Seeds Live Truthfully!

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Here lately I’ve gone back to some of the great classics when it comes to a solid understanding about the nature of God’s Kingdom.  And one of those great teachers from the past is A.W. Tozer.  Yesterday this one really grabbed me and I thought, “Wow!  So simple but even more powerfully true!  Why can’t Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters see this and stop their effete and enervated attitudes? They are the brummagem purveyors of the attitude that is devouring so many local congregations.

In all that is false, bogus and spurious, in our culture and being propagated by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, it is seeds that know the truth!  Hey!  Didn’t Jesus say something about knowing a tree by what it produces?  They must have missed that part of the Bible.  But seeds know the truth.  I mean, does the seed from Kudzu really think, “Hey, I believe that I am going to produce grapes, grapes that will produce the finest wines (or Welch’s Grape Juice for my more fundamentalist and hyper-evangelical friends) that has ever been produced!”  As Steve Harvey might say, “Oh, Heck Nawl!” (again, for my hyper friends, I chose a tamer word).

Kudzu seeds knows all it will produce is more Kudzu.  And here is another thing about Kudzu:  though they only produce limited seeds, it’s their root system that makes them so invasive.  Their “crown roots” can go as deep as 12 feet and can outlast other vegetation in a drought.  And here’s the analogy for the American Church.  Once your understanding of God and the Gospel gets polluted, you will taint the next generation and they will dilute and pollute the truth a little bit more, and so will the next and the next and the next and the next and the…get the point, yet?

Many churches, well-meaning churches, have created a hybrid gospel that is not gospel at all.  As Reggie McNeal (not the football player) points out in his book Kingdom Come we have started producing and telling a story centered around the local church rather than the Kingdom of God.  In simpler terms, our story is too small.  What is needed is a new batch of seeds.  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters do not need to be reformed, but TRANSFORMED!  And transformation will only happen when we do these two things:

  1. Admit the problem and throw away all these “bad seeds” that are weakening (much to the delight of our Enemy) local congregations.  In Biblical terminology (again for my hyper friends) CONFESS AND REPENT!  It won’t hurt you to cry some at this point.  Be sad, you spreaders of bad seeds!
  2. Surrender to God so that He can radically transform the heart and mind.  Only God can do this.  We can’t produce the True Seeds of the Kingdom by slowly turning away from the bad.  That is like an alcoholic saying, “I’m going to kick this addiction by reducing my consumption of alcohol by 1 or 2 drinks a week until I’ve stopped drinking all together.”  I have never known an alcoholic kick their habit that way.  But I do know a lot of alcoholics who broke free from their addiction by the grace of God, and they will tell you that.  Oh, and another thing about alcoholics, they know that 1 drink will send them back into that downward spiral.  So those who are spreading the bad seeds, stay on your guard that you don’t do it again by hanging on to God and His power at work in you.

Seeds live truthfully.  They only produce what they are capable of producing.  That part comes from their nature.  Make sure YOUR nature is the right one; the one that is the result of God’s transforming and radical grace.  You can’t scatter crabgrass seeds and hope to have a Zoysia lawn.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him; by getting rid of those old seeds and becoming the new seeds of the Kingdom of God.

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The Best Way To Help Right Now…

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The very best way to help SURVIVORS (I say survivors because it is a better word than “victims”) of Harvey RIGHT NOW, is stay away, listen, and donate money.  In the arena of Disaster Response I am now a seasoned veteran and speak out of and from my personal experiences.  I am not so dumb as to think everyone has had the same experiences I have had, so I allow room for anyone to disagree with me.  And please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

Within every disaster are the disasters that happen after the event, which can be as catastrophic, IF NOT MORE THAN the original event.  Here are the disasters that happen AFTER the natural disaster, and they are caused by human beings, well-meaning human beings, but these add to the problems and do not help:

