How To Get an Amen

I guess one has to be a preacher in order to appreciate the humor…and I do appreciate his humor!

The Unappreciated Pastor

Pastors, let’s face it, we all need amens. They keep us going. They light a fire under us. They remind us that we are doing what we have been called to do. Sadly, the amens often dry up. When an amen drought comes it can affect us deeply. During these days we need to prime the pump. We need to get an amen out of our people. Here are ten proven ways you can get an amen out of your people

  1. Ask for one.During your sermon simply ask “Can I get an Amen?” Oftentimes the amen will come immediately. However, some churches are very discerning about what they amen. Such churches will usually table the request. The request will be put on the agenda as an item to be considered at the next regularly scheduled business meeting. If all goes well, within the next month you will get your amen.
  2. Speak…

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Released into the Spirit: Guest Post by Dr. Vivian Johnson

Thought this one worth sharing…great insights!

David F. Watson

On Friday, December 2, 2016 during a Holy Spirit Seminar held at United Theological Seminary, I was “slain in the Spirit.” This phrase, at home with Pentecostals and other charismatic Christians, refers to people who fall to the floor during intense worship services because they are influenced or overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.

vivian-johnson Dr. Vivian Johnson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Old Testament, United Theological Seminary 

This force of the Holy Spirit had an impact on me that seems more positive than being “slain.” The word “slain” connotes a sense of violence that was absent from my experience. It felt more like being “released into the Spirit.” Mentally, I held tightly to the disbelief that the Holy Spirit would manifest in that way. So strong was my conviction that all of the people lying on the floor were “faking,” I approached a leader of…

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Radical: Spirituality! Part 3

Welcome back to Episode 3 of True Spirituality.  Remember that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  There are 3 key components to this and let’s get to the first one:  True Spirituality Is Evidenced By Love.

2.  True Spirituality is Evidenced by Empathy.

What is empathy?  According to the dictionary it is:  “The capacity to identify with a person or object.”  In other words, it is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes—to see things from his or her point-of-view.  In discussing the matter of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, remember that Paul has already stated that it is not a sin.  Then he goes on to say in verse 9:  “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.”

You’ve got to look at everything you do in light of how it affects everyone else.  It’s about being able to recognize the impact your actions have on others.  Each of us has a sphere of influence where we make an impact either for the better or the worst of that person.  This can be hard to decipher as to what actually hurts a younger believer.  Remember that this passage is about a younger believer questioning their faith, not yours.

What you may see as being innocent and nothing wrong, it may hurt a new believer.  And not just our actions—but our words as well.  Our words can sting and hurt and beat down someone.  True spirituality is evidenced by empathy—being able to see the world from another’s point-of-view.  We must give thought to how our actions affect those around us.  We must learn to see the world through the eyes of others.

Here is what I have observed in my few 61 years of walking planet earth.  Most “young-the-faith” Christians have been led away more with our attitudes and words than our actions–i.e., what we do.  I loathe that saying, nay, LIE, that adults often tell children.  You know the one I’m talking about:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”

Here’s a great image of what true empathy looks like in practice:

empathy

Live out of these 4 elements and you will be developing true and deep spirituality.

So use your realm of influence to show more of the “thou shalts” than the “thou shalt nots”.  Maturity and holiness is not measured by how many of the “thou shalt nots” you keep.  It is measured by your love and remember that love is an action verb.

Tomorrow we will continue this journey, and until then, remember:  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Radical: Spirituality! Part 2

Welcome back to Episode 2 of True Spirituality.  Remember that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  There are 3 key components to this and let’s get to the first one:

 1.  True Spirituality Is Evidenced By Love.

If you want to become spiritual, there are a number of things you must master in your personal life.

  1. We Need To Be Committed To The Goal Of Spirituality. We need to be able to say, “I’m not going to let the world, or sin, or traditions, or money, or enemies, or friends, or family stand in the way of my becoming close to God.”
  2. We Also Need To Be Disciplined. We need to be able to govern ourselves and force ourselves at times to do what we don’t necessarily feel like doing, and, at times, not do what we really feel most like doing.
  3. We Also Need To Be Consistent. We need to make a regular habit of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to God.  These things can’t be done in a half-hearted when I feel like it fashion.

