Making For A Better View

Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning.

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Well, our last full day at this cabin. As I was sitting on the back porch, my eyes were not drawn to the beautiful mountain peaks, but to something unexpected. It wasn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it was in great contrast to those Smoky Mountain peaks we have enjoyed this past week. Would you like to see what I noticed? It’s nothing like the pictures I have posted, so a disclaimer is in order: Not for immature audiences due to it’s starkness:

Blue Mountain View Cabin

One might wonder why in the world would someone, anyone cut down those beautiful trees? I’m not a ultra-extreme tree hugger, so it did not take me long to figure it out. They were cut down so we, and others who stay here, could see those majestic peaks. See?

Blue Mountain View Cabin

There are other benefits to the removal of those trees. One is that the undergrowth is given a better opportunity to grow, thus reducing the amount of erosion. The tree trunks and limbs begin decaying, adding back to the soil, making it richer and better. Then there’s that view. None of these would happen without the chainsaw cutting down those trees. There’s a spiritual lesson for us right here. Tree huggers may not see it, but it’s here.

Remember the benefits of controlled cutting: undergrowth can thrive reducing erosion, decaying limbs and tree trunks add nutrients to the soil for plants to grow better, insects collect around the cuttings for birds to have food, and one can see the view for which we came. Sometimes things in our life can grow so tall that we cannot see our God’s desired destination for us–which is to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes there are things in our heart and especially our mind that must be cut down. We call this “God’s pruning”. He cuts off the dead parts of our life because they are a threat to the living parts. Now get this, He even cuts off productive parts of our lives as well. Why would he do that? Glad you asked. The answer is found in John 15, verses 1 and 2:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

New Living Translation (emphasis mine)

Speaking from personal experience, pruning is neither easy nor pleasant. Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning. What is cut away in my life is like those limbs and tree trunks–it’s enriching the soil of my life. My “mess” becomes His “Message”; not a bad trade if you ask me. Furthermore, the pruning of my productive part will decrease my production for a short time, but the long-term result is an even greater production for my Father. Again, however you look at it, this is a really great deal. It’s like trading in an old clunker car for a brand new car–without paying for the difference between the two.

So, if it feels like God has had His chainsaw out–it’s for our good. And when the pruning shears come out–get excited! There is a greater harvest coming for Our Father!

The Rich Lighter Life!

Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference.

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I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.

As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.

Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains  terpene, a volatile hydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.

This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:

The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.

What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.

Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”

If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:

The Americanization Of The Gospel

Let’s stop trying to “make” this a Christian nation and instead BECOME the nation God has called us to be.

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 This is from an older post. When I started blogging I made a promise to myself to never re-post a blog because I wanted my material to always be fresh. Well, early this morning, The Spirit asked me, “Would you like salt and pepper for eating crow?” Needless to say, this morning’s post was from a few years ago, August 3, 2016. I’ve updated some personal references and edited some of my typical errors, a.k.a. typographical errors. It just seems that this is the Word God wants me to share this morning. It seems that Solomon was right, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

   Before I begin sharing my heart I must, in all honesty, begin with a warning and a disclaimer.  The warning is that due to the mature subject matter, some may find this offensive, even to the point of labeling me something I am not.  The disclaimer is that I am NOT being unpatriotic.  I fly our country’s flag at our home.  I stand at attention with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is being played.  I am very patriotic for many reasons–I appreciate the many freedoms we enjoy and I have a son and son-in-law who are combat veterans. Since this was first published my son, Matthew has retired from the military (and now serving in law enforcement). My son in law, Michael, continues to serve in defense of our wonderful nation.  I am very proud of Matthew and Michael and every day I pray they will never have to go back into harm’s way.  With this being said, I want to share something with you that has been troubling my heart and mind.

     I am acutely troubled by the emotional climate that exists in our nation in this current election cycle.  I am seeing and hearing a lot of conversations that are soaked with frustrations, anger and fear, especially around this current Presidential election.  My deepest concerns are the words I see and hear from the “Christian” community.  Many of my friends are saying that this is THE sign that Jesus is about to return because the wrong person was elected.  Others are saying that America is doomed.

     I am left wondering, “Why so much concern about who sits in the chair behind that desk in the Oval Office?  Why does that thought create such anger or even fear?”  Regardless of who sits there, God is still God.  He is still sovereign.  He is still in control.  The waves and the winds still know and obey the voice of Jesus.  In a message series it was something I said that inspired this blog.  It came from a series based on Ecclesiastes, that book where Solomon shares all the things he tried to find a life with meaningful purpose that would give us that deep and abiding peace with joy.  Of the many things Solomon tried one was the political process.  He described putting our hope on the political process was like “chasing the wind.”  During that message, here is what I said:  “The hope for the United States is not about who sits in the chair behind the desk of the oval office, but rules on the throne of your own heart.”

