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!

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Our Warrior God! Part 1 of 2

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I need you to do something before I begin; actually it is something God wants you to do.  I want you to clear your minds of any distractions, and prepare yourself to be open and honest.  Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale.  Get rid of any tension—slowly roll your neck and shoulders; shake your hands and feel the tension just leaving you right now.  Today I want us to look at something that maybe some of you have never thought about.  Your mind and thoughts need to be open to something that I had not given much thought about until recently.

I want us to begin with a thought that we can all agree upon.  It’s rare when everyone agrees on anything, but I think we can on this:  Let’s agree that God is so holy, so awesome, so magnificent, so glorious, so powerful that there is no way we can contain Him.  Can we all agree on this?  Here is the question we need to really think about:  When you think about God, what are some of the images that you think of?  Maybe one of your images is God is our Shepherd.  David understood God that way in Psalm 23 when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Maybe you think about the time when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, and you see that God is Our Provider.  Maybe one of your images of God is Father as you think about Jesus gathering the children around Him and blessing them.  Maybe your image of God is Compassion—as you remember Jesus healing lepers.  Maybe your image of God is The Judge—as you remember what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah.  When you think about God, what’s that word or phrase that almost immediately comes to mind?

Hopefully, one of those word images you have for God is Savior—as Jesus died on that Cross for you and me.  But we need to remember that there is no single image that defines or describes who God is.  God is bigger and more than any single image we may have about Him.

Furthermore, if we put all of our images of God together, collectively they still would not express who God is.  Now, if you can define your God completely, then maybe your God is too small.  Now that you are thinking about how you would describe God, have you ever seen God as Warrior?  Does that image of God even come to mind?

God is not just a warrior, but He is the Ultimate Fierce Warrior.  Now before you think that writer and teacher John Eldridge has corrupted me, listen to Exodus 15:3—“The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!”  The reason I bring this up is because our world is looking to us, who go to church, who profess to be Christians, who are viewed by this world as disciples of Jesus, to show them what our God is really like.  In every human heart is the desire for a God that is two things:  1.  That He is bigger than they are; and 2.  That He can be counted on to be there for them.

Think about it, the person who loves money wants it because money will get them things bigger than they are; but it always disappoints them because it is never enough.  The same holds true for the drug addict, the alcoholic, and those who crave pornography, power and prestige.  It is in our spiritual DNA.  Solomon testified to this when in wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has planted eternity in the human heart.”  And because all this stuff out here always disappoints them, they are looking, even longing to find a God who will satisfy that deepest longing of the heart.  And our text today is all about that and much more.  It’s found in Psalm 68:1-10 (NLT)

1-10 Rise up, O God, and scatter your enemies.  Let those who hate God run for their lives.  Blow them away like smoke.  Melt them like wax in a fire.  Let the wicked perish in the presence of God.  But let the godly rejoice.  Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy.  Sing praises to God and to his name!  Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.  His name is the Lord—rejoice in his presence!  Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.  God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.  But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.  O God, when you led your people out from Egypt, when you marched through the dry wasteland, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured down rain before you, the God of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.  You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.  There your people finally settled, and with a bountiful harvest, O God, you provided for your needy people.

In any moment of every day, we are expressing our image of God.  How we act, the ways we react, the priorities we set, the words from our mouths, and the attitude of our mind are all expressions of the God we are following.  And our world needs to know that the God we follow, the God we profess our allegiance to, is among many things, Our Warrior God!  And can I let you in our a secret?  I’ll share that secret with you in the next edition!

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

3:16

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When you saw the title, what were your first thoughts?  Was it John 3:16?  Well, why not?  We see those signs at major sporting events and inevitably when a football team is kicking an extra point someone is sitting between the goal posts holding up “that” sign, John 3:16.  It is the verse that church-goers (otherwise known as Churchians) know and can quote.  Even most non-Christians can quote this verse.  I would feel comfortable saying that statistics would reveal that John 3:16 is the most quoted verse in the Bible.

But that is NOT the 3:16 I am writing about.  John 3:16 is an important verse for it marks the beginning of the truth about God’s true heart–that it is a heart for anyone and everyone.  This love makes so many of our expressions of love appear weak and inadequate.  More than appear weak and inadequate, it shows they actually are weak and inadequate.  John 3:16 is a great starting point for giving our heart what it truly is hungry for.  But what’s next?  3:16 is next!  No, not John 3:16, but Colossians 3:16

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (New Living Translation)

I wonder what would happen if that camera view of the goal posts revealed someone holding up a sign that read Colossians 3:16?  I can just see it now.  Tons of folks scrambling around, looking under piles of magazines for that Bible they know must be somewhere underneath them.  I can just hear them wondering, “Is Colossians in the Old or New Testament?”  Unless they have a thumb indexed Bible, they are frantically flipping through the pages trying to find Colossians until they realize they can look in the Table of Contents to find it.

And the mischievous side of me wonders what would happen if every pastor who stepped up to the pulpit simply held up that sign that read Colossians 3:16?  And this leaves me wondering something else:  What if every person who considers themselves a follower of Jesus lived these words every day?   Personally speaking, I know this is a verse I need to memorize, understand and live out as much, if not even more, than John 3:16.

Here is the pattern that will transform any life and every congregation.  Look at how it neatly and perfectly knits this life as real followers of Jesus together.

  1. It starts with the Message of Jesus.  We have the tendency to want to share OUR message.  When we share OUR message, meaning how WE see it (or would rather see it), it begins to weaken and deteriorate.  While our hearts may be open to the message of Jesus, it’s the mind that is often closed.  Make sure the Message of your life aligns with the Message embodied in our Incarnate Savior!
  2. Bring in the richness of the Message of Jesus.  The Message of Jesus is about our Creator’s love and grace that has more than enough power to restore us to His intended design and restore HIS image inside us.  That Greek word Paul used was plousiōs and it means that there is MORE than enough for anyone.
  3. Let this rich Message of Jesus FILL your life.  That word “fill” is in the Active Voice in the Greek which means it is ongoing.  It is just like Matthew 7:7, “ask, seek, knock”.  It means to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.  Folks, this isn’t the NCAA basketball tournament where you’re “one and done”.  The moment you think you’ve got it all, you lose it all.
  4. Help others with the wisdom of eternity, not your own personal drool.  The best way to help others is for others to seek The Truth at work in your own life.  Didn’t Jesus say something about not worry about that speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye until you deal with the 4×4 beam sticking out of your own eye.  God’s wisdom and counsel is gentle, kind and timely.  Make sure your words are, too.
  5. Praise God!  Not for what HE has done, but for WHO HE IS!  To praise God simply for what He has done for you will cause you to turn Him into the Vending Machine God, and He ain’t that.  (Please forgive my use of improper grammar in using that word “ain’t”.  Sometime you just need to use strong words.)  Adore and lift HIM up because He is just that great, awesome, spectacular, wonderful, indescribably good!
  6. And once you’ve praised Him, then you can thank Him.  Once we see how Holy and Majestic He is, and then reflect on the ways His love, grace and mercy is lavished on us, now we can thank Him for all He’s done for us.

Let’s give up our ways.  After all, since God offers us His love as a gift, shouldn’t we accept His plan to restore us to our True Identity and Purpose?  Let’s be 3:16 People, Colossians 3:16, that is…

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God 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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