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.

Radical: Honesty Part 2

Well, if you read the previous post, then let’s get moving and see what this Radical Honesty really looks like:

First Of All, Radical Honesty Requires An Element Of Discernment

The Ability To Tell The Truth Begins With The Ability To Hear The Truth.  (Did you hear me?)  You might also say it this way:  The Ability To Speak The Word Of God Begins With The Ability To Hear The Word Of God. This requires discernment.  You have to be able to distinguish between the sound of God’s voice and all the other voices that fill our ears.  Samuel wasn’t able to do this at first.

When God spoke to Samuel, he thought it was Eli. Verse 7:  Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.  In other words, Samuel didn’t recognize the voice of God.  But he was willing to listen.

The fourth time God spoke his name, Samuel finally was able to say to God, “Speak, your servant is listening.”  He had to learn to Hear And Recognize the voice of God.  Learning To Recognize The Voice Of God Is A Process, and God is patient with us while we learn. He called Samuel’s name four times before Samuel realized who was speaking to him.

God wants us to speak the truth to a world that is desperate to hear it.  But before you can speak the truth, you have to make sure you have heard the truth and make certain that you know the truth.  Before you tell someone what they should do, make sure you know what you’re talking about.  Make certain that it is God’s voice you have heard—that it is God’s truth you are speaking.  The only way you can do that is to have an attitude that says, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Radical Honesty Involves An Element Of Hesitation.

God gave a message to Samuel, and the Bible says that he was afraid to tell Eli the vision.  I don’t think he was afraid of what Eli would do, because he knew Eli had a habit of doing nothing.  I think Samuel was afraid to tell Eli because he knew the message would hurt.  Samuel loved Eli like a father, and he was reluctant to tell Eli that he would have to face the consequences of his actions.

We must be willing to speak the truth even when it hurts, but there must be an element of hesitation on our part to speak words that will be painful to hear.  If you get too much pleasure in telling someone the hard truth, your words will lose impact.  We all know people who delight in saying these 4 words:  I Told You So!  Some people get a little too much pleasure out of being right, if you ask me.

There are times when we have to confront people with things that are unpleasant.  When that happens we must make sure that we know what we’re talking about—that we have heard the word of God on the matter—and we must make sure that we speak the truth gently.  If It Hurts For Them To Hear It, It Should Hurt For Us To Say It.

Radical Honesty Involves An Element Of Participation.

God didn’t tell Samuel specifically to repeat this message to Eli.  In fact, the message wasn’t for Eli, it was for Samuel.  He became a prophet of God and, eventually, the judge of Israel.  Eli approached Samuel and asked to tell him about the vision.  He said, “Do not hide it from me.  Tell me everything!”  So Samuel told Eli the whole truth, because he asked to hear the truth.  There was an element of participation on Eli’s part; he was willing to hear what Samuel had to say.

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth.  Have you ever tried to tell someone something they didn’t really want to hear?  They would hold their hands over their ears and say:  “Talk to the hands because the ears aren’t listening!”  Sometimes it’s done as a joke, but that’s the way some people really are.  They don’t want to hear the truth.  You can talk yourself blue in the face, and they’ll never listen.

However, when you find that they are willing to listen, do not hold anything back.  Even if it hurts you to say it, even if it hurts them to hear it, tell them the whole truth.  If they’re listening, and if you have made sure that you’re speaking God’s truth, and if you approach them with a certain amount of nervousness, then someday they will be able to thank you for your honesty.

God calls us to live a life of radical honesty.  In order to speak the truth we have to be able to hear the truth.  And then, we have to speak the truth carefully—If It Hurts Them To Hear It, It Should Hurt You To Say It.  And, if your words are to be effective, they have to be willing to hear the whole truth and you have to be willing to speak the whole truth.  This is radical honesty.  You won’t find it in many places.

Some people who pride themselves in being “brutally honest” are more into the brutality than the honesty.  Radical honesty is balanced—it is the art of speaking the truth tenderly and persuasively.

Here is the true nature of Radical Honesty:  It Is Truth That Is Clothed And Filled With Compassion!  And True Compassion Makes Us Hurt Deeply Within!  Jesus looked at the crowds and His heart ached because they were sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus’ heart ached as he cried over Jerusalem!  Compassion that doesn’t make our hearts ache is worthless and a counterfeit to Godly Compassion.  It’s an ache and a hurt that moves us to change our hearts and action that makes the difference in another person and our world.  Radical Honesty changes our hearts, attitudes, opinions and actions BEFORE it changes the world.

Do you know what the results of such honesty are?  What you say will have more impact than you ever imagined possible.  The Bible says of Samuel:  (v. 19) As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable.  If you’re willing to be radically honest, you begin the process the same way Samuel did as a young man.  You say: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

And, of course, 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: Honesty Part 1

Let’s keep thinking about the standard of being a real disciple of Jesus requires us to be radical.  How many of you remember the latter half of 1999?  If you had email, you would certainly remember 1999.  My email box was full of warnings that my computer would crash, than ATMs would fail.  That airport radar systems would fail and planes would crash.  I had many offering to sell me a special program to save my computer.  I had emails that told me to buy enough water and non-perishable food to last at least 6 weeks because commerce would come to a stand still.  Oh, and get out all my cash from the bank by December 31 or I wouldn’t be able to get it for weeks.  I woke up on that Saturday morning and nothing crashed, nothing failed; life went on.

Some may argue in their defense:  “They thought at the time they were telling the truth.”  However, it can also be argued that this is no excuse.  If you lead someone astray, it is no consolation to say, “Well, I thought I was right at the time.”  That doesn’t get anyone off the hook.  As believers, it is our responsibility to speak the truth when we know the truth, and to remain silent when we are not sure.

Have you ever known someone who loves to be the bearer of bad news?  I certainly have.  They seem to relish in telling someone who they didn’t get hired, that they were fired, that they didn’t get the loan.  They love telling people bad news.  I’ve also met people from time to time who believe it is their responsibility to tell everyone else everything they’re doing wrong.  Some people simply believe they have God’s insight on every situation, and they are doing the world an injustice if they don’t verbalize every negative thought that comes into their head.

There is a balance we must achieve.  As believers, we are called to speak the truth—even when it hurts.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.  Earlier I mentioned the fact that we have to tell the truth about sin.  But remember, it’s not enough to talk about sin.  We also have to tell the truth about repentance and we have to tell the truth about forgiveness.

We are called to live lives of radical honesty.  This means that we have to be willing to tell the truth even when it hurts, but when it comes to living a life of radical honesty, we must proceed with caution.

Look at a story in 1 Samuel 3 about a young man named Samuel.  Samuel was an apprentice to Eli, a priest who served in the Tabernacle.  Samuel had a good heart and a strong desire to serve God.  His mother Hannah had prayed to God for a son, and if God would give her a son, she would dedicate that boy to God’s service.  And at the appropriate time, she sent Samuel to live with Eli at the Tabernacle.  But Eli had two sons who were also priests, but they had no desire to serve God.  Eli knew about his sons contemptible behavior, and he nagged at them a little bit, but he didn’t do anything about it.

