Nothing spiritual this morning–just a reflection that is the result of picking up trash along the road in front of our home. This is a constant battle and it made me think, “Why do so many people litter our roads?” It’s not just limited to our home–trash is everywhere. And honestly, I really wanted to use my talent for snarky and explode all over those who litter. But then it hit me: “They are either ignorant or stupid.” As Sy Robertson once said, “You can’t fix trash. You can’t fix a neutered dog. And you can’t fix stupid.” But ignorance can be fixed with knowledge.
I refuse to believe there are that many stupid people. So it must be ignorance–and ignorance is defeated with knowledge. Obviously those who litter are unaware of this modern marvel called a trash can; also known as a garbage can. I can understand why; the garbage can has only been around for about 136 years. And the amazing thing is that you can find them just about anywhere; convenience stores, in front of many businesses, and other locations. And here’s what makes it a marvel: there are companies that pick up the contents of those trash cans and will properly dispose of that litter–and it’s not along our highways and roads.
And, get this, there is this Modern Marvel at your home. You can take the litter from your vehicle and actually put it in your garbage can (or trash can if you prefer that term). It is not illegal to do this and it will not cause termination of your agreement with your trash pickup provider. Yes, it’s true. Trash in your vehicle can be put in that Modern Marvel we call trash cans. So, now that you know about this 136 year old Modern Marvel, you can stop littering our roads and highways. I am so glad to provide all the many ignorant people this illuminating knowledge. Now when I see litter, I know it’s not the result of ignorance, but absolute stupidity. You’re welcome.
There are some who question the Season of Lent. Some say that Protestantism do so to maintain a connection to Catholicism; even being under its influence rather than God’s. The thing is that there are historical documents that precede the formation of the Roman Catholic Church that indicate early Followers of Jesus engaged in this discipline. There is even a connection to it at the Council of Nicaea, which produced the original Nicene Creed in 325. Though Roman Catholicism says it began with Peter, most historians agree it began after the Council of Nicaea where Constantine was trying to unite the Roman Empire through Christianity.
Some say that it isn’t commanded for Christians to do in the Bible; only Baptism and Communion. Well, didn’t Jesus say something about Foot Washing? Besides, there is nothing commanded about stain glass windows, pipe organs, projectors, Sunday School literature, or padded pews and seats.
Some say that it’s origins come from pagan religions in Babylon and Egypt; as such, it is idolatry and blasphemy. What about when God instructed Moses to make that bronze serpent to heal all those who were bitten by the snakes? The Asp was a sacred idol in Egypt who was supposed to protect the Pharaoh. The Asp was included on the Pharaoh’s crown for people to see. Was God ignorant of that? Did He promote idolatry? For those who say Lent promotes idolatry, then so did God.
Others say that it’s simply not needed to be a Christian. Well, on this point I must say that I wholeheartedly agree. To BE a Christian rests solely on the atoning work of Jesus and our faith in that work. We need to change one word in that statement: the words TO BE. Change it to AS; so that it reads: “I need Lent AS a Christian!” I need this time to give up something important to me so that I can focus more on my relationship with Jesus.
I admit that I am not yet exactly like Jesus. To become like Jesus I must change even more things in my life, my heart, and my mind. It’s backed up in the Bible. Moses fasted 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai while God gave him The Law (Exodus 34); he did it again on the behalf of the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 9). Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights on his way to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19). And Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before He began His public mission (Matthew 4).
In paganism it was the god or goddess who needed its worshippers to fast. It was a demand from them because the god or goddess required it from them to remain a god or goddess–i.e.–it gave the god or goddess power. But in one of my favorite liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, says: “God does not need Lent. But we do.”
Now, if you want to make Lent about paganism and Roman Catholicism and idolatry and being unnecessary–well you are within your rights and free will to do so. As for me? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself thought it important to spend a time away from things in order to focus on God. So, I will embrace it as important in my growth as a Disciple and Follower of Jesus. The Discipline of Lent isn’t about giving up something only to pick it back up later. It is about reflecting on ALL that Jesus gave up for us. Whatever we give up, we spend that time remembering how it came to be that we have been made right with The Father. This season I’m giving up sweets–and those moments I long for something sweet, I will remember what Jesus gave up for me.
This morning I’m stuck inside the house–because of ice and snow. It’s currently 14 degrees with a wind chill of 7 degrees. I know, those of you north of the Mason-Dixon Line aren’t impressed. But here in Alabama–it is a big deal! I just finished my shave and shower because I have yet another Zoom Meeting. And I started thinking. So fasten your seat belts and hold on.
What I am thinking about are things that simply DO NOT GO TOGETHER. More than just not fitting–they do not even belong in the same universe. Here’s my list:
ICE, SNOW, AND THE SOUTH!
HYPER-CALVINISTS AND WESLEYANS
OIL AND WATER
ELECTRIC MUSTANGE (who is the moron that had this idea? They need to be sterilized to save future generations from this idiocy. They are genetically related to the next one.)
ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE (Sorry, sissies, it ain’t a motorcycle without the rumble!)
GOING FISHING WITH JUST ONE BAPTIST! (If you don’t take two Baptists with you, they will drink all of your beer)
BAPTISM BY IMMERSION AND A CAT
TREE HUGGERS AND LOGGERS
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND HUNTERS, CATTLE-CHICKEN-HOG FARMERS
DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS
There’s more but let’s take a quick and honest look at the last two. In both cases, it’s that demonic influence of what is called THE JESUS AND DISEASE. If you lean to the Democratic Party, that’s your choice. If you lean to the Republican Party, that’s your choice. Just don’t mix the two of them. When you mix your religion with your politics it is a recipe for disaster. Jesus refused to align with politics. Paul refused to align with politics. And if you aren’t convinced, then you have not learned from history or have forgotten history. Does anyone remember The Inquisition?
Some things simply do not go together–and they never will. The Kingdom Of God and anything else. Don’t go together. Don’t work together. Don’t fit together. Never have. They never will!
A text message this morning got me to thinking. My thinking went way back in time–October 1974 to be exact. This was when I was appointed to serve 2 small congregations while I pursued licensing as a pastor at the ripe old age of 18 years old. I mention this because we all know that beginning at 18, we tend to be full of vim and vigor; or was the vim and vinegar? Come to think of it, the latter is more true for me than I want to admit. My thinking moved forward through all the years I served as a pastor all the way to right now.
And now? I have less vim, but at times, a whole lot more vinegar. If you have followed me here on this blog, you know it’s true. And you may wonder who is about the become the object of my vinegary thoughts. It is my profession–“the” pastor. I was trained in the classical model of “The Professional Pastor”. I had someone whom I thought was a colleague, tell me once after I made the decision to remain in serving small and medium churches as what we call a “Local Pastor”, “You really need to become one of us.” His poke was that until one was an ordained elder in the UMC, they weren’t really pastors. By the way, I was eventually ordained, but not to be “one of them”.
The text message from this morning, well, it brought me under conviction of the Holy Spirit. Stay with me a moment, especially if you are a pastor. And really hang in with me if you are studying to become a pastor. In reflecting over these past 46 plus years, one picture stands clear to me. The church in the U.S. has been in a steady decline; almost to the stage of an avalanche. There have been all kinds of explanations, even justifications (even though we can never justify decline) for this event. But the biggest thing is the placing of blame on this state of disgrace.
I realize that some of this decline is caused by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who vainly think the local church exists for them–and who fight tooth and nail to keep their control. But from my perspective–we pastors share the major share of the blame. We were trained to be professionals rather than authentic people who are to be servant leaders. I remember an incident at my previous appointment. After a funeral in my first year, the family was gathered for a meal in the church fellowship hall. I noticed the tea glasses, water glasses, and coffee cups were nearly empty. Well, I proceeded to go to each table refilling their beverage of choice. One of the church members mentioned, “This is our new pastor.” and the response was obviously one of shock when she said, “Oh, really?” To my fellow pastors–if you expect church folks to do things you are unwilling to do or think it is beneath your training, then you’re in the wrong place.
I am convinced that Professionally Trained Pastors are the Achilles Heel of the U.S. Church. It did not happen overnight–it took centuries for this to develop and in 2021, we are reaping the harvest of this with declining congregations. When I began this journey, I thought my job was to herd them up and get them moving in the right direction under MY leadership. What I discovered was that this model was more like herding cats. So I started looking for a different model to emulate. Here’s what I noticed over the past 4 decades plus of noticing.
The Underachiever Model. This is the pastor who really doesn’t care about the flock, just the paycheck, and the next church.
The Don’t Rock The Boat Model. This pastor is focused on survival–their own and that of their family. These fear confrontation–and as such, cannot guide the church to where it needs to be.
Then on the opposite end is The Dynamite Model. I do not mean as in dynamic–but dynamite, C-4 explosives, and the like. They are convinced that their job is to correct the problems that they see as the real problems. Their definition of “real” problems are typically about 7 bubbles off plumb. They do catastrophic damage to a congregation and leaves the damage behind for the next pastor to deal with. And you can always count on The Dynamite Model to leave a few unexploded devices behind which will explode at the worst possible moment.
The One Issue Model. This pastor has defined the one issue that a church needs to address even before they arrive. They are convinced that their own wisdom knows which issue the church MUST address.
The Goodyear Blimp Model. I’m not talking about their physical size. It’s the size of their ego. It is large and very inflated. They want the church to know that they have the latest Rock Star Pastor. I once listened to a mega-church’s podcast of a worship service. Truthfully, I only listened for about 3 minutes. The person who was going to bring God’s word opened up that “their” pastor and wife would be back next week. And she said, “Let’s give a hand to Pastor ________ and his wife _______ and let them know how much we missed them. I changed to another podcast–it was about herding cats.
