Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
Matthew chapter 17, verse 21; from the New King James Version (NKJV)
To see situations change or people change, is it more important to DO something different, or BECOME someone different? We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over, expecting different results! Right? So, if you want different results, then DO something different. Right? Not so fast, my friends. It requires more than simply doing something different. I’ve been in this “pastor-life” for decades, and I cannot tell you the number of events I’ve attended and books I’ve read about changing the decline of a church. Each one told us something different to do; and without exception, nothing brought about long-term change. Doing doesn’t seem to work.
Case in point: today’s passage. Remember the whole story with me. Jesus had taken 3 of His disciples to what we call The Mount of Transfiguration. He left the others behind. And while the others were waiting for Jesus and those 3 to return, a man brought his son afflicted with a demon to them, asking them to drive out that demon out. Well, they tried–but without success. When Jesus did return, that Dad brought his son to Jesus–and of course–Jesus drove out that demon. With me so far? Great!
And afterwards, those same disciples pulled Jesus aside for a private moment to ask: Why couldn’t WE cast out that demon? In other words, What do we need to DO different? Somehow as human beings, we think that if we just DO something different we can change the situation. For instance, my former Tribe. It has been in decline since 1968; actually even before then. And ever since then, they have been trying to DO something different. And the result is that it’s falling apart–becoming the very thing that John Wesley feared the most: a sect of people who have a form of godliness but without the power!
Perhaps it’s time we all become someone different. That word become means to change, or grow to be. And an enlightening synonym for become is to grow into! Rather than focusing on how to change situations and/or people–what if we focused on how to grow into the Image of the One who created us? Instead of doing something, ANYTHING, to change others and the world, what if we focused on ourselves first? Not what we do–but who we are becoming? Are we growing into God’s perfect image? Or are we just doing different things so as not to be insane?
And what does Jesus have to say? To the question of those disciples; to my question of the day? Doing the same things over and over while expecting different results is indeed, the definition of insane! But doing something different is a not a guarantee of a different outcome. So, do we just throw up our hands in despair? Not hardly! Listen to the answer Jesus gave them–and is giving us:
However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
Matthew chapter 17, verse 21 (NKJV)
Prayer AND fasting is about us–it changes our focus from doing to being—being in the presence of God. And in those moments we can learn how to become a real disciple and follower of Jesus! When we become a true disciple and follower of Jesus, the doing takes care of itself. After all, what many are doing right now isn’t working. And remember: Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians chapter 2, verse 20; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Just exactly who are you? What determines the essence of you? What is the bottom line? Fact Time: Everyone has a, call it, bottom-line identity. It is what you are known by to others. Are you identified by your roles? Dad? Mom? Lawyer? Plumber? Preacher? Son? Daughter? Sister? Brother? Accountant? OR is your bottom-line identity in what you do? Kind? Helpful? Patient? Caring? Friendly? Empathetic? Energetic? And when it comes to your spiritual life (and everyone has one of these), what is the singularity that marks your life?
Do you consider yourself a Christian? Maybe I should ask a tougher question: What makes you a Christian? Is it an identity based on things like confessing and repenting of your sins and saying the sinner’s prayer? Being baptized? That you are a member of a particular church? That you read your Bible and say your prayers? That you avoid certain vices? Or is it because you show love to others? That you volunteer at the local homeless shelter? That you support the local food bank? That you demand justice for animals? That you cry out for equality for all people? So tell me, which is it? What you say or what you do?
That it’s both? Being a Christian is more than a title or a label. It’s more than a statement about what you did. And it’s more than actions we think makes us a Christian! It begins with the recognition that it’s something we are totally powerless to become. It requires that admission that we ARE sinners. And more than admitting we ARE sinners, it’s being honest enough with self to say we are tired of being sinners! It demands a total surrender of heart, mind, and will to Jesus. Then, we trust that what Jesus did on the Cross was done purposefully by Him for us sinners. And that a whole new life is now in front of us!
And as difficult as they may seem for some, it’s only the beginning. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of personal holiness or social holiness. It’s both!!!! (Notice the extra exclamation marks!!!!) This is exactly what Paul was trying to tell the Galatian church. Following Jesus begins with faith. It continues with faith in actions. And to the Church in the United States, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise up from the death to create a Christian nation. He did all this to call us to storm the strongholds of Satan and reclaim the territory he stole for the Kingdom of God. No, actions don’t save us. But our actions do determine if we are or are not saved.
So, what is YOUR tell? In the game of Texas Hold Em’ Poker, there’s this thing called The Tell. Well, at least that’s what I hear because I don’t play it; well, except occasionally on an app on my phone. They say that the best poker players don’t have a Tell. That’s how they become the best players. They will wear sunshades, put their hand over their mouth–all to try to hide their personal Tell. Oh, you don’t know what The Tell is? A “Tell“ is something that a person does to unknowingly indicate the strength of their hand or what one of their future actions might be. Notice the last part of that definition: what one of their future actions might be.
Forget Texas Hold Em’ for a moment and zero in on that last part. While the best poker players try to hide their Tell, in real-day-in-day-out life there is an indication of what our future actions might–or probably–will be. And while we might be able to hide our Tell it will eventually come out. Everyone has a Tell. And just like in poker, over time it is revealed in our eyes, our faces, our voices–and these come from within our heart. And they are a good indication of what our next action will be.
Think about those first disciples after that Unique Pentecost Celebration. You know, the one when the promised Holy Spirit arrived to live in them (See Acts chapter 2). It wasn’t long before they were arrested by the Sanhedrin. And the charge? Healing a man in the name of Jesus and teaching the Good News of The Kingdom of God. And standing before this austere group, their Tell was obvious. Listen to what these “leaders” said about them:
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say.
(Acts chapter 4 verses 13 and 14 from the New Living Translation; emphasis mine)
Now, back to my opening question: What Is Your Tell? It is THE indication of your future actions–and what you will do in the next moment. Right now, I talking to just those who claim to be Christians. Does your world recognize that you have been with Jesus? While poker players do all sorts of things to hide their Tell, don’t you dare hide your tell. Remember what Jesus said:
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
Matthew chapter 5, verses 14 thru 16, from The New Living Translation
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. This is from the encounter between Jesus and what we might call a successful young man that had everything going for him. The story is found in Mark chapter 10 and the above quote is from The Message. Think about it. This young successful man knew something was missing in his life and to his credit, he brought it to Jesus. It seems to me he was looking for Jesus to simply confirm he was getting it right–or at least tell him which one of the things he was holding on to was the best.
When Jesus told him (btw the point isn’t that Jesus was against him being wealthy, sorry you so-called ‘Christian Socialists’) what he needed to do, he would not let go of The Grip he had. What Jesus said was last thing he expected to hear and pay attention to what he does next: he walked off with a heavy heart.The Grip he had denied him the very thing he wanted. And it still happens today.
Not with money, but a lot of other things. What things? Things like bitterness, resentment, hatred of that other political party, the politics that created this mess is going to clean up this mess, fear, past mistakes OF OTHERS, anger, jealousy, and a gazillion other things. The Grip they have in reality has them in It’s Grip! So, what is The Grip that has your face clouded over? What is The Grip that is making your heart heavy? And why do you still have The Grip? Let go of it and Grip the life of following Jesus.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Once upon a time, at a tractor dealership, there were two tractors–Billy and Franklin. They couldn’t possibly be any more different. Billy was a used Kubota L180 and Franklin was a brand new, shiny John Deere 8345R. It was truly a Mutt and Jeff kind of difference. Franklin’s paint was green and pristine–not a scratch or dent anywhere. But Billy, well his orange pain was faded from decades of use. And their sizes? Just one of Franklin’s tires was taller than Billy.