As important as these habits are, Paul tells us they are not really the key to spirituality.  It’s Not Enough To Accumulate Knowledge, Or Be Disciplined, Or Be Committed.  There is something much more important than any of these.  You Must Develop A Heart Full Of Love.  Look at the latter half of verse 1:  “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”  And he follows this up later with the most famous passage of all in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13—The Love Chapter.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is the primary component of the Christian life.  This is the key to growing God’s Kingdom “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, They Want To Know How Much You Care.”  Have you ever wondered why your friends who are not Christians (hopefully you have some of these, if not, “Shame on you!”) never ask you about your faith?  Well, it may be that they sense in you that all you will talk about is WHAT you know.  Quite frankly, they do not need to know what you know.  They need the WHO, not the WHAT!  If all you talk about is The What, then it is clear that you are unclear about The WHO!

God has a primary concern about you once you decide to follow Jesus.  His primary concern for your spiritual growth is not how much you know, But How Much You Love Those Created In His Image.  When you stand before the throne on judgment day, He won’t say, “Wow! You really knew the Greek.” Or…”Wow! You could argue the authorship of Isaiah with the best of them.” Or…”Wow! You sat in the same pew every Sunday for 57 years.”  Those aren’t the things God is looking for.  He wants you to develop a heart full of love towards others and towards Him. True spirituality isn’t measured merely by how good you are, but by how good you are to others.  And this is measured by how well we love.  If you have been reading me for any time, you know what’s coming next…

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Tomorrow we will look at the next component of True Spirituality.

Radical: Spirituality! Part 1

Have you ever known people who acted so deeply spiritual that you really admired them and wished you had their kind of spirituality, only to discover another side of them?  I’m talking about the kind of person who acts spiritual and pious at church, in a class or any other religious setting.  But get them out of that setting, and they become irritable, moody, and unkind to those around them.  Put them in a religious environment and they shine like the sun.  Put them in the real world with real people and their whole appearance changes.

I don’t want to sound like I’m judging these kinds of people.  Jesus did say we could be arborists; in fact, He insisted we be arborists, you know, being able to identify a fruit tree by the kind of fruit it produces.  The fact is I get confused.  They talk so much about true spirituality and the deep things of God, yet something is obviously missing.  Maybe I view the world too simplistic, but I always thought being close to God would bring out the best in people.  Take, for example, the life of Jesus.  Sure, there were times he was stern—when the situation called for it—but the words describing his life and ministry are words such as compassionate, forgiving, and merciful.

Peter summed up Jesus’ life by saying:  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. (Acts 10:38)   As I study the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul, I discover that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul addresses the subject of true spirituality.  In those days there was a big debate about whether or not it was all right for a Christian to eat certain types of meat.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NLT)

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols.  Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue.  But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.  Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.

So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols?  Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.  There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords.  But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.  And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

However, not all believers know this.  Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.  It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat.  We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?  So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.

And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.  So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion have misused this passage.  They have moved away from being arborists to being Judge Judy’s.  They see this passage as justification for them to point out where others are missing the mark.  Which just goes to show that Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion really do not understand the Bible they falsely claim to follow.  They prove what my homiletics professor, the late Dr. Thompson, always told us:  “A text without a context is just a pretext, and usually a false one at that.”  Let’s go deeper than the surface pretexts and see the context.

The Corinthians lived in a pagan society filled with pagan temples.  People would take meat to the temple and sacrifice it to the pagan gods; afterwards, the meat could be purchased in the temple food court for a good price.  Some Christians said, “It’s a sin to eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan god.”  Other Christians said, “That’s superstitious.  We have freedom in Christ and we can eat sacrificed meat if we want to.”  This was Paul’s opinion on the matter.  He said, in effect, It is not a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but before you do, you have to consider how your actions and attitudes affect other believers.

In our society, eating meat sacrificed to idols is no longer an issue.  But the principles Paul teaches in this passage are as relevant as ever.  1 Corinthians 8 is not about eating food sacrificed to idols as much as it is about discovering the characteristics of true spirituality.  Paul had a radical approach to spirituality.  He insisted that true spirituality is not determined by whether or not you eat certain types of meat; it’s determined by your attitude in the process.

Simply put, Paul Teaches That True Spirituality Is Defined Not By How Good You Are In Church, But How Good You Are To Others.  Now we are going to look at three evidences of true spirituality.  Hope you come back tomorrow.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Happy? Really?

