What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

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(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

Getting What We Ask For–But Didn’t Realize It Would Be THAT!

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PSALM 106:6-15 (NLT)

Like our ancestors, we have sinned.
    We have done wrong! We have acted wickedly!
Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.

It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.  Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.  This passage is just one of many that backs up this jewel of wisdom.  In this one Psalm, we have the history of God’s ancient people, and God’s current people.

Here’s the flow:  God’s people, the Hebrews, called out to God for deliverance.  They were slaves, helpless at the hands of their oppressors.  God called Moses to lead this movement.  Pharoah refused; God spoke; Pharoah still refused; pattern repeats.  Until Pharoah finally agrees to let them go.  Then he changes his mind and sets out in pursuit of them.  THEY are at the Red Sea and no bridges or boats around.  They are scared they are about to die.  They whine at Moses, but God intervenes and gives a promise:  “You will get to the Promised Land, and you will never see these Egyptian soldiers again.”  God parts the water, they cross over.  The Egyptians follow and God closes the Sea and dead soldiers everywhere.

They head towards The Promise and God does 3 things:

  1. He provides for their physical needs
  2. He leads them all the way
  3. He assures them He is with them through the Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night

These 3 things occur 24/7.  And how do they respond?  Here’s the Cliff Notes Version:

  1. They whine about fresh food from heaven that costs nothing and which they did nothing to produce it
  2. They can’t wait for Moses to return from consulting with God, so they make an idol they can see.
  3. They whine some more, a lot more
  4. They face some enemies threatening them but God promises Victory and it happens
  5. They get to the edge of the Promised Land, God still providing, leading, and assuring them of His Presence, and they give up without even trusting.
  6. They want a new leader and go back to Egypt–to slavery–but at least they would have garlic and onions–slavery for sure–but oh, those good old onions!

So what does God do?  God gives them what they asked for:  denying them entrance into The Promise.  They all die (except Joshua and Caleb)–in the wilderness.  They never tasted those wonderful onions in Egypt–the land of slavery and oppression.  But they got what they asked for–to turn away from The Promise.

Don’t be hard on those Hebrew children.  It’s happening in our culture today.  God offers us The Promise–The Promise of Life–Life that is full and meaningful–Life that happens through dying to self and self-interests.  Instead people choose to go back in the direction of slavery and oppression all to satisfy their selfish desires.

The Promise of God is that through giving we receive.  Through helping we are helped.  Through listening we are heard.  Through humility we are lifted up.  Through dying we begin to live, really live.  Instead, this Post-Christian culture has opted-in for selfishness, entitlement, fear, hate, blame, hate, and thousands of other destructive mindsets–all in the name of finding life.

The rejection of God’s Truth, as revealed in the Bible, has given people just what they’ve asked for–the politics of hate and fear, and settling for lifestyles that are nothing but onions in the land of oppression.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love a good onion and garlic seasoning.  But here’s what I’m learning:  When we human beings decide what is good and not good, right and wrong, people are led back to oppression and bondage.

Why is our nation in the mess its in?  Simple, the majority are wanting onions and garlic rather than The Promise of God–a life that is rich in meaning and profoundly filled with purpose.  I just remembered an old Burger King® advertising campaign from years ago:  “Have it your way.”  From thinking they are entitled to whatever they want to sexual identities to ethics to morality and even to the definition of “right and wrong”, when we have it “our way” the result is…..well just watch the news…..onions, leeks, garlic for everyone–but also bondage and oppression….

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

Learning From The Tide

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So far this has been a great Spiritual Summer Retreat.  Some may call it a vacation, but for me, it’s been a time of refocusing on God in my life.  Some of the things that have happened to me this year have been, well, challenging.  Truthfully, I let some of those things get the best of me.  My life has been off-kilter.  So God is using this time for me to get my “kilter” back.

This morning got me to thinking about The Tide.  No, not the greatest College Football Dynasty ever, but the “other” Tide.  No!  Not the laundry detergent either!  The ocean tide is a lesson I’ve been rediscovering in this time of retreat.  I am not certain John Wesley would agree with me, but the beach is a means of grace for me.

The Tide happens every day because the water is being influenced by outside forces.  Technically, it’s being influenced by a single source, gravity.  And the gravity that affects the Tide comes from 2 sources.  Do you know that they are?  Did you guess the moon?  Very good class.  Now, what’s the other source of gravity?  Did you say the sun?  Correctamundo!

The Tide in a particular area is determined by its position in relation to both the moon and the sun.  This gravitational pull determines whether the Tide is high or low.  And these gravitational forces come from outside our planet.  It is a force that is unseen, yet it produces a noticeable effect.  And here’s the lesson that this Tide is teaching me.