Everyday Franklin would tease and torment Billy because of his small size. Franklin would say things like, “You only have 17 horsepower, but I, I have 345 of them bad boys! I have 4 wheel drive and you–you’re just a pitiful 2 wheel drive! I can do 1000 times more work than you! I can work 100 acres in less time that you could do just 2 acres! Look how clean my lines are–and just look at your faded paint and those scratches. I have a cab with an air conditioner for the summer and a heater for the winter to keep my owner comfortable! You don’t have a cab–and if anyone DID buy you, they would be forced to endure the heat and cold! Who in the world would want you?” Well, Billy just couldn’t help himself–next to Franklin he was indeed small and he believed he was useless. No one would want him.
One day a customer walked across the lot and was checking out Franklin. Franklin whispered to Billy, “See! I told you no one would want you.” The salesperson and the man talked a while and Franklin was so proud. The customer climbed up into that awesome cab and fired him up. The roar of power was something else! He gave that look of gloat in Billy’s direction. But to Billy’s surprise another man walked up to him, checking him out carefully. Billy thought, “He doesn’t want ME!” The customer climbed up on his seat and Billy also fired right up–but he didn’t sound anything like Franklin!
After the sound of their engines ended, Billy heard the man look at Franklin and say, “Oh, yes! I’ll take it!” Franklin had a smile as big as the Big Dipper as he looked at Billy. Billy was even sadder than before, though he was glad he wouldn’t have to hear Franklin’s boasting anymore. And he almost missed hearing the man looking at him say, “This is perfect and exactly what I’m looking for and need! I’ll take it!” Billy was confused; “How could I be perfect when Franklin, well, Franklin is everything I’m not?”
Customers and salespersons headed for the office. In just a short while, the man who said he wanted Billy came out with a smile bigger than Franklin’s. Franklin said, “I bet he’s changed his mind and wants a tractor like me!” As the man got closer, he saw he had some papers in his hand and said, “OK, let’s go home!” The other man was still busy filling out paperwork and arranging financing. Billy’s new owner climbed onto the seat, fired up his engine loaded Billy onto his trailer and went to Billy’s new home.
The man soon begin to put Billy to work, preparing a garden. Franklin eventually made it to his new home and began preparing the man’s crops. As Billy worked, he thought, “You know, I’m not doing near as much ground as Franklin. How can I be useful?” Harvest time came, and the ground Billy worked, though small in comparison to Franklin’s gound, did look good and bountiful. His owner gathered in those vegatables, and those vegatables fed his owner’s family, and even had enough to share with others who didn’t have any! He watched as people gratefully accept what Billy had helped to grow.
Now when Franklin’s crops came in, it took big trucks, lots of big trucks to haul off all he had helped produce. Those crops went to places where they were processed and prepared for people to buy. Franklin was very contented knowing he had produced far more in that one season than Billy could produce in years. But Billy–well, he was thankful that he had a part in helping some people enjoy fresh vegatables, and even enough to put up for later. Billy knew it wasn’t as much as Franklin’s harvest–but his little harvest meant a lot to those who enjoyed the fruits of his labors.
And the Moral Of Today’s Story is this: Our contributions to the Kingdom may not be as big and impressive as those in the limelight–but they are important, very important, to those who benefit from our contribution!
Tell me. Tell me the honest truth. More importantly, tell yourself the honest truth. What exactly am I asking you to be honest about? What are you looking for? You see, we are all looking for something–every day–every hour–every minute–every second. Granted, we may forget what we are looking for at a particular moment (I do this more frequently than I like!), nonetheless, we humans are always looking for something.
It may be the keys to our car; an ink pen; the scissors; a tool; and the worst one of all–OUR CELL PHONE! We not only look for things that someone else moved from where we put it–by our nature–we are inquisitive beings. From our birth–our eyes are probing the environment around us. Not only our eyes–but our minds are inquisitorial. And it’s a good thing our eyes are inquisitive–otherwise, we can’t find what someone else moved from where we put it down. But the mind–that’s where we can get into a whole heap of trouble, as we say down here in the South.
And it’s that inquisitorial mind that I am speaking into today. Have you ever heard the expression, “Your mind can play tricks on you!”? It’s true. But sometimes…sometimes we see exactly what we are looking for! If you are looking for something to complain about–you will find it! If you are looking for something to be angry about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something to be sad about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something that will offend you–guess what? YOU WILL FIND IT! It’s become a contagion in our culture and an infestation to the mind–looking for things that disrupt–disrupts our peace, our relationships, our attitudes, and our spirit.
When are looking for the wrong things it takes away the joy of this inquisitive nature that God placed within us. It’s a deplorable misuse of a very good gift. The inquisitive mind has done great things–eliminated some diseases–created treatments for others–solved engineering problems–and so much more. But the misuse of our inquisitive nature has also made us suspicious–doubtful–resentful–and bitter. It causes us to say hurtful things. And even worse–it makes us see things that just aren’t there. You do know the classical definition of insanity, don’t you? It’s doing the same things over and over and over and over while expecting different results!
May I suggest looking for something different? Let’s go back–back to the beginning when we were first created in the image of God. Let’s once again become inquisitive about the wonders and beauty of creation–and the mysteries of God. Let’s start looking for God in places, situations, and people–even the most unlikely of people and places you might expect to see Him. After all–He was found in a feed trough just outside of Bethlehem. And a few years later, He was found just outside Jerusalem–dying on a cruel Roman Cross. And He freely did this just so we would begin looking for Him! So I ask you again: What Are You Looking For?
One usually hears these words on certain occasions. “Have an extra cigarette? Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” “Got an extra beer in that cooler? Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” “Can you help me move some furniture around? Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” Can you help me fix this? Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” And the list goes on. Well, Saturday I had one of those “Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” moments.
First thing I did was stop by at one of the local “institutes of higher learning”, also known as McDonalds. Sat with some friends, heard some interesting stories–and laughed a lot. Then it was on to the local Wally World. I was there yesterday, but that day I needed 4 items not on yesterday’s list. I got those 4 items, and only those 4; kinda proud of this fact. Midway through that episode I needed to visit the men’s room. Accomplished my objective and headed home. Again, very proud of myself.
Arrived at home, got the Wally World bags out and in the house. And then, I said AND THEN! I realized I had left my phone at Wally World. Hoping no one thought it was a free gift from Wally World, I rushed back as if there were no state troopers or local police out there with radar; thankfully there wasn’t. And I was also praying–not the driving part–praying that my precious phone would still be there. I parked, walked as fast as I could–then low and behold, There Was My Phone Right Where I Left It!
Feeling most thankful–and a bit dumb for forgetting it–on my way back home I expressed my thankfulness to God with a “Thanks, I owe ya’ one!” And the Spirit leaned in and whispered in my ear, “One what?” I thought for a quick moment, and gave what I thought was a very spiritual answer: “I owe you one life, mine!” Feeling a bit smug with my answer, the Spirit leaned in and whispered this: “Nice try, but that’s not enough. What else ya’ got?”