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I’m taking a break from this Radical series because I have some issues.  Not the ones those who know me may think I have, but I have a real issue with a phrase that is most inappropriate to me.  And if you want to think, “Well that’s your problem”, go  right ahead, if it makes you feel better about yourself.  I am not changing my feelings right now.  It’s about the phrase “Happy Memorial Day”!

 When I looked up that word on dictionary.com it only adds to my issues about this phrase.  According to the website it means:  “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing”.  Can you now feel a sense of my righteous indignation?  I mean, businesses have flood the advertising world with big banners over their sale prices, “Happy Memorial Day”!  Happy New Year, Happy Birthday, Happy Mothers Day, Happy Fathers Day, Happy Fourth of July, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Christmas (I won’t say the word ‘holidays) are all appropriate.  Not so with this day, Memorial Day.

Instead of using the word “Happy”, use the definition and it sounds like this:  “Delighted, Pleased, or Glad You Lost A Family Member, Friend Or Fellow Soldier In Combat.”  Someone reading this just thought, “Wait a minute Radical Kingdom Pastor, that’s not what I mean when I say Happy Memorial Day!”  BUT, if words having meanings, and they do, then this is exactly what you are saying.  Because words DO have meaning, this is why I refuse to say, I can’t even write it down any more.  It makes me nauseated.

Part of my nausea from hearing that phrase comes from some of my life experiences.  I am the very proud Father and Father-In-Law of 2 combat veterans.  Each time they were deployed (one time they were both deployed in Iraq at the same time) I lived with the fear that a car would pull up in my driveway and a fine dressed soldier would step out of it and walk to our front door.  I still remember to this day that Saturday morning when my phone rang.  It was my son calling from Iraq and his first words were “Dad, I’m OK.”  I immediately knew something was wrong.  His Humvee had been hit by an IED, but he was OK.  But for many other families, friends, and fellow soldiers, everything was NOT OK.  What was my fear, is now their daily reality.

And if someone who is reading these words has lost a family member, friend or fellow soldier-in-arms, please know that even though I do not know your pain, my heart does ache for you.  And on this MEMORIAL DAY, and every day, I live with gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy because of their sacrifice.  And even more so on this day, I pray for your comfort and for God to continue to give you the strength to get through another day.  You will never get over your loss, but with God’s grace, you will get through those tough moments when you miss them so very much.

I do have a wish, I call it a High Hope, that Democrats and Republicans would take this day to remember that this nation is much more than your egos and personal ideologies.  Remember that your comfort has been made possible only, I said ONLY because of the sacrifices of those we are called to remember this day.  And to all the news media people, YOU are not the protectors of liberty, but are protected by the blood of those who gave it all, and to all who gave some.  News people, just get over yourselves and know your place in all this we call the U.S. of A.

And to all you Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion–YOU need to remember that your spiritual freedom also came with a price and that price included blood.  Not just any blood, but the blood of Jesus, who became human just like us.  Remember that for HIM to become one of us, He freely  GAVE UP His divine nature.  And you want to complain about YOUR stuff?  Wanting things YOUR way?  You really want to whine that things are not like they were in 1960 or 1970 when there are so many who need what only the Good News of the Kingdom can deliver?  Shame on you, shame on you, SHAME ON YOU!

This day should remind us that to live a life that is both meaningful and worthwhile we need to live the way these heroes died and the way Jesus died!  Stop being so selfish and petty.  For heaven’s sake get over yourselves.  Today is Memorial Day–remember and live with deeper purpose and gratitude.  I invite to you view this link to a video titled “Signs And Numbers”.  It’s a few years old and the numbers are even larger, but the message remains the same.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

RADICAL! Mercy, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote that Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling.  Mercy is a verb.  In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings.  And here they are:

Mercy Is Love In Action

It’s more than a feeling—it’s more than a word we use.  It’s an action verb—expressing God’s love without words ever being necessary.  It’s feeding the hungry—helping the homeless—caring for the orphans and widows.  It is show God’s unconditional love to people who do not deserve that kind of love.  Over the years I’ve had some issues—now it’s not what some of you may be thinking.  I have issues with people who profess the name of Jesus, but who want to help only those people who deserve our help.  You know, the ones who quote it as if it were from the Bible:  “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”  Where do they get that?  Where in the…oh, that’s where they get it.  As with grace—Mercy is Radical Mercy because without exception every person who has received God’s mercy doesn’t deserve it.  I don’t deserve God’s mercy, and neither do you.