We are under the gravitational pull of another influence; whether we realize or not.  This force impacts how we think, what we say, what we do, and even why we do it.  They change the shape and direction of our life.  Either for good–and unfortunately–for bad.  Think back to the effect of the ocean Tide.  The ocean tides have a positive impact on marine life.  It also determines the best time for fishermen to catch fish.  And who doesn’t love a good seafood dinner?

But unlike the oceans that have no choice but to be affected by gravity, we do have a choice.  Remember that the ocean Tide is influenced at one time by the sun, and at a different time by the moon–it all depends on their location.  We choose which gravitational pull influences us–in any and all situations of life.  We all face situations which we did not cause–but our response to that situation–it is influenced by which outside source of power we live under.

Allow your life to be under the “gravitational pull” of the Holy Spirit.  Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 (NLT)

Those who are dominated (think about the tide) by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled (think about the gravitational forces on the oceans) by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.

More than thinking about the things that please the Spirit, it is about the impact of those thoughts and how they change the ways we think, speak, act, and why we do what we do.  That’s called MOTIVE.  Like the oceans are being influenced by the power of gravity from either the sun or the moon (and never both at the same moment), you are being influenced by some power that determines your journey.  Unlike the oceans that have no choice, you do have a choice.  And remember that line from the climatic scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”–“Choose wisely!”

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

Now excuse me, but the classroom beckons me.  I wonder what the Tide is doing?

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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Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 5

Welcome back class.  We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven?  I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class:  Spiritual Navigation Course.  Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure.  By the way, you can’t drop this course.  Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master.  So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily.  Now, on to the next plan:

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God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates.  Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven.  That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:

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Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made.  It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist.  It’s what I call “Legalism Light”.  The biggest rule to remember is #4.  Got it?  It focuses on the external parts of our lives.  Work on Rules Keeping.  Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules.  Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3.  Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions.  If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.

Slide21Well, there’s a problem.  God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.  It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom.  God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead.  And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions.  Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.

And then there’s this:  Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants.  It’s about what God really wants.  Talk is just that–Talk.  Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.

That’s it for today.  You know what I am about to say:  Keep good notes.  Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen.  And remember…Love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.

Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.

Heaven—You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 1

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This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see.  I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology.  But I do have a question for you.  The most important question you will ever be asked is this:  How Do You Get To Heaven?  Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.

Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question.  I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us.  OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.

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Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK?  Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs.  It’s obvious.  If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left.  HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.

When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs.  So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question.  Look at  John 3:1-12 (NLT)

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us.  Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus.  “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”  9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit?  You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching.  Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.”  But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.

Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask:  How Do We Find God?  Now here’s where it gets confusing.  Some say there are many ways to find God.  They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City.  We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City.  But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.

There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject.  It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God.  And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism.  It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there.  The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.

So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here.  I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven.  Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.

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

What If Jesus Did A Draft For His Disciples?

Now, I’m not here to brag about College football, just making some Kingdom Observations.  For football fans, last night and for the next few days, there is an air of excitement.  It’s the NFL selecting which players will have an opportunity to take their skill sets to the next level.  I admit that though I’m not exactly an NFL fan, I did watch the first round last night.  Reason being is that I wanted to see how players from THE University of Alabama would fare, and how the Southeastern Conference fared.  And once again, the dominant program of the dominant Conference can celebrate success.  Out of 32 players selected, 10 came from the SEC, and of that 10, 4 came from Alabama.  Both numbers more than any other Conference or School.  I’m just sayin’…

All this got me to thinking this morning.  I know, I know.  I think differently from most folks.  Some folks think I live in my own little world, but that’s OK.  They actually like me here.  The thought I had this morning is this:  What if there was a draft when Jesus was selecting His disciples?  A little background.

Back in the day when the Creator walked in His creation as one HE created, there were a lot of Rabbis and what we might call Rabbinical Schools League.  We usually think of a Rabbi as a “teacher”.  But that word “Rabbi” means someone who is a master and in their culture, a master of the Word of God.  And Rabbis would often have “schools”, so what if there was a draft for who would get into which school.  Picture this, if you can.

Rabbis from around the region gather in Jerusalem in a room.  They are busy reading scouting reports about potential students.  They cast lots (because that’s just a thing they did) and an order of drafting is established.  What qualities are they looking for in a future student/disciple?  Probably they are looking for the cream of the crop.  The best educated and most honorable men available.  They would look for people from the largest towns.  Men who were well-groomed and noble.  After all, no Rabbi worth his weight in salt would want anything less.  Fast forward now.