     I listen with all respect to the passion of the many voices who spend their time and energy on their desire for the United States to become once again a Christian nation.  There seems to be a lot of passion and energy as well as fear being expended in this idea that God, and thus the Gospel, wants us to create a Christian nation.  Now comes the offensive part so brace yourselves for you have been warned.  Jesus never asked us to follow Him in order to set upon this earth a Christian nation.  God hasn’t called us or anyone to create a Christian nation.

     If you, the reader, are among the many here in the United States that sincerely believe that God wants us to create and maintain this Christian nation and are now offended (and maybe even labeled me a heretical liberal), I have one word for you:  Good!  About six and a half ago years God turned my theology and understanding about the collective gathering we call the church on its ear.  Well, actually He helped me move from upside down to right side up, by reminding me the work of the collective body called the church is not about what we call church work, but Kingdom Work.

     Out of this has God has brought me back to a familiar verse from which directs my thoughts and words in this blog, and why I do not think God wants us to be so adamant about this being a Christian nation.  It is from 1 Peter 2:9-10 and I want to share it from both the New Living Translation and from the Message:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.  “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people.  Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

New Living Translation

 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

The Message

   The call of God is about more than a piece of real estate.  Notice Peter’s carefully selected word:  YOU!  We, who have been called out by God only because of His grace and mercy, are to be royal priests that are to be collectively formed, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to be this holy nation.  It is just like the church.  We never, ever go to church if we are doing it right.  WE are the church, not a piece of real estate.  The real church never has a single address, nor does it exist within multiple campuses.

     The church exists wherever you happen to be at that moment, that is, if you are have some clarity about the nature of the church.  And within our collective body our work is to be Kingdom Work.  Kingdom Work is about restoring people to what Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe in the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . and Yourself as the 4 key relationships God intended in creation for us.  They describe these 4 key relationships as relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Poverty exists when 1 or more of these relationships are broken.

     One way that I see that we have Americanized the Gospel is in how we define and treat poverty.  In their book, Corbett and Fikkert point out because of our American bias, we define poverty as the lack of material substance.  So we treat poverty with material substance.  And be honest, how has this worked out?  IF poverty is the lack of material substance (which it’s NOT), then we should have solved the problem a long time ago.  Instead of solving the problem, people continue to live in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Even we who call ourselves Christians experience poverty in one or more of these relationships.

     The Work of God’s Kingdom ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve has been to restore His most loved part of creation to those 4 key relationships.  It is in these 4 relationships that we reflect His nature, His heart, and His glory.  And it is within these key relationships that we begin to live out our created design and purpose.  And here is where I believe that we “American” Christians have forgotten something that should never be forgotten.  I am convinced that much of our dysfunction as a nation (notice I did not say “Christian Nation”) is that we have chosen to ignore this absolute truth.

     God calls us to proclaim the Kingdom right smack dab in the middle of the Enemy’s Kingdom.  Albeit the kingdom of Satan is temporary, still at this time he rules it.  Do you remember what Jesus said to Pilate when questioned about being a King?

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.  If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 NLT)

     If Jesus wasn’t interested in establishing an earthly kingdom, meaning “a nation”, then why are so many of us obsessed with having one in the United States?  Here is my thought:  We have forgotten that God has placed us in the middle of enemy territory for the purpose of spiritual warfare (and remember this warfare isn’t against people, corporations or governments, but the Evil one) to reclaim those whom God created in HIS image, but have been disfigured with the image of the Enemy.  I’m sitting here wondering if Christians in places like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and a host of other nations ruled by petty despots, are wondering, “Why are those Americans so up in arms about that election?  Every day we live under the threat of imprisonment and death and it hasn’t slowed the Kingdom down one little bit.  Truth is, God’s Kingdom is growing here but declining there.”

     I want to challenge you stop insisting that our job as Disciples of Jesus Christ is to make sure this great nation with so many wonderful freedoms turn back to becoming a Christian nation.  You may think I am dishonoring our Founding Fathers and their desire and intent.  Are you aware that some of our Founding Fathers were Deists?  Deists believe in a divine creator but not in the Trinitarian God.  Though they rejected the idea of Jesus, they understood the importance of freedom of thought, speech, and yes, religion.

     Let’s stop trying to “make” this a Christian nation and instead BECOME the nation God has called us to be.  A nation that exists, not on real estate, but a PEOPLE who faithfully live out as His priests, Royal Priests!  Forget Republican or Democrat priests–let’s be Royal Priests who serve not a political ideology or party or even flag, but The King of all Kings!  Would you love to see a culture shift in the United States?  A culture shift that moves away from political ideologies, from greed and selfishness, from that sense of entitlement, and from the idea that as Disciples of Jesus we are supposed to establish a “Christian” nation?  Then remember where your citizenship lies and under whose command you serve.

