The Word In Our Feet! When The Times Are Dark!

Actions, Not Intentions, Produce The Right Outcomes.

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This is the second and last of the series Getting The Word In Our Feet.  We need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless.

Last week we learned that Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  That’s what the Old Testament illustration of the Hebrews at the edge of the Promised Land teaches us.  All those over 20, except Caleb and Joshua, never got to live within God’s promise.  Their direction was cemeteries scattered throughout the wilderness.  Now we look at a New Testament story about a single cemetery that illustrates the need for Both Direction And Action.  Turn to John 20:1-9 (N.L.T.)

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb.  They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.  Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.  Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

Decades ago, before radar and computer flying, an airplane was somewhere over the Rockies in a fog that went from the ground to way above the clouds.  The pilot came over P.A. and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good new and some bad news.  First, the bad news: we’re lost!  But the good news is, we’re 2 hours ahead of schedule.”  This describes the culture we live it; it describes people all around us—2 hours ahead of schedule but lost.

When times seem to be the darkest, people struggle to find the right direction and the subsequent actions that will bring them out of the darkness.  And here is the One Thing you need to remember today and it’s a principle that will always work:  Actions, Not Intentions, Produce The Right Outcomes. The Good News Of God’s Kingdom isn’t about changing our intentions—it is about changing our actions.  It’s not all that complicated.  Intentions cannot produce faith.  Cannot manufacture hope nor deliver us from our fear and despair. 

I can intend to do something all day long and will accomplish nothing.  If you don’t believe this, just trust me on this because I’ve done it enough to be an expert.  Just suppose Debbie asks me to do something before the day is done, I’ll say, “OK, dear, I’ll do it.”  Well, I intend to get that done.  But come the evening, if I haven’t done that, she’s going to get upset at me.

But why?  I mean I intended to do what she asked.  I intended to do it better than she thought I could do it.  Why is she so upset?  I intended to do it.  It’s just unbelievable that she would get upset that I didn’t do that—even when I intended to do it.  Are you starting to get the picture here?

Let’s bring this down to this principle and the passage behind it.  Easter Morning. I don’t know what went through your minds then I read the text. Maybe you thought that Easter’s not here yet.  Lent doesn’t even start until Wednesday.  I still have a couple of days of indulgence left.  

When I read this, I focused on what was happening to the people.  Mary Magdalene RAN to tell the disciples.  The disciples RAN to the tomb.  These folks were RUNNING!  There was motion and movement by these people. The Resurrection got the disciples involved with direction, motion and movement.  They no longer stood still!  Christians are people who Run!  The question for us here and every church is this:  How Can We Get The Word In Our Feet So That We Can Get Motion And Movement On Our Part Into God’s Promises? 

Well you have to understand that there are Sitters and there are Runners.  One of the ways you can sort out people in church is to say they come in 2 types:  Sitters and Runners.  OK, let’s look at each.

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Sitters.

The best way to describe sitters is to image them in a rocking chair, rocking and watching the world go by.  Sitters Are Those Who Are Content With Motion Without Movement And Momentum.  They Have Been Deceived Into Thinking Motion Is Movement When It’s Clearly Not Producing Momentum.

Well, here, let me show you with this rocking chair.  There’s motion, but nothing is really changing.  If you’re not prone to motion sickness, rocking really is relaxing—if you’re into that sort of thing.  There’s activity and motion, but look—this rocking chair is still here.  Am I right?  I’m moving; I’m just not going anywhere. If I turn the rocking chair around, nothing’s really changed—I’m just looking in a different direction.  OK, I’ve changed direction, but I still in the same place.  The only thing that has changed is my view.  I’m not in a different place—I’m in the same place, just a different view.  And nothing has really changed. 

Sitters Are Those Who Are Deceived Into Believing That Because They Are Rocking—There’s Motion—That This Motion Is Enough.  While rocking in a chair may be relaxing and enjoyable it is not accomplishing anything—other than make us feel better about ourselves. 