The Disciple Draft is over and the experts are giving their analysis on how the Rabbis did and who did the best.  “This year’s Draft is now over, and we have a new School in the League:  The School of Rabbi Jesus.  Now here are the 12 students that this Nazarene Rabbi Jesus selected in this year’s draft and how they are seen by the rest of us.:

  1. Simon Peter.  He is a fisherman from Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee.  Not exactly a thriving metropolis.  And education?  How much education is needed to throw a net and pull it back in, again and again and again?
  2. Andrew.  He seems to have no identity of his own.  His identity seems to always be the brother of Simon Peter.  He was also a known student of that wild man, John the Baptist.  Seems to have trouble settling down with just one Rabbi.
  3. James.  Like Andrew, he seems to have no identity on his own; always known as the brother of John.  Like Simon and Andrew, he is also from Bethsaida and a known fisherman.  Also has another nickname, “Son of Thunder”, for his father Zebedee.  It would appear that this family has a reputation for being quite loud.
  4. John.  Just another fisherman from the same little village.  Rumor has it he is very much like his father, Zebedee.  A chip off the old “Son of Thunder” block.  It is also reported he has issues with people who reject him or his friends.
  5. Philip.  Another one from Bethsaida.  This is the most any Rabbi has ever taken in the draft from this insignificant fishing village.  Not much is known about him at this point.  However, rumor has it he can run really fast.  Perhaps that is good, IF the Schools of Rabbis League ever has a field and track event.  This selection just seems to add more head scratching to why Rabbi Jesus is selecting these men.
  6. Thaddeus.  He is also known as Jude, which makes one wonder what he has to hide.  Another unknown selected by Rabbi Jesus.  He appears to be much older than the others selected.  Not exactly what is needed for this new Rabbi’s School.  You would think He would focus on someone much younger.
  7. Bartholomew, A.K.A., Nathaniel.  Much, so much, is unknown about him as well.  However he is known to be a bit of a snob, even questioning the area Rabbi Jesus came from.  Reportedly he Tweeted, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  But this just seems to be another in a long line of questionable draft choices.
  8. Thomas.  This man is totally unknown.  He only thing we may assume about him is that he has a twin somewhere.  How does that qualify him for being a disciple of any Rabbi?
  9. James The Less.  Unlike Rabbi Jesus’ selection of the much older Bartholomew, James the Less is the exact opposite.  He’s younger and reportedly shorter than the others.  But he certainly fits in with all the others drafted–“The Less”.  Maybe Jesus should have stuck to carpentry.
  10. Matthew.  Perhaps the most questionable draft selection by Rabbi Jesus.  Though certainly educated, this man is not even permitted to enter any synagogue, and certainly not The Temple.  He is a Tax Collector, and this makes him a collaborator with the occupying Romans.  No one in the community likes him, except the local sinners.  What is this Rabbi thinking with?
  11. Simon the Zealot.  This selection is perhaps the second worst behind Matthew.  He is a known member of a radical group that has been listed by Rome as a Terrorist Organization.  This certainly puts this new Rabbi under the microscope of Caesar, which is not a good place to be.
  12.  Judas Iscariot.  This is the most reasonable draft selection by Jesus in this whole class.  Judas is from the Tribe of Judah, a well-known and solid family in Israel.  Of this year’s class, Judas is a great choice on the surface.  Unique to him is that he and Jesus are from the same Tribe, Judah.  One would think Jesus would have selected more from his own Tribe, but no other Judeans were selected; only Jesus and Judas have this honor..  It is a wonder that the other Rabbis did not select Judas, so it is really lucky that Rabbi Jesus was able to snatch this man.  The only strike against Judas are the rumors that he is a member of the Scarii, another known terrorist organization characterized by their use of long daggers to assassinate those they consider a danger to Israel.

“In the view of this reporter, the success or failure of this Rabbi clearly hinges on his  selections in subsequent drafts, because there is nothing here to indicate this Rabbi will make any impact in the nation now.  If future drafts look like this one, do not expect Rabbinical School of Jesus to hang around very long.  I would say after just 3 years, you won’t hear anything about Rabbi Jesus and His School.  Without a defined location, simply moving from place to place, we do not expect this Rabbi’s School to draw in many students.  He’s making it too hard for anyone to follow Him.  Look for Judas to jump ship to another School.  He’s too good not to!”

Last night it was all about the best of the best, those who had already proven themselves and their skill sets.  None of those selected by Jesus were among the very best.  The above analysis would have been true, based on what they knew about these 12 draftees.  There is more here than meets the eye.  And there is more to others, more to you, than what meets the eye of so-called experts.

It is this group of The Least Likely  that literally turned the world right-side-up back then.  It seems that Jesus has a knack for bringing things out of people that others don’t see in them, and that they don’t see in themselves.  And it is still the way Jesus works today.  So, if you feel like you are the least talented, least gifted–if you see your past track record as a complete failure–then get ready for Jesus to call your name in “The Draft”.  Two thousand years later, the technique of Rabbi Jesus has a proven track record.  Trust Jesus with what He wants to do with your life.  He does know what He is doing–even if the world calls Him crazy!

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

 

 

Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?

We all have some way of self-identifying:  “I am a husband.  I am a wife.  I am so-and-so’s daughter/son.  I am a parent, grandparent.  I am                  (fill in the blank).”  Self-identifications such as this is a good way to identify our roles–at home, work, community, family, church, etc.

