OH LORD, IT’S MONDAY! iT’S A WON’T OR WANT DAY!

Resistance to change seems to be an inherited trait among the human species. Not all change is good–but when God brings about change–it is always good. The results of those God-initiated changes create within us one of two responses: Won’t or Want! Ain’t the English language–well–confusing. Two words that sound exactly the same–but their meanings are polar opposites. We can desire the changes God is doing–or we can refuse to be a part of the changes God is doing.

Not desiring–or WON’T–what God is doing compounds the feelings of dread, angst, despair, and all their cousins make every day a pain to the point that we become someone other than who God created us to be. But if we desire–that is, WANT–what God is doing, it makes every day an adventure–challenging adventures sometimes–but an adventure nonetheless. Though we may “like” who we are at the moment–God sees much more. And to bring that out, God initiates changes to bring out who He sees.

When God initiates change, the purpose is always to make us whole, stronger, and to transform us in His Image. To change how you feel about this week–change how you feel about the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Every moment possesses the opportunity to be more like Jesus. Open yourself up, and say to The Father: “Dad, I WANT the change that You see is necessary for me to be who I am created to be.”

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, verses 17-18, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” And when we WANT that change rather than WON’T, then we can say, “Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?”

Thanksgiving In The Changes

I know today isn’t Thanksgiving Day–but it is Thanksgiving Day that I’m thinking about this morning. I’m not thinking about all that food–but I am thinking about all the changes that are about to happen with our family. It was just a few weeks ago that Dad had to be taken to the hospital because his heart was in severe A-Fib. But Dad is a tough old bird–95 to be exact. And a couple of days later he was back at HIS home–that same home he had built in 1962. We decided to ask him if it was OK with him–after all, it’s his home–to have Thanksgiving at his house. We would do all the preparations–and he agreed. All of us realize this may well be our last Thanksgiving Day with him.

And now it appears that a big change is about to happen. For over 3 years he has been living by himself. But recent events are bringing about a change that he, nor us, wanted to see happen. Last week he fell, but he was unable to get back up, so he had to use his alert button to get paramedics there to assist him in getting back up. No injuries. Then this Wednesday he fell again–and again needed assistance to get back up. But this time he twisted his ankle–and it really hurts.

I called him yesterday afternoon to see how he was feeling. The conversation I knew that would happen one day–happened Thursday, 10 November 2021. Fighting back the tears he told me it was time for a move to assisted living. But, in his own words, “I want to hold on until after Thanksgiving.” These words are from a man who is a fierce warrior in life. He worked for 30 years in a plant, the last several years while also serving as a bi-vocational pastor, spending his vacation time going to school. When he bought the place to build his home he bought an extra lot for the garden. It fed us and many others over the years. He continued that garden into his late 70’s. And after retirement from being a pastor, he spent many years working at a local funeral home.

Last night and this morning my heart is breaking for him. In April we had to convince him it was time to quit driving. That was a horrible day! We’ve had assistance coming into HIS HOME 3 days a week–something he did not like at all. He’s been losing his independence–something no fierce warrior ever wants to do. He and I have talked about his funeral–and that really wasn’t hard at all to do. This fierce warrior has been running The Race and has kept The Faith. But this change–and at Thanksgiving–is difficult beyond even my ability to find words.

Honestly, I am dreading next Thursday. But it is supposed to be a happy and joyful day. And this dark cloud is hanging over us–trying to crush my heart. I mean, how can you even pretend to be Thankful when you know what will happen very soon thereafter? Well, this is where YOU come in to play. I know my attitude must as genuinely hopeful as Dad’s has been over many years, some of which there wasn’t much hope.

Pray for us, please! I have been so blessed to have This Fierce Warrior for 95 years. He has loved me–forgiven me–and encouraged me all the time. I know I shouldn’t be so down and out. I’ve had him longer than most sons have had their Dads. But my heartache isn’t for me–it’s for Him! For all the times he has been strong for me–now I must be strong for him! I must genuinely show thankfulness and joy next Thursday. But the only way it will happen is if God helps me. And thanks for listening to my heart this morning.

What’s Your Motto?

  • Just Do It
  • A Diamond is Forever
  • When you care enough to send the very best
  • I’d walk a mile for a Camel
  • Quality never goes out of style
  • Finger Lickin’ Good
  • With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good
  • Snap, Crackle and Pop!
  • So easy, a caveman can do it
  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
  • The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • The Quicker Picker Upper
  • We Bring Good Things to Life
  • The King of Beers
  • Fly the friendly skies
  • Because You’re Worth It
  • Let’s Go Places
  • Have It Your Way
  • I’m Lovin’ It
  • Betcha can’t eat just one!
  • When it rains, it pours
  • Taste the Rainbow
  • What Happens Here, Stays Here
  • When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight

Mottos! Yep! That’s what’s stirring up my gray matter this morning. When it comes to advertising–a great motto helps consumers to remember their product. So, what is YOUR motto? To help you tell me yours, I’ll tell you one of mine: “If you don’t like my sarcasm, don’t ask me stupid questions!”

Even our good old U.S. of A. has a motto: In God We Trust! The thing about mottos is that you gotta back it up–otherwise people just ignore or forget it. Unfortunately, with my aforementioned motto–I back it up with a healthy, sometimes an over-abundance of sarcasm. But that motto on all our currency? That thing about Trust In God? Not a good motto in these times–because it’s not backed up with action.

Before you start ranting and raving about the nefarious cesspool otherwise known as Washington D.C., know I’m not talking about that ash heap. This morning I am talking only to those who self-identify as Christian. I still remember decades ago getting emails about how Madeline O’Hare was going to the Supreme Court in an attempt to get In God We Trust removed from our currency. Now, I would have bought a plane ticket to see that, seeing she had been dead for years!

Christians want it on our currency–but it would be far better for them, for our nation, and for our world if it was just removed from the currency! There, I said it! But before you stop reading this morning’s pensiveness, read what is next. It would be far better for us, for our nation, and for our world if you have a motto that you embody with your attitudes, words, thoughts, and actions.

Yes! we need to Trust In God That’s a no-brainer! But more than saying we need to Trust In God, we need a motto that shows how much we Trust In God! Forget putting it on currency and government seals. Let’s put a new motto on our ordinary, going here and there, doing this and that life. And maybe it’s time I, too, changed my personal motto to one that better suits what God is doing in my life. So, what should it be, America? Hey! I have an idea. What about this one?

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

If we adopt this as our motto it means we would have to stop looking at political parties, the hollow (and I do mean hollow, not hallowed! I said what I meant, and I meant what I said!) halls of academia, and even ourselves in order to see a real transformation in our times; and really live through the strength of Jesus! How strong is Jesus? He carried the weight of all our sins while hanging on the Cross. And somehow, as strange as it may sound to some, I believe Jesus will strengthen us to be a light that brings hope to the hopeless. Call me crazy! You won’t be the first, and I dare say, you won’t be the last!

Wha?

Garmin. Waze. Tom-Tom. Google Maps. et.al. All of these GPS based systems promise to get us to a destination we are looking for. Right? But! Have you ever had the experience of using one of those GPS things and it tells you You Have Reached Your Destination only–it’s not the place you’re looking for? Yes or No?

That you are looking for a place you really want to be–so you enter it into your GPS. It does its calculating and off you go. You turn left. Then turn right. Then turn left. Then turn right. Go 5.2 miles. You hear the glorious words, “Your destination is a quarter of a mile on your right. In 100 feet turn right. TURN RIGHT!” Then! You find yourself at a cemetery and the GPS proudly announces You have reached your destination! Wha?????

While this parable (maybe it’s happened to some of you) would make a great episode of “The Twilight Zone”, it’s an every-day-often-all-day-long experience for people today. And it’s not a GPS thing. It’s a life thing. They try to find more than a tourist attraction or great restaurant. It’s trying to find satisfaction for their life. They seek The Promise but only find a cemetery. Solomon warned us about this in Proverbs 14:12–“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” So they think, “Well, Google Maps was wrong–I’ll try Waze!” More left turns. More right turns. But they end up in the very same cemetery. What’s a person to do? Isn’t there anything that can get us to where we long to be?