Now that one caught me a little off-guard. So, I doubled that quick moment time and replied with what I thought was an even more spiritual answer: “I owe you one day, TODAY!” And the Spirit leaned in a third time and whispered: “Another nice try, but that’s still not enough. What else ya’ got?” I admit I was a bit bumfuzzled. Two spiritual answers that’s just not enough? What else do I have that He could possibly want?
It was then that Wisdom spoke up and gave me an answer; the answer that was absolutely the correct one. So I said, “I owe you one moment, this moment. Not tomorrow. Not next week or next month or next anything. Just this moment–that’s what I owe ya’!” And the Spirit leaned in yet again and whispered: “I’ll take it, after all, that’s all you have.”
How many times do we put off life? How often are we thinking about waiting until “the right moment”? I’m not talking about goals and dreams we have for our lives; we need those. I am talking about the moment right now! How are we using the ONLY thing we have that is related to this thing called time—this moment? The single most important asset we have is this moment. Nothing else matters. And nothing else is guaranteed in this journey of life. Think about these words from Paul:
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NLT)
Look at that word opportunity! The Greek word Paul used is Kairos. Kairos is not the ticking of the clock nor the days on the calendar. It is that moment where things happen that are full and rich with meaning. Yes, Jesus did so much for us–let me rephrase that–Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. Therefore, we need to be thinking and saying, “Thanks! I owe ya’ one! And allow that owe ya’ one be paid back every moment you breathe. Moments are important–very important–eternally important. And the only moment any of us have is the one right now!
The title is not a typographical error nor is it an example of using a wrong word that sounds like another word. The word is: Sow! Early this morning, while it is still dark, I was wondering what to write about today. And there wasn’t any idea floating around in my gray matter. Then it hit me! Not an idea! But a pain–a pain caused by yesterday’s activity.
Rain was coming, and I needed to get a green field planted for the upcoming deer season. I do not have a tractor–but I do have a tiller and hand tools. I loaded up the tiller, fertilizer, and seeds and off I went. I tilled up the soil, fertilized it, tilled it again, then planted the seeds. Not just one kind–but a variety of seeds. Oats. Winter Wheat. Rye grass. A variety of clover. And turnip greens.
Though the air temperature wasn’t all that bad yesterday, we did have typical Alabama humidity of somewhere around 110-125%. There were more than a few moments when I just wanted to stop and wait until another day to finish this project. But I set myself a goal–and I completed it. And now my bones, joints, and muscles ache–oh, brother do they ache! But it did get me to thinking–about Sowing Seeds as well as the end results.
Why plant such a variety of seeds? I want the deer to see a smorgasbord of great and wonderful things to eat–things that are proven they like to eat. I want to attract them in–so why plant anything they won’t eat? And what does all this have to do with Kingdom Living? This is what.
Every moment of every day every person is sowing seeds of some type. And those seeds will produce something that will either attract or repel. You can’t plant saw briars and hope to produce roses.
Even The Bible teaches this horticultural principle. Look at Galatians 6:6-7 (NLT)—“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Many people are sowing seeds of:
Just look around! Watch the news! Listen to people talk! Such seeds as the aforementioned are growing everywhere. They repel people. They are repulsive and destructive. The fields look like kudzu patches–choking the life out of anyone and everyone. It’s not surprising to see what grows from such sowing. It’s that horticultural principle–sow seeds, add nutrients and water–and they grow into their nature. You can’t plant spinach seeds and expect to see watermelons.
But here’s the thing. There are a lot more varieties of seeds that can be planted, other than the aforementioned list. And these seeds live by the very same horticultural principles. Humor me with a few examples:
And so many more wonderful seeds!
These types of seeds are far more attractive than repulsive. These types of seeds come from Jesus Christ. And Jesus promised that if He was lifted up, people would come to Him. I want to close out with a word to those who think they are or self-identify as “Christians”. Make sure the seeds you are sowing are the seeds that produce the character of Jesus. When Jesus was walking in the midst of His creation as one He created, sinful, messy, broken people were attracted to Him. Religious folks, not so much–with a few exceptions. There’s another verse in Galatians 6 related to sowing. Verse 9: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
After 4 hours of working on my greenfield, I was giving serious contemplation to giving up. But I let the thought of what it will produce override my pitiful desire to quit. So, what are you sowing today?
This morning my thoughts, like at the start of the Boston Marathon, are running together in a certain direction. How odd, I know! It’s a leftover from last night’s devotional reading. It’s a book titled Nobody Left Out: Jesus Meets The Messes by Michael Murray. The line from last night’s reading is this:
When we insist we have all the answers, we miss out on what God is doing.
I guess I should be a good Bible Scholar and give the context of these words. Michael is using the story of when Jesus healed the man born blind (see John chapter 9). Jesus did this on the Sabbath. I think Jesus loved to heal on the Sabbath just to raise the hackles of those Pharisees. They were such an easy target! Anywho, some people trying to earn brownie points with the Pharisees took this man who had never seen anything in his life, but now sees everything with clarity, to the Killjoys–a.k.a. Pharisees!
Two paragraphs earlier, Michael wrote:
“The Pharisees were so caught up in the knowledge of God that they missed the joy of God. They couldn’t (or wouldn’t) acknowledge the beautiful thing Jesus did for this man. (emphasis mine)
And this morning I kept thinking: “Wow! We still have Pharisees today! And some people still think Jesus doesn’t know what we go through!” Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge about The Word of God. No doubt, few if any, knew more about those “words” than they did. But all they knew were words–they did not know the heart of the Giver of The Words! Had Jeopardy been around back then, they would have been in the Hall of Champtions!
People who focus on their knowledge of The Bible spread across the entire theological spectrum–from (no-fun) fundamentalists to (aggressive) progressives, and all points in between. There are still Pharisees who use their knowledge about the Bible to, as Michael puts it in his book: steamroll others! How sad it is to be so focused on knowledge–that one misses the heart of God. I would rather spend a day talking with some reprobate than spend a single minute with some Killjoy Pharisee.
Don’t spend you time learning the correct answer but spend your time leaning into the ONE who loves guiding us into the only way of life where we can see with clarity rather than being full of erudition.
Starting the Saturday, and hopefully every Saturday after this–I’m going to do a “short” reflection. I know I have the tendency for verbosity–but not on Saturdays. You got stuff to do. I got stuff to do. Now I getting verbose–on to the point.
My evening reading is a book by Michael Murray called Nobody Left Out; Jesus Meets The Messes. No typo–the word really is Messes. It’s a 40 day devotional book (and I’ll just quote him) “for messy, broken people (like me).” Night before last I was reading about how Jesus invited himself to a party at the home of Zacchaeus. Remember that moment? Zach is up in a tree trying to see Jesus because he was short. Remember that song as a kid we sung at church? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.” I’m not so sure that was a good song to teach us kids at church. Oops, verbosity is creeping in.
On to my short point. Murray paints a word picture of Jesus by pointing out that as Jesus called Zach down from the tree, He was smiling at wee, little Zach. Of course Jesus was smiling! Jesus was smiling because He knew that the future of wee, little Zach was about to change. And what about you? Do you look like the frowning, angry Jesus? Or do you look like the Jesus who is smiling because somebody’s life is about to change for the better?