If you consider Jesus to be your Savior, then how do you usually identify yourself:  a Christian or a Disciple?  I know, I know, it sounds like I am about to strain at a gnat just to swallow a camel.  You may be thinking, “What difference does that make?  There’s more important issues going on in the world, in our nation that needs to be address.  Christian or Disciple, really?”  Yes, really!

We find the first use of this word “christian” in Acts 11:26–The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Well, well, well, it seems that Jesus did not use that word “christian”.  The Greek word is “christianos and it means “follower of Christ”.  And it seems that this word “christianos” is used only 2 other times in the New Testament.  Could it be, mind you I’m only asking a question, could it be that the word “christian” should not be our first choice of words when self-identifying with Jesus?

Well, what about the word disciple?  It is the Greek word mathētēs” that means “a learner”.  Furthermore it seems that word mathētēs” is used an additional 267 times for a total of 268 times.  This means that for every time the word christian is used, the word Disciple is used 89 times.  I’m not against the use of the word “christian”, but…

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When we self-identify by the use of a word, it usually means we are describing a role and a purpose for our life.  Strictly speaking out of my culture and experiences, many use the word “christian” as a title, not a role or purpose in life.  Contrary to what is often heard, the Great Commission is not about creating christians but making DISCIPLES!  The cultural bias that often drives a congregation is twisted up in the word christian, that does not mean now what it did those 3 times the New Testament writers chose that word.  The cultural bias I see is that the word “christian” is a title, not a role.  Before Antioch they were called “people of The Way”.  “The Way”, by the way, came from a phrase used by Jesus that described His Role and Purpose.  (John 14:6–“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”)

There are 3 Key Qualities of a Disciple:

Disciples Listen

Do you remember when you were in school and the teacher said those 7 most feared words?  “Take out a clean sheet of paper.”  It mean it was time for a test, pop quiz or announced.  When listening to Jesus, we need a clean sheet of paper.  Not for the test, that comes later.  But we need to listen with an open heart and open mind.  We need to listen to Him directly; not what someone else said about what He said.  We need to approach each passage as if it were the first time we read it.  Listen to God’s mind and heart.  There are some “deep” passages, but what we need for life–for our role and purpose isn’t rocket surgery or brain science.  You just need to listen.

Disciples Learn

Don’t be like you were when you were a kid and your parent was talking to you.  You know, letting it go in one ear and out the other.  Begin to uncover and discover how the Good News is designed to work in our life.  Memorization is a tool, a very good tool, but go deeper.  There is a wisdom in God’s Truth that we need to accept and embrace in our journey through this life.  Explore how this Good News can make a difference in your life.  I once heard this illustration.  When a duck dives into the water for food, it comes back up at a different place.  Internal transformation is the beginning point and the source of the Power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

Disciples Apply

Information and knowledge are not enough.  The key is application.  It has been said, and very well I might add, that Wisdom is the APPLICATION of knowledge.  Unfortunately, the cultural church has been inundated with the Intelligentsia.  The Intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labors that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.  In others words, lots of thinking and talking but not a whole lot of doing.  Someone once told me that C. S. Lewis defined The Intelligentsia as people who are educated beyond their intelligence.  I cannot verify C. S. said it, but I know more than a few that meets that definition of The Intelligentsia.

The goal of Jesus’ teachings was APPLICATION.  Once a student listens, then learns, they are now ready to apply that knowledge.  Knowledge with application is like a coke (I’m from the south, so the word ‘coke’ refers to a variety of different brands) without the  carbonated water–it’s flat and loses its true taste.

Jesus wants Disciples, after all that was His invitation.  People who will listen, learn and apply The Good News of The Kingdom of God.  Being a Disciple isn’t a title–It is our role and purpose.  This is just me, OK?  If I believe the writers of the New Testament chose their words carefully (and I do believe that), if Jesus never asked for people to become christians (and He didn’t), then maybe I need to self-identify as DISCIPLE.  Yep, I think I will do just that!

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

Give Up Negativity

(This is the sixth of my current message series GIVE IT UP! (for Lent and Beyond)

Here lately I’ve been accused of stepping on some toes.  Well, have I got some good news for you!  This message will not apply to you.  It’s for those other folks—the person sitting next to you—on the other side—your neighbors—your in-laws—your coworkers—your boss!  We’re going to look at Giving Up Negativity!  Only 1 verse for today.  Proverbs 10:11 (NLT):

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.

You know I was being facetious about this message not being for you but all those other folks.  The truth is, at any time all of us become guilty of being negative.  Look at these words again, this time from The Message—“the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.”  Don’t shut off your hearing—just hear me out.