I’m probably about to appear to some to be a simple-minded dolt, but if nothing in this world gives us what we long for–then perhaps we should try God’s Word–The Bible. We read in Psalms 119:105–“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” If the directions you have been following hasn’t gotten you to where you long to be, then may I suggest you turn to God’s Word–The Whole Word–And Nothing But The Word? After all, isn’t insanity defined as trying the same thing over and over expecting different results?

Surrender your life to God. Then, when the undertaker reaches that final destination, it won’t be your final destination. With Jesus leading the way, our final destination is life!

It’s Out Of My Hands–But I’m Still In Control!

Here’s one of those, call it, Inconvenient Truths: Much of life is way above our paygrade! We lack the skillsets and knowledge to handle it. Deep down we know this is true. But that craving to be in control is the impetus induces us to hold on and not let go. I’m trying to think of an analogy to describe this choice to not let go. It’s like seeing a hornet’s nest and thinking how good it would look over the mantle. So we reach out to take it down and the hornets attack. But we won’t let go because we want it on our mantle–and the stings of those hornets keep on multiplying. But we want it. Got the mental image of this? Good!

There have been, are now, and until Jesus returns, continue to be problems and botherations that we cannot fix! And for most of us–that’s the irritation and vexation, and it’s becomes that hornet’s nest. Though the pain persists and intensifies–we refuse to let go of being in control–even though it’s conspicuous that we are far from it. And if we continue that hunger and aspiration to be in control, our life will reach terminal velocity–and the resulting crash leaves us unrecognizable.

Why do we have this hankering to be in control even though we know the outcome? Blame it on Adam and Eve–Satan promised them something he couldn’t give them and that they were incapable of–Being In Control! Now that the blight and debility has been identified, what can we do? Would you believe there’s a story in The Bible about this very thing? Who wouda thunk it?

It’s in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 19, starting at verse 16. Some think it’s about the evil of being rich. Only a dolt would see it that way. It’s the story about a young man who realizes something is amiss with his life–and so he comes to Jesus. A good place to go. It’s the question about life–lasting life–enduring life–life now and life forever. The first thing Jesus tells him are the things he already knows–and also knows that aren’t really helping him.

So Jesus tells him to do one more thing–let go of your wealth and pursue God’s Kingdom. In other words–stop trying to be in control! After hearing what Jesus had to say, I love how The Message puts it in verse 22: “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

Listen to me people! We got mega-tons of problems–in politics, in the economy, in society, in our culture. Add to these, we all have issues that are draining the life right out of us. And as long as we hold on to them–and refuse to give up CONTROL–they will persist to our annihilation and the lights go out.

Give up the futility, senselessness, and ineffectuality of holding on to that illusive and imaginary thing we call being in control. Ask the Nail Scarred Hands to take it out of your hands. I commend this song to your listening:

Don’t be like that young man who refused to give up control and left the presence of the Only One who is in absolute control–with that hangdog look.

Apparently There Is!

Listen to the talk at the hair stylist or barber shop. Apparently there is. Listen to the conversations in the break room. Apparently there is. Sit down at the local liars table at the diner or fast food joint. Apparently there is. Listen to the words just about anywhere there are 2 or more people (yes, this includes the local church). Apparently there is. Someone reading this is thinking right now, “What is he talking about? A boatload of hopelessness? A superabundance of stupidity?” While this may seem to be true, it’s not what’s bouncing around in my mind–and my heart. It’s the answer to this question found in The Bible–a couple of times.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Genesis 18:14 (NLT)

Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change, much less use, the POTUS. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change our culture. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change Washington D.C. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts and minds of millennials. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts of the mega-rich. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change pastors. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change how businesses do business. I would expect to hear such things from those who are not Followers And Disciples Of Jesus. They just don’t know what The Lord can do.

But to hear this kind of balderdash and blather from those who call themselves “Christians”? Well, just call me Popeye!

If your “god” can’t use someone like President Biden. If your “god” can’t use someone like Nancy Pelosi. If your “god” can’t use someone like that discombobulation called The House of Representatives and The Senate. If your “god” can’t use someone like millennials. If your “god” can’t use someone like _________________ (fill in the blank of the stupidest person or group you know), then your “god” is way to small–and you need to change to a different “God”!

So, what if–I’m only talking to those who self-identify as Christian–instead of complaining, whining, griping, and yammering about all those “other people”, you begin praying FOR THEM rather than YALPING AGAINST THEM? What if you prayed for the peace of our nation? What if you prayed for those people to have wisdom? What if you used all that time spent bellyaching and sniveling to ask God to help them? Oh! One more thing! Make that TWO more things! What if you became the change you want to see in others? What if you became the model of HOPE rather than hopelessness?

If an old woman and an old man could have a child way beyond those child bearing years–and they did–can you imagine what WILL happen when we believe, act like, talk like, LIVE LIKE nothing is too hard for The Lord? This isn’t easy; I know! Even Jesus understood our tendency to believe more in the impossible rather than in GOD’S POSSIBLE!

Jesus answered, “What is humanly impossible is possible for God.”

(Luke 18:27 GNT)

You simply cannot be a follower of Jesus, if anything–I said ANYTHING (remember Popeye’s motto) is too hard for The Lord! If it is too hard, then, in the enduring words of the classic book by J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small! And that makes YOU the real problem, not those people!

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

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

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

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

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

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

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

I Need Help!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 121 (NLT)

The Great I Am!

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! 

To Change THE Culture, Change YOUR Culture!

(Second message in current message series “How To Change The Culture”

To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!.  Hopefully last week we learned that in order for God to use us To Change The Culture, we have to become the weakest of the weakest. 

One thing that hit me is that we often operate with the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working Through God.  Allow me to explain what that means:  Working Through God Means We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And Bring Success. 

The Church is designed a different way.  Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.  I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference? 

It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon.  This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches.  It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.

Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.  Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges 6:17-32

Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.  Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”  Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree.

The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.”  And Gideon did as he was told.  Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 

When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”  “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.”  And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”).  The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old.  Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.  Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully.  Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”  So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. 

Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down.  In their place a new altar had been built, and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed.  The people said to each other, “Who did this?”  And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash. 

“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of Joash.  “He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.”  But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal?  Will you argue his case?  Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning!  If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!”  From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.

God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for Gideon.  Now we come to Gideon’s response.  Every time we encounter God requires a response from us.  It is the nature of the Divine Encounter.  Even if we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response.  There’s no way around it.  We either grow deeper into that relationship or we go further away from that relationship.  And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change, You Must Change Your Culture.

I have parable for you this morning.  There are 5 frogs sitting on a log.  3 of them decide to jump.  How many frogs do you have left?  Is your answer 2?  5-3=2.  Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will join?  Are you ready for the answer? 

The answer is 5!  How did I arrive at that answer?  Easy.  I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision.  And here is where the church is at today:  We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.

With the assurance of His presence and the promise of His power, Gideon acts.  But notice the way he acts.  He doesn’t get his sword and round up an army.  He doesn’t go looking for a fight. 

The truth is that his first response has nothing to do with the problem of the Midianites.  It deals with His Own Personal Culture.  And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:

1.  Gideon Worships God!

To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.  I can just see God in heaven.  He smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”  And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than smile.  He danced!  Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are nothing compared to when God dances. 

So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for worship.  He cooks a young goat and makes unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says.  An ephah of flour is over a half a bushel.  A young goat and a loaf of bread made from over a half a bushel of flour.  Don’t you get what’s happening?  Remember the first half of this chapter.  Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds. 

They are reduced to starvation.  But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.  He’s not offering God something out of his abundance. 

He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all that he has in worship.  Worship Is About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God.  There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they have worshipped God.  Time spent in this sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.  A little over a half a percent. 

Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to God?  If God is going to Change The Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy.  It must be your heart every moment you are awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere!  Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence, Power And Purposes of God.

When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the angel says:  Put the meat and bread on the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.  Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous.  Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.”  But he doesn’t.  He does exactly what he is told.  The angel took his staff and touched the offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all. 

Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many:  We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire.  The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”.  But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says,  “Don’t Be Afraid!”  And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.

2.  Gideon’s Culture Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.

He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace!  Before Gideon could change the culture of his nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture.  Gideon had been afraid and blaming God.  But now Gideon’s heart has been changed.  Even with the fear and all the questions he had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:  He Learns To Trust God. 

In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God.  We are not going to change our nation by forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders.  The Process Of Change Begins With Us.  God changed The Culture but He started with Gideon. 

God can and God will change Our Culture, but it starts with the person you see in the mirror.  Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him.  And God goes right to work using Gideon.  And here is the third a final lesson today about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:

3.  Gideon Had To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.

What’s an Asherah Pole?  Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.  She was the wife of the god known as Baal.  She was the one they were thinking could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause their wife to produce a lot of children.  These were all signs of prosperity and strength.

The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids one had, the more they thought they were strong.  They believed their strength came from the Asherah pole. 

As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.  

So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night.  Why at night?  Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him.  Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, there goes Gideon the Coward again!”  But there’s another way to look at this:

Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same.  If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture

The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites.   Why?  So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God.  Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free. 

And what about your Asherah Pole?  Asherah Poles are all around us today.  Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real.  What is your Asherah Pole?  Idols are still present today, they just look different. 

Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable?  Is your Asherah Pole the desire for convenience?  Is your Asherah Pole what you consider important?  Is your Asherah Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain?  Is your Asherah Pole fear?  Anger?  Despair?  Selfishness?  Apathy?

Do what Gideon does:  Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar.  God cannot use you to Change The Culture of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole.  But if you will, God will Change You, Then Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.

Last week you were given a choice for your next step.  Join up with all the complaining; or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next Gideon.  Here’s this week’s Next Step

1.  You Can Hold On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be.  OR

2.  Cut Down The Asherah Poles In Your Life.  Get rid of those things that are holding power over you.  Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.

HOW TO BE A WATER-WALKER: STEP 1: GET OUTTA THE BOAT!

For the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at this story from Matthew.  Turn in your Bibles or your phones to Matthew 14:25-32.  As you are turning, I want to ask you for a big favor.  I’m asking you, at least through this series, to forget everything you know or have heard about this story, and use this season to ponder some things you may have either forgotten, or never thought about.  Let’s read:

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.

This Is More Than Just A How-To Series; It’s About Questioning Ourselves On Which Side Of The Boat Are We Living Our Lives.  Are we inside the boat or are we outside the boat?  And if we are in the boat, are we really safer?  Is it really safer holding onto what we think makes us safe?

You see, We are all on a journey—it’s called Life.  And we get only 1 trip, one opportunity at this thing called LifeWill We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Will We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Please, make no mistake about it; it’s risky outside the confines and comfort of the boat.  But let me share something with you about life inside the boat:  It’s Boring, Mundane, And It Drains The Life Right Out Of Us.  The question of the hour is this:  Which is stronger in your life?  The so-called safety of the comfortable and predictable? Or, the desire to live a life that makes a difference? 

We will be looking at several issues that we must deal with if we are going to be Water-Walkers.  And the very first principle that we must address is so simple, it must be stated and it is the one thing you need to remember:  Water-Walkers Have To Get Outta The Boat Or You Will Never Walk With Jesus

Water-Walkers are not dreamers; they are people of action.  They don’t focus on developing great ideas or thinking lofty thoughts.  They are not interested in how much they can know—but they want to know how much they can do.  Water-Walkers are not interested in getting the credit, or being on the front page. 

They are in the deepest sense of the word—servants, for they are the greatest risk takers.  For them consensus is nice, but they won’t wait long for it to happen, unless they know that waiting is a part of God’s plan. 

President Teddy Roosevelt described Water-Walkers this way“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena—who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly.  So that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” 

Let’s look at what goes into the making of a Water-Walker.

1.  Water-Walkers Recognize God’s Presence.

Peter and his friends got into the boat late one afternoon.  Jesus needed to be alone with The Father.  Peter didn’t mind being in the boat.  This is where he is most comfortable and at ease.  This he can handle, much better than the stuff Jesus has been doing. 

But this boat trip was different; this time this time it was a storm so violent that it was all the disciples could do to keep the boat upright and floating.  By 3 a.m., they weren’t interested in getting to the other side; they just wanted to stay alive.  It was then it happened—a shadowy figure appeared through the storm.  Mark’s Gospel adds a twist on this story.  He says, “Jesus was about to pass them by.” 

This doesn’t mean Jesus was trying to sneak pass them.  The Greek word for “to go past them,” is the Greek translation of an Old Testament technical term—Theophany.  A Theophany is a defining moment when God makes an extraordinary appearance for the purpose of revealing a message.  This is an Intentional Act of Jesus—not sneaking by them—but Revealing Himself To Them!

It’s like when God sent Moses to a cleft in the rock so God’s glory could pass by him, or when God sent Elijah to stand on the mountain because he was about to pass by.  With each person God was going to call them to do something extraordinary.  In each situation the person that God called felt afraid. 

And every time those people said yes to their calling, they experienced the power of God in their lives.  Jesus was waiting to see if they would recognize him or not.  Before God speaks to us, he has to get our attention. 

Understand, that it’s in our crisis moments where we most frequently encounter God.  Those Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.  Of those in the boat, it was Peter who recognizes the moment.  He recognized that God was present—even in the most unlikely place.  He realized that this was an extraordinary opportunity for spiritual adventure and growth.  The second thing you need to know is this:

Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.

2.  Water-Walkers Discern Between Faith And Foolishness.

In an instance where some would call Peter foolish, again, he calls out to this other Water-Walker, “If it is you Jesus, command me to come to you on the water.”  Why does Matthew include this detail?  Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water?  I think it’s for a very important reason. 

This Is Not Just A Story About Risk-Taking; It Is Primarily A Story About Obedience.  That means I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

Matthew is not glorifying risk-taking for its own sake.  Jesus is not looking for bungee jumping, hang-gliding, day-trading, tornado-chasing drivers in Smart Cars.  Water-Walking is not something Peter does for recreational purposes. 

This is not a story about extreme sports.  It’s About Extreme Discipleship!  Before Peter gets out of the boat, he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea.  So he asks for clarity:  “If it’s really you, call me!”  Asking for clarity is a good thing.

I’m almost sure Jesus smiled a bit, because one person in the boat got it.  Peter had some inkling of what it is that the Master is doing.  I don’t see the other 11 lining up for their opportunity!  Not only that, Peter had enough faith to believe that he too, could have the adventure.  And the third thing I want you to know is this:

3.  Water-walkers Get Out Of The Boat.

Right now, I want you to put yourself in the story.  Imagine in your mind how violent the storm must have been if even seasoned professionals were afraid.  Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of that night—and no Dramamine! 

These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat.  It would be tough enough to try to walk on the water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still.  Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at hurricane force, it’s 3:00 in the morning—and you’re terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment.  You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing—The Lord Is Passing By.  He’s inviting you to go on the adventure of your life.  But at the same time, you’re scared to death.  What would you choose—the water or the boat?  The boat is familiar.  You know the boat. 

On the other hand, the water is rough, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there.  And if you get out of the boat—whatever your boat might happen to be— Reason And Logic Says You Will Sink And Drown.  But if you don’t get out of the boat, there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. 

I believe there is something—Someone—inside us who tells us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.  You were made for something more than merely avoiding failure.  There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God. 

There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God.

Look, a lot of folks point at the Sinking Peter and say, “Just look at you!  Shame on you, Peter!  Why didn’t you keep you eyes on Jesus instead of the storm?  You’re pathetic, Peter.” 