At 8:00 a.m. Central Daylight Savings Time, I have an appointment for an adjustment. NO! It is not an attitude adjustment! I know what some of you were just thinking! I don’t need an appointment for that. I have a wife. . .and God for that, thank you very much. Both quickly do that for me with me scheduling an appointment–and they do it graciously. It’s time for me to visit my chiropractor, Dr. Fetter. And don’t tell me that chiropractic care is snake oil medicine. My shoulder blades, right shoulder, lower back and right hip will, in harmony, quickly tell you that you are bonkers and to leave me alone!
But this upcoming chiropractic adjustment appointment did get me to thinking about what you just thought I needed: An Attitude Adjustment! I am totally convinced that this culture is run amuck with prodigality and profligacy abandon. In case you do not know what prodigality and profligacy means:
It seems that everywhere I turn, people’s attitudes are. . .what’s the word I’m looking for? Dense and slow on uptake. Nothing is ever right. Nothing is ever enough. I lived under those attitudes for 29 years–but never again! Attitudes like always angry. Always critical. Always resentful. Always distrustful. Always better than you. Always snarky. Well, maybe not ALL the time–just Ivory Soap time–99.9%. They dwell on things like misery, crankiness, doubt and suspicion. They are always right and you are always wrong. This list is ad infinitum.
So, how can people get an attitude adjustment–I mean, without using a baseball bat and sledge hammer? Can you believe that the Bible has the answer–and it’s all without violence? Well, not physical violence, but tearing down old attitudes can be violent, for some. It’s what Paul told the church in Rome in his letter to them.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
Changing our attitudes begins with more than changing our minds–but having our minds Transformed into the mind of Christ. But Transforming the mind takes more than decision or resolution. It takes surrender–placing it before God as an offering. Offering is something given over–and given up to another. We need–URGENTLY need to think in a totally different way–the way Jesus thinks. Then–AND ONLY THEN–will we have the right attitude!
Good morning! It was William Shakespeare who wrote “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Maybe so if one is looking from the outside in. But eyes are designed to look outward. . .provided they are functioning as they should–which leads me to this morning’s reflections.
Since the seventh grade, I wear glasses–if you haven’t done the math, that’s 53 years. Other than that, and cataract surgery a few years ago, they have served me well. . .until recently. For the past several years I’ve noticed these things called “floaters”. At first I thought I was swatting at a gnat. My previous optometrist informed me that it was just little bits of something in the vitreous fluid in my eyes, and were common with people of a certain age. Oh, God, how I hate that term!
Here’s the thing about those floaters, I don’t notice them until I do notice them–and then they keep hanging around–until I forget about them. They are still there, I just don’t notice them. Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to a new optometrist since my old one was a couple of hours away. After he dilated them, he spent a lot of time–I mean a LOT of time–looking into what Shakespeare called the windows to the soul. It was more time than I thought he needed.
He then showed me something abnormal about my eyes–in particular–in the back of my eyes–left and right. There was a bulging at the back. It wasn’t a detached retina–Praise God!–but, it was something that concerned him, and told me I needed to see a specialist to see if my eyes needed surgery to fix and prevent future problems. I could say I didn’t have a clue about this condition–but I remember a few months ago having this sharp pain behind my eyes–but passed it off as a sinus headache–something I have from time to time.
So, this morning at 8:15 CDT I will see the doctor for a further diagnosis. I want to say I’m not concerned–but we are talking about MY eyes and MY future vision. But then I remember the prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby who wrote tons of hymns about the glory of God–though she was blind. So, I’m thinking to myself, “Self, what’s your issue? If Fanny could see God’s glory though she was “blind”, you need to keep your eyes on Jesus.”
And here’s my point for today. Whatever comes your way in life, keep your eyes, your spiritual eyes, on Jesus. The Bible has something to say about this. It comes in Hebrews chapter 12–right after that long list of people who experienced many difficulties but maintained their faith. Verses 1 and 2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
When life throws you a curve ball or a change-up, just keep your eyes on Jesus–like Fanny Crosby did. And everything will ultimately be good–God promises us this. I will SEE all of you tomorrow!
Call it disgusting, gruesome, loathsome, obnoxious, odious, or an abomination–would you believe that there are things that make God feel like that? You bet your sweet bippy there is. So what makes God feel disgusted? Some of my fundamental friends would say, “It’s homosexuality!” In the words of the late Alex Trebek, “I’m afraid that is not the correct answer. How much did you wager?” The correct answer is “What doesProverbs 6:16-19 say?”
16) There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17) haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill the innocent,
18) a heart that plots evil,
feet that race to do wrong,
19) a false witness who pours out lies,
a person who sows discord in a family.
New Living Translation
Let’s take a moment to look at each one of these beginning with “haughty eyes”. The knee jerk reaction to this phrase (and unfortunately too many folks respond to The Word with the “knee jerk” reaction–often emphasizing the word “jerk”) that Solomon is writing about snobby and snooty people–who spend time looking down their noses at other people. But this is too shallow of a view for this passage.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance here is the full application of the word Haughty: ‘rûwm’, a primitive root; to be high actively, to rise or raise (in various applications, literally or figuratively):—bring up, exalt (self), extol, give, go up, haughty, heave (up), (be, lift up on, make on, set up on, too) high(-er, one), hold up, levy, lift(-er) up, (be) lofty, (× a-) loud, mount up, offer (up), presumptuously, (be) promote(-ion), proud, set up, tall(-er), take (away, off, up), breed worms. (Emphasis mine)
Haughty is a verb–describing an action or state of being. Eyes is what is being impacted by the action of the verb. And Rev. Strong has a good definition of the means of that word: “ayin“–of mental and spiritual faculties”. Put the two words together and it means someone whose mental and spiritual faculties are breeding worms!
I’m talking about those who think that their spiritual knowledge is so far above the rest of us that it is their duty in life to correct people who do not view The Scriptures the way they do. They insist they are correct and we are wrong. They go to great lengths to “reveal” how wise they are, especially on social media. They are pumped up, puffed up, filled up with an over-exaggerated sense of being both wiser and better than the rest of us. They are indeed pumped up, puffed up, filled up, but they are full of…I just won’t go there. Surely, you get the picture.
Spiritual arrogance is odious, disgusting, gruesome, loathsome, obnoxious, and an abomination to God! Don’t be like that!
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:
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?
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!
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!
It seemed for a while that writing was a gift–a gift that I enjoyed. It began when I was selected to be Community Spiritual Director for an Emmaus community we were involved with. I started doing a weekly devotion for the Community. My sources of inspiration was seemingly unlimited. Nature, signs, conversations, and my best source of inspiration was our wonderfully unique grandchildren. I even started working on a book based on those devotions. It’s still unfinished.
I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been absent quit a lot from this blog. Can I be truthful with you? I lost my inspiration to write. I could blame it on the Pandemic–my routine was changed. I could blame it on the Republicans. I could blame it on the Democrats. I could blame it on the news media. I could blame any of a number of things and events. But that wouldn’t be truthful. Call me Harry S. Truman if you like, but the BUCK STOPS HERE!