  • THE ARRIVAL OF SUVs.  No, not the type of vehicle.  Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers.  Some of these have had some type of training but most have not.  These start showing up IMMEDIATELY and do want to help, and get upset when they don’t get to help.  When volunteers show up BEFORE they are requested, you get in the way and hinder First Responders.  The first phase of a disaster is known as the Emergency Phase.  They are the ones who rescue, recover, and prepare a path for volunteers to safely go into the impacted neighbors.  DON’T GO IN UNTIL YOU ARE INVITED!  Do you want visitors simply walking unannounced and uninvited into YOUR home?  Well then, extend the same courtesy to the Emergency workers and SUVIVORS.
  • WATER!  Listen before sending bottled water.  After the April 2011 Tornadoes I sent an 18 wheeler stacked full of water back to our Disaster Warehouse from one location, and had more than that still onsite.  This becomes a logistic nightmare.  A couple of evenings ago I was in a conversation with my counterparts in Texas and one of them said that after the wildfires a couple of years ago they had enough water left over to end their drought.
  • CLOTHES!  Oh, my Lord, what a disaster.  Do not send clothes unless requested.  And…NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER SEND USED CLOTHES!  While working in Waveland, Mississippi after Katrina, we have our own levee built in the parking lot we were working out of from USED CLOTHES!  In Hackleburg, Alabama I filled up 2 dumpsters every other day with used clothes.  Could have filled them up every day but they only emptied those dumpsters every other day.  Their condition was pitiful and many even had 25 cent yard sale stickers still on them.  Don’t use a disaster as a way to clean out your closets.  The survivors had already had too much dumped on them for you to DUMP your used clothes.
  • SHARING MISINFORMATION!  This is perhaps the biggest disaster of all.  After the loss of life and property, the next casualty of a disaster is The Truth.  Please allow those “in-the-know” to share “what-they-know-at-that-moment” to pass along vital information, I said VITAL information.  Just because “somebody told me that somebody told them who was told by somebody else” doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.  And even if it shows up on Google…well, everything on the internet is NOT true, sorry to burst someone’s bubble.  And understand that information gathered changes constantly.  It’s not that the officials are dumb or trying to mislead the public.  Conditions are very fluid in the aftermath of a disaster, so be patient and understanding.

With that said (and believe me, I could say a lot more!), what IS the Best Way To Help the SURVIVORS of Harvey RIGHT NOW?  Glad you asked me that!  Here’s the Best Way To Help:

  • #1 is PRAY!  Now if you are one of those who are thinking, “Well, I guess that’s the least I can do”, please wait before you start praying.  And if you are one of those who think “Prayer won’t help” then don’t pray.  Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most you can do.  Prayer is powerful because I’ve seen the results of honest, earnest prayer, powerful results.  You will be surprised what God will do when we get our heads and hands out-of-the-way.
  • GET SOME TRAINING!  Many organizations, especially faith-based groups offer training.  I know because I am a trainer for my Tribe.  “Why?  Just get the stuff out-of-the-way.  It doesn’t take degree to do that.  You’re just making it more complicated.”  Well, did you know that you need the PROPERTY OWNER to sign a “Right of Entry” or “Right of Access” form BEFORE you go to work.  Without that signed form, you are guilty of trespassing.  And…if the survivor has insurance, you could cause the survivor to lose money in the insurance settlement.  Now that’s being real helpful.  And in the case of flooding, do you know how much needs to be disposed of and what can actually be reused?  Speaking of removing debris, what are the local rules for sorting the debris?  You may not be able to just dump everything into one pile if local officials require sorting the different materials.  The result is you have left the SURVIVOR with a mountain of debris in their front yard.
  • CONTACT THOSE OPERATING REFUGEE CENTERS!  See what they are needing to assist the survivors.  OK, so you may not be seen on The Weather Channel, but you will be seen by a SURVIVOR and that may be the very moment that changes them from despair to hope.
  • LISTEN FOR BRIEFINGS AND REPORTS FROM LOCAL AUTHORITIES!  Don’t go by what the Weather Channel or news networks say is needed.  Go the extra mile to find out what supplies are ACTUALLY needed for the SURVIVORS.  Listen to organizations that will be “boots on the ground” for what is needed.  Typically, these are faith-based organizations.  In my Tribe, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) has a long history and knows what is needed to help in the clean-up.  Give only what is asked for.
  • DONATE MONEY!  This isn’t the preacher begging for money.  There will be some things that will need to be purchased.  But don’t give to just any organization.  Give to those who will get the most bang from your buck.  In my Tribe, when you give to UMCOR Disaster Response 100% of those funds provide direct aid to the SURVIVORS.  There are absolutely no administrative or operating costs taken from your donations.  I know that other Faith Tribes have a similar group and process.  I know that the Red Cross gets a lot of publicity in times like this.  Remember, I am speaking from my experiences and only mine, but I have noticed that Red Cross gets more news publicity in reports and does less work.  I have a good friend who volunteers for Red Cross.  I know they do a lot of good things.  But know that some of your donations are used for program and administrative costs. (I refer you to this Newsweek report).
  • WHEN THE INVITATION IS GIVEN FOR (TRAINED) VOLUNTEERS TO HELP, IF YOU ARE ABLE, THEN GO.  And please remember in a disaster of this magnitude that clean-up efforts will be going on for weeks, probably months.  Again, speaking out of my experiences, initially there are tons of volunteers.  But when the camera crews go away, the number of volunteers begin to diminish.  Don’t be sad if you can’t go in with the first groups.  Be glad that you may be able to go in later because the job is not finished until the last home is mucked out.  (Don’t know what mucking out a home means?  See, you need training!)
  • FINALLY, BE THERE FOR THE LONG TERM RECOVERY!  This process will take years, not months.  After roofs have had tarps put on and all homes mucked out, then comes the repairs and rebuilding.  Many SURVIVORS will not have adequate insurance, or maybe no insurance at all and will need help, both in volunteer labor and funds.  And this is yet another reason why I encourage you to support faith-based organizations.  I have sat around many long-term recovery tables with some of the finest people ever as together we looked for ways to get the SURVIVORS back into their homes, homes that are safe and sanitary to live in.  My Tribe’s group, UMCOR, is always among the first in, and the last to leave.  I know because I am part of the UMCOR Team.  By the way, if you are in my Tribe, United Methodist, then YOU are part of the UMCOR Team!

And remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the praise and glory goes to Him!  Oh, and stop calling the “victims” and call them who they are:  SURVIVORS!

 

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!

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.

Our Warrior God! Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I hopefully left you wanting to know a secret about this Warrior God.  So here it is:  WE Need To Know That Our God Is Our Warrior God!  When we face our personal battles, we need The Warrior God.  When we are facing the mountains we need The Warrior God.   When we are facing the giants, we need The Warrior God.  When we are hemmed in by confusion, chaos, or fear, we need The Warrior God.  When Satan attacks us and his blows hurt, we need The Warrior God.  When the weight put on our shoulders is about to crush us, we need The Warrior God.  And when we make up our mind that we are going to be followers of Jesus and become the Body of Christ, we need The Warrior God.

We gather as the Body of Christ in worship, in study, and in fellowship because there is a war going on out there.  We need our wounds healed.  We need our minds encouraged.  We need our spirits renewed.  We do all this because we need to get out there in the battle against sin and against Satan.  Think about God as the Warrior who does powerfully amazing things like…

God Is The Warrior Who Fights For The Heart, Mind And Soul

God’s love is pure and unconditional.  At His heart is this unconditional love.  Love is His identity.  But God’s love isn’t an emotional sentimental kind of love.  Our God’s Love Is Fierce And Intense.  Our God’s love is unstoppable.  His love is strong, durable and resilient.  He never stops His pursuit for any of us.  He goes the distance with a determination that cannot be matched or exceeded by anything or anyone else.

God’s love, yes, is kind and gentle, compassionate and merciful; But His Love Is Also Fierce And Intense.  You and I are so important to the Father; more important than we could ever imagine.  But Satan doesn’t want us to know this!  Satan lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t love us, can’t love us.  And when we believe his lie, he owns us.

Once he owns us, he controls and dominates us, and we are powerless to stop him.  And he doesn’t want to let go of us.  So God fights for our heart, mind and soul.  Jesus fought for us in the wilderness.  He fought for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He fought for us on that Cross.  He fought for us in death.  And He still fights for us, to give Him our heart, mind and soul.  He fights for us to discover, accept and live in the only life we are made for.  If you have never accepted God’s gift of a new heart and a new life, right now He is fighting for you to see your emptiness, to see your brokenness, and see that He will set you free.  He will never stop fighting for you.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—Against Darkness, Fear, And Sin

If we will accept The Gift of New Life, God doesn’t stop fighting.  The Warrior God doesn’t fight against ideas or groups or ideologies.  He fights against the powers that seek to enslave us again.  He fights against the darkness that seeks to rob us of our joy.  When we are living in joy, Satan wants to steal it away.  He tries to put us in a fog so that we can’t see our way out.  When the darkness tries to creep over you, when Satan is trying to cause you to give up, The Warrior God is there fighting for you and for me.  He fights the darkness with the Light that is His love.