Jesus put His Love for Matthew into action—He invited Matthew to be a part of God’s activity in the world.  Maybe that’s why the Protectors-Of-Religion were so mad at Jesus—He didn’t invite them.  But why would he?  They don’t want to change.  They don’t want to love the unlovable.  They Were Not Willing To Sacrifice Their Self-Righteous Comfortable Life For The Sometimes Uncomfortable Radical Life Of Mercy!

Mercy Is The Concrete Expression Of Hope

Matthew’s life probably had little or no hope.  A lot of hopelessness probably came from the Protectors-Of-Religion.  He made a bad decision collaborating with the enemy.  Now he was treated as if nothing good could ever come of his life.  Pushed back, beaten down, made to feel less than human—scorned, refused and isolated.  Don’t you think Matthew noticed that these Protectors-Of-Religion didn’t notice him?  Don’t you think Matthew noticed they went to the other side of the street to avoid him?

But Jesus walks right up to him—Jesus accepted him right where he was—in the middle of those bad choices and decisions.  Jesus didn’t tell Matthew to clean up his act and then come see Him.  Jesus knew there was more for Matthew!  And in those 6 words HOPE came alive in him.  It was real and tangible.  God did love him and God did want him and God did have a higher purpose for his life.  To have hope means among many things, and one of the most powerful things about hope is to see a different future for your life.  I’m pretty sure Matthew didn’t see himself as a writer of one of the Gospels—but God did!  Radical Mercy puts hope back into the hearts, minds and lives of those who have been pushed down and beaten down.  It’s for the bruised and the messy people—because they are the ones who need Hope!

Radical Mercy Is The Choice To Be Free Of The Toxic 3

When we receive this Radical Mercy, as with Radical Grace, it’s meant to be shared with the likes of sinners.  Radical Mercy frees us from that horrible spirit that possessed and controlled the Protectors-Of-Religion.  Do you know what kind of spirit I’m talking about?  It’s the spirit of being judgmental—and it’s a beast!  You see, what OUR sin does to us is make us look at other sinners to point out their mess so that we don’t deal with OUR mess!  And our own mess is found in what I like to call the Toxic 3:

  1. Resentment: Resentment is a form of anger—anger at someone who has offended our sensibilities.  They just don’t fit our mold of what we think should happen or how people should act.  It’s irritability directed at others.  Sometimes it’s because we think they are getting more attention than we are.  Showing Radical Mercy Frees Us From This Because We See Others The Way God Sees Them—The Objective Of His Love!
  2. Bitterness: Remember that bitterness is Spiritual Kudzu.  It takes over our life.  It makes us hostile to just about anyone and anything.  Bitterness usually comes out of some disappointment that we hold on to.  Showing Radical Mercy Liberates Us From Bitterness Because It Takes The Focus Off US—And On To Others Who Need Us To Show Radical Mercy—And Are Waiting For Us To Show Radical Mercy!
  3. Self Righteousness: And here was where the Protectors-Of-Religion were at their best.  It’s when we become moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.  We take God off the Throne and put self up there.

When We Learn The Lesson About Radical Mercy, What We Discover Is This:  That God, Who Entered The Mess Called OUR Life, Wants Us To Do The Same!  Mercy isn’t a feeling.  It is an act; an act of moving towards people who the Protectors-Of-Religion move away from.  It is an act of extending our hands and our life.  It is investing our whole life into the life of someone who is losing or has lost all hope.  Our job isn’t to help those who help themselves.  The Lord doesn’t help those who can help themselves.  He helps those who can’t help themselves, and so should we.  Now that, my friends, is RADICAL MERCY!

Remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

RADICAL! Mercy, Part 1

Jesus is a Radical and He calls us to follow His pattern for being the ultimate Radical.  I’ve been writing about Radical Grace, and we can’t talk about Radical Grace without also talking about Radical Mercy.  The radical nature of God’s mercy is that it is NOT a feeling or an emotion.  God’s mercy goes much deeper.  Often the view of mercy is like a cartoon I once saw.

2 boys were walking away from a church building and one said to the other:  “I think I got it.  Grace is getting from God what we don’t deserve and mercy is NOT getting from God what we do deserve.  I like grace, but I really love mercy.”  And that’s not necessarily a bad way to distinguish the difference from Grace and Mercy.  But Mercy is more, so much more than NOT getting what we actually deserve.  It’s more than an emotion; it is rooted in the heart and actions of God.  It’s more than what God DOESN’T DO to us—it’s more about what God wants to do for us—and here’s the really radical thing—What God Longs To Do THROUGH us.