The Lord began to speak to Samuel about judgment against Eli and his sons.  This was a difficult message for Samuel to hear.  Eli was his boss and mentor.  Samuel had lived his life in the Tabernacle; Eli was like a father to him.  The Bible says Samuel was afraid to tell the Eli the vision, which is understandable, but the next day Eli called him and asked, “What was it the Lord said to you?”  Apparently Samuel hesitated to answer, because Eli said, “Tell me everything.  And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!”  So Samuel told him everything.  Even though Eli had been disobedient, he was a man of God, and he recognized God’s judgment.  He said in vs. 18:  Let him do what He thinks best.

I want us to take a closer look at this story, because the events in Samuel’s life demonstrate how we can learn to live a life of Radical Honesty.  Being radically honest requires three things.  And let’s look at them next time.

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: Life, Part 2

OK, let’s pick up where we left off yesterday.  I will admit that I am a bit of a radical.  I have a pony tail and am the lead pastor of a downtown “first” church.  I ride a motorcycle.  I hate wearing a suit and tie and admit that I am not comfortable wearing the clergy robe.  But these things do not make me the radical that God is calling me to be.  And, I  am not yet the Radical that God wants me to be, and wants for you to become.  Here is what it takes to be a real Jesus Radical in today’s culture, be it “church culture” or “real world” culture.

Recognize That You Have A Higher Calling.

Hundreds of years before John the Baptist was born, the prophets Isaiah and Malachi wrote about John’s mission.  John knew that he had a purpose for being here.  He knew that he had a message to tell others.  His purpose was to prepare people for a personal encounter with Christ.

He did this by preaching a simple message: repent and experience God’s forgiveness.  We also have a higher calling.  We have an obligation to the world to share with them the message God has shared with us.  Our message must be the same as that of John the Baptist; it must be Biblical and it must be balanced.  John’s message had 2 key components: he challenged people to repent, and he promised them God’s forgiveness.  I’ve heard some preachers blast away at sin all day without mercy, and I’ve heard some preachers get all mushy about God’s mercy, without mentioning God’s standards.  Mercy and judgment are both part of God’s love.

Sin is just plain ugly, through and through.  It breaks the heart of God and it ruins the lives of people.  If you fail to repent of the sin in your life it will ultimately destroy you.  And it’s not so much God ‘punishing’ you for your sins—sin brings about its own punishment.  When a parent tells a child not to touch a hot stove, and the child disobeys and does it anyway, what happens?  The child gets burned.  Who burned the child?  An angry, vindictive parent?  No, the hot stove burned the child.  The loving parent tried to encourage the child not to touch the stove in the first place.  This is why we need to tell the truth about sin.

We also need to tell the truth about repentance.  Simply feeling guilty or sorry you were caught is not repentance.  Repentance is an about-face—it is a decision to stop moving in one direction and start moving in another direction. The Greek word that is translated repentance means, literally, to ‘change your mind.’  When you repent, you change the way you think.  When you change the way you think, you change the way you live.

Repentance is not a negative experience, it is the most positive experience a person can have.  When you repent, you turn from doing things that can only create misery in your life, and you turn toward doing things that will create joy and fulfillment in your life.   When we encourage others to repent it’s not, “Repent, because you are so bad.”  We’re saying, “Repent, because God is so good.”   Repentance is not a punishment, it is a privilege.  We have a higher calling in life—a message to share with the world.  It is not a message of anger and judgment; it is a message of hope and deliverance.

Hold Yourself To A Higher Standard.

As I mentioned earlier, John the Baptist lived in the desert, wore clothes made of camel’s hair, and ate locusts and wild honey.  John was organic and off-the-grid long before it became the basis for TV shows.  But I want you to notice that he didn’t expect everyone else to do this.  He never said, “If you want to be right with God, you have to become a desert monk.”  That was a standard he set for himself, but he didn’t impose it on everyone else.

He made some radical choices about his lifestyle, but they were not the heart of his message.  The question is:  Why did he do it?  The reason is simple:  Holding himself to a higher standard gave his message more credibility.  There are three ways we can hold ourselves to a higher standard like John the Baptist.

  1. Be willing to sacrifice comfort. Remember, God may want to stretch you.  Some of life’s greatest discoveries lie outside our comfort zone.
  2. Put a lid on materialism. John the Baptist wasn’t concerned with appearances, instead, he concerned himself with the content of his life and message.  Now, I’m not saying you should take a vow of poverty, and neither is God, but we do need to rethink our attitude toward “things” and “stuff”!
  3. Starve your appetites. Now, there is nothing wrong with a good meal.  And there is nothing inherently spiritual about eating locusts.  Your appetite can control you or you can control it.  It’s not about food here, it’s about focus.

There is power in self-discipline.  Living a radical lifestyle means holding ourselves to a higher standard—we live a life of sacrifice and discipline—so that we can concentrate our focus on pursuing our higher calling—proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ.

Submit To A Higher Authority.

Many leaders in politics, in businesses, and in churches, fall because they believe all the hype being said about them.  Not so with John—he always kept in mind that his position in life was secondary to that of the Messiah.  John made certain that he never deluded himself into thinking that he had absolute power.  He lived his life in submission to the authority of God.

Nothing is more dangerous than for a person to think they are too powerful to face consequences.  We’ve seen this attitude in political leaders.  We’ve seen this attitude in a number of high-profile athletes, musicians and actors, and we’ve seen how their careers have unraveled.  Even among well known TV evangelists we’ve seen them fall and fall hard.  Common wisdom among celebrities is “Don’t believe your own press.”  In other words, don’t think you’re as great as you say you are, or that every one thinks you are.  Put God first.

Jesus introduced a radical concept.  He said:  “Whoever wants to become great among you must become your servant.”  Christianity is a radical faith and it calls for us to live a radical lifestyle.  It calls for us to become servants:  to spend our lives pursuing a higher calling, to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and submit ourselves to a higher authority—the Lordship of Christ.

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: Life Part 1

We don’t always think about it, but Christianity always has been, is now, and will always be a dramatically radical lifestyle.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  To be a disciple of Jesus requires both commitment and courage.  I believe that the Enemy has a big belly laugh when it looks at churches that emphasize that to be a Christian, one has to be meek, mild, and gentle like Jesus.  I mean, have you ever looked at how some artists portray Jesus?  Look at this picture:

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Do you really want to follow this kind of Jesus?

Yes, Jesus was meek.  Yes Jesus was gentle.  Yes, Jesus was kind.  But not in the ways so many try to portray Him.  There is also an audacious side of Jesus, a bold and strong image.  Over the years, at least here in the good old U.S. A., the church has created an artificial Jesus, a “Jesus” that has been tamed.  And that is why the Enemy is having a free run and destroying so many lives.  And why the church in the U.S. continues to be in decline.

Too often the church is guilty of propagating the idea that God’s objective is for us to become carbon copies of June and Ward Cleaver, like they represent the ultimate in Christian living.  Nothing against the Cleaver’s, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In the next few posts we will see that God desires for each of us a to live a life far beyond that which we have come to know as “The American Dream.”

From the website dictionary.com, the word “radical” is defined as “extreme, especially as regards to change from accepted or traditional forms”.  In other words, a “Radical” is someone who refuses to accept the usual and seeks to bring change.  This dictionary definition describes Jesus when He walked this earth in human form.  Jesus truly is a “radical” and could it be that for us to be His follower we must be “radical”, too?