When Satan comes against us with fear it can unnerve us.  We can allow fear to control us—fear of being alone, fear of being sick, fear of losing our job, fear of what might happen.  And if we are not careful, we will let fear control us.  But we have The Warrior God who fights against fear by giving us His peace that nothing can take away.  He will remind us of His peace because He is fighting against our fears.  And He fights against sin—sin in the world, and the temptations we face.  It’s easy to be overtaken with sin.  But our God is The Warrior who will always be in the world fighting sin in whatever form it takes.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—With Us

Now, here is where we need to be every day of our life.  Our God, The Warrior Who Fights For Our Heart And Against Everything That Tries To Destroy Us, Want Us To Join In The Battle.  Being a real disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport.  It is not enough to show up and be counted on Sunday morning.  God wants us to fight, to join in the battle.  But He doesn’t want us to go with just our strength, or with the strength of a few friends.  First, He fights FOR us, But Then He Wants Us To Fight With Him.  He wants us to fight for the hearts, minds and souls of those around us.

The Way He Wants Us To Fight For Them Is To Do What He Does—To Fiercely Love Them.  He wants us to put our time, energy and efforts into making more disciples for Jesus.  To fight means we make the commitment to do whatever we can to show them God’s love.

To fight means that we need to become restless, to feel the burden God feels for those who do not know Him.  He wants us to fight against the darkness, the fear, and the sin that is in our world.  He wants us to fight by feeding the hungry, clothing those in poverty, caring for the least, the last and the lost.  And We Can Make A Difference In Our World When We Remember—Remember That God Is The Warrior Who Fights With Us.

Our God Is The Warrior God, and He waits for us to remember—remember that He is calling us to join in the battle.  The great tragedy of many churches is that they have either forgotten we are in a war, or worse, they have given up.  We are called to become engaged in the most significant battle of all time and eternity.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12-13—“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”

And remember, that we do not go into this battle alone.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and follow Jesus.  Many want to think of Jesus as being gentle and mild.  Jesus is gentle for sure, but He definitely isn’t mild.  He is The Warrior, and He fights for you.  Will you accept His offer for a relationship with Him?  And if you have, will you step onto the battlefield with Him?

There’s movie called “We Were Soldiers.”  It was based on what happened to the Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.  Before they were deployed, Col. Moore said, “I will be the first to step onto the field of battle, and I will be the last to leave.”  He’s not the only one who said that.  Jesus said it long ago and He is still on the battlefield.  This is MY God—The Warrior!  Is He your God?

Remember these words from that same Psalm, Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)

32-35 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth.  Sing praises to the Lord.  Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky.  Tell everyone about God’s power.  His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens.  God is awesome in his sanctuary.  The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Praise be to God!

 

 

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

You Are Gifted, But You Are Not THE Gift, Part 2 of 2

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Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday.  Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God:  To Make More Followers For Jesus.  This is why every church exists.  It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others.  The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs.  Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is.  There is a simplified way to make followers for Jesus!

But it is not all that easy but it is really simple.  If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on the Cross for our sins, that He arose on the third day, that He ascended back into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, and that this is true IN us, then we have to believe what Jesus told His first Followers is what He tells us:  Go make followers!  Listen, Jesus didn’t say, “Uh, folks, I would like for you to try to make more followers.  As long as you try, that’s good enough.”  No!  He said:  “Go make Followers!”  If we aren’t making followers then we are not the Church.  Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s hard to do!”  My response is this:  It’s NOT hard to do.  It’s not hard to do, if we remember 3 things:

 1.  Presence. (Verse 3—So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.)

We live with the confidence that He actually is present with us.  Only His presence gives us the passion, the desire to do what we are redeemed to do.  The Holy Spirit is who sets our hearts on fire.  If Jesus has never done anything for you, then there is no fire in our hearts.  But we can have a fire when we realize what God has done for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God is doing for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God will do for us.

