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That “Thy Will Be Done” Thing

Sometimes “life” just blindsides you, doesn’t it? You think you have a plan – and then things change. It’s that way for all of us, I think. I recently had a situation arise that was completely unexpected – and I’ll admit – it sorta knocked me off my feet for a moment. (Ha! “Moment” nothing – for a good while!)

But – on the farm – chores still have to be done, regardless. So, as I was walking up the road toward the barn, I was praying. “Lord! How’m I gonna do this? How can I…” and I began naming off the things that I was (am) responsible to do. “What do You want me to do”? I cried. “I thought ‘this’ was what I was supposed to be doing… and now there’s ‘this’ added on… And I don’t see how I can do it all!”

But as I walked, head down and hands in my coat pockets due to the cold, the phrase “Thy will be done” came to mind and I looked up and said, “It’s that ‘Thy will be done’ thing, isn’t it?”

God’s will, will be done – the only variable is – what is my reaction to it. How will I say, “Thy will be done…”

In a Lenten study I wrote a few years ago we come to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know the story – Jesus enters the garden and takes Peter, James and John with Him – and as Jesus agonizes in prayer, Peter, James and John immediately fall asleep. But what we study in that lesson is how do we learn to say, “Thy will be done”?

William Barclay puts it this way:

“It makes all the difference in what tone of voice a man says, “Thy will be done.”

  1. He may say it in a tone of helpless submission, as one who is in the grip of a power against which it is hopeless to fight. The words may be the death-knell of hope.
  2. He may say it as one who had been battered into submission. The words may be the admission of complete defeat.
  3. He may say it as one who has been utterly frustrated and who sees that the dream can never come true. The words may be those of a bleak regret or even a bitter anger which is all the more bitter because he cannot do anything about it.
  4. Or, He may say it with the accent of perfect trust. That is how Jesus said it. He was speaking to one who was “Father”; He was speaking to a God whose everlasting arms were underneath and about him, even on the cross. He was submitting, but he was submitting to the love that would never let Him go. Life’s hardest task is to accept what we cannot understand; but we can do even that if we are sure enough of the love of God.

This morning, standing in the cold as I prepared to do “farm chores” I had to decide just how I would say, “Thy will be done…” and I choose to trust.

God is perfect. He is Omnipotent – He is all powerful. He is Omnipresent – He is everywhere – and He is with me… He is Omniscient – He knows every single thing – and He knows what is best in my life and He knows what will bring Him glory. And so I choose to trust Him. But now, that’s not to say that I didn’t feel every single one of those other emotions. It’s just that at this point in my life I know that the only answer is to trust. I know that to “trust and obey” is truly the only to be “happy in Jesus”.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy – it just means that I choose to trust because it’s that “Thy will be done” thing.

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It’s that time of year again… The time when the so called “learned” Christians among us begin to criticize and ridicule Christmas hymns and songs for “poor theology” as well as poor ignorant Church members for – well – being so ignorant!

I’ve actually seen pastors become visibly angry over a congregation wanting to sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” or “Joy to the World” before Christmas Day! What are we going to do with them? (These uneducated church members – not the learned pastors, of course…)

One of the most common of songs to raise ire is the favorite “Mary Did You Know?”

“Well, of course she knew”, they cry. “After all, the angel Gabriel told her everything!”

“Plus”, they add, “Her trip to Elizabeth should have been enough proof…”

Ok – let’s think about that for a moment. Those who follow my writing or Bible study teaching know that I am a stickler for two main things – first – context! The context of the scripture must be correct.

My next oft repeated phrase is that the Bible concerns, “Real people, in real events, in real time.” So with that in mind let’s examine what Mary knew – both mentally and emotionally.

In my poem “A New Understanding of Christmas” (written several years before I had children) I say that:

“Was she afraid, so far from home?

And knowing no more than she must have known,

Was she afraid that Silent Night

Bearing her child with only the light

From the star for assurance

That God was there

In person and prayer

Father and Son as One?”

 

Yes, Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her everything. Mary went to visit Elizabeth and heard an uplifting corroborating word. Yes, and Mary’s “Magnificat” is – well – magnificent in its faith-filled words of praise and submission to God… but… there is such a thing as the emotion of the moment.

And… let’s remember this is a real event, happening to real people, in real time. Mary heard the word from Gabriel. Then almost immediately she traveled to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. She stayed with Elizabeth for three months (whether she stayed until after John’s birth is debatable – personally, I think she did, unless a caravan was leaving for Nazareth and she had to leave sooner.)

Next she arrived back in Nazareth, obviously pregnant… So then we have the “real event” of Joseph’s reaction and his dream assuring him that the baby was, indeed, the Messiah.