Being a Christian is not about playing it safe.  It’s about living life on the edge.  It’s about taking chances.  It’s about participating in a revolution that will overthrow the kingdom of this world and usher in the kingdom of God.  Christianity is not middle-class, and it is not middle of the road.  It is life in the fast lane.  God challenges believers everywhere to adopt a radical lifestyle, to live a life of radical honesty, to be consumed by His radical grace, to embrace His radical mercy, to pursue radical spirituality, and to be driven by that radical ambition.

Let me ask you a question:  “Who was the greatest person who ever lived?”  Some of you might say the greatest person ever lived was your big brother or sister, since your mother always tried to get you to be more like them.  Some of you may think the greatest person who ever lived was the person who had your job before you.  I know there are many pastors who think the greatest person must surely have been some previous pastor.  Some of you may think the greatest person who ever lived is the person your spouse thought he or she was marrying when they married you.  According to Jesus, the greatest person who ever lived was John the Baptist.

4-6 John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.

7-8 As he preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.” Mark 1:4-8 (The Message)

John truly was an amazing person.  Before Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist preached in the Judean desert, challenging people to repent of their sins and be baptized.  The fact that he was calling for them to be baptized is interesting, since baptism was a ritual reserved for Gentiles.  When a Gentile converted to Judaism, they were initiated into the faith through baptism.  The baptism symbolized that the convert had renounced their Gentile heritage and had fully embraced life as a Jew.  In fact, when a Gentile was baptized they were referred to as being “a brand new person, one day old.”

John wasn’t preaching to Gentiles, he was preaching to Jews—and telling them to be baptized.  He was saying, in effect, “Being Jewish isn’t enough. You must repent of your sin and give your heart completely to God.”  Thousands of people came to the desert to hear John preach; many of them confessed their sins and were baptized.  John the Baptist was, in every sense of the word, a radical.  He can best be summed up this way:  He was not the kind of person mothers hope their daughter will bring home one day.  He was unconventional, wearing unusual clothes and ate locusts and wild honey.

However, it wasn’t the fact that John the Baptist lived in the desert and wore funny clothes and ate strange food that made him a holy man—it was his message and his lifestyle.  In John the Baptist we see a prototype of the person God wants us to be.  Let’s take a closer look at John the Baptist, and we will see how we can imitate, even today, his Radical Lifestyle.  There are three things that John the Baptist emphasized that we must also emphasize (and it has nothing to do with eating bugs covered in honey).  Watch for the next edition!

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

There’s A Time And Place For Everything, And This Ain’t The Time For That!

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Last week Debbie and I took a 5 Day Sabbatical to Fort Morgan Beach near Gulf Shores, Alabama.  We needed some time away in order to refocus and re-energize our spiritual batteries.  We needed some time to reconnect to ourselves, each other and of course, with The Father.  And this certainly qualifies this as a Sabbatical.  Some of you are thinking, “That sounds like a vacation, not a Sabbatical.  As a pastor you only work a couple of hours a week.  Why do you need a vacation?”  If you are one of those who think that being a pastor is easy and only requires a couple of hours a week, I want to say to you, “Bless your heart.  I can remember the time when I, too, was oblivious to the real world.”  I think it lasted from birth until I was about 5 years old.  Bless your pea-picking heart if you still are oblivious to the real world.  (If you’re not from the South, you may not know what “bless your heart” can mean–so check out this definition)

While on our short Sabbatical we spent most of the day on the sugary white beach feeling the breeze, the warm sun on our faces, the sound of the waves as they reached this beautiful beach.  We saw wonderful sunrises and sunsets and the night sky full of stars and even a full moon.  We also are card carrying members of the International Society of People Watchers.  So some of this Sabbatical was spent watching people.

We watched 3 twenty-somethings walking along the water’s edge with their heads locked into their Smartphones as they walked.  We heard another man talking business on his Smartphone while sitting in his beach chair.  We saw a group talking about their problems and issues while their feet were in that sugary white sand.  Personally I prefer the term “cell” phone because many people are a prisoner to that phone.  One nap was interrupted by a child screaming and crying while their mother tried to reason with that child, threatening a time out.  When the child only screamed louder she offer to let the child back into the water if he would quit screaming and apologized to her and his grandmother.  I was thinking that SHE needed to be sent back to her room until she decided she wanted to be a parent.

In this act of watching people, I had one of Jeremiah’s moments.  Allow me to explain.  It seems to me that Jeremiah was struggling one day to come up with a message God wanted to share.  Perhaps after several hours of failure to find the right words, Jeremiah heard a suggestion from God.  “Hey Jere, go down to the potter’s store and just watch him for a while.  You will find what I want to say down there.”  He did and from that watching, it came to Jeremiah what God wanted to him to share with the people that God loved so dearly.  It’s from Jeremiah 18 but I only want to lift up for your consideration the first 5 verses.

1 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah.  He said, 2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” 3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.

5 Then the Lord gave me this message: 6 “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”

Jeremiah learned something about God while watching the potter at work in his shop.  And here is what God taught me in this Sabbatical to the beach.  Do you ever wonder why it is that when a child does something for the first time, or makes something they will say, “Hey!  Watch me!  Look at this!  Come see what I’ve done!”?  There is an excitement on their face and in their voice.  Where does that come from?  I believe it comes from The Creator, our Heavenly Father.  They are reflecting what I have seen from God.  On that beach, as in so many other places, God is saying, “Hey, look at this!  Look at what I’ve done!  Watch me!”   I see God with that same sense of excitement as that little child showing off their latest drawing.  He wants us, longs for us to see His handiwork.  And when a child is ignored, you can see the hurt in their eyes.  And when God is ignored when He is showing off His handiwork, He, too, has hurt in His eyes and His heart.

And what Monday Morning Attitude am I addressing today?  It’s the attitude and mindset where we are completely oblivious to what God wants to say to us.  Right smack dab in the middle of this portion of God’s beautiful creation, so many–too many–were missing out on what God was offering them on that sugary white sandy beach.  He’s offering us rest from the “stuff” that happens which robs us of the joy that God wants us to experience in this life.

When this life is lived as God intends, it becomes dress rehearsals and glimpses of a much better life later.  Unfortunately, many are so locked into the present life or some long way off future life, they miss the wonder and grandeur of what God is offering us here a now.  So the next time a child runs up to you and says, “Hey, come see what I’ve done”, remember they are a perfect mirror of our Heavenly Father.  He has so many things to show you.  Get your head out of your little world and take the time to look around and see with marvel and amazement, how creative and loving our Father truly is.  Our toes buried in the sand, our ears filled with the sounds of the waves, the blue waters and bright sky have renewed us and refreshed us.  Thanks, Papa, for showing off some of your best work.

When we take the time to enjoy God’s presence and his handiwork AND for a short season forget about the stuff that happens, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Father, please forgive me for the times I haven’t really seen what that little child had done.  I am so sorry for the times I told that little child, “After a little bit.  Let me finish this first.  I don’t have time.”  That little child was perfectly reflecting you, and I missed it.  Help me hear and see the future moments when just like that child you say, “Hey!  Come here and see what I did!”  Help me remember that you are even more excited than that child to show what you do.  Amen and Amen!

This Week’s Challenge:  See if you can find your own “go to the Potter’s house” experience, a place or situation where God has a message for you!