Let me ask you a question:  Where Were The Other 11?  They were in the boat—the boat that was about to sink.  And this leads me to:  Your Next Step:

Identify Your Boat.  Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God Himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from The High Adventure Of Extreme Discipleship.  

Want to know what your boat is?  Your fear will tell you.  Just ask yourself this:  What is it that most produces fear in me—especially when I think of leaving it behind and stepping out in faith? 

Now, what area of your life do you need to call out to Jesus with the words of Peter:  “If it’s you, call me out!”?  What is one risk you can take in your life that could help your faith to grow? 

I believe that right now, that a Theophany is happening in your life.  Jesus is about to pass by.  Can you recognize Him?  And if so, are you using discernment in discovering his will for you?  Jesus is passing by, right now.  Will you become a Water-Walker?  Will you today, right now, engage in extreme discipleship?  Jesus is passing by—are you going to stay in the boat, or will you experience your own Theophany, and hear Him calling you, “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!”

It Is What It Is. . . And That’s What Hurts So Much

From Sunday, July 28 to this morning, August 4 there have been 4 mass shootings. If data is your thing, then here are the number this past 7 days of mass shootings:
Wounded: at least 68
Killed: Current Count, 34

The reasons for such carnage? Does it make a difference? And who is to blame? Well, it depends on which news channel you watch and who you talk to. Here are some of the conclusions I have heard about where to pass the blame:

  • Guns and their availability
  • Racial motivations
  • Anger
  • The NRA
  • The Republicans
  • The Democrats
  • And ad nauseam other reasons

The one in South Haven, Mississippi is less than 180 miles from me. All this violence has caused me to once again put to use daily my “Concealed Carry” permit. I do so, not out of fear, but my deep concern for those who could be among the next 102.

There are those who think if there were more controls for inanimate objects, there would not be another 102. We are being told all kinds of explanations for this carnage. But most I’ve heard speaks to the symptoms but fail to deal with the real disease.

It is what it is–human violence perpetrated by humans against their fellow human beings. Some of the victims were known, but most were unknown by the shooters. Human violence comes from hearts that have turned away from The Creator. Thus, they lose the sense of purpose we had before the fall. And that is to live in kindness with each other.

More laws can and probably will be passed. But the problem will not go away through legislation. Change of heart is what is needed. There’s an, call it irony, today. It was in the message I shared with the congregations I serve. You can see it here.

Our culture is being fueled by irritation, aggravation, and frustration that is creating the toxic environment of Despair.  And without a radical change of direction, a Divine Recalculating Moment, it will only become worse.

So I appeal, appeal to you who profess your faith in Jesus–to get busy with the work of God’s Kingdom. The work of God’s Kingdom is changing hearts, lives, situations and institutions to reflect HIS Glory, and His love. This is the time for believers to become followers of Jesus. Don’t give up Hope. Share your faith, using words only when necessary. Our culture needs an awakening and a renewal that comes through the Holy Spirit.

And it will to our culture–when you expected an awakening and renewal in YOU. When there is an awakening and renewal IN, then there will be an awakening and renewal THROUGH you!

Let’s be examples of treating ALL people with respect and dignity. Refuse to judge others by any human characteristic or standard. Don’t point the finger of blame at others–instead point the way to Jesus, the Jesus that is clearly seen in you.

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

Change In Direction

Well, it seems the “change bug” has hit me.  I started this blog because I was passionate about the Kingdom of God.  So I focused on those “Kingdom” issues in life and faith.  However, in reviewing some of my posts, I noticed they were about the current Crisis in the United Methodist Church more than the Kingdom of God.  I had left the heart and the vision that started this blogging journey.

So, this morning I launched a new blog, A Wesleyan View In A Post Christian Culture.  My direction changed isn’t in a new direction, but getting back to what God started in my heart and mind.  To my followers and friends here, I invite you to also follow this new blog but don’t feel obligated.  This gift of writing The Spirit is giving me is helping me to be a more faithful follower and disciple of Jesus.  But I need to get back to the Vision of this blog because God gave me the Vision, so I need to be faithful.  I will probably write more here than at the other blog–but who knows?  Well, God knows, and I’m very comfortable with that truth.

Here is my first post in my new blog.  I will continue writing here about the Kingdom of God and anything about my Tribe, will be at the other.

The Times, They Be A Changing

Well, good morning y’all.  Hey, I’m from the south.  Arnold was truthful when he said:

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Our new home is set up, well, sorta set up.  Nearly a month into this new journey, and I’m finally able to sit down and do what I enjoy and is my personal therapy:  writing!  Truth is, I’ve been putting it off for a few days because, well, because I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about.  I guess I could say I had writer’s block–but Papa would probably say I’m just being a Blockhead!

Life is full of lessons–lessons worth sharing.  Change is a part of life–and there are lessons to be learned.  In reflecting on the lessons that I am learning, there is one big lesson that The Spirit is trying (notice, I said ‘trying’) to teach me and I want to share with you.

New people and places are different but the Good News of the Kingdom is the same.

Because people and places are different, it requires different ways to connect those places with the Good News of The Kingdom–and most of all–different ways to connect those places and people in a relationship with the King of that Kingdom.  This doesn’t happen overnight–nor is it easy.  I’m discovering that it requires the same approach that He uses on me:  Building A Relationship That Will Lead To THE Relationship.

Jesus was the Master at this approach–finding ways to connect with people where they were BEFORE He connected them with where they COULD be in Him.  The way you connect with people where they are is to BE where they are.  So, I’m taking the time to learn people and about life as it happens in Fayette and Lamar Counties.

So many, too many churches are failing to reach new and different people because they want to make them like they are BEFORE they get to know them.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  So, I’m learning about different people and places because that’s the way to find a different way to help them grow into the person God’s designed them to be.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to Jack’s in Vernon and then McDonald’s in Fayette.  Those are 2 of the local watering holes–sometimes known as “The Liars Table”.  It’s fun, interesting, but most of all, it’s real–real life!  And remember….

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

A Moving Journal-Day 8

 

Day 1 of clean-up.  Another trip to our local storage unit for “stuff” we’re not moving.  My son and my best friend came to help.  Loaded up my personal pick-up.  And another trip to the local thrift store.  As I was unloading our “actually good condition stuff” I noticed something.  And then I remembered noticing the same thing.  People bringing junk to the thrift store.  Clothes that were dirty and obviously worn out.  Sofas and chairs that were either ripped, worn out, filthy or all of the above.  Lots of broken junk.  People either too lazy or too inconsiderate (meaning extremely selfish) to properly dispose of the junk.  Now this thrift store has the added expense of disposing of someone else’s junk.

And to those who think, “Well, they’re poor, they won’t mind.  They will be thankful to have my junk.  I know it’s better than their stuff.  After all, I made the effort to bring it over here.”  The lesson the Spirit taught me wasn’t about transitions and moving, but about life as a follower of Jesus.  And here is the lesson I learned today:

Treat all people with kindness, dignity, honor and respect.

Those whom society has label “The Poor” are no less human than those who consider themselves Middle Class or higher.  As humans, they deserve to be treated with the same courtesy and respect shown at social organizations or country clubs.  When those who are in poverty, of which nearly all would love to be out of, see the kind of junk dropped off at thrift stores and “mission” centers, it sends out a clear message to the poor.  It says, “This is all you are worth–no more or no less.”

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, I have been active in disaster response and relief.  Some people clean out their attics and the stuff that didn’t sell in their latest yard sale, pack it up to “help” those poor victims of that disaster.  While at Waveland, Mississippi, when bags and boxes of “very-used-clothes” arrived, we added them to the “levee” behind our operation center.  I kid you not, one box was full of men’s leisure suits.  Give me a break!

In 2011, I was put in charge of a distribution center in the small town of Hackleburg, Alabama where in that small community 18 people died and over 100 were injured.  I started sorting and organizing donations and I cannot tell you the disgust of the “used” clothes dropped off before I took over.  There were some that had 25 cent yard sale stickers, some that had mold, and some that were dirty–I mean D-I-R-T-Y!  These people suffered unimaginable horror and pain from the tornadoes, and  now were being dumped on by people thinking they were helping.