And then… nothing…

Not another word from an angel, a dream, or special encounter for six… long… months…

Well… there was the fact that they knew the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem (and they had no intentions of making a trip to Bethlehem!) But then current events dictated that they go there anyway – but I suspect they viewed that more as a difficulty than a sign from God.

And so, they went… And they got there and the place was crowded and noisy and (likely) dirty. Surely to goodness, if this was really God’s Son, there would have at least been a nice place to birth the baby… but there wasn’t.

Think about it… six… long… months… and not a word.

Six long months of morning sickness, and back pain, and kicks that take your breath away… this was a real baby, and these were real months.

 

Have you ever had an encounter with God during a time of prayer or at an event? Have you ever felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something, or take on some responsibility or chart some course? How did you feel six months later when there had been no follow up from God and things were beginning to get tough? Have you ever questioned if you heard Him correctly? Of course you have! And I’m sure Mary and Joseph both questioned, at times, if they’d heard correctly.

And then He was born…

My poem puts it this way:

“I wonder if

I could endure

The pain and then still be as sure

That this was God’s plan for my life

To be a mother before a wife,

I wonder if I could…”

 

We sing:

Mary did you know that your baby Boy will someday walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby Boy will save our sons and daughters?

Mary did you know that your baby Boy will give sight to a blind man

Mary did you know that your baby Boy will calm a storm with His hand?

And the critics wail away at us for daring to ask these questions.

Did she really know all this? I doubt it. Did she know that He was God – yes – but what did that really mean? I don’t think she had a clue what it all really meant.

As my poem ends, I say:

“I’m sure then Mary softly smiled

And looked down gently at her child

The Savior of the world to be

But right now, so tenderly

He was her baby.

Somehow, looking out through Mary’s eyes

Brings a new understanding of Christmas.”

 

Yes, Mary knew in her mind that He was God… but in her heart, He was her baby – and that – is a “real time” event!

 

 

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first-umc-desplaines-il

First UMC DesPlaines, IL

 

There are many questions surrounding the Shepherds and the Wisemen. Why did God choose them to spread the Good News? Perhaps this will help a little. (I also have this is a Bible Study format with questions. If you’d like a copy please e-mail me).

 

The Shepherds

The orthodox Jew often despised the shepherds. Due to the very nature of their occupations they could not always participate in the rites and ceremonial rituals. It made no matter that the Jews’ greatest ancestors, Moses, Abraham, and David, were all shepherds and were idolized. It is much like an ancestor of ours who, though somewhat of a “rascal” or an “outcast” might be idolized or spoken of with thinly veiled price. “We wouldn’t do what they did, but…”

How much easier it is to romanticize life than to actually live it.

Therefore, the shepherds were looked upon with disgust, although they were greatly needed, because it was they who raised and cared for the “unblemished lambs” that were used for all the temple sacrifices.

They were the “blue color service industry.” All these people we greatly need, but never “see…”

 

The Wisemen

The Magi, also known as “The Wisemen” were learned men and scholars, most likely descended from the Medes. They were also skilled in astronomy and astrology, which was the study of the stars, as well as their meanings. (God said in Genesis 1:14 that the lights in the heavens were to be for “signs and seasons and for days and years.”) Astrology and astronomy were not mutually exclusive, but mutually explanatory.

The Wisemen, in addition to being a priestly tribe, were men who spent their time in study. Anyone who comes into a study (of any kind) with an open heart is prepared (however unknowingly) to hear God’s voice. (As God is over all things, He speaks in all things.)

“How do we begin to understand without study?

And how do we study without desire?

And how do we desire without seeing a need?

And how do we see a need without beginning to understand that we need to study?

It is completely God’s Calling.”

The Wisemen were called and prepared, and sent. And then they proclaimed. All without ever having known that they were used of God.

 

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first-umc-akron-ohio

A beautiful shot of First UMC Akron, Ohio

 

Wiseman or Shepherd?

God revealed Himself to the Wiseman’s intellect

and to the Shepherd’s heart…

 

Sometimes I think I’m a Wiseman,

with all my charts and diagrams,

but they continue to point to where I am

and never to where I want to go.

 

But these are my diagrams and charts,

constructed of logic and not the heart

and following my maps will never impart

where God wants me to go.

 

Then,

Sometimes I’m a Shepherd, or so I claim,

when I don’t want to play life’s little game

of who I am by what’s my name.

And I only want to be different.

 

But God called the Shepherds through their open ear,

who we’re willing to follow despite their fear.

Then shouted Hosannas to all who would hear

regardless of the difference.

 

God calls to us wherever we are

to step out on faith and follow the star

to travel however near or far

we have to go to change

or rearrange

our thinking.

 

In each of us the Wisemen lie

the Shepherds too, we can’t deny,

And God’s Holy Name we glorify

each time we’re willing to change

and rearrange

our thinking.

 

Yes, God still reveals Himself to the Wiseman’s intellect

and the Shepherd’s heart

And neither one is more important than the other.