Think about the story in Matthew 9:9-13.   Jesus had been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee where He put a beat-down on some demons who had possessed 2 men.  Now He’s back in His other “town” of Capernaum.  I know He’s from Nazareth, but think of Capernaum as His lake home.  He had performed 2 miracles on 1 man.  First He forgave the man of his sins and that got the local Self-Righteous Police up in arms.  And to back up His claim to be able to forgive sins, He healed the man of his paralysis.  That second miracle made the crowd go wild for Jesus, and this infuriated the Self-Righteous Police even madder.

Picture this:  He’s walking down the streets of Capernaum and there it is:  The Evil Tax Collector’s Office!  Those Pharisees, those Holier-Than-Thou, Better-Than-You, The Protectors-Of-Religion, would probably never walk on that side of the street.  They would have gone out of their way to avoid him.  He’s a traitor!  He’s Made The Bad Choices!  He’s gotten rich off the backs of hardworking, honest folks.  They would have seen him as disgusting—absolutely disgusting.

You know, like so many do to the homeless.  They look at them believing they had made bad choices.  That if they just tried harder, had refused the booze and the drugs, they wouldn’t be out there bumming on OUR streets.  So they look away in disgust, just like those Protectors-Of-Religion.  Have you ever done that to a homeless person?  Have you looked away as if they didn’t exist?  Did you ever feel disgust, like it was their own fault they were homeless?  I know I have and I am totally ashamed of myself.  When I do that, I’m not acting like Jesus—I’m not doing what Jesus would do.  There’s no Radical Mercy in me!  And I hate it!

And this tax collector has a name.  He’s called Matthew, but he has another name—probably the name his parents gave him.  It’s Levi!  Now there’s a name with a lot of potential—it’s a priestly name—the name of the tribe God selected to serve HIM in the Tabernacle.  I wouldn’t doubt that those Protectors-Of-Religion had even more disgust because this man was such a failure.  He doesn’t deserve the time of day—and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in the synagogue nor the Temple.

Yet, Jesus does none of those things they would have done.  He walks right up to his booth, and gets right in front of his desk.  Here’s how I would imagine it happened.  Matthew knew he was a Rabbi and probably thought, “Oh, good Lord, another sermon aimed at me.”  But Jesus didn’t do that—I can see Jesus looking Matthew square in the eyes and then Jesus smiles—extends His hand and makes an offer that radically changes the life of this despised and hated man.  The fact Jesus approached him without judgment or condemnation, smiles, and extends His hand in friendship changed the course of Matthew’s life.  And it started with just 6 words—6 words mind you—“Follow me and be my disciple.”

 I bet you a dollar to a donut that Matthew didn’t see that coming.  And what does Matthew do?  With just an approach without judgment, then extending of a hand and an offer—look at what Matthew does:  So Matthew got up and followed him.  And to mark this change of direction in life, Matthew does what Matthew knows to do—He throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honor.  But what’s a party without people?  The only friends he has are fellow sinners, so he invites them.  And what does Jesus do?  He goes to the party!  And if the Protectors-Of-Religion weren’t mad enough, this infuriates them.  But notice, they don’t dare approach Jesus about the matter.

So they turn on the other disciples with the question:  “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”  You know my imagination; I would bet those other disciples were scared spit less.  After all, how can you answer such a question?  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to associate with that kind of people.  If you did, next thing you know they would be in church with us!  And the Protectors-Of-Religion knows you can’t have people like that in church.

But Jesus doesn’t know you’re not supposed to do that.  He hears them talking to His disciples and Jesus Steps Up And Steps In with a quote from the prophet Hosea in 6:6—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

He states it in a challenge:  “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture:  ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.”  Mercy isn’t the withholding of what is due.  Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling.  Mercy is a verb.  In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings that we will look at tomorrow.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 2

Let’s continue on from yesterday.  I ended with the truth that God will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change. Today, we’re going to look at three of those things that our past sin doesn’t change.

 1.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Plans!

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” (Jonah 3:1-2 NLT)

God told Jonah to do the same thing in chapter three that he said in chapter 1:  Go to Nineveh and preach.  Jonah’s disobedience didn’t change God’s plan for Jonah’s life.  Nineveh still needed to hear the word of God, and Jonah was still God’s man for the job.  Once Jonah got his heart right, God was ready to put His plan back into action.  Throughout scripture we see how God was able to use people even after they committed major sins.   Abraham tried to get his wife to commit adultery, and God used Abraham.  Moses committed murder, and God used him. King David committed adultery and murder, and God used him again.

