Sunday, January 13, 2013

God's warning signs

I'm writing this blog based on an experience I had just last night, so it's all very fresh in the mind and therefore a good time to write about it. I spent yesterday in Taupo for a wedding between two amazing friends of mine whom I love and respect immensely. It was a rather busy few days for me as I had the wedding to attend as a groomsman on the Saturday, plus I had to work on Sunday morning straight afterwards. I stayed for the reception and left to drive back home to Tauranga about 9:30pm. The drive was expected to take about 2 and a half hours.

By this stage I was running on little sleep from the night before as well as being very tired due to working the full week, driving to Taupo straight after work on Friday and being busy with the wedding all day Saturday so I was pretty severely tired and very much looking forward to my own bed. Just over halfway into the journey I found myself driving faster and faster to the point where I was hitting corners much faster than I usually do. It was at this point I felt God begin to speak to my heart in a still, small voice -

"Graham, you're driving much too fast - slow down."

So of course, my reply being rather cocky as I know the road so well, not to mention overtired, was the following -

"I'm fine, I know what I'm doing, I can handle this! I just want to get home as soon as possible so I can sleep!"

God's response was this -

"You'll be lucky to get home at all if you keep driving the way that you are."

I ignored God's response and found myself in a corner where I noticed the weight notably shift in the car to the point where I was almost losing traction. However, I reassured myself once again with "I got this!!" and continued powering ahead.

Sure enough, just a couple of corners down the road I found myself approaching the corner much too fast and trying to turn my highbeams down as there was a car coming the other way. Being overtired and trying to multitask I decided to just put my foot on the brakes as hard as possible. I felt the tyres lock up and the entire car start sliding towards the other side of the road. Fortunately, I've spent many an hour playing drift racing and driving simulator games on the Playstation, so I knew exactly what to do and counter-steered into the skid while pumping the brakes. The car started skidding in the other direction so I did the same thing again all the time with my foot off the accelerator so I was slowing down. Despite a few wild weaves all over the place I managed to straighten up, regain traction and continue on my merry way, albeit slightly shaken!!

I learned something through all of this - and not just about not driving when severely overtired. God warned me - clearly - and I ignored Him because I didn't like what He was saying and felt I didn't need His warning because I was in control. Next thing I know I am faced with a potentially life-threatening situation where I could easily have been killed if I were less capable when it comes to driving a car. I certainly couldn't have blamed God if I had crashed and been seriously injured or killed, or hurt someone else - all He'd simply say was "I warned you."

God doesn't warn us of things because He wants to spoil our fun. He warns us because He loves us and doesn't want us to make stupid mistakes. There are also times when God blocks off paths to us so that we are simply unable to walk them because He knows that path would ruin us and He loves us too much to let that happen. However, there are times when God takes His hand off situations and though He does warn us, He will not rescue us from the consequences of our own actions and will allow us to face the consequences of the disobedience of ignoring His direct and clear warning.

When a bridge is out on a roadway and therefore very dangerous, assuming it hasn't just recently happened there are almost always clearly stated warnings around saying that the bridge is out and that we cannot proceed further because it is dangerous. Sometimes there can even be barriers up to stop us. But a sign can only show us the way - it can't make us walk in it. We are free to ignore the sign if we so choose but we are placing ourselves in very serious danger. Even if there are barriers up, if we are determined we can still find a way through or around them. The sad part of this story is that eventually we are going to come face to face with that destroyed bridge at full speed and face the consequences of flying over the end of it.

God's warnings are the same. His warnings are clear, and direct, and should always be acknowledged and never ignored - but we can ignore them if we choose to and continue to plow into corners much faster than we should be and find ourselves losing control and nearly in the paths of oncoming traffic. God knew that I wouldn't listen to Him. Fortunately, I was not killed as a result of my ignorance. I could have been made to pay very heavily for my disobedience but I was lucky to escape with my life.

Over the past few months, God has impressed upon me very strongly that I needed to warn some people of their actions and that they needed to change their ways or they would find themselves in a lot of trouble.It hurts when you feel God has called you to warn someone about something and they ignore the warning and continue to charge ahead - seemingly without consequences. A person's warning to another person can often be completely unfounded and very easily ignored, and sometimes their warning is just based on their desire to achieve their own emotional gratification so the warning should not be taken seriously. However - there are times when God makes it very clear to someone that they need to warn another person about what they are doing and uses that person's voice to speak to them. Their warning can be ignored - but to ignore that is to ignore God's voice through them which can have very serious consequences.

God sends out loud warning signs if we are prepared to listen but sometimes He knows that we never will and will stubbornly continue doing what we are doing, regardless of what He says. I believe God then looks upon those who refuse to heed his warnings with both frustration and pity - frustration that they refuse to listen to what's best for them and pity that they are missing out on God's best because they can't get over their own stubbornness. God's mercy and forgiveness are always available to those who ask - even those who have deliberately ignored His warning - but the consequences of their disobedience will always be there.

