Saturday, January 15, 2005

I remember sitting on the football field bleachers in my high school gym class. It was 1972 and I was a junior at Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox, Illinois. We had just finished running a 3 mile cross-country course. The coach said it was to “make us tough.” I still believe it was to make us throw-up. He timed all of us. One guy was so fast that, as we watched him from across the track his legs looked like rapidly spinning fan blades. You know what I mean. They just all blurred together. I do not know how fast anybody ran that day but I remember that the coach called him down out of the bleachers to announce his time. He finished fifteen minutes before I did. The other guys and I sat in the bleachers and realized that sometimes fifteen minutes makes all the difference in the world.

Years later in August of 1982 I sat on the edge of my bed in total frustration. I was planning on finishing my final semester of college and today was the last day to pay for the classes I had already registered for. I was $1,200 short. I had just checked the mail and my promised scholarship money had not come in. I was tired of school. Debbie and I had a nearly two-year-old daughter and another baby on the way. I was working a full time job as a youth pastor and a part time job driving a school bus for a local high school. I had to take 18 hours of classes over the next months or come back again in the spring. As it turned out this would be the spring that God would choose to move us to Bethalto. I was aware that Bethalto was seeking a youth pastor and believed that God was calling me there … I mean here. It was 4:45 in the afternoon. Trinity Christian College’s business office closed at 5:00. It was a 30-minute drive from my apartment to the campus. Even if I had the money … which I did not … I could never make it. So I prayed. Then I decided to call the college and make sure that today was indeed the final day. As I called I spoke to a well-known woman working in the offices named Betty. She said, “Is this Ron Woods?” I told her that it was. She said that yes, today was the last day. And then she said she was glad I had called. My scholarship money had arrived at the office today by mistake. It was suppose to come to my home. She asked if it would be alright if she went ahead and marked my bill paid so that I could start classes on Monday. I said that would be fine. As I hung up I thanked God for His kindness and I realized that sometimes fifteen minutes makes all of the difference in the world.

About a week before my mother passed away last September she told me a story. It seems that two years before I was born she prayed a special prayer. My parents had been told that they could not have any children. So my mom prayed and told God that if He would give her children she would give them back to Him. They would be His to do with as He chose. My brother was born nine months later. I was born two years later. As many of you know my brother and I have both been pastor’s all of our adult lives. I really don’t see either of us stopping any time soon. Interestingly enough I accepted Jesus as my Lord when I was just turning 13. That was fifteen years after my mother prayed her prayer of promise to God. It occurred to me when she told me that story that sometimes fifteen years makes all of the difference in the world.

As I said, I accepted Jesus when I was 13 years old. I remember sitting in the very back pew of our suburban Southern Baptist Church. I was not just in the back pew I was in the back corner of the back pew. I was there for a reason. It was Saturday night and our church was having a youth revival. The night before I had felt God directing me down the aisle to pray and ask Christ into my heart. I told Him that I was afraid but that I would obey Him if I didn’t have to go alone. I asked Him to send 10 people down the aisle ahead of me. My hands sweated as I counted how many people went forward to talk to the pastor. The count reached … 10. And it stopped there. I did not go. I chickened out. The next night the guest evangelist spoke about what hell must be like. As I sat alone I did not make any deals with God. I just asked Him to forgive me. When the time came I walked the entire length of the church and prayed a prayer with a college student asking Christ into my life. God honored my prayer and made my heart His home. 15 years later I had completed 5 years of volunteer youth ministry, a 6-month stint in a church as a part time staff youth pastor, and nearly 4 years in another church as a full time staff pastor. At that time, 15 years after receiving God’s free gift of eternal life He led me to walk in the doors of FBC Bethalto as your Assistant Pastor. What a ride! You see, sometimes 15 years makes all of the difference in the world.

What are you willing to do to honor and obey God? Are you willing to do anything? Let me rephrase that. Are you willing to do ANYTHING? And not only are you willing but are you ready? You see, God wants you and I to be willing and ready to do whatever He asks us to do in 15 minutes or in 15 years. The scripture says we are to be “instant in season and out.” (2 Timothy 4: 2) When God says “go” … go. When God says “do” … do. When God says “don’t” … don’t. When God says “stay” … stay. Instant. In season. Out of season. 15 minutes from now. 15 years from now. All of the timing is up to Him. Aren’t you glad? Jesus came and died. He said that one of the reasons was to give us “freedom.” (Luke 4: 18) That means we get to choose. We are free. Free to obey Him. Free to disobey Him. Really, truly, radically, free. Yes, there are consequences to disobeying and they are very different from the consequences to obeying. If you are His He will still love you if you disobey. But there WILL be consequences. However you are free.