2.  Now, Let’s Look At Runners.

Runners are different!  They don’t stay in the same place.  And their view is always changing.  Runners have direction and motion—just like the sitters—but runners add the all important element of forward movement.  It Is Movement Not Motion That Always Creates Momentum.  Movement and momentum described what was happening in that cemetery just outside of Jerusalem.  Transformation began when they started running.  Running Produced Movement And That Movement Starting Producing Momentum.

Churches Are Dying Today.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Direction.  Everyone is pointed in some direction.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Motion.  Ever heard the phrase “Going through the motions”?  It’s Because They Have Lost Movement And Without Movement There Is No Momentum.   Remember the rocking chair.  There is always motion—but no real movement or momentum.

There was a runner by the name of Saul of Tarsus, running as hard as anyone against Jesus.  But God grabbed him on the Damascus Road, turned him around, and he kept right on running, this time as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles!  Give me a church full of runners every time; even if like Saul, they are running in the wrong direction.  

Because when you get runners going in the right direction, things happen!  Communities change for the better.  Families become stronger.  People quit complaining and whining so much.  People meet and follow the real Jesus.  And The Very Foundations Of Hell Tremble And Shake In Fear!  God Wants Runners!

We need to get the Word in our feet and start running!  How?  Well, the Nike commercial says it best: Just Do It!  Don’t talk about it, plunge in with both feet.  The problem with a lot of congregations is that they want a pastor to be successful for them—to do the praying, serving, witnessing and get more members.  But this is not what God has called the pastor to do.  

The pastor is one called out of the life of the church, trained and approved to help you, the lay people do your ministry.  The pastor is not to be a busy body, his job is to get the body busy!  Now, I can back this up with scripture, Eph. 4:11-12—“These were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ!”  

Who is the body of Christ? Those outside waiting to be saved?  NO!  You are!  How do we become Runners rather than Sitters?  Allow me to give you a few principles:

  1.  Begin By Being Still. We can’t be running in just any and every direction.  We need focus.  Being still before God gives us the direction to begin running.  Think about Elijah in that cave at Mt. Horeb.  He was running in the wrong direction.  But when he stood still before God, and listened, he found that new direction—and that new direction created Movement And Momentum.
  2.  Don’t Question Or Think About The Direction, Just Run. Try to do a cost or risk analysis on the direction—and Satan will convince you it won’t work.  Think about that day Jesus told the disciples to find something to feed that crowd.  They found a boy’s small sack lunch.  They should have been ready to run—but they did the cost/risk analysis and concluded it wasn’t enough.  If Jesus sends you to do something, then He knows what’s out there and He knows it will be more than enough.
  3. Build Upon Even Small Successes.  Your running doesn’t have to produce things worthy of a page in Guide Posts.  Think about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  After discussing buckets and wells, Jesus led her to thinking about the Messiah.  In the world’s economy it was a small success.  When He had her thinking about the Messiah He was able to get her thinking about herself.  And when He got her thinking about herself and The Messiah, she went and told her whole village about Jesus.
  4. Sustain Momentum.  Keep on praying.  Keep on studying The Word.  Keep up the pace.  Keep on living this Life In Grace.  Don’t ever settle in one place of success.  Think about those Disciples after Pentecost.  About 3,000 people were saved.  Hey, that’s a lot.  Time to rest, right?  Wrong!  They kept it up—sharing life together in meals, Holy Communion, praying and growing in maturity.

And since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Decide Right Now If You Are Going To Be A Sitter Or A Runner!  

Years ago, someone gave me this poem, called “Sitting By The Fire” and it’s on the back of your sermon notes page:

Sitting By The Fire

He wasn’t much for moving about, it wasn’t his desire,
No matter how hard the others work, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
This went on from day to day, he never seemed to tire,
when others were working so hard in the church, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
He died one day as all must do, and some say he went up higher,
but if he’s doing what he’s always done, HE IS SITTING BY THE FIRE

Are you a Sitter?  Or will you become a Runner?