You may try to run away from God at some point in your life, but once you stop running, God’s plan for your life goes back into effect.  It doesn’t matter that you let your life take a different course!  Now is time to pick up where you left off and pursue the plan God has for you.  Your Past, Your Yesterday Doesn’t Have Authority Over You When You Come Back To God’s Grace Because Your Yesterdays Were Taken Care Of At The Cross!

2.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Power! 

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.  (Jonah 3:4-5)

Jonah went to Nineveh and did as he was supposed to do.  He proclaimed the word of God.  And the result was that revival broke out and people’s lives were changed!  Just because Jonah disobeyed God doesn’t mean God’s word lost its power.  Once he got back into the place God wanted him to be, once he began pursuing God’s plan for his life, he was able to experience God’s power.

Let’s look at another example from scripture. While Jesus was facing death on the cross, Peter denied Jesus 3 times and abandoned him and left him to die all alone.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Some follower of Christ he was.  He ran from Jesus at a time Jesus needed him most.  How could he expect to have any credibility as a leader ever again?  How could he expect to experience God’s power ever again?  But on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and over 3,000 people were saved.

Not long after that, he and John healed the man who was crippled.  Peter’s sin didn’t change God’s power.  When Peter got back on track, he was again able to experience God’s power in his life.  It was the same with Jonah, and it is the same with you.  Just because you have failed God in some area of your life doesn’t mean you have forever lost the ability to experience God’s power.  God’s grace is greater than your sin.

3  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promises! 

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

Nineveh was sin city long before there was Las Vegas, and God was ready to destroy it.  He was willing, however, to give them another chance.  He sent Jonah to Nineveh to make them a promise:   If you repent, your city won’t be destroyed.  The people of Nineveh repented, and God had compassion on them and saved the city.  God’s promise is:  If You Repent, You Will Be Saved.  Nothing can change that.  His promise is as good as gold.  In fact, it’s better than gold.  Amazingly, this made Jonah angry.  He wanted to see Nineveh burn, from outside the city limits.  Instead, it turned into a revival meeting.  Jonah didn’t think it was fair.

Jonah Got Mad At God For Showing The Same Grace To Nineveh That He Had Shown To Jonah Just A Little Bit Earlier.  (Do you understand what I just said??)  Jonah Didn’t Argue With God When He Was Forgiven, But He Didn’t Like It When Nineveh Got Off The Hook.  That’s because Jonah had become self-righteous again.  There are some of us who think other people’s sins are worse than our own—that we deserve to be forgiven but other people don’t.  That’s self-righteousness.

In spite of Jonah’s sin, God’s promise remains the same:  If You Repent, You Will Be Forgiven.  This Applies To Everyone The Same.  There may be times in your life when you are beaten down by your own failure and you think, “I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”  Yet, God’s promise is just as true for you as it is for everyone else:  If you repent, you will be forgiven.  Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promise.  It’s as true today as it ever was.

If you run from God—and I hope you never have and never will—but even if you do, that doesn’t mean God is finished with you.  When you’re ready to stop running, God will help you pick up where you left off.  God’s Grace Isn’t Based On What You Deserve To Receive; It’s Based On What God Is Willing To Give.  That’s why it’s called Radical Grace.  When we repent, our sins are forgiven, and those sins become part of the past and those past sins cannot prevent us from pursuing God’s plan for our life; past sins cannot prevent us from experiencing God’s power in our life; past sins cannot prevent us from receiving the benefits of God’s promises in our life.

If you are running from God—that includes running from a relationship with Him, running from His plans and purposes—listen closely to me today.  The word of God is coming to you a second time.  Please, hear it today, and respond with your heart.  Now this, my friends, is radical!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 1

Well, there is more, much more to the Radical Message of the Kingdom of God.  When I think about this Radical Message I think about God’s Grace.  And when I think about God’s Grace, I think about Jonah.  Let me back up.  When I think about God’s Grace in its entirety, of course I think about the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  But today I’m thinking about God’s Grace at work in the human arena of life as it actually happens to each of us.  That is why I connect the dots, from Jonah to God’s Grace.

