GOD NUDGES

blanket fower - tulip - golden cannaAnd after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19: 12 (NLT)]

God’s nudges—we all get them and, all too often, we ignore them.

Last week, one of my pastors felt an uncanny impulse to call an old friend who lives across the country. As far as she knew, all was well with her friend and, as often happens with that sort of thing, she got busy and forgot about making the call. Today, she was reminded of her failure when she received a call telling her that her friend had died suddenly over the weekend. As she shared her regret, she reminded us all to respond to God’s gentle nudges. As Elijah learned, sometimes God’s voice is in a whisper!

When asked how to know whether we’re getting a nudge from God or simply have an idea, the pastor suggested we look to the source; if it comes from our heart, it’s probably from God and if it comes from our head, it’s probably us. Nevertheless, our own feelings and desires certainly can influence our perception of the idea and, for some people, “God laid it on my heart,” is just a euphemism for, “This is something I want to do.” A friend’s ex-daughter-in-law claimed that God “laid it on her heart” to leave her husband and children for another man—proof that our hearts can be as deceitful as our thoughts. We must be cautious of attributing our feelings to God. Not every good idea is a mystical message from the Lord; sometimes it’s just an idea!

Discerning the voice of God is not always an easy task. When something is weighing heavy on our heart, perhaps we ought to weigh the message against God’s word. Every one of God’s nudges will match up with His word and none will be something Scripture forbids! Of course, the better we know His word, the easier it is to recognize His voice. Checking Scripture, however, doesn’t mean randomly opening the Bible, picking the first verse we see, and saying that is God’s specific word for us; that’s little different than using a Magic 8-Ball for decisions.

Not everyone will get the same nudge and what God lays on my heart may not be what He lays on yours. His nudge is for us alone and rarely does anyone need to know the reason for our actions. Moreover, we should never say God told us to do something merely to add credibility to what we’re doing. Finally, just because someone says God laid it on his or her heart doesn’t mean He actually did! Just as we, on occasion, can mistake our own desire for one of God’s nudges, so can others. If someone tells us that God laid it on their heart that we should join choir or donate to their cause, we must be wary of getting pressured into something that isn’t God’s plan for us. If God really wants us to do something, most likely, He’ll be the one to tell us!

If God is nudging me about something of major consequence, I pray, study His word, and do research. For the most part, however, those little God-nudges are pretty easy to identify and don’t ask much of us: cross the room to speak with someone, make a call, offer to pray with them, give a hug, ask what you can do, or invite him to church. When in doubt, as long as it’s not contrary to Scripture, I’d rather risk looking foolish than miss a God-given opportunity. Most important, when we get a God-nudge, we should respond (and the sooner the better). We certainly wouldn’t want to miss our last chance to chat with a dear friend.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:21 (NLT)]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27 (NLT)]

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THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER (The Lord’s Prayer – 1)

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.” [Luke 11:1-4 (NLT)]

When one of His disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he alluded to John the Baptist’s prayer. Perhaps this nameless student had been one of John’s disciples. While we have no idea what John’s prayer was, we do know that he both prayed and fasted with his followers. We also don’t know if this disciple was one of the inner circle of twelve or one of the seventy-two that had been sent out by Jesus. We only know that he wanted to learn to pray, which was not an odd request. Rabbis often gave prayer formulas to their pupils and, since Jesus frequently prayed, the disciple knew that prayer was an integral part of his teacher’s life.

In at least two different times and places, Jesus said what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Actually, that title is a misnomer; this is not a prayer our Lord prayed, such as the ones prayed for His disciples in John 17, in Gethsemane, or as He hung on the cross. This is not His prayer, it is ours; rather than praying this prayer, Jesus was teaching it and giving this prayer to His disciples. The pronouns are not singular but plural; it’s not give, forgive, or let me but rather give, forgive, and let us. It’s not the food I need or the people I forgive who sinned against me; it’s the food we need and the people we must forgive who hurt us. This is a prayer meant to be said with one another; a prayer of community, it is a corporate prayer of submission and dependence.