And last but by no means least, The Control Freak Model. Churches are not churches without them. Instead of checking the pulse of the congregation, they are putting the thumb down on folks. Nothing can be done without their permission. If something is done without their permission? Forget that adage that says it is easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission first. Obviously, whoever came up with that adage never had to deal with The Control Freak Pastor. They make Kim Jong-un look like the second coming of George Washington.
Why do I say that The Professional Pastor the primary cause of church decline? I look at the first Models of the church. There was leadership, trained leadership–but that leadership did not get in the way of the church reaching thousands and thousands of people. Oh, for sure, when a local church lost its sense of its true mission, someone was there to set the record straight. And then turned them loose to be The Body Of Christ. No one had to ask permission to lift up the name of Jesus. No one had to ask approval to feed the hungry, take care of the widows and orphans, and bear witness to Jesus and the power of the Cross to save. No one waited for some Professional Pastor to do the work.
There is another Model, a Model that the U.S. church in particular needs today. I would call us The Pastor Model. This pastor guides the congregation into a deeper relationship with Jesus, first and foremost. Then The Pastor Model challenges and equips the Congregation to BE the Body of Christ. And when the Congregation wants to be that Body–he or she gives them PERMISSION to be the Body Of Christ. The congregation doesn’t have to ask The Pastor Model for permission to do anything that lifts up the name of Jesus–and lifts up the least, the last, and the lost. In recent years, when someone comes to me and asks, “Is it OK with you if I do this, that, or the other?”, my response now is: “If it exalts Jesus, if the honors God and the Holy Spirit, if it touches the least, the last, or the lost, then know you have God’s permission and that’s good enough. Now, can I help you or do I just need to stay out of the way?”
In my tribe, only Ordained Pastors can administer the sacraments–as if we are somehow more holy than anyone else. Local pastors can administer the sacraments ONLY in the church they serve. The irony of my tribe is that it also professes the power and importance of the priesthood of all believers. I guess all doesn’t mean all. Before this pandemic hit, there was a significant rise in the number of House Churches. These are homes where people are hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus, a connection with other Followers, and believe that the Kingdom Of God is needed in their neighborhoods, towns, cities, communities, states, and nation.
To my fellow Pastors, encourage your congregations. Inspire your people given to your care (not your dictatorship)! Don’t be afraid to give them permission to be who God calls them to be, The Body Of Christ. Support them in what they do. Help them but only when asked. Praise them when they look like Jesus. And if they get off-mission–gently take them aside and remind them who WE BOTH serve. You can’t build someone up (remember Ephesians 4:11-12) if you constantly tear them down, or worse, never give them the opportunity to do the real work of Jesus Christ.
If some pastor (or Churchian or Tenured Pewsitter) is upset with me, understand I will soon be 65, closer to the moment I stand before my Judge. The last thing I want to be held accountable for is my failure to speak the truth in love. So if you are offended–it is what it is. I still love you and my prayer for you is that your heart, mind, and eyes will be opened to the Mission God has called us to do.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.
Well, our last full day at this cabin. As I was sitting on the back porch, my eyes were not drawn to the beautiful mountain peaks, but to something unexpected. It wasn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it was in great contrast to those Smoky Mountain peaks we have enjoyed this past week. Would you like to see what I noticed? It’s nothing like the pictures I have posted, so a disclaimer is in order: Not for immature audiences due to it’s starkness:
One might wonder why in the world would someone, anyone cut down those beautiful trees? I’m not a ultra-extreme tree hugger, so it did not take me long to figure it out. They were cut down so we, and others who stay here, could see those majestic peaks. See?
There are other benefits to the removal of those trees. One is that the undergrowth is given a better opportunity to grow, thus reducing the amount of erosion. The tree trunks and limbs begin decaying, adding back to the soil, making it richer and better. Then there’s that view. None of these would happen without the chainsaw cutting down those trees. There’s a spiritual lesson for us right here. Tree huggers may not see it, but it’s here.
Remember the benefits of controlled cutting: undergrowth can thrive reducing erosion, decaying limbs and tree trunks add nutrients to the soil for plants to grow better, insects collect around the cuttings for birds to have food, and one can see the view for which we came. Sometimes things in our life can grow so tall that we cannot see our God’s desired destination for us–which is to become more and more like Jesus.
Sometimes there are things in our heart and especially our mind that must be cut down. We call this “God’s pruning”. He cuts off the dead parts of our life because they are a threat to the living parts. Now get this, He even cuts off productive parts of our lives as well. Why would he do that? Glad you asked. The answer is found in John 15, verses 1 and 2:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
New Living Translation (emphasis mine)
Speaking from personal experience, pruning is neither easy nor pleasant. Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning. What is cut away in my life is like those limbs and tree trunks–it’s enriching the soil of my life. My “mess” becomes His “Message”; not a bad trade if you ask me. Furthermore, the pruning of my productive part will decrease my production for a short time, but the long-term result is an even greater production for my Father. Again, however you look at it, this is a really great deal. It’s like trading in an old clunker car for a brand new car–without paying for the difference between the two.