Well, I digress to my other Kingdom work, so let me get back on track here.  When junk is given to thrift stores and organizations designed to the poor, it is treating the poor as if they were junk.  How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great.”  This is a quote from Bill Bennot, church planter, leader and author of the book:  Unstoppable Kingdom: An Apostolic Leadership Culture And Transformation.  Remember that your actions speak louder than your words.  If you wouldn’t wear it to go out in public for lunch or supper (that’s ‘dinner’ for those unfortunately not from the South), then don’t give it to the poor.  If it’s broke, don’t give it to the poor.  If you kids won’t play with it because it’s broke, don’t give it to the poor.

Here is the truth:  we are all poor somewhere in our lives.  There is some type of poverty in all of us.  So let’s start treating the poor like we should be treated, because, somewhere–there is poverty in each of us.  Don’t pass on the inferior and pretend you’re acting like Jesus.  You’re not.  If you want to act like Jesus, get to know them and how they feel.  And instead of giving them a handout, offer them a Hand-Up.  They need to know their true worth–in God’s eyes.  And passing along your junk, isn’t helping them see their true worth.

Well, I guess that’s all for now.  Maybe tonight I will sleep beyond 3:50 a.m.  So I say, “Goodnight John Boy!”

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A Moving Journal-Day 7

Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack.  And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped.  Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving.  I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed.  OK, I WAS overwhelmed.  But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.

The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed.  The food pantry hadn’t been touched.  So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away.  The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes.  This to pack.  This to move out of the way.  Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load.  The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded.  My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck.  Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday.  I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.

Now it is early evening.  My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore.  Honestly?  I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor.  At the age of 17, that was my plan–until….  So what other lessons did I learn today?

  • There is still much to be done.  The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work.  It is an ongoing work inside of me.  And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
  • We can do more than we think.  Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
  • Stay focused on the main thing.  Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time.  As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.

A Moving Journal-Day 6

Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive.  Well, no more trips to the curb.  This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare.  Timing is everything as they say.  Packed some more.  The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst.  While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes.  I still have some more to pack up.  While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations.  Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.

While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years:  “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”.  What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think.  He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend.  In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons.  Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch.  With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.  Amen.”

Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms.  Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart.  Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart.  Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled.  Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them.  They will be going with me, not the movers.

Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more.  So what lessons did I learn today?

  • I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”.  By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work.  And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart.  We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up.  I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
  • I learned that self-care is necessary.  The trip to the dentist was long overdue.  I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself.  I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
  • You can’t prevent the inevitable.  Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning.  Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome.  Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow.  Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences.  Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us.  However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them.  Fighting is a losing battle.
  • Vision needs to be handled care.  The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me.  If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting.  So I take care of them.  And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care.  If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
  • Memories are a part of life.  This was the big one for me today.  When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me.  In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones.  Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter.  But there are situations and people who create bad memories.  And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones.  I choose to focus on the good one.  The bad memories will just eat you alive.  And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.

Well, it’s time to wind down the day.  Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7.  Say, “Good night, John Boy”.  Good night John Boy.

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A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

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Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!

A Moving Journal-Day 3

OK, Day 3 is in the books.  In 4 more days the moving company will arrive to pick up our belongings.  Then, on Monday afternoon we will meet them again at our new home.  I guess you could say this is entering “crunch time”.  At least it feels this way.  Here was my day.

At about 5:30 a.m. I boxed up some more of my stuff in the garage.  Now it’s trying to figure out which box will work without any wasted space.  Back to the office to finish all the filing and paperwork.  Filing and sorting was something I was going to get to, eventually.  But it is evident I never got around to it.  So now it’s sorting through documents; filing them chronologically–something that wasn’t done before I arrived, but it will be done before I leaven.  I began preparing notes for my successor of things, people and situations he should be aware of in the beginning–again, something I wasn’t given much of upon my arrival.  I’m finding duplicate documents so I am properly disposing of them.

I arrive at home and after supper, it back to “seek and ye shall find” the right size box.  I’m finding some more “stuff” that I was going to do something with eventually.  Now it’s at the curb for curb shoppers and the street department to pick up on Thursday.  I need to get everything out to the curb by Wednesday night so that my successor will arrive without “stuff” stacked by the curb.  And now, I am writing.  So, what lessons have I learned today?  To the casual observer, it might not seem like much, or worth mentioning.  But I have come to realize that the greatest bits of wisdom most often come from lessons learned; even the smallest lesson.

  • First, I learned that organizing is essential for the long run.  I mean, by putting things that will go together in the same space at the new home will make the unpacking go much quicker; not that it’s all that quick.  But if I put things from 3 different spaces in just one box, I will be spending more time going between spaces that putting those things up.  Forward thinking is either an art that is being lost in people and churches; or it is a skill that is about to become lost upon the general population; or it is a gift that no one wants anymore.
  • Second, I learned that I need to quite practicing the art of procrastination.  There you have it, the one thing that keeps me from being perfect.  I know I just heard someone I know who is reading this fall to the floor laughing.  One of my constant struggles is putting off until next week what I should have done yesterday.  I gotta work on this problem with better results.
  • Third, there are still things to be done here before I leave.  One thing I started doing today that I haven’t mentioned is I’ve been praying, listening and thinking of what to say at our friend’s funeral on Wednesday morning.  Another thing I did not mention is that I’ve been working with our financial manager and volunteer accountant on an accurate financial statement.  This church has been using a system that had 2 not so slight issues–it never balanced with the bank statements and it never balanced at the end of the year.  I made a commitment that the financial picture would be clear as a bell before I left.  And after today, I believe it is.
  • Fourth, I need to be thinking about our next place of Kingdom work.  About midway through the day I realized I have not been praying nor thinking about our new appointment.  I had not been taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit who I believe is guiding us to these 2 wonderful communities of Jesus followers.  Even in crunch time I need to also be thinking about the most immediate future of next week.

 

 

Moving Journal–Day 2

Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move.  Today I preached my final message at this church.  It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness.  Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back.  Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future.  Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine.  This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.

This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman.  I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull.  I challenged them with this question:  “What do you do with broken people?”  The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman.  Maybe I will post that message here some day.

At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness.  I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life.  So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.

And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today.  And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him.  It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother.  It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me.  Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.

So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2?  So glad you asked me:

  • Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life.  At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service.  And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette.  In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
  • I learned that God moves in different ways at different times.  He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message.  Instead, He had a timely and timeless message.  I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time.  God loves to surprise us.
  • And I learned today the value of friendships.  It is our friends that are holding us up at this time.  It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy.  And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles:  “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat.  The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night.  I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread.  But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.

A Moving Journal: Day 1

Last night I was prompted to start a journal of this journey we are facing.  It’s called “Moving”!  One would think that as a pastor, I would eventually get accustomed to it.  But I’m not.  Since the Spirit has been developing this “writing thing” in me, I might as well use it.  So each day I will post something–not just the stresses and  events of moving–but the spiritual lessons He is teaching me–excuse me–trying to teach me.  I admit that at times I am not always the best student.  I would rather teach–but I know I can’t teach unless I also learn.

Today is Saturday, 16 June 2018 and this coming Friday, 22 June 2018, the moving company will be here to pack up our belongings.  At 62, I’m not going to load a U-Haul.  Then on Monday, 25 June 2018, we will move into our new home and to our new appointment to serve Jesus and The Kingdom at Mt. Vernon (near Fayette, Al.) and Oak Hill (near Sulligent, Al.).  We’ve been packing up all along, and now it is at the stage of “when we’ve used it, it’s time to pack it up”.  My current office is all packed up.  It’s just the things here at home.  This the timeline.  Now, to what’s happening today.

