SERMON from 6-3-12: “Questions My Neighbor Asked Me: Does God Have a Plan For My Life?”

Romans 12.1-3

 

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

 

Questions My Neighbor Asked Me: Does God Have a Plan For My Life?

 

I’m gonna give you an image this morning. This image will be on the nature of the relationship between God and us.

 

KNOW THIS! It will be insufficient. It will seem flimsy or weak. However, when humanity attempts to describe anything about God, it tends to be insufficient, flimsy and weak. That being said, here we go.

 

Does anyone remember those vibrating football games? I tried to look for a better name for them than that, but Google was only able to give me “vibrating football game” and the manufacturer. You may have had a child or grandchild that had this game. It was tabletop game with an aluminum surface, and decorated to look like a regulation field. Connected underneath the surface is a vibrating motor which shakes the top and moves the pieces.

 

The game work like this (for those who don’t already know); you set the 22 pieces (men) on the field and you flip on the motor. Once that’s done, it’s up to the laws of physics. Most times, the pieces move to one place and you hope one of them breaks free to make their move to the end-zone. Occasionally, one piece will fall to it’s side and just start bouncing around in circles. It can be pretty exciting–or heartbreaking–because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Then again, it’s only a game.

 

 

Which brings us to our question for the day; does God have a plan for my life? You may not have had your neighbor come out and ask you this question, but it is something we wonder about. Yes…that’s the easy part. God does have a plan for your life. However, the explanation of that “yes” is a bit more complicated.

 

There is a problem with our simple answer of “yes” to this question. The problem with the idea is if our omniscient God has a plan for everything and everyone, how is it that we have the free will to do other things–like choosing to sin?

 

And to be sure, our sin is a choice.

 

If God is omniscient, and has a plan and allows everything to happen according to that plan, how can we choose to be disciples of Christ? I’m sure this happens in every church history class, but it happened in mine. A church history class is where one is more likely to run into John Calvin’s idea of predestination. At which point, a bunch of aspiring theologians turn into comedians. It goes like this:

 

“I don’t think I believe in predestination.” one student will say.

 

“Well, you weren’t supposed to.” is too often the reply.

 

So, instead of tabletop football, John Calvin would think the best game to illustrate God’s relationship to man would be a board game. God is the player and he is moving all the pieces around exactly as he wants to–exactly how he knows he wants to.

 

However, anyone who has been a disciple for any amount of time, knows that we have a voice in the matter. We can make decisions. We can take one of many paths. So, we are not pieces in God’s “big board game.” We are playing God’s version of tabletop football.

 

God is the player. He opens the box, constructs the game and arranges the players. Then, he flips the switch. The game is on, and the pieces are vibrating and moving furiously. The pieces are free to move where they can, and are free to remain stuck in one place. Once in a while, one of the pieces falls over and starts to just bounce around on surface–just moving in circles. Have you ever felt like on of those pieces, on the ground and at the mercy of the chaos moving you around?

 

So, God is not picking us up and placing us directly where he wants us–complete with a map and clear directional signs. God has created this environment in which we work and live. We move about as we can or as we choose to. It’s chaotic, but no one said it wouldn’t be.

 

As with all questions your neighbor could ask you about being a Christian, there is need to clarify the question. It isn’t so much “does God have a plan for my life?” as it is “how do I know I am doing what God wants me to do?” What am I supposed to be doing? How do I know I am doing the will of God?

 

Paul tells the Romans that the best way to know the will of God is to stay connected to God. Our relationship with God does something to us–it changes us. Slowly and over time, but it changes us. In the process of that change, we become tethered to God. In a way, we begin to know the heart of God–the desires of God. In no way completely–as we are humans with limited capacity to understand the divine–but to the point that we can understand whether or not we are doing that which God desires us to do.

 

John Wesley–the person responsible for us sitting in a United Methodist Church and not in a Baptist church (no that there’s anything wrong with that)–had a formula by which he weighed everything. Those who care about naming such things call it The Wesley Quadrilateral.

 

Wesley believed that scripture was the way to begin the discernment process. If it was divinely inspired, then scripture is the best place to go to when we need answers. What is sin? Exodus gives us the Ten Commandments. How do we treat our enemies? Jesus tells us in the gospels. How do we know we are doing what God wills? Paul tells us our best shot at that is staying connected to God–through prayer, worship, fellowship and scripture.

 

Wesley also believed that tradition could be helpful in informing our lives. My father-in-law–as many of you know–is a pastor out in Arizona. He serves a downtown church in Mesa, one that has experienced the same decline that many churches have. I have the fortune to be able to talk to him about the ways in which he and his church are working to reach those who have left the church–and those who have never been.

Their latest strategy to renew the church begins with small groups. These groups meet free from the typical church experience. There are groups leaders who meet in homes and begin the process of living in Christian community. Eventually, when the groups seem to be ready, they will begin to meet as a larger community–in a church.

 

If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, it should. That same tactic was used by John Wesley, when he began the Methodist Movement three centuries ago. Small groups of believers–new and old–meeting until it became obvious that there needed to be a place for the larger church to gather and live in Christian fellowship. Forest United Methodist Church and the thousands of other small, rural UMC’s began in just that fashion.

 

What have people before us done? That can be a powerful way of discovering God’s will for us.

 

Since it’s called The Wesley Quadrilateral, there are two other “quads” we must consider. The third is reason, and the fourth is experience. If you are going through transition in your career, the question of what God’s plan is often comes up. Scripture isn’t going to tell you whether or not to take that job as an IT specialist. Tradition isn’t much better at that. God gives us a mind for a reason. God gives us a conscience for a reason. Reason and experience give us the ability to navigate those things that scripture and tradition are silent or ambiguous about.

 

“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but why doesn’t God just use his means and tell us what his will is?” That’s a good question. We know about Moses and the Burning Bush and God parting the clouds to tell the world that he was pleased with Jesus, why doesn’t God speak to us that way?

 

In short, I believe God does speak to us in that way. The “still, small voice of God,” as to which it is often referred. That feeling that you get when something just feels like it is coming from God. It could be a sense of fulfillment. It could be a sense of satisfaction. I believe that still happens today.

 

However, I don’t feel as if you can trust it, unless you follow Paul’s advice. Submit yourself to God. Remaining in connection with God. Paul says that you shouldn’t think of yourself as higher than you are. If you do, whose to say that the course you are taking isn’t the one you have decided, and not God. We have to stay connected so we can tell the difference.

 

Unlike the pieces on the vibrating football board, we have much more control over where it is we go. The advantage we have over those plastic footballers is that fact that God is present and active in our lives–to the extent we are willing to accept it (but not so much that we can fully rid ourselves of God’s presence in our lives).

 

Does God have a plan for me? Pay attention and you just might find out.

 

AMEN

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