Sunday, October 28, 2007

Successful or Significant: Part 1

Being a success is a drive for many people. That is why so many "success" books are written each year, and why they are on the topsellers lists all the time. People are driven to be successful. The challenge is to know what constitutes success. For most people, you can never have enough, or get far enough. And so they never reach the finish line.
In the month of October, I preached a sermon series using themes from Bob Buford's book "From Success to Significance." In this book, management Expert Peter Drucker says that, "Success does not necessarily mean a substantial fortune or even great worldly success. But it does mean something that those in earlier times simply did not know; achievement...." Over my next few blogs, I want to talk about why it is more important to seek to be significant, than successful.
Saint Augustine said that asking yourself the question of your own legacy— (What do I wish to be remembered for?) —is the beginning of adulthood. In thinking about our epitaph we identify ourselves as someone with a purpose and a passion. As I think about my epitaph, I think I would like it to say: 'Well done, good and faithful servant of the Lord.' I want to be remembered for being a person who was loving, and who lived my life in service to God, trying to make a difference with who I am and what I do. How about you?
If you know anything about the parable of the sower, you know that it is about recognizing that we have been given many things from God, and receiving what we have been given, and then allowing that to become fruitful in our lives. To be significant in this way means that we don’t allow the worries of the world to make us depressed or anxious; it means that we don’t allow ourselves to be selfish, causing us to be shallow; it means that we don’t let the heartache of life cause us to be bitter and hard and choke off God from working in our lives. We need to dare to believe that we can achieve great things with our lives, and that ultimately we can have a great impact on this world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 7

My last blog I left off talking about how Brother Lawrence was overwhelmed by God's blessings. Brother Lawrence was so humbled by these gifts from God, that he would pray: "It is too much, O Lord! It is too much for me. Give, if it please Thee, these kinds of favors and consolations to sinners and to the people who do not know Thee, in order to attract them to Thy service..." This is a wonderful prayer, in that Brother Lawrence believes that by experiencing the favor of God in their lives, sinners will come to want to know Jesus. It is like what the apostle John said in John 20:30-31, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John wanted the people to know about Jesus' miracles, but many people have experienced His miracles and then believed.
Brother Lawrence took the 2 great commands of Jesus seriously: love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Because of this, Brother Lawrence regarded those around him with the same affection he felt for the Lord. He believed it also exemplified what Jesus said, that what we do to the least of the brethren, we do to Him. So this led him to be determined to serve others. "He assisted the poor in their needs, as much as was in his power." With this in mind, we should be challenged to find ways to serve others (especially the poor and the outcast).
"Death did not frighten Brother Lawrence at all. On his deathbed, he displayed marks of a stability, a resignation, and a joy that were quite extraordinary...If he had loved God deeply during his life, he did not love Him any less at death." How about you? Do you fear death? Do you know that You will be with God in heaven when You die? You can be as assured as Brother Lawrence was. We are told in 1 John 5:12, "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
On February 12th, 1691, Brother Lawrence died at 80 years of age. At the end of the book it says (p. 94), "It is easy to conclude that his death was precious in the sight of the Lord, that it was very quickly followed by his reward, that he is now enjoying glory; and that his faith has been rewarded by clear vision, his hopes by possession, and his budding charity by a consummate love." I hope that I live my life to even half the degree of service Brother Lawrence did, and look forward to my time to be with God. I challenge you to do the same, so that you might enjoy a fulfilled life like Brother Lawrence!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 6

When you hear the word "fearlessness," what do you think of? I think of being able to overcome our fears. For example, I have a fear of heights, and so when I am able to do something that involves heights, I am being fearless.
But fearlessness has to do with how we live our every day lives as well. Many people called Brother Lawrence "fearless," because he was able to elevate himself above all that was not God. "He coveted nothing; nothing astonished him; he feared nothing. This stability of his soul came from the same source as all his other virtues. He had an exalted concept of God which made him think of Him as sovereign Justice and infinite Goodness. He was confident that God would not deceive him and that He would do him only good..."
Now this is a challenge for us, because we get so locked into this world, that we get caught up in the petty concerns and worries of life. We have difficulty raising ourselves above this notion that we don't have to covet or own anything to be happy. Our happiness can rest in God alone; the God who provides for us all that we need. We don't seek God and love God because of the benefits that He gives to us. We seek God and love God because God is our creator, and the One in whom we find our being and purpose.
Another aspect of Brother Lawrence's life that challenges us is the fact that he sought to act without any self-interest. This is a great challenge, because we have difficulty living our lives without being selfish. We are given this challenge by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3-4, "3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Can we live our lives without seeking a reward? Can we be fearless by living our lives differently than those who don't know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 5

