After stumbling across an old notebook/journal of mine yesterday, I started reading more of what I had captured in its pages back in 2016. The same day as yesterday’s notes, I had attended the evening service as well there at Cherry Run Camp Meeting. The evangelist, one of our own Western Pennsylvania United Methodists, Rev. Ellen Bullock, shared the scripture passage from Acts 27:21-26 where Paul and Luke and everybody on their ship are caught in a horrible winter storm and are about to be shipwrecked. And God sends an angel to deliver a message to Paul… and through him to the entire crew and passengers on this doomed ship.
21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
Now, again, my notes are what I was hearing the Lord speak to me in the midst of her sermon… so I’m not so much giving you her sermon notes as I am giving you my thoughts and observations and even questions as I sat and listened and made my notes.
One of the first things I noticed was verse 23 where Paul says the angel came from “the God to whom I belong and whom I serve.” So what’s the one requirement for angelic help? That you (or I) belong to their Master!
At one point Ellen must have drawn a contemporary example because in my notes I wrote: “If Jesus were in America now, one of his parables he might use as he taught might be ‘This Old House’.”
And there were several observations of how owning an old house compares to spiritual reality for our lives as Jesus taught.
- The owner has a responsibility for his property. Do you live in a rental? Call the landlord for fixing things. Live in a parsonage? Call the Trustees. Own your own home? You get to take care of the issues on your own. If we “belong to” Christ, then it’s never just up to us… We call out to Him for help in fixing whatever needs attention!
- The owner has a right to make changes. You can tell when a house is up for sale or even has just been sold. There are modifications and reconstruction projects. And outside, you see LOTS of garbage… There are things that used to be part of the house that have been thrown away. If we now “belong to” Christ, then there will be changes in “this old house” as he remakes us and brings us into line with what HE wants. And there will be things that are discarded in order to make us into the person (or house?) he wants us to be.
- You give up the right to stay the same when you get a new owner. If we truly do “belong to” Christ now, then our right to keep everything the way it was before we came to Christ is gone. Jesus, our new owner, can rearrange and reconstruct anything in our lives he wants.
- With Jesus as owner, there can be no Time Share. In practical terminology, you can’t live like a Christian on Sunday and consider Monday through Saturday are yours to do whatever you desire. If Jesus is owner of “this old house,” then it is his every day of the week, all 24 hours of each and every day.
- When we “sell out” to Jesus, we surrender the right to keep a room in our hearts as ‘OFF LIMITS – ONLY I CAN ENTER!’ When we “sell out” to Christ, everything becomes HIS! We don’t get to keep back any secret rooms or hidden closets.
- If our lives, and our hearts, are viewed in this parable as “this old house,” then it’s important to remember that we are ALL ‘fixer-uppers.’
I’m not one who knows a lot on how to fix up a fixer-upper, but, in light of this parable approach, I don’t need to know how to fix everything on my own. Rather, I need to keep the “owner” (Jesus) informed and talk about everything with him. He is the one who brings about whatever changes he wants.
When I was growing up, every so often some of the older kids would use some words I wasn’t supposed to say and whatever adult happened to be around would respond, in a disciplinary tone of voice, with “WATCH YOUR MOUTH!”
Proverbs 10:11, in the English Standard Version (ESV), matter of factly states
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”
Now the question is ‘Which part of the verse describes the words, conversation, and commentary that comes out of MY mouth?’ (Or yours?)
Which kind of mouth do we have?
Below, I have inserted a link to a new song based on the traditional Wesley’s Prayer that I have fallen in love with. I heard it for the first time at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s inaugural event in Chicago in October 2016. Check it out!
Here’s the traditional Wesley’s Prayer as well.
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
I’m sitting in a school parking lot with a dead van when I thought I was heading to a church weekend conference near the New York border. Had already told myself that this hadn’t taken God by surprise, so I have his guarantee that he’ll redeem what I face even when it’s bad (Romans 8:28).
While waiting for the tow truck, I opened the only book I have with me, The Imitation of Christ, and the book fell open to this following passage (that I had already highlighted sometime in the past!):
“Adversity is the best test of virtue. The occasions of sin do not weaken anyone; on the contrary, they show that person’s true worth.”
-The Imitation of Christ. Book 1, chapter 16, section 4.
OK… I hear you loud and clear Lord!
As a pastor for the past 21 years, I would LOVE to be able to see exactly what my listeners in the congregation are thinking… and where they are in their faith journey to help steer my praying (my private praying mostly, but also the public prayers) and to guide my sermons to help where people really are. HOWEVER, we can’t see these thought bubbles in real life! We only have two resources in this: people sharing directly with the pastor about concerns, questions, and struggles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Because of the Holy Spirit, we do “get it right” quite often as we follow the Spirit’s leading and “nudging.” But what JOY when people talk directly with us and we can work directly with the Spirit to meet needs, offer clarification, provide comfort, extend a listening and caring ear, and pray personally with someone.
When I grew up, many people tried to claim that all I had to do was believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer and I was good to go… forever. While that’s a great starting point, I was challenged by James’ words: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” -James 2:17 (NLT)
And today, I ran across this Christian writer from antiquity who summed up the knowledge part of faith and the role of the “works” of faith really well:
“Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.” – St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, p 126, #12.
Maybe “faith put into practice” is a better way of thinking about faith and works! If our faith is based on on our head knowledge, it’s dead! But if we can put the faith we believe into practice, then we’re REALLY living out our faith!
As a child, one of the Sunday School songs started like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see…” and it reminded us that what we look at, affects our thinking, which affects our actions, which becomes a spiritual issue as well. Similar verses warned our ears and what we listen to, our hands and the things we choose to do, and finally our feet and where we choose to go.
I have been repeatedly returning to Psalm 119 over the past four or five months every once in a while and yesterday I got caught on verse 37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.” (New Living Translation).
I was immediately reminded of how many times I go online for some legitimate reason and “accidentally” find myself still online 20 minutes, an hour, or even several hours later. I need to redeem the time… and Facebook and Twitter can be tools and even very helpful, but they can be the door in to a longer, more wasteful, worthless online experience.
And it’s EVERYTHING we allow into our minds and hearts, isn’t it? Internet, video games, books, comics, magazines, songs (and lyrics), and the list could go on for quite a while…
Couple that with a crazy “selfie” picture that I had taken a couple of weeks ago when I had shaved my beard down and a new graphic reminder of this verse was born.
Enjoy… or be freaked out… but heed the Scriptural truth.
I know what I WANT to do, but I keep messing up. I want to do what is right. But my natural sinful tendencies are always with me. So like The Elephant & The Executive , I have to constantly choose to follow my head (where God’s will is clearly known) rather than my gut level natural reaction (which is always run by my sinful nature ).
The ONLY way to do that is to continually keep going to Christ… He alone can make a difference. That’s why David’s prayer pf repentance in Psalm 51 keeps emphasizing that which only God can do for him: have mercy, wash, cleanse, create, renew, restore, & save.
God has to CREATE something new in me. There will be NO pure heart without HIS involvement. It’s not about self-help or my will or my commitment. It’s me going back to Him constantly!