So, if it feels like God has had His chainsaw out–it’s for our good. And when the pruning shears come out–get excited! There is a greater harvest coming for Our Father!
I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.
As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.
Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains terpene, a volatilehydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.
This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:
The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.
What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.
Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”
If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:
This is from an older post. When I started blogging I made a promise to myself to never re-post a blog because I wanted my material to always be fresh. Well, early this morning, The Spirit asked me, “Would you like salt and pepper for eating crow?” Needless to say, this morning’s post was from a few years ago, August 3, 2016. I’ve updated some personal references and edited some of my typical errors, a.k.a. typographical errors. It just seems that this is the Word God wants me to share this morning. It seems that Solomon was right, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Before I begin sharing my heart I must, in all honesty, begin with a warning and a disclaimer. The warning is that due to the mature subject matter, some may find this offensive, even to the point of labeling me something I am not. The disclaimer is that I am NOT being unpatriotic. I fly our country’s flag at our home. I stand at attention with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is being played. I am very patriotic for many reasons–I appreciate the many freedoms we enjoy and I have a son and son-in-law who are combat veterans. Since this was first published my son, Matthew has retired from the military (and now serving in law enforcement). My son in law, Michael, continues to serve in defense of our wonderful nation. I am very proud of Matthew and Michael and every day I pray they will never have to go back into harm’s way. With this being said, I want to share something with you that has been troubling my heart and mind.
I am acutely troubled by the emotional climate that exists in our nation in this current election cycle. I am seeing and hearing a lot of conversations that are soaked with frustrations, anger and fear, especially around this current Presidential election. My deepest concerns are the words I see and hear from the “Christian” community. Many of my friends are saying that this is THE sign that Jesus is about to return because the wrong person was elected. Others are saying that America is doomed.
I am left wondering, “Why so much concern about who sits in the chair behind that desk in the Oval Office? Why does that thought create such anger or even fear?” Regardless of who sits there, God is still God. He is still sovereign. He is still in control. The waves and the winds still know and obey the voice of Jesus. In a message series it was something I said that inspired this blog. It came from a series based on Ecclesiastes, that book where Solomon shares all the things he tried to find a life with meaningful purpose that would give us that deep and abiding peace with joy. Of the many things Solomon tried one was the political process. He described putting our hope on the political process was like “chasing the wind.” During that message, here is what I said: “The hope for the United States is not about who sits in the chair behind the desk of the oval office, but rules on the throne of your own heart.”
I listen with all respect to the passion of the many voices who spend their time and energy on their desire for the United States to become once again a Christian nation. There seems to be a lot of passion and energy as well as fear being expended in this idea that God, and thus the Gospel, wants us to create a Christian nation. Now comes the offensive part so brace yourselves for you have been warned. Jesus never asked us to follow Him in order to set upon this earth a Christian nation. God hasn’t called us or anyone to create a Christian nation.
If you, the reader, are among the many here in the United States that sincerely believe that God wants us to create and maintain this Christian nation and are now offended (and maybe even labeled me a heretical liberal), I have one word for you: Good! About six and a half ago years God turned my theology and understanding about the collective gathering we call the church on its ear. Well, actually He helped me move from upside down to right side up, by reminding me the work of the collective body called the church is not about what we call church work, but Kingdom Work.
Out of this has God has brought me back to a familiar verse from which directs my thoughts and words in this blog, and why I do not think God wants us to be so adamant about this being a Christian nation. It is from 1 Peter 2:9-10 and I want to share it from both the New Living Translation and from the Message:
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”
New Living Translation
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
The call of God is about more than a piece of real estate. Notice Peter’s carefully selected word: YOU! We, who have been called out by God only because of His grace and mercy, are to be royal priests that are to be collectively formed, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to be this holy nation. It is just like the church. We never, ever go to church if we are doing it right. WE are the church, not a piece of real estate. The real church never has a single address, nor does it exist within multiple campuses.
The church exists wherever you happen to be at that moment, that is, if you are have some clarity about the nature of the church. And within our collective body our work is to be Kingdom Work. Kingdom Work is about restoring people to what Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe in the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . and Yourself as the 4 key relationships God intended in creation for us. They describe these 4 key relationships as relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Poverty exists when 1 or more of these relationships are broken.
One way that I see that we have Americanized the Gospel is in how we define and treat poverty. In their book, Corbett and Fikkert point out because of our American bias, we define poverty as the lack of material substance. So we treat poverty with material substance. And be honest, how has this worked out? IF poverty is the lack of material substance (which it’s NOT), then we should have solved the problem a long time ago. Instead of solving the problem, people continue to live in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Even we who call ourselves Christians experience poverty in one or more of these relationships.