In his life, Brother Lawrence was one who sought God's perspective on all subjects. This led him to understand that "he was a citizen of
heaven, not concerned with things on earth. His views were not limited by time, because he contemplated nothing but the Eternal One and had become eternal like Him." Like Brother Lawrence, it is important for us to have this same understanding of our citizenship. If we think we are really citizens of this world, then we will be tied to this world in unhealthy ways. As Jesus told us in John 15:19- "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world..."
I have seen so many people get discouraged and depressed by their life. Often times it is because they don't have the right perspective. They believe that what the world offers to them is what is most important; is what living is about. But the truth doesn't rest in the things of this world. As Brother Lawrence says: "Faith makes me regard God as sovereign truth; hope makes me think of Him as complete happiness; and love causes me to conceive Him as the most perfect of all beings, as perfection itself."
With the right perspective, we don't have to seek after success. With the right perspective, we understand that it isn't about success, but about doing something meaningful and purposeful with our lives. Brother Lawrence was able to understand this because "everything was the same to him--every place, every job. The good brother found God everywhere..." And Brother Lawrence didn't have to seek God out. His only means of going to God was "to do everything for the love of Him."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 4

Faith, for many is difficult, because they can't see where they are going. We want to be in control, and faith causes us to have to trust. And yet, for Brother Lawrence, he saw "faith" as his greatest instructor. "It was faith that gave him an unspeakably high esteem for Jesus Christ, the Son of God Who resides as King....This same faith gave him a profound respect and love for the Word of God."
Faith is what leads us into the unknown world of God, and yet this same faith is the only way that we can know the mysteries of God (see Colossians 1:25-26). As Brother Lawrence just said, faith gives us high esteem for Jesus, because in Jesus we see both who God is and who God wants us to become.
"Faith gave Brother Lawrence a firm hope in God's goodness, confidence in His providence, and the ability to completely abandon himself into God's hands." I read these words, and I think that these can be scary words. The thought of abandoning ourselves to anyone can cause us concern. And yet, if anyone can be trusted with our lives, it is our creator. If we can indeed abandon ourselves, then we can be more like what Brother Lawrence says: "He never worried about what would become of him; rather, he threw himself into the arms of infinite mercy...This is why he said that the greatest glory one can give to God is to entirely mistrust one's own strength, relying completely on God's protection."
How often do we mistrust our own strength, only to find out we aren't able to make it on our own? It is interesting to see how we think we can be stronger and more capable than God, the creator and redeemer of our soul. We think we can come up with our own plan. But how can we plan for that which we do not know? "Brother Lawrence saw nothing but the plan of God in everything that happened to him." To be this way brings great freedom!
There is no peace found in the world apart from God. But with God, there can be great peace. Brother Lawrence lived this truth. "Even when told of some great evil in the world, He would simply raise his heart to God, trusting that He would work it to the good of the general order."
The challenge for us then become be able to let God work out the good for our lives. Tell me what you think. (

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 3

In life, we love rewards. In fact, most everything we do is because we believe we will receive some kind of reward for it. It could be the reward of money, or prestige, or acceptance. But we need to learn how to live our lives without this kind of thinking. Our motivation should be to serve God and seek to please God.
In part 3 of the life of Brother Lawrence, we see that as he was able to "practice the presence" of God in his life, it caused him to have a "gentle disposition, complete honesty, and the most charitable heart in the won him the esteem and the good will of everyone who saw him." (p. 84) How interesting to see that a man that didn't seek the esteem of others, got it because of his humility and charity.
This attitude also led Brother Lawrence to do things in private, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He was motivated to live and work not for worldly reward, but simply for the reward of knowing he was doing what God expected him to do. This is a great example and challenge to us, to learn how to first know what God expects of us, and then do it without fanfare or payment.
Through this process of being aware of God's presence, Brother Lawrence became one who people loved to listen to. "The sweetness that accompanied his words so inspired those who listened that they came away penetrated with the love of God, burning with the desire to put the great truths he had just taught them into practice" (p. 85).
Even though he was reluctant to speak, there were times when he was asked to share his thoughts. Through this, he impressed many. "An illustrious bishop of France, who had had several interviews with him, said that God spoke directly to Brother Lawrence, revealing His divine mysteries to him because of the greatness and the purity of his love for Him" (p. 86).
But this kind of knowledge and understanding of God's mysteries are available to us all. As Brother Lawrence, himself said: "God alone is capable of making Himself known as He really is; we search in reasoning and in the sciences, as in a poor copy, for what we neglect to see in an excellent original. God Himself paints Himself in the depths of our soul" (p. 87).
Let us take the time, starting today, to seek God out, and let God share His mysteries and revelation with us. Tell me what you think (