And what has God done for you?  He has nailed your sins to the cross and you bear them no more!  What is God doing for you?  He is at work transforming you and your moments for your good and His glory.  What will God do for you?  Stay by your side until you as you live forever in His Kingdom!  To make another Follower of Jesus doesn’t take a committee nor a team, but the passionate conviction that God has been, is now, and will continue to be present and at work in your life.  The Passion To Make Followers Comes From Knowing The Presence Of Jesus.

2.  Power (Verse 4—There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.)

The source of our power is the Holy Spirit.  Have you ever been surprised or amazed by something you did or said?  Then afterwards you wondered, “Well where did that come from?”  Those are moments when HE has complete control of us.  It is so important that we stop relying on our abilities by living in His power.  Do you know why some meetings are irrelevant, dull and boring?  It’s because we have forgotten the real power of the Church.  Whatever it is that God calls you to do, He will give you the strength and power to do it.

When you feel the nudging and prompting of the Spirit to do something, do it because with His Prompting comes His Power.  God designed the Church to withstand the power of hell itself!  And this is the power that lives in us.  Did you hear me?  The power that conquered death, the power that hell cannot overcome, is the power that lives inside each and every one of you when you desire God above all else.  Remember the third thing:

3.  Provision (Verse 7—A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.)

To engage our heart in what God is doing, we have to know the Provision of spiritual gifts that are designed by God for the common good.  The gift God gives you is designed so that you are able to help others both inside and outside of the church.  The Work Of The Body Of Christ Is A Spiritual Work And Requires Spiritual Tools.  These provisions are not rewards for us being good, but they are the result of our God being awesome!  God Gives Us The Tools We Need Not To DO Church Work, But To BE The Church That Is The Body Of Christ In Your World.  You have to know your spiritual gifts.  God does reveal your spiritual gifts.  If you do not know your Gifts it’s your fault.

It’s not easy, but it’s not hard.  I know, I know, I’m sounding like a politician.  You’re thinking if it’s not hard, then it is easy, but if it’s not easy then it must be hard.  If you think it’s too hard to do the ONE thing God wants this place to do, then remember Genesis 18:14—Is anything too hard for the Lord?  God had just told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son within a year.  He was an old man and she was an old woman.  Looking at them, you would be right to believe that they were too old to have a child.  It was impossible for them.  But do you know what?  By the next year, they had a son.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too hard for the Lord.  All you have to do is Trust Him with all your heart.

When you give Him all of your heart, over and over again, when you worship Him with all of your heart, when you listen to Him with all of your heart discovering the truth about God, the world and yourself, here is what you will discover:   God Is Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions  To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!

Failure To Do This Is Failure To Love God, Worship God and really, Failure To Know God.  Pursuing the heart of God means that after surrender, after worship, after studying The Word, we must be doing the things that will make disciples of others, which will bring them into this process of surrender, worship, study and doing!  This is the cycle of Kingdom Life.

You and I NEED His Presence.  You and I NEED His Power in order to be faithful to our Primary Task.  And You and I NEED what He alone can provide to be more than disciples of Jesus in name only, to be real Followers of Jesus by doing what HE wants done.

And the question for you in such a time as this, is Do You Have It?  To have it you must WANT it.  You and I must say:  I WANT Your Presence.  I NEED Your Power so that I can be found Faithful.  I MUST HAVE what You Provide for the Task You have given me.  Without it, you miss not only The Gift, but most importantly, the Giver…

 

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

 

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 2 of 2

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Welcome back!  For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post.  I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things.  Here are those 3 things:

That We Are

God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children.  God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him.  In The Word we discover that God knows us.  He knows where we are.  He knows what we feel.  When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting.  When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid.  When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.

When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair.  When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts.  Are you afraid that God will turn away from you?  Don’t be!  In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains.  This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.

That We Are Important

God values you and deems you important to Him.  Your family may tell you you’re worthless.  People you know may tell you that you’re worthless.  Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless.  Your world may tell you you’re worthless.  Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless.  But you will never hear God call you worthless.

In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say:  The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned.  But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you.  In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Those hands are nail scarred hands.  To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!

That We Are Important To His Purposes

In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan.  God has a place for you.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God sees you as His Masterpiece.  As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece.  A simple glance at The Word is not enough.  We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word.  He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.

