Tag Archives: wrestling with god

My Resignation

I have been pretty silent here, and after dealing with some hard things and good times of self-examination I read the following letter to Clackamas Park this last Sunday.

Dear Friends,

It is with great sorrow that I must resign from the role of Senior Pastor at Clackamas Park Friends Church. There are many personal and professional reasons for this necessity a few of which are:

  • Analise’s ongoing health issues.
  • My own sense of heartbreak around the recent Yearly Meeting Elders’ decision.
  • My value of diverse opinions on scriptural interpretation.
  • My desire to give people the space and time to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for themselves without mediation.
  • The pressure to be an enforcer of rules rather than a healer of souls.

While I was on vacation I did a lot of soul searching and recognize that my gifts of mercy, hospitality, generosity, leadership, preaching, and teaching have been my primary focus, and that the details of administration have fallen by the wayside with quite a few balls dropped. CPFC has grown quite a bit during my time here, and it has been a blessing to see you all begin to develop closer ties to each other through the meals after church, to see you supporting each other through times of crisis, and to help rebuild some of the trust that was damaged during the grieving period following Kevin’s death. CPFC has grown in its capacity to love and welcome and I am privileged to have played a role in that growth. I have come to deeply love this community and it breaks my heart that I am not called to continue as the leader of this church. In parting, I would like to share with you the invitation my father gave me as he lay dying: take on the compassion and longsuffering of Christ and bear it as your deepest honor.

 

You all will remain ever in my heart and prayers,

 

Gilbert L. George

The Living Word

Was inspired from the following notes:

Today I want to talk about the word of God, the divine logos that teaches us how to live the most excellent way. There are a lot of messages about what the good life looks like, and they even refer to the Bible to back up their claims. Creflo Dollar taught that God wanted him to have a private jet and quoted chapter and verse to justify it. Televangelists taught that God wanted you rich, fat, and happy and that if you gave them your money God would bless you with money. The church in America taught that it was just fine to enslave other human beings for personal profit using passages from scripture to back up their position. We now look at those things as abhorrent, and rightly so. The misuse of scripture has definitely caused many hurts, trials, and ills in the world. I myself must say that I misused scripture to self-justify bad behavior a few times. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one in this room to have done that, and when I lose sight of the important truth in today’s scripture I will again. What I forget sometimes is that the Divine Word existed before the first human writers chiseled pictograms into rock.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:1-18

  • The Word of God is not separate from God. The Word is God himself.
  • Through the Word creation happens. The Word is the source of life.
  • The Word is light and there is no darkness to be found in it. Darkness has no chance.
  • Clearing up confusion between the messenger and the message.
  • The world’s priority structure is based on darkness, so cannot recognize the light.
  • Even God’s people did not accept the light of God.
  • Those who did come to accept him became God’s children, superseding all previous arrangements.
  • The Word became flesh. God accepted all of the limitations of humanity in order to demonstrate the truth and show the way of grace.
  • Without the Living Word we cannot rightly understand the written Word. Our interpretation must come through Jesus.
  • God’s agenda is grace and restoration, not judgment and destruction. Grace and grace – unmerited favor.
  • Law of Moses is interpreted into God’s heart for humanity in Jesus.
  • To know God we must look to Jesus. To understand the scripture we have to look at Jesus.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point our lives to Jesus, and as we enter into open worship let us focus on the example our savior set for us and ask that God help each of us to seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that flows from Jesus, and the heart of the Father who loves us.

 

Faith, Trust, Doubt, and Hope

Click here to listen to the sermon that came from the following notes.

There are times when God leads you to a passage and you just wonder why God had to lead you there. This week we are going to look at Jesus’ interactions with people bringing someone they cared about to him for healing. The first story is that of a Roman Centurion with an ill servant.

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Luke 8:5-13

  • A loaded question. Purity rules, entering a gentiles house.
  • Centurion’s respect for culture – humility.
  • Centurion’s faith shows that the kingdom is offered to all, not just the “chosen race.”
  • Just being born into the right family doesn’t guarantee us a relationship with God. We must pursue it.

The next story is from the gospel of Mark 9:14-27 and is a much different circumstance involving a Father who has watched their child suffer for many years.

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

  • Failure is to be expected.
  • Disciples like us don’t always know the best way to approach a situation.
  • The only real failure for us is to not take things to Jesus, so maybe there isn’t a failure here after all.
  • “If you can?” vs. “If you will?”
  • Worn down faith needs Jesus, not judgment. Doubt is natural and can be the catalyst for deeper faith. Talk about my struggle with faith re:Analise.
  • Key element to both stories: humility.
  • Let us come before God together to seek his will in humility, but with Hope that our Father will act.

