But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…

Give It Up: Fear

(Part 2 of my Lent Series “Give It Up’)

Matthew 14:22-33 (N.L.T.)

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

In case you missed last week, our Lent Series is about this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  We are looking at things that we need to give up for more than 40 days.  Most things that we give up for 40 days are shallow when we know we can pick them back up again at Easter.  And we should know that God is never pleased with shallow sacrifices.  We should always be looking for those places in our lives that God wants to cut away, to prune.  Truth is, we don’t; so, Lent is a great time to refocus and maybe, just maybe we can engage in this Spiritual Discipline every day, not just at Lent.  Today’s “thing” we need to give up is Fear.

I’m not talking about those healthy fears—like being afraid of poisonous snakes, walking across busy highways and dangerous animals.  Certain fears can protect us from harm.  I’m talking about those fears that imprison us and deny us the ability to enjoy life.  There’s a technical term for those kinds of fear:  Phobias

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Have you ever wondered when the emotion of fear first entered God’s creation?  When was the first time Adam or Eve knew what it felt like to be afraid?  Well, I know the answer:  After They Had Sinned!  We read in Genesis 3:10—He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”  We never find prior to that moment, Adam or Eve ever being afraid; not once!  To know why they were afraid, you need to remember the temptation they faced:  To become their own god.  That was the promise and the lie from Satan.  “Eat this and you will be just like God.  That’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it.  He doesn’t want the competition.”  Take a moment to think about what scares you.  I’m not talking about flying in a plane or snakes or bugs.  Think about some of the more serious issues of life.

  • Fear Of Failure. Fear of failure is the thought that failure defines us. Some think it is for the rest of their life; but it doesn’t have to. They take no risks and cower down in their comfort zones.
  • Fear Of Rejection. Fear of rejection creates the desire to win the approval of others. You focus more on pleasing others than God, and usually end up either pleasing neither one and become miserable.
  • Fear Of Being Alone. Fear of being alone causes you to engage in dangerous behavior and take on toxic relationships. Those living by the fear of being alone are swallowed up by wrong choices and people.
  • Fear Of Being Discovered. Fear of being discovered creates a fake self. It’s the fear others will stop loving you if they knew the truth about you.  It manifests itself with that judgmental attitude of pointing out the faults of others.
  • Fear Of Change. The fear of change is rooted in the need to be in control. That desire to be in control comes out the very same reason Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit—to replace God with self. Change may, and probably will involve you giving up control of the issues you feel like you must control.

Think about those disciples in that boat in that storm.  We’re not talking Carnival Cruise Lines.  There was barely enough room for those 12 men.  Now there are fierce winds and big waves.  They are literally stuck in that storm.  It’s not unreasonable that they are afraid.  There’s a good probability that Peter had friends who went out one night to fish but were never seen again.  It is a frightening situation and getting worse.  It’s not abnormal when we face the storms to be afraid. It’s what we do with…

If you can remember only one thing, remember this:  The More Energy That You Put Into Trying To Stop Fear, The More Energy Fear Has To Use Against You.  Living in fear makes you guilty of idolatry.  Fear that controls us becomes the idol that you serve.  Remember last’s week’s 1 thing:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life .

Whatever you promote with your thoughts, attitudes, words and actions is the expression of your idol.  Your Fear will become your idol.  What can we do when faced with those unsettling and scary moments that come against us?  You can’t tell someone, “Oh, grow up!  Stop being afraid!”  Telling someone to NOT be afraid is like telling a cat, “Stop acting like a cat.”  It just won’t happen.  Instead do these 3 things to control your fears:

1.   When Afraid, Stop

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t want a little bit of our attention—it wants it all!  Fear pushes us to do something, anything to try to calm it.  As we do something, the fear grows stronger, so we do more.  It’s a never-ending and vicious cycle.  But no amount of activity or actions we take will ever calm that fear.  Here’s the fine print that fear doesn’t want you to see:  Fear Disappears As We Rest In God.

Instead of thinking about it or trying to stop it, remember what David wrote in Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God!”  For most of us, being still is the hardest thing to do in the face of fear.  It goes against our grain and the logic of the world.  But when you stop and are still before the presence of the Great I Am, you’re draining the strength that fear has over you.  Fretting and anxiety just doesn’t work in the presence of God.  The longer you are still before God the less control fear has over you.

Think about the time when the Israelites were in that frightening moment of the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  What did Moses tell them?  Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.”  Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote in Psalm 37:7—“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”  It’s not always easy, but train yourself to stop when fear presents itself.  Wait for God’s timing.  God’s timing is just right because God loves you.  This leads to the second thing you need to try:

2.  When Afraid, Love

When you give fear power and control over you, it elevates YOU to the top of  the importance ladder.  When life is all about you, it’s impossible to love God or any others.  Fear tells you one thing only:  “God doesn’t love you.  He’s holding out on you!”  Every time you allow fear control, you are echoing fear’s lie:  “God doesn’t love me!”  But He does, and your fear doesn’t change this truth.  Fear knows that if you doubt God’s love for you, then it has you in its grip.

But try this instead:  Remember How Much God Loves You.  Fear will say, “Well not very much.  Just look at you.”  But you tell fear, “Jesus left the glory of heaven for a smelly stable.  He faced temptations and endured being misunderstood.  He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans.  He died on that Cross for me!  He rose from the grave for ME!  And He is coming back for ME!”  God never stops loving you even when you don’t love Him.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9—You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.  Even your punishment was put on Jesus, that’s how much God loves you.  Fear is disabled when we start caring more about others than ourselves.  When we love others with our actions, fear loses its control over us.  And one more thing to try:

3.  When Afraid, Trust

Let’s get back to our passage today.  It’s been a scary time for them, and it appears to them that Jesus has forgotten all about them.  They are afraid and more than the boat sinking, they are spiritually sinking.  But someone looks out and they have a tough time believing what they are seeing.  Someone is walking on the stormy waters.  It must be a ghost!  But listen to Jesus’ first words to them.  He didn’t chastise them for their lack of faith.  He said:  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”  The Greek can also be translated, Don’t be afraid.  ‘I Am’ is here!  The Greek word for “I am” is the equivalent word for the Hebrew word “Yahweh”– the name God revealed to Moses!