When St. Cyprian wrote about the Lord’s Prayer, he emphasized the importance of praying it with other believers as a way of uniting them with their church family. He said, “Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.” With that in mind, perhaps a more appropriate title for this well-known prayer would be “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

When in Florida, we worship at two vastly different churches. Saturday nights, we attend a liturgical church and Sunday mornings we attend a non-denominational non-liturgical church. Pastored by a gifted preacher, Sunday’s message is inspiring and uplifting, but there’s something about Saturday nights that lifts my spirit and strengthens my heart. Saturdays, we raise our voices in song, responsively read a psalm, recite the creed, and say the Lord’s Prayer as one. The small groups in that church often end their sessions by joining hands and praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Singing, declaring, and praying with one voice, especially when physically connected with one another, reinforces our oneness in the Spirit and the Lord.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. [Acts 2:24 (NLT)]

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THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD…

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? [Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)]

For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. [Mark 7:21-22 (NLT)]

Grand Canyon of YellowstoneI recently saw a play in which the only character, Lisa, presents a monologue about her life and family. The audience learns that her father, Walter, a German-born Jew, escaped to the U.S. as part of the kindertransport effort but that the rest of his family perished at Auschwitz. During her monologue, Lisa tells of taking her then 75-year old father to visit the Auschwitz Memorial. While touring the concentration camp, Walter tells his daughter about attending school with members of the Hitler Youth. Being a Jew, he couldn’t wear one of their uniforms but another boy in his school, a Gentile, refused to wear one. Her father then tells her that, in spite of the horror of Auschwitz and the loss of his family, he is glad he was born a Jew—because he didn’t have the option of becoming a Nazi! Unlike the Gentile boy who refused to join (and suffered because of it), Walter realized that, had he not been Jewish, he might have joined the Nazis. He knew that part of him could have been as merciless and evil as the men who rounded up and exterminated his family.

After the war, Walter returned to Germany as an interrogator of German personnel. In her soliloquy, Lisa tells how he admitted to callously browbeating one prisoner into confessing that he’d rounded up Jews from the Ghetto. Rather than turn the prisoner over to the allies for trial, Walter handed him over to the Russians, men he knew would summarily execute the German in the woods. Perhaps Walter was right; in other circumstances, he might have joined the Hitler Youth.

Hearing this story made me wonder what darkness lurks in my heart. In other circumstances, could I spew hate, inflict pain, ignore my conscience, turn my back on my brothers and sisters, or close my eyes to evil? Could I ever be like Haman (who plotted to exterminate the Jews) or Abimelech (who killed his 70 brothers)? Could I have worn a Hitler Youth uniform? Sadly, in another time, in another place, perhaps my heart could have deceived me to do just that.

Just because I’m capable of evil, however, doesn’t mean I have to be evil. Rather than betray Jesus as did Judas, I could be as faithful as John. Rather than the closed minds and murdering hearts of those who stoned Stephen, I could be as holy and forgiving as the martyred man. While I could be as scheming and immoral as Herodias, I also could be as obedient and fearless as her victim John the Baptist. Yes, I could have joined the Hitler Youth, but I also could have refused to be part of such evil and willingly suffered the consequences.

There is something terribly wrong with our hearts that, if allowed to grow, can become horrendous and unthinkably evil, but there also is something beautifully right with them. We are made in the image of God; deep inside us there is something of Him and He has written his law in our hearts. He gave us the gift of free will and, with every choice, we either become more or less like the person God made us to be. Because our hearts can be deceitful, corrupt, and self-serving they can lead us astray but they don’t have to! When led by the Holy Spirit, our hearts can be so filled with good that there is no room left for evil.

For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. … Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. [Psalm 51:5,10-11 (NLT)]

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. [Galatians 5:22-24 (NLT)]

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YOUR MISSION

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)]

dahliaIn 1978, Merck Research Laboratories was approached by a scientist who thought a drug he was developing to treat parasitic infections in animals might be useful in treating a parasitic infection in humans. Called onchocerciasis or river blindness, it is transmitted through the bite of black flies and had no known cure. The pharmaceutical company faced a dilemma. Since onchocerciasis is found only in third world areas, the people needing the medication could never afford to buy it. How could the company expend money to develop a drug they’d never be able to sell? Nevertheless, they did and, in 1987, Merck announced that, for as long as was necessary, they would give away the drug (Mectizan®) for the treatment of onchocerciasis to any country that needed it. Eleven years later, they expanded their commitment and started donating Mectizan® for the treatment of Lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-transmitted disease which can develop into elephantiasis. Since 1987, more than a billion treatments have been donated to thirty-three countries and the World Health Organization forecasts that both diseases could be eradicated by 2020.