 

 

 

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manger-scene

You can find this in front of Thorngrove Christian Church on Carter School Road in East Knox County.

 

This poem was written in the late 70’s – long before our sons were born – but I just imagined how it might be…

 

A New Understanding of Christmas

 

It’s probably all been said before,

and I really don’t want to be a bore,

But, Christmas to me

and what I feel,

is so very, oh, more real

than anything that could be said.

 

Being a woman, I think of Mary,

bearing the Babe

and having to carry

the responsibility and all the while,

she was little more

than a child herself.

 

Was she afraid, so far from home,

and knowing no more

than she must have known?

Was she afraid that silent night

bearing her child with only the light

from the star for assurance

that God was there

in person and prayer

Father and Son as one?

 

I guess I’m a dreamer, but I tend to see,

how things would be

if it happened to me.

 

I wonder if

I could endure

the pain, and then still be as sure

that this was God’s plan for my life

to be a mother before a wife,

I wonder if I could.

 

I try to grasp how it must have been

in the cold damp barn

when a bunch of men

shepherds they were

reverently knelt

and quietly beheld their Savior.

 

And later then the wise men three,

coming, oh, so far to see,

the Mother and the Child

The King

the Promised One

The Messiah.

 

I’m sure then Mary softly smiled

and looked down gently at her child

The Savior of the world to be

but right now so tenderly,

He was her baby.

 

Somehow, looking out through Mary’s eyes

brings a new understanding of Christmas.

 

 

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As I Went Down to the River to Pray…

I went to an old fashioned “down at the river” baptism recently. As I watched the preacher immerse the participants, I noticed that with each one, as they went into and came up out of the water, the water rippled out from them much in the same way as when one tosses a rock into the water.

As I watched the ripples waft farther and farther away, the next person was submerged and the ripples started anew. And I thought about how appropriate – how metaphorically true that was. Each of our lives “ripples” out to reach other’s lives, and then their lives in turn “ripple” out as well. You will reach people that I will never know, and your impact on my life will, in turn, reach people you will never know – and their lives will reach even beyond your or my wildest imagination.

Someone once said, “We stand on the shoulders of the Saints…” and indeed we do.

Then I saw another thing. There were 3 adults and 2 children. The adults went first with the children following and I thought again, how true. For as the ripples of the adults begin to fade away and meld into the river’s current, then the ripples of the younger generation started anew. And that’s how it should be. As God calls Saints to their reward, this earthly cycle starts yet again.

Moses died and Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan River. Elijah laid his mantel on Elisha. David gave the throne to Solomon. Jesus told Peter to “feed My sheep” and He gave us the Great Commission to go into all the world, “baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” so that the “ripples” will continue to flow…

Think about it, are we creating ripples, or just making waves?

Amen

 

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Just Wait

I watched a movie one night with my younger son. He had seen it before, but I had not. The movie was filled with twists and turns and intrigue, and I kept wanting to know, “What are they going to do about this…?” How are they going to handle that…?”

“Just wait,” He would say, “This is so cool. You’re gonna love how this comes out!”

I thought about that recently when I was reading a little devotional that talked about waiting.

It talked about how Jesus waited patiently from all eternity, until the fullness of the times had fully come. Then, He waited patiently for thirty years in Nazareth, while preparing for His life-work.

After that, He returned in victory to the Father, sat down at God’s right hand and is waiting until the day when His enemies are made His footstool. Throughout the ages He still also waits, in sure expectation of the destined end, when all rule and authority and power shall be realized and creation is redeemed.

All the pain and anguish of the world lies on His heart and He bears all with unfaltering patience, because He can see the end, and He knows that at the last God will be All in All.

Every time we state, in faith, that God is Love; every time we show that love to others, even while our own heart is breaking; every time we say “No” to self, and “Yes” to God, we make progress into His Love.

Our deepest fears are couched in darkness. It is the “unknowing” that scares us most. But nothing that happens is a surprise to God. Remember this one thing if nothing else – God never says, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!”

He sees it all. He knows it all. He orchestrates it all, even in this fallen world. And as we ask, and plead, and cry about the unknown, God says, “Just wait. This is so cool. You’re gonna love how I handle this…” “You’re gonna be overwhelmed by the way I walk you through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’; for I will be with you. I promise.”

We must dare to believe in the love of God, even when we can’t see it. And so, I ask you – do you dare to believe, and have faith?

Prayer:

Father, it is so tough sometimes. We want to know the outcome. We want to see the end, or at least around the next curve in the road. But, we do know that You love us and that even in this fallen world; even in the midst of difficult circumstances; even in the pain of sorrow, You are there… and You know, for sure, what the end of the movie holds.

And so, we watch and wait… and dare to believe… In Jesus’ Name – Amen.

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