Saturday, June 18, 2011

God's Foundational Heartbeats

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. . . . Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. - Matthew 7:7-8, 24-25

Last week, in a wonderful answer to prayer, I had the privilege of preaching at the Sturgeon High School Baccalaureate. A baccalaureate is a special commissioning service for High School graduates during which we honor their accomplishments and pray a special blessing on their future life and work. This was the first baccalaureate service in many years in Sturgeon and I believe it brought much joy to God’s heart.

My sermon focused on selected verses from Matthew chapter 7 including those printed above. I shared a story about bringing my son home for the first time as a tiny baby. He was so small and I didn’t quite know what to do with him. I knew one day we would be playing catch and arm wrestling, but at that moment the only thing I could think to do was put my ear to his chest and listen to his heartbeat and then hold him to my chest and share my heartbeat with him.

In a similar way, our relationship with God can be challenging at first. God is spirit, beyond our comprehension in so many ways. But scripture implores us to make God the foundation of our life. Where do we start in building a solid connection with God? I believe it is in seeking God’s heart, listening for God’s heartbeat. God’s heartbeat is sending out a message to the world much like a lighthouse sends beams of light into the darkness to guide and protect us.

During the baccalaureate, I shared with the graduates my sense that God is sending out heartbeat messages that build upon each other, that are foundational to each other. The first heartbeat of God is simply: “I am!” (Exodus 3:14, John 14:6) “I am God. I am here. I am with you. I am real.” This is the beginning point of our relationship with God. If we do not actively seek God, we will not sense God’s heartbeat. But with a desire to know God, we can sense the great “I am” being sent out to all the world

The next foundational heartbeat of God is built upon the first one. It is shared over and over again by Jesus and by angels often before any other words are spoken: “Do not be afraid!” (Isaiah 44:1-8, Luke12:22-32) “Do not fear, do not worry, do not be anxious, everything will be okay.” Once we acknowledge the presence of God, the essential next step is to take a deep breath, to relax and trust the process.

When we know that God is present and that we do not need to be afraid, God’s next foundational heartbeat is the one thing that lasts forever: “I love you!” (1 Corinthians 13, John 3:16, 1 John 4:7) “I love you perfectly and completely exactly as you are. There is nothing you need to do or say or become for me to love you more.” God is the only being that knows us completely and loves us completely. Ultimately it is God’s love that saves us. It is God’s perfect love that casts out all fear.

When we know these three fully, the fourth foundational heartbeat is about the meaning of our life. (Jeremiah 1:4-5 and 29:11) “I have a plan and a purpose for your life and I have known that plan since before you were born.” God’s plan had been built into our DNA, into the families and communities that help raise us. Finally, after embracing the first four heartbeats, the fifth one is all about assurance. (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11) “I have everything you need to fulfill my plan. If you ever find that I am all you have know that I am all you need.” We are not in this life alone. We have a Good Shepherd watching over us, leading us and providing for our needs. We can try to make it on our own for a while, but we won’t get very far or do very well. Our true identity is in being a child of God, living out God’s purpose for our life. It is what it is all about and it doesn’t get any better than this.

By the Numbers

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
- Psalm 23

A young man started a new job working on a factory assembly line. On his first day, the young man was paired with an older worker who helped him learn the job. About mid morning one of the workers on the assembly line shouted out “three!” and everyone burst into laughter. A little while later, another worker shouted out “sixteen!” followed by even more laughter. Just before they broke for lunch, another one of the workers shouted out “twenty-three!” and the whole assembly line doubled over in uproarious laughter.

During lunch the young man asked his co-worker why everyone laughed so hard when people shouted out random numbers. The older worker explained that since they had been working together for many years they knew everyone’s jokes so they decided to number them and just call out the numbers instead of saying the whole joke. The young man was impressed by this and he decided to give it a try after lunch. So when they had been working awhile, the young man shouted, “three!” but it was followed by complete silence. He thought hard about which numbers brought the most laughter in the morning. “Sixteen,” he shouted, but still no response. Finally he remembered twenty-three got a great response so he shouted it out enthusiastically, but no one laughed.

When the work day was over the young man asked his co-worker about why no one responded when he shouted out the very same numbers that had brought so much laughter in the morning. The older worker put his arm around the young man and said, “Now don’t take this too hard, but the truth is not everyone knows how to tell a joke!”

It is hard to imagine people actually responding to numbers in that way, but for Christians who study scripture seriously it is not that far fetched. For instance, if we simply put the word, “John” before the numbers “three” and “sixteen” immediately we remember the one scripture that sums up the gospel the best: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Or if we put the word, “Psalm” before the number “twenty-three” we are transported into the presence of the Lord as our Good Shepherd who leads us to a place of comfort, peace and protection.

Memorizing scripture is by no means a requirement for being a faithful Christian, but when we take the time to do so, the scriptures become a living part of us. We are currently in the middle of the season of Lent when we take a deeper look at our lives and try to make changes that will draw our lives closer to God. One important change could be to spend extra time committing favorite scriptures to memory. Let them become a vital part of who you are as you prepare for the Holy Week of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

My suggestions for powerful scriptures to memorize in addition to John 3:16 and Psalm 23 are: Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Romans 12:9-21, 1 John 4:7-14, Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:12-17.