God confronted me this morning with a painful truth. I would rather truth be pleasant, but sometimes, often times, The Truth is painful. Here’s how it happened. I’m a pacer; and when the weather is decent, I walk around the yard. This morning I decided to walk the perimeter of our place. I started on the east side, then the back side, as up the west side (not that much of a distance; probably took me 1 minute), I looked up and I saw a deer traversing our front yard and enter the woods and stopped. I stopped to watch it. Then another deer crossed our front yard. The first deer was watching me. It came within 20 yards of me.
And in that moment, I was mesmerized by God’s creation. For a fleeting moment I thought, “I wish it was deer gun season!” But that thought left me quickly. One creation of God was watching another creation of God. That’s when the Painful Truth hit me hard! My inspiration for writing has been here all along. I just wasn’t watching! Forgive me, Lord, for I am an unprofitable servant.
And I remembered Psalm 121–“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Please hear the plea of this unprofitable servant, don’t look at the headlines, look at the ONE who always sees us and patiently waits for us to see Him!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to Him!
Well, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson. . .
It’s been a while since I’ve put my thoughts, emotions, and questions in blog form. This respite has been intentional; I’ve been in a season of observation and reflection. At this stage of my spiritual journey I have come to understand how priceless observation and reflection are navigating this world as a citizen and warrior of the Kingdom of God.
Some of the observations and reflections resulted in my previous and current sermon series. Some of my observations and reflections have been planted in my “thinking about it” garden to see what grows out of it. And honestly, this was not going to be my “return to blogging” article. But then. . .real life happened.
It started on the afternoon of Sunday, July 12. After preaching 2 services I engaged in my Sabbath Discipline, A.K.A. a nap. When I woke up, I just didn’t feel good. Tried doing a couple of things and nausea set in. Nausea turned into more pain and then vomiting. All Sunday night the pain only intensified. But late Monday the pain eased up and I thought the worst was over. So much for my thinking. Finally, I told Debbie I needed to go to the emergency room. The rules at our small rural hospital meant she could drop me off, but not stay with me. But my high threshold for pain had been exceeded.
I signed in and then had to wait even though, on a scale of 1 to 10, my current pain was at 12.5. When they finally called me back the first order of business was a COVID-19 test, and then the reason why I was there. An injection of Dilaudid became a gift from God to me. Then things started happening pretty fast. A CT-Scan with contrast revealed a ruptured appendix. The nurse came in with the bad news and said “The helicopter will be here in just a few minutes.” It seems the hospitals closest to me that had the facilities to care for me didn’t have any beds.
When I arrived at University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center, another COVID-19 test, conversation with some doctors, I was sent to the appropriate unit. Once there I was hooked up to IV antibiotics–and constant care. Wednesday was another day of pain and pain killers. Thursday morning was another whirlwind. I was taken for another scan; returned to my room, only to be turned around and taken back for 2 drainage tubes (one of those tubes was inserted into an orifice that shall remain unnamed).
In this same time my IV stick had to be moved 6 or 7 times because my vein had blown. My daily routine was pain, pain-killers, more IVs, and walking the halls for my physical therapy. Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, so I took a shower and even shaved. I was feeling a bit hopeful, that is, until the usual returned on Sunday night. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually I had been on the Roller Coaster From Hell.
Finally, on Monday, the numbers started moving in my favor. The pain was subsiding and I was feeling hopeful again. Tuesday morning one of my doctors came in and removed the most invasive drainage tube (remember the orifice I mentioned earlier?) and I wanted to sing the doxology. A little later he cleared me to go home with the other drainage tube. After a “how to flush the drainage tube” lesson and extensive discharge orders, 1 week later I arrived back to where this all started. Now I am home reflecting on these part 2 weeks. Allow me to share one of the lessons I have been learning.
We have no control over most of what happens to us in life
The need to be in control is only adding to the anger and chaos that is consuming and destroying our nation. I looked all through my calendar and to-do list and no where have I found “ruptured appendix” in my plans. The need to be in control over life, relationships, other people, families, even church–goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Satan offered that lie to Adam and Eve. Now I want to really upset some people:
We are not equipped to be in control!
Now that the bad news is out of the way–there is one thing over which we have absolute control. No thing or no one can control it for you. It is your reaction to what happens that you and you alone control. No whining and no excuses. Your reactions come from your perspective and no one can give you or choose for you that perspective. While lying in that hospital bed did I have a pity party? Of course I did! In fact, I had more than one. But I had a choice–do I choose to live in that pity party or do I choose to change my focus? I chose the later–and when I focused on God’s faithful presence, which at times I doubted; the pity party ended because I know that regardless of how I feel–God hasn’t abandoned me–and He is loving on me. Tomorrow I will share another lesson.
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.
After my first cup of coffee and morning worship music, I begin my morning devotions. The first one I always read is from J.D. Walt. (You can find it at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/ ). This morning’s title was Are You a “For” Person or an “Against” Person? (You can CLICKHEREto read it). Here is the first paragraph:
Let me ask it another way. What are you for? Many people (if not most) cannot answer this question with any sufficient or satisfying detail. Over the course of life and time, people slowly become cynical about their ideals, hopes, and aspirations (and even their faith) and wind up becoming more defined by what they oppose than what they are for.
J.D. Walt (Seedbed Daily Text)
And immediately, this thought hit me hard: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
ENOUGH of being ugly towards other people. ENOUGH of the negative comments about this, that or the other. ENOUGH pointing the finger of blame at this person or that group. People, HEAR ME! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
The time has come for us as Followers of Jesus to become known for what we are FOR rather than what, especially WHO we are AGAINST. I’ve seen and heard too much of it already. And, I shamefully confess before you the reader, I’ve been guilty of this!
THEREFORE I resolve to immediate resign from the “I’m Against Committee”. But this isn’t enough. I resolve to be, in J.D.’s words, a FOR PERSON. Here are some of the things I am FOR:
First, and foremost, I am FOR Jesus and I will reveal this through my thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.
I amFORkindness and compassion.
I amFOR helping people any way I can, regardless if they “deserve” it or not.
I amFORsaying and doing things that builds up others rather than tear them down.
I amFORseeing the beauty around me, especially in the chaos around me.
I amFORbeing grateful for everything I have.
I amFORbeing both sincere and authentic, warts and all.
I amFORholding the door open for others.
I amFORlistening to others with all my attention.
I amFORforgiving others regardless of the offence or depth of the wound.
I could keep going on and on, and you would give up reading my list of what I am FOR. So let me leave you with Paul’s thoughts about what to be FOR.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
And be sure you love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
Are you looking at the title, scratching your head wondering, “Doesn’t this guy know how to spell?” Ile hav u no that huked on fonics wurked for me!
No, let’s get serious. “Drout” is how the dictionary says we are to pronounce “drought”. Here in West Alabama we are in a rainfall drought. It’s been at least 4 weeks since it has rained. The dust and the pollen have really agitated and aggravated these sinuses of mine. Late Tuesday afternoon I was outside looking around when I felt a slight sprinkle. Heck, that wasn’t enough for me to remember my baptism–and I’m a Methodist!
But this word drought moved me to thinking–not about the lack of rainfall–but a more critical drought crisis going on in my culture. I found this “other” definition of drought:
a prolonged or chronic shortage or lack of something expected or desired
My culture is in a prolonged AND chronic drought–and the evidence is everywhere. Here are some of the things I see that our culture is in severe lack of. Feel free to add to my list in the comments section.
