THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

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

The Missing 11th Commandment

Yesterday we went to spend Thanksgiving with my Dad. He lives about 2 hours away. Debbie and I went in separate vehicles; NO, we weren’t having a disagreement. She was going further to spend the weekend with her daughter and granddaughter. In moments where I am alone in the car, I listen to podcasts–in particular Andy Andrews’ “In The Loop”. (You can get them on i-Tunes or from his website–click here–and they are FREE!)

In the episode I was listening to, Andy brought up the 10 Commandments. He said he had no issues with them and used them as boundaries for his life. But then he mentioned something about being glad there wasn’t the “11th Commandment”. Well, being a preacher-type, I leaned in (figuratively, of course) and wondered was this something else they failed to teach me in my cemetery classes–excuse me–that should have been “seminary”. And after he shared it, I joined Andy in Thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day there wasn’t that “11th Commandment”. Want to know that “11th Commandment”? Here it is:

XI “THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!”

I have to confess (confession is good for the soul they said, but not so good for the ego), I wondered, “Did Moses leave the mountain too soon? Did he nod off at some point? Was he doodling on the bulletin? Did he have to slip out for a bathroom trip?” Unlike “some” people, I know I’m NOT God, though at times I try to give Him some sound advice.

And while thinking about all those people who have been out there since last night acting like total idiots at those “Black Friday” sales, I want to find a computer hacker to hack into those store intercoms and shout to the top of my lungs: THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!

If there has ever been a culture that needs the 11th Commandment, then it’s this 2019 U.S. culture. I mean, really–watch the news–watch Washington D.C.–watch your neighbors–and look in your own mirror. When law enforcement has to be in store parking lots, even inside stores–because of the spirit and attitude of many shoppers–ya’ gotta’ say: THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!

Go back to my earlier comment: “Confession is good for soul–but not so good for the ego.” Are you tired of the chaos and madhouse? No, not the Black Friday Sales–I’m talking about the day to day environment we struggle through most days. Want to see a more calmer and peaceful neighborhood, community, town, city, state, nation and world? Then, I highly encourage you to do this:

XI “THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!”

Then make sure you love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure God gets ALL the Glory. Oh, one more thing:

Redemption

Here’s something to think about. . .I will call this our Call To Arms as citizens of God’s Kingdom!

Walking Beside the Boat

It is Black Friday, and I am pondering our blind pursuit of things.

One of the greatest moral blots on the United States of America is the trafficking in, and abuse of, slaves. Whether we are speaking of the African and Islanders, the permanently indentured Irish and Chinese or the subjugated Native Americans, the practice was (and is) deplorable. Slavery, like divorce, is a sinful practice permitted by God only for the purposes of regulation. (Since it was going to happen, God placed rules on it.)  

Men and women with spiritual and societal insight saw the evils of the system of slavery and did what they could to reverse it or at least mitigate its harm. One of the most powerfulassaults on that system was the creation of a society of freedmen. These former slaves, released from bondage throughmanumission (being freed as an individual by an individual) oremancipation(being freed as a group), stood witness…

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Thanksgiving In All Circumstances

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (New Living Translation)

OK, this is a good verse for Thanksgiving Day—BE THANKFUL!  “That’s easy enough for today.  I can handle this verse today .”  I mean, why not?   Today we will get to eat all kinds of wonderful food, so sure, you will be thankful—unless you are the one who has to prepare and cook that food, or because of financial stresses there won’t be much food to prepare or there will be one less person at the table.

“I can be thankful today because there is PLENTY of football to watch!  Yeah, I’m thankful”  You can be thankful for all the football to watch—unless you’re the one who has to clean up after that Thanksgiving meal, and would love to start decorating the home for Christmas, but can’t get any help because they are watching football!

“Oh, I can be thankful today because of Black Friday—EVERYTHING goes on sale and I can shop for Christmas gifts (and maybe myself)!”  Yes, you can be thankful for all those Black Friday Sales—unless you are a sales associate or cashier who has to deal with all those unruly and obnoxious customers!

