WHY, GOD?

This is the first in the most recent series of messages I have been sharing
1 This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision.  2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help?  But you do not listen!  “Violence is everywhere!”  I cry, but you do not come to save.  3 Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?  Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence.  I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight.  4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts.  The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

I have said at other times that no message or series has been more difficult for me than the one I am sharing.  And this new series is proving itself to me, to be the most difficult one ever.  I’m calling it Why, God?  Notice the use of the comma.  It would be much easier for me to talk about Why God?  Why God speaks about our need for God.  But that pesky comma, Why, God? speaks into the season we are in today.

We are living in a season like none other before.  We have this Pandemic of Covid-19 and we are seeing a lot of racial unrest.  I also see that the core of this season of racial unrest is a symptom of something else that has been going on for some time now— and that is Social And Political Unrest.  The fabric that is meant to hold us together in a common society is being cut and ripped apart. 

I am compelled to speak into this chaos.  I would rather not and tackle an easier word.  But I Firmly Believe This Mess We Are In Has A Message.  Unfortunately, it may not be the message that people inside and outside of church want to hear.

We are going to begin this series with an honest discussion around the question that many are asking out loud, and many more that are wondering about inside their hearts and minds but are afraid to ask.  Why, God?  Why Are Things Like They Are Right Now?  Why This Covid-19, This Racial, Social, And Political Unrest? 

I believe this is a question that needs to be asked and explored.  So be prepared for some hard or difficult things I will share with you.  And at the risk of losing some of you—I will honestly say upfront that I may not have a neat answer to the question—I may not even have a good answer for the question.

And let me be upfront and honest with this disclaimer:  I Am Not An Expert On The Ways That God Thinks.  My answers may not be your answers as to the Why Question.  Know that I am not expecting you to agree with anything I say.  I won’t be disappointed with anyone who disagrees with me. 

My personal goal, and the goal of this Series, is that you will not be afraid to ask God questions, and that you think through your own answers—without using the standard issue replies that are dressed in a Polly Anna or The Born Loser view of life.  I am convinced that oversimplified answers to the Why Question are only adding to the frustrations and fears. 

Posting things on Social Media with the line “Repost if you believe in Jesus” aren’t helping.  Reality Check folks: Reposting And Quoting Scriptures Isn’t Going To Help!  So What Will Help?  I believe raw honesty helps more than posting and quoting Scriptures.

Look, it’s not that life Could Be difficult and hard.  If you can handle the truth, then here it is—The Truth Is That Many Times Life IS Difficult And Hard.  None of us are exempt from the troubles and pressures of life.  And if anyone tells you that you can live a happy and pain-free life as a Christian—they are lying to you and they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving you. 

I have been a pastor for nearly 46 years, and in those 46 years I have read and studied the Bible extensively.  In that same 46 years I have had a lot of personal experiences and I’ve been a part of other people’s experiences.  I have seen joy—and I’ve seen the doubt and deep pain brought on by life as it really is—the fear and hurt that comes with those difficult experiences. 

I am going to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be totally Honest with you.  And sometimes coming face to face with Honesty is not very easy.  And know ahead of time that my Honesty may not fit in with The Truth.

If anything, the writers of the Bible are Honest—more than Honest, they are Painfully Honest.  There is page after page, story after story, which speaks Honestly—but not always be The Truth.  Think about Job—not everything in there is The Truth—but everything there is Painful Honesty.  In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes Honestly about His Feelings—though some of his conclusions about God are not true.  But His Conclusions About The Pain And Difficulties Of LifeThey Are Most Definitely True

There’s the book of Lamentations—where Jeremiah blames God for everything that happened to Jerusalem.  And there’s this passage we begin with from Habakkuk.  Habakkuk, this prophet of God, Honestly believes that God isn’t listening and that He has forgotten all about him.  And true to human nature, it’s easier to blame God than accept responsibilities for our choices. 

That’s exactly what Adam did—he blamed God.  And here’s the truth that many will disagree with me—God Didn’t Destroy Jerusalem.  God didn’t point His finger at Babylon and manipulate them into doing what He wanted to be done.  The blame for the destruction of Jerusalem lies squarely at the feet of those who rejected God by choosing another way.  God didn’t have to punish them—they punished themselves by rejecting the ageless truth of God—and that rejection reaped them a whirlwind and a hurricane of consequences.