Our Warrior God! Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I hopefully left you wanting to know a secret about this Warrior God.  So here it is:  WE Need To Know That Our God Is Our Warrior God!  When we face our personal battles, we need The Warrior God.  When we are facing the mountains we need The Warrior God.   When we are facing the giants, we need The Warrior God.  When we are hemmed in by confusion, chaos, or fear, we need The Warrior God.  When Satan attacks us and his blows hurt, we need The Warrior God.  When the weight put on our shoulders is about to crush us, we need The Warrior God.  And when we make up our mind that we are going to be followers of Jesus and become the Body of Christ, we need The Warrior God.

We gather as the Body of Christ in worship, in study, and in fellowship because there is a war going on out there.  We need our wounds healed.  We need our minds encouraged.  We need our spirits renewed.  We do all this because we need to get out there in the battle against sin and against Satan.  Think about God as the Warrior who does powerfully amazing things like…

God Is The Warrior Who Fights For The Heart, Mind And Soul

God’s love is pure and unconditional.  At His heart is this unconditional love.  Love is His identity.  But God’s love isn’t an emotional sentimental kind of love.  Our God’s Love Is Fierce And Intense.  Our God’s love is unstoppable.  His love is strong, durable and resilient.  He never stops His pursuit for any of us.  He goes the distance with a determination that cannot be matched or exceeded by anything or anyone else.

God’s love, yes, is kind and gentle, compassionate and merciful; But His Love Is Also Fierce And Intense.  You and I are so important to the Father; more important than we could ever imagine.  But Satan doesn’t want us to know this!  Satan lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t love us, can’t love us.  And when we believe his lie, he owns us.

Once he owns us, he controls and dominates us, and we are powerless to stop him.  And he doesn’t want to let go of us.  So God fights for our heart, mind and soul.  Jesus fought for us in the wilderness.  He fought for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He fought for us on that Cross.  He fought for us in death.  And He still fights for us, to give Him our heart, mind and soul.  He fights for us to discover, accept and live in the only life we are made for.  If you have never accepted God’s gift of a new heart and a new life, right now He is fighting for you to see your emptiness, to see your brokenness, and see that He will set you free.  He will never stop fighting for you.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—Against Darkness, Fear, And Sin

If we will accept The Gift of New Life, God doesn’t stop fighting.  The Warrior God doesn’t fight against ideas or groups or ideologies.  He fights against the powers that seek to enslave us again.  He fights against the darkness that seeks to rob us of our joy.  When we are living in joy, Satan wants to steal it away.  He tries to put us in a fog so that we can’t see our way out.  When the darkness tries to creep over you, when Satan is trying to cause you to give up, The Warrior God is there fighting for you and for me.  He fights the darkness with the Light that is His love.

When Satan comes against us with fear it can unnerve us.  We can allow fear to control us—fear of being alone, fear of being sick, fear of losing our job, fear of what might happen.  And if we are not careful, we will let fear control us.  But we have The Warrior God who fights against fear by giving us His peace that nothing can take away.  He will remind us of His peace because He is fighting against our fears.  And He fights against sin—sin in the world, and the temptations we face.  It’s easy to be overtaken with sin.  But our God is The Warrior who will always be in the world fighting sin in whatever form it takes.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—With Us

Now, here is where we need to be every day of our life.  Our God, The Warrior Who Fights For Our Heart And Against Everything That Tries To Destroy Us, Want Us To Join In The Battle.  Being a real disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport.  It is not enough to show up and be counted on Sunday morning.  God wants us to fight, to join in the battle.  But He doesn’t want us to go with just our strength, or with the strength of a few friends.  First, He fights FOR us, But Then He Wants Us To Fight With Him.  He wants us to fight for the hearts, minds and souls of those around us.

The Way He Wants Us To Fight For Them Is To Do What He Does—To Fiercely Love Them.  He wants us to put our time, energy and efforts into making more disciples for Jesus.  To fight means we make the commitment to do whatever we can to show them God’s love.

To fight means that we need to become restless, to feel the burden God feels for those who do not know Him.  He wants us to fight against the darkness, the fear, and the sin that is in our world.  He wants us to fight by feeding the hungry, clothing those in poverty, caring for the least, the last and the lost.  And We Can Make A Difference In Our World When We Remember—Remember That God Is The Warrior Who Fights With Us.

Our God Is The Warrior God, and He waits for us to remember—remember that He is calling us to join in the battle.  The great tragedy of many churches is that they have either forgotten we are in a war, or worse, they have given up.  We are called to become engaged in the most significant battle of all time and eternity.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12-13—“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”

And remember, that we do not go into this battle alone.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and follow Jesus.  Many want to think of Jesus as being gentle and mild.  Jesus is gentle for sure, but He definitely isn’t mild.  He is The Warrior, and He fights for you.  Will you accept His offer for a relationship with Him?  And if you have, will you step onto the battlefield with Him?

There’s movie called “We Were Soldiers.”  It was based on what happened to the Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.  Before they were deployed, Col. Moore said, “I will be the first to step onto the field of battle, and I will be the last to leave.”  He’s not the only one who said that.  Jesus said it long ago and He is still on the battlefield.  This is MY God—The Warrior!  Is He your God?

Remember these words from that same Psalm, Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)

32-35 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth.  Sing praises to the Lord.  Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky.  Tell everyone about God’s power.  His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens.  God is awesome in his sanctuary.  The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Praise be to God!

 

 

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

Our Warrior God! Part 1 of 2

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I need you to do something before I begin; actually it is something God wants you to do.  I want you to clear your minds of any distractions, and prepare yourself to be open and honest.  Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale.  Get rid of any tension—slowly roll your neck and shoulders; shake your hands and feel the tension just leaving you right now.  Today I want us to look at something that maybe some of you have never thought about.  Your mind and thoughts need to be open to something that I had not given much thought about until recently.

I want us to begin with a thought that we can all agree upon.  It’s rare when everyone agrees on anything, but I think we can on this:  Let’s agree that God is so holy, so awesome, so magnificent, so glorious, so powerful that there is no way we can contain Him.  Can we all agree on this?  Here is the question we need to really think about:  When you think about God, what are some of the images that you think of?  Maybe one of your images is God is our Shepherd.  David understood God that way in Psalm 23 when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Maybe you think about the time when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, and you see that God is Our Provider.  Maybe one of your images of God is Father as you think about Jesus gathering the children around Him and blessing them.  Maybe your image of God is Compassion—as you remember Jesus healing lepers.  Maybe your image of God is The Judge—as you remember what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah.  When you think about God, what’s that word or phrase that almost immediately comes to mind?

Hopefully, one of those word images you have for God is Savior—as Jesus died on that Cross for you and me.  But we need to remember that there is no single image that defines or describes who God is.  God is bigger and more than any single image we may have about Him.

Furthermore, if we put all of our images of God together, collectively they still would not express who God is.  Now, if you can define your God completely, then maybe your God is too small.  Now that you are thinking about how you would describe God, have you ever seen God as Warrior?  Does that image of God even come to mind?

God is not just a warrior, but He is the Ultimate Fierce Warrior.  Now before you think that writer and teacher John Eldridge has corrupted me, listen to Exodus 15:3—“The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!”  The reason I bring this up is because our world is looking to us, who go to church, who profess to be Christians, who are viewed by this world as disciples of Jesus, to show them what our God is really like.  In every human heart is the desire for a God that is two things:  1.  That He is bigger than they are; and 2.  That He can be counted on to be there for them.