There are a number of things we do in life in which we have only one chance to get it right.  For example, if you borrow money from the bank or from a friend and don’t pay it back, you probably won’t get another chance to borrow.  If a job promotion is tied to a certain project that you are doing at work, and you muddle the project, you probably won’t get another chance to do the job right, and you’ll miss out on the promotion.

Or, if you invited all your friends to your house for a big party, and then when everyone showed up you said, “I decided I didn’t feel like having a party tonight, why don’t you come back another time?”  I doubt if any of your friends would come to another one of your parties.  In any of these cases, if the appeal was made, “I’ll do better next time,” more than likely the appeal would be ignored and the second chance would be denied.

Another example:  Each Sunday I have one chance to deliver the message that God has laid on my heart that week.  What if, after I finished preaching one of those mornings, I was to say, “Folks, I think I can do better.  Why don’t we all stay an extra 30 minutes after the service, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more the second time around?”  How well do you think that idea would go over?  How many would stay?  I doubt even Debbie would stay.  She would say, “Listen, I hear it twice every Sunday.  I’m going home.”  That’s because everyone pretty much expects me to get it right the first time.  And, of course, I don’t blame them.

There are many situations in life in which we have only one chance, and even if you need a second chance, it’s just not available.  You had one shot, you blew it, and that’s all there is to it.  This is the way it is in many areas of life, and there’s nothing you can do.  The good news is that with God, it works differently.  With him, we get a second chance.  We don’t deserve a second chance, but we get one.

Enter the story of a Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach the word.  Instead, Jonah got on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is basically in the other direction.  Once the boat was in the middle of the sea, a storm came along and the boat started to sink.  When the sailors found out that they had a backslidden preacher in their midst, they tossed him overboard.

Believe it or not, getting tossed out was Jonah’s own idea.  Apparently he decided he would rather die than repent.  So he allowed himself to be hurled into the sea.  I’m sure everyone thought that was the end of Jonah, but God had other plans.  A great big fish came along and swallowed Jonah.

Then, the Bible says three days later, 2:10— Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.  The very next verse is one of the most encouraging verses in all of scripture. (3:1) Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time.  Jonah got a second chance from God.  He didn’t deserve it, but he got it.  This is God’s grace at work; this is what He does. Even if we blow it the first time, God gives us a chance to try again.  This is good news, because without exception, from time to time we all need a second chance from God.

There’s only one way to interpret Jonah’s behavior.  He sinned.  God said, “Go to Nineveh” and Jonah said, “No.”  In Jonah’s story we learn an important truth:  God Could Have Given Up On Jonah—Some May Even Say God Should Have Given Up On Jonah—But God Was Gracious To Jonah—He Gave Him A Second Chance.  The story of Jonah teaches us that God’s grace is greater than our sin, and there are simply some things our sin cannot change.

It is God’s nature to give a second chance.  Nothing can change that.  He forgives and lets you try again and again and as often as you need it.  Your boss, your coach, your teacher, your spouse may not give you a second chance, but God will—He Is The God Of The Second Chance.  His grace is greater than our sin.  We tend to think in human terms.  But God is not human nor does He think and react the way we humans tend to think and react.

We make the mistake of thinking that once we have blown it, we can never get back on track—God can never use us again.  The story of Jonah shows us this simply isn’t true.  If you have been running from God or even God’s plan and purpose, and you are now ready to come back, God is willing to pick up where you left off.  If you have blown it, it doesn’t mean you’ve blown it forever.  He will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change.

And in the next post we will look at some of the things our past sin doesn’t change.  And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Monitor Your Heart!

pulmonary-vein-isolation-8col

I have some wonderful DNA in me, both the physical kind and that of the spiritual nature.  But due to the nature of this fallen creation, I do have some “not-so-wonderful” DNA.  On both sides of my DNA is a history of cardiovascular issues.  My Dad has been on hypertension medications since he was in his late 30’s.  About two and a half years ago, at 1189the age of 58 I began taking hypertension medications.  At the age of 88 he had triple bypass surgery and since 2008 I have had 2 arteriograms due to severe chest pains.  The first time I found out it was my gall bladder and the last time, my heart doc call it unspecified angina due to stress.  A pastor experiencing stress, who ever heard of such a thing!  Inconceivable!