The Judgment Distortion

(Click here to download if autoplay is not working.)

Author’s note: I am switching things up a bit in that most of my post is audio and the words are my notes that I used to prompt myself. In my speaking I have decided to write out matters of introduction, then allow the Spirit to lead my speech. I would love to hear any feedback on how that went.

Gil

Today we are going to look at two teachings, one from the Sermon on the Mount and one from Paul’s letter to the Romans. One of the things I love about studying the scriptures is that when done prayerfully I pick up on themes and connections that I would normally miss and today we are going to talk about judgment. I am not talking about decision making here, but about passing judgment on how somebody else missed the mark. Being an armchair quarterback for someone else’s life usually doesn’t go over well. Jesus just finished cautioning his disciples on not putting up a pious front in public to appear more holy and now he takes them one step further down the path of self-examination.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

Paul in the beginning of Romans runs down a long list of the specks and planks he saw active through his travels in the Roman Empire, especially among those who ruled, speaking of how the idolatry he witnessed led to all kinds of debauchery, lust, and greed. After running down the laundry list of what ways people missed the mark when their aim was on something other than God, he addresses the Christians living in the heart of the fully corrupt empire with these words:

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 1:28-2:4

  1. The danger of what appears to be true about someone else. (Story about friend.)
  2. Work on our issues first, because often our issues cloud our perception and distort our vision.
  3. The rebound effect of judgment.
  4. Kindness and not judgment leads to repentance.

Don’t Worry? Really?

(I am changing the way I preach, so for the full text you will need to listen to the audio file. Below are the notes I made to preach from.)

Click here to listen.

Today, I am preaching a sermon on not worrying while I am worrying about my daughter. It is one thing to trust Jesus for my future and rely on God to provide for me, but there is something about looking at that little face and hearing her cries of fear and distress, that challenges my ability to trust God to provide for her. Intellectually I understand that God’s love for her is deeper than mine ever could be, but when those we love are in danger our intellect usually gets pushed out of the driver’s seat. Here is the strange piece though: as much as I am afraid and worried there is still a comfort that comes from knowing that others are praying and from having my feet planted on the firm foundation before the current storm of life rose up. That is what Jesus is doing here in the Sermon on the Mount, he is laying a foundation for His disciples to stand on when the storms come. He said to his disciples:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 5:25-34

Let’s do a quick recap of the Sermon on the Mount to put what we just read in context. Jesus had just called the disciples and saw the large crowds already beginning to form. He pulled the disciples aside and began to teach them by turning the expectations on good attitudes upside down. Jesus base level foundation was that God especially blessed the people who were going through tough times, didn’t have it all together, and knew they needed outside help to make it. He then told them that they were blessed to be persecuted for living by different priorities. Jesus then confronted the disciples with the need to practice our piety in ways that glorify God, not in ways that glorify self. Then in teaching them to pray gives them a simple prayer designed to align themselves with God’s agenda rather than get more stuff out of God. He then taught the disciples that putting God’s priorities first means that their loyalties cannot be divided between God and anything else. Only God is worthy of our loyalty and praise. Anything else, no matter how seemingly helpful is a distraction. Two weeks ago we looked at the distraction of material wealth and the ways that can divide our loyalty from God. That is the extent of what I have scripted for this week as the aforementioned distraction kicked in for another hospital run. I still felt led to speak on this scripture this week that God would give me the right words when I came to speak.

  • Don’t worry vs. don’t worry about.
    1. Mental illness – beyond control
    2. Specifics not generalities
  • Food worry
  • Clothes worry
  • Kingdom priority
  • Worry about the future

None of these teachings of Jesus is something we can do on our own, they require two things: the Holy Spirit to transform us and other followers of Jesus to carry us when we can’t take another step.

When Trusting God is Hard

I wanted to post a reflection yesterday, but I took my almost two year old to a pediatric cardiologist. My little one has given us quite the scare, and now is the time when my faith is tested the most. It is easy to trust God for myself, always has been. Going through the trauma of hospitalization and a congenital heart defect in my baby…the trust is a little harder to employ. I find myself asking the usual questions that parents must ask in these situations and wondering why.