Am I getting through?  Is it clear what I am trying to say?  It is this:  to be thankful or unthankful all depends on what side of the issue you are looking through.  It is easy, at least for me but maybe not for you, to lose the focus that the new life in Christ brings to our daily living.  There are many things we can be thankful for (and we certainly should be thankful for them), but those same things can become cause of stress or concern for another—like the Thanksgiving dinner.  Who can deny that it is something certainly to be thankful for—but the preparations before and the clean up after the meal can rob us of the spirit of gratitude if our focus is in the wrong place.

 Paul reminds us here:  “Be thankful in all circumstances…”  (italics mine).  There are situations and circumstances for which it would practically impossible and unreasonable to be thankful for.  So, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances.  This is a bit easier because the emphasis is not on the thing or event, but on The Presence.  That first Easter morning, when Mary was left alone by the others in the cemetery, alone in her pain and grief, thinking—believing all was lost, her whole life was transformed by a single word—Mary!  (John 20:16)  When Jesus spoke her own name to her, the miracle of the Resurrection was transferred to her and she had her own personal Resurrection—all because Jesus called her by HER name.  And know that He is still calling each of us—by OUR own name—so that we may know His Presence is real.

 So, with all that goes on today, remember there is The Presence of Him who knows us and calls us by name.  Listen!  Listen carefully!  He IS calling to you; His vocal cords are reverberating with your name. Listen, you can hear it.  Now, that’s something we can truly give thanks for—the loving God who knows and calls us by name.  God is careful to make sure He is with us in every situation and circumstance, regardless if it is good or bad.  Remember the words from Psalm 139:1-10  (italics mine)

O Lord, You have looked through me and have known me.  You know when I sit down and when I get up. You understand my thoughts from far away.  You look over my path and my lying down.  You know all my ways very well.  Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it allYou have closed me in from behind and in front.  And You have laid Your hand upon me.   All You know is too great for me.  It is too much for me to understand.  Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I run away from where You are?  If I go up to heaven, You are there!  If I make my bed in the place of the dead, You are there!  If I take the wings of the morning or live in the farthest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me and Your right hand will hold me.  (New Living Translation)

So in the midst of the stuff of Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to listen for His voice, saying your name, and you will know that your are in The Presence!

And then Love God with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Who Said It Was Even Supposed To Be Easy?

I hate them, hate them, hate them! Again I say, I HATE THEM! You do, too; if you are honest enough to admit it. What do we hate? Those “inside the box” Easy To Assemble Instructions! It says right there on the box: Easy To Assemble! “They lie, I tell you–Liars, all of them!” I’d love to see that designer engineer who came up with those “easy” instructions to put it together with her or his own instructions! Maybe their eternal punishment would be having to attempt assembling stuff with those Easy To Assemble Instructions!

Easy! That’s what our world longs for; and it seeks it without restraint. Many years ago the office supply business Staples had their ad campaign built around that Easy Button. You push a button and you have all your office supplies. Somewhere there’s an ad team congratulating themselves for such an original idea. And I am about to burst their celebratory balloons. It’s not an original idea. Truth is, it’s as old as time.

In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve with Easy! That forbidden fruit was Easy to reach, Easy on the eyes, it provided (so Satan said) Easy way of life. The result of Easy was weeds in the garden, hard sweaty work, and painful childbirth.

Tenured Pew Sitters have long been proponents of Easy Church. They’ve managed to control church boards and councils and have set policies and agendas based on Easy. Here’s the thing: Jesus never promised Easy. He talked a lot about Crosses and being hated and being challenged and being stretched (remember that thing about new wine skins?)–but Easy? Never!

Satan always wants us to look for the easy way and the easy way out. He even offers his Easy To Assemble Instructions to help us. But when we’re finished follow his Easy To Assemble Instructions, our life doesn’t look anything like the picture on the box, and there’s all those leftover parts that were supposed to go somewhere, but they are scattered all over the floor.

Who said it was supposed to be Easy to fix the mess our sin created? Satan always tempts us with Easy. He tells us it’s Easier if we compromise, if we pursue what makes us happy, if we live by how we feel. If it’s an Easy fix, rest assured the results will be disappointing. On the other hand, God never said it would be Easy. But He did promise it would be Possible!