It’s not so much that WE are wicked—it’s that if we are not careful AND intentional, we allow our mouths to become an instrument of THE Wicked One!  And we become another wicked mouth—another instrument for the Wicked One—when our words stink with negativity!  It’s what Brian Houston of Hillsong Church in Australia calls “Verbal Terrorism”.  Most of those who have the wicked mouth are appalled at and are against any form of abuse.  Yet those who speak negative words from their negative hearts and minds are the most abusive of all.

If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  

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Negative energy can squash positive energy.  A negative thought, comment or action is very good at destroying good things and making someone or something fail.

A negative remark becomes a rumor that becomes a false witness, which becomes an ugly situation. Negativity works by being passed from one person to another.  We all know negative people. We know them at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, our in-laws and yes, even in our church.  Some of them whine; they are almost always critical and never satisfied.  Others are harsh, nasty and angry.  And still others are cynical, malicious, sarcastic, narcissistic and unfriendly.  We know to stay out of their way.

And there are those who follow only their egos and desires, doing whatever it takes to attain their goals, leaving behind a long trail of negativity, pain and destruction.  Some of us are constantly fending off the negativity that pushes against us.  The bad experiences of life take a heavy toll on our spirit.  If gone unchecked, we can become the same grumpy and sad people we criticize and try to AVOID.

People do not become negative overnight.  There are more than a few happy-go-lucky kids who grew up to become nasty or depressed old people because of the negativity accumulated over the years.  Many people spend their adult lives trying to prove themselves to the world because of a few bad kids who taunted them in childhood.

Negativity is a killer. Negativity will Kill your present life and any chance of a future fulfilling life. Negativity creates more negativity.  Negativity sticks around and leaves deep wounds that do not heal easily.  The wicked mouth is used by the Wicked One to kill the Vision and Mission of a church.

No one likes negativity, yet everyone participates in it and at a moment’s notice—joins right in.  How many of you jump into a gossip session or throw in a snide remark if a person’s name is mentioned?   Point the finger of blame at someone else?

The fruit of negativity is too large to list: pain, division, anger, fear, sadness, paranoia, isolation, bitterness, are just a few.  A negative church raises negative Christians.  You can tell them by their fruit.  Their focus is NOT on ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’, ‘hope’ or ‘love’.  Some focus on ‘sinners’ and ‘hellfire’.  They love to SCARE their members to God.  They succeed not only in making their members afraid of God, but they are nervous and afraid that the devil will get them.  They reluctantly serve God just to save themselves from hell.  No love for others, but care only for their self-preservation.

A negative church also creates coarse, self-righteous, divisive members who isolate themselves and demonize those who disagree with them.  It takes as few as one negative person whose angry nit-picking, to catch fire with other members and eventually bring down the whole church.  Negativity is a great tool of the devil.

No church is ever 100% negativity free.  Many can have great music, worship, sermons and teachings, yet still have hidden prejudices, in-fighting, gossiping and self-righteousness among themselves.  In a church setting, many people who visit a church can SENSE that something doesn’t seem right, and they don’t come back.  Those that do come back and stay think that is the way the church operates because the people in the congregation don’t say anything against it, then it must be OK. Right? WRONG!

How many good intentioned churches have all the makings of a wonderful place of worship, but quietly keep out ‘undesirables’ or teach their congregations, that certain people are not loved or forgiven by God.  Or teach that God only cares about following the rules exactly. Somehow, forgiveness, love and grace are secondary.  There are certain ‘diagnostic’ Here Are The Signs Of The Spirit Of Negativity In A Person And In Church:

1] They Ignore The Good.

Instead of the “whatsoever things are good”, it’s a witch hunt for ‘whatsoever things are not good’.  “Not good” is defined by their definitions, not God’s definition.  Attention, energy and resources are directed toward fixing things—be it programs or staff or pastor.  Just One ‘not good’ thing becomes the driving force for them—whether it is a person, a program, style of worship or an issue.

2] They Focus On Mistakes.

For them it doesn’t matter what else is happening—it’s all about the mistakes.  Because mistakes are their focus, they are looking for them.  Their eye is trained to look for someone to make a mistake.  And even if the mistake is an honest and unintentional one, the benefit of the doubt is absent.  They look at others so critically that they believe someone is going to make that mistake.  So they watch and watch, and if anything gets close to what they consider a mistake, they pounce on it like a big cat pounces on its prey and unload both barrels.

3] They Sacrifice Their Gifts And Passion.

When I say sacrifice, I do not mean it in the sense that they give it up for Jesus.  They set their gifts and passion aside—put it in a box and in a closet.  They are not interested in the Mission of God  Because They Lose Sight Of The Big Picture.  All that they could become and do for Jesus is locked away; and it’s all because of their wicked mouth.  The result of this sacrificing of their gifts and passion is that they become more in love with their past than they are in God’s future!  They moan that things are not like they used to be.  That negative spirit, those negative words, causes them to look backwards to how it was back then and miss how it can be right now.