Think about it, the person who loves money wants it because money will get them things bigger than they are; but it always disappoints them because it is never enough.  The same holds true for the drug addict, the alcoholic, and those who crave pornography, power and prestige.  It is in our spiritual DNA.  Solomon testified to this when in wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has planted eternity in the human heart.”  And because all this stuff out here always disappoints them, they are looking, even longing to find a God who will satisfy that deepest longing of the heart.  And our text today is all about that and much more.  It’s found in Psalm 68:1-10 (NLT)

1-10 Rise up, O God, and scatter your enemies.  Let those who hate God run for their lives.  Blow them away like smoke.  Melt them like wax in a fire.  Let the wicked perish in the presence of God.  But let the godly rejoice.  Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy.  Sing praises to God and to his name!  Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.  His name is the Lord—rejoice in his presence!  Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.  God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.  But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.  O God, when you led your people out from Egypt, when you marched through the dry wasteland, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured down rain before you, the God of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.  You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.  There your people finally settled, and with a bountiful harvest, O God, you provided for your needy people.

In any moment of every day, we are expressing our image of God.  How we act, the ways we react, the priorities we set, the words from our mouths, and the attitude of our mind are all expressions of the God we are following.  And our world needs to know that the God we follow, the God we profess our allegiance to, is among many things, Our Warrior God!  And can I let you in our a secret?  I’ll share that secret with you in the next edition!

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

You Are Gifted, But You Are Not THE Gift, Part 2 of 2

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Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday.  Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God:  To Make More Followers For Jesus.  This is why every church exists.  It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others.  The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs.  Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is.  There is a simplified way to make followers for Jesus!

But it is not all that easy but it is really simple.  If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on the Cross for our sins, that He arose on the third day, that He ascended back into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, and that this is true IN us, then we have to believe what Jesus told His first Followers is what He tells us:  Go make followers!  Listen, Jesus didn’t say, “Uh, folks, I would like for you to try to make more followers.  As long as you try, that’s good enough.”  No!  He said:  “Go make Followers!”  If we aren’t making followers then we are not the Church.  Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s hard to do!”  My response is this:  It’s NOT hard to do.  It’s not hard to do, if we remember 3 things:

 1.  Presence. (Verse 3—So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.)

We live with the confidence that He actually is present with us.  Only His presence gives us the passion, the desire to do what we are redeemed to do.  The Holy Spirit is who sets our hearts on fire.  If Jesus has never done anything for you, then there is no fire in our hearts.  But we can have a fire when we realize what God has done for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God is doing for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God will do for us.

And what has God done for you?  He has nailed your sins to the cross and you bear them no more!  What is God doing for you?  He is at work transforming you and your moments for your good and His glory.  What will God do for you?  Stay by your side until you as you live forever in His Kingdom!  To make another Follower of Jesus doesn’t take a committee nor a team, but the passionate conviction that God has been, is now, and will continue to be present and at work in your life.  The Passion To Make Followers Comes From Knowing The Presence Of Jesus.

2.  Power (Verse 4—There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.)

The source of our power is the Holy Spirit.  Have you ever been surprised or amazed by something you did or said?  Then afterwards you wondered, “Well where did that come from?”  Those are moments when HE has complete control of us.  It is so important that we stop relying on our abilities by living in His power.  Do you know why some meetings are irrelevant, dull and boring?  It’s because we have forgotten the real power of the Church.  Whatever it is that God calls you to do, He will give you the strength and power to do it.

When you feel the nudging and prompting of the Spirit to do something, do it because with His Prompting comes His Power.  God designed the Church to withstand the power of hell itself!  And this is the power that lives in us.  Did you hear me?  The power that conquered death, the power that hell cannot overcome, is the power that lives inside each and every one of you when you desire God above all else.  Remember the third thing:

3.  Provision (Verse 7—A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.)

To engage our heart in what God is doing, we have to know the Provision of spiritual gifts that are designed by God for the common good.  The gift God gives you is designed so that you are able to help others both inside and outside of the church.  The Work Of The Body Of Christ Is A Spiritual Work And Requires Spiritual Tools.  These provisions are not rewards for us being good, but they are the result of our God being awesome!  God Gives Us The Tools We Need Not To DO Church Work, But To BE The Church That Is The Body Of Christ In Your World.  You have to know your spiritual gifts.  God does reveal your spiritual gifts.  If you do not know your Gifts it’s your fault.

It’s not easy, but it’s not hard.  I know, I know, I’m sounding like a politician.  You’re thinking if it’s not hard, then it is easy, but if it’s not easy then it must be hard.  If you think it’s too hard to do the ONE thing God wants this place to do, then remember Genesis 18:14—Is anything too hard for the Lord?  God had just told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son within a year.  He was an old man and she was an old woman.  Looking at them, you would be right to believe that they were too old to have a child.  It was impossible for them.  But do you know what?  By the next year, they had a son.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too hard for the Lord.  All you have to do is Trust Him with all your heart.

When you give Him all of your heart, over and over again, when you worship Him with all of your heart, when you listen to Him with all of your heart discovering the truth about God, the world and yourself, here is what you will discover:   God Is Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions  To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!

Failure To Do This Is Failure To Love God, Worship God and really, Failure To Know God.  Pursuing the heart of God means that after surrender, after worship, after studying The Word, we must be doing the things that will make disciples of others, which will bring them into this process of surrender, worship, study and doing!  This is the cycle of Kingdom Life.

You and I NEED His Presence.  You and I NEED His Power in order to be faithful to our Primary Task.  And You and I NEED what He alone can provide to be more than disciples of Jesus in name only, to be real Followers of Jesus by doing what HE wants done.

And the question for you in such a time as this, is Do You Have It?  To have it you must WANT it.  You and I must say:  I WANT Your Presence.  I NEED Your Power so that I can be found Faithful.  I MUST HAVE what You Provide for the Task You have given me.  Without it, you miss not only The Gift, but most importantly, the Giver…

 

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

 

You Are Gifted, But You Are NOT The Gift! Part 1 of 2

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As many have read and heard me say so many times, somehow the Body of Christ has got off track in a big way.  We have change the Message of Jesus from The Kingdom of God to the Kingdom of the Church.  Don’t get me wrong, the Church has had an interesting narrative that has resulted in a lot of folks encountering Jesus and finding the life they were created for, BUT…

Nowadays that message has been diluted into a very human-centered message rather than the Kingdom of God’s Epic Saga!  The result is that Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have entered into the Enemy’s delusion that we are now the experts on all things related to the church.  They see themselves as THE GIFT rather than being Gifted By The Giver.  And while they may be experts on all things related to the church, they are missing out on something much bigger, and a whole lot better.  Let’s look at the passage found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 from The Message:

1-3 What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

4-11 God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts

proclamation

distinguishing between spirits

tongues

interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.

Think about the things that make up our day to day ordinary life.  What is the story that you are telling your world and culture?  In the beginning of the Body of Christ, the vast majority of disciples understood they lacked the moxie to do what God was calling them to do.  The result was they opened their heart, mind and life to God so that HE could equip them with what was needed for this enormous task of being the presence of Jesus in a fallen world.

And God provided what they needed through His Spiritual Gifts.  And I Believe That Today God Is Still Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions  To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!  These gifts are not merit badges or rewards for us being so good.  Spiritual Gifts are the only way to fulfill our primary task as Followers of Jesus in the Body of Christ, which is to make more disciples for Jesus.

