Monday, January 23, 2012

Stages Along The Way

Our youth group took a field trip this weekend with our wonderful youth leader, Crystal and Rev. Jeff.  So that meant we had a “guest” minister at church on Sunday.  Rev. Fred Smith is not a stranger, he is actually “retired” (I don’t think ministers ever fully retire from ministry) and a member of our congregation at FUMC Washington.  We just don’t get the chance to hear him preach at our church very often and it is always a pleasure to hear one of his sermons!  Yesterday was no exception!

Fred preached on Mark 1:14-20 and how the disciples dropped everything to answer when Jesus called.  He talked about how they had no idea what was expected of them, the call did not get a job description!  Yet, they followed anyway!  He talked about his own call to ministry and how he had no idea if he had the gifts and graces, yet God gave him what he needed, when he needed it.  Fred made me cry (not in a bad way!)  Fred has this wonderful gift of making a simple message really hit home!

I thought about this as I was reading in Genesis chapters 12-15, in the Wesley Study Bible, which details the call of Abram.  The notes emphasize Abram’s radical obedience to the call.  But I noticed a couple of passages that the notes did not emphasize.  I’m going to emphasize what caught my eye by capitalizing the phrase in the verse.  The first one is Genesis 12, verse 9:
“And Abram journeyed on BY STAGES toward the Negeb.”
The second one is Genesis 13 verse 3:
“He journeyed on BY STAGES from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,”
When you look at the definition of the word “stage” in the dictionary, you find that there is a very long list of meanings.  Here are just a few:
“the scene of an event; a stopping place in a journey; a point, period or level in a progressive change or development; the distance between two stopping places as a division of a journey”
So, when we talk about Abram making a journey “by stages,” this isn’t just a physical moving about, there is also a spiritual journey as well!

This point is really driven home in chapter 13 when Abram and his nephew, Lot, part ways.  The parting came about because both men had a lot of livestock and the land could not support such a crowd.  The herdsmen were bickering with each other over the limited resources.  Now the notes say that the custom of Ancient Near Eastern tribes was that the younger defer to the older as a show of respect.  But Lot did not do this when he chose where to settle.  The notes say “he chose the best for himself, basing his decision entirely upon his sense…”  The notes go on, further detailing the difference between Lot and Abram “Lot hungrily desires the best his eyes can see, while the Lord charges Abram to see more than he can otherwise imagine.”  The key to getting to the next stage?  “Seeing” more than you can otherwise imagine.  Trusting the Lord to give you what you need when you need it!

The Apostle Paul, makes this same point in Romans 8:24-25 when he says:
“For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Did you ever feel like you were being called or gently nudged to do something but you hesitated?  Or maybe you just flat out rejected the idea as being totally insane because you did not have the skills to accomplish the task?  You could not see how you could possibly accomplish such a thing?!  Maybe you did try once before and failed.  Maybe someone close to you told you that you would never be able to do the task.  You are in good company!  I know I have fallen prey to this pitfall on far too many occasions!  Usually I end up kicking myself for missed opportunities!  And I have a hard time forgiving myself for not following through.  Vicious cycle isn’t it?

But if we take the lesson of Abram to heart, perhaps we would be a little bit gentler with ourselves.  Abram did not become Abraham overnight!  He had a lot of journeying to do before he got to that point.  He traveled both physically and spiritually in stages.  That’s how life works.  We don’t gain maturity overnight.  It comes over years of time and it comes in fits and spurts.  There are stages of progress.  Sometimes we grow fast and other times we seem to level off.  Ask yourself-are you the same person today that you were five years ago or 20 years ago?  Of course not because life is a journey!  We are told that by faith we are saved.  Yet we have no tangible proof of that, but as Paul says “for in hope we are saved.”  Hope is believing in what you can not physically see or, in the case of Abram “seeing more than you can otherwise imagine.”  Our faith is strengthened over time as we go through new experiences and learn new things.  We are challenged, we grow, we level off and we are challenged again.  Sometimes we will miss chances and opportunities and sometimes we will fall flat on our face.  It is all part of the process of each individual life journey!  At each stage, God extends his loving (and forgiving) grace.  All he asks is for us to trust him to lead the way!

If God can forgive us our shortcomings maybe it’s time we do the same.  Instead of dwelling on the opportunities that we missed in the past, make today the day where you focus on the future.  Make the choice to trust God to lead.  Even without a job description, even without any tangible proof, even if you can not see the possibility of success, choose to say yes to God anyway!  Choose to hope in faith.  Choose to see beyond what you can imagine.  Believe that when you get to the next stage God will give you what you need when you need it!  And know that God is right there-walking with you through every stage on the way!

No comments:

Post a Comment