Saturday Stories–Ernie And Today Is Not That Day!

Welcome to another Saturday Story. Today’s story is from several years ago; it was such a powerful moment that I still remember it as if it occurred yesterday. Listen to it, and maybe Dad has something to say to you…

TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY

Ernie was a retired sheet metal worker. He and his wife Bettye had retired to Scottsboro. They never had children, so they “adopted” kids of all ages, including me. Both spent many hours serving Jesus at Randall’s Chapel (no, that church wasn’t named after me!). Ernie served Jesus in so many ways. Teaching, leading committees, the men’s group, serving in whatever way he was asked. Needless to say, this pastor fell in love with them.

Ernie was the epitome of an “active member”; but I and several others noticed Ernie didn’t have his usual level of stamina. Ernie noticed it too, so he went to his doctor to find out why. After several tests, Ernie was given the diagnosis of ALS (I refuse to call this evil disease by the name of one of baseball’s greatest players).

Word reached me of this diagnosis. As “pastor”, my job was to give him and Bettye words of encouragement and wisdom. This wasn’t my first encounter with someone dehumanized by ALS. I knew what Ernie’s future would look like. The day after his diagnosis I was going to “visit” with them and share those “words of encouragement and wisdom”. And as I sat in my office that morning, I struggled to find any such words. But it was my “job” to do it, and honestly, I felt like a failure because I simply couldn’t find the right “words”.

Just then (remember that “just then” or “it just so happened” are usually God prepared and ordained moments) I heard Ernie come in. He stuck his head in my office and asked, “Bro. Randy, do you have a few minutes, I need to talk about something.” Of course I had time, I always have time for a good friend; but this time my mind is in panic mode. I still didn’t have those words of “encouragement and wisdom”. In my heart I said, “OK, Holy Spirit, you’re going to have to do the talking because I don’t know what to say!”

And my, oh, my did my Friend, the Holy Spirit, do some talking. But it wasn’t me doing the talking–it was Ernie. “Randy, I know you heard about my diagnosis. And I need you to understand that one day I won’t be able to teach the Sunday School class. One day I won’t be able to be involved in the men’s group. One day I won’t be able to serve this church. One day I won’t be able to do all the things I love doing around here.” And what Ernie said next is still with me.

With a love and fire in his eyes he said, “But today is not that day! I’m going to continue to do all the things I’ve been doing. Whatever you or this church needs me for, I’m here! I know that day will come, it’s just that Today Is Not That Day!” The words of encouragement and wisdom wasn’t meant to be shared by me; that Holy Moment was given to Ernie.

And Ernie kept that Sacred Vow. He kept on working and moving forward with Jesus. And a little over a year later, that day finally came. Bettye asked me to do the funeral service. And the message I shared? It was the very same one Ernie shared with me that morning in my office. Ernie prepared his own eulogy and funeral message: Today is not THAT day to give up. God is with you every step of the way. And on that sad day, God’s Grace abounded.

Application Time

We all face difficult, even terrifying moments in life. The temptation, even the urge to give up can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve faced many such moments. And in those moments, I see Ernie, sitting across my desk. He’s smiling and saying to me, “Now Randy, you know Today Is Not THAT Day!

Whatever it is that you may face in life; whatever you ARE facing right now that is overwhelming you with the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness and you want to give up; remember my good friend Ernie’s words: Today Is Not THAT Day! Ernie lived with the confidence that whatever the future held, HE was held by God and was secure in that knowledge.

THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

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

Recalculating: For Such A Time As This!

God Is Looking For People Who Will Live Each Moment As If They Were Born Such A Time As This—Because You Are.

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Today I want us to look at another Old Testament story to see what happens when we Recalculate Our Heart To Move In The Direction Of God’s Heart.  If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It:

God Is Looking For People Who Will Live Each Moment As If They Were Born Such A Time As This—Because You Are.