The Work of God’s Kingdom ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve has been to restore His most loved part of creation to those 4 key relationships. It is in these 4 relationships that we reflect His nature, His heart, and His glory. And it is within these key relationships that we begin to live out our created design and purpose. And here is where I believe that we “American” Christians have forgotten something that should never be forgotten. I am convinced that much of our dysfunction as a nation (notice I did not say “Christian Nation”) is that we have chosen to ignore this absolute truth.
God calls us to proclaim the Kingdom right smack dab in the middle of the Enemy’s Kingdom. Albeit the kingdom of Satan is temporary, still at this time he rules it. Do you remember what Jesus said to Pilate when questioned about being a King?
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 NLT)
If Jesus wasn’t interested in establishing an earthly kingdom, meaning “a nation”, then why are so many of us obsessed with having one in the United States? Here is my thought: We have forgotten that God has placed us in the middle of enemy territory for the purpose of spiritual warfare (and remember this warfare isn’t against people, corporations or governments, but the Evil one) to reclaim those whom God created in HIS image, but have been disfigured with the image of the Enemy. I’m sitting here wondering if Christians in places like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and a host of other nations ruled by petty despots, are wondering, “Why are those Americans so up in arms about that election? Every day we live under the threat of imprisonment and death and it hasn’t slowed the Kingdom down one little bit. Truth is, God’s Kingdom is growing here but declining there.”
I want to challenge you stop insisting that our job as Disciples of Jesus Christ is to make sure this great nation with so many wonderful freedoms turn back to becoming a Christian nation. You may think I am dishonoring our Founding Fathers and their desire and intent. Are you aware that some of our Founding Fathers were Deists? Deists believe in a divine creator but not in the Trinitarian God. Though they rejected the idea of Jesus, they understood the importance of freedom of thought, speech, and yes, religion.
Let’s stop trying to “make” this a Christian nation and instead BECOME the nation God has called us to be. A nation that exists, not on real estate, but a PEOPLE who faithfully live out as His priests, Royal Priests! Forget Republican or Democrat priests–let’s be Royal Priests who serve not a political ideology or party or even flag, but The King of all Kings! Would you love to see a culture shift in the United States? A culture shift that moves away from political ideologies, from greed and selfishness, from that sense of entitlement, and from the idea that as Disciples of Jesus we are supposed to establish a “Christian” nation? Then remember where your citizenship lies and under whose command you serve.
Stop freaking out about Donald and Joe and instead focus on your own brokenness in the 4 Key Relationships–God, self, others and the rest of creation. And then step into the Territory of the Enemy and share your brokenness with others who are broken and say to them, “Let’s walk together out of our brokenness towards the only One who can restore us to who we truly are.” Don’t worry about the nation–BE the Nation of people called out by God to walk through the Enemy’s territory with the light of His love, grace and mercy. I was reading the other day but unfortunately I did not write down the source of it, but here are my closing words: 95% of Christians pass the test of adversity but 95% of Christians fail the test of prosperity.
This morning it’s raining–during our vacation. A few hours after I took this picture, the fog and rain mist has blocked the view to just a few yards. A lot of people would be upset, even mad, if rain and fog invaded their vacation plans. But us? We are continuing to enjoy this vacay! I’ll admit it, there was a time when if anything interrupted my plans–I would have something like a combination hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, and tempter tantrum. And I have come to realize that it revealed a lack of maturity on my part.
But today, it’s all good for me and Debbie. OK, there’s been rain, fog, and clouds that obscured our view. But! We still have this cabin, at least for a few more days. There’s food in the pantry and fridge. We have books and our Kindle app. Wood for the fire place. A central heating system to keep us warm. Plenty of hot water for showers. There’s an indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor hot tub. We come here to relax, enjoy some scenery, and maybe go out one day, which we did yesterday. Our Expedition stays parked the rest of the time. And even though our view is nonexistent, we know everything we love about this area is still there. Do you understand: It’s All Still There!
What’s my point? My point is more than about vacations and mountains. In life we make a lot of plans–but something, or someone, gets in the way. It may happen at work, at school, in the family, or even at church. How you respond speaks volumes about your faith or your lack of faith. Your word for right now is Contentment. Look at what Paul said about contentment:
I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.
Philippians 4:11 (NLT)
Contentment doesn’t come from having everything you want. If you are discontented at work, at home, in church, and yes, even with election results, it is all because you haven’t learned how to be content. You are in an exercise of futility if you think certain things and certain people will give you contentment. This attitude is fruitless when it comes to contentment. It’s like I’m teaching in my current message series. Life isn’t perfect, and it’s not always easy. Nonetheless, It Is A Wonderful Life–when you know the keys.
