A Lesson From The Pelicans!

God is a Great Teacher; the best ever.  I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived.  In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences.  Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.

I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery.  This week is no exception.  We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach.  Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall.  God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.

I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat.  As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber.  No reluctance.  No hesitation.  Head long as fast as they could go into the water.  They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation.  I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive.  Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it.  Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.

Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me:  We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal.  When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish.  What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us?  It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference.  And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.

Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans.  Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t.  And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again.  What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”?  They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before.  And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.

Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus.  Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live.  Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.

We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us.  And if we fail?  Do what pelicans do.  Get back up and go at it again.  Not every attempt ends in failures.  Just ask those pelicans!

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.

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A Moving Journal-Day 7

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

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

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

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

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

A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

What’s A Martyr?

Martyr

We urgently need more martyrs today!  Can you imagine the revival that would happen in the U.S. if “Comfortable Christians”, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians and others who are more focused on their little piece of the church than the Kingdom of God would embrace J.D.’s challenge?

The High Price Of Following Jesus!

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DisclaimerThis I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means.  Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand.  The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved.  Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:

  1. Is It Possible?
  2. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations.  It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)— Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him.  So, the answer to both questions is YES.  This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.

Slide10 I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free.  It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin.  And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life.  This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.

And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven.  Don’t you agree?  Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a  seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home.  But it’s not; there is much more.  Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals.  The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.

And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more.  This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful!  No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals.  So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift.  And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.

Slide11

Think about this:  What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus?  A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany:  DISCIPLESHIP.  This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

 

Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.”  Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life.  Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly.  Here is why it’s Costly:

1]  It Costs Personal Comfort

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Vs. 57-58)

Here’s a man like us.  He wants to follow Jesus.  Promising idea, right?  And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live:  At the level of comfort.  You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable.  And many want to be comfortable following Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.

I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem.  David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight.  After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan.  But there’s a problem:  David hasn’t consulted God about it.  God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation.  As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God.  The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free.  But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.

You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure.  Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding.  Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus.  Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones.  Before she retired she was a computer programmer.  Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable.  But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship.  You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.

2]  It Requires Immediate Commitment!

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”   (Vs. 59-60)

The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet.  So, it’s just an excuse to postpone.  “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.”  This makes Jesus sound less harsh.  But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated:  “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.”  The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying.  And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah.  In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral.  But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd.  Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.”  Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.

John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story.  He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England.  His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin.  He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand.  But hear John’s reply:  “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look.  I have you.  You go and preach the Gospel to those people.  Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.”  There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!

3]  It Involves Unlimited Commitment

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”   Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Vs. 61-62)

Jesus wants you to make up your mind.  There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”.  A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:

Slide18

It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation.  People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven.  Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.

Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct.  Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?

First Let Me.

In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me?  What is your “First Let Me”?  Your excuse?

Slide19

 

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

The Family Values Of Jesus

1 Family Values

(This is from my current sermon series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Feedback welcomed and encouraged)

There is a tendency among us “church-goers” to focus on the kinder and gentler Jesus.  We love the Jesus that is kind and gentle because, well, that’s what we really need.  For one reason, we live in a world that is harsh and unkind.  Another reason is that we recognize our own shortcomings and we need that kind and gentle Jesus to correct us when we’re wrong.  So, we focus on the kindness of Jesus and bypass what I can only describe as the Tough Jesus.  Jesus was at times Abrasive, and I’m not talking about how He dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees.  So I need to begin this series with a, call it, a Disclaimer:

Disclaimer

Jesus said some things that can be difficult to handle.  Most of us don’t want to deal with that part of Jesus.  But if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to teach us the truth about God, then we need to listen to everything Jesus taught, even if it is harsh or difficult to understand.  If Jesus said something, I believe that we need to pay attention to those words.

To understand what Jesus says, we need to get a grasp on Jesus the Communicator of The Truth.  First, He was a great Story-Teller, using ordinary things to describe the extraordinary truth of the Kingdom. Second, He spoke direct authority, meaning we should take them as having authority over us.

A final communication tool of Jesus was his superb use of Hyperbole.  The definition of Hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration, embellishment or magnification.  Here’s an example:  “He’s older than dirt.”  That can’t be because we came from dirt.  It just a way of saying, “Man, they are really old.”  Here’s an easy hyperbole of Jesus:  (Matt. 7:3 NLT)—“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  We know that a plank won’t fit into an eye socket.  Maybe some people’s big mouth, but not their eye socket, OK?