Take control of that fear because you trust in His presence to make the difference in your life.  And now Peter wants to be sure it’s really Jesus.  So, he says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Notice what Peter doesn’t say.  “Lord, calm the waters and then invite me to come to you.”  He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  So Jesus invites Peter to walk on that stormy sea.

Now what’s Peter going to do?  The waves are high, the wind is strong, and everyone knows you can’t walk on water.  What do you think the other 11 were thinking about Peter?  Probably, “Well that is about the dumbest thing Peter has ever said!  This is not going to end well for Pete!”  That’s what fear says. But Peter steps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus.

He trusted Jesus, and it worked.  And when Peter started listening to fear again and started to sink, what does he do?  Does he call out to fear to save him?  Does he call out to the guys still in the boat?  NO!  He calls out to the only who he knows will be there for him, especially when he fails!  He Calls Out To Jesus Because He Can Trust Jesus To Reach Out And Take Him By The Hand.  And Jesus saves him.

And what Peter learned, you need to remember:  Trust Him Because He’s Trustworthy.  He’s Proven That There’s Nothing, Absolutely Nothing He Will Not Do For You.  His promise rings true from Matthew 28:20—“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He’s true to His word.  The Greek word “always” means “for each individual”—none are excluded!

And how is it with you?  Is fear controlling you?  Then you’re holding on to an idol and not to Jesus.  Jesus will not share you with anything else.  He gives His all for you and will not accept anything less than your all for Him.  To anyone and everyone who is afraid, Jesus has something to say:  “Don’t be afraid, ‘I Am’ is here!”  Will you be still, love and trust the only One who loves you enough to die for you?  If you are living in fear, only Jesus can break those chains.  It’s your choice; intimidated by fear or living in Christ.

Ouch! That Worship Hurt!

We would rather have worship make us feel better about ourselves, but sometimes….worship reveals the truth about ourselves and usually that is not very pleasant.

Matthew Winters (Honest Thoughts from a Pastor)

What comes to mind when you think of worship? Pipe organs? Choirs? Clapping? Dancing? Silence? Most people I know think of joy and exuberance when the idea of worship comes to mind. Worship does also have a painful side.

God, sometimes in the midst of our worship, points out things in our lives that need correction. It is called conviction. When you read Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the Lord. His response is “Woe is me…” Isaiah saw the holiness of God and the sinfulness of self.

Tonight, God revealed something to me about myself to which I had to say “Woe is me.” We cannot always expect chills going up and down our spine when we are in God’s presence. Sometimes it is the reminder that we are nothing apart from Him. It hurts, but the fruit of confession and repentance is sweeter than the devil would like us to…

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Investing In Knuckleheads!

getfoscued

Give up 21 minutes of cruising Facebook posts and emojis, or whining and complaining to watch this episode of Mike Rowe’s Returning The Favor. This, my friends, is what the Kingdom of God looks like. When you invest the time to get to know someone, even “knuckleheads”, the impact cannot be measured. What if instead of judging someone as a “knucklehead who doesn’t deserve my time” you invest in them. Get to know them. Everyone has a story and their story may be the one who transforms a community, a culture, that ONE life that God has big plans for, but needs you to set it in motion! There’s a small probability that it “might” happen in a church building, but it’s more likely “out there” in real life!  Here is from the website of GET FOCUSED.

Get Focused is a movement that promotes reading and exercise to children around the world using a unique program that encourages them to buy their favorite books using exercise. The mission of the company is to inspire millions of young people around the world to read and exercise for a lifetime.

The company was launched in 2009 by then fitness model and personal trainer Goldin Martinez as a way to empower young people from his old neighborhood.

 Reading and exercise changed Goldin’s life and he decided that on his 21st birthday he would launch a movement called Get Focused dedicated to sharing the lifelong benefits of reading and exercise with other young people. Goldin’s vision was to create a movement that would go beyond just squats and push-ups and begin to introduce youth to the fundamentals of building a strong mind and body.

Today, Get Focused is led by a growing community of certified personal trainers and positive role models who all share a passion for youth empowerment and who all believe health and education should be a top priority in a child’s life.

 Get Focused has grown into a national movement and has been featured on New York 1NBCHuffington PostGoFundMe HeroesUproxx, & Returning the Favor. Through its amazing GF program the company is planting the seeds of health & literacy into the lives of thousands of youth. 

My Difficult Journey…Today!

 

The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”  He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb.

1 Kings 19:7-9 (The Message)

This particular story best describes where I am this morning.  “It just so happened” (yeah, right!) that I read David’s Kitz’s blog A Dark Psalm For Dark Times.  I am on one of, if not the most difficult journey, in my life; even more so than my divorce.  At least during that dark period I had hope, though ever so small, that God would heal and restore me.  But today, honestly, I see no such hope, which is probably why it “just so happened” that I read David’s morning edition.

Today I and my son, Matthew, are going to look at some “nursing homes” for my Mother.  At 89 she is in that prison known as dementia.  In the last 2 weeks her mind has become in the words of Forrest Gump, “a gazillion times” worse.  Dad, who will be 92 next month, has been doing his very best to take care of his wife of 73 years.  And now it has taken its toll on him.  Yesterday as he and I discussed what we would do today, what he said literally broke my heart:  “Son, I would rather take her to the cemetery rather than do this.  But it has to be done.”  There were tears in his eyes and his voice quivered.  He was broken and in a prison, too.

As a pastor, I am fortunate enough to share life with those entrusted to my care.  Shared meals, baptisms, weddings and just enjoying the extraordinary joys of the ordinary life are a part of this life as a pastor.  I also share in times of heartache: sickness, loss of jobs, the prodigal child, the prodigal spouse, the prodigal parent, and yes, the journey with them of watching losing a loved one long before they die.  My heart has always broken for those families living through this nightmare called dementia.

And now, my own nightmare intensifies.  As I watched others go through this nightmare, I became angry with God.  “Why are you allowing this to continue?  For heaven’s sake, please take them home!”  Honestly, I do not understand why He didn’t and thus, the source of my frustration (I know I did a blog/sermon on frustration).  And at the risk of sounding to some as being callous and uncaring, I’m “praying without ceasing” that God will take my Mother home instead of us taking her to a nursing home.  Dad’s right;  a journey to the cemetery would be much easier.  This is frustrating!