Monday, October 08, 2007

Life of Brother Lawrence, Part 2

In my last blog I began a series on the life of Brother Lawrence, a man who "struggled with the corruption of the world and man's instability and infidelity, who because of this decided to make a firm resolution to walk in the path of Jesus Christ." At one point, he decided to get away to seek God, and so he retired to the desert. But he determined that such a solitary life was not good, especially for a young Christian like himself, and so he joined a Christian brotherhood, where he became a lay brother of the Carmelite Order and took on the name Brother Lawrence.
From the earliest time as a part of this Order, Brother Lawrence held prayer in particular importance. No matter how much work he had to do, he never cut his prayer time short. Even when he was assigned the humblest of duties, he never complained. This helped him to understand the importance of serving God in whatever he was called to do.
But like you and me, Brother Lawrence was not without struggle. As Brother Lawrence attempted to move into a more spiritual life, memories of the sins of his past life engulfed him, and he began to judge himself and doubt his salvation. During this dark and bitter time, Brother Lawrence did not even find comfort in his times of prayer; but he prayed nevertheless. His desire was still to please God. There came a time when suddenly God opened his eyes, and he received divine revelation from God about God's majesty. This revelation and experiencing of God's majesty took away his fears, and ended his inner struggles and pain. From that time on he was able to "practice the presence of God" and stay in continuous discussion with God. He says that it has to be maintained by the heart and by love rather than by understanding and speech.
Through all of this, Brother Lawrence was able to understand that you don't have to do great things in life to be satisfied. He says, "I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king."
Brother Lawrence shares this as the answer to how to practice the presence of God: "When I first entered the monastery, I looked upon God as the beginning and the end of all my thoughts and all the feelings of my soul. During the hours designated for prayer, I meditated on the truth and character of God....Completely immersed in my understanding of God's majesty...I devote myself to prayer in all the time...During my work, I would always continue to speak to the Lord as though He were right with me, offering Him my services and thanking Him for His assistance...Thus in continuing in this practice of conversing with God throughout each day...His presence has become easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain."
In thinking about what Brother Lawrence says (and did) ,I realize how important prayer should be in our lives as well. We should vow to not cut our prayer times short. I have to admit that even as a pastor, I don't always give an adequate amount of time to prayer. Although, having grown in my ability to "practice the presence of God," I do seek to be in somewhat constant communication with Him. The challenge is to pray even though we don't see or feel the benefits, and to serve God and receive God's blessing and majesty in our lives even when we do what seems to be insignificant! Tell me what you think.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Life of Brother Lawrence- Part 1

Life is always a challenge. In fact, if we go into it thinking it will be easy, we will get overwhelmed. And yet, in the midst of this challenge, God walks with us, sometimes even carrying us. I have been blogging over these past several weeks on the book "The Practice of the Presence of God," by Brother Lawrence. As we come to the end of the book, there is a section on the life of Brother Lawrence. Over my next couple of blogs, I would like to highlight some aspects of Brother Lawrence's life that might help us in our own lives.
Joseph de Beaufort, a dear friend of Brother Lawrence, is the one who wrote and published this section of the book. de Beaufort talks about how God has in the past, and still does in the present, raise up those who are saints of the faith. These saints are the ones who guard up the Spirit in themselves, and seek to make them live in others.
Brother Lawrence was such a saint. Brother Lawrence revered God, and sought to be an example of how to faithfully practice the virtues of the faith. Brother Lawrence was taught to love the Lord by his parents at an early age. His parents also made sure that his education was consistent with the Gospel. Throughout his life, Brother Lawrence saw the goodness and mercy of God. Even when he was taken as a prisoner of the German troops (while He was in the armed service), and treated as a spy, and threatened to be hanged, he told them that he could not be a spy since he would never do anything that would "give him a bad conscience," and that death didn't frighten him.
After being injured, he was forced to retire and return home. He then resolved to "give himself wholly to God and to repair his past conduct...through sentiments of true devotion." He believed that God helped him to not perceive the pleasures of the world, but rather to be in love with heavenly things. He struggled with the corruption of the world and man's instability and infidelity. He decided to make a firm resolution to walk in the path of Jesus Christ.
By making this resolution, he was freed from the difficulties that the devil and the world would normally put in the path of those who wished to give their lives to the Lord. He had a strong determination to follow God, which helped to wash away the difficulties of life, as if by a miracle. It was by his meditating on the promises of the Lord that helped him to be a changed man, and give him the humility he desired to glory in the cross of Christ, and not the world.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Blessings of the Presence of God

Psalm 147:8 reminds us, "He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills." God is a God who provides His creation with blessings! Brother Lawrence highlights 4 of God's blessings in his book "The Practice of the Presence of God," p. 71-72.
"The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active everywhere in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times...The soul--accustomed by this exercise to the practice of faith--can actually see and feel God by simply entering His presence..." It is difficult for us to be active in our faith if we are not regularly seeking God. And in those times where trials enter our lives, the tendency is to panic. But when we can enter into God's presence, we will be able to allow the power of God to surround us and guide us. But even more, there is a profound sense of God's presence.
Second, "the practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God's secrets through practice of our holy exercise." God has chosen to reveal the secret of His mysteries to those who seek Him. As we gain understanding of the mysteries of God, we have great hope, because we can have a sense of what God is doing and will do.
Third, "this practice (of seeking God's presence) causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God..." How wonderful it is to know the love of God. But if we are living in the ways of the world and the thinking of the world, then we will not experience God's love, because we will be confused by the love of the world. God's love is unconditional; the world's love is conditional. They cannot exist side by side. We must choose which we will live in.
Fourth, "by practicing God's presence and continuously looking at Him, the soul familiarizes itself with Him to the extent that it passes almost its whole life in continual acts of love, praise, confidence, thanksgiving, offering, petition...." To familiarize ourselves with something means that we know it well. If we know God's presence well, we will easily be led to love like God, be confident in God, give praise and thanksgiving to go, and seek God for guidance and direction.
Let me know what you think;