Accepting Personal Responsibility
(Add your insight to the list in the comments section below)
I think perhaps the following image says something about our culture:
And here’s what irks me, aggravates me, exasperates me, irritates me, annoys me, drives me crazy, makes me want to grab a person by their shoulders and shake them: No one wants to do anything about this drought–other than whine, complain and blame; oh more thing, and live oblivious to the damage it is doing to themselves and their culture.
I’m beginning to understand that bumper sticker I see from time to time: The more I see of people, the better I love my horse! So how do I change it? How do YOU change it? Because if we are not seeking to eradicate this drought we are only contributing to it, AND reinforcing it.
The quick and easy answer is “Pray!” But I want you, our culture needs you and God desires FOR you to go deeper. Yes, pray, but What next? You cannot say, “Well, yes our culture is in a drought but I’m doing my part–I’m praying for rain! Come Holy Spirit and rain the grace of God all over this land!” If all you are doing to end this drought is praying–my friends, I say this with nothing but love in my heart for you: “You are only adding to the drought!” Don’t read what’s NOT written. I didn’t say prayer wasn’t important; It Is VERY Important. But. . .What’s Next?
Last night I read a book that is giving me insights in What’s Next. It will only take you one evening, one morning, one afternoon to read it. The book is How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Why The Truth Matters More Than You Think by Andy Andrews. To end this Moral/Spiritual Drought begins with me. . .and you. . .to pray and then to do What’s Next. You and I have a mission and a purpose–to bring Truth back into our culture in ways that helps others see The Truth! And The Truth has a name–Jesus!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” 29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.
Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)
Today we are in the 2nd week of our series
on being a Water-Walker. Last week we
discovered that the first step is to get out of the boat. And the way to do this is to recognize God’s
presence, live in extreme discipleship, and actually step out of the boat. Remember, your fears will tell you what you
This is a great story, but we’ve mistreated Peter’s
part, especially us preachers, me included.
We tend to focus on Peter’s sinking a bit too much sometimes. But it really hit me as I was preparing for
this series, that phrase In The Boat.
Those guys in the boat praised Jesus, for calming the
storm, Because They Missed The Point. The Theophany Wasn’t In The Calming Of The Storm; It
Was In The Walking On The Water! We criticize Peter for sinking, but don’t
forget that the rest of them were still In The Boat.
Water-Walkers sometimes sink. Occasionally we fall flat on our faces. Listen, I am convinced that our greatest
obstacle to Extreme Discipleship is found in our fear of failure.
If you never want to fail at anything, then do nothing at all.But even at
that, you’re still a failure because you’re not living up to the potential God
sees in your life.
As I said last week, Water-Walking is risky business,
and we had better make sure we enter this journey with both eyes open. Let’s look at the Attitude Of Water-Walkers. First of all:
1. Water-Walkers Expect Problems!
So, Peter goes to the side of the boat. The other disciples are watching closely, In
The Boat. They’ve seen Peter shoot
off at the mouth before. They wonder how
far he’ll take this thing. He puts 1
foot over the side. I imagine he’s
gripping the side of the boat with white knuckles. Then he slides the other foot over. Now what?
Something Spiritual. He Lets Go Of The
He completely gives himself up to the power of Jesus. For a moment, it seems like there’s no one
there but Peter and Jesus. Peter is
delighted! Jesus is thrilled with his
disciple: Like Master, Like Disciple. Then it
Peter saw the wind and the waves. Reality sets in, and Peter asks himself,
“What was I thinking?” He realized he
was on the water in the middle of the storm without a boat—it terrified
him! But nothing has really changed. The storm should have come as no
surprise. It’s been there all along.
What happened was, Peter’s focus shifted from the Savior to the Storm. But we all understand that, don’t we? We set out with high expectations, but them wham! The storm comes. Opposition, setbacks, obstacles—they should have been expected because face it, this world’s a pretty stormy place. When Peter started sinking, who did he call out to? The guys in the boat or Jesus? We Can Get Out On The Water Because We Know That If We Start Sinking, Jesus Is There To Help Us.
Some people will never get out of the boat because of
the storm. But if we know ahead of time
there will be a storm, we can brace ourselves for it. Prepare for it by keeping our focus on the
Savior and not the Storm! If you get out
of the boat, you will face the Storm. But
we have to remember: We Never
Face The Storm Alone!
There’s always another Water-Walker with us, the Original Water-Walker! Everything
worthwhile in life is risky! But if you
don’t take the risk, you slowly die of boredom and stagnation.
2. Water-Walkers Accept Challenges As The Price
Now we come to a part of the story you may not like
very much; I don’t care for it much myself.
The Choice To Follow Jesus—The Choice To Grow—Is The Choice For The
Constant Recurrence Of Challenges—Difficult Challenges. You’ve got to get out of the boat a little
every day. Let me explain.
The disciples get into the boat, face the storm, see
the Water-Walker, and are afraid. Jesus
said, “Don’t be afraid.” Peter braces
himself, asks permission to go overboard, sees the wind, and is afraid all over
again. Do you think that’s the last time
in Peter’s life that he will experience a challenge?
Here is a deep truth about Water-Walking: The Challenges Will Never Go Away. Why? Because Each
Time I Want To Grow, It Will Involve Going Into New Territory, Taking On New
Challenges.Each Time I Do That, I Am Going To Be Stretched, And
So Will You. The challenges will never go away as long as
we continue to grow. That’s great news,
You don’t have to worry about those challenges. Challenges and growth go together like
macaroni and cheese. It’s a package
deal. The Decision To Grow Always Involves A
Choice Between Risk Or Comfort. This means to be a follower of Jesus you have
to renounce comfort as the ultimate value in your life. It’s human nature to value comfort over
risk. Do you know the name of the bestselling
chair in America? La-Z-Boy!
Not Risk-E-Boy, not Work-R-Boy, but La-Z-Boy. We have a name for people who vegetate in
front of the TV: Couch Potatoes. The other
disciples could be called “Boat Potatoes.” They didn’t mind watching, but they didn’t
want to actually do anything.
And today, Millions Of People Could Be Called “Pew Potatoes.” They want the
comfort associated with a shallow spirituality, but they don’t want the risk
and challenge that go along with truly following Jesus. Jesus is still looking for people who will
get out of the boat.
Between Risk Or Comfort Grow Into A Habit. Every time you get out of the
boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time. It’s not that the fear goes away. You realize that it does not have the power
to destroy you. And finally:
3. Water-Walkers Master Failure Management!
As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear,
Peter began to sink into the water. So
here is the question: Did Peter
Before you answer that question, allow me to share some insights I have
been discovering about failure, because we will be talking a lot about that in
the coming weeks.
Not An Event, But Rather A Judgment About An Event. Failure is NOT
something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things. It Is A Way We Think About Outcomes. Here’s good
example. Jonas Salk is credited with
discovering the polio vaccine. Are you
aware that it took him over 200 attempts before he successfully discovered the
polio vaccine? 200 attempts without
success, would you dare call Dr. Jonas Salk a failure? Would you say he failed 200 times? I think not.
There Were 11 Bigger Failures Sitting In The Boat. They Failed Quietly, Privately, Unnoticed,
Unobserved, And Uncriticized. Only Peter knew the shame of public
failure. But Peter knew two other
things, things the 11 did not experience:
One: Only Peter Knew The Glory Of Actually Walking
On The Water. Be it ever so brief a moment—but he knew what
it felt like to do something that was made possible only by the power of
God. Peter Knew He Didn’t Do; It Was A God Moment. It was a
defining moment that went with him for the rest of his life.