More packing of course, and in a bit, I will assist at the funeral of a long time family friend, and personal friend.  I met Benny, I think it was in 1968, when my Dad was sent to Mhoontown for his very first appointment as a pastor.  Our families stayed close and through the years, Benny was always encouraging me as a pastor and preacher.  And I consider it a great honor to be there; to remember him and to remember what he always told me:  “Randy, keep telling them about Jesus!”

And something else is happening today.  Tomorrow will be my last sermon here.  I know, I know that Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow, just take care of today.  But I’m not worrying, so I Jesus is OK with me simply thinking about it.  Isn’t it amazing how we can justify our own sins!  God has a vision for this place–to transform it from a typical downtown “first church” into a Kingdom Church.  Signs of this transformation have been happening the past 4 years.  I had dreamed of being here long enough to see it come to full fruition.  But we are not.

And this is what I am struggling with.  Though I am convinced that I still had much to offer in this process of transformation, the powers that be thought otherwise.  This belief stung my heart like a simultaneous swarm of yellow jackets and hornets.  The wound is healing, thanks to God’s grace and those who have are instruments of that grace.  I promised this journal would also be about what I am being taught by Him.  So here is what I am learning so far.

  • The Kingdom of God is much bigger than me.  It is His Kingdom, not mine.
  • God is sending me, not a group of people.
  • God still has Kingdom Work for me at Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill
  • God still cares about us and will take care of us wherever we go

I have always viewed my appointments as Divine Appointments–not my Tribe sending me somewhere, but God sending me somewhere.  There was one appointment where I was absolutely convinced that the Tribe wasn’t listening to God.  I had no idea why I was there–the chaos was crushing.  But on my last Sunday there, 3 people were saved and one of them, was a hard case.  Joe only went to church when his kids were in some program.  He had no desire for God.  But then the Spirit did an amazing thing–He connected me and Joe through fishing and hunting.  A friendship developed and on my last Sunday, Joe rushed to the altar, tears in his eyes and said, “If anyone is going to show me how this happens, it’s going to be you!”

And now looking back, I see so many “Joes” who are taking their relationship with Jesus much deeper.  Many of us have laughed together, celebrated together and cried together.  I truly hate to leave behind these friends.  But I know that our friendships will continue on, deeper and better than ever before.

And I also know that there are more “Joes” in Fayette and Lamar Counties who need to know the real Jesus and others who need to grow in that relationship.  It is what some call “Mixed Blessings”.  And what is hold me together now, is that this moment and this new journey is in God’s hands and HE is charting the path for me.

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

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

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Do You Serve Before God’s Altar?

OK, since God calls us to be a Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2:9) I ask you:  Whose altar is it?  Priests in the Old Testament served before the Altar of God, meaning God owned that altar.  If the altar is yours then the Fire of Revival will never fall on it.  The fire from Heaven didn’t fall on the altar of Jezebel’s priests because it wasn’t God’s altar.  As long as we try to control the altar, God’s fire won’t fall on it!

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Ultracrepidarianism Is Killing The Local Church!

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Do you know what an expert is?  Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words.  The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was.  The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure.  Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure.  So know that I am not an expert.  But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.

As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation.  I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories.  I am sure you might could think of other categories.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.

First there are the “Noobs“.  It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance.  I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.

The other group is the “Kabitzers“.  Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada!  They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky.  They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right.  So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.

Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay!  Entrenched, Nay!  Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye!  Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose.  Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!

I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location.  We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design.  What is that original design?  Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.

It is to be a Kingdom of Servants.  Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture:  The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago.  It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator.  And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people:  Life As God Intends!  That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:

I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

(and my personal favorite)  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions.  He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of.  Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other.  To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant.  Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires.  And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them.  It begins when we accept them unconditionally.  Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them.  Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King.  And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life.  The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.

If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read.  If they are hungry, we feed them.  If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment.  If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them.  If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.

And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us.  When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move.  But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card.  But if they do not, then we need to persist.  We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants.  And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him.  Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!

A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Tired Of Being Tired!

After just a short day of working in the yard, I had an epiphany.  Actually it was more like a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up back of the head.  I am so tired of being tired.  I remember when (dear Lord, I am so sounding like an old geezer!) I would work all day in the yard and not be as tired as I was after only 3 hours.  I know that this body doesn’t work at 61 like I did when I was 21.  But dog-gone-it, I should not be that tired.  I knew which parts of my body I wanted in better shape.

Call it Prevenient Grace, but I received an email from my health insurance provider about a discounted rate for members to join local fitness centers.  A simple 6 minute drive from our home is one of those fitness centers.  It is located next to and operated by the local hospital–that’s good in case I have a coronary event.  They have a variety of exercise equipment that would help meet my personal goals.  And as an added bonus, they have a whirlpool.  I knew my aching joints and muscles would appreciate the treatment.  So, with the debit card information and a click, I joined the Keller Wellness Center.  So, what does my story have to do with the Kingdom Life?  Thank you for asking.  I’ll tell you.

When these thoughts first started fermenting in this mind of mind, I had an idea of which direction I would go–but now, forget that!  I’m now thinking about how this relates to the human tradition of what, in Churchian and Tenured Pew Sitters terminology, is called “church-membership”.  We see nothing in the New Testament about the necessity and value of “church-membership”, yet today a high value is placed on such a concept.  So high that a new group of people have been identified as the “Dones”.  These are the people who were once very active in a local congregation but now, for a variety of reasons, are “Done” with the church.

I’m not exactly sure of where and when this concept of “church-membership” developed, but I do remember what the early Body of Christ looked like and what they did.  You can find in it Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Oops, I just heard a Tenured Pew Sitter say, “Wait a minute.  There it is, church membership–“the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  Very astute of you to notice that, but your application of the context is all wrong.  The Greek word for “fellowship” (or “church” in the KJV) is ekklēsia”  and it means:  “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place”.  There’s nothing here about catechisms to be learned or rules and boundaries to be observed.  The only stipulation was that God had called them out of their old life into His New Life.

This new life is not the church life, but the Kingdom Life.  And this Kingdom Life is all about sharing the life of Jesus with each other and with their communities.  Unfortunately, many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have taken this being “called out” to mean that we are now like American Express.  What do I mean by such a blasphemous statement?  Well it is like this, American Express had an ad campaign back in the 1990’s that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Actually, it would not surprise me if those mad men (and women) of advertising were actually inspired by the American church.

For decades now Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have viewed church-membership as such.  You join and work your way up the ranks.  The more you conform (forget transformation) to the pattern, the more privileges you earn.  But church-membership should be more than earning privileges.  It is about aligning one’s heart, mind, soul and whole life to the principles of Kingdom Living.  Now let me show you how this relates to my recent “joining” the Keller Wellness Center.

I signed up and paid my monthly dues.  But what if I go in there and simply sit, watching others improve the fitness of their bodies?  How is that making my body more fit at 61?  And I even found myself doing something I loathed one day.  I was on an exercise bike, which is quite a feat for me.  For me to sit on a bike, it has to have at least a V-Twin under me; no pedaling for me.  But there I was just pedaling away.  I noticed one person working out on an elliptical and I thought to myself, “They are doing it all wrong!  Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?”  And now I hear the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, “Well played, Tenured Pew Sitter, well-played.”

To be included in the ekklēsia” requires more than sitting.  Looking at the Acts 2 example and pattern it is about 5 things:

  • A shared life together where you get to know, appreciate and support each other
  • Remembering our living is to look like Jesus dying–caring more for others than for self
  • Loving others in ways that they experience the Life God offers
  • Worshipping God only, not our ways and styles of worship
  • And doing it publicly in ways that draws attention to Jesus, not yourself.

Membership does NOT have its privileges when it comes to the Body of Christ.  Membership has duties and responsibilities–like getting out into our neighborhoods and communities living out what we learned together in our gathering and sharing the life of Jesus–the Kingdom Life.  And shamelessly I want to speak to those who live in the vicinity of Sheffield, Alabama.  If you are one of the “Dones”, I want to personally invite you to Sheffield First United Methodist Church where others and myself are moving away from the story of “the church” and into a much bigger epic–the story of The Kingdom of God.