Let me tell you a story.  After Satan could not convince Jesus to avoid the Cross, he began to worry.  After Jesus conquered death, Satan began to wonder how he could stop the Gospel.  Eager to please their master, demons did a variety of things.  One began to persecute the believers, even having them killed.  But this only led to the Gospel being spread out further.  Another tried to get the early church to dilute the Gospel by mixing it with other beliefs and religions, and while it did capture a few souls, it wasn’t the huge success he was wanting.  The Gospel continued moving forward.  The demons tried and persisted with their evil designs.  At times they seemed to be successful by getting the church to replace relationship with rituals and rules.

But then there would be someone like Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, or Billy Sunday (to name just a few) came along who would get the church back on track.  One demon though, patiently watched and studied all the efforts being tried before he came up with his idea.  At one particular business meeting as the demons were all bemoaning their failures, fearing the wrath of their master, this one demon spoke up.  He said, “I have an idea.”  Just about everyone, including Satan, rolled their eyes as if to say, “What failure do you have in mind for us?”  And the demon said, “It’s obvious that we can’t stop the Gospel, but I have a way to slowing down its impact on people.  I call it ‘Committees’.”  Someone asked, “What’s a committee?”

The demon explained—“It’s a group of people who sit around talking about what they should be doing.  The key concept is ‘talking’.  Committees will then insist that everything in their area has to done their way; this will stifle creativity.  Some churches will make it that only a committee can do something in their areas, this will create a spectator mentality.  If some people don’t get on a committee, or a particular committee, they will get angry and stir up trouble, this fuels selfishness.  Committee meetings will become irrelevant, long, boring, or heated, and eventually, all of the above and this creates division.”  The Board room of hell was silent, until they saw their master with his infamous sly grin.  And though they couldn’t stop the power of the Gospel, they had found a way to slow down a church by making it ineffective.

From my story you may think that I don’t like committees.  I want to set the record straight.  I don’t like committees.  I don’t like committees that talk more than they do, stifles creativity, creates spectator mentalities, fuels selfishness and creates division.  But I am not against having committees.  But because of the well-earned reputation of committees, I prefer to form teams.

I am against the thought that the vision and mission of the church is to serve committees or teams.  This happens when more emphasis is put on committees and teams rather than the mission.  If you’re on a committee/team and I’ve made you mad, just listen to one more thing—The purpose of our Committees and Teams is to serve the vision and mission of the church.  That’s all.  Now that I’ve adequately offended some of you readers, I have something more to say.

Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God:  To Make More Followers For Jesus.  This is why every church exists.  It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others.  The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs.  Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is.  To understand how to simplify this, read the next edition!

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

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 2 of 2

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Welcome back!  For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post.  I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things.  Here are those 3 things:

That We Are

God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children.  God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him.  In The Word we discover that God knows us.  He knows where we are.  He knows what we feel.  When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting.  When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid.  When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.

When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair.  When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts.  Are you afraid that God will turn away from you?  Don’t be!  In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains.  This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.

That We Are Important

God values you and deems you important to Him.  Your family may tell you you’re worthless.  People you know may tell you that you’re worthless.  Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless.  Your world may tell you you’re worthless.  Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless.  But you will never hear God call you worthless.

In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say:  The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned.  But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you.  In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Those hands are nail scarred hands.  To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!

That We Are Important To His Purposes

In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan.  God has a place for you.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God sees you as His Masterpiece.  As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece.  A simple glance at The Word is not enough.  We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word.  He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.

But it takes time, and often, a lot of time.  God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece.  In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God.  You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do.  He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan.  And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.

In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  And you are important to Him.  How important is He to you?  Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.  The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.  The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)

Each of us is found somewhere in this story.

  1. Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word.  Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God.  Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life.  I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
  2. Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment.  They want to give the appearance that they love God.
  3. Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
  4. Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.

The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept.  His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.

 

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

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 1 of 2

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Remember that line from those Snickers commercials?  I just love that ad campaign.  I’ve always heard, “Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry.”  Know what?  It’s true!  My wife Debbie will send me grocery shopping when the budget is a little tight.  She sends me because I have a list—and I stick to that list.  If it ain’t on the list it ain’t going in the shopping cart, unless it is a really good sale price.  BUT, you should know I have a but to put in here, if I go when I’m hungry, I stray big time from that list.  So, I don’t go grocery shopping when I’m hungry.

Here’s another but, BUT when it comes to reading God’s Word (The Bible), I need to be hungry; otherwise I will probably miss what my heart is truly hungry for.  To limit one’s self to a list when grocery shopping is a good habit.  My tendency is that without that list I buy too much of the wrong stuff and forget what we really need.  I even have an app on my phone to help me stay with “The List”.  (FYI, my favorite app is ColorNote®)

When it comes to God’s Word, many people read it with a shopping list.  For many people that shopping list doesn’t have “How Can I Be More Like The Real Jesus”.  It has things like, “How can I prove my point?  How can I find a verse to justify my life?” Unfortunately our “twisted-unrenewed-untransformed-into-the-mind-of-Christ” perspective will usually find a verse (taken out of context of course) that justifies our position and our life.  The Bible isn’t God’s gift to help us feel better about ourselves, but His gift to help us know Him better.  Maybe it is better that we just go hungry while “shopping” in the Word.  And in knowing Him better, see a truer image of ourselves.  This truer image of ourselves starts with understanding our own brokenness and sin.  As a side note, read the Bible to see where your life is going wrong, not to point out what’s wrong with others and the world

Let’s look at Matthew 13:1-9 (The Message) 

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.  “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Inside each of us is a hunger that will never go away.  People are always trying to satisfy that hunger.  Some try things like money, possessions, drugs, and power.  Others even try to fill that hunger with respectability.  They try to give the appearance of being kind, caring and loving.  They try to believe if they look good, then they are good.  They truly put on a good show, so good that they are able to hide the emptiness from others, but never from themselves.

This hunger is so much more than anything on this earth can fill.  It is a hunger to hear the voice of God, to hear His Word in a way that is both to us and for us.  Our hearts cry out to hear God speak to us.  We try to silence that cry by occupying our time with other things, but the heart still cries out.  The heart knows what the heart wants and needs.  We try to silence it, but it will not go away.  If you try to give it anything other than The Word, it will not be satisfied.  To truly pursue the heart of God, you must have that unending appetite for His Word. To hunger for the Word means we want to encounter the living God.  There’s more to The Word than ink and pages.  Every word of the Bible is meaningless without the Presence of God.

There is not a single word in this book that will transform us without the Power of God.  I do not mean to be irreverent to God, but I may offend someone who hears this:  Having a well worn Bible does not necessarily mean you have a well formed life in Christ.  Our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things:  And we will look at them tomorrow.

Do You Have A Compass?

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Have you ever been lost?  I’m not talking about forgetting where you parked the car at the shopping center.  I’m talking about being by yourself, no one around and unable to find your way back kind of lost.  I was back in 1987.  I was living in Winston County not far from the Bankhead National Forest.  One day I decided to go deer hunting.  After not seeing anything I decided to do a little scouting and go back to my truck a different way.  I did not have a compass because I thought I didn’t need one.  After 6 hours I finally walked upon the house of a friend, some 12 miles from where I had parked.  I understand how easy it is for people to panic.  I had to fight it every step of the way.  It’s unnerving and panic can unravel us at the seams.  After that I made sure I had a compass in my hunting gear.