     Stop freaking out about Donald and Joe and instead focus on your own brokenness in the 4 Key Relationships–God, self, others and the rest of creation.  And then step into the Territory of the Enemy and share your brokenness with others who are broken and say to them, “Let’s walk together out of our brokenness towards the only One who can restore us to who we truly are.”  Don’t worry about the nation–BE the Nation of people called out by God to walk through the Enemy’s territory with the light of His love, grace and mercy.  I was reading the other day but unfortunately I did not write down the source of it, but here are my closing words:  95% of Christians pass the test of adversity but 95% of Christians fail the test of prosperity.

Vacation, Rain, Peace And Joy

Contentment is found, or lost, in our purpose.

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Sevier County Tennessee

This morning it’s raining–during our vacation. A few hours after I took this picture, the fog and rain mist has blocked the view to just a few yards. A lot of people would be upset, even mad, if rain and fog invaded their vacation plans. But us? We are continuing to enjoy this vacay! I’ll admit it, there was a time when if anything interrupted my plans–I would have something like a combination hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, and tempter tantrum. And I have come to realize that it revealed a lack of maturity on my part.

But today, it’s all good for me and Debbie. OK, there’s been rain, fog, and clouds that obscured our view. But! We still have this cabin, at least for a few more days. There’s food in the pantry and fridge. We have books and our Kindle app. Wood for the fire place. A central heating system to keep us warm. Plenty of hot water for showers. There’s an indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor hot tub. We come here to relax, enjoy some scenery, and maybe go out one day, which we did yesterday. Our Expedition stays parked the rest of the time. And even though our view is nonexistent, we know everything we love about this area is still there. Do you understand: It’s All Still There!

What’s my point? My point is more than about vacations and mountains. In life we make a lot of plans–but something, or someone, gets in the way. It may happen at work, at school, in the family, or even at church. How you respond speaks volumes about your faith or your lack of faith. Your word for right now is Contentment. Look at what Paul said about contentment:

 I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 

Philippians 4:11 (NLT)

Contentment doesn’t come from having everything you want. If you are discontented at work, at home, in church, and yes, even with election results, it is all because you haven’t learned how to be content. You are in an exercise of futility if you think certain things and certain people will give you contentment. This attitude is fruitless when it comes to contentment. It’s like I’m teaching in my current message series. Life isn’t perfect, and it’s not always easy. Nonetheless, It Is A Wonderful Life–when you know the keys.

Contentment is found, or lost, in our purpose. Our purpose this week is to relax and enjoy our time. Weather doesn’t change our purpose for this week because this week’s purpose is guided by our True Purpose. Our True Purpose is to honor God and bring Him glory through living the life HE has given us. God is neither glorified nor honored when I had hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, tempter tantrum. Or when anyone has one of these.

So keep your focus on your True Purpose, not the interruptions. These days call for teachers on Contentment. If you are whinny or grumbling, then how can you teach all those who need contentment? You can’t! So get your act together! Calm down! Steady yourself! Cool it! Get a grip! Pull in your horns! Get your stuff together! I still can’t see the higher mountains–but I know they are still there. And God is still in control, even when you’re not. This means the HE wins at the end!

It Depends On Where You Are

God offers us wisdom, courage, and strength to get through the mountains of difficulties we face.

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Newfound Gap, 20 January 2021, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Debbie and are back in the Smoky Mountains. It’s one of our favorite places. We haven’t missed many years coming here. Usually we would go in November, around our anniversary. This year we decide to come in January. The primary reason was in the hopes of it being cold and seeing snow, something rarely seen in West Central Alabama. It’s something wonderful to be sitting in a hot tub on a cold night.

It’s been cold at our cabin, but not cold enough for snow. So, this morning we went to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast (another tradition) and drove up the mountains in search of snow. And it didn’t take all that long. Remember me writing that it wasn’t cold enough for snow at our cabin? Well at Newfound Gap, it wasn’t only a good bit of snow, it was BITTERLY COLD! It is a gap in the mountains and the wind was really cold. Though the sun was shinning, the wind was blowing snow from the trees. That mountain was different from the mountain where our cabin is located. We could from our cabin that there was “snow in them thar mountains”, and we were not disappointed. It looked better up close than from a distance. And this leads me to my thoughts this evening.