Sorry Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Membership has NO, absolutely NO privileges.  It does have, however, great responsibilities and even greater joy, the joy that comes from living in a much bigger narrative, a life much bigger than any and all of us–it’s called The Kingdom Of God!

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

You’ve Got Personality! But…

Way back in 1959 there was this popular song written by Lloyd Price and Harold Logan, and recorded by Price, titled “Personality“.  The chorus  says, “Cause you got personality.  Walk, with personality.  Talk, with personality.  Smile, with personality.  Charm, with personality.  Love, with personality.”  I don’t know why I remembered that song, but I did, and that chorus kept going over and over and over in this brain of mine.  And it has inspired me to get back to what I should have been doing, but have been on a hiatus–writing!

I am not a song writer by any stretch of the imagination, but I could add a few more lines to that chorus.  It goes like this:

  • ‘Cause you annoy, with personality
  • Alienate, with personality
  • Hate, with personality
  • Bully, with personality
  • Whine, with personality
  • Complain, with personality
  • Wound, with personality

Remember my personal context from which I write.  I am a pastor and in the last 3 years, have embraced my calling to be more than just a pastor, but to be a Kingdom Pastor.  And here is where I’m going with all this.  I have noticed that sometimes the Devil gets the credit for something he didn’t do, and God gets the blame for things He had no part of.  Be patient and I will explain.

David wrote in Psalm 136:14 (NIV), “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”   God created each of us, not in a cookie cutter kind of way, but unique and not all the same.  In addition to certain abilities, God does give us a personality.  But…how much of what we call personality isn’t really personality, but the result of choices and mind-sets (meaning how we see things, people and life) that have produced habits?

I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard people say, “Well, preacher, that’s just my personality that God gave me.”  They treat it as if it were a gift from God and we should appreciate it, or at least overlook it if it is annoying or even hurtful.  But not all personalities are God-given, especially when they annoy, alienate and/or wound others, even unintentionally.  Perhaps I should have said, “Especially when it is unintentional.”

Do not blame God for your personality that is persistently and consistently abrasive to the point of doing harm.  If I had just a nickel for each time over my 61 years I heard someone say, “Well, that’s just the way God made me” I would have enough to buy that 2017 Indian Chief Motorcycle I drool over.  Not all personalities are given to us by God.  Allow me to share a few personality traits that are not gifts from our Creator:

  • The Guilt Tripper.  This is the person who attempts to make you feel guilty if you do not go along with them.
  • The Sweet Whiner.  This person has a sweet, syrupy sound in their voice, even feigning piety.  They try to talk with the love of God but….you know what I’m talking about.
  • The Let The Chips Fall Where They May.  This person thinks that truth is more important than a person’s feelings.  When it comes to the truth, confrontation is always the answer.  They speak the truth with their love but do not consider the consequences of their words.  Straight forward is always the best option.
  • The I Know What’s Always Best.  This is the person who is the expert on all things important, and nearly always the expert on things that are not important.
  • The Let’s Just Get Along.  Unlike the The Let The Chips Fall Where They May person who thinks confrontation is always a good thing, they work hard to avoid confrontation.  Some have developed this personality trait into an art form.
  • The I Have Had More Life Experiences Than You So You Just Need To Follow My Advice.  This is the person who jumps at the opportunity for a spitting contest.  They have always had it harder and their wounds are always more severe.
  • The Complainer.  Unlike  The Sweet Whiner, this person simply loves to complain.  Enough said.

This isn’t the complete list.  I think you get the idea.  Often what is given the name “personality” is not innate to us, but the product of our own perspectives as well, our environment and even our culture.  When I was in school I was way more introverted than extroverted.  I had self-esteem issues.  And now, if you asked someone who really knows me, “Is Randy an introvert?”  After their uncontrollable fit of laughter, they would reply, “That’s a joke, right?”

But things that we call personality that are not personality can be so ingrained into us, that it is difficult to find and reclaim our true God-given personality.  While every personality is unique, God-given personalities share the same traits.  Paul lets us in on those traits in Philippians 4:8 (NLT), and it looks like this:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is

  • true, (interesting thing about this Greek word–it comes from 2 Greek words.  One means “Not” and the other is “Ignorant”.  Ignorance comes from the lack of knowledge.)
  • and honorable, (comes from the word that means “to revere” and to revere someone is to treat them with courtesy, kindness and respect)
  • and right, (comes from the word meaning “following the commands of God”, and we know that God is pure, unconditional love)
  • and pure, (means “pure from every fault”)
  • and lovely, (means “with regard to” or “to move towards”)
  • and admirable.  (means “sounding well” or “sounds good”)
  • Think about things that are excellent (means “any particular moral excellence”)
  • and worthy of praise.  (means “to sing praises in honour to God”)

If people find you consistently abrasive, if you notice people avoiding you, or if you’ve experienced people finding a quick excuse to get out of being in your presence, then these are very good indications that your personality is just that:  YOUR personality.  And so as to be very clear at this point, it is NOT the personality God has given you.

I admit that I try to avoid certain personalities as much as possible because they are toxic.  I mean, would you want to swim in a pool filled with nothing but toxic chemicals?  Just because we say, “Oh, it’s just the way I’m made” or “Well, it’s just one of my many gifts” doesn’t make it so.  Years of living in the wrong personality does not just go away–but it can and it will if you take the hand of Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit and accept the power God alone gives, then your personality can change–change into the one HE  created, not the one you have settled for.

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

Spreading A Bad Rumor!

21-25 With that they were on their way. They scouted out the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob toward Lebo Hamath. Their route went through the Negev Desert to the town of Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, descendants of the giant Anak, lived there. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they arrived at the Eshcol Valley they cut off a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it took two men to carry it—slung on a pole. They also picked some pomegranates and figs. They named the place Eshcol Valley (Grape-Cluster-Valley) because of the huge cluster of grapes they had cut down there. After forty days of scouting out the land, they returned home.

26-29 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip:  “We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.”

33 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”  But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”

1-3 The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”

Soon they were all saying it to one another: “Let’s pick a new leader; let’s head back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13:21-14:4 (The Message)

If you have followed my train of thought in this blog, then hopefully you understand that this is primarily for the U.S. and Western church.  I know there are some who think my train derailed a while back, but I’m still here and moving forward.  At issue is addressing the mindset of the mainline church which has become a “church centric”  message, meaning it is all about the location of local congregations rather than “Kingdom Centric”, meaning it is about the message of the Kingdom of God.  Living out a church centric message, and thus a church centric gospel, is way too small.  God invites us into the epic story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the narrative that is much bigger than any and all of us.

When a congregation finally wakes up and realizes that their declining membership, attendance and influence is the direct result of living out of a way too small narrative, inevitably there will be those Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians who will fight against such a move to the much bigger narrative of God’s Kingdom.  One of the ways they fight against the move to the Kingdom Story, and thus fight against the Good News Jesus brought, is to spread bad rumors through false stories and very flawed assumptions.  And it’s a tactic that goes way back, all the way back to God delivering the Hebrews, HIS people, from slavery.

Remember with me the setting for this passage from Numbers.  God sent 10 plagues against the Pharaoh and Egypt before the Pharaoh agreed to let them go.  Then the Pharaoh did a very human thing:  he changed his mind.  The Hebrews were trapped–the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  God parted the Red Sea and they successfully crossed over.  Pharaoh’s army tried and drowned.  God’s guidance was always present in the daytime with a column of clouds and at nighttime with a column of fire.  Fresh food fell from heaven every morning (except before the Sabbath when they could collect 2 days worth).  When they grew tired of heaven’s food God provided them with quails.  Water came from rocks when they needed it.  They had a few battles along the way and God always provided them with victory.  Oh, and don’t forget, the column of clouds during the day and the column of fire during the night never left them.