Number Two:Only Peter Knew
Glory Of Being Lifted Up By Jesus In A Moment Of Desperate Need. Peter knew in
a way that the others could never have known, that when he sank, Jesus would be
there and was completely adequate to save him.
Notice carefully in the story, Jesus spoke to Peter
BEFORE they go back into the boat. His
words to Peter were between just the 2 of them (and if that’s the way Jesus
handled it, who are we to criticize someone in front of others?). They couldn’t know that, because they never
got out of the boat! Failure Occurs
When We Choose To Stay In The Boat—To Choose Our Comfort Over The Risk!
Now, let’s tie all this together. It was Peter’s attitude to risk failure that helped
him to grow. When he was out of the boat, as long as he
looked at Jesus, he was a Water-Walker.
When he looked at the storm, he was a water-sinker.
But Peter learned an invaluable lesson—He
Understood His Dependence On Faith Much More Deeply Than He Would Have If He
Had Never Left The Boat. This is what those In The Boat missed.
Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of
the boat. Why risk it? Here’s why:
It Is The Only Way To Real Growth.
It Is The Way True Faith Develops.
It Is The Only Alternative To Boredom And Stagnation
That Causes People To Wither Up And Die.
The Water Is Where Jesus Is At!
may be dark, wet, and dangerous. But
Jesus is not in the boat. What about you? When was the last time you got out of your
boat? God uses real-world challenges to
develop our ability to trust in Him, not reading great books or listening to
We tend to seek a world of comfort where we can
maintain the illusion of control. But
then, God passes us by, and shakes up everything. The call to get out of the boat involves
crisis; at times failure; that call is made in the presence of fear; and
sometimes it leads to suffering—but that calling is always to a task too big for us. But there is
no other way to grow faith and to partner with God.
It’s risky getting out of the boat, and you can do it
with the right attitude. But to have
this right attitude, You Have To Take These Next Steps.
Pray Right Now, This Prayer: “Jesus, I Have Complete and Unconditional
Confidence In You And None In Me.” Pray this prayer right now. Don’t close your eyes. Look up and imagine you are looking God right
in His eyes as you pray it. Now make
this your attitude. If you fail, then
you’re not worried because you will count on Jesus, just like Peter. Jesus will always be in the water with you.
Do Something Spiritual—Get Out Of Your Boat And Help
Another Person See Jesus In You. This is the only way you will ever be known
like Peter—and like Jesus—A Water Walker.
This week as I was preparing for the small groups I lead, a “not-so-random” thought hit me. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I have a severe case of “random thoughts”. But this time–it wasn’t so random. I’m leading the 2 of the 3 churches I serve in a weekly study and we are looking at the book of Acts. By the way, the third church I serve is at the local McDonald’s–a diverse group of employees, regulars, and the frequent visitor.
Here is where this “not-so-random” thought hit me:
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover.
Acts 12:1-4 (NLT)
It’s Verse 4 that deserves our attention, if we are followers of Jesus. “Then he (Agrippa) imprisoned him (Peter), placing him (Peter)under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.” Can’t you see it?????
Well, allow me to explain this for the less informed. Agrippa was a king-granted, placed their by Rome-but he’s a king. Because he’s a king and endorsed by Rome, he has a ton of power and authority. His authority reigns. Anyone who disagrees with that authority faces the might of Rome. Agrippa is indeed a powerful man. Got that part? Good!
Then, there’s Peter. Peter grew up to be a fisherman in an obscure village. He wields no great authority. He has no mighty army behind him. He has no endorsements from Rome. He’s just one person. OK. Got this part? Good!
In case you haven’t gotten my point, maybe this picture will help you understand, FROM A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE, the difference in the two men.
In human terms, Agrippa is the Great Dane, and Peter is that little Chihuahua. And there’s another group involved: 16 Roman soldiers, and there’s nothing sweet about this 16. Agrippa orders 16 highly trained, battle tested soldiers to guard this one man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Can you see it now?
Agrippa is intimidated by none other than Peter. I mean, why else would he order Peter to be guarded by 16 soldiers 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As bad as Agrippa is, he recognizes that Peter is a dangerous man to him. As much power and authority as Agrippa has, he senses that his power isn’t enough to contain Peter. Thus, the 16 soldiers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Man, that little Chihuahua is intimidating the Great Dane.
My Point? Glad you asked. Why are so many followers of Jesus being intimidated by our culture? Why are so many followers of Jesus afraid to speak up and out against a culture that is determined to undermine the ethics and authority of God and His Word? Why are so many pastors silent when confronted with the false ideology of liberalism? Why will Tenured Pew Sitters complain rather than engage?
It’s rather simple, the why that is: We, who should be The Intimidators, are being The Intimidated! Let’s end this now! I’m not telling, or even suggesting, that we become the new bullies on the block. The church tried that back in the Dark Ages, and it did NOT work.
Let’s be full of Grace, Love AND Truth. Don’t apologize for standing with The Word of God. Let’s become a Force for Good. Listen, followers of Jesus–the Devil is more intimidated by you when you follow Jesus as The Truth, than Agrippa was intimidated by little old Peter.
My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.
1 John 4:4 (The Message)
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him….Dale, Sr. wasn’t intimidated by all those other drivers…and don’t you be intimidated!
I am taking a detour from my reflections to address a cultural event in the realm of Reality TV. Reality TV? Now here’s an oxymoron, antimone, contrariety, asymmetrical absurdity ever known to humankind. The latest edition of this circus, that I’m aware of, is the USA Network’s “Temptation Island”, a far cry from the Fantasy Island back in the day.
It this alleged “reality” show, 4 dating couples agree to “live the single life” with those who’s purpose is to lead the individual “astray” from their relationship. In this incoherent journey, these 4 couples put themselves in the arena of temptation to see if they have what it takes to build a lasting relationship. At least to me, this seems like a variation on that old game of Russian Roulette.
Our culture has become fascinated, captivated, and enamored with the lowest common denominator of the human psyche–that of personal failure. There was a moment in time when people did everything they could to avoid temptation. And now? People run with abandon INTO temptation. We live in a society that…that….. You fill in the blank, because this wordsmith cannot find a way to say what I feel without being painfully sarcastic, even rude and ugly.
Right now, I just heard some Tenured Pew Sitter way, “It all started when Hollywood allowed Clark Gable to say damn in ‘Gone With The Wind’. That’s when it started!” Au Contraire, Tenured Pew Sitter. You don’t know that Bible you worship and use to beat people over the head as well as you think. It goes back to Adam and Eve, when faced with the choice to trust God or trust themselves.
Shows, such as this, cause those who sit in churches, who should proclaim loudly in the power of God to transform human lives, choose to declare that things are hopeless, and that it’s all just more confirmation that Jesus is coming back at any moment. Truth is, they really want Jesus to come back. And why? They say it’s because the world is so corrupt that it’s beyond redemption. My thoughts? They long for Jesus to return in order to absolve themselves of their responsibilities as followers of Jesus.
It seems to me that this current batch of disciples think that being a follower of Jesus is meant to be lived in a safe and pleasant environment. There is much about following Jesus that is neither safe nor pleasant. If you want Jesus to come back right now so you can be liberated from this “vile and wicked” world–well, you do not have the heart and mind of Jesus.
