eNewsletter Feature Story – Week of June 13 – June 19, 2021

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Jim Teague,
First Pres director of communications.

Rev. Paul Windsor

ONLINE-ONLY SERVICE THIS SUNDAY!

Our Sunday morning worship service this week will be held online at 10 am with NO IN-PERSON attendance. Our guest preacher will be Rev. Dr. Paul Windsor (right), Director of Preaching of Langham Partnership International. Rev. Windsor currently resides in New Zealand and will be offering his sermon by way of a video recording. Please join us online that Sunday at https://live.firstpresevanston.org.

Dear Friends,

Over a decade ago, my family and I took a road trip to Florida and we relied upon a navigation app on my “smart” phone to get us there. We were just about to the resort when something unnerving took place.

The navigation app, complete with its cheerful, non-individualized female voice assistant, told us to turn right into one-way oncoming traffic. Now, I am generally a rule-follower but I decided NOT to make that turn. Going left instead, we then listened for new, rerouted directions and eventually found ourselves right back on the same road at the same intersection. The pleasant-sounding assistant again instructed us to turn right.

It seemed Siri had it out for us.

At that point, we turned off the automated (and seemingly malevolent) voice assistant and eventually managed to make our way, safe and sound, to our destination.

For the rest of the trip we jokingly pondered what it was we might have done to incite our technological “friend” to suddenly begin to plot our demise. Had she been listening when we made fun of her cheery disposition? Had we failed to say “thank you” one too many times after taking her advice had delivered us safely to previous destinations? Maybe, instead of any harmful intent, she had some unspoken knowledge of a pending disaster, which had been averted because we turned left… twice?

We all got a good laugh about it (and, clearly, I still do). To this day, however, I use a different company’s navigation app to find my way on the roads.

It’s tempting, for me at least, to experience God’s guidance as some kind of misinformed or even untrustworthy GPS mechanism. I have to confess I have felt even more misaligned during the past 24 months or so. Some of that has to do with the global COVID-19 pandemic (you might have read something about that in the news), but my struggles had started long before that.

Even before COVID hit, I had been unsteady in my personal trust of God’s leading. I had consistent faith in his existence, and in his goodness as a central part of who he is. But events in my life had brought me to a place of discouragement. From health issues (mental and physical, for me and various family members), to difficulties in important friendships, and to areas where I still wrestle with obedience to God’s call to give over different aspects of my life to him, I was feeling overwhelmed and astray. I began to wonder if God — while completely good, righteous, and perfect — was not necessarily all that concerned about me, personally.

I had experienced enough in my life to know that he was not against me; he is never out to do me (or you) harm. But I found myself talking to him about what I might need to do (or to become) in order to find myself back in his good graces.

More deeply than the directional app, I felt as if I had fairly convincing evidence that something was broken in our relationship, and that I either needed to wend my way back to a previous spot where things had worked, or choose a different method of finding my way altogether.

Over the past few years, I have been focused on developing the sense, the skill, of understanding God’s purposes in the moment. Through prayer, Scripture reading, podcasts, books and videos, I sought to come to some clear, concise method of always (or nearly always) knowing what he was up to, and how I could best make myself available to that purpose.

I think I had reasoned that if I made myself a valuable tool on God’s workbench, I would be returned to a place of honor on his belt. Close to him, successful in ministry, and rewarded for my efforts if not for my results.

After all, Hebrews 11:6 says:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Paul’s statement here, however, was made in the context of a chapter sometimes referred to as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” He wasn’t writing a recipe for success. Instead he was addressing an audience of his fellow Hebrews, drawing on their knowledge of the Scriptures and extolling the virtues of trust, obedience, and walking by faith, even when the evidence suggests that might be unwise (like turning into oncoming traffic).

In the process of looking for reassurance that I could get back to a place of safety and good, healthy feelings, I had missed the overarching point Paul was trying to make to his brethren:  Our God loves us and has shown us that love through the birth, life, suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

That love requires a response — and the response God is looking for is called faith.

And what is faith?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1

It would seem, then, that I need to turn my general confidence in the ultimate goodness of God into full-on assurance that what I hope for (eternal fellowship with God) will come to pass. I need to be not just “kind-of-sort-of-maybe” believing, but convicted of what I claim as absolute truth.

As Paul describes in Hebrews 11:31-40, the heroes of the faith did not find a way to avoid the troubles of life: 39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

And we have more than they had. We have the complete Scriptures, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the whole community of believers to help us on our way.

I still have lots of questions and plenty of work to be done in perfecting my life of faith. Honestly, I am far from being a hero or hall-of-famer. But I can take each day and put myself on the road to what lies ahead, confident that the map will get me where I long to be.

In Christ, our hope and our salvation,

Jim Teague
FPCE Director of Communications

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