Now they are at the edge of the land which God has promised them they would occupy.  He didn’t tell them how they would occupy it; just His personal assurance they would.  God directs Moses to send one leader from each tribe (notice the use of “leader”) who were to become 007’s, meaning spies, with a very clear set of directions:

  1. Assess the people: Are they strong or weak? Are there few or many?
  2. Observe the land: Is it pleasant or harsh?
  3. Describe the towns where they live: Are they open camps or fortified with walls?
  4. And the soil: Is it fertile or barren? Are there forests? And try to bring back a sample of the produce that grows there—this is the season for the first ripe grapes.

End of the mission.  That’s all!  And make sure you see what is not included in the mission directives.  Have you seen it yet, what’s not there?  Have you?  Well, in case you haven’t seen what’s not there I will share it with you.  God never said, “Then I want you to decide if you can occupy this land.  I want you to decide if this task is possible or not.”  Ten of these alleged leaders decided it WAS their job to determine if it was possible or not.  Without even consulting God, these 10 pitiful and pathetic leaders made a determination that was NOT their’s to make, a determination that was based on their personal assumptions not facts:  “We’re whipped!  Before we even start, we’re finished.  We just need to go back to Egypt.”

But it was Caleb, from the Tribe of Judah, the same Tribe Jesus was born into, and Hoshua (renamed ‘Joshua’ by Moses) from the Tribe of Ephraim, who recognized that these fake and phony 007’s had exceeded their mission directives and made assumptions which they were unqualified to make.  And more than recognize the treasonous act of The 10, they spoke out against them.  Outnumbered 5 to 1, these 2 stood by their Divine Mission Directives.  And what was the result?  Did these 10 confess they were wrong?  Did they repent, change their direction, and stand with Caleb and Joshua?  Nope, nope and nope!

Here is what they did.  They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel.”  I want to  take this moment to speak just to local tribal (meaning church) leaders, whether you are clergy or a layperson.  When you find yourself in a place that has a church centric message and lifestyle, and you hear God calling you to change the culture and climate to the Kingdom Centric Gospel, there will be opposition.  They will follow the same path as these 10 phony and pathetic 007’s in Numbers 13 and 14.

So how does one handle “The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s”?  To answer this question would result in an entire blog 5840ca9163571-imageseries lasting for several editions.  The best way to handle The 10 is NOT to argue with them and here is why.  There are 2 reasons why people engage in rumors and assumptions:  ignorance and simply being dumb.  There is a difference between these two.  Ignorance is simply the lack of information and is easily overcome with the truth.  Being dumb is choosing to ignore the truth.  If you argue with someone who has chosen to be dumb (like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s) they will beat you down to a pulp every time with their experience of being dumb.  Hear me out from my experiences:  When I have chosen to engage in battle with those who do not want the truth, I lose every battle.

I am currently dealing with some who do not have truthful information so I share with them with grace and love, the truth.  And for those who do not want to be ignorant, they receive the truth well.  But for those aligned with The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, I choose to pray for them and avoid arguing with them, for the above mentioned reason.  I would encourage you leaders to do the same.  But remember, there was Caleb and Joshua in this story.  I make sure that like Moses, I surround myself with those who have the same spirit and attitude as Caleb and Joshua, and so should you if and when you find yourself attacked by The Fake & Phony 10.  What was the attitude and spirit of Caleb and Joshua?  Glad you asked!  Here is it:

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Rumors that spread the quickest and cover the largest territory are meant to harm, hurt and crush.  And if you are one engaged in the rumors like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, take a moment to stop and reflect on your words and the way you engage in conversations.  Rumors are entanglements created by the only one who does not want to see God and His people succeed.  Go ahead with the spread of bad rumors if you wish.  I would simply encourage you to read this from Proverbs:

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

10-29hurt

Could It Be The Greatest Tragedy?

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17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”  18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”  20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 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.
Mark 10:17-22 (The Message)

I do not want this edition to become a battle arena of which experience of tragedy is the worst.  All tragedies are painful and that pain is real and must never be minimized.  We are not in a spitting contest folks.  I am not even suggesting that your individual tragedies are unimportant, because they are.  I have wrestled and struggled over this post more than any other.  But could it be that the greatest tragedy is to love Jesus, but on our terms?

The focus of this blog, and the reason the Spirit prompted (more like pushed me kicking and screaming) is to take our focus off of what we think it means to be a real Christian by making the story of our life bigger than the story of our local churches by entering the narrative of the Story of The Kingdom of God.  And today’s edition is about asking the question:  Do we love Jesus, but on our terms?  How you and I answer this question determines how big, or how small, the story of our life becomes.  Does the narrative of our life tell a story as big as the Kingdom of God, or is our story as small as the small amount of real estate our life covers?

Look again at this passage we call “The Story of The Rich Young Ruler”.  He is called rich, meaning he has experienced financial success in life.  But his wealth is not mentioned until the end of this encounter with Jesus.  Look at his initial encounter with Jesus.  The Message says he shows “great reverence” and other translations says he “kneels” or “bows”.  It is obvious, at least to me, this young man recognizes at the very least that Jesus is someone special because he senses that Jesus holds the answer to the deepest need of his heart:  “How can I find unending life?”

I know the translations say eternal life but the Greek word used here is interesting.  There are two particular Greek words translated as “life”, bioswhich means physical life; we get our word “biology” from this word; and zoe—which means life that is full with purpose and meaning.  What I am trying to say is that this man is not asking “How do I get into heaven?”  He is asking Jesus, “How do I find life that has lasting purpose and meaning that begins right now?  I don’t wait to wait until I get to heaven.  I need it NOW!”

Others had been around Jesus but no one asked the question that He loves to hear:  “How do I find unending life that has purpose and meaning starting right now?”  And when this young man came to Jesus with that question pay close attention to how Jesus responds:  “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him!”  Can’t you see the great big smile on the face of Jesus?  Finally, someone asks the question that is at the core of why Jesus became one of us.  Jesus came as one of us so that any of us, all of us could experience zoe life to the max.

Obviously this successful young man loved Jesus because he brought the question of his heart to Him.  But when Jesus gave him the answer, it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.  In that instant this young man realized by while he loved Jesus, it was on his terms.  And when Jesus upped the ante and raised the bar, this young man knew he was unwilling to let go of his bios life in order to take hold of the zoe life.  Look at how he leaves the presence of Jesus, the presence that once offered him hope:  “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 the epitome of the greatest tragedy.  This passage from Mark’s Gospel has led me to believe and become convinced that the greatest tragedy in life is to love God but on our terms.  And here is why:

1.  He turned away from the only Hope!

Everything points to his quest.  He knew the life he was pursuing would not get him to where he needed to be.  There is only one hope to find this life.  He choose to walk away from that Hope for life that could be rich with purpose and meaning.

2.  He rejected the only Cure!

The Message puts this man’s spiritual condition with very clear words:  “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”  He could not “fix” what was wrong with his heart, but Jesus could.  Yet he chose to reject the cure for his pain and emptiness.

3.  He walked away from the only Life!

He accepted a life that he wasn’t was designed for, a life that did not meet his created purpose.  His created purpose, and our created purpose, is to join in with all that our Heavenly Father is doing.

Any experience that meets the definition of “tragedy” is awful and painful.  But I see that the greatest tragedy for any human heart is to love Jesus but on our terms.  Why do I call it the greatest tragedy?  Because Jesus will not accept us on our terms and this means only one thing.  We do what this rich young man did:  we walk away from Jesus.  To walk away from Jesus is to walk away from the only One who loves us enough to die for us.  And that, my friends, is the greatest tragedy—to be so close to the zoe life, one word from zoe life but walk away from it.  Jesus will never accept love on our terms.  He is too good, too holy, too majestic for such a love.  Such a love, a love on our terms, is unworthy of The Eternal One!

We cannot experience the life for which we are created by loving Jesus on our own terms.  Those who know me know that I love to ask questions, even to the point of being annoying.  But I must ask you, the reader, as I often ask myself:  Do you love Jesus, but on your own terms?

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

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