Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who is able?

Give your servant a discerning heart
to govern your people
and to distinguish between right and wrong,
for who is able to govern this great people of yours?.
1 Kings 3:9

Who is able to govern?  This was Solomon’s question as he spoke to God in prayer.  By the world’s estimation Solomon would become a huge success, bringing Israel up from being a tiny nation to a player on the world stage.  But there on the threshold of his reign, he stopped and considered the magnitude of the task before him.  Who in the world is fit for a job as big and important as this one?  Surely not me, he must have thought.
And so, of all the gifts he could have asked God to give him, he asks for wisdom.  Now, I know some people tell us we should pray for finances and prosperity for ourselves and others, but when we see what happens in the life of Solomon and his kingdom, I’m not sure that’s the best we can do.  The time of Solomon  reign was a renaissance — he lacked no material thing.  His court was the richest, most impressive and highly cultured that Israel would see in its history.  But it all grew from the seed of that one simple, heartfelt prayer.
What do you ask for when you pray?  Good health and a good life?  But what does that mean to you?  How do we live a good life? 
Scripture is full of helpful hints and suggestions about what the good life is and is not.   Despite Solomon’s wisdom and early commitment to serving his people, somewhere along the way he began to lose sight of what it was all for.  He became cynical and sad as he found that even his great power couldn’t solve all the world’s problems.  He begins to see that even with the many material comforts he enjoyed, no matter how much he’d try to eat, drink and be merry, life seemed meaningless, like “chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17, etc.).
So we know we need more than wisdom, success, comforts, food and drink and endless fun.  These things are hollow and dull without real, honest-to-goodness human relationships — without love.
             God knows we need relationships.  In fact we were made that way on purpose.  But why would God make us so dependant on each other?  Why is it we get lonely and crave companionship?  Why do we need other people to help us see and really understand the best and the worst that is in us?
Maybe because God craves companionship too.  He wants to have a relationship with you, and with every person in the whole wide world.  He loved you from the beginning of creation up to today and will go on loving you till the end of time.  Through his Son Jesus, He poured out his heart and soul, and his very life at the cross.  He longs for you to open your heart, confess your sins and receive forgiveness.  He is waiting for  your worship, honor and love.  He is anxious, waiting like a bride at the altar for you to totally accept and embrace him in your life. 
God longs for us to show our love for him, not just in prayer, worship and giving, but most powerfully in loving those He loves — the people of this world, our friends in Christ and those who’ve yet to find him.  One young man came to Jesus (Luke 18:18), wondering what more he could do to honor God in his life.  He was hoping to hear that he was already doing all that was humanly possible, since he was obeying the commandments and being as good as he knew how.  Jesus told him he had one more thing to do — “Give all you have to the poor, then come follow me.”
When Solomon prayed for wisdom alone, he set everything else he could have asked for aside for the chance to become a good and godly ruler.  When the disciples left their fishing boats behind on the Sea of Galilee, they  put their livelihood aside so that they could know and follow Jesus.  God longs to be your God, the God you would choose as he has chosen you.  We have a relationship with God when we allow him to be our GOD — in other words, to set all else to the side and be willing to let go of it, even as Abraham was willing to let go of his only beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22) and make God number one.
This election year, we are all asking, “Who is able to govern?”  As we keep all of our elected leaders and candidates in prayer, let’s hope they’re asking that too!
Pastor Scott

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Neighborhood faith

Therefore since we are justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
into this grace in which we now stand.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2
              Think, for a moment, about the people on your block.  Who are they?  What do they like to do?  Where do your neighbors shop, eat, work or play?  Do they go to church?  Are there children playing on your street, or is everyone on your block over 65?
              People come from a wide geographical area to worship with us at Atonement.  And the neighborhoods across that wide stretch are very different.  I live in Quail Hollow Village, which is very different from Quail Hollow.  Think of the contrast between Crystal Lake and Crystal Springs, or Lake Bernadette and Lake Jovita.  People describe Meadow Point itself as a small city, unique from New Tampa or Wesley Chapel. 
             We’re not like a small town church up north where people from the whole community can walk to the church down the block for worship.  Our area is a cluster of developments, mobile home parks and hidden away neighborhoods with a few rural stretches between “Mayberry” towns like Zephyrhills or Dade City.  State Rd. 54 and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. Come together near the center of the large long target area that God has given us to reach for Christ. 
            There are great things that come with living in such a diverse place.  Just head north for a drive through the country, south for shopping in the big city.  But it is also a real challenge for a church to come up with a strategy for reaching into all these different places.  An event held in Zephyrhills may not bring any Land O’Lakes people and New Tampa people may not feel like driving to Dade City.  We’d certainly like to see more Meadowpoint people come and bring their kids to worship, but many of them are used to driving south to work in Tampa, so they may not even know our church is here. 
              It seems to me, our best strategy would be to “divide and conquer,” to look at each area of our ministry separately, one at a time, and creatively come up with ways to impact each place.  To do this, we are going to need your help.  You know your neighborhood or development best — after all, you live there.  You know names and faces of people around you who need to come closer to Christ. You know what might work or not work in your area.  So let’s talk!
             Our outreach team will be arranging some get-togethers in various places around our service area.  We will be calling together members who live in those areas for prayer, conversation, brain-storming,  and just getting to know each other a little better. 
             As people of faith who know a risen Savior, it’s up to us to share the story and shine the glory God has given us.  We share the story of Easter — the good news that death does not have the final say on who we are and where we end up.  When Paul says we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” he’s reminding us that Easter is about us.  It’s about you and me, about what Jesus did for us on the cross, about what God did by raising him from the tomb — for us!  Romans 5 declares this as our story: “we are justified,” “we have peace,” “we have access” to God, and we stand in faith.  Like one candle passing its flame on to another, we light each other up with God’s glory when we share this joyful Easter news. 
            We Easter people are brought together as God’s family so we can be a family for everyone.  Together we practice resurrection — blessing, sharing and feeding each other while growing in God’s grace in love.  I look forward to meeting with you in your neighborhood and talking about how we can practice resurrection together in ways that draw people to Jesus and light them up with the glory of God.
Pastor Scott