Contentment is found, or lost, in our purpose. Our purpose this week is to relax and enjoy our time. Weather doesn’t change our purpose for this week because this week’s purpose is guided by our True Purpose. Our True Purpose is to honor God and bring Him glory through living the life HE has given us. God is neither glorified nor honored when I had hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, tempter tantrum. Or when anyone has one of these.
So keep your focus on your True Purpose, not the interruptions. These days call for teachers on Contentment. If you are whinny or grumbling, then how can you teach all those who need contentment? You can’t! So get your act together! Calm down! Steady yourself! Cool it! Get a grip! Pull in your horns! Get your stuff together! I still can’t see the higher mountains–but I know they are still there. And God is still in control, even when you’re not. This means the HE wins at the end!
Debbie and are back in the Smoky Mountains. It’s one of our favorite places. We haven’t missed many years coming here. Usually we would go in November, around our anniversary. This year we decide to come in January. The primary reason was in the hopes of it being cold and seeing snow, something rarely seen in West Central Alabama. It’s something wonderful to be sitting in a hot tub on a cold night.
It’s been cold at our cabin, but not cold enough for snow. So, this morning we went to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast (another tradition) and drove up the mountains in search of snow. And it didn’t take all that long. Remember me writing that it wasn’t cold enough for snow at our cabin? Well at Newfound Gap, it wasn’t only a good bit of snow, it was BITTERLY COLD! It is a gap in the mountains and the wind was really cold. Though the sun was shinning, the wind was blowing snow from the trees. That mountain was different from the mountain where our cabin is located. We could from our cabin that there was “snow in them thar mountains”, and we were not disappointed. It looked better up close than from a distance. And this leads me to my thoughts this evening.
Perspective is everything–how you see life as it happens in real time. But you know that. My perspective–OUR perspective changed when we stopped looking at the snow from a distance and saw it up close and personal. You can check out some other pictures on my Facebook Page. And right now I’ve been thinking about a song. It’s not played on the radio; no CD; it’s not on Apple Tunes; and it’s not heard on Sirius, or Spotify or any other music service. It was written before all of this technology. It’s Psalm 121. The first 2 verses go like this:
Whatever I need, whenever I am weak, wherever I am fearful, there is only one place for me–and for you. The mountains around me today, the result of God’s creative power, assure me that my help comes from THE ONE who made these mountains–mountains that offer us a brief respite from God’s calling on our lives. They remind us that God has taken care of us, IS taking care of us, and WILL continue to take care of us.
It’s interesting, at least to me, that this Psalm is part of the Songs Of Ascents. They were sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem. The mountains in front of them we difficult and treacherous. But someone was thinking beyond those mountains–even beyond the mountain where Jerusalem, their destination, was situated. Difficult and treacherous–does that sound familiar to you?
Do you feel life as it is happening right now is difficult and treacherous? Where is your hope? Your job? Your business? Your spouse? Your boyfriend/girlfriend? Your financial accounts? Your education? Your intelligence? Your wit? Your politics? Your choice of addiction? Your __________ (fill in the blank)? How’s that working out for you? Truthfully, is it really helping, or just delaying?
The Psalmist knew his help came from a much higher source–the Creator! God offers us wisdom, courage, and strength to get through the mountains of difficulties we face. If HE created this beautiful place (and He did), if HE placed HIS Image in us human beings (and he did), then HE will guide you through any and every difficult moment. Do you question the validity of my statement? The listen to the rest of the song:
Being what it is, I bet you’re thinking I’m talking about the Inauguration of our President-Elect Biden. If you are a citizen of the U.S. as I am, he IS our President. If I join in the voices from 4 years ago, “NOT MY PRESIDENT”, I fail to be a good citizen of the U.S., and I tarnish my other citizenship–citizen of The Kingdom Of God. Want a Bible Verse to prove my point? OK…remember you asked for it.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
Well, if I’m not writing about the Inauguration of President Biden, then which inauguration am I writing about? I’m writing about an inauguration that happened that happened a long, long time ago. It’s the inauguration of the beginning of a Kingdom that has no end–a rule that will last throughout eternity. Here’s a portion of the text:
20 “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. 21 Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. 22 But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you.
God has led the Hebrews out of bondage and on a journey to The Promised Land. This is God’s inaugural speech. God promises to send “an angel”–“THE Angel”. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. I just heard someone say, “Hey! The Holy Spirit isn’t an angel.” And I would readily agree–He’s NOT an angel. But the original text wasn’t in English. The Hebrew word is mal’ak means “messenger, representative”. The Holy Spirit is the perfect and ultimate Messenger and Representative of God because He IS God.
Look carefully, very carefully at Verse 22–“But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you.“ Do you understand what God is saying here? I mean, REALLY UNDERSTAND? He’s telling the Hebrews that HE will fight FOR them. And when God fought FOR them, a battle was never lost. And God fought FOR them under one condition: “you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions“.