Perspective is everything–how you see life as it happens in real time. But you know that. My perspective–OUR perspective changed when we stopped looking at the snow from a distance and saw it up close and personal. You can check out some other pictures on my Facebook Page. And right now I’ve been thinking about a song. It’s not played on the radio; no CD; it’s not on Apple Tunes; and it’s not heard on Sirius, or Spotify or any other music service. It was written before all of this technology. It’s Psalm 121. The first 2 verses go like this:

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

Whatever I need, whenever I am weak, wherever I am fearful, there is only one place for me–and for you. The mountains around me today, the result of God’s creative power, assure me that my help comes from THE ONE who made these mountains–mountains that offer us a brief respite from God’s calling on our lives. They remind us that God has taken care of us, IS taking care of us, and WILL continue to take care of us.

It’s interesting, at least to me, that this Psalm is part of the Songs Of Ascents. They were sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem. The mountains in front of them we difficult and treacherous. But someone was thinking beyond those mountains–even beyond the mountain where Jerusalem, their destination, was situated. Difficult and treacherous–does that sound familiar to you?

Do you feel life as it is happening right now is difficult and treacherous? Where is your hope? Your job? Your business? Your spouse? Your boyfriend/girlfriend? Your financial accounts? Your education? Your intelligence? Your wit? Your politics? Your choice of addiction? Your __________ (fill in the blank)? How’s that working out for you? Truthfully, is it really helping, or just delaying?

The Psalmist knew his help came from a much higher source–the Creator! God offers us wisdom, courage, and strength to get through the mountains of difficulties we face. If HE created this beautiful place (and He did), if HE placed HIS Image in us human beings (and he did), then HE will guide you through any and every difficult moment. Do you question the validity of my statement? The listen to the rest of the song:

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
 Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

 The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.  The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

The Inauguration

If you think your god can’t win with Biden in the White House, then my friends, you are serving the wrong God!

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Being what it is, I bet you’re thinking I’m talking about the Inauguration of our President-Elect Biden. If you are a citizen of the U.S. as I am, he IS our President. If I join in the voices from 4 years ago, “NOT MY PRESIDENT”, I fail to be a good citizen of the U.S., and I tarnish my other citizenship–citizen of The Kingdom Of God. Want a Bible Verse to prove my point? OK…remember you asked for it.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

Well, if I’m not writing about the Inauguration of President Biden, then which inauguration am I writing about? I’m writing about an inauguration that happened that happened a long, long time ago. It’s the inauguration of the beginning of a Kingdom that has no end–a rule that will last throughout eternity. Here’s a portion of the text:

20 “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. 21 Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. 22 But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you.

Exodus 23:2-22

God has led the Hebrews out of bondage and on a journey to The Promised Land. This is God’s inaugural speech. God promises to send “an angel”–“THE Angel”. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. I just heard someone say, “Hey! The Holy Spirit isn’t an angel.” And I would readily agree–He’s NOT an angel. But the original text wasn’t in English. The Hebrew word is mal’ak means “messenger, representative”. The Holy Spirit is the perfect and ultimate Messenger and Representative of God because He IS God.

Look carefully, very carefully at Verse 22–“But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. Do you understand what God is saying here? I mean, REALLY UNDERSTAND? He’s telling the Hebrews that HE will fight FOR them. And when God fought FOR them, a battle was never lost. And God fought FOR them under one condition: you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions.

Jesus refused to be a political or military Messiah. Even as He faced Pilate, Jesus was very clear: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” The enemy we face every day doesn’t belong to any political party. He is an adversary that doesn’t seek a political office–but to rule from the throne of your heart.

When you become angry, bitter, resentful, and fight against ANY President-Elect, you become an instrument of our Adversary, Satan. Instead, become what Paul instructed and challenged young Timothy to be: that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. If you think your god can’t win with Biden in the White House, then my friends, you are serving the wrong God! My God doesn’t depend of even need the one who sits in the Oval Office in order to win. Of this I am confident.

How can I be so confident of this? Easy! I’ve read the last chapter of Revelation. When we listen to THE (Angel) Messenger–THE Holy Spirit–we don’t have to fight political parties. God promises that when we align our daily lives with His Instructions, then our enemies become HIS enemies. Do you really want to see this nation change in ways that bring God the glory? Then leave the fighting up to God–after all, HE has never lost a battle.

It’s A Wonderful Life Because It Matters Who You Know!

Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

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If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

There are certain clichés you hear all through your life that when you look closer, are false.  They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example:  It takes money:  To Make Money.  But there’s Sam Walton and Bill Gates.  Neither one was wealthy when they began their career.  Both men discovered it doesn’t always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation.  Another one:  You can’t fight:  City Hall.  Sonny Bono opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won.  He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his untimely death in early 1998.  Of course, his story reminds us of another cliché: If you can’t beat `em: Join `Em.

Another cliché we hear from time to time is:  It’s not what you know it’s:  Who You Know.  Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliché is painfully true.  Each each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something—maybe a club, a job, a business opportunity, and you never got a chance because you weren’t “in” with the right people.