But it takes time, and often, a lot of time.  God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece.  In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God.  You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do.  He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan.  And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.

In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  And you are important to Him.  How important is He to you?  Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.  The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.  The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)

Each of us is found somewhere in this story.

  1. Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word.  Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God.  Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life.  I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
  2. Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment.  They want to give the appearance that they love God.
  3. Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
  4. Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.

The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept.  His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.

 

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

Do You Have A Compass?

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Have you ever been lost?  I’m not talking about forgetting where you parked the car at the shopping center.  I’m talking about being by yourself, no one around and unable to find your way back kind of lost.  I was back in 1987.  I was living in Winston County not far from the Bankhead National Forest.  One day I decided to go deer hunting.  After not seeing anything I decided to do a little scouting and go back to my truck a different way.  I did not have a compass because I thought I didn’t need one.  After 6 hours I finally walked upon the house of a friend, some 12 miles from where I had parked.  I understand how easy it is for people to panic.  I had to fight it every step of the way.  It’s unnerving and panic can unravel us at the seams.  After that I made sure I had a compass in my hunting gear.

The fear of being lost is about being disconnected; cut off from home, friends, and community.  This fear is not limited to Forests, and for some, it goes much deeper.  Every day can be a battle.  We all need a way to keep our heart focused on the God who loves us perfectly.  How do we keep our focus?  I think this passage is Luke 7:36-50 (The Message) has the answer.

36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Oh? Tell me.”  41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”  “That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”  49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”  50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Think about this woman.  Her morals were a far cry from God’s standard.  Her reputation in the community was well-known.  Everyone looked down on her, especially the Religious Police.  And her own self-image?  The community didn’t have to heap shame on her, she already felt it.  She was told that her heart was unworthy of God and that God wouldn’t accept her heart.  She lived with this mind-set day after day after day.

But one day, she must have heard Jesus speaking about the real God of real love.  Perhaps she’s in the crowd listening.  She’s not too close to Jesus because people wouldn’t allow her around them.  She is on the edges.  But even on the fringe, she hears enough that something stirs in her heart that she believed died so long ago:  Hope!  And this hope that God plants in her heart refuses to go away.  God’s Prevenient Grace keeps going before her until that moment she finally surrenders her heart, such as it is, dirty as it is, unworthy as it is,—she surrenders it to God.

What she had heard would never happen, did happen!  God accepted her heart, cleansing her and releasing her from all her guilt and shame.  Can you imagine the relief she felt?  The weight of it all had been lifted from her.  So what can she do for the One who set her free?  Does she volunteer at the local homeless shelter?  Does she become a street preacher to other women who have been living like she has?  Does she try to read and memorize the Torah?  The answer to all of these questions is NO!  Let’s learn something important from this shameful woman; this woman who had been deemed unworthy and unlovable.  Let’s follow her steps:

She Is Determined To Seek Jesus First.

Maybe she looks at that place where she first heard His voice.  Up one street and down another.  She hasn’t found Him, but she doesn’t give up.  Maybe she goes to the local synagogue, but He’s not there.  Maybe she knows where some sick people live.  So she goes there but He’s not there.  So she starts asking people, “Do you know where Jesus is?”  Some in the community ignored her because that’s what smug self-righteous people do with “sinners”.  Those that do speak say “I haven’t seen Him.”  No one seems to have an answer for her.  She persists until finally someone says, “Oh, he’s having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.”

And what about you?  Do you have the tenacity of this woman to seek the presence of Jesus?  Before the act of worship occurs, there must be The Desire For Jesus.  Some people come to church because they are determined to fulfill their duty.  Others come to worship seeking to hear a good sermon or good music.  But real worshippers, people whose heart is for worship, Come For No Other Reason Than To Seek Jesus.  Look at what she does next.

She Overcomes The Obstacles In Order To Worship.

What she overcomes isn’t written in these pages, but deeply embedded in her culture.  First, she has to find a way into the Pharisee’s house.  She’s not on the guest list.  Not only is she not invited, She Is Unwanted!  No self-respecting Pharisee would invite someone of her morals into their home.  But somehow she manages to get into the courtyard of the home, but Jesus is inside.