And all of this that’s going on all around us?  I am about to say something that many may disagree with—and remember I warned you.  I want you to think deeply.  This is it:  God Is Not Causing Any Of This To Happen.  Covid-19 Is NOT God Punishing Our Nation And World.  God Is Not Pointing His Finger To Manipulate People To Create This Hate And Chaos. 

What I see happening here in the U.S. with the unrest, what I see happen in the U.S. and around the world with Covid-19 is The Consequences Of Generations Of People Abandoning God’s Principles For Another Way.  We are reaping the same whirlwind and hurricane that Habakkuk and Jeremiah were seeing in their day.

One of the blogs I read is Walking With A Limp.  Here’s what the writer, Joe Misek, had to say about his title:  “The reason why I title my blog Walking With a Limp is because I believe our faith and our humanity is meant to be lived out not hiding our brokenness.  In fact, the Bible even has an entire genre of literature dedicated to expressing pain, grief, anger, and brokenness:  Lament.” 

In a recent blog he wrote:  “We don’t do Lament well in the modern American church.  In fact, we often arrange our entire experience of corporate worship to be happy.  Lament sounds dark and depressing; it is uncomfortable if you hear it and you are in a ‘happy place’ in your life.  But the Lament is not in the entertainment business and doesn’t appeal to consumers.  It is reality.  It is healing.” 

Joe is right—unlike Job, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk we don’t handle Lamenting very well.  We either hold all our pain, doubts and questions in—or we adopt a lifestyle of being happy all the time while masking what’s really going on inside us.  Many often chastise others and themselves for even thinking about that question of Why, God? 

I don’t really know all the whys about why we aren’t truthful with ourselves and with God in this time.  Maybe it’s because we’ve had long years of comfort here in the United States.  We have forgotten or never really learned how to Lament.  It seems we would rather find someone or something To Blame than to become broken over our own lives and the world.

The Ability To Lament Comes Out Of 2 Things:

  1. The Pain Of Realizing Something Isn’t Right.  It’s being broken over what’s wrong to the point that makes us restless and deeply hurting.  And here is another hard truth:  We Don’t Like To Hurt—we avoid pain as if it were some sin.  But it’s not.  Many today are trying to make their hidden pain go away by not admitting something isn’t right and then justifying themselves.  In the LBGTQ community, they blame their pain on those who will not agree with their justification.  Racial Unrest is the result of blaming history for their pain and the reality that some still hold on to racist views.  Political Unrest is the result of blaming those who don’t see things their way.  And the Social Unrest is the result of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our own choices.
  2. Then It Takes An Honest Vulnerability To Express That Pain Of Being Broken And Living In A Broken World.  I’m talking about raw emotions—like the raw emotions we see in the lives of Job, Solomon, Jeremiah and Habakkuk.  I’m not talking about finding out who or what is to blame. Blaming isn’t the same thing as Lamenting

I’m not talking about moaning and groaning, whining and complaining—God knows we are good at that.  Many have taken this to an art form or made it a science.  Whining and complaining, moaning and groaning are cheap substitutes that help us avoid confronting the real issues—issues that are eroding our culture, our own hearts, and are hurting others.  It takes little effort and even less thoughtful reflection to moan and groan or whine and complain.  It just gushes out of us without any effort.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  The Only Way To Find Our Way Forward And Navigate This Broken Culture Will Only Begin When We Recover The Ability To Lament.  Lamenting requires a different focus for us. 

This week I came to a most unusual, perhaps unorthodox view about LamentingLamenting is another learned Spiritual Discipline.  Spiritual Disciplines never happen automatically.  They require both intentions and diligence.  I can’t remember ever studying about Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline or reading a book that taught Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline.

I’m not saying I haven’t—maybe I have and it these times that are bringing it up in my spirit and heart.  Quoting Scriptures and motivational phrases will not change our culture.  The Key is to become broken, and then Lamenting—about ourselves and our world.  Do you need an example?  Good, because there is the best example ever.

It’s Jesus!  In Luke 19:41-44 we see:  But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.  But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you.  Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.

It was too late for Jerusalem, but it’s not too late for us and the world.  And because WE can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, we need the Next Step. 

In Our Hearts And Minds, Replace The Idea Of Blame With The Truth  That We And Our World Are Broken And Hurting.

Are you really broken over our world?  Or are you frustrated?  Are you angry?  And are you wanting to escape by desiring the return of Jesus more than the return of people back to Jesus?

For the next few weeks, I want us to look at how we can reclaim the Art And Discipline Of Lamenting.  Admit it, nothing we are doing now is making a difference.  Maybe, just maybe, a good old fashioned Lament will make a difference.