Negativity is among the most dangerous diseases UNKNOWN to people.  I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  Over my years, I’ve only known a handful of people who intentionally chose to have that wicked mouth and live in the spirit of negativity.  Most I’ve seen just eased into it.  One thing goes wrong; something changes—and before they even realize—negative words form.

Those negative words ooze into their thinking just once.  Then another thing happens, and their mouth becomes wicked.  Then it’s another and then another.  Soon, even unaware, they are possessed with those wicked lips become another instrument of the Wicked One.  But There Is A Way Of Overcoming the Spirit of Negativity.

1] Transform Your Minds (Romans 12:2).

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Notice that this word is TRANSFORM, not REFORM.  It’s not about doing a little tweaking here and there.  Think about an automobile engine:  It’s the difference between changing spark plugs and complete overhauling the motor.  It’s look at every part and replacing everything that’s not up to the original specifications.  The original specifications of your mind is to think the way God thinks.

But the wicked mouth reveals that it ain’t so because we are tainted by the Wicked One.  And Paul tells us how to transform the mind:

  • Begin each day by giving your day to God
  • Remember what God has done and is doing for your life (picture of Him on the Cross)
  • Reject what your environment and culture say is right
  • Listen to what God wants from you; it’s found in the Bible
  • Then respond immediately to what God wants

And God will begin changing you from the inside first.  Then He lifts you up on the outside by giving back to you what the Wicked One took away from you because of your sin.

2] Change Your Thinking (Philippians 4:8).

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Once God has transformed your mind—He expects you to use it in ways that are consistent with His ways.  There is a key word Paul uses:  Fix or as the KJV puts it Think.  In the Greek it means “to consider, take account, weigh, meditate”.  The Wicked Mouth doesn’t say things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious the best, the beautiful, things to praise.

Wicked lips speak things from the Wicked Mind—malicious words, degrading words, dishonorable words, despicable words.  God sees things, situations and people in a different way.  Consider the ways and heart of God.  Give God’s thoughts more weight than your thoughts.  Words that tear down, words that discourage others, come from the Wicked Lips.

3] Control Your Mouths. (James 3:6)

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire.  It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.  It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Rather than me explaining this, let’s just see what the Bible says about controlling your mouth:

  • Psalm 141:3—“Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.”
  • Proverbs 12:13—“The wicked are trapped by their own words,     but the godly escape such trouble.
  • Proverbs 13:3—“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”
  • Proverbs 11:11—“Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.
  • Proverbs 21:23—“Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” Or from The Message—“Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
  • Ephesians 4:29—“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
  • Proverbs 10:19—“Too much talk leads to sin.  Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
  • Proverbs 10:11—“The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.”

Lips express the words that are formed in our mind produced by our thoughts.  The wicked mouth expresses the wicked mind, that reveals the Spirit of Negativity.  The Negative Thoughts We Have About Others And The World Are Often Rooted In The Negative Thoughts We Have About Ourselves.  Have you ever consider this to be true in life, in others, even in yourself?

Your next step is to make this declaration about your own mind and attitude.

Therefore, I hereby declare this to be true about me:

  1. I repent of my past negative attitude and words.
  2. I am a child of God.
  3. I am who He says I am.
  4. I am special to God and His Kingdom.
  5. I am forgiven.
  6. I am a product of God’s grace.
  7. I am a Christ-follower.
  8. I am a champion for Christ.
  9. I am more than a conqueror.
  10. I am filled with His Spirit, and will walk in the Spirit throughout this day.
  11. When I return home, I will praise Him for His protection, I will bless Him for His mercy, and I will sing His praises in the night!
  12. I will live life to the fullest today.
  13. I will bless someone today with my words.
  14. I will speak words of life, of comfort, of healing and power.
  15. I will walk in victory.
  16. I can do what He says I can do, and today I will live life in abundance!
  17. There is no turning back.

Now, go do the next right thing!

Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven!

2 Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven

(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)

Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:  Disclaimer

OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus.  Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth.  He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth.  He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally.  But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration.  And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole.  2 Steps:

  1. Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself.  If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole

If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole.  But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority.  Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings.  It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this:  Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven.  This is what Jesus is really saying here.  Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven.  These are good, moral and honest people.  This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars.  These are the people who talk a good game.  Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas.  So, is Jesus serious here?  OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:

  1. Is It Possible?
    1. One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was.  And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
    2. The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
    3. Think about this:  Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord?    It happens every day.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
    1. Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
    2. And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.

Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow.  If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.

But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something?  I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others.  It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars.  For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage.  We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.

Then why isn’t this enough?  I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong.  We helped our neighbor a few times.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough.  If we do more good things than bad things—hey!  We should be able to get in.  Makes human sense, doesn’t it.  After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good.   It works in accounting, but not at judgment.  Why doesn’t it work at judgment?

Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.