I find it very hard to trust when it is my baby that is in danger, and this is one of those times when we dig out the lament Psalms and ask God why again. I answer back to the voice that comes from Job’s whirlwind saying “How dare you ask?” with “Because I love.” God replies, “Me too, just wanting to make sure you remember why you ask.” I don’t have any answers. The limbo state when we are still going through tests, waiting for results, and hoping the meds actually help is the hardest. Having definitive answers and a plan of action can be so much less troubling, but that isn’t where I am yet. I still worry.

Having to trust and trusting are two very different things. When I have to trust, it is because that trust is being challenged and something is happening that feels like the trust may be broken or misplaced. Now, this might come as a bit of a shock, but pastors doubt too. (We might even doubt more if we are isolated.) Right now, I echo the cry of the parent who came to Jesus seeking healing for his child “I believe! Help my unbelief.” My well of emotional energy has run dry and this means that I have to depend on others to believe for me. This is why it is so crucial for us to have honest faith communities around us. There are times when our well runs dry and we need to go borrow water from someone whose well is full.

I share with you the queries that are in my spirit and hope you can sit with them as a way to prepare yourself for challenging times. So take a few minutes and write out your responses and please revisit these questions to keep your mind up to date on the answers.

Who can you rely on when your emotional, physical, or spiritual wells run dry? What practices are life giving or recharging to you?

I hope you never have to face into the fires of doubt and fear, but you probably will and I am here if you need me.

Gil

Feel The Burn

(Click here to listen.)

When I began my weight loss journey last August, I began to practice the discipline of exercising. When I first began to use those muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time it felt like I was pushing lead through fire. My muscles burned and my fat began burning, but getting started from nothing was an incredibly difficult and painful process. As followers of Jesus, we are being refined and purified to better reflect Jesus to the world around us. As we experience that refining process we experience pain and resistance from within and without. In today’s scripture Peter reminds us that this experience of trials is normal and will continue as long as we are being refined by God.

12 Dear ones, don’t be surprised when you experience your trial by fire. It is not something strange and unusual, 13 but it is something you should rejoice in. In it you share the Anointed’s sufferings, and you will be that much more joyful when His glory is revealed. 14 If anyone condemns you for following Jesus as the Anointed One, consider yourself blessed. The glorious Spirit of God rests on you. 15 But none of you should ever merit suffering like those who have murdered or stolen, meddled in the affairs of others or done evil things. 16 But if you should suffer for being a Christian, don’t think of it as a disgrace, as it would be if you had done wrong. Praise God that you’re permitted to carry this name. 17 For the time for judgment has come, and it is beginning with the household of God. If it is starting with us, what will happen to those who have rejected God’s good news? 1 Peter 4:12-17

There are a number of translation choices that have been made on the trial by fire but to make things clear the word behind that choice implies testing by exposure to flame. In the ancient world, a heating process was used to test materials to see if something was worth refining or to determine the degree of purity in an already refined metal. This reference could also refer to the refining of precious metals like gold or silver which required repeated exposure to high temperatures to separate out impure elements. I am fairly sure that the text is actually referring to both the process of refining and the process of testing. To make absolutely pure Gold or silver requires multiple instances of melting, skimming off impurities, cooling, and melting again. There are numerous references in Hebrew and Christian writing about the ways God refines us that use the language of refining precious metals. When we look at the ore that is pulled from the ground to make gold or silver it looks nothing even remotely like the end product. No, it looks like an ugly, dense chunk of worthless rock that just needs to be tossed out of the way. God however is the greatest prospector who knows that after being smelted and refined this ugly, dense, chunk of worthless looking rock will mirror His glory.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget that I am not the one who controls the refining or testing processes. I want the process to be over quickly and confuse the burning glow of molten rock with the glory of God shining out and think that the process is over. There is a big problem when we think we get to determine when the refining process ends. We can feel betrayed by God because we think we have arrived, or worse, we can think that since we are further along in our refining we can dictate the process to others. We can invite others into the crucible with us, but we don’t get to choose which impurities get removed first. Since we are the ore as well we also don’t get to choose which chunks of ore get refined together. God, the master refiner, is the one to decide what needs to go together to make the most accurate reflection. He is the one that knows what the final product looks like, and it is in the suffering of being refined that we are conformed into more perfect reflections of Jesus.

