Friday, May 15, 2020


Sermon Summary (5/10/20) “The Problem of Discerning and Walking in God’s Will (Gen 12:1-3; John 1:35-39)

I attended South Dakota School of Mines, a Land Grant College, so ROTC was mandatory the first two years.  To take Advanced ROTC  leading to a commission, you had to sign up in the spring of your sophomore year.  When I returned home, I told my Dad that I was skipping ROTC.  Just before I returned in August, Dad invited a few friends over to the house to talk to me.  It was a set up. They were all of the greatest generation who served, who were all patriots and all felt it was my duty to serve and that ROTC was the best way of doing that.  I signed up.

Was it God’s will that I be a soldier?

My Mom told me when I got orders to Vietnam that she had raised me to be a doctor.  My grandma would have said she raised me to be a preacher.  Was it God’s will that I take 55 years to get there?  Probably, God had lot’s of work to do.

My life has had lot’s of forks in the road.  Every one of them changed my life completely.  The first being that talk with my Dad’s friends.

What is God’s will for your lives? How long did it take for you to find out? Was God responsible for all the turns in your lives?  This week on Facebook, a woman said that her grandfather had died.  One good intentioned person told her that God was completely in control.  Was God responsible for her Grandfather’s death?  Does he take us all according to a predetermined plan?  Was he responsible for Jeff’s accident and Rosemary’s cancer?  Is God responsible for all the evil in the world as well as the good? 

That doesn’t make sense to me.  But if God is not in complete control, then what?  Another option is that God has a perfect plan for me, but he’s not telling.  I have to figure it out.  Maybe my path is a squiggly line that crosses back and forth over God’s perfect plan.  That my squiggly path is God’s permissible plan.  That God is willing to revise the plan each time I make a permissible decision.  But it seems to me that God would have to revise all the world’s plans with each of my permissible decisions.  If I meet and marry the person you were supposed to meet and marry, everyone’s plan changes.

So what then?  The Bible’s stories give us an idea.  Abraham listened to God’s perfect plan and went from his country to the land that God had shown him (Gen 12), but when I got there, he went off track.  He ended up in Egypt and told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister.  Not cool.  Not even permissible.  Jacob’s sons decided to kill Joseph (Gen 37). Not permissible.  Nor were the situations that Joseph found himself in Egypt.  Yet because Joseph listened to God, he turned the non-permissible actions of the Egyptians into God’s perfect plan. 

How is it we discern the will of God?  I reject the notion that the book has all been written and that we only play the part.  And the notion that God revises our books with every line we walk doesn’t make sense either.  I lean heavily on Adam Hamilton for this.  I believe that God is the co-author of our stories.

We begin with God the co-author with a blank page.  And if we are going to write together, we need to pay attention.  We need to listen.  Unfortunately, when I look at my book, I realize that I wrote many chapters alone.  They’re not the chapters I like to recite in family company or any company.  The good news is that God let’s us start again and change our future chapters.

I’ve been told a good writer can write eight pages a day.  And if you read a good book, you know how much life a good author can put into eight pages.  How much life do we put into our days? Why would we want our lives to be anything but a good story?  Of course, as we write our stories, we will have old characters that disappoint us.  New characters that appear.  Breakdowns.  Here’s the deal: with God as our co-author, our stories can lead us where we want to go.  We just need to pay attention, listen.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that you may be able to include in your stories: First, life is better when you worship.  Rosemary and I learned that and the last 30 years of our lives were the best.  Worship changes us.

Two, I’ve come to believe in the “Platinum Rule,” “Be kind to others as you want them to be kind to you.”  Kindness is circular, the kinder we are the more kindness we receive, the more we come to like the people in our stories.  CS Lewis says that affection is nine-tenths of happiness.  You want a little happiness in your stories, try a little kindness, add a little affection.

Three, it’s people that count.  We fill our stories with things: cars, boats, planes, dogs, cats, horses.  I mean who doesn’t like a good dog story?  But it’s people who count. 

Lastly, the story is always better when you listen, when you read your bible asking what does this tell me about God?  What does this tell me about me? What does this tell me about the story we are going to write today?  Good authors read other’s stories, “Upper Room,” “Guideposts,” classic writings that can be incorporated into our stories.  We listen, the Holy Spirit is always present to help us put pen to paper; and we use our brain, the creative gift that God has given to make our stories better.

It’s Mother’s Day.  The mothers in my life have all made my stories better.  My Grandmother, Emma, put faith in my story. My Mother, Gertie, gave me love.  She and Dad had a great love story, chapters too short.  But it goes on now with every chapter being better that the last.  And Rosemary, the mother of my Children, my partner for 60 years, who taught me the wisdom of humility and put chapters of kindness and affection and happiness into our story. 

Now, go write your stories.  That’s how you discern and live within the will of God.

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