The Kingdom is God’s realm.  And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness.  Now how righteous are we to be?  Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  How righteous were they?  Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own.  They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion.  They were obsessed with religious function.  As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.

They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting.  They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law.  It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.

God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish.  Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus.  So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?

1) The Problem Of Sin

Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside.  John Wesley called it “Original Sin”.  We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature.  It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark.  We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness.  We miss the mark when it comes to judging others.  We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy.  We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done.  Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.

Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God.  In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  The Law of God is one single Law.  Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws.  When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience.  All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.

2) The Issue Of Holiness

1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness.  We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin!  When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.

We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image.  God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God.  Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain.  Being good is different from being Holy.  Being good is acting nice to others for the most part.  Being good is acting joyful for the most part.  Being good is acting grateful for the most part.  Being good is going to church on most Sundays.  Being good is reading your Bible for the most part.  Being good is helping someone from time to time.  Being good is paying the bills on time.  Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are.  Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.

The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.

Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.

No exceptions and no exclusions.  Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner.  Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone.  And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.

3) The Need For Righteousness

Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God.  But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God.  And we never will by our best efforts.  So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner.  In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God.  Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.

Righteousness is received in two acts.  The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.

  Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.

Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross.  It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness.  By Grace—Through Faith

But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning.  Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness.  Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right.  It’s the reason for:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God.  It happens when we get involved with what God is doing.  It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.

  1. The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
  2. The Great Love For God—with all your life
  3. The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
  4. The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus

Getting into heaven isn’t about being good.  It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good.  So, how do you get into heaven?  It’s by obeying.  Listen again to verse 21:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?

  1. Confess And Repent:  Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins.  Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner.  Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
  2. Trust And Believe:  Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
  3. Surrender And Follow:  Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
  4. Learn And Do:  Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching.  Then do the things you have learned.  In other words, obey Jesus.

Next Step

A Yo-Yo Without String Living

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Pray tell, what good is a yo-yo without string?  I mean, really?  What’s its purpose?  Maybe it will make for a good late, late night infomercial?  “That’s right folks, a stringless yo-yo.  It’s available in 4 stunning colors and for a limited time you can get it for only 4 easy payments of $16.43, plus a reasonable processing fee.  But that’s not all, call in the next 17 minutes 14 seconds, we will send you another one in the color of our choice absolutely free, you only pay a separate processing fee.  And for just a very limited time, because you know we can’t do this forever, we will reduce it by 1 payment.  That’s right, only 3, you heard correctly, 3 payments instead of 4.  Call 888-2ABSURD, operators are standing by.  Batteries are not included.”

Can anyone out there in Blogland tell me what good is a yo-yo without string?  The only thing I can think of is maybe a paper weight or something to throw at somebody who is really annoying you.  (If you think of any other purpose, please share in the comments section below.)  Right now I hear some of you readers thinking, “Where is he going with this?”  (Be forewarned, I do have ESPN).  As ridiculous as it is to think of a stringless yo-yo, there is something happening in our culture that is even more than ridiculous, it is disheartening.

Many people have chosen to build their life upon how they feel.  They have chosen a purpose based on feelings, but wait, there’s more.  They have chosen to identify themselves based on how they feel.  A friend was sharing with me that his daughter who was, if I remember correctly, either a kindergarten or first grade teacher who had a parent that came to her at the first of the school year with important information about her child.  She told this teacher that one day “he” may come to school as a “she” or may come as a “he”.  It just depended on how he was feeling that morning.  Not based on biology and plumbing, just on those feelings of the day.

And living this “stringless yo-yo” life is not only being promoted in the arena of human sexuality, it is being lived out in so many, too many human lives.  Someone calls you worthless, a failure.  That feeling creeps, even comes like a tsunami over you and you live each day believing you are just that and nothing more.  You see others have success and lots of “stuff” and you “feel” like you are entitled to it.  Feelings!

Let’s say you have a medical condition and you need a specialist.  You don’t know one so you find one and make an appointment.  You’re first question should be, “Where did you go to school and what special training have you had?”  What if their answer was, “Oh, I only graduated high school.  But today I feel like a neurologist.  Oh wait, now I feel like a proctologist.  Where are those gloves?”  What would be your response?  I’m sure it would be to exit that room like the Roadrunner in those old cartoons.

1So why do people make the choice to live their lives based on feelings, either those feelings that have come from deep within or those feelings created by someone’s opinion of them?  Living by feelings is like a yo-yo with a string.  Up and down, up and down, over here, over there.  It’s a roller coaster ride that never ends.  And when you accept those “feelings” as your identity or even your purpose in life, the string is removed.  You are that stringless yo-yo.  But that is not the life you were created and designed for.  Your life is much more than a feeling.  The song is right, it’s “feelings, nothing more than feelings.”