When the fire is on us, the impurities rise to the surface and we have a choice. We can let God skim those impurities off and show his grace, mercy, and the truth of His forgiveness or we can allow those impurities to sink back down below the surface to mar us and impede our ability to shine. I chose to depend on food for comfort rather than God and ate my anger, ate my frustration, ate my fear for 30 years before the heat got turned up hot enough for me to turn to God for comfort and express my emotions in a healthier way. I resisted the change I needed to make me better reflect Christ’s image, and I am sure that an anonymous poll of this room would lead to everyone saying pretty much the same thing. We resist the pain of being refined, but God desires to fully reveal the beauty he has made within us and will not give up on refining us. It is when we suffer and can say with Jesus “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” that we reflect God’s glory most clearly to the world around us. When the early Christians faced public execution and audibly forgave those killing them it had an effect on everyone who witnessed and participated in those killings. When that depth of Christlikeness was shown, Christianity spread like wildfire.

Peter reminds us that we need to celebrate those times when the heat comes on and no impurities rise to the surface and accept the fire of refining to remove our impurities. Now when Peter lists the things we need to not be happy about suffering for the list starts out making perfect sense and as I read it the first time my internal monologue went “Murder – nope, stolen – no problem, meddled in the affairs of others – crud, really – crud.” The list is pretty easy until we get to that one, and boy can that one hit hard. One of the ways we try to take the heat off of us is by redirecting the heat onto someone else. We say things in our minds like “I know I have my flaws but wow that flaw in someone else really needs to be dealt with.” or even “Well, now that I have so much less impurities that other person really needs the flame more than I do.” The reality is of course the opposite. The closer you get to purity the hotter the flame needed to refine you further. In the refining process every step is hotter, and the testing process is similar. You start out at a lower temperature flame to get rid of the dross, if imperfections show at this lower testing it is the lowest quality and is sent back to be refined. But the purity is shown when the hottest flames bring out no impurities, so the closer you get to the process ending the harder the test of proof required and the hotter the flame to refine. There is some hope here for those who, like Peter’s audience, are experiencing the hottest flames of testing. It means that we are getting ever closer to clearly reflecting the image of Christ.

The testing Peter was addressing is that of persecution and really, we don’t face that here. Inconvenience, maybe, but not outright persecution. We don’t face complete alienation from our community or outright state sponsored murder as that Christian woman from Iran that has been in the news is facing. We have different testing to face:

  • The testing of moving from being the primary driver of cultural norms to being weird people on the cultural outskirts.
  • The testing of learning how to minister during the decline of Christendom and, I believe, the resurgence of Christianity.
  • The testing of loving people with whom we have complete, utter, and total disagreements on everything from doctrine to what is and isn’t missing the mark.

It is important to remember that the best thing for us is to take on Christ’s example of humility in the face of our testing, because God’s judgment starts right here with me. We are the ones who are being refined and we need to openly and honestly admit our flaws and failures so that we may be purified. If we don’t admit that we messed up on something how can we ever learn? If we try to redirect the refining fire onto others how will we ever reach purity? When I got on the exercise bike at the gym for the first time my muscles began to burn and I lasted 15 minutes because it felt like too much, but I went back. The next time I resolved to feel the burn and try to make it through. I lasted 20 minutes. I kept going back, knowing that I needed to get beyond feeling the burn to accepting the burn. When I learned to accept the burn I eventually made it to 45 minutes. But feeling the burn and accepting the burn only got me so far. There came a time when I began to see the results that I could welcome the burn and yesterday I biked out to Gresham City Park on the Springwater trail and back covering almost 15 miles with the family and was able to go for almost two hours and could have easily done more. I think Peter’s instruction to us in this text is to welcome and praise God for the burn that refines and tests us and not resist it or resent it.

Refiner’s Fire

By Brian Doerksen

Purify my heart

Let me be as gold

And precious silver

Purify my heart

Let me be as gold

Pure gold

Chorus

Refiner’s fire

My heart’s one desire

Is to be holy

Set apart for You Lord

I choose to be holy

Set apart for You my Master

Ready to do Your will

Verse

Purify my heart

Cleanse me from within

And make me holy

Purify my heart

Cleanse me from my sin

Deep within[i]

As we enter into open worship let us begin by placing ourselves into God’s hands and inviting God to send the refining fire of his Holy Spirit into us. And when that fire falls, let us resolve here and now to not resist it, to not resent it, to not try to redirect it onto others, but let us welcome that holy, purifying, and testing fire with praise on our lips. After 5 minutes of silence the person with the microphone will stand. Please allow some time for reflection after someone else speaks so that each of the words laid on our hearts can be well received and heard. Let us pray.

[i] CCLI Song # 426298

© 1990 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 378755