It hurt me a lot when I felt that my warnings were ignored, but I now realize from my experiences last night just how costly (and almost deadly) ignoring the voice of God can be just because you don't like what it's saying, or for that matter, who is saying it (if God has chosen to use a person to speak through). I used to get so angry at feeling that every route was so strongly blocked off in my life to the point where I couldn't take them - even if I wanted to. Now I realize that although I often felt like the biggest loser on the planet, God was keeping me from things (and people) that would have been incredibly destructive and potentially had life-long consequences. Better a bit of pain from being belted with the rod of discipline than seeing the rod spared and one's entire life being destroyed as a result.

So my word to you is - listen. If you know in your heart, below all of your pride that God is warning you - listen and obey. Even if you don't like what He's warning you about - listen and obey anyway. Or you could have ended up like I (almost) did - or worse.

Take care.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Going against the grain until the end...."

 The title of this blog is a lyric from a song I used to listen to often in my long-haired, headbanging days of old - "Damage, Inc." by Metallica. I always enjoyed this particular song as it has some pretty intense guitar playing and drumming, but even as I began to move on musically I never forgot some of the lyrics, that line in particular.

As I have become stronger over the past year and a half since everything happened to me I have come to realize that it is my mission in particular and in a lot of ways, the mission of God's people in general to "go against the grain." Modern society sets its own expectations of people nowadays, and people set their own expectations of each other. Often, these expectations are not morally right, but people are expected to live up to them anyway.

This is where God's people are called to be different, or to "go against the grain". We are called to live by the Spirit of God, not the expectations and demands of man. Living by the Spirit and therefore going against the grain when necessary can have consequences as you are almost guaranteed to ruffle people's feathers and cause them to lash out at you for not acting in the way that they think that you should act. Going against the grain can get messy for that very reason and it can require personal sacrifice on the part of those willing to stand against the tide. It also requires terrible risk as you risk offending those with the power to hurt you. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Something I've heard over the years that constantly irritates me to no end is this concept taught in church that rebellion is "evil" and "wrong" and should be avoided at all costs. If you look closely in the Bible, it's full of rebels. One of the main rebels that holds a very important place in Scripture was the prophet Jeremiah. This guy had rebellion down to a fine art. Every other so-called "prophet" in the nation was prophesying prosperity, God's blessing, good fortune and good health upon the people. These people weren't hearing from God. They were telling the people what they wanted to hear, and in turn, keeping everybody happy through their prosperity doctrine.

Jeremiah, however, was truly listening to God. And the REAL word of the Lord to the people was not a word of prosperity at all - but words foretelling destruction and judgment upon Israel, due to their sins, selfishness and stubbornness. God was angry at His people because they wouldn't listen and God was equally as angry at those who told lies to the people in terms of false prophecies to keep them happy. Jeremiah knew the risks involved of being the only prophet foretelling destruction while everyone else foretold peace and prosperity. He probably could have ignored the burning in his heart and gone along with them and kept everyone happy and had himself well thought of by others. But I don't think he could have lived with himself if he'd done that.

He knew the risks and he did it anyway. Needless to say, the people weren't pleased. He faced continual persecution in nearly every sense from people including being thrown into a well in the hope that he would die. But nothing stopped him. He continued to rebel against the established order of the day and continued to go against the grain of false teaching and prosperity by speaking the truth about what God was saying to His people - that they would be destroyed for their sins. Jeremiah's word eventually came true - and Israel was overthrown by the Babylonians, who ironically chose to release Jeremiah from imprisonment and showed him great kindness.

If that's not rebellion I don't know what is. But it was a righteous rebellion. Jeremiah did not become world famous through making friends. If he had passively gone along with the false prophets of the day, he may have been remembered in the bible but for the wrong reasons. His story lives on to this day as an example of sacrifice and strength by someone with integrity who cared about doing God's will regardless of what it cost him and who stood in his way. That's a man of character - someone I aspire to be. A man willing to go against the grain for the sake of what's right.

I've learned so much on this subject recently. I've had to learn to stand and go against the grain many times and it's cost me several friendships. But it's not going to stop me doing what's right and I'd rather be hated for doing the right thing and obeying God than be loved for sitting back, being passive and silent and never saying boo to a goose. God has told me directly to speak very firmly to some people who have wronged me recently and I strongly believe are still doing wrong in their own lives and ignoring God's word to them. I resisted doing this for a long time because I was scared and because I didn't want to go against the grain. God's words to me were three, simple words that I don't think I will ever forget - "Get over yourself!"

It would be easy for me to be passive like I used to be and sit back and say "God bless you" to everyone, even those who claim to call themselves Christians and are knowingly doing wrong but refusing to stop doing it. I never used to think it was my job to stand against people the way that I have been doing so recently. But now I realize that although you need to make sure God is behind it and you're not just lashing out of your frustration, taking a stand against the grain can be the right thing to do and something that will simply burn inside your heart and become heavier until you do it - same as it was with Jeremiah.

So the choice is yours, readers. There are times when you just know that something you can see is wrong and someone needs to speak out against it. Will you sit back, be passive and let it happen or get over yourself, go against the grain and speak out, then walk away with a clear conscience knowing you've done the right thing in God's eyes?

Take care.