There is a beauty, strength and design that exceeds those feelings.    Solomon shared in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  God has a unique design for you that reflects His image.  Go back to the very beginning of the Bible and we can clearly see it.  Relationship–Perfect Relationship.  Perfect Relationship with Him, self and others.  This life is never based on a feeling, but on The Truth, Truth as God defines it.

And if you are living by and through your feelings, I want to take this moment to encourage you to take the time to really know God–His heart and purpose for your life.  It’s found in the Bible.  Take the time to read it for yourself, without add the interpretations and opinions of others, even mine.  Ask the Holy Spirit to join you in this journey to help you understand the big picture, not isolated bits and pieces that will be used to confirm those feelings.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading, and trust–trust in the God who loves you right where you are.  And loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to stay where you are, but to become all the HE sees in you.  Even if others don’t see it in you, and especially if you can’t see it in you.

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And don’t forget that God’s love is not a feeling, but His whole heart, a heart for you.

Live In A Different Story!

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“But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.” (Numbers 14:24 The Message)

I absolutely love the Story of Caleb.  Read Numbers 13 and 14 and how can anyone NOT love Caleb?  I love this man so much I just finished a sermon series about him.  There are so many things about this guy and I could preach a year or more just on him, if The Spirit would allow me.  I am blown away by how The Message translates God’s opinion of Caleb.  (You do know that God has an opinion about you, don’t you?)  “But my servant Caleb—this is a different story.”

How was his story different?  God sent 12 spies, leaders actually, into the Promised Land with very specific orders.  But it was never in their directive to determine if they could succeed at occupying and conquering the land.  But 10 of these alleged leaders exceeded their directives and made a decision that wasn’t theirs to make.  “We can’t do it!  We’re whipped!  Lets get a new lead pastor and go back to Egypt where we can eat all the onions and garlic we want!”  OK?  So, you want bad breath instead of God’s Promise?  Ain’t it amazing what good church folks will give up for bad breath!

It would now seem, if they are going to be a good old American democracy, that God’s Promise would never happen, at least by the story of the Halitosis Ten.  But there is another Story being told and written.  Caleb, along with Joshua, has a Different Story to write and tell.  Allow me, if you will, to share just a little bit about That Different Story.  It’s a Story of living in The Promise, not The Halitosis.  There is much to be said, but I will share 4 of the Key Qualities of Caleb.

1.  He Had A Different Mindset

Caleb isn’t being naive.  He saw the well fortified cities.  He saw that the land produced NFL Linemen sized people.  He saw every obstacle in front of them.  But Caleb saw more.  He saw God’s Presence through The Promise.   He saw the challenges in front of him through the faithfulness of God.  He had the mindset of looking at The Problem Solver, not the problem; of looking at the Giant Slayer, not the giant.  Caleb was really radicalhe trusted God.  I am amazed (probably more like disgusted) at those who say they are a Christian while insisting that as a church we have to play it safe.  Where’s the faith in that?  And where did Jesus ever say that following Him was safe?  See your situations as an individual and a church the same way Caleb saw what was in front of HimGod’s got this!

2.  He Had A Different Purpose

Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of GodHis heart and His purposes.  Caleb was willing to give up his Story to become a part of a much bigger Story, the Story of God’s purposes.  Ever since Adam and Eve messed it all up and ever since we perpetuate The Fall with our sinfulness, God has been at work and His work is very clear.  He wants to Redeem The Sinner, bring Recovery For The Broken, and to Restore His Image Bearers.  All of us have a Life Purpose, good, bad or indifferent, you have a Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose will be based and built upon the information you believe is true.  Caleb believed God’s Promise is greater than any obstacle, so he chose as the Purpose of his life, to work where God is workingRedeeming, Recovering and Restoring.

3.  He Had A Different Courage

Caleb’s courage came from his Trust in God.  Caleb saw God as Trustworthy.  He didn’t stutter, blink or hesitate.  “Come on, gang!  God is Trustworthy!  You say you Trust in God?  Well, let’s put some action in that trust!”  Caleb’s roots grew deep in God.  Caleb understood that “roots” are not what holds us down to the ground, but enables to grow up and out.  This courage came out of something Caleb did not fully understand, but somehow knewthat God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him.  He knew that wherever he went, God was with himand that was enough.

4.  He Had A Different Plan

His plan was to stay close enough to God so that he could see how God would work it out.  He didn’t trust himself to figure it outhow it would happen.  He knew that God had a plan and all he needed to do was to be available for the ways that God wanted to use him.  Translated to 2017, the work of God is a Spiritual Work that requires Spiritual Tools (known as the Gifts of the Spirit), A Spiritual Heart (which is the heart of a servant), and A Spiritual Attitude (known as HE is the vine and we are the branchesbranches designed to bear much fruit).

Goodness gracious!  Where have all the Calebs gone today?  You can find the next Caleb by looking the mirror.  He’s longing to get outbecause there is a Caleb in you but you need to make the choice between The Promise and The Halitosis.  Which do you really want?

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