(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on September 11, 2016)
(This is more note-like than my usual manuscript…sorry, don’t have the time to clean it up)
Kid refusing to hold your hand. You can force a “hand hold” as a parent cause you’re stronger, but you certainly can’t make them love it! Or you, for that matter.
God doesn’t force us. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know from looking around that it is true. We can reject or accept God’s offer to walk hand in hand with us. Today we’ll talk about what it looks like to say yes to God’s offered hand.
I’ve told this story once before here, but it’s so perfect for today…so maybe twice in 14 years is allowable. 🙂 McLaren story; Internship, “I have nothing to offer them.” Sounded so pious, but the real yuck that was underneath there was me thinking I was better than them. I couldn’t relate with people who made such bad choices.
Drug and alcohol cottage, so a bunch of teenage guys working through the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous. And one of those guys changed my life. He was going through the fourth step: “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Basically, think through your life and admit the things you’ve done that were stupid and wrong.
And this guy was fearless! And deeply honest. He had a couple of sheets of paper he’d written everything on, and he read it all to me. As you might guess, being in a juvenile detention center, he had done some pretty awful things….but that wasn’t what stood out to me, that wasn’t what changed my life. Instead, what got me was how brave he was to just lay his life bare, to himself and to me.
He wanted to changed. He wanted to break his addictions. And he believed in the whole process of the twelve steps to breaking addiction. Maybe that was exactly the key: he wanted to get to healing, and he knew he was only on step four of twelve. He knew that being honest about what he’d done wrong, speaking it out and admitting it, was the key to moving to the next step, all on the road to healing.
Wow that taught me something! I grew up in the church, and somehow I missed out on some of the things I talked about last week. I knew God wanted me to live rightly, but somehow what got mixed up in there was the idea that if I did the wrong things, God wasn’t going to love me anymore, wasn’t going to want me. I had spent a lot of years NOT admitting the stuff I was most ashamed of, trying to hide it from everyone.
So admitting or confessing was really, really hard for me. And watching this 14 year old kid, this guy who had done worse things than I had ever done…watching him so boldly and honestly take a fearless moral inventory of his life and trust that it was a step toward his healing; that he wasn’t worried that admitting things would cause God to reject him…Wow did that teach me something.
At that point in my life, I was not able to be fearless when I looked at myself, at the ways I rejected God. I was afraid to face it all and admit it all, I think because I wasn’t convinced that I would be accepted…by God or by others.
So rather than being on these steps toward healing…rather than coming out of hiding into the light and accepting God’s offered hand…my secrecy and shame was effectively keeping me stuck. It had the same effect as if I had just said to God, “No thanks, I’ll walk on my own.”
That boy at McLaren long ago taught me how to be fearless. How to stop hiding. He taught me how confession, how repentance is one of the ways we accept God’s hand out to us, and experience God’s forgiveness and healing.
God has already reached out God’s hand. Being honest about the things we’ve done wrong, the ways we’ve rejected God and hidden from God because we are ashamed…being honest is one of the key steps to us choosing to walk hand in hand with God.
Last week was so important. God really does reach out to us first, takes the risk of loving us first. This week is important, too. We also need to spend a lifetime saying with our words and with our actions that we accept God’s offer of love through Jesus.
If someone asks you to marry, you aren’t engaged until you say “yes”. It’s sort of an analogy for our life with God. There is that part of saying, “I accept.” “Thank you.” “I need you.” “God, I love you too!” To walk hand in hand means accepting God’s offer of love and relationship.
To walk hand in hand with God also means being willing to acknowledge the ways we have rejected God or gone our own way in the past. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you for who you really are, God.” “I’m sorry that sometimes I DID see what you wanted, but I chose to let go of your hand and go my own way anyway.”
None of this has to cause fear or shame.
When I say that, I want you to know I make a distinction. I think sometimes when we take a fearless moral inventory of our lives, we see stuff that we really don’t like, stuff we really regret. There’s a word in the bible called conviction, and I think that’s what God brings rather than shame. God’s Holy Spirit brings us to a point of conviction, where our attention is focused on a particular, specific attitude or action that God wants to change. Conviction is the realization that I have done something wrong; I’ve followed what I want instead of what God wants. Conviction is needed to help us ask forgiveness and continue walking hand in hand with God.
Shame is something different altogether. Instead of being the realization that I have done something wrong, shame is the crushing thought that I AM wrong, that I do not have value…either because of what I have done or what has been done to me. I do not believe God ever wants us to experience shame. As God’s creation, you and I ALWAYS have value. Shame is a lie that ignores all the truth of God’s love for us that we talked about last night.
Conviction is what helps us stop running away and hiding from God, and instead come take God’s open hand of forgiveness and direction. It helps us move into true freedom, realizing that desiring what God wants for us is truly the best way to live life!
Let’s look again at Psalm 73. Open your bibles if you would like.
Verse 25: “You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!” This is the goal! This is a great expression of what it looks like to walk hand in hand with God. I accept your love, God. I want you, and I’m so grateful you want me. I realize there are all kinds of things that clamor for my attention in life, but in my best moments I realize that you are what I truly desire.
Saying “yes” to God, walking hand in hand with God, does mean saying no to some of the other things we desire on earth. But when we get this right, our focus isn’t on all the “no’s”, not on all the things to stop or to avoid. Instead, it’s positive like the psalmist: I want you, God! I want to live with you and for you!
The very last verse, verse 28, paints a beautiful picture for us: “I’m in the very presence of God-oh how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord God my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do!”
As a church, as a staff, we’re here because we’ve been refreshed by God’s presence, we’ve made God our home…and we want to share with the world that God loves you and you can make God your home, too.
Sometimes having something tangible to do as a sign of an invisible spiritual choice is helpful to us, something we can look back on and remember and hold on to. We want to give you a chance today to do something to demonstrate you accept the offer of God’s hand, that you want to willingly walk hand in hand with God.
There are posters spread around, and on the tables next to them are some of the phrases I used earlier. We want to invite you to go write on one of the posters as a sign of your choice today to walk hand in hand with God. Maybe one of those phrases is close to capturing your response to God’s offer of relationship and love tonight. “Thank you for what you’ve done, Jesus. I accept!” “I love you, too.” “I need you, Jesus.” “I’m sorry I didn’t see you for who you really are, Jesus.” “I’m sorry for the times I’ve let go of your hand because I wanted something else.” Maybe you want to come up with your own phrase and write it and sign on a poster.