In this process of being fully restored as God’s Image Bearers, there will be Crosses, Challenges, and Moments Of Stretching. These things are never Easy. But they are Possible! When choosing a course of action, if it seems Easy, then just remember these three words printed on those confounded boxes: Easy To Assemble. Satan doesn’t want you challenged because if you are, you will be able to see straight through his lies.

Satan only knows Easy. He will never challenge you. Why? Because he can’t help you. But God? He takes great delight in you and even more delight in helping you face the difficulties (the difficulties created by Satan) and giving you both Direction and Power that will transform your life. Short cuts lead to dead ends. Compromises end in disasters.

Are you doubting me? Would you take the advice of who has been called the World’s Wisest Man? A man who lived both wisely. . .and foolishly? Hear what Solomon says about easy, and he found out the hard way (read Ecclesiastes to find the results of the hard way) in Proverbs 14:12–“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

God isn’t trying to make your life difficult–He is working to help you become the True You. And He does it through His Word and with His Power in The Holy Spirit. It’s really not all that complicated to be transformed because it’s HIS Work–we’ve just made it complicated. And so The Enemy steps in with Easy, tell him to go to hell–after all, that’s where he’s from.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM!

Does God Ever Do The “Eye Roll” At Us?

The other day I was listening to Andy Andrew’s podcast. I love the guy because he thinks differently–and I love it when people think differently. I guess it’s because I think differently than most folks. Just ask some of my parishioners and former parishioners. I can’t remember the exact comment, but Andy said something to the effect: “Don’t make God roll his eyes at you.”

This got me to thinking: Does God ever roll His eyes at us? You do know what “the eye roll” means, don’t you? It means: “Who ties your shoelaces for you?” “Who brushes your teeth for you?” “I’d give you a penny for more of your thoughts, but you wouldn’t have enough money on you to give me back my change.” So, this morning, IF God does roll His eyes at us, here is a small partial list of things that would make God roll His eyes:

  • “This church isn’t meeting my needs”
  • Blaming the homeless for being homeless
  • Enjoying Thanksgiving meal while planning Black Friday Shopping
  • Expecting the church staff to be responsible for ALL the mission and ministry of the church.
  • Judging someone because of what they wear
  • Being rude to a cashier, or anyone for that matter
  • “My sin isn’t as bad as their sin”
  • Going into church looking mad and leaving church looking relieved that it’s over
  • Saying to someone at the funeral home, “God needed them more than you.”
  • “The Bible needs to be updated to match our culture.”
  • Giving the International Sign Of Displeasure because that driver wasn’t driving fast enough in the left lane to suit you.
  • Putting labels on others because of their past
  • Saying to the preacher, “I know a lot of people who needed to hear that sermon!”
  • “That’s NOT my responsibility or job!”
  • “Well, it must have been the will of God.” (spoken after some tragedy or disaster)

Oh, I could go on and on. So in the comments section, tell me what else might would make God roll His eyes at someone.

A Tailgating Kind Of Thanksgiving!

1 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before Him, singing with joy.
 3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 5 For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.

Psalm 100 (NLT)

In the state of Alabama there are 3 topics that must be avoided at all costs when in a group of more than one.  Religion, politics, and football; especially college football.  College football is more than a sport or pastime in our state.  It’s on the level of time travel and quantum physics.  The entire future of the universe hinges on whether their team wins or loses.  But there is something else I’ve noticed about College Football.  There is a sacred ritual that is deeply connected with it.  And that ritual is this:  Tailgating!  Now, for you unfortunate souls who may not be acquainted with this sacred ritual, I am going to give you a quick digest of it.  I would not have enough time this morning to go into the depths of all that this ritual involves.

For the serious fan, you just don’t show up as the gates open up.  You come early that morning and some even days before.  It truly falls into the realm of religious experiences.  You have the altar of fire, otherwise known as a grill.  On that altar of fire, great sacrifices are offered up; things like hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, pork loins, briskets, steaks, seafood, chicken; you name it.  You will even find some folks celebrating something similar to communion, with the bread and some liquid in a red solo cup. 