Ridding Yourself Of The Poison.

Today I’m continuing to reflect on my recent medical emergency and the lessons I am learning. If you didn’t read the first one, here is the LINK to where this all started. So here is today’s Lesson:

Get Rid Of That Poison!

As you probably know, when the appendix ruptures it release a toxic poison into the abdominal cavity. No one really knows the exact function of the appendix–lots of hypotheses–but no certain conclusion. That’s right, our body is locked-and-loaded with poison. As long as it stays where it belongs, no harm, no foul. But when it gets out–the story line changes.

Here’s how it continues to change my story line. I still have a drainage tube which requires my attention. Twice a day I take a 10-cc syringe of sterile saline, take an alcohol wipe and clean the connection, attach that syringe, turn a value and inject half of it into my abdominal cavity, turn the valve again and flush the line, and return that valve to the original position. It may sound painful but it’s not really painful. Then I measure what’s in the drainage bag and record it in a journal for my doctor.

Some may think this is another inconvenience–but my perspective tells me it’s necessary for my healing. If this poison remains in me then sepsis will set in. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have—in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Untreated it is fatal. Knowing the outcome of what happens if I don’t flush out my abdomen, it’s not really inconvenient.

And it’s not just the body that internal poison is harmful–it also happens in the heart and mind. Some of those poisons are greed, fear, bitterness, resentment, guilt, shame, anger, lust, revenge, unforgiveness–these are just a few of the poisonous toxins. If untreated, they are as fatal as sepsis to the heart, mind and spirit. And as in my physical case, there are ways to get rid of those poisons. We can’t get rid of the poisons alone–we need our Heavenly Father to show us how to get rid of that poison. And they are worth the effort–because they work.

So, don’t allow those poisonous toxins create spiritual sepsis. Jesus delivered us on that Cross–and He continues to deliver us. It’s not always instantaneously–but He always makes us whole!

The Great I Am!

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!

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For this Lenten Journey, I want us to look at the most profound statement ever made by Jesus while He was here in our human form.  We are going to be in John’s Gospel looking some of the “I-Am” sayings of Jesus—those moments and situations where He identifies Himself in a very specific way.

Let’s lay the groundwork for today’s passage before I read it to you.  Moses had this unbelievable encounter with God.  We call it “The Burning Bush” story.  God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and inform them that God has appointed him to lead them to the Promised Land. 

But before Moses agrees, he wants to know who it is that is sending him.  They will want to know who has sent him, so Moses poses the question:  “Who shall I tell them sent me?”  And in that moment God reveals His true Name:  I Am Who I Am!  In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh!  And God goes further with this statement:

This Is My Eternal Name, My Name To Remember For All Generations.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because without this knowledge, nothing that we look at this season will be really understood.  The first one we need to look at is from John 4:4-26 (N.L.T.)

He had to go through Samaria on the way.  Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”   Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep.  Where would you get this living water?  And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”  “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.  “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

We need be begin our journey with boldest statement ever made by a human being.  Jesus tells her:  I AM!  For what I am about to say, some would want to tar and feather me and run me out of town, but I’m going to say it.  Jesus did not say “I Am”.  Now, you look confused.  “Preacher, you just read that Jesus said I Am.” 

But Jesus did NOT say I Am—because He did not speak English.  Jesus spoke in both Aramaic and Hebrew.  So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh!  The Eternal Name of God that everyone is to remember!  Can you imagine the shock on this woman’s face when Jesus identified Himself as Yahweh?  It was a name so sacred that Law prohibited its use in public.  No human being since Moses was allowed to use that name. 

And no one dare named their child Yahweh!  Yet this is the name Jesus calls Himself.  What were the first thoughts running through her mind?  “Is he crazy?  Has he been out in the sun too long?  Is he playing mind games with me?  Is he mocking me because I’m a Samaritan?”  Whatever her first thoughts might have been, they didn’t stay long. 

Somehow she knows His words ring true, so she runs back into Sychar with the news, telling everyone she can find:  “I’ve found Him!  I’ve found Him!”  And the people may have laughed, “Who, husband number 6?”  She catches her breath, “No, no, I think I’ve found Messiah!  I just know He must be Messiah!”

I know it says she asked a question:  “Could He be the Messiah?”, but it’s not a question of doubt.  Hers is the question of hope.  And here’s the One Thing you need to remember today:

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!