Jesus insisted on going to people and places where temptation was glorified. And did you notice that Jesus never went in those places breathing fire and brimstone telling them they were an abomination to God? Don’t think so. The only places I ever saw Jesus get righteously rude was when He dealt with those religious folks who thought they knew God and what He wanted. I see the images of Jesus calling them low-down snakes, taking a whip and disrupting their comfortable religion.
And now in my own reflections, I can hear Jesus saying, “You know, I need to go to Temptation Island.” My response to Jesus? “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? Jesus have you lost your mind? Why in the name of Jesus Christ would YOU want to go there?” Oops. I think I just said the wrong thing. He’s smiling at me and saying, “Because that’s where people who need me are at. Randy, don’t you remember that night in the Garden? I call it Temptation Garden. If you can remember, I won in Temptation Garden, and so did you. You ask me why would I go there? Well….I did come looking for you.”
And now I realize…we live in the right place and time to be a Follower of Jesus. Jesus seeks out the darkest places because that’s where people, made in His image, are living. He sought out the Cross and The Grave. He knew His Light would shatter the darkness…and it did. Come on, Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who are feeling safe, smug and comfortable in your stain glass sanctuaries. There’s a boat taking people to Temptation Island. You need to be on that boat and that Island. You don’t need to be there to call them all wicked sinners. You need to be there as a faithful example of what real life looks like when you love God more than printed Bibles, more than buildings called churches, more than….yourself.
I want to say something way off the wall for some. Instead of you complaining about how evil and horrible our culture is becoming, realize that this is the perfect place and time to share God’s redeeming love. Instead of longing for Jesus to take YOU out of this miserable, sinful world, YOU take Jesus INTO the miserable, sinful world. After all, someone brought Jesus to you when you were identified with this miserable, sinful world.
And love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to Him!
I’m referring to Juliet’s sadness of heart when she said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I know it’s a romantic tragedy play, but today I would engage those famous words in another context. I would write it this way: “What’s in a name of a church? Doesn’t it’s true nature always reveal itself?”
I have a habit of reading church signs–both the name and those cute little messages. One of my favorite “cutesy” is “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to see Him.” And names–it seems every community has a “Calvary”, “Bethlehem”, “Grace”, “Faith”, and “First”. I’ve also seen several “Corinth” named churches. Really? Do you know what was actually going on there? Why not just name it “Charles Manson”?
I’ve also seen “The Church of The Divine Metaphysical Reality” (what happens there???), and one of the more interesting ones, “First ******** (I’m leaving out the name of the Tribe to protect the innocent) Church, Number 2”. And I noticed one that read: “Little Hope Church”. Please, understand I’m not belittling or making fun of that church. The road is named “Little Hope Road”. Perhaps this explains the name of that church; I certainly hope so. But what kind of person would name a road “Little Hope”? The Body of Christ is a place for Mega Hope, not Little Hope. Perhaps I am the only one who notices this bit of incongruence. But it got me to thinking: What if those truth in advertising laws applied to church names? Here are a few I’ve come up with, along with their appropriate Mission Statement:
The Church Of We’re Better Than You
Where the Mission is to develop our sense of moral superiority
The Church Of The Sanctimonious
It’s all about the show and not about the action
The Church Of The Judges
Faithfully fulfilling our task of telling others where and why they are wrong, wrong, wrong!
The Church Of The Preacher
Providing The Best Preacher Out There For Your Entertainment
The Church Of The Comfortable
From seating to your conscience, our name says it all: Making you comfortable
The Church Of Wearing The Sunday Best
Because everyone knows you can’t worship God in jeans and flip-flops
The Church Of The Culture
Studying our culture with intensity so that we can better change the Bible to fit the Culture
The Guilt-Free Church
That’s right, if you think it’s right for you, then it’s right for you
The Church Of The Circle
Where a small and elite group runs everything so you don’t have to worry about anything
The Cookie Cutter Church
Working with all our energy to make you just like us
The Church Of The 50’s
Faithfully Doing What The Church Used To Do
The Church Of The Professionals
Providing staff to do the work so you don’t have to
The Church Of Apathy
Who cares about mission and mission statements
The Church Of YOU
That’s right, it’s all about you and never about others!
The Church Of God Wants You Wealthy!
Providing live feed from Joel Osteen every week
I could just go on and on. What about you? If you have a “Truth In Advertising” church name, feel free to share it in the comments section.
Last week I was thinking about all the places I’ve lived. In my Tribe, most churches provide the pastor with a home. We call it a “parsonage”. Most churches seem to have the attitude, “It’s just the preacher’s home. It doesn’t need much upkeep.” And it seems to me that some of my colleagues have the same attitude by how they treat, and leave the parsonage for their successor. I remember what one Bishop said every year, “When you move, move. And take the dog and piano with you.” Obviously they weren’t listening because I’ve inherited everything from rusty bicycles to used auto parts. But that’s not me. Over the decades I have spent considerable time, effort and $$$ to improve its appearance.
This is a “before” picture of a door I once repainted.
I do not know who attempted to paint this door and I do not want to insult anyone, but it is a very poor job of painting. It had runs, drips and errors, lots of them. I spent over an hour trying to sand and scrape all those runs, drips, and errors before I added the paint. Had I not done that, then those runs, drips and errors would have still be there. The paint I would add would not have removed them, it would have just added another layer. There was no attempt to do this job with excellence. It seemed to be just an alleged attempt to paint without caring about the result.
Here is something I’ve recently learned at the feet of the Holy Spirit. Many who claim to love Jesus is that while they do “their best” AT church, they don’t put much effort into doing “their best” IN the ordinary days. I’ve come to realize that this lackadaisical attitude toward the ordinary things is a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem. That problem is living without the desire for excellence in everything, all the time. I’m not talking about being a Rembrandt at painting doors. It’s simply desiring that whatever we put our hands to doing, that it be done with great care and the desire for it to be good.
When we don’t do ordinary things with the desire for excellence, it becomes a habit in the spiritual things. The cancer of mediocrity has spread from the workplace into the body of Christ. Though we could never repay Jesus for what He did for us on the Cross, we should have the desire to be thankful for that Sacrifice by honoring Him through our commitment to a (if you will allow me to borrow a baseball image) “No Runs, No Drips, and No Errors” attitude in the ordinary things of life.
In Colossians 3:23, Paul spoke into how Disciples of Jesus were to live in the unjust system of slavery. He wrote: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” But there is an application beyond how those who were slaves should live. It can and SHOULD be applied to everyone, everyday, and every situation. Think it doesn’t matter what we do in an ordinary day? Take a moment to read, meditate and analyze Jesus’ parable about The Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Every task before you is an opportunity to break free of mediocrity into the life that God expects, even demands, from all of us.
One of the very best ways one can give witness to the transforming Grace of God is to do everything as if we were offering a gift to God; because we are whether we realize it or not. I’m not taking about perfection–but excellence that produces something you can take pride and joy in offering it to God. Your workday, your house cleaning, your painting doors, would you feel comfortable in offering it to God? God accepts all that we offer Him when we desire to do it with excellence.
Remember Romans 12:1 and from The Message it goes like this:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
At the end of the day, remember: No Runs. No Drips. And No Errors.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!