Your spot has your team’s liturgical colors along with many signs and symbols of your team.  Everyone is in a great mood.  Excitement abounds and celebrations are everywhere.  And the game hasn’t even started yet.  Now most of you know I think a bit different from most folks.  But I have to ask this question:  I Wonder How Our World Would View The Message Of The Church, If On Sunday Morning People Drove By And Saw Christians Having Tailgate Parties? 

Well, minus certain forms of liquid refreshments.  I mean we could have coffee and tea, orange juice, Pepsi, Mt. Dew, and Coca Colas.  You could have flags with the cross on it; banners with doves on them; music going; people talking, laughing, and full of excitement.  I mean, can you imagine what non-church goers, non-Christians would think?  I can just imagine one of them pulling into our parking lot with looks of bewilderment.  They come up to your tailgating spot and ask, “Uh, what’s going on?” 

So you grab a plate, take some of whatever is on the grill; get them a glass of tea and say, “Jesus is going on!  He loves us so much that He left His throne in heaven to be born just like us.  He grew up to be a common man and as a man, He died on the Cross.  He didn’t have any sins of His own, so He took on everybody’s sins.  Told the Father, ‘I’ll pay the price for them.’  Then Jesus rose from the dead, went back up to heaven and sent back down the Holy Spirit to let us know how much He loves us.  And in just a little while, see those doors over there, they are going to open up and I get to WORSHIP this God who loves me so much.  Man, I can’t wait!”  And then some cheerleaders come up shouting, “Gimme a J; Gimme a E; Gimme a S; Gimme a U; Gimme a S.  What’s that spell?  JESUS!  Who loves you the most?  JESUS!  Who gives you life?  JESUS!  And in the end, who’s gonna win?  JESUS!”  Can you imagine what those who distrust, even dislike the church would think?  Some of you may think I am being irreligious and disrespectful to our heritage and traditions. 

But it seems to me, that the Pharisees thought the same thing about Jesus.    And maybe, just maybe having tailgate parties in the parking lot is a bit extreme, at least for some, but here’s the point God wants us to get, and get it right and it’s the One Thing You Need To RememberGod Wants His People To Be Passionate About This Life In Christ!  Passion for Jesus unlocks the code for having a thankful heart 365 days a year; and 366 days in Leap Years.

For This Life In Christ To Have Any Meaning For Us, And If We Are Going To Share With Others This Life In Christ, Then There Needs To Be A Sense Of Excitement And Anticipation In Us.  It comes from the deep realization that everything God has done, everything God is doing, and everything that God will do for us, through us and in us comes from His unimaginable love for us revealed in this mystery of Grace

God freely lavishes His extravagant and outrageous love for us.   And in return for this mystery of this unmerited favor, all God asks from us is to surrender each moment of our ordinary day-to-day life as an offering to Him.  He doesn’t ask us to earn His love because we won’t.  He doesn’t ask us to understand His love because we can’t.

All God asks of us is that we accept, live in, and share with others His love, and invite others to do the same by telling YOUR story of grace.  Think about it, this should make life exciting.  Yet Sunday after Sunday so many enter God’s sanctuary out of a sense of duty rather that this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness

When we try to live out the life of grace from a sense of duty rather than this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness, it zaps the energy right out of us.  And the world sees it and make up their minds, “Well, if that’s what a Christian looks like, I can do without it.”  And So Can I.  And who blames them.  If we walk into the sanctuary looking like we’re mad at the world and walk out relieved that it’s finally over, I wouldn’t want a life like that!  In fact, I’m not settling for that kind of life, and God doesn’t want you to either.

If living this life in Christ has become a burden to you, if you are not excited about this relationship of love and grace, then something has gone wrong, and the key to the recovery of the joy and excitement is found right here in Psalm 100.  The Psalmist tells us that to live every moment with that Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness, there are 4 elements that are guaranteed to put the zest back into your life.

1.  The First Element Is Delight! 

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (Verse 1)

Here is a worshiper who feels absolutely no sense of duty about worship, but finds Exhilaration In Worship.  Take Delight in the fact that God loves you.  Let His love give you the satisfaction and contentment that is so often missing in action in your day to day life.  To Take Delight In God’s Grace Means We Become Captivated And Overwhelmed By This Undeserved Favor.  Don’t feel bad that God loves you.  Exalt that love.  Relish that love. 