So how about it? What are you going to be doing in 15 minutes? What are you going to be doing in 15 years? I plan on being in love with Jesus. I plan on following His direction even if I find myself doing it all alone. I don’t just plan on it, I am making plans to assure that it happens that way. I am actively following His directions TODAY to make sure that I am where He wants me to be in life TOMORROW. Or in 15 minutes. Or in 15 years. It makes me no difference. Care to join me?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hey, there is something I have spent some time thinking about over the past week. It is simply this ... "How good IS God anyway?" I have always believed that God is the ultimate good. I still do believe that. God is good in the most radical sense. But I have to admit that there is a problem. The problem is not God's goodness. It is the harshness and the "realness" of life.

A couple of men got burned very badly at Olin this week. I mean REALLY badly. If I understand things correctly there was a leak in an "O ring" that caused oil to spray out, landing on a heater. The oil then ignited in the air ... the air which the men were inhaling. Their burns are horrific. We need to be praying for these guys and their families. Their lives hang in the balance. And, of course, we need to be standing by to assist if there is any way in which we as a part of the Body of Christ are needed.

And then there is a wonderful little gift to the world that we need to be praying for as well. This gift is a bundled up little boy named "Reid Scott Norvell." I got to meet Reid a few hours after he was born. He's a great looking little guy. We crossed paths when I went to visit him at the neo-natal ICU at Cardinal Glennon Hospital. Reid has a couple of problems. Life-long challenges are what they really are. You see, Reid was born with a mild form of Downs Syndrome. Exactly how mild will be known in time. He is not even a week old yet and he has already had major surgery to repair a messed up intestinal tract. His heart is not up to par either. He will be having surgery on that important organ in a few months. Reid is one of ours. He is the son of Scott and Richelle Norvell. They are a great couple. Scott is one of our deacons. Richelle is involved in ... well ... everything. They love God. Reid was welcomed into this world with hugs, kisses, and open arms. What a lucky kid! I can hardly wait for Reid to show up at our worship service. It will be so great to hold him up in front of our congregation and praise God for this wonderful creation of His!

Many people would look at these two events and wonder "why" God would allow situations like these to invade His world. I have a few thoughts about that. Let me share them with you. You see, life is not about God making us happy or healthy. Life is about God making us more like Him. And sometimes in order to do that He allows hard things to enter our lives. I do not believe that these things are "punishment." Rather they are the effects of living in a sinful, fallen world. A world where sometimes things do not work out the way we would like them to work out. But every time one of these things happen our loving heavenly Father is standing by waiting for us to "be Jesus with skin on." As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit of the Holy God lives within us. And He speaks to us. He gives us directions on how to live out life in ways that glorify Him. And then He speaks through us. We are, the scripture says, "Ambassador's for Christ." (I Corinthians 5: 20) God loves those guys in the burn unit at St. Johns Mercy. He loves their families. He hurts for them. He wants them to turn to Him for understanding and comfort. God loves Reid Scott Norvell at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. And He loves Reid's family too. He is going to empower them to face the challenges that await them.

And how about you? What is your challenge? Are you mad? Are you hurt? Are you sick or injured or just plain tired? Is your car broken down and you don't have any money to repair it? Is your job in jeopardy? Is your marriage falling apart? Are you lonely? Do you struggle with a secret addiction? Are your kids messing up and refusing to listen to you? Are you wanting a husband or a wife or a child so badly that you can hardly stand it and yet God doesn't seem to give you the desire of your heart?

Yeah. I know how you feel. Really I do. I have faced some of those same issues. But let me give you a piece of advice. It's free. Remember the goodness of God? You will see it again in the land of the living. I believe that with all of my heart. Psalm 27: 13 insists that it's true. I am not brave enough to call the Psalmist a liar. Are you? No, I didn't think so.

So how about it? Are you going to admit that, while you might hurt really badly, God is able, willing, and desiring to use your circumstances to make you more like Him? Do you really want to hang on to your issues? It is really easy to wallow in pain and defeat. Sometimes it even feels good. For awhile. Then it gets very, very old. And it starts to eat you up. From the inside out. Bitterness begins to show up. And we all know what bitterness does. It kills. Hey, don't let it do that. Your Heavenly Father has a plan for your problem. But you have to submit it to Him. And then you have to lay it down. The problem might not go away. But let it rest in His hands and not your hands. And then let Him get on with His plan for your LIFE. Because your life is bigger than your problem. And God is bigger than both.

He really is good, you know. He loves me when I am ugly. He loves me when I am mean. He loves me when I don't trust Him. He loves me when I yell at Him. He loves me. He loves you too.

Welcome to our world Reid. God has a perfect plan for your wonderful life. And we are going to help you find it.