Typically, in business, if there’s no chance for profit, there’s no chance for the project. In the case of Mectizan®, however, Merck saw the company’s primary goal as getting the drug to the people who needed it rather than getting a return on their investment. This mindset goes back to a statement by George Merck in 1933 that the company’s mission was to develop scientific breakthroughs to benefit humanity. In 1950, he elaborated by saying, “Medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits.” Merck’s CEO in 1978, Dr. Roy Vagelos, further clarified the company’s mission by directing its scientists to put medical needs before profits and to think of their work as a quest to alleviate worldwide human disease and suffering.

Jesus gave us what’s known as the Great Commission; recently, our northern church wanted to clarify how it intended to fulfill that command. At a congregational meeting to formulate a mission statement, the story of Merck putting people before profit was shared to illustrate the importance of knowing our purpose and what we will or won’t do to achieve it. It’s not just churches, businesses or charitable foundations, however, that need to articulate their mission. “What is my objective? What have I been called to do and how will I do it?” are questions each of us should ask of ourselves and our families.

In that same 1950 speech, George Merck said, “The all-important question in research, which must be asked constantly, is: what is the right thing to do? … We cannot rest till the way has been found…to bring our finest achievement to everyone.” I’m not in medical research but Merck’s words apply to us all. What is the right thing to do? How can we bring our finest achievements to others? A good place to start is to ask two more questions: “What would Jesus do and how would He do it?”

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. [John Wesley]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:2,21 (NLT)]

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A MESSAGE IN THE SKY

skywriting - love godJesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)]

After a lovely walk in the park, I looked up in the sky and saw a skywriter busy at work. The word “love” was starting to fade in the sky and, thinking a marriage proposal was in the works, I thought the pilot needed to work faster to get his message written. Curious, I waited to see what came next and was surprised to see the word “God” written in pale white smoke before the pilot flew off.

“Love God” – that’s the first and greatest commandment and we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. In other words, love Him with our entire being: our passions, prayers, thoughts, words, voices, skills, desires, reactions, appearance, finances, strength, desires, relationships, and possessions. With no punctuation, however, that wasn’t necessarily what was meant. Rather than the command “Love God!” those little two words in the sky could have been more like the closing and signature line to a letter, card, or love note: “Love, God.” Indeed, the sunny day had been a beautiful gift sent from Him.

Although God sends us love notes all of the time, they’re usually not done in skywriting on a blue sky day. A rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant with His creatures to never again send an all-destructive flood, is one of His reassuring love notes reminding us that His love shines through all the storms of life. Rainbows, beautiful days, magnificent sunsets, butterflies, even the aroma of spring lilacs—all can say “Love, God” to us. Today, when I opened my email, I realized God sends His love another way—in the encouraging words and prayers of a Christian friend. Having mentioned my heavy heart for a loved one, she immediately responded with encouraging words and by lifting us both in prayer. The email may have come from her address, but it bore His signature: “Love, God.”

In church Sunday, I turned to a stranger and told her how beautifully her daughter had sung during the teen led worship service. She welcomed those words with such enthusiasm that you would have thought I’d offered her girl a recording contract. Telling me how thrilled her daughter would be to hear the compliment, she added that the teen had just been cut from a choral group and badly needed reassurance. I spoke the words but they came from one of His nudges and were signed “Love, God.” In the many ways we share God’s love, we fulfill the second, equally important commandment given to us: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Love God!” or “Love, God” – in this case, the punctuation makes no difference. Each day brings opportunities to love and honor God by being one of His love notes with our prayers, an encouraging word, a quick text or email, a warm touch, a hand-written note, extra patience, a friendly smile or a helping hand. It is in the love we show to one another that we can fulfill both of His commands at once.

All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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ONE AT A TIME

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

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