So what do I do?  Can I do?  Psalm 88:18 describes where I am perfectly:  You have taken away my companions and loved ones.  Darkness is my closest friend.”  I looked up this Psalm and found out that the last word in the original Hebrew is DARKNESS.  Unlike other Psalms of despair that end with “hope”, this one ends in DARKNESS.

Maybe David Kitz is correct in pointing out this song written by someone known as Heman the Ezrahite.  I would like to think The Spirit inspired David to write this blog just for me; even further back, that He inspired Heman the Ezrahite to write it just for me in 2018.  And right now I am holding on, barely but holding on, to the middle, exactly the middle of this Psalm.  It’s verse 9:  Each day I beg for your help, O LordI lift my hands to you for mercy.”  Maybe there is something prophetic that in the exact middle of darkness, Heman begs and cries out to God.  And so do I….so do I…  Prayers greatly appreciated…

A Dark Psalm for Dark Times

Yet another timely word from David….I follow his blog and would encourage you to consider following this blog as well…

I love the Psalms

Reading:                                      Psalm 88

(Verses 9-18)
I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, L
ORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have…

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Give It Up: Frustration!

(Note:  This is from my Lent Sermon Series Give It Up.  Each week I am speaking into the things that we need to give up for more than 40 Days, but for the rest of our lives.)

Lent is traditionally a season when we give up something for 40 days.  And nearly all people take it back up at Easter.  That’s the rules, right?  How many times have you said, or heard it said, “I can’t wait until Easter then I can eat chocolate, eat ice cream, get fast food, get back on Facebook.”  The list goes on and on and on.

Something I either read or heard had this take on giving up something for Lent:  “Have we really given that up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  To be truthful I cannot remember the source.  While it may seem pious and holy to “give that up” for Lent, truth is if we take it back, then we really have not given it up.

As I was thinking about the series of messages for Lent I could not shake that question:  “Have we really given something up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  As I prayed this verse came to me from John 15:2—“He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

So, what if instead of giving up something we like as a temporary sacrifice we decided to give up the things that are really harmful to us as Disciples of Jesus?  Not just for the 40 Days Of Lent, but maybe we could give up those harmful things forever.  So this is what we are going to do.  Knowing that God is going to cut off the dead branches and prune the fruitful branches, we going to look at this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  Let’s look at the first thing we can give up for Lent and beyond:  Give Up Your Frustrations.  Let’s look at Luke 9:38-42 (NLT)

38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream.  It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth.  It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people!  How long must I be with you and put up with you?”  Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.”

42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion.  But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father.

Frustration, as defined by the dictionary is:  the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something.  A deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. 

How many of you ever get frustrated?  That’s a silly question!  Here is a better  one:  What gets you frustrated?  When people don’t keep commitments?  (Here in Sheffield we have a major train route and often those trains block 2 or more major crossing points and is a hot button topic here.)  The trains blocking Douglas Ave. and Montgomery Avenue?  Forgetting things?  That shopper checking out and she is just talking to the cashier rather than paying and going on?  Why do things like these frustrate you?

Frustration often leads to this question:  How Long?  How long is asked 53 times in the Bible.  Sometimes it is people who asks, “How long?”  Sometimes it is God who asks, “How long?”  Even Jesus asked that question twice when dealing with people.

But there is a deeper and darker side to frustration when left unchecked.  When things don’t change, when people don’t change it makes us angry at first.  Unchecked anger leads to bitterness.  And when bitterness is unchecked it leads to something far worse than frustration—it leads to the Deadly D—Desperation.  Who among you loves allowing Desperation to drive your life?  And if you can remember only one thing from today’s message, this is it:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life.

Let’s think about Frustration as more than waiting at the railroad crossing.  Think about the spiritual frustration you feel deep in your heart.  What if, mind you I’m only asking “What If”—What If for the season of Lent we give up living in frustration?  After all, we have that unlimited supply of God’s Love, Grace and Mercy.  So what causes us to be spiritually frustrated?  Let’s list a few causes:

Trying To Live By The Rules Of Others.

There will always be people who want to tell you how to live your life.  There will always be those who want to prescribe appropriate Christian conduct.  We are told that we can’t be a true Christian unless we dress the right way, sing the right kinds of music, read the right kind of Bible, belong to the right brand of church, abstain from a carefully selected list of vices, become baptized in a certain fashion, read our Bible for a certain length of time, and be willing to criticize others who don’t believe such things. Number 2

Trying To Copy The Experience Of Others.

We Get Spiritually frustrated when we spend our time comparing our experience to the experience of others.  The problem with experiences is that they are unreliable.  People have different experiences because they have different personalities.   When our focus is on experience we have become disconnected from the head.  In other words we are no longer under the control of God; we are controlled by the things and people around us.

Being Unhappy With Your Circumstances.

When you think life is unfair—guess what?  Life is unfair.  When you permit that sense of unfairness to remain in your mind and heart, you can find lots of reasons to verify and justify that thought.  When you think that life has dealt you a bad hand, when you believe that God has forgotten or is mad at you—life becomes frustrating because nothing really changes inside us.

Refusal To Deal With Sin In Your Life.

Sin is what gets in the way of our connection with God.  Even though “sin” is not a popular subject in our culture it still exists, and it exists in all of us.  When there is sin that you haven’t repented of and given up, it denies you the life that your heart wants, and that creates frustration.

Living By The Standard Of Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is trying to be in control of your life, the lives of others, and your circumstances.  Ever dealt with a perfectionist?  Here’s a great definition of a perfectionist:  someone who takes great pains, and gives them to others.  Nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever enough, when we try to get everything, or everyone, perfect.  The result is that your goals always going to be out of reach and it ends in frustration.

This is just a small sampling of things that cause frustration.  Frustration becomes just another thing that controls our lives rather than the Heart and Mind of God.  So how do we give up our frustrations and not take them back up after Easter?  5 Precise Steps:

  1. Ask Yourself, “Did I Cause It?”

Galatians 6:7—“ You will always harvest what you plant.”  We are frustrated by many things in life because we bring them on ourselves.  I wrote an article once on this—Seeds Live Truthfully.  You can’t plant beans and expect strawberries.  If your frustration is the result of your choices and/or actions, the stop looking for someone else to blame and take the blame yourself.