Hers may have been a tarnished hope, or it may have been a secret hope that no one could see in her life.  But somehow, deep down in her heart, there must have been that hope that God would come near to her to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart. As we make our Lenten Journey, we need to know that we are going to find that same longing in our heart—to see and experience the nearness of the One, True and Living God.  And we can count on Jesus being that just for us, as He was for her!  And it is all because of The Name:  Yahweh!  Jesus is Yahweh and here’s why:

1.  He Is Yahweh Because He Looks For Us

Jacob’s Well was the place ordained by God for this woman.  He Has A Place Ordained For You, To Meet Him Face To Face, For You To Surrender Your Life To Him.  And Jesus planned it out for that moment when she would be coming to draw water.  As Jesus and his entourage arrives at Jacob’s Well, Jesus announces, “Guys, I need to stop and rest; besides it lunch time.  Tell you what, go into town to McDavid’s and get you something to eat, and bring me back a #7 combo.  I’ll just wait right here.  Now, go on guys.” 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them ahead while He stayed behind?  Well, I have and I’ve come to this conclusion.  If there had been several of them with Jesus, that woman probably would have stayed away.  But just one man there, it’s not as threatening to her.  Jesus wanted this moment with her.  He had been looking for her and the time was right. 

And He looks for us.  There are God-ordained moments where He is looking for us.  He is looking for us to have this special relationship with Him.  God wants us to have more than a mental knowledge about Him.  He longs for us to give Him our hearts.  But God-ordained moments go further than for us to become a Christian.  There are God-ordained moments to comfort us, encourage us, strengthen us, and to take us deeper into this relationship with Him.  And you never know when they will appear.  This woman came in the middle of the day; not the usual time to draw water.  And God may surprise you with ordained moments because He is always looking for us. 

2.  He Is Yahweh Because He Knows Us

Everyone in Sychar must have known this woman.  Five divorces and shacking up with another man.  They looked at her and saw someone who couldn’t keep commitments.  They saw someone who had no morals.  They saw someone whose only contribution to the community was to keep the gossip lines hot.  They saw her as dirtied and all messed up.  They saw everything that was wrong with her.  They thought they knew her.  But there was so much about her they could not see because they had made up their minds about her.  But Jesus knew there was more to her than what was on the surface. 

Only God, Only The One Whose Eternal Name Is YAHWEH Can See Into The Deepest Recesses Of The Human Heart.

He sees the secret sins we hide from others.  He knows the dark secrets we keep pushed down deep.  But He knows more, much more.  He knew what she was truly longing for, and He knows what we are longing for.  This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises.  She knew one day Messiah would come.  Though it may have been a weak hope, there was the hope that Messiah would come to save her.  Listen to your heart; your heart knows it wants to be known deeply and intimately by God.

3.  He Is Yahweh Because He Offers Us Life

At Jacob’s Well this God-Ordained moment was for one single purpose:  To Bring Real Life To This Dirty, Broken Woman!  It wasn’t an accident Jesus was there.  It didn’t just so happen that this woman appeared.  She needed life and Life is what Jesus has to offer.  Nothing Can Give Us The Life We Long For, Only Jesus.

Some people settle for a life of thrills, but there are never enough thrills.  Some settle for a life of wealth; but there’s never enough.  Some settle for a life of respectability—but they are hollow and empty inside.  This woman was looking for life through one relationship after another.  But none of them satisfied the cravings of her heart.

Nothing in this world can give you real, abundant, lasting, eternal life.  This is something only God has—Jesus is Yahweh because only HE has the life that we hunger for.  Only He Has The Life That Will Survive The Ups And Downs Of Life Here On Earth.  Only Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He does it as The Gift.  He and only He paid the price necessary to take away the dead things of our life, and put in their place Life.  It’s not just any ordinary life, but the most extraordinary life of all—His Very Own Life.

It is His Eternal Name, Yahweh and He is looking, looking for you because He knows you. He knows you need more than an ordinary life—but the most extraordinary life of all.  Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put the life of Christ in you.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here are your Next Steps:

  1. Identity Anything That May Have Robbed You Of Hope.  The news;  This controversy going on in our Tribe;  Guilt;  Some fear, named or unnamed; Crushing grief that you keep holding on to, that you never completely give over to Jesus; Feelings of inadequacy.  It’s the thing that is limiting your potential.  Once you identify it—
  2. Give It Up To Jesus.  Make it your offering to Him.  He’s not looking for only the good things to offer Him, He wants the pain, the burdens that you carry to be given over to Him.  You don’t have to keep carrying them because He carried that weight, while on that Cross! 