Jesus refused to be a political or military Messiah. Even as He faced Pilate, Jesus was very clear: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” The enemy we face every day doesn’t belong to any political party. He is an adversary that doesn’t seek a political office–but to rule from the throne of your heart.
When you become angry, bitter, resentful, and fight against ANY President-Elect, you become an instrument of our Adversary, Satan. Instead, become what Paul instructed and challenged young Timothy to be: “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.“ If you think your god can’t win with Biden in the White House, then my friends, you are serving the wrong God! My God doesn’t depend of even need the one who sits in the Oval Office in order to win. Of this I am confident.
How can I be so confident of this? Easy! I’ve read the last chapter of Revelation. When we listen to THE (Angel) Messenger–THE Holy Spirit–we don’t have to fight political parties. God promises that when we align our daily lives with His Instructions, then our enemies become HIS enemies. Do you really want to see this nation change in ways that bring God the glory? Then leave the fighting up to God–after all, HE has never lost a battle.
If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it: Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.
There are certain clichés you hear all through your life that when you look closer, are false. They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example: It takes money:To Make Money. But there’s Sam Walton and Bill Gates. Neither one was wealthy when they began their career. Both men discovered it doesn’t always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation. Another one: You can’t fight:City Hall. Sonny Bono opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won. He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his untimely death in early 1998. Of course, his story reminds us of another cliché: If you can’t beat `em:Join `Em.
Another cliché we hear from time to time is: It’s not what you know it’s: Who You Know. Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliché is painfully true. Each each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something—maybe a club, a job, a business opportunity, and you never got a chance because you weren’t “in” with the right people.
At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair. Today we’re going to examine how this cliché works in your favor. In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life. Like most of his fellow Jews, he believed that God a showed special favoritism to them.
But in the vision, he saw a large sheet lowered down to earth, filled with all kinds of critters. A voice told him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Peter was caught off guard. He said “Surely not. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which prohibited eating things like shrimp, pork, fried catfish, and so on. Then the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new. Right after this vision, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea. Peter accepted the invitation. When he gets there, Cornelius gets carried away and starts to bow before Peter. Peter gets him up and sets him straight. As he looked across that room, Peter had that light bulb moment and now he understood the meaning of the vision. Now, let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:28-43 (NLT)
28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
34Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him to life on the third day. Then God allowed Him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”
This brief but powerful message can be summarized like this: “It Doesn’t Matter What You Know, But WHO You Know!” He told them that God’s great love is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or social status. He told them that God loves everyone the same. We’re looking at this thought: It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s not perfect, nor is it always easy. But it is promised to be Wonderful. Today, we’re going to take a look at Peter’s sermon to find another reason why It’s A Wonderful Life:
1. God Accepts Everyone The Same.
Years ago singer-songwriter Mac Davis penned a song titled: “It’s Hard To Be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way.” This is the attitude many religious Jewish people had. In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel were designated as God’s chosen people. Most thought this meant they were his favorite people, that God loved them more than the others. They believed that God had no use for Gentiles.
It was this kind of racial prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome. He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new: God Is Not Only The God Of The Jews, He Is The God Of All Creation—and God loves us and accepts us all the same. Vs. 34—“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.” Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources.
There Is Only One Place In This World Where True Equality Exists: In A Relationship With God. God accepts everyone the same. He doesn’t show favorites. He doesn’t favor America over all other nations, He doesn’t favor white people over all other races, He doesn’t favor men over women, or the poor over the rich. It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you as much as He loves everyone.
This is good news, because The Only Thing That Really Matters In Life Is A Relationship With God, And It’s Equally Available To Anyone. Anyone can Know Him. Anyone Can Talk To Him. Anyone Can Experience His Love. Anyone Can Be Forgiven. Anyone Can Do His Will. Anyone can Live A Life That Brings Him Glory. In all of the inequality that exists in our world, it is great to know that it doesn’t matter who you are because God accepts everyone the same.
2. God Judges Everyone The Same.
The Bible says that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our advocate. Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge, vs. 42b—“Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.” There is no other judge I would rather have. Think about it. When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you’ve done, who do you want to face? Your high school football coach? Your boss? Your mother-in-law? Your ex-spouse? Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy?
The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God—not at all like a human judge. Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor, and white men have the advantage over everyone else. But it doesn’t work that way with God. Human courts fail at administering justice, but God won’t. He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness. This means two things:
There’s no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you did it with.
It’s not going to work for you or against you. God treats everyone the same— with the same grace, mercy, love!
3. God Offers Salvation To Everyone The Same.
Without exception, we all are guilty. He won’t let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but—here’s the good news—He Will Let You Off The Hook Because Of Who He Is. His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said in vs. 43—“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”
Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God. So Jesus died on the cross for you. If you believe in Him you can experience God’s forgiveness, you can live in God’s presence, and you can be filled with God’s power every day of your life. This is how you begin the Christian life—by believing in Jesus. He Accepts You No Matter Who You Are; He Will Show You Mercy No Matter Where You Are; He Will Forgive Your Sins No Matter What You Have Done.
