at work and be a part of that, we must spend the time to have our own encounter with our very personal God. 
This takes:

Look at Moses. He leads the people out of Egypt and watches God part the Red Sea to make this happen. Then he sees God give the people food in the desert- bread and quail from Heaven. The people see God give Moses the Ten Commandments- the very rules He gives his people so they can live lives that honor Him as well as avoiding them hurting themselves and others. Not a bad display of God's great love for them! 

So Moses and the people have seen so much! But what happens later?

"Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp. And when Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he entered the tent. And whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people would see the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people, each one at the entrance of his own tent, would rise and worship. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend. 

Then Moses would return to the camp, but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent. Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have been saying to me, ‘Bring this people up,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. But you said, ‘I know you by name, and also you have found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your way, that I may know you, that I may continue to find favor in your sight. And see that this nation is your people.” And the Lord said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up from here. For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth?” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do this thing also that you have requested, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” And Moses said, “Show me your glory.”
(Exodus 33: 7- 18)

And in the verses that follow, we discover God did just that. Sometimes like Moses we have to to ask for God to display His Glory!  He loves us- but He also wants to know we love Him and we want to spend time with Him. Yes, He is that personal and involved in our lives.

(Did you notice Joshua - the future leader- never leaves the tent? Are you like him? Waiting for God’s presence?)

Experiencing God is addicting- and it's empowering-  reminding us of our relationship and our mission as those who follow Jesus. Let me ask you as I've asked myself, “When is the last time you have waited and asked for God to reveal Himself, to speak to you, to minister to you as you ministered to Him with your time?” 

God's presence can go with us as well as we do His work- and He will give us rest when we need it.  If you're like me, you get so busy trying to survive and doing the work of the Kingdom that you can forget Who you are serving and that He desires relationship with us!

The true transformation comes as we draw close to God.

Encountering God changes your life in ways you can't imagine. Remember when Peter, James, and John meet with Jesus on the mountain and Moses and Elijah show up? (Luke 9:34-36- known as Jesus' Transfiguration)

"As he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. So they kept silent and told no one at that time anything of what they had seen."

Can you imagine what this encounter did to the three disciples? 
As believers, we should constantly:

Encounter the Living God, Be Changed by the Living God, and Be Used by the Living God. 

God has wonderful things in store for us as we press on and stay focused on Him! Its' also called Abiding in Him- something we should do. Let me close with Jesus' words once more:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."  (John 15:1-8)

As we stop and listen to Him, He’ll tell us what to do- and He will work through our obedience to bring glory to His Name. 

We are the Branches but He is the Vine! Our greatest of plans are empty- But if they are His plans and we're obedient, they bring lasting results!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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