  1. Ask Yourself, “What Can I Learn From It?”

Romans 8:28–“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  There are many bad things in the world, but God will cause all things work together for our good if we love and follow Him.  Remember it isn’t automatic that God makes something Good out of something bad.  Sitting in that pew this morning does not mean that The Good God promises is automatic.  This promise is for those who unconditionally love God and are willing to do what He wants.  God can even take the negative and turn it into a positive if we let him.  Use irritations as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

  1. In The Situation, Thank God. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18–“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  You don’t have to be thankful FOR a bad situation, but you can be thankful IN a bad situation. That situation may be a blessing in disguise.  God is at work.  God does not waste moments, like we do.  Instead of whining and complaining, Thank God IN the moment, if for no other reason, His past faithfulness to you—and it will remind you of His faithfulness now.  If you can only stop and see what God could be doing for you in that frustrating moment, it changes everything.

  1. Ask God To Fill You With His Love

1 Corinthians 13:5–“Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable…”  I love how The Message translates this:  “Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle.” We get irritated because we think everyone and everything must revolve around us.  News Update:  The universe does not revolve around you!  Love concentrates on the other person.  Inward focus promotes selfish attitudes and behaviors.  And selfishness produces the attitude that others exist to serve you—and when they don’t, Frustration!  You will stop your frustrations by experiencing love for that person and see God’s love in that situation.

  1. Make It A Point To See The Big Picture.

Romans 12:1–“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”  Listen again to how The Message translates the last part of this verse:  “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from the Word of God, not the preferences of people.  The Big Picture is that God invites us in to the most unimaginable adventure—that of restoring His creation and ushering in The Kingdom.  We need to see the big picture.  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from God, not human preferences.

Living in frustration gives the power to direct our lives to other things and people rather than to Christ.  We focus in the wrong place.  We put our focus on external behavior rather than the heart.  What we permit in our minds we promote with our life.

It is much easier to not play cards than it is to deal with bitterness in the heart.  It’s much easier to blame banning prayer in schools than it is to invest time with the stranger in our own gates.  It is easier to tell someone “You don’t need to drink” than it is to admit we have chosen the Old Wine rather than the New Wine of the Spirit.  It is easier to give money than to have a servant heart.  It is easier to have an experience than it is to be submissive before the Lord.

When we get frustrated we need to remember how Jesus responded to frustration.  He expressed it.  He didn’t deny it.  Frustration is part of the human experience Jesus shared with us. Moses got frustrated. The prophets had times of frustration.  Even God feels frustrated.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy. I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.  But we need to admit we are frustrated.   Frustration and anger are not inherently sinful. It all depends on what we do with those emotions.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy.  I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.

So, what are your Next Steps that will be healthy for you?

  1. Make Sure You Are Trusting Jesus For Your Salvation.
  2. Stop Measuring People By Your Expectations And Preferences.
  3. Look Beyond systems and experiences of this world and focus on Jesus.

So think back to the last time you experienced frustration, and be honest:

Did that situation change as the result of your frustration?

Didn’t think so…..

Why, Oh Lord, Why?

MSD High School (1)

Once again our nation is reeling from yet another act of senseless violence, though it made perfect sense to Nikolas Cruz.  And thus my question this morning:

Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?

There are those who will answer my question, but with the wrong answer.  “It’s the gun laws, rather, the lack of gun laws.  If we just ban those nasty guns, this would not ever happen again.”  I just don’t think this is the answer.  Chicago has the strictest gun laws and the senseless human violence continues every day.

“It’s that he wasn’t treated fairly.  He did not have the same opportunities as others.  If he had just received what he was entitled to, this would not have happened.”  Well, he may not have been treated fairly, but many others haven’t been treated fairly but they did not go out and kill innocent people.  So, how is this the answer?

“Well, they took prayer and the Bible out of the schools and this is the result!”  Do you really think that there is a “Prayer Void” or “Bible Void”, like a black hole, that exists in public schools?  I know countless students, teachers, support staff and administrators that cover their schools in prayer every day, and though they do not “read the Bible” in class, these Disciples of Jesus live out those words every day.  So, I don’t think that is the reason nor the answer to my question.  Besides, like the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, students will pray.”

“Video games and TV violence is the reason!  If Silicon Valley and Hollywood did not glorify violence, this would not have happened.”  If so, why isn’t everyone who plays video games and watches violent TV out there killing the innocents?  Mind you, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t desensitize people’s conscience.  But eliminating violent games and TV will not eliminate this threat.

They are coming out of the woodwork, from under rocks, all espousing reasons for this horrible act of human violence.  Their reasons will go on ad nauseam and yet, there will be another shooting at a church, school, community center–anywhere people gather.  So what is the answer to this burning question that oozes out of both my faith and my heart?

To be quite honest, I cannot accept the “pat” answers, but I admit that I do not have the answer.  Honestly, I do not know that there is an “answer”.  Perhaps I, along with many others should ask a different question other than the “why” question.  I’m simply thinking out loud right now because of this ooze of “why”.  Maybe the question that everyone who professes to be “Christian” (perhaps I should say ‘allegedly’ Christian) should be asking is: “What now?  What should we do now?”  This is a question for which I do have an answer.  And here is my answer to “that” question.

You need to stop be consumers of the services of the church.  Sorry, Jack, your local church does NOT exist for you.  You need to become the producers of what the church is really about; and that’s the Kingdom of God.  Quit living out a small story and step into the story of the Kingdom where God is in the business of redeeming and restoring human lives.  Stop spending so much of your budget on what happens at a 911 address (that means building/campus).

Quit pointing out where everyone else is wrong and admit that somewhere you are broken, too.  Get to know the people around you, without offering judgment against them.  Get out of, way out of your comfort zones.

Jesus wasn’t comfortable in what He did for you on that Cross, so why should you get to be comfortable in what you do for Jesus! 