And this is how you live the Christian life. Coming To Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace; Continuing In Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace, Too. When we put our faith in Him we are covered by His mercy. We will make mistakes along the way. And He still forgives us as we choose to live like Jesus. It Doesn’t Matter What You Know Or Even Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know.
Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way. God has already done this for us. God offers you acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness. Knowing Jesus Provides Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness. If you want to have A Wonderful Life, it all comes down to this: It Takes The Surrendered Life To Jesus, And It Only Happens One Way—When you do 3 things:
Admit That You Resist Total Surrender. The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
Ask Him For His Power To Enable Your Unconditional Surrender. The Resurrection of Jesus happened because of His Unconditional Surrender to dying on the Cross for all of us.
Then Operate With The Confidence That His Resurrection Power Is In You. It’s more than just liking Jesus; it’s about The Deepest Commitment Of Your Heart. It’s facing those battles head on because His Resurrection Power—whether you feel that Power or not—you know it’s there because HE SAID it’s there.
And because we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, here is our Next Step:
Decide To Give Jesus All Of Your Life. Admit it! There is a part or parts of our life we haven’t given over to Jesus. Here are some examples:
A wound from a past hurt that you refuse to deal with;
A secret shame—from years ago or just last week;
Refusal to forgive someone;
An area of personal pride—you’re good at something or you have really achieved recognition for something good—and you’re holding on;
Here’s just one word: Time—you see it as yours and that makes you want to spend it on you, for you and make it about you;
This is what it takes, all it takes—it’s the one thing you haven’t offered to Him—AND It’s The Only Thing He Wants From You Right Now! Have you made—I mean really made—I mean absolutely made—Your Decision To Surrender Your Life—To The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered Life—And Make It A Wonderful Life!
I took the above picture on Monday of this week. We had an inch or so of snow! I know for you folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line you are thinking, “So what? Why is that a big deal?” In west central Alabama it’s a big deal because we do not see a lot of the white stuff. For you who see this regularly it’s not a big deal. But for us? It’s a really big deal–and that got me to thinking. It took me until this morning–but I finally figured it out.
For those who see a lot of snow, an inch or so doesn’t mean much if anything at all. For us, it meant we pulled up a chair and watched it fall with great admiration at its beauty. Many of us were mesmerized by the scene as we watched it fall, collect on the tree limbs and cover the ground. Facebook blew up with pictures people were taking–each one showing the unique beauty of this very rare event. What does this all say about Kingdom Living? Glad you asked and I am even more glad to tell you.
Let’s start with something straight out of the Bible! What a novel idea in times like this! Look at Psalm 119:18–
Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.
(New Living Translation)
There is a deep crisis within the U.S. church. It has replaced The Truth with a cultural truth. The source of the problem is that many have embraced their personal interpretations of The Truth. Churchians and Tenured Pew sitters have become so accustomed to their views on The Truth that they have stopped seeing the wonder of The Truth. Just like people who are accustomed to seeing snow on a regular basis–they miss the wonder of God’s Creation. And just like us Alabamians who rarely see snow and stop what we doing to take pictures and post them on social media–people who walk closely with Jesus understand that The Truth is always amazing to us, teaching us the beauty of the life God wants us to live.
When we are locked into our personal views, opinions, and beliefs it leaves little to no room for God to WOW us. This entire Psalm is full of WOW moments, not because it’s the longest one–but because of the way the verses are divided. Each section begins, not with the name of a person, but a Word. The Word for verse 18 is Gamal–it means to ripen, to produce. David is sharing the way to a life that is full and rich; a life that produces what God created us to produce–each in our own way. And it’s found in THE Truth–call it His Law, His Instruction–better yet, call Him by His name–Jesus!
The chaos of this day is the result of NOT living by God’s instructions. We need to stop seeing The Truth of The Bible in the ways we are accustomed to seeing it. We need to see it the way we Alabamians see snow–with wonder and amazement. When you see a lot of snow–an inch or so is no big deal. When you are accustomed to your own views of The Bible you leave no room for God to ripen our life in order to produce what HE created you to produce. So stop seeing The Bible with the same-old-same-old view. What has that view produced? Watch the evening news. That will tell you what that view produces.
Hymns and songs have been written about this verse. But let me leave you with a story about what happen when God opens our eyes to HIS Truth rather than our truth. It’s found in 2 Kings chapter 6. Elisha’s servant goes out one morning and is filled with panic. An army has surrounded him and his teacher. Listen and learn from Elisha:
17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
2 Kings 6:17
It takes God to open our eyes–what when He opens our eyes–an inch or so of snow becomes an experience! And what an experience it is!