Be happy that God loves you.  Get excited about God’s love.  Some folks say, “Well, I would rather be mature than have a childish excitement.”  Well, God would rather you have childlike excitement because Jesus said the Kingdom belongs to children.  Live every day as if there is an adventure, a discovery awaiting you, because it is!

2.  The Second Element Is Joy! 

(Verse 2)  Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before him, singing with joy.

Facial expressions tell a lot about a person, and the absence of joy in our faces reveals an absence of love and faith in our hearts.  I know that everything doesn’t work out the way we want.  I know that there are times full of fear and pain, heartache and loneliness.  God doesn’t promise His people they will be exempt from these experiences. 

But God does promise this:  That You Can Count On Him Being With Us Through It All.  It’s easy to whine, it’s easy to be fearful, because that’s what Satan wants us to do.  Every whining moment, every fearful moment, every moment we spend focusing on the pain of what’s happened or worse—what might happen—is a moment we withdraw from God’s presence. 

Joy Is Not Rooted In What Is Happening Around Us, But Rooted In All That God Is Doing In Us, For Us, Through Us And With Us.  Worship Is Meant To Be Full Of Joy.  And worship is not something we do just on Sunday.  Worship means we honor God with our work and recreation.  Our whole life is meant to be an act of worship.  God doesn’t want sad faces in worship.  He wants joyful faces.

3.  The Third Element Is Dependence! 

(Verse 3)  Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

The Message puts it like this:  “Know this: God is God, and God, God. He made us; we didn’t make Him.”  As I understand it, the original Hebrew would be something like this:  Yahweh is God, God is Yahweh.  Why is this important?  Remember that Yahweh means “I Am”!  The sovereign God has created us and has chosen to love us and offers to take care of us. 

God wants to be involved in every aspect of your life.  He wants to be with you in every moment; the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the wonderful and the horrible.  And He wants to do more than BE with you.  He wants to help you, but He can’t until you give Him back that one gift He gave you:  Your free-will.  God will woo you, plead with you, draw you to Himself, but He will not violate your choice to reject Him. 

Allow Him to change your life—to change the things you can’t change or don’t want to change.  The Reason He Changes Our Life Is So That We Can Become Who We Are Created To Be.  Live in the confidence that if you depend on God, He will always be with you, He will always have your best interests at heart, and He will always take care of you.

4.  The Fourth Element Is Gratitude! 

(Verse 4)  Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.

To nurture a real spirit of gratitude, you begin with thanking God that HE IS God!  We think thanksgiving means listing all the things God has done for us.  And make no mistake about it—God does so much that is marvelous, amazing and wonderful. 

But before you list all those things, focus on the reality of God.  If we make giving thanks all about what He does for us, we will become fickle.  Sometimes God doesn’t do the things we want or think He should do.  Then we begin comparing our lives to others and feel like we are missing out, and we are convinced that it’s God’s fault.

Focus your heart and mind on God—Who Exists And Dwells In Immeasurable Glory And Holiness—Who Isn’t Just Powerful But ALL Powerful—Who Can Speak A Word And Create—Whose Awesome Presence Causes Angels To Bow In Worship And Lift Their Voices In Praise. 

Be Grateful That God IS God, Because Radiating From The Very Core Of God Is Pure, Unadulterated, Unpolluted Love!  And the object and desire of His love???  You!  Gratitude is lifting our hearts and voices in praise that this indescribably Eternal Holy God has broken into the limitations of our space and time and died for us, so that we might know that of everything God is, above it all is this—He Is Love

And the way we can live in a Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness is to come to the realization that His love never changes and will never go away.  (Verse 5)  For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.  Now that you know God’s Love is unchangeable—maybe a tailgate party isn’t such a weird idea.  But better yet, why not surrender your heart, mind, and each moment of your life to Him.  I believe we can reach more people for Jesus here when we claim for ourselves this exuberant, passionate life of Thanks Giving.

And here is your Next Step:

Find Your Voice Of Joy!

