Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is A Test

Two weeks ago I attended a day of the Holy Spirit Conference sponsored by Lutheran Renewal.  It was 30 years ago at the same conference that I heard God's call to become a pastor in the Lutheran church.  I wondered what God would have to say this year.

I arrived at North Heights on Friday in time for the 8:30 communion service.  As soon as the preaching began, I was hooked.  Pastor Harley Schmitt brought a word from the Lord:
God sets the solitary in family (Psalm 68:6).
Wow.  That was wonderful!  There's a sense that, for the last year, I've been in the process of being orphaned.  Not from my natural family--mom and dad still love me unconditionally as they always have.  But my spiritual family has changed in a dramatic way.  Many friends are moving on to other churches these days.  I am too.  This Sunday, August 22, will be my last as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato.*

Just before communion--presided over by a PhD in liturgy (Mark Luttio) we sang an old "Gaither" song -- you can click on this title to hear the back story of the song and listen to the music: "I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God."

The song includes this verse:
From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King
No longer an outcast, a new song I can sing
From rags to riches, from the weak to the strong
I’m not worthy to be here but thank God I belong.
That song is nothing special when it comes to the music, but the message was just what the doctor ordered.  The tears flowed as I went to receive the Lord in communion that morning.  Praise God for a church family that goes far beyond the local congregation.  Praise God!

After communion we heard the main presentation of the morning.  It was given by Lutheran Renewal's director, Paul Anderson.  He began by saying God had given him a word for us.  Not a comfortable word at all, but very fitting for this moment.
Jesus sometimes frustrates and confuses you on purpose.
Again, the Lord spoke to me powerfully.  I continue to be so thankful.  You might not think of that as good news, but when you're dealing with confusion and frustration on a daily basis, it's good to know God is in it!

Paul A. explained how God tests us through times of frustration and disorientation so we become stronger and more useful as we participate in His loving Work.

The title of his message?  "This Is A Test"

It reminded me of First Peter 4:12-13
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
What a wonderful thing to know that God is ultimately in control, even when we find ourselves confused and alone!  We may be surprised.  We may be confused.  But God is not!

What Glory!  Hallelujah and Praise!

Paul Anderson defined a "test" from God like this:
A test is a physical, psychological or spiritual trial that God uses to develop our character.  A test tends to disorient us, threatening our peace and joy.  We either pass by responding to God, or fail by reacting to our feelings.  We don't naturally look forward to tests, because they frustrate us and cause us pain.
He then laid out some of the things he has learned about testing.

Through times of testing:
  • God is teaching us to live above our circumstances instead of just reacting to them.
  • Like a loving parent who wants us to share his or her love and character, God is often more concerned about what happens in us than what happens to us.
  • God doesn't usually tell us when we are being tested.  He has told us to "consider it pure joy" when we go through trials, but we don't know what specific tests we're going to be facing.
  • Our attitudes are revealed.
  • We experience tension.
  • We learn that it doesn't matter "who" or "what" brings the test.  We can still thank God for how God sill use it to refine our character.
  • We get tougher and then can experience and learn from tougher tests.
  • We can be confused, but, when tests are passed, they bring a reward.
  • Tests don't last forever.
  • Tests produce a testimony. By passing a test you will have the opportunity to witness to God's faithfulness. 
I would love to have you hear or read Paul's message "This Is A Test" all the way through. 
Even when a test brings you through a spiritual orphanage--don't despair.  God is faithful, and with the test he will provide a way out, so you may be able to endure it.  Ask for wisdom with a Christian friend, and look for the goodness of God.  And pray.  Pray for me.  I will pray for you.

For more info on my own recent journey, see "Letter of Resignation" and "An Awkward Time and "ELC/Cokato - Final Report"

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