At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair.  Today we’re going to examine how this cliché works in your favor.  In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life.  Like most of his fellow Jews, he believed that God a showed special favoritism to them.

But in the vision, he saw a large sheet lowered down to earth, filled with all kinds of critters.  A voice told him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter was caught off guard.   He said “Surely not.  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which prohibited eating things like shrimp, pork, fried catfish, and so on.  Then the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  

Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new.  Right after this vision, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea.  Peter accepted the invitation.  When he gets there, Cornelius gets carried away and starts to bow before Peter.  Peter gets him up and sets him straight.  As he looked across that room, Peter had that light bulb moment and now he understood the meaning of the vision.  Now, let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:28-43 (NLT)

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.  But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon.  Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.  He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’  33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come.  Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem.  They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him to life on the third day.  Then God allowed Him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses.  We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

This brief but powerful message can be summarized like this:  “It Doesn’t Matter What You Know, But WHO You Know!”  He told them that God’s great love is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or social status.  He told them that God loves everyone the same.  We’re looking at this thought:  It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s not perfect, nor is it always easy.  But it is promised to be Wonderful.  Today, we’re going to take a look at Peter’s sermon to find another reason why It’s A Wonderful Life

1.  God Accepts Everyone The Same.

Years ago singer-songwriter Mac Davis penned a song titled:  “It’s Hard To Be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way.”  This is the attitude many religious Jewish people had.  In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel were designated as God’s chosen people.  Most thought this meant they were his favorite people, that God loved them more than the others.  They believed that God had no use for Gentiles.  

It was this kind of racial prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome.  He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new:  God Is Not Only The God Of The Jews, He Is The God Of All Creation—and God loves us and accepts us all the same.  Vs. 34—“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”  Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources.  

There Is Only One Place In This World Where True Equality Exists:  In A Relationship With God.  God accepts everyone the same.  He doesn’t show favorites.  He doesn’t favor America over all other nations, He doesn’t favor white people over all other races, He doesn’t favor men over women, or the poor over the rich.  It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you as much as He loves everyone.  

This is good news, because The Only Thing That Really Matters In Life Is A Relationship With God, And It’s Equally Available To Anyone.  Anyone can Know Him.  Anyone Can Talk To Him.  Anyone Can Experience His Love.  Anyone Can Be Forgiven.  Anyone Can Do His Will.  Anyone can Live A Life That Brings Him Glory.  In all of the inequality that exists in our world, it is great to know that it doesn’t matter who you are because God accepts everyone the same.  

2.  God Judges Everyone The Same.

The Bible says that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our advocate.  Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge, vs. 42b—“Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.” There is no other judge I would rather have.  Think about it.  When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you’ve done, who do you want to face?  Your high school football coach?  Your boss?  Your mother-in-law?  Your ex-spouse?  Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy?  

The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God—not at all like a human judge.  Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor, and white men have the advantage over everyone else.  But it doesn’t work that way with God.  Human courts fail at administering justice, but God won’t.  He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness.  This means two things: 

  • There’s no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.  
  •  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you did it with. 

It’s not going to work for you or against you.  God treats everyone the same— with the same grace, mercy, love!

3.  God Offers Salvation To Everyone The Same.

Without exception, we all are guilty.  He won’t let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but—here’s the good news—He Will Let You Off The Hook Because Of Who He Is.  His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said in vs. 43—“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God.  So Jesus died on the cross for you.  If you believe in Him you can experience God’s forgiveness, you can live in God’s presence, and you can be filled with God’s power every day of your life.  This is how you begin the Christian life—by believing in Jesus.  He Accepts You No Matter Who You Are; He Will Show You Mercy No Matter Where You Are; He Will Forgive Your Sins No Matter What You Have Done.

And this is how you live the Christian life.  Coming To Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace; Continuing In Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace, Too.  When we put our faith in Him we are covered by His mercy.  We will make mistakes along the way.  And He still forgives us as we choose to live like Jesus.  It Doesn’t Matter What You Know Or Even Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know.

Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way.  God has already done this for us.  God offers you acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness.  Knowing Jesus Provides Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness. If you want to have A Wonderful Life, it all comes down to this:  It Takes The Surrendered Life To Jesus, And It Only Happens One Way—When you do 3 things:

  1. Admit That You Resist Total Surrender.  The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
  2. Ask Him For His Power To Enable Your Unconditional Surrender.  The Resurrection of Jesus happened because of His Unconditional Surrender to dying on the Cross for all of us. 
  3. Then Operate With The Confidence That His Resurrection Power Is In You.  It’s more than just liking Jesus; it’s about The Deepest Commitment Of Your Heart.  It’s facing those battles head on because His Resurrection Power—whether you feel that Power or not—you know it’s there because HE SAID it’s there.