Today it’s the story of Esther.  It’s around 470 BC in Persia.  King Xerxes is throwing a wild party for the leading men of his nation.  On a drunken whim, the king orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself before all his guests.  She refuses, creating panic among the men:  What if their wives heard about it and followed her example?  Terrified at the prospect of such a thing, they convince the king to get rid of Queen Vashti.  But the king gets lonely.  Seeing his misery, the king’s advisors devise a plan. They will host a beauty pageant, gathering the most dazzling women from the kingdom, so the king can have “the pick of the litter”.  Enter Esther!

Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to enter the Beauty Pageant.  But he wants her to hide something important—that she is a Jew—numbered among the people of God.  If the promoters of this beauty pageant find out she’s a Jew, they won’t ever consider her.  And he was right in that analysis.  If she wants to win the king’s favor, it will come at the price of hiding who she really is.  She’ll have to act just like everyone else.  And we know she wins.

Something happens, though, to throw all of this into jeopardy. It happens because of Mordecai’s resolve to be God’s Person.  There is a man in the kingdom named Haman, who is second in command to King Xerxes.  That’s a lot of power, but it’s never enough for men like Haman.  

He not only wants power; he wants others to flatter him, and inflate his already oversized ego.  That’s Haman—powerful, insecure, and a threat.  Whenever he passes by, everyone must bow down to him in an elaborate tribute.  But there’s Mordecai—so insistent that Esther conceals her true identity—decides this business with Haman has gone on long enough.  It was time to stand up and be counted.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.

Haman is furious with his actions and he hatches a plot.  He goes to King Xerxes and informs him of a people—God’s people—who are causing problems.  He convinces the king that it’s in the king’s best interests to completely annihilate them by genocide.  He even offers to finance the project!  Without blinking an eye, the king gives a nod of approval.  Posters are soon plastered all over the kingdom, saying:  Kill all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on March 7 next year.  When Mordecai hears the news, he does what any good Jew would do—he repents.  

He puts on sackcloth and covers himself with ashes—the clothing and gestures of repentance, and goes through the city, weeping and crying.  Why offer repentance?  Hasn’t the wrong been done by Haman?  Mordecai repents because he knows he has wronged God by trying to hide.  To borrow the words of James 4:4, Mordecai realizes that “If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

When Esther hears about her cousin’s behavior, she is concerned. She doesn’t care what’s going on; she just wants him to stop it.  She sends him a message to stop it.  But Mordecai refuses to turn away from his repentance.  So she sends another message.  Let’s pick up the story in Esther 4:13-17

13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther:  “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die.  Who Knows If Perhaps You Were Made Queen For Just Such A Time As This?”  15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will do the same.  And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king.  If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther 4:13-17 (NLT) (emphasis mine)

At the risk of racing through this amazing story, let me sum it up quickly.  She gets her opportunity and invites both Haman and the king to 2 special banquets.  Haman is delighted—proud and puffed up to know he is the only person chosen to attend the gathering alongside the king.  His spirits are quickly cooled because he saw Mordecai again and again he refused to bow down before Haman.  When he came home, he was complaining to his wife and family, “I’m the only one invited to the banquet the Queen has prepared for the King, and this, this heathen Mordecai dishonors me.”  So, his wife suggests he erect a tall pointed pole and impale Mordecai on it.  Well, Haman is happy again.  Haman thinks life is good again.

But the King couldn’t sleep the night before the banquet, so he had some servants read to him from the archives of his life as King.  I don’t know if he was wanting his ego stroked or if he thought the reading would be so boring he would fall asleep.  But then he hears about how a Jew named Mordecai had saved his life by revealing an assassination plot. 

Then he found out he had never properly recognized Mordecai for this, so he decides to honor him.  What happens next is pure irony—God is the Master of Irony!  The King sees Haman who is about to ask permission to kill Mordecai, and asks Haman how should someone really special be honored.  Haman, thinking it’s himself the King wants to honor says, “Give him one of your royal robes, give him one of your horses to ