Commitment to God carries meaning, blessings

12/16/2008

By Woody Woodrick

Jan. 4
Midwives Serve God
Purpose:
To make commitments to others and to God and strategize ways to be faithful to these commitments.
Bible Lesson: Exodus 1:8-21
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Key Verse: “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” – Exodus 1:1

Executives change jobs every few years. Employees do the same. Coaches leave one team for another, usually for a higher paycheck. Couples grew “tired” of each other after a few years, maybe when the new of marriage wears off, and then they simply get a divorce and try again. Loyalty seems to be a thing of the past.

To whom are you loyal? Your employer, your friends, your favorite college team? Sometimes we might find ourselves facing conflicting loyalties. Your boss wants you to work over the weekend. You’re not required to, but it would be good for the company, maybe good for your career. However, your favorite team is playing a home game. You’ve already bought the tickets. What do you do?

God expects us to be loyal to him, and that sometimes puts us in conflict with others. We might be in conflict with the secular world or within our own church. Say some folks in the church, including your best friend, have become enamored with a popular teaching. You’re convinced the teaching isn’t biblical. Are you loyal to your friend or what you believe is right?

Our lesson today examines a group of women faced with conflicting loyalties. The king orders the midwives to kill male babies, but the women know it’s wrong. It went against God’s teaching and his plan.

They didn’t kill the babies and told the king the children were being born before they could arrive. The king bought it, and the Hebrew nation continued to grow. This is not the first time someone used deception in the Bible. What are some other instances of deception being used in the Bible?

Of course, some of the cases of deception in the Bible were for evil purposes, some for good. What common characteristics to the instances of subversion? Many of those schemes were done in order for God’s plans to be carried out.

Are there times when it is OK to lie? Is this lesson telling us that the ends justify the means? When might a deception that seems to be for good actually be wrong?

Jan. 11
Rahab Helps Israel
Purpose:
The show that commitment to God sometimes creates conflicting commitments that require risk and carries a cost.
Bible Lesson: Joshua 2:1-4, 12-14; 6:22-25
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Key Verse: “The Lord your God is indeed God in heave above and on earth below. Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family.” – Joshua 2:11-12

God has this funny habit of picking the least likely folks to do some extraordinary things. Moses argued with God about whether he was the right person to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Despite his protests, God insisted Moses could do the job. Of course, he did and did it well. Other examples abound.

Rahab is among the most interesting. A prostitute, Rahab gave aid to spies sent by Joshua. One of the commentaries suggested that Rahab might have lived in an area between the inner and outer walls of Jericho, a sign of her standing – or lack thereof – in the community. She wasn’t part of polite society, but she wasn’t shunned either.

I wonder about her motivation. Rahab probably disliked many of the residents of Jericho as much as they might have disliked her. So to some degree, her willingness to aid the spies is understandable. Here was her chance to “get back” at those who looked down on her.

But by aiding the spies, Rahab put not only herself but also her entire family at risk. In those days, it was not uncommon for the entire family of a person deemed a traitor to be executed. Yet, Rahab took the risk. All she asked in return was that she be remembered when the Israelites stormed the city.

She was remembered, and she and her family were spared.

What I find interesting is the reference for Rahab in biblical history. She is referred to several times in scripture as a hero, especially among women. She’s even listed in the genealogy of Jesus.

I don’t think we appreciate Rahab and others, but the main point today is about making a commitment to God and staying with it; taking risks.

How often are we asked to take risks for God? What do we consider a risk? For some of us, losing standing in the community might be considered a risk. Sometimes we are called by God to be witnesses among those we know. But taking a stand for God might involve risking our inclusion in certain groups and organizations. We hesitate.

We are blessed to live in a part of the country where we rarely are challenged about or faith publicly. Our challenges are more of our own making, our desire to hang onto social standing. In some parts of the country, Christians are openly ridiculed or possibly worse, ignored.

Meanwhile, Christians in other parts of the world literally risk death for their faith. In China and in many Muslim countries being openly Christian can lead to arrest and a death sentence.

So, the next time God asks you to do something for him, of what will you be afraid?

Jan. 18
Joshua Leads Israel
Purpose:
To illustrate that when we make a commitment to God, he makes sure we have resources we need to fulfill his purposes.
Bible Lesson: Joshua 3:1-13
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Key Verse: “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.’” – Joshua 3:7

In our current economic state, resources of all types are at a premium. Yet, we’re called by God and committed to doing his will. What do we do?

Back in the early 1980s when the economy was in a similar situation, I was driving one day and picked up a preacher on the radio. What he said impressed me.

“You may not have work,” he said, “but you have a job. Your job is to find work.” (Make a commitment.)

“First, look in your bag and see how many shirts you have. If you have two, give one to someone who doesn’t have one.” (Consider your resources and share what you can.)

“Now, go down to the construction site and stand right by the foreman. As soon as somebody doesn’t show up, tell the foreman you’re ready to go to work.” (Following through on your commitment.)