And because we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, here is our Next Step:

Decide To Give Jesus All Of Your Life.  Admit it!  There is a part or parts of our life we haven’t given over to Jesus.  Here are some examples:

  • A wound from a past hurt that you refuse to deal with;
  • A secret shame—from years ago or just last week;
  • Refusal to forgive someone;
  • An area of personal pride—you’re good at something or you have really achieved recognition for something good—and you’re holding on;
  • Here’s just one word:  Time—you see it as yours and that makes you want to spend it on you, for you and make it about you;

This is what it takes, all it takes—it’s the one thing you haven’t offered to Him—AND It’s The Only Thing He Wants From You Right Now!  Have you made—I mean really made—I mean absolutely made—Your Decision To Surrender Your LifeTo The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered LifeAnd Make It A Wonderful Life!

One Inch Of Snow Can Change Your Life

The chaos of this day is the result of NOT living by God’s instructions.

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Mt. Vernon, Alabama

I took the above picture on Monday of this week. We had an inch or so of snow! I know for you folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line you are thinking, “So what? Why is that a big deal?” In west central Alabama it’s a big deal because we do not see a lot of the white stuff. For you who see this regularly it’s not a big deal. But for us? It’s a really big deal–and that got me to thinking. It took me until this morning–but I finally figured it out.

For those who see a lot of snow, an inch or so doesn’t mean much if anything at all. For us, it meant we pulled up a chair and watched it fall with great admiration at its beauty. Many of us were mesmerized by the scene as we watched it fall, collect on the tree limbs and cover the ground. Facebook blew up with pictures people were taking–each one showing the unique beauty of this very rare event. What does this all say about Kingdom Living? Glad you asked and I am even more glad to tell you.

Let’s start with something straight out of the Bible! What a novel idea in times like this! Look at Psalm 119:18–

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.

(New Living Translation)

There is a deep crisis within the U.S. church. It has replaced The Truth with a cultural truth. The source of the problem is that many have embraced their personal interpretations of The Truth. Churchians and Tenured Pew sitters have become so accustomed to their views on The Truth that they have stopped seeing the wonder of The Truth. Just like people who are accustomed to seeing snow on a regular basis–they miss the wonder of God’s Creation. And just like us Alabamians who rarely see snow and stop what we doing to take pictures and post them on social media–people who walk closely with Jesus understand that The Truth is always amazing to us, teaching us the beauty of the life God wants us to live.

When we are locked into our personal views, opinions, and beliefs it leaves little to no room for God to WOW us. This entire Psalm is full of WOW moments, not because it’s the longest one–but because of the way the verses are divided. Each section begins, not with the name of a person, but a Word. The Word for verse 18 is Gamal–it means to ripen, to produce. David is sharing the way to a life that is full and rich; a life that produces what God created us to produce–each in our own way. And it’s found in THE Truth–call it His Law, His Instruction–better yet, call Him by His name–Jesus!

The chaos of this day is the result of NOT living by God’s instructions. We need to stop seeing The Truth of The Bible in the ways we are accustomed to seeing it. We need to see it the way we Alabamians see snow–with wonder and amazement. When you see a lot of snow–an inch or so is no big deal. When you are accustomed to your own views of The Bible you leave no room for God to ripen our life in order to produce what HE created you to produce. So stop seeing The Bible with the same-old-same-old view. What has that view produced? Watch the evening news. That will tell you what that view produces.

Hymns and songs have been written about this verse. But let me leave you with a story about what happen when God opens our eyes to HIS Truth rather than our truth. It’s found in 2 Kings chapter 6. Elisha’s servant goes out one morning and is filled with panic. An army has surrounded him and his teacher. Listen and learn from Elisha:

17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

2 Kings 6:17

It takes God to open our eyes–what when He opens our eyes–an inch or so of snow becomes an experience! And what an experience it is!

The Three Most Important Words. . .in times like these

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

The greatest generation ever was those who fought in World War II. I would like to think that my generation was the second greatest generation. Why? We spent more time outside than inside. We had sweat beads around our necks in the summer. We could turn the right stick into a Thompson sub-machine gun. We didn’t think much about stepping in cow manure. We drank water from the hose pipe. We jumped off of bridges into creeks. Best friends could have fights and after the fight, still be best friends.

We watched violent cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, yet we never had the desire or even urge to to shoot someone or order bomb making materials from Acme. Oh! One more thing–we had the very best music! Country music was COUNTRY Music and rock-n-roll was ROCK-N-ROLL. One of our songs was “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.