The fear of being lost is about being disconnected; cut off from home, friends, and community.  This fear is not limited to Forests, and for some, it goes much deeper.  Every day can be a battle.  We all need a way to keep our heart focused on the God who loves us perfectly.  How do we keep our focus?  I think this passage is Luke 7:36-50 (The Message) has the answer.

36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Oh? Tell me.”  41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”  “That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”  49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”  50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Think about this woman.  Her morals were a far cry from God’s standard.  Her reputation in the community was well-known.  Everyone looked down on her, especially the Religious Police.  And her own self-image?  The community didn’t have to heap shame on her, she already felt it.  She was told that her heart was unworthy of God and that God wouldn’t accept her heart.  She lived with this mind-set day after day after day.

But one day, she must have heard Jesus speaking about the real God of real love.  Perhaps she’s in the crowd listening.  She’s not too close to Jesus because people wouldn’t allow her around them.  She is on the edges.  But even on the fringe, she hears enough that something stirs in her heart that she believed died so long ago:  Hope!  And this hope that God plants in her heart refuses to go away.  God’s Prevenient Grace keeps going before her until that moment she finally surrenders her heart, such as it is, dirty as it is, unworthy as it is,—she surrenders it to God.

What she had heard would never happen, did happen!  God accepted her heart, cleansing her and releasing her from all her guilt and shame.  Can you imagine the relief she felt?  The weight of it all had been lifted from her.  So what can she do for the One who set her free?  Does she volunteer at the local homeless shelter?  Does she become a street preacher to other women who have been living like she has?  Does she try to read and memorize the Torah?  The answer to all of these questions is NO!  Let’s learn something important from this shameful woman; this woman who had been deemed unworthy and unlovable.  Let’s follow her steps:

She Is Determined To Seek Jesus First.

Maybe she looks at that place where she first heard His voice.  Up one street and down another.  She hasn’t found Him, but she doesn’t give up.  Maybe she goes to the local synagogue, but He’s not there.  Maybe she knows where some sick people live.  So she goes there but He’s not there.  So she starts asking people, “Do you know where Jesus is?”  Some in the community ignored her because that’s what smug self-righteous people do with “sinners”.  Those that do speak say “I haven’t seen Him.”  No one seems to have an answer for her.  She persists until finally someone says, “Oh, he’s having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.”

And what about you?  Do you have the tenacity of this woman to seek the presence of Jesus?  Before the act of worship occurs, there must be The Desire For Jesus.  Some people come to church because they are determined to fulfill their duty.  Others come to worship seeking to hear a good sermon or good music.  But real worshippers, people whose heart is for worship, Come For No Other Reason Than To Seek Jesus.  Look at what she does next.

She Overcomes The Obstacles In Order To Worship.

What she overcomes isn’t written in these pages, but deeply embedded in her culture.  First, she has to find a way into the Pharisee’s house.  She’s not on the guest list.  Not only is she not invited, She Is Unwanted!  No self-respecting Pharisee would invite someone of her morals into their home.  But somehow she manages to get into the courtyard of the home, but Jesus is inside.

If she knocks on the front door she will be turned away.  Another obstacle!  But somehow she gets inside the house.  But Jesus is in the one place NO woman was ever allowed.  The dinner table!  Another obstacle.  But that doesn’t stop her.  She finally works her way to Jesus.  She’s behind him.  There He is!  She kneels at the feet of Jesus.  Now what?  She probably hasn’t thought it through this far, So She Does What Her Heart Tells Her To Do.  Her tears start to flow; tears of release and joy!  They drop on the feet of Jesus.  Now everyone sees her and what she is doing!  Her emotions are taboo!  Respectable people don’t show their emotions in worship!  And then she lets down her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus!  Oh, no!  Women who follow the rules don’t do that either.  But she does!

And what are your obstacles to true worship?  Is it Pride?  Guilt?  Fear?  To worship God we have to overcome our obstacles—whether those obstacles are self-imposed or pushed on us by our culture.  Worship is not about the style or songs or preacher.  It is about overcoming any obstacle just to be in the presence of the only One who can set you free.  Look at what she does next:

She Pours Her Whole Heart Into Her Worship.

She has an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  This isn’t Dior J’adore where you can spray just a little bit.  The jar is sealed and has to be broken.  It’s a one-time use jar.  Maybe it was being saved for her wedding day, but that dream has probably long died.  Maybe it was being saved for her burial; after all, no one would spend that kind of money on someone like her.  She takes all that she has, and offers it in worship.  She broke so many rules just to be to this moment, and she doesn’t hold anything back, so she breaks that jar.  And the aroma of her perfume, The Fragrance Of Her Worship Fills That Room.  And everyone around that table looks at her with contempt—everyone except Jesus.  He accepts her act of worship by looking into her eyes and into her heart.

Worship is not about the items we associate with worship:  Announcements, Prayers, Hymns, Anthems, Scripture, Sermon, and what many consider the best part of all, the Benediction.  It is about pouring out all that is in your heart as the only acceptable response to God’s unconditional love.  Worship Is Not About The Acts That You Do, But The Total Surrender Of Your Heart, Such As It Is, To God.

You Never Truly Worship God Until You Break Your Alabaster Jar And Empty All The Contents While You Are At The Feet Of Jesus.

Worship is the compass that helps us find our way back to God.  When we get disconnected from life, worship points us to the one who will rescue us from our fears and despair.  Worship is about realizing that we have been invited into His presence.  True worship reminds us of the Infinite Love, Unparalleled Grace, And Unending Mercy God Has For Us And That Keeps Us From Getting Lost All Over Again.

Worship, true worship strengthens us and helps us become more like Jesus.  And as much as we may mess up during any given week, it is our worship that keeps us From Messing Up Even More And Even Becoming Totally Disconnected From The Life We Long For And The Life We Were Made For.  Have you poured out your whole heart in worship today?  If you haven’t, it’s not too late.

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

Hot, Cold, Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

In law enforcement terminology there’s this thing called “Hot Pursuit”.  It means going chasing after someone with everything they have.  God is always in Hot Pursuit of us, but what about us?  When it comes to the relationship God offers, are we in Hot Pursuit?  Cold Pursuit?  Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

Now those progressives out there that want us to throw away the Old Testament because there’s too much judgment and rules, well just take a look at this:  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The Message)

“Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only!  Love God, your God, with your whole heart:  love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!” 

While we can be masters of deception and hide what is really in our heart, eventually, it comes out.  What you say is the result of what is in your heart.  Now sometimes when a person reveals their heart towards us, those words are ugly and wound.  The result is, we don’t want to be friends with them.  We turn our back on them.  But when it comes to God, well, it is quite a bit different.

The heart is like a warehouse that stores things.  It can be good, evil, or both at the same time.  There comes a time when we need to see what is really in our heart.  I will confess to you there are times when I have a crisis of faith, experience brokenness, grief, disappointments—well to put it plainly and to the point—sometimes my heart is messy.  And in those messy times I need to know where I can go, where I can turn, where I know my feelings won’t be ignored, or made to feel small, or like a failure.