Sing a little louder in here—and a whole lot louder out there.  When you look at the culture of society, the culture of politics, the culture of economics—there’s not much joy—if any.  But If You Look To God—Look At Jesus—Watch The Holy Spirit At Work—Now There’s Great Joy—And A Tailgate Party I Want To Join.  How about you?

When Jesus returns one day, He is going to gather all His people into one place. I know that Jesus described it as a marriage banquet. It was an image that the people He spoke to could understand. For me, it’s going to be the Biggest Tailgate Party ever. I want to be there, how about you?

You Can Pine, You Can Whine, Or You Can Shine!

This morning my inspiration came from Terry Teykl (check him out here). It was yesterday’s email that I finally got around to reading this morning. He said, well, just let me Control C and Control V (that’s “copy and paste”): “Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one on each side of him. Today, we also live with the possibility of two thieves taking their place on each side of us.  One thief is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow.  Both of these thieves steal from us and stop us from living in the present. But gratitude is an antidote to their thievery.”

When we allow the chaotic culture that is inundating us to hold our attention, then Terry’s 2 thieves get on each side of us; and the results are annihilating any sense or hope of being Kingdom People. You’ve seen it: people who are pining day after day for what use to be. Then there are those whining that the future is hopeless. Two thieves who taunt us into submission. And we, who should be That Different Voice, have pined and whined our way into The Enemy’s Camp. Trust me on this one, The Enemy takes great joy when those who should be following Jesus allow the thieves to steal our purpose.

I propose to you today that there is a third option. Instead of pining and whining why not start Shining? Supposedly the British author Charles Dickens once said that in America we have it all mixed up. He said, “Use that one day just for complaining and griping. Use the other 364 days to thank God for the many blessings he has showered upon you.” Sound advice, even if he is from across the pond.

What better way to counter the culture than choosing to be grateful! Read and listen carefully to what Paul wrote:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

Paul didn’t say to be thankful for, but be thankful in! Think you don’t have anything to be thankful for? Check out Joe’s story! He was pampered and spoiled by his daddy. He was daddy’s favorite and he loved to brag about it. But one day his brothers threw him in a hole, took his prized coat, covered it with blood to pretend he had been dragged off by a wild animal, and then sold Arrogant Joe into slavery. If that wasn’t bad enough he was sold again in a country where he didn’t know their language. He managed to rise up only to be lied about and thrown into prison. If that wasn’t bad enough, he helped a fellow prisoner who said he wouldn’t forget Joe–but he did; for 2 years he forgot all about Joe.

Joe could have pined for the days when he was his daddy’s favorite son with all the perks it brought. Joe could have whined about his situation in that Egyptian prison–which was not much more than the hole his brothers pushed him into. Two thieves on each side of Joe; but Joe did not choose to pine or whine. He made the conscious choice to Shine! All those bad times really did to Joe was sand off his arrogance and taught him the importance of Godly Character.

And when Joe could have exacted revenge on those brothers–he didn’t listen to Pining and he ignored Whining. Here’s what he said:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

I love how The Message renders it: “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.” Joseph was not thankful for the pit or the prison or the injustice. Joseph was thankful that God was busy at work redeeming all the bad in order to bring out The Shine!

Don’t let those treacherous thieves called Pining and Whining steal your life. Do what Paul said, Be thankful! So today, go out there and be thankful. When you’re thankful you can’t help but be joyful, kind and helpful. It will make you Shine like the sun; better yet–Shine Like The Son! God is working for good in your life and mine–even if we are unjustly thrown in prison like Joseph. And if that’s not enough to cause you to desire Gratitude in this day–do it anyway because it will annoy the stew out of the piners and whiners. I’d call that a great day!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him–and it will when you choose GRATITUDE!

Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God!

People who are full of themselves don’t have room for God. People Who Admit They Are Empty Are The Ones Who Become Full Of God!