If she knocks on the front door she will be turned away.  Another obstacle!  But somehow she gets inside the house.  But Jesus is in the one place NO woman was ever allowed.  The dinner table!  Another obstacle.  But that doesn’t stop her.  She finally works her way to Jesus.  She’s behind him.  There He is!  She kneels at the feet of Jesus.  Now what?  She probably hasn’t thought it through this far, So She Does What Her Heart Tells Her To Do.  Her tears start to flow; tears of release and joy!  They drop on the feet of Jesus.  Now everyone sees her and what she is doing!  Her emotions are taboo!  Respectable people don’t show their emotions in worship!  And then she lets down her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus!  Oh, no!  Women who follow the rules don’t do that either.  But she does!

And what are your obstacles to true worship?  Is it Pride?  Guilt?  Fear?  To worship God we have to overcome our obstacles—whether those obstacles are self-imposed or pushed on us by our culture.  Worship is not about the style or songs or preacher.  It is about overcoming any obstacle just to be in the presence of the only One who can set you free.  Look at what she does next:

She Pours Her Whole Heart Into Her Worship.

She has an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  This isn’t Dior J’adore where you can spray just a little bit.  The jar is sealed and has to be broken.  It’s a one-time use jar.  Maybe it was being saved for her wedding day, but that dream has probably long died.  Maybe it was being saved for her burial; after all, no one would spend that kind of money on someone like her.  She takes all that she has, and offers it in worship.  She broke so many rules just to be to this moment, and she doesn’t hold anything back, so she breaks that jar.  And the aroma of her perfume, The Fragrance Of Her Worship Fills That Room.  And everyone around that table looks at her with contempt—everyone except Jesus.  He accepts her act of worship by looking into her eyes and into her heart.

Worship is not about the items we associate with worship:  Announcements, Prayers, Hymns, Anthems, Scripture, Sermon, and what many consider the best part of all, the Benediction.  It is about pouring out all that is in your heart as the only acceptable response to God’s unconditional love.  Worship Is Not About The Acts That You Do, But The Total Surrender Of Your Heart, Such As It Is, To God.

You Never Truly Worship God Until You Break Your Alabaster Jar And Empty All The Contents While You Are At The Feet Of Jesus.

Worship is the compass that helps us find our way back to God.  When we get disconnected from life, worship points us to the one who will rescue us from our fears and despair.  Worship is about realizing that we have been invited into His presence.  True worship reminds us of the Infinite Love, Unparalleled Grace, And Unending Mercy God Has For Us And That Keeps Us From Getting Lost All Over Again.

Worship, true worship strengthens us and helps us become more like Jesus.  And as much as we may mess up during any given week, it is our worship that keeps us From Messing Up Even More And Even Becoming Totally Disconnected From The Life We Long For And The Life We Were Made For.  Have you poured out your whole heart in worship today?  If you haven’t, it’s not too late.

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

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!

Are You Thomas?

(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog.  This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service.  Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)

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 John 11:6-16 (NLT)

6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.  14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this:  The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.

What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity.  Understand this:  Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice.  We call it consequences.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point.  They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later.  Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated.  The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point.  There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.

Let’s look at tonight’s passage.  The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at:  Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas.  But wait!  Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!”  Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter?  I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.

But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro.  No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas.  It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”  Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction:  “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’”  I had to let that sink in.  Did Thomas really say that?  Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas.  And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.

Let’s step into the scene.  Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross.  These Disciples sense something ominous in the air.  They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus.  He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion.  They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.

Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different.  Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus.  They sense that their next trip will probably be their last.  Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus.  They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.

At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan.  2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”.  They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.”  But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go.  They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin.  There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words.  Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.

That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas.  Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11.  Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus.  Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point.  As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.

We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart:  “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?”  Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God.  It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love.  Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him.  Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Remember the story in Matthew 14.  Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm.  When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea.  That’s not safe.  Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things.  It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom.  To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules.  He demands that HE becomes the schedule.  When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people.  And so must we.  As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we.  He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died.  To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again.  To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like.  Following Jesus Requires Our Death.

The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.  The easy Jesus never existed.  The safe Jesus is an illusion.  The convenient Jesus will never be found.

We want power without painful rejection.  We want risk with no danger.  We want victory with limited commitment.  Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus.  Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus?  Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?

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