Sunday, November 30, 2008


The following is from a sermon I presented this morning in all three worship services:

I heard myself say it. It was the last day of our mission’s trip to Costa Rica this last summer. I asked each of our team members to write down, in their journals, at least 1-3 action points they were going to take home with them after such a powerful experience. After leading trips like this over the past 20 years it would be easy for me to give other people this assignment being comfortable with the stack of action points I had collected from many trips past. I heard myself say it, gave team members the appropriate amount of time and then I started thinking about all the details to our trip home.

A day later at 32,000 feet flying somewhere over Central America on Taca Airlines God spoke to me. He clearly gave me the assignment of coming up with my own action points. I shuffled for a piece of paper, pulled down the tray table, turned on the little light, fought off sleep and wrote down two things: 1) Be with more people; 2) Simplify

As soon as I scribbled the second point I remember thinking, “Huh?” It wasn’t as if God moved my pen for me. There weren’t angels singing. I did wonder exactly what God meant by that little word. He quickly took me back over the previous 11 days and then over the years before. In the 11 days he showed me the plain and effective ministry in the quiet little town of Esterillos. No building, no major programming, no strategic task force meetings, no smoke, no lights just be with the people and live out the gospel. I had this same feeling on numerous trips to Latin America. I still recall a Mexican pastor’s office with nothing but a typewriter and I remember being envious.

I had a polite little argument with God, “Simplify, really? I can see that in Latin America. I can see it in the little beach town of Esterillos where relationships come first but how does that work back in Santa Barbara where people walk fast, drivers get mad, people are tired and the list of things to do becomes a badge of honor? How do I accomplish this?”

It was then God gave me another assignment: “Doug (I am paraphrasing what God really said!) try simplifying for three months and if you are still living it and feeling it at the end of that time then you can officially say, ‘I am simplifying.’” When I heard this I got it. I have doctorate in “Camp High.” “Camp High” (or “Vacation High” or “Victory High”) are what we experience after coming off a great event in our lives. During those great experiences we are “living the dream” and we come home determined to hold onto the feeling. We are determined to make changes or tell everybody else they’re doing it wrong. A short time later the feeling is gone and the great event is just another memory.

Three months . . . that seemed like plenty of time to know how serious I was about simplifying (even though I didn’t know what it meant). So . . . July 10 at 3:30am when I departed the Santa Barbara airbus in our church parking lot began the test of my second action point. It has now been 5 months and 10 days after the beginning of reality. What happened? What did God teach me? What does this have to do with you? How could this lesson affect the beginning of our church year we call Advent?

Look at 1 Kings 19: 9 – 13. Elijah had been running for his life when we pick up this story:
And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

Studying this passage we can make four observations:
1) GOD ASKS THE QUESTIONS: Perhaps this is the question we should be asking ourselves this morning, “What are we doing here?” Elijah been passionate for the Lord to the point of burnout and so God asks him the question. He says, “So what is your purpose? Is this is how you want to be? Is this where you want to head?” I had been asking these questions. God does not want us to be alone in finding our life goal.
2) GOD LISTENS TO OUR ANSWERS: Elijah tells God about his life situation. He is overwhelmed, he is feeling alone. God lets him vent.
3) GOD PREPARES US FOR HIS ANSWER: You can almost hear God say to Elijah, “Okay, I asked the question, you gave me your answer and now go put on your seatbelt because I have an answer. Strap in!”
4) GOD RESPONDS IN THE QUIET: Elijah waits for the answer and first God sends the wind. The mountains tear apart and the rocks split. What was Elijah holding on to in that cave? Sounds like a category 5 hurricane to me! God did not answer in the wind.
Second God sends an earthquake but his answer was not there.
Thirdly God sends a fire. Was Elijah in California? God was not in the fire.
It was then Elijah heard the gentle whisper of God.
I like excitement. I can appreciate a good show with smoke, lights and special effects. God prefers the quiet.

On October 10 my three month probation of living a simplified life came to a close. I still liked the idea, I was still seeking to live it. God’s gentle whisper was getting through to me.
I am still working on what this means for me in the long haul. At present it is primarily an attitude. It is a quiet response to a noisy world. It is slowing down when I walk, it is making more room for more people, it is not packing my schedule so full there are not margins for the unexpected, it is not feeling guilty about finishing a to-do list, it is giving space for God to speak to me in the stillness. Do I have it down, am I perfect with it? No . . . not close, but I’m on the road. What are you doing here? How do you answer that question? If your life is defined by busyness and noise what is God saying to you in a whisper? Maybe your schedule is slow already. Are you hearing God? How can you help somebody else be still?

1 comment:

  1. Doug,
    Thanks for the reminder to be still. I am working on less time in survival mode and more time listening to responses and watching for reactions so I can learn from what I am doing or what others have to say. I hope I can be purposeful in my actions rather than hurried to get more done.