And now it is 2021, and the question begs to be asked and answered: What Are The Three Most Important Words For Right Now? I have been listening, and have advanced to the level of Intermediate Noticer. Based on what is being said and shouted, here is my comprehensive yet incomplete list of what different people are thinking is the answer to the 3 most important words needed for these times. In no particular order they are:

  • We need Trump
  • We need Biden
  • Ban all guns
  • Need more guns
  • Prayer in schools
  • Bibles in schools
  • Close the borders
  • New American revolution
  • End foreign aid
  • Drain the swamp
  • More government aid
  • Congressional term limits
  • Less on defense
  • More on defense
  • Change your mind
  • Change YOUR mind
  • We need love
  • We need peace
  • We need hope
  • Have judicial reforms
  • No more racism
  • New political party (I must say this, “Really??? Aren’t political parties part of the problem??? And you want to add to the sewage?”)
  • We need kindness
  • We need determination
  • Deport all Republicans
  • Deport all Democrats
  • New moral values
  • Old moral values
  • Legalize more drugs
  • Government medical care
  • Defund Law Enforcement
  • Something, Anything, Everything

There are more to add to this list. Some “imagined” solutions are more complicated than three words. As if our world isn’t complicated enough. There are no simplistic solutions to the problems our culture and nation are facing. But. . .the solution is simple; just that simple. This list reflects groups of people–group mentalities. Group mentalities tend to produce complicated, complex, and irrelevant solutions. The answer–the simple but not simplistic answer–is found in three words:

I Need Help!

All of the fake solutions to our issues are focused on what others need to do–never on what the individual needs to SAY! To say “I NEED HELP” is to acknowledge that NOTHING–NO THING OUT THERE–can help heal our brokenness and help us navigate this total mess. If nothing OUT THERE (I refer you to the above list as being “out there”) that can help and heal us–then the answer must be UP THERE! I’m talking about the One Constant in an ever changing universe and culture–the Throne of God.

To end this madness, the place to begin is with the person in your mirror–that’s YOU! To say “I Need Help” is to admit the limitations created by sin and the Hope found only when we surrender completely and unconditionally to God. My best days happen when I begin the day, end the day, and admit every moment between beginning and ending, “I Need Help!” My worst days happen when I fail to say it. My mediocre days happen when I forget to say it throughout the day.

It’s simplistic to approach life saying that others need to change. Simplistic solutions have never worked. But solving this crisis is really simple. Admit your own need for God and trust God to both change and guide YOU–not “them”! Let your words be the words of the Psalmist:

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121 (NLT)

What Is Leadership?

A leader is someone of great character who influences others to desire those same qualities and will put forth the effort to achieve it.

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Last night was–how can I say it? It was wonderful, stupendous, marvelous, exalting, phenomenal, monumental, fantastic, and other such synonyms. Some of you may be wondering, “What is this crazy preacherman talking about?” What??? Where we you last night? It was there for everyone to see! In fairness, for those who may have just this very afternoon ventured outside of their cave for the first time in over a year, I will tell you. THE University Of Alabama, A.K.A. the Crimson Tide, won ANOTHER National Championship.

The Tide won not only another National Championship, but there were also tons of awards and recognitions given to members of The Crimson Tide. If I sound like a huge fan of The Tide, I am–because my daughter and a lot of my money went to that University. I have an investment in Tuscaloosa. And some of you may be wondering what all my rambling on about The Crimson Tide has to do with the Kingdom Life and today’s topic of Leadership. Good for you, wondering about that because I will gladly let you in on what The Spirit has been teaching me today.

Look at the question: What Is Leadership? Some would define leadership as the talent and ability to get everyone on board and in agreement with the current agenda or goals. But that doesn’t sound right. Some would say it’s the talent and ability create great ideas and lead others into getting onboard with those ideas. Nope, that’s not it. Some might say it’s the talent to be strong and forceful to get others in line. Oh, dear Jesus–that’s not it at all. Some think it takes great skill and talent to be a leader. In the words of the modern philosopher Madea,

So, What Is Leadership? I could go on and on with a lot of words, but let me drop a name: Devonta Smith. He’s been called Smitty and the Slim Reaper. He’s also this year’s winner of the Heisman Trophy. Oh yeah, he’s played football as a wide receiver the past four years for The Crimson Tide. By the alleged experts who have declared that wide receivers should be a certain height and weight, Smitty is undersized in both cases. In addition to being award the Heisman Trophy, Smitty has received Maxwell Award as the college football player of the year, the Walter Camp Player of the year, the Biletnikoff Aware as the nations top college receiver, and after playing only the first half of the National Championship game (because he was injured early in the third quarter) he the the Offensive Most Valuable Player. I’ve probably missed some.

If you haven’t seen or heard of Smitty, you may think this is some overwhelming personality. But watch the true Smitty in his acceptance speech for the Heisman Trophy:

Alex Leatherwood, one of those big and strong offensive linemen for The Tide had this to say about Smitty:

He’s grateful. But one thing about Smitty, he’s a great player, but he’s an even better teammate and person. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better friend, to be honest. I’ve known him since before we even got here, and he’s always been just like a great dude, know what I mean?