Man, that preacher had it going on!

God has called many people in the Mississippi Conference to work on his behave. We don’t get a pass because the economy’s not good. In fact, that might be an instigating factor in our call. Our economic circumstances instead of a hindrance might actually be an opportunity for growth.

The United Methodist Church and the Mississippi Conference are in the midst of figuring out what resources we have to help our church and the kingdom grow. The general church is committed to reaching out to the unchurched, especially among young adults. Agencies are examining their resources to find ways to make the ministry to young adults more effective.

Similarly, the Mississippi Conference wants to reach more people, more younger people and more diverse people. We, too, are examining how we use our resources to make disciples among those groups. Local churches are examining their resources, too.

What resources do churches, the conference and the general church have and need? Certainly, financial resources are part of the equation. It takes money to hire staff, produce literature, DVDs, etc. We have human resources in the person of millions of church members. Finally, most important, we have the resources that come from the Holy Spirit.

So, what does this mean for those of us sitting in the pew?

Let’s start with the understanding that all of these resources work together. Next, let’s look at finances. Folks are losing jobs, raises aren’t being given and retail sales are slowing. People just don’t have as much cash. What do to?

Go back to our preacher. His first directive was to examine resources, and then give. When we sign a pledge card at church, we’re making a commitment to serve God and support his ministry with our finances. This commitment needs to be honored. Don’t we all believe that when we give, especially sacrificially, we receive even more? Yes, it might hurt to pay our tithe, but the opportunities for greater rewards, including financially, begin when we give.

Give your time. A well-known United Methodist church in another state has no paid janitorial staff. Instead, church members volunteer to mop floors and clean bathrooms. It’s not glamorous work, but it means more funds are available for ministry. Sometimes ministries need your hands more than your money. Sure, Habitat for Humanity needs cash, but very few people who take part in building a house don’t come away better for their participation. Sure, somebody could have been hired to do the work, but how much did the homeowner and the volunteers grow because they worked together?

Yes, all indications are that 2009 will be a hard economic year. However, we can also look at it as a great opportunity to grow by honoring our commitment to God (tithe) and seeing our church grow more efficiently and effectively be giving our time and talents.

Jan. 25
Samson’s Mother Prepares for His Birth
Purpose:
To show how commitment can rise out of great disappointment.
Bible Lesson: Judges 13:1-13, 24
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Key Verse: “You shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come to his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” – Judges 13:5

Rearing children is hard work. (Feel free to write down that original and profound statement and refer to it from time to time.)

Seriously, because of the work and commitment involved in rearing children, I’m bothered by the casual attitude so many folks seem to have about being parents. Couples seem to sometimes have children because it would be “fun.” Or they have an attitude that indicates that the child is simply the result of their relationship and just something they’ll “deal with.”

During my wife’s pregnancies with both our sons, I thought almost constantly about what they might become and how I might influence them. Am I a good enough example? Will my flaws become their flaws?

Over the past several years, some of the rituals of our church have become more meaningful to me. I often wonder if we really pay attention to the words and meaning of the rituals. Take baptism, since we’re talking about children. We make a promise to God on behalf our children to rear them in such a way that when they come of age they will accept God’s grace.

Ponder that for a moment.

Sometimes I sit in my pew and wonder if the parents have really thought about what that means. That’s an awesome responsibility not to be taken lightly. I can’t help but consider that many parents bring their children to be baptized because that’s “what you do.” One commentary suggests parents have pre-baptismal counseling, similar to that held before marriage. Not a bad idea.

Those of us sitting in the pews aren’t excluded either. We promise to assist the parents in their task. The goal being that at an age of responsibility, the child will accept Christ and embrace God’s grace by their own choice. In the United Methodist Church we do this at confirmation, at least to a degree. While it certainly means a great deal to some pre-teens, I’m not sure they always fully understand it until they’re older. But that’s OK; I’m not here to critique confirmation. The point is that we make a commitment to children to bring them up in the church doing all we can to show them and teach them about God’s grace and calling on their lives.

The mother of Samson had been unable to have children, which in that time was considered a sign of either sin or some shortcoming. Imagine her joy when visited by the angel and told she would have a child. She was instructed in how he was to be reared, including never cutting his hair. This was a sign that the child had been set apart by God. The instructions meant that the mother had to order her life even before Samson was born so that he could be raised as God intended.

Having this knowledge and instruction can be blessing and curse. Knowing your child will play a special role in God’s plan must be exciting, but also frightening. Those same concerns come up; will I rear my child in the proper way?

With two children now in their 20s, I’ve reached the point other parents do. Melanie and I realize that we’ve pretty much done all we can do to teach and show our children how they should live. Now, they have to make choices on their own. We have friends who did all the right things, but their children made poor choices. It hurts the parents, but the consequences of those choices are on the child, not the parent. That’s hard for parents to accept.

All we can do is commit ourselves to being the best, godly parents we can be. God can handle the rest.