Ashes Tell The Story–Wednesday’s Wondering 26 February 2020

(picture from pghcitypaper.com

Today can be just another day in your life or. . . it can become the beginning of a journey into an adventure. This adventure is not for the weak or faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for those who choose the predictability of their current misery over the adventure that is anything but predictable. I’m speaking now to those who are willing to admit that the life they have been living is boring, painful and certainly unfulfilling.

Ash Wednesday is God’s invitation to leave behind everything in order to be filled with His Life. Jesus left behind everything in Heaven so that we could be set free. And face it, all of us are in some type of prison. An addiction. Fear. Anger. Disappointment. Despair. Frustrations. These are just a few of the names of our jailers. The Ashes of Ash Wednesday holds the key to be released from our jail cells.

For the last several days I have been praying the Scriptures and one verse has captivated my attention. Isaiah 61:3 says–“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Do you know what ashes are? One definition of ashes is “the remains of something destroyed”. We can never have the life God intends for us until the old life–those old ways–are completely destroyed in us.

We cannot have a crown of beauty, a joyous blessing, and festive praise until the things that imprison us are turned into ashes. This process of turning our old life into ashes can be painful–but it’s not all that complicated either. Do what Paul did when he turn away from his old life and began his adventure with Jesus: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NLT)

I want to challenge you today to reflect on two things: 1. Are the things I’m holding on really creating beauty, blessing and praise? 2. Have I given up everything, considered it garbage, so that I might have Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Learn the lesson from the ashes of Ash Wednesday. Then go and receive the sign of those ashes–at a church service, or with a friend, or if you’re alone, do it to yourself. You don’t need a seminary degree to impose the sign of The Ashes. Just a willingness to give up that old life in order to begin the journey into an adventure.

THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

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A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

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

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

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

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

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

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

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

I Found The Wayside!

(I must insert this disclaimer at the beginning of this blog that by no means do I consider the people in this community to be fallen, forgotten or obsolete.  It’s only an illustration of my point.)

Wayside.  Are you familiar with that word?  Usually it’s connected with 2 statements:

  1. Gone by the Wayside
  2. Fell by the Wayside

I’ve wondered where in the world is Wayside?  Well, I found it.  I noticed it the very first time we traveled down to see our new pastoral appointment.  I’ve been meaning to do this post, but wouldn’t until I stopped and got my proof.  Well, Saturday on my motorcycle pilgrimage, I stopped and got these pictures as proof I know where the Wayside is located.  Think about the previous 2 statements concerning the Wayside.

Gone by the Wayside.  This means that something has become obsolete, like those heavy “brick” looking cell phones, which by the way, was my very first cell phone.  Fell by the Wayside.  This means to fail to continue or to drop out.  Obsolete.  Dropping out.  These images are used to describe some values and people.  I’ve always wondered where they went, and now I know.

When people “fall by” the Wayside, often they are either treated with great disdain or completely forgotten.  People shake their head with a degree of sadness and leave them there, by the Wayside.  And when long-standing Christian-Judeo values are considered “gone by” the Wayside, people shrug their shoulders, forgetting those values and declare they are now more enlightened than their superstitious ancestors.  So, the Wayside becomes the place of the forgotten.

I know where the Wayside is, but does Jesus know?  Absolutely He knows!  The fact is He does far better and far more work in the Wayside than in many sterilized and sanitized sanctuaries.  Jesus leaves no one behind.  He came back for Peter after His Crucifixion, though Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus.  Remember the Angel’s message to the women that first Easter morning?  Mark 16:7 (NLT) records:  “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”  He would have come back for Judas, if Judas had not given up too soon.

The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is for people who have fallen by the Wayside.  Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)–“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.”  Look again at the bottom of this sign welcoming people to Wayside:

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“A Little Bit Of Heaven”.  If you feel like you have fallen by the Wayside, hold on to that last line.  Wayside is a little bit of heaven because it’s a place filled with God’s grace that will forgive, redeem and restore anyone and everyone who has fallen.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to go by the Wayside because it’s filled with those for whom Jesus insisted on dying for.  And where should the church be today?  Well, I think that other sign says it all:

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What if we all became the Church for The Wayside?  It would probably be a bit messy, but it would also be a bit of heaven.  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Postscript:  Don’t consider yourself obsolete if you embrace and try to live by the values of the Kingdom of God.  And don’t consider His Values obsolete.