When it comes to the meaning of the words of Jesus, we simply do not have the luxury, nor the authority, nor the wisdom of choosing an understanding that simply makes us feel better about ourselves or about Jesus.  Let’s take a moment to lay some groundwork that will carry us through the rest of this series, and through those passages we will not be able to address at this time.  How do we sort through what is hyperbole and what is authoratative? Here are 2 steps to guide us in this determination:

  1. Is It Possible? Back to the speck of dust and plank story.  It’s simply not possible to walk around with a plank sticking out of your eye.  Not possible?  Then it’s hyperbole.  If the answer is Yes, then go to Step 2:
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus will never contradict Himself.  If it is not consistent with the Kingdom Message, then it’s hyperbole.

If the answer to either of these is No, then there is a very high degree of confidence that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  If the answer to both questions is Yes, then there should be an even higher confidence that Jesus is speaking literally.  Then our response is clear:  do what Jesus said to do.  But if He is speaking in hyperbole, how do we get to the truth?  3 steps that help us find the truth:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
  2. What Happened Or Was Said Right After Those Words?
  3. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make? What is the Kingdom principle Jesus is teaching?  Sometimes it comes with Jesus explaining it directly, sometimes it’s more subtle.  This step may take a while.

Our first passage is from Luke 14:25-35 (NIV)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Wow!  Is it just me, or does Jesus come down hard on our concept of family values?  Yet there it is, in black and white, unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible.  Here’s the one thing you need to remember, and it’s directly from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Maybe the NIV translators did a poor job with the Greek and Jesus didn’t really say “hate your family”.  But, nope, it’s there even in the KJV.  Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Maybe He was just having a bad day, or He was just tried of walking, or maybe tired that all those people were following behind Him and He simply wanted to be alone.  Or better yet, maybe this is that hyperbole thing going on—He didn’t mean it literally—He was just exaggerating.  Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally.  But when Jesus uses hyperbole, He really is making a point and we need to understand the point Jesus is making.  Is today’s passage a hyperbole or is Jesus saying something literally?

 Now, let’s apply the first 2 questions to today’s passage:

  1. Is It Possible? Matthew 12:46-49—46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.”  Now let’s apply the 2nd question
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? (Mark 8:34-35)   34 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

OK, the answer to question 1 is YES and the answer to question 2 is YES.  So, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole, but literally.  But why should we love God so deeply, even more than our closest relationships?  Why would Jesus tell us to set aside everything, including family, and follow Him?  Here’s what I see Jesus saying why we must set our families aside in order to put our love for God ahead of every other relationship:

 1) Our God Is A Jealous God!

“For you must not worship any other god. For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exo. 34:14 (NLT)

God is unwilling to accept any divided loyalty.  Anything can come between us and God.  Usually we think in terms of stuff coming before God.  Those trinkets called idols—like money, that job, that house, that car—physical things.  But it’s not just the physical things that can get between us and God.

Some think it’s the bad stuff—the sinful stuff—like another religion, drugs, pornography, politics.  No doubt this bad stuff can become more important than God.  But it’s not just the bad stuff that can get between us and God.

Good stuff can AND will get between us and God. Have you ever thought that the good stuff gets in the way of following Jesus?   God refuses to play second to anyone and we dishonor Him when anyone takes priority over Him.

2)  It’s The Difference From Following Jesus As A Disciple And Following Jesus As A Spectator

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Here’s the approach many people take.  “OK, I have this, this, and that to do this week, so where can I fit Jesus into my calendar?”  When we look for places to fit Jesus in, we are no longer following Him as a Disciple, but as a spectator.  There was this crowd following BEHIND Jesus.  But they were NOT following WITH Jesus.  Here’s an example from Mark 3:21-34.  That woman had a health problem.  She decided that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she could be healed—and she was.

Now here’s the point—Were there others in that crowd around Jesus who had problems that had physical contact with Jesus?  More than likely she wasn’t the only one with issues.  But only she was made whole.  Why?  She wanted more than to be around Jesus—she wanted the power of Jesus in her life—and that took direct contact of her heart and her faith in Jesus!

We cannot give our families what they really need unless God is more important to us than them.  In our culture, we need a realignment of priorities.  This is the whole point of what Jesus is teaching then—and especially teaching now!  It’s important for families to understand this—because we are the front-line battle formation for the reclaiming and restoration of God’s Creation.

Next Steps

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!

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.

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!