Recently I have been experiencing something different.  I truly hate to sound like a hypochondriac, but due to the aforementioned DNA, my wife insists I go see our cardiologist.  It felt like my heart was racing away and I have a few episodes where it felt like my heart was bouncing against my sternum.  I checked my heart rate and it was 180 beats per minute.  Don’t think that was in the normal range.  The pain wasn’t sharp, but a real sense of pressure; and after the heart rate returned to normal, exhaustion.  So I went to see my Heart Doc.  He knows about my DNA (he’s also my Dad’s Heart Doc) so he put a 24 hour heart monitor on me to record every heart beat and my heart rate for that 24 hours.

When I went back for the results, he wasn’t pleased with the report.  He asked me if I wanted to go to Huntsville, Nashville or Birmingham.  Our area does not have the specialist I needed.  It seems he thinks I have this thing called Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia.  I have had heart rates as high at 184 beats per minute.  My local heart doc does not do what needs to be done.  He said he is a cardiac plumber but I need to see a cardiac electrician, someone who is known as a cardiac electrophysiologist.

Well, last week I had my first appointment with the cardiac electrician, Dr. Paul Tabereaux.  He confirmed that my heart has some electrical issues and sat down with me to explain my options (I like options!).  I could take some medication to control it but it would leave me feeling like I felt after an episode, but it would be all the time.  I don’t like that option.  The other option would be to have a procedure called an ablation which should solve the problem.  Oh well, so much for options because I do not want to take more medicine.

This, call it “life-event”, has brought to mind Psalm 139:23 (NLT)

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Dr. Tabereaux described this procedure to me and Debbie in detail.  Entering through a femoral vein, he would insert a catheter, actually several.  Once inside my heart he would create a 3-D map of the inside of my heart.  Then he will send electrical impulses into my heart in order to identify the problem.  Oh, the problem!  Well it seems that these things called nodes have created an electrical loop causing my heart to beat very fast, too fast.  Once the loop is located he will proceed to “burn” part of that loop, thus interrupting that loop by scaring a part of my heart muscle.

Now some, may wonder how creating this “scar” will help my heart.  He assured us that it would do the trick and set my heart back into normal rhythm and thus ending these palpitations.  Not only do I have Dr. Tabereaux’s assurance, but I know some people who have had the same procedure by the same doctor and they are doing well and living their lives.  So that gives us a calmness because the idea of poking around inside, I said INSIDE my heart, well that is a bit disconcerting.  And then burning part of my heart?  He says it will work and I have the personal testimony of others who said it works.

And it hit me, this describes what the Psalmist is talking about in today’s passage.  He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”, similar to what this cardiac electrician knows about my physical heart.  Then he writes, test me and know my anxious thoughts.”  Similar to what this cardiac electrician will do to my physical heart.

Sometimes, the things we put into our hearts, or that we have allowed to stay in our hearts, creates a loop where we never move forward, never move beyond.  And at our invitation, God will come and help identify those “anxious loops” that keep us from going further, growing deeper, and trusting God even more.  The Monday morning attitude is fueled by those “loops”.  Maybe your loop is fear, control, guilt, anger, lust, or shame, just to name a very few.

One of the worst things that can create this “loop” that keeps us from the normal rhythm of Kingdom Life is living outside God’s design for you.  A word that best describes this “loop” that many do not like to use or hear is sin.  We can blame others, or accept the lie that says, “Well, I was just born this way.  It’s who I am and it’s not my fault.”  We need to trust God’s grace to repair these loops.  And the only way He can repair these loops is to let Him into our hearts.  Give Him access to every room, every “chamber” of our heart.  Trust that He knows what He is doing, and listen to the testimony of others who have allowed The Eternal Cardiologist to work on their heart.   Their testimony will be about what He “fixed” in them, not what He needs to “fix” in you. The truth is that God doesn’t “work” on our heart; He does something much better.  He gives us a new heart!

And now I am waiting for Dr. Tabereaux’s office to call me as to when all this will happen.  But in the meanwhile, I am allowing God to “burn off” some things that are keeping my spiritual heart in a loop, rather than following Him to become all He sees in me, all that He made me to be here in His creation.

When we allow God to look inside our hearts and give Him permission to go to work by removing anything that is contrary to His Intended Design for us, then we can say:  “Good!  Lord, it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

I don’t know any better way to ask it, but the way the Psalmist puts it:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  I give you permission to look at everything and repair those “loops” that are keeping me away from the healthy rhythms of Kingdom Life.  Oh, and help me remember I need to have follow-ups with you to make sure another “loop” doesn’t develop.  Amen and Amen!

A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

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