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(This is the last message in the series, “How To Change The Culture”

9-12 That night, God told Gideon:  “Get up and go down to the camp.  I’ve given it to you.  If you have any doubts about going down, go down with Purah your armor bearer; when you hear what they’re saying, you’ll be bold and confident.”   He and his armor bearer Purah went down near the place where sentries were posted.  Midian and Amalek, all the easterners, were spread out on the plain like a swarm of locusts.  And their camels! Past counting, like grains of sand on the seashore! 13 Gideon arrived just in time to hear a man tell his friend a dream.  He said, “I had this dream:  A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.  It came to the tent and hit it so hard it collapsed.  The tent fell!” 14 His friend said, “This has to be the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite!  God has turned Midian—the whole camp!—over to him.” 15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he went to his knees before God in prayer.  Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up and get going!  God has just given us the Midianite army!” 16-18 He divided the three hundred men into three companies.  He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch in the jar.  He said, “Watch me and do what I do.  When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly what I do.  When I and those with me blow the trumpets, you also, all around the camp, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘For God and for Gideon!’” 19-22 Gideon and his hundred men got to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after the sentries had been posted.  They blew the trumpets, at the same time smashing the jars they carried.  All three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars.  They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands, ready to blow, and shouted, “A sword for God and for Gideon!”  They were stationed all around the camp, each man at his post.  The whole Midianite camp jumped to its feet.  They yelled and fled.  When the three hundred blew the trumpets, God aimed each Midianite’s sword against his companion, all over the camp.  They ran for their lives—to Beth Shittah, toward Zererah, to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites rallied from Naphtali, from Asher, and from all over Manasseh.  They had Midian on the run. 24 Gideon then sent messengers through all the hill country of Ephraim, urging them, “Come down against Midian!  Capture the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah.”25 So all the men of Ephraim rallied and captured the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah.  They also captured the two Midianite commanders Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf).  They killed Oreb at Raven Rock; Zeeb they killed at Wolf Winepress.  And they pressed the pursuit of Midian.  They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. Judges 7:9-25 (The Message)

Gideon’s Culture needed to be changed, and only God could change his Culture.  Remember the same holds true today for us.  And now everything is in place that God can use to bring Change.

And never forget that God chose the least and the weakest for this project.  Then He sifted and He tested.  Now the battle that will change everything is about to happen.  I need you to think about all the weapons of war that the Midianites and their allies had.

The Midianites Were The Current World Power And You Don’t Become A World Power Unless Your Weapons Are The Most Powerful Weapons Around.  (Remember This Statement Because We’ll Come Back To This Later!) 

Do you think Gideon and his army had those kinds of weapons?  I don’t think so.  Remember they were a people who had been reduced to starvation.  They had been one of those peoples that the Midianites had been intimidating and plundering.  

If they had the weapons to beat them back, don’t you think they would have already done it?  But they haven’t because they did not think neither themselves nor their weapons were stronger than their weapons.  So They Lived Defeated And Intimidated Life.  But things are about to change.  For the Culture To Change, there needs to be a plan; and what a Plan it is—and it’s absolutely insane to the world.

The Plan is to use a jar, a torch and a horn.  They divide into 3 groups and on cue from Gideon, they smash their jars in unison, raise their torch with their left arm in unison, and holding their horn with their right hand, they blow those horns in unison.  Then, in unison, they shout:  “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 

Excuse me, but I have to ask:  Where’s The Sword?  Left hand holds a torch.  Right hand holds a horn.  They’ve run out of hands.  So where is the sword?  In the belt around their waist.  They don’t need it.  Down in the Valley of Jezreel, there’s panic and pandemonium, chaos and confusion, disorder and disarray. 

They are turning on each other, killing each other and then running away.  And God did exactly what God said He would to Gideon.  “I will fight for you!  It will be so easy, even a caveman can do it!”  300 took on over 60,000 armed only with a Mason Jar, A Flashlight, And God.  And Gideon’s Culture changed through Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God.  Here’s the one thing you need to remember about how to be used for the God-Sized Task of changing your CultureTo change your Culture, it takes a Mason jar, a flashlight, and God.  I’ll explain it like this:

1.  You And I Are The Mason Jars.

God uses ordinary jars.  God could do it without any help from us.  Not a problem for God.  But God chooses to use His Image Bearers.  And He doesn’t choose based on the external measurements.  Admit it:  You think it really takes extraordinary people to be Culture Changers.  That’s because the emphasis is placed on the external measurements.  That’s not how God works.  It’s not the outer appearance that matters—it’s what’s in the jar that matters.