Sports Illustrated website at https://www.si.com/college/alabama/bamacentral/alabamas-devonta-smith-not-only-first-class-player-but-first-rate-teammate-as-well

Smitty is a leader, not because of his skills or, as analysts like to say, his physicality. It’s his character that makes him a leader. Great leaders are people who possess great character and who live out of that character every day. They aren’t perfect of course–but because of their character, their mistakes do not define them. I heard one announcer say that whichever NFL team drafts Smitty is not only getting a talented wide receiver, but they will get a man of character who will influence the entire organization.

Now, to me that sounds like what a real leader is and the real definition of a leader. A leader is someone of great character who influences others to desire those same qualities and will put forth the effort to achieve it. This definition of a leader will apply to every situation and scenario, period! Politics? We need more Smittys! Corporations and businesses? We need more Smittys! Families? Clubs and groups? Even Churches? Oh, do we need more Smittys.

What I’m trying to say is this: You can and WILL be a leader when you are a person of great character, one who values others and understands that nothing good comes our way without the willingness to work hard, to have the desire to get back up one more time than you are knocked down, and ignore the naysayers who say you can’t! We need leaders today–not the loud and obnoxious ones. We need those who by their example, that God can and WILL us to bring about real and positive change in the culture.

Oh, one more thing:

2021 Pharisees!

Well, I’m back–along with my sense of humor and snark. Being 64 years old has it’s advantages. Besides all those Senior Discounts, I’m too old to beat around the bush–and play nice. My years are counting down and I want these remaining years to count. As I shared yesterday in my message, I’ve been intending to get back to writing. But intending doesn’t make the baby a dress–and a highway to a certain undesirable location is paved with the good ones.

The Spirit has finally moved me from intentions to actions–and I owe it all to the events of last week in Washington, D.C. I want to speak to those who profess to be–call it “Christian” or “disciple” or “church member”–and were either involved with last week’s chaos in D.C. or supported and liked what happened. If you want nothing to do with Jesus, the church, and what has been labeled “Christianity”–I’m not talking to you. You can continue to pursue whatever it is you are pursuing. Only you who say you are “Christians”, yet are tying your “Christianity” to U.S. politics. It’s you who are in the crosshairs of this Kingdom Pastor.

I’ve seen your posts on social media. I’ve heard your rants against Democrats and a corrupted election process. I’ve heard your hate against Antifa. And I’ve heard your disdain about Black Lives Matter–something you insist isn’t necessary. Your disdain contradicts your assertions. Now, if I haven’t rattled your chains enough–allow me to raise your hackles. YOU who claim to be “Christians” and are involved in this mess or encourage this mess or say you support this mess–YOU are the 2021 Pharisees.

The reason you are a Pharisee is that you have connected Jesus with U.S. Politics and the Republican Party. The Pharisees in the days when Jesus was human wanted and promoted a Military Messiah. 2021 Pharisees want and promote a Political Messiah–who also happens to be a Republican and Trump Supporter.

Now, I’m not suggesting there was not any voter fraud or voting irregularities. I’m from Alabama where legend has it that a certain county has had over 120% of registered voters cast ballots in elections. What I am saying is two-fold. First, leave the allegations of voter fraud in the hands of proper investigative authorities and YOU stay the heck out of it. You have neither the legal authority nor the mental abilities to make such a determination.

Second reason: You need to cease and desist because you are doing great harm to the church, the Good News of The Kingdom, and making a mockery of Jesus as the Real Messiah–who has neither military nor political aspirations. Like the Pharisees of old, 2021 Pharisees are twisting God’s Promise into an action point that just so happens to coincide with their personal opinions. And you know what is said about personal opinions: they are like anuses; everyone has one and they usually stink.

So, to all you yahoos out there crying, moaning, and declaring the end of America, you need to do something more. Drop the name “Christian” from your posts and rants. Many of us are out there bringing the Good News of the Kingdom–News made for difficult times like these. We offer people a relationship with the Real Jesus who is Sovereign and needs neither political party to achieve His desire of redeeming and restoring fallen human beings. He is capable of doing such an enormous task without the help of whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. He doesn’t even need the political party controlling the Senate nor the House of Representatives.

If you want to be a Political Animal/Beast–then drop all the references to Jesus. See how that works out for you. For me, it’s heartbreaking to see all of the uproar, chaos, anger, and hate. But all of that doesn’t lead me into despair. Times like these are made for The Good News of God’s Kingdom. In all this darkness–it’s really great to know The Light–and to have The Light living in the hearts of those who truly are Christians.