June 15, 2011

 
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

--Matthew 7:14

 

Navigating ‘The Narrows’

By Don Meadows

Our recent trip to South Carolina to see a grandson graduate from high school provided several moments of hearing God speak.  This was especially true on the road.

Several times our progress was slowed by progress.  You’ve experienced it, too, if you have done any traveling during the summer months.  Traffic is moving along nicely, then you see it – a sign which indicates that two lanes merge into one.  Gradually you have to go slower and slower and discover you are in the wrong lane.

Finally, someone lets you ease into the proper line of traffic flow.  You look to your right, or left, and see other “out of lane” vehicles speeding on by, taking advantage of the people at the front of the line. Those back, including you, seem to be going backward instead of forward. Of course, you fume and fuss and trudge along until you get to that place where physical barriers force everyone into one-lane traffic.

At one of these “narrows,” I thought of that passage from Matthew.  The “way is narrow,” Jesus said.  There’s very little room for error along these stretches.  If you try to rush, you could tear up some sheet metal, bang into someone up ahead or run over someone on the side working.  Get really careless and you could be in serious trouble.

God has launched each of us on a journey.  It’s called life.  The goal is to get beyond this temporary life to eternal life with him.  He has told us and shown us in so many ways that, though there may be many lanes of living this life, eventually they all will merge.  Only one lane leads to God and eternal life and happiness.  That way is the map laid out by Jesus Christ, who told us plainly in John’s Gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

Every now and then you will see someone try to take a detour around a construction site.  I don’t know if they ever succeed, but I suspect they don’t get very far.   I’ve tried it a few times, and it ended up being costly in time and gasoline.  The worst part was having to explain to Janet why I did it when she so clearly said, “Don, don’t do it.”

There are no detours to heaven.  You go to heaven the way Jesus takes you, or you don’t go.  It’s that plain.  That simple.

The next time you come to one of those “narrows,” utter a soft prayer of thanks.  They will keep you going the right way, the repairs will eventually make the trip easier and there is a clearing up ahead that will set you free to get where you want to be.

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June 16, 2011

My sheep hear my voice . . .

–John 10:27

 

 

Are You Just Deaf, Or Lost?

By Don Meadows

God is speaking.  Do you hear Him?

If you do not, a question needs to be asked and answered.  Are you just deaf?  Or are you lost?

As Jesus was walking in Solomon’s porch in the Temple, Jews confronted Him.  “Tell us plainly,” they demanded, “are you the Christ?”

“I told you, and you didn’t believe me.  The things I do, they tell who I am.  Still, you won’t believe.  The reason you don’t believe is this:  You aren’t of my sheep.  You are deaf because you are lost.”

Jesus says here, in effect, that those who are not of his flock cannot hear his voice.  It’s a frightening predicament to find oneself, because to remain in it is to be eternally lost and damned to the fiery reality of hell.

In what ways is God speaking today?  God is speaking in national, world, state, local and personal events.  In fact, he is screaming out at us to listen.

He cried out to the folks of the ancient world, too.  We read the Bible, and review history, and wonder: "Why didn't they see it?  How could they have not understood God's voice, his reaching for them?"  Yet, today, we are ignoring God the way they did; we aren't listening or we are incapable of hearing.

Not many preachers have the courage to say it, because to do so risks being called a radical, a kook, a hate monger.  People today want the positive gospel.  Talk about good things.  Tell only of God’s love and grace.  That “hell and punishment” stuff isn’t fashionable today.  People want to be comforted and complimented.  They don’t want to be confronted; they resent being condemned.

Little do they know that it is impossible to rightfully proclaim the love of God without telling of his judgment and demand for justice.  It is his love which moved him to provide a way for those whom he created in his image to receive mercy and grace instead of judgment.

For this to happen, however, we must “hear” his invitation.  The Apostle Paul attacked this dilemma. He said, in Romans 10:13-15a, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”

God sends messengers and messages.  They are instruments of the Holy Spirit, working God’s plan of salvation.

A beloved picture is that of Jesus standing at the door.  In Revelation 3:20, he says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

What does the knock sound like? 

It sounds like the evening news on television when terrible disasters are reported.  In this world we have awful things.  The knock sounds like the pounding heart when you wait for a doctor to give you either good news or bad news.  Sickness and death are realities in this life.  The knock sounds like the joy of seeing a man and woman become husband and wife, or a new baby born into your family.  Blessings come from God.

The knock sounds like the voice of someone telling you they love you.  God is love.  It sounds like the thing that hurts you the most.  God is compassion and courage.  The knock sounds like a door closing, or a door opening.  He is the way, the truth, the life.

God is speaking all the time.  His sheep hear him.  They answer him.  They follow him.

Do you hear him?  Listen, listen with your heart and you will, because he will welcome you as his very own, through Jesus.

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June 17, 2011

 

Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, "How long are you going to waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!" But the people were completely silent.

1 Kings 18:21 (NLT) 

 

Silence Not Always Golden

By Don Meadows

“But the people were completely silent.”

Not much changes where human nature is concerned, does it?  Confronted by a moral choice, many people prefer to sit on the fence and do or say nothing.  They’re waiting to see which side is the most popular, or where the advantage is for them.

Elijah would not permit evil to go unchallenged.  Ahab had compromised Israel’s relationship with the true and living Lord.  “Now bring all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, with all 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who are supported by Jezebel." (1 Kings 18:19 -- NLT)  Elijah was going to have it out with them, and he wanted the people to witness whose god was truly God.  Their literal survival depended on it.

Ahab had nearly eliminated Israel’s voice of conscience.  He replaced the priests of God with those of Baal and Asherah.  Elijah would not be silenced, however, and with God’s help he successfully avoided capture.  In addition, Obadiah had hidden 100 priests in two caves, providing them food and water in defiance of the king.

God chose a time, however, to act.  He sent Elijah to Ahab.  “So, it’s you – Israel’s troublemaker,” Ahab exclaimed upon their meeting.

Sound familiar?  Those who stand for right, who advocate godly principles often are targeted as “troublemakers.”  Those who stand opposed to homosexuality are branded troublemakers and homophobes.  They who oppose abortion are branded heartless woman-haters.  Voice support for Israel and you are labeled a radical.

Disturbingly yet-minority voices of compromise have invaded The Church. If God’s people remain silent, liberal crusaders will assume more and more power until they succeed in gaining a majority portion of decision-making power.

The United Methodist Church is threatened, too.  Agencies within the General Church speak with voices which do not reflect official UMC policy.  Many UMC folk and millions outside the denomination hear conflicting reports of what is or is not official church policy.

A couple of years ago, the West Ohio Conference, with the tragic blessings of Resident Bishop Bruce Ough, elected an out-of-the-closet gay man to be Conference Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer.  It was a close vote, something like a 20 vote-majority out of more than 2,000 votes.

There has been a backlash.  Many local congregations are refusing to pay much of their assigned apportionments. Several churches, some of which are in the Shawnee Valley District (formerly Portsmouth District) literally “bought out” their property and severed their ties with the UMC.

While one may sympathize with folks who feel so disenfranchised that they must pull out, their action results in a lot of silence.  After the initial boom of the canon, there is not much ammunition to continue the struggle. Elijah stood and fought. 

So, too, are many people in the UMC.  At this year’s annual conferences, largely conservative delegates were elected to General Conference.  It is so in West Ohio, the South Georgia Conference and others.  General Conference is where UMC members from around the world gather to vote on official church policy.

Let us be much in prayer that they will have the divine guidance and courage to stand up and be counted on the Lord’s side.  Remember, Elijah said plainly:  “If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!"

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