And the jars have to be empty, so that He can fill them with His power. 

2 Cor. 4:7 (NLT)—We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 

People who are full of themselves don’t have room for God.  People Who Admit They Are Empty Are The Ones Who Become Full Of God!

Remember that those jars were broken, and we need to be broken.  We have to allow God to use us the way God wants to use us, and not the way we want to be used.  The Broken Mason Jars set God’s Plan in motion.  Without the broken jars, the Plan doesn’t work.

2.  Jesus Is The Flashlight That Will Shatter The Darkness In Our Culture.

 This world will not be changed by force.  Too many wars have proven this true.  It’s all about Jesus and what He is doing in our life. 

John 8:12 (NLT)—I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. 

Our Culture is just like that Army in the Valley of Jezreel—it’s in total darkness.  What our Culture needs above everything else is The Light!  In the darkness, they are fighting each other.  And WE need to stop fighting each other.

It Is Jesus, Just Jesus, All Jesus! (Say it again!  Say it with me!)  If you want your world to change, let your world see Jesus in you, in your words, your attitudes and your actions!

3. The Horns Are All About God, Not Us.

When Gideon’s 300 blew their horns, it wasn’t about music.  It was an announcement.  Horns had many uses back then, but the most important one was The Announcement—The Announcement that the King was there and had something important to say.  We need to announce to our world that the King of Kings is here and He has something to say, something important.  And what He has to say it this:

Luke 4:18-19 (NLT)—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

If you don’t have a message—if you don’t have The Right Message—this Culture will continue to spin out of control; and it will make Chernobyl seem like spilled milk.  The damage continues to mount, and the casualties are piling up. 

But if you follow Jesus—You Have The Message That God Wants This Culture To Hear And To See Through You.  Here’s The Message that Will Change The Culture:

  • No One Has To Live As Sin’s Slave!
  • No One Has To Live In Fear!
  • No One Has To Be Consumed By Hate!
  • No One Has To Stumble In The Moral Darkness!
  • No One Has To Be Chained To What Used To Be!
  • Anyone Can Be Born Again, Have A Fresh Start In Life!

And God wants to use you—your voice and your life—to offer our world the one thing it can never find.  To find what Gideon, his clan and tribe had lost!  And that is Hope! 

God wants to use you to radically transform this Culture into The Kingdom Of God; and to lead people to Jesus and make new disciples.  You don’t have to know the 3 questions to ask a lost person.  You don’t have to memorize the Roman’s Roadmap to Heaven. 

Tell them what Jesus has done in your life.  Tell them what Jesus is doing in your life.  And for heaven’s sake, tell them what Jesus will do in your life; and That He Will Do The Same In Their Life.

Only The Message Of Jesus Will Transform The Culture—And It Is The Only Message That Has The Power To Transform This Culture!  If you don’t think so, then why in world are you even here?

Test time—do you recall what I asked you to remember near the beginning of this message?  Here it is:  They Were The Current World Power And You Don’t Become A World Power Unless Your Weapons Are The Most Powerful Weapons Around. 

The reason churches are not making a difference in the world is because they don’t realize that WE Have The Most Powerful Weapon Around—The Risen Lord Living In Us! 

But don’t overlook what happened just before the battle.  Gideon was still afraid.  Look at Judges 7:10-15—But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah.  Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.”  Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream.  The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp.  It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!”  His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord.  Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up!  For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!”

And we have come full circle to where we started.  It’s about God doing it through you.  And it begins with a relationship that can happen only because of what Jesus did for you and me on that cross.

  • God changed the Jewish world with that Cross. 
  • God changed the Roman world with that Cross. 
  • When darkness swept across Europe, God changed the Dark Ages with that Cross. 
  • When England was dull, stuffy, empty ritual, God changed their world with that Cross. 

And don’t you think He will change OUR world with that very same Cross?  And if you are afraid, God will do for you just as he did for Gideon.  And the Lessons from Gideon, are the Lessons God has for us today.

Here is your Next Step:

Decide today that you are tired of this culture, and that you believe God has The Message that will end your Turmoil, Anxiety, and Unrest that is infecting your culture and the culture around you.