We all need somewhere to turn when life gets tough and things don’t turn out like we want.  We need a place that will bind up our wounds and heal them, even if we believe that the wounds are too deep.  And it needs to be a place we can count on to always be there for us.  I have looked for that place and would like to tell you that I found it, but I would be lying.  I didn’t find that place; The Place Found Me.  The Place I’m talking about is the heart of God.

I have had a Job experience—with all my pain and disappointment, I still want God.  I do not always know how to get out of those places, but I know God does, and He will show me and help me and heal me.  And if God still wants my heart in the shape that it was and sometimes still gets in, then I know I need to get in hot pursuit of God’s heart.  Here is how I see giving our heart to God.

Step 1:  Give God Your Whole Heart!

 You can’t give God bits and pieces of your heart a little at the time.  You can’t give God the majority of your heart.  Give Him your whole heart.  You have to take the risk that it’s really true:  That He Loves You With His Whole Heart All The Time.  He’s given you his whole heart in the Son who died on the Cross for me and you.

And giving Him your whole heart isn’t a one-time decision.  It’s not even a once a week or once a day decision you make.  It Has To Be A Conscious And Intentional Moment By Moment Decision For The Rest Of Your Life.  If you don’t give Him your whole heart, You Will NEVER Know That He Can Be Trusted To Love You.

Step 2:  Trust God With All That’s In Your Heart!

Whatever abilities, passions, dreams, goals and gifts you have, hand them over to God.  God can take the simplest ability, the smallest gift, and do great things in your life.  Your relationships—give them over to God.  Trust God to help you find and build those relationships HE wants you to have.  Your time—make God the only priority in your life all the time.  Don’t give God a token Sunday.

Every waking and breathing moment, give it to God and live it in Him and allow Him to work through you.  And when you find your heart is filled with darkness, when in those moments when everything is  messy, trust God with your pain, your doubts, your fears, your discouragement.  God does not want only the good things in your heart.  He will take the tough stuff, too.  Trust that God will deliver you.  Trust that God will transform you.  Trust That When You Just Don’t See How, God Can See How.

Step 3:  Serve God With All Your Strength!

Sometimes you will feel strong in Him.  Serve Him will all that abundant strength.  Whenever you think that your contribution to God isn’t much, serve Him with all of that, too.  When you think someone could do it better than you, go ahead and serve God with all you are.

But sometimes, you may find yourself like I have found myself from time to time—not so strong, feeling broken and hurt.  Whatever strength you have, be it ever so little, serve God.  Serving God isn’t all about being a 5 star athlete.

It’s about taking just one day at a time and whatever is in you that day, the good, the bad, and the ugly; giving it to God.

God Loves You And Even When Your Heart Is Messy Or Broken, He Will Restore Your Heart And Restore You To The Only Relationship That Matters The Most—The Relationship With Him!

Does God have ALL of your heart?  I’m not asking are you perfect.  Breaking News Story:  YOU’RE NOT PERFECT!  NEVER HAVE BEEN!  What I am asking is this:  When Was The Last Time You Surrendered All Of Your Heart—The Good, Bad And Ugly—To The Only One Who Has Given You His Whole Heart?

So, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him–who longs to call you His Son, His Daughter!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

We have always heard it said, “Make good choices.”  But this axiom may not be one we want to use to model our life.  Am I suggesting we make “bad choices”?  Not at all, but what if it looks like both choices are good?  The choices we make today will have an impact on us; if not immediately then definitely down the road.  Pardon me, maybe I should let you in on where I am.

Where I serve in the Kingdom recently decided to make some staff changes IF the right person could be found.  We have a part-time administrative assistant to handle the day-to-day things and another person taking care of our financial records, but remotely thanks to this thing called the Internet.  Our Team given the responsibility for staffing decided to merge both positions into a full-time on-site position.  It is a great decision because we are going to change our membership and accounting software and we need to have someone “in-house” to take over these duties.

After listing our position in several ways, we received several resumes.  From our Team, I along with 2 others, were selected to be the interview Team and report back our recommendation.  The result is that both applicants interviewed great and either one has the potential to be just who we need and God wants.  One member of the interview Team leans toward one of the applicants and the other Team member leans toward the other applicant.  Vote is 1-1, so now it falls on me to be the Tie Breaker.  No pressure here, really, there is no pressure.  All 3 of us agree that either one would be an asset and both assured me that whatever my decision, they are good with it.  The 3 of us definitely have a high level of trust between us.

This has me to thinking about choices.  I must make a choice.  Now if one would be a bad choice and the other one a good choice, then my choice is simple and easy.  Now I must decide what is good and what is best and the line between the two is not very clear, at least to me.  So I have been doing a lot of praying, asking others to pray for discernment for me.  I can’t put off my choice, and thus our recommendation to the rest of the Team.

And this morning it has me thinking and thus I am writing.  Oh, there’s an irony that I haven’t shared with you.  Sunday I am beginning a new series of messages and guess what they are about?  The importance of our decisions and how they impact our lives individually and collectively as community, family and especially as the Body of Christ.  Now I am living out this series of messages.

Here’s the thing, what we are and who we are in the moment is the direct results of all of our choices.  Decisions shape and form what we are and who we are becoming.  Sometimes we make the wrong decision, choose the wrong option.  Like that rich young man who came to Jesus seeking that lasting and enduring life who opted for physical wealth rather than spiritual treasures.

In reflecting over my life, I sense that many times I made the good choice, but NOT the best choice.  How many times have we heeded the counsel that said, “Come on!  Do something even if it’s wrong!  Just do something!”  Every decision we make, each choice you make, is shaping who you are.  So we need to be deliberate in the process of making decisions.  Quick decisions are often called “Rash” decisions.

I find it rather humorous that we call them “Rash” decisions.  A “Rash” typically develops when our body doesn’t like what it has been exposed to; you know, like poison ivy or poison oak.  That rash becomes a source of great discomfort and then rather annoying.  Here’s what I am thinking:  How many times has our spirit become infected (not affected) with something that is contrary to its design and purpose?

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This pic says it all.  Choices impact our lives, but they also impact the lives of those around us.  I realize that often things happen to us that are beyond our  control.  People can do things to us that hurt and are definitely unfair.  Beyond our control!  But we still have a choice and that choice is in how we respond to what has happened.

When the choices are something bad or something good, then it is easy to see how they affect our lives and the lives of people around us.  But how many choices have we made that would be considered “good” choices, but not the “best” choice.  Over my 43 years as being a pastor I have seen a great tragedy–people accepting the “good” choice over the “best” choice.  The accumulation of good choices has a consequence.  We call it mediocrity.

Your everyday decisions are influencing not only your present moment, but your future as well.  This is why we need to make the best decision and the best decisions always come when we invite our Heavenly Father into the deliberations.  His desire for us is not to experience the good life, but the best life.  Back to my dilemma.  At the very onset of this quest, the Team made a very wise choice.  We were not going to simply hire a warm body, someone to do the work.  It had to be the right person, the person God would provide for us.  I am thinking about 2 very godly people right now, and I cannot know which godly person God sent us, until I ask Him and listen to what He tells me.

Personally, I wish God will put up a lighted billboard with a flashing arrow sign pointing to the answer.  He probably won’t do that; He has ignored that request from me in the past.  So I will seek and then listen, because THE Father Knows Best!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And it will when you make the best decisions, and best decisions always come from the heart and mind of our Creator!

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