Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Filling the Valleys and removing the mountains.....

Filling the valleys and removing the mountains to become smooth plains and straight roads

A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight paths for him, every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation (Luke 3:4-6 / Is 40 3-4)

Luke 3: 4-6 is such a visual statement and very poetic. I have often read over it as a pre-cursor to the important part of the message and a reminder of the reference to Jesus being the fulfilling of Isaiah prophecy. And while it is all that, today God opened my eyes to so much more. As always you should be careful what you pray for as I just finished writing in my journal “Lord help me to trust you for all the things in my life that are not clear, that don’t make sense” and then I opened to Luke 3.

Then this morning, I am struck by the visual of the valleys that need to be filled, the mountains that need to be leveled, the ground that needs to be smoothed, the paths that need to be straightened. What was once a poetic introduction suddenly jumped out to me as an important lifelong discipleship plan to make way for God to bring salvation to the 1000’s we are losing? Of course, Jesus has already done what is needed for salvation, but our message, our call, like John and Isaiah still remains so important.

As a parent and a Pastor, there is one thing that doesn’t make sense to me at the moment and that is why we are losing our kids?

“Despite all our incredible children’s, youth and young adult programs, we have not been able to stop this mass exodus from our churches. We have not just lost one generation, we are losing several” (David Sawler, Goodbye Generation, USA).

I feel like among the young people that surround me, I hear either one of these two statements.

“I just don’t understand...I have too many unanswered questions!” or “I just want to go out and enjoy my life.”  The result of these unanswered issues is they are walking away from God.

When someone says “I just don’t understand …too many unanswered questions” often means that “they lack faith.” For them the valleys are deep holes of nothing.  When the valleys are empty, they can be filled with so many things today.

Paul J Bucknell says “Doubts lead to all kinds of fears, stress and anxiety which in turn take a great toll on our bodies. These doubts then rule our lives rather than confidence in Christ. The typical fear or worry has a person scurrying from here to there for some kind of confidence only later to be dashed. (Understanding the Heart of Discipleship, Living Commentary Series, Paul J Bucknell)*

The result is that they end up having no hope or faith in God.

Then there are those who say today  “I just want to enjoy my life.” These are the ones who basically want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it and don’t want to listen to what anyone has to say about it. These are the mountains we create for our life, often becoming so high and wide some can never get over them.

“The problem is not confidence but mis-directed confidence. God wants us to have confidence or faith in Him and His promises. Instead of thinking we can handle our own problems, we ought to trust God to work out solutions to our problems by simply obeying Him in everything...  The hill has to be flattened out because there is no room for the glory of God as long as man seeks honour for himself.”  (Understanding the Heart of Discipleship, Living Commentary Series, Paul J Bucknell)*

This is not new. Since the beginning of time the prodigals have always thought they have known better. Such is the patience of God as He watches History repeat itself. We read about it over and over again in the Bible, but for me the most painful thing is to watch someone you love walk away, knowing this must be their journey to work out their own salvation.

As a parent, as a minister, as one who longs to prepare the way that many might come to a deep relationship with the only true Saviour, we are called to fill the gaps and remove the mountains. It seems at any age, we are called to help build faith in others and help minimise the mountains people build that block them from HIM.

But I believe with all my heart that for the young, the environments we create can help the valleys to not become too deep and the mountains to not become so high. This can make a HUGE difference. How are you preparing the way for your children? Is Christ the place your kids turn to first when doubts and fears begin to create valleys in their lives? When the mountains of misdirected confidence begin to appear, where do they turn? What are we modelling as parents and how can help them with these challenges? It is a daily surrender to Him. This must be lived out daily. We cannot wait for “Sunday School” every 7 days for 1-2 hours and simply think it is enough to prepare the way. This is why we are losing our kids, our people.

To fill the gaps and remove mountains we need a daily, life long, all age, family based lifestyle that allows us to all walk together, understanding that Christ wants to be at the centre of all we do, say and live. Imagine if we lived like this. I wonder if the valleys might not be so low and the mountains not so high?   Then lifelong discipleship would be more about smoothing the rough edges and helping them stay on the straight path, a much easier task than flattened mountains and filling large valleys.

"Let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley" (Isaiah 40:4b).

Yes it is a journey that never ends. Any guidance and support is valuable and necessary at times. As a parent, when called to prepare the way for our children, I know what I would rather be doing in my own life and with my kids. When Christ is the foundation who has smoothed the mountains to an open plain and has filled the deep valleys to a broad valley, then the hard work can be reduced, and it is more about adjusting and readjusting on the broad valleys and open roads throughout life as we keep Him in the driver’s seat and enjoy the ride. Not that the sole motivation for me is about reducing our hard work as parents. It is more about helping our kids to have a smoother and straighter road to travel towards a lifelong deep relationship with God. Then we might stop losing so many to this world.