Quit whining about us needing to become ‘again’ a “Christian nation” and understand that as Disciples of Jesus we are “aliens and foreigners” in this land; God’s true people have always been “foreigners” wherever they lived.  Show me one verse that says God wants to establish a “Christian Nation” and I will show you a hundred verses where Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God!  Let’s start doing something, just one thing at a time, that helps others, including yourself, to be restored to the image of God.  Live out Grace the way Jesus lived out Grace.

I just don’t know the “Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?”  But I am now reminded that even with my doubt and questions, God is still working to establish His Kingdom, that place where His will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

STOP WASTING TIME!

Slide2

(This is the last of the series about the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Thanks for all the comments and likes!)

 Disclaimer

We do not have the time to get into all the Hard Sayings Of Jesus, so this will be our last in this series.  I hope by now you have the tools and the courage to tackle on your own the hard, even harsh things Jesus had to say.  Simply because we don’t like them or do not want to deal with them doesn’t mean we have the luxury of simply ignoring them.  Frankly, I do not want to face Him on the day of judgment and have Him ask me why I chose to ignore them.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 10:5-15 (NIV)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 

13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What exactly is Jesus saying here?  There is a principle and a Truth that is guiding all the other messages we see and hear.  And it is in Verses 14-15—If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  2 things about this image:

  1. It was a sign of an unclean place. It’s what devout Jews would do if they ever had to go into a Gentile city or home.
  2. It was a sign that you were finished with that person or place, and you were not responsible for their decisions and actions. It was a sign of letting them know that God’s judgment was now upon them—no more excuses.

It seems that Jesus is saying that when people reject Him and His Kingdom, His disciples are to shake the dust off their shoes and move on, and that Sodom and Gomorrah will do better at judgment than them.  But Where is the Grace and Mercy and patience of God?  Well, let’s apply the process of the 2 questions:

  1. Is It Possible?

Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and in Mark 3:6 we read—“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Obviously Jesus moved on.  Now look at the second question:

  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian where the people began listening to them.  But the religious leaders stirred up trouble and expelled them.  And we read in Verse 51—So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

So the answer to both questions is clearly yes.  If you can remember only 1 thing from Slide15this message, this is it:  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.  I am not more important than The Mission.  You are not more important than The Mission.  Our families are not more important than The Mission.  This nation and its politics are not more important than The Mission.  Your wants and wishes are not more important than The Mission.    The church is not more important than The Mission.  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.

So, how do we apply this authoritative word?  Does it mean that we go up to someone and ask them, “Do you want to be a Christian?” and if they say “No”, we forget about them and ask the next person and the next and the next?  Absolutely not.  Putting this hard saying of Jesus into the right context is the key to the application of His Truth.  This is The Pattern for how The Kingdom works and moves:  Jesus SENDS!  Jesus sends the First 12 Disciples, and He continues to send His Disciples.

This isn’t an Apostolic Age thing.  The word apostle means one who is sent.  Everyone is sent somewhere for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It may not be to a pulpit or foreign country, but you are sent nonetheless.  Jesus is sending Disciples.  They aren’t apostles (lowercase a) until they are sent.  And notice where He sends them:  Not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans—but to those He calls “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Why?

Because The Kingdom Of God Should Begin Here!  Before we can take the Kingdom of God into the world, it must be firmly rooted in our hearts.  God has a Mission for Real Disciples.  Those who attended the Small Group Training learned that it’s wrong to say Slide16the church has a mission.  Truth is that God’s Mission has a church.  We call it Missio Dei—the sending of God.  God’s mission needs a church that will embrace and follow His Mission.  I see at least 3, let’s call them Kingdom Principles, that Jesus demands from us if we are going to be more than Christian in name, but in heart and life.

1] The Mission Needs To Be Focused.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

God sends Disciples to the places that needs what only God provides.  This passage, these words of Jesus, is where we need to focus.  First focus on ourselves, then on others.  Here’s where the focus needs to be rather than on all the external trimmings that we think give us our identity:

  • Heal the sickthe word “heal”, means to serve. The word “sick” means those who are weak, powerless, without the strength to change their life
  • Raise the dead—it means to wake up and cause people to stand in life, not the death that sin produces in us. The Walking Dead TV series isn’t original.  There are the Walking Dead all around us.  Not zombies, but broken and lifeless people.
  • Cleanse those with leprosy—that word leprosy includes the disease of leprosy but was also applied to a variety of skin diseases. Spiritually it’s about those who are carrying around external labels that crush and destroy the human heart.
  • Drive out demons—the devil is having a heyday and causing mayhem because the church has stopped fighting them and starting fighting people. The phrase here means with force and strength.  This is the warfare that God calls us into.

Freely have you received, freely give—It’s about sharing the extravagant grace and mercy that God has shown you with others.

2] We Need To Give A Clear Message.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The church can be really good at sending mixed messages.  For example:  Jesus can set you free—but to be with us, there are certain ways you need to act and a certain way of doing things.  Here’s another:  God has an unlimited supply of grace for you—but don’t be surprised if my supply of grace is limited.  Oh, this is a good one:  Christ makes all things new—just like they were 40 years ago.

The Greek word for “at hand” is eggizō (en-gē’-zō).  It means: to join one thing to another.  The Message of the Kingdom is to connect people to the Kingdom of God!  The gospel message is not difficult. The Message Is Clear:

  • Let’s be clear that brokenness persists in all of us. We are all broken somewhere. We are sinners in need of the Savior.
  • Let’s be clear that Only by faith in Jesus can we be forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion over us.
  • Let’s be clear that when we are forgiven we join in with what God is doing in the world.

Some people place the stained glass windows of tradition and liturgy in front of Christ and hide Him. Some are destroying the Good News of the Kingdom by replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of how we feel and what WE want to believe.  The apostles were to “go and preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It’s about the Kingdom, not the local church.  We are to keep the message of God clear—it’s all about Jesus and His Authority to rule us.

3] Do The Mission With Urgency.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (vs. 14-15)

What I see missing in so many lives is The Passion for the Mission.  Until we see and know how Urgent the Mission is, we will never have the Passion.  Urgency Creates Passion.  And that Passion motivates us to become apostles—people who are sent!

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The Greek word for apostle is apostolos and it means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō—to order one to go to a place appointed.  Real Christians Are Sent People.  You Have Stopped Being A Sent People When You Become A Settled People.  Me?  I’m not going to be a settled person.  I’m moving with God and with those moving with God and I’m shaking the dust off my shoes for those who have settled.

Without that sense of Urgency with Passion, then there is coming a time when those who are supposed to know—know the Truth and Live it in Urgency and with Passion—but have ignored and rejected The Kingdom—that God is going to shake the dust and judgement is going to be upon those people and churches.  The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah will not be as severe as those people and churches that reject God’s Kingdom for their own Kingdom.

Until you know how urgent the message and mission of the Kingdom is, you will never be a real Disciple of Jesus.  People are hurting deeply all around us.  Every day people are going into eternity without Jesus.  Every day people are being deceived and believing the lies.  Our work is urgent.  Join in now before someone shakes the dust off the shoes towards you.

Top 10 Symptoms Of The Tenured Pew Sitter

I owe this blog to a challenge from Dawn at Inspiration with an Attitude.  It’s one of many blogs that I follow and if you’re not following her, you might want to.  I say this because if I offend someone with this blog, blame Dawn.  She responded to an earlier blog, Seeds Live Truthfully with the challenge to do a follow-up with the symptoms of The Tenured Pew Sitter.  Even at 61, the competitor in me still likes a good challenge.

I don’t know exactly how I formed this phrase, I think it was inspired from reading another blogger, See, there’s this thing called biology (you might want to check insanitybytes out, too. Some more good stuff!).  She coined a word “Churchians” and from that, I would like to think I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, I started using the phrase “Tenured Pew Sitters”.  So to answer the challenge from Dawn, here goes from Number 10 to Number 1:

10.  A Love For The Bible That Does Not Include The Application

For the Tenured Pew Sitters the goal is information.  The more information one has, the better person they become.  The problem is that the Bible is not given to us for information, rather transformation.

9.  Trapped In The Past

They see the height of the church being in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  If church leaders would just do what they did back then, the result would be church growth.  If we were living in the same “Christian” culture as back then it would work.  But we aren’t and it won’t.  There is a reason why this era is called the “Post Christian” culture.  The values of Jesus are no longer the primary values of society.  They insist that we must go back and do what we used to do, and be.  If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you’ve always been.

8.  Religion Replaces Relationship

Tenured Pew Sitters focus on the external rather than the internal.  It is all about “the show”.  The rich traditions and liturgy that once inspired a previous generation to know and love God more deeply, are now sacred cows to be protected at all costs; even at the cost of a local church dying.  It is the desire for form over substance.  John Wesley wrote near the end of his life that he never doubted that there would ever cease to be a people known as Methodists.  But his greatest fear was that they have the form of godliness but without the power of the Holy Spirit.

7.  They Are The Ultimate Image Of A Christian.

Therefore, everyone else must conform to their image.  If anyone is to be a part of “their” church, then they must agree with them.  They see themselves on the “path” and everyone else is either a trouble-maker or a “well bless their little hearts”.  You have to be a Southerner to know what “well bless their little hearts” means.

6.  Power Over Purpose

It’s not the “power” you are thinking about.  It’s not about the power of the local church, but about holding power OVER the local church.  They do this in a variety of ways:  being on the right committees; being vocally abusive even in a nice kind of way.  More important for them is the power of the Offering Plate.  They see it as the ballot box–of approving or disapproving of the mission of the church.  They care more about the weight of their power than the true purpose for the Body of Christ.

5.  Heightened Sense Of Self Importance

The Tenured Pew Sitter sees themselves as the source of all wisdom.  Some will actually say that the church cannot survive without them and their support.  This is another way of saying they have a serious ego problem, not that different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

4.  It’s All About What Happens In Here

There is no sense of mission, except to send money somewhere far, far away.  Supporting foreign mission projects becomes a way to ease the conscience of the Tenured Pew Sitter.  The bulk of the budget must be spent on what happens INSIDE the church building.

3.  A Deep Seated Desire To Judge

The Tenured Pew Sitter thinks of themselves as a “fruit” inspector.  What they really are is a bulldozer; quick to run anyone down they see as a threat to their power and/or their comfort.  They think that the Lord helps those who can help themselves; and only the worthy deserve any help.

2.  An Obvious Absence Of Deep Joy

The Tenured Pew Sitter has “that” expression, on their face and in their words.  “That” expression is what I call “The Painfully Pious” look.  Imagine this:  Chewing on a lemon rind on one side of your mouth and a green persimmon on the other.  Try it if you would like and look at yourself in the mirror.  I wouldn’t recommend it; just trust me on this one.

1.  The Local Church Exists For Them.

 They see the local church as a producer of goods and services for them, the consumer.  For the Tenured Pew Sitter, for “church” to be “church” then it must offer things that appeal to them first and foremost.

Well Dawn, I hope this gives you my insights.  Anyone else out there have other insights into The Tenured Pew Sitter?  Feel free to add them below in the comments section.

“Why be exploited by those who care nothing for you?” ~King Solomon

Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts

So, my friend, listen closely;
don’t treat my words casually.
Why should you allow strangers to take advantage of you?
Why be exploited by those who care nothing for you?

It is helpful to know that some people really don’t care for me. In fact, they care nothing at all. They don’t have my best interest at heart and are hard-hearted. I need to be wise to discern that reality. I have opened myself up to it before. It is no fun, as we all know.

God has a goaland some wisdom for me. I need to listen carefully and closely. Jesus said “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

I can ignore wisdom but it will lead me to ruin and regret. I will be exploited, taken advantage of and tossed aside…

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The Apostolic Age? Really?

 

 

 

OK, I’m not doing this to start a theological debate, doctrinal fight, nor a “Roman Catholic” versus “Protestant” argument.  It really is just a question:  “Where did the concept of the ‘Apostolic Age’ come from?”  I’ve had the mandatory seminary classes on church history, and I know the traditional thought about this alleged Apostolic Age.  But when and where did this concept of an alleged The Apostolic Age originate?  And I know that the consensus is it ended with the death of John.

Many teach and many more believe that it was limited to those Original 12, well, excluding Judas.  But according to Matthew 10:2-4, Judas is listed as one of the 12, you guessed it, “Apostles”.  but were there just those 12, including Judas?  Well, maybe including Paul there were 13 “Apostles”.  Perhaps we could add Barnabas to make an even 14.  Maybe we could add Silas for 15.  Some might have a good argument to include Timothy as an “Apostle”, making the number an even 16 “Apostles”.

Could it be this “Apostolic Age” is the result of the interpretation of History?  I know, I know, most want history to be just the facts.  Yet most of written history includes the result of human interpretation.  And herein lies my contention:  Is the concept of this alleged “Apostolic Age” the result of human interpretation?  Now please understand, I’m not asking you to agree with my hypothesis, theory and conclusion.  I am asking that you simply think for yourself, and then draw your own conclusion.  I have a “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” gut feeling some of the comments may disagree with me, or some might stop following this blog.  I’m OK with this, as long as you are thinking and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Me?  I’m a KISS kind of man–Keep It Simple Stupid!  With this as my backdrop, let me frame these words as best I can.

  • My Hypothesis:   Our God is a “Sending God”.  It is His nature and His deepest desire to send out His heart and message to redeem and restore fallen humanity; the ones who alone bear His image.
  • My Theory:  He sends others that He has redeemed and restored to Himself for the purpose of redeeming and restoring others.  Don’t try to sell me on the benefits of a Ford if you are only driving Chevrolets.  If you want to reach deep into me, tell me what (or whom) is deep inside you.
  • My Conclusion:  Because God is still reaching out to His Fallen Image Bearers through those whom HE sends, this thing called The Apostolic Age as defined by historians, hasn’t really ended.  Furthermore, I assert this concept of an “apostolic age” to be anathema and has robbed the Body of Christ of it’s most basic identity–that of being a sent people.  The result of no longer living with that sense of being “sent”, most, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, are living with a sense of being settled.  And that, my blogging friends, is one of the worst tragedies; for a people who were redeemed and restored in order to be sent, to accept being settled.

What started this train of thought (some may say this train never left the station, or has derailed by the end of these thoughts) was my work on this week’s sermon.  This work included the passage from Matthew 10 when Jesus “sends out” those 12 “apostles”.  I looked up that Greek word we have translated “Apostle” (*NOTE the typical use of the Capital “A” as in THE Apostles and THE Apostolic Age, which “capital” letter is not found in the Greek texts) is apostolos.  An apostolos is a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō— which means “to order one to go to a place appointed.”

So, why isn’t an apostle (lowercase “a”) simply someone sent as a messenger to go to an appointed place with The Message?  If my hypothesis is true, that God is the Sending God, doesn’t this mean He is still sending today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next month?  Now this left-handed, right-brained preacher is about to put it into overdrive.  What if we forgot about this “historical” image of an alleged long gone “Apostolic Age” and began living our lives right now as apostles (note the lowercase “a”)?  Live as people who are sent to a certain place with a certain message?  Can you imagine the transformation that could happen?

I now see myself as an apostle–but not with the delusions of grandeur.  I see myself as one who is being sent with a Message to specific places and people.  And you do not have to be a pastor, preacher, evangelist or missionary to be “sent” somewhere.  God is looking for people to send to specific places.  Those places are where there are human hearts and lives, made in God’s image, that need to be redeemed and restored to the Father’s Glory.  God is looking to send someone across your street.  God is looking to send someone across the aisle, across the hall, across town, across county lines, and who knows, maybe across the state or across the world.

What are the places that God is looking to send people to?  The places where people need to be redeemed and restored.  God’s best work is always done through ordinary people.  Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV),

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Sent people are never settled people.  They are ready and willing to go into every human situation with the Message of The Good News, this Kingdom News that redemption and restoration are now available to anyone and everyone.  First these 12 were disciples before they were apostles (lowercase “a”, please).  They learned from Jesus and then they went.  How I pray for more people to live first as disciples, then go as apostles–people sent on a Mission from God!  If you live with that sense of being sent, then the Apostolic Age isn’t over.  How sad it must be to think God has stopped sending ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Nothing is more miraculous nor extraordinary than when another heart has been redeemed and restored by The Maker, our God who sends!

I may not have convinced a single person that this alleged “Apostolic Age” thing is a human concept.  But if there is just one of you who are now thinking, “Could God be sending me somewhere?”, then it has been worth it!  It is both overwhleming and liberating to know that we can be “sent”.  And it is a prison all it’s own, to be simply settled where you are.  Still think that the Apostolic Age is over???

Whoa+buddy+where+did+that+come+from+_ac52e5aa1a3afada376dc770b298ee8d

His Greatest Fear Came True : The Government Stole Him

How sad that those with mental illness are still being treated different than say someone with cancer…Let’s pray and WORK together so that people with mental illness are treated no different than those with other diseases…

Healthy Mind Ministry

“Why did you do this? Now they are going to kill me” Those were my sons last words as he was escorted from his Grandma & Grandpas by the Port St. Lucie Police Force in the early morning hours of December 6th, 2017. Every fear he had imagined over the past few weeks had just came true, the government stole him.

The following week he whispered into the phone “If I disappear mom, I didn’t kill myself” still convinced that the hospital staff was trying to poison him and that any minute the government was coming to kill him. His worst nightmare happened yet again, as police officers barged into the mental health facility he had be remanded too for trying to kill himself in jail, and ripped him out of a suicide observation room.

Now he sits in Port St. Lucie Jail in a Behavioral Unit on 23-24 hour…

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The High Price Of Following Jesus!

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DisclaimerThis I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means.  Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand.  The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved.  Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:

  1. Is It Possible?
  2. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations.  It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)— Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him.  So, the answer to both questions is YES.  This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.

Slide10 I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free.  It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin.  And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life.  This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.

And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven.  Don’t you agree?  Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a  seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home.  But it’s not; there is much more.  Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals.  The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.

And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more.  This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful!  No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals.  So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift.  And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.

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Think about this:  What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus?  A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany:  DISCIPLESHIP.  This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

 

Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.”  Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life.  Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly.  Here is why it’s Costly:

1]  It Costs Personal Comfort

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Vs. 57-58)

Here’s a man like us.  He wants to follow Jesus.  Promising idea, right?  And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live:  At the level of comfort.  You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable.  And many want to be comfortable following Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.

I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem.  David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight.  After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan.  But there’s a problem:  David hasn’t consulted God about it.  God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation.  As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God.  The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free.  But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.

You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure.  Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding.  Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus.  Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones.  Before she retired she was a computer programmer.  Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable.  But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship.  You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.

2]  It Requires Immediate Commitment!

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”   (Vs. 59-60)

The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet.  So, it’s just an excuse to postpone.  “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.”  This makes Jesus sound less harsh.  But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated:  “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.”  The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying.  And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah.  In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral.  But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd.  Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.”  Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.

John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story.  He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England.  His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin.  He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand.  But hear John’s reply:  “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look.  I have you.  You go and preach the Gospel to those people.  Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.”  There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!

3]  It Involves Unlimited Commitment

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”   Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Vs. 61-62)

Jesus wants you to make up your mind.  There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”.  A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:

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It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation.  People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven.  Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.

Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct.  Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?

First Let Me.

In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me?  What is your “First Let Me”?  Your excuse?

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The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

3 The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

DisclaimerI don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year.  And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series.  And I am OK with this.  Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?  34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

OK, did that last verse sink in?  Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy.  Does He really do that?  Wow!  Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins.  But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?”  Well let’s put our 2 questions up:

  1. 1. Is It Possible? NO!
  • Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?

So, this is obviously hyperbole.  Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us.  To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?

A question is asked by one of the disciples:  Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”  In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness?  What’s His standard?

  1. What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?

Jesus moved on.  In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more.  You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason.  The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.

  1. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?

Let’s go back to the question that started all of this:  “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?”  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone.  And here is the 1 thing you need to remember:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!

It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others.  Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point.  It’s like this little poem I found:

to dwell

Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus.  We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it.  But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy.  We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”

Look again at the story.  Peter asked a question:  “How often should I forgive the same person?  What about 7 times?”  Why did Peter use the number 7?  Was it because “7” is the number of perfection?  I do not think Peter was into numerology.  The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them.  Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees.  The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question.   The question should have been:  “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”

God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy.  Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships.  That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.

We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question.  As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us.  For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.

Listen again to the story.  A King calls in all debts.  One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold.  1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds.  So that’s 1.3  million pounds.  At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars.  The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it.  He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it.  Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness.  Got it?

Now this servant is having a great day.  He wanted an extension but received a pardon.  Life is oh, so good.  Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii.  The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.

This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work.  6,500 compared to 353.6 million.  The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment.  The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full.  When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.

The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom.  He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled.  You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?”  Answer is simple.  He’s a King and He makes the rules.  Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus.  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”

Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!  Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts

First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God.  Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation.  Truth is, it has only just started.  There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ.  When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.

Second, it creates chaos in the community.  What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy.  When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God.  It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts

How does it distort whom God has made us to be?   First, it is hypocritical.  You demand from others what you think is right.   The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other.  It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.

Second, it puts you back under judgment.  If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13).  When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.

First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness.  You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount.  Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.

Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others.  Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!”  And it crushes their heart and spirit.

Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus.  When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”

So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you?  Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you.  It begins with God.  That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.  It was not about him.  It’s about God.  You do not choose to offer grace and mercy.  You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you.  You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.

Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you.  It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded.  We need space and time to process it.  Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:

  1. First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified.  So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
  2. Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.

On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us.  If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you.  Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.

Next Steps

Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven!

2 Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven

(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)

Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:  Disclaimer

OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus.  Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth.  He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth.  He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally.  But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration.  And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole.  2 Steps:

  1. Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself.  If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole

If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole.  But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority.  Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings.  It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this:  Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven.  This is what Jesus is really saying here.  Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven.  These are good, moral and honest people.  This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars.  These are the people who talk a good game.  Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas.  So, is Jesus serious here?  OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:

  1. Is It Possible?
    1. One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was.  And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
    2. The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
    3. Think about this:  Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord?    It happens every day.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
    1. Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
    2. And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.

Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow.  If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.

But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something?  I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others.  It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars.  For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage.  We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.

Then why isn’t this enough?  I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong.  We helped our neighbor a few times.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough.  If we do more good things than bad things—hey!  We should be able to get in.  Makes human sense, doesn’t it.  After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good.   It works in accounting, but not at judgment.  Why doesn’t it work at judgment?

Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.

The Kingdom is God’s realm.  And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness.  Now how righteous are we to be?  Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  How righteous were they?  Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own.  They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion.  They were obsessed with religious function.  As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.

They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting.  They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law.  It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.

God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish.  Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus.  So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?

1) The Problem Of Sin

Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside.  John Wesley called it “Original Sin”.  We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature.  It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark.  We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness.  We miss the mark when it comes to judging others.  We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy.  We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done.  Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.

Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God.  In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  The Law of God is one single Law.  Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws.  When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience.  All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.

2) The Issue Of Holiness

1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness.  We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin!  When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.

We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image.  God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God.  Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain.  Being good is different from being Holy.  Being good is acting nice to others for the most part.  Being good is acting joyful for the most part.  Being good is acting grateful for the most part.  Being good is going to church on most Sundays.  Being good is reading your Bible for the most part.  Being good is helping someone from time to time.  Being good is paying the bills on time.  Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are.  Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.

The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.

Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.

No exceptions and no exclusions.  Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner.  Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone.  And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.

3) The Need For Righteousness

Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God.  But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God.  And we never will by our best efforts.  So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner.  In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God.  Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.

Righteousness is received in two acts.  The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.

  Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.

Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross.  It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness.  By Grace—Through Faith

But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning.  Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness.  Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right.  It’s the reason for:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God.  It happens when we get involved with what God is doing.  It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.

  1. The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
  2. The Great Love For God—with all your life
  3. The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
  4. The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus

Getting into heaven isn’t about being good.  It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good.  So, how do you get into heaven?  It’s by obeying.  Listen again to verse 21:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?

  1. Confess And Repent:  Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins.  Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner.  Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
  2. Trust And Believe:  Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
  3. Surrender And Follow:  Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
  4. Learn And Do:  Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching.  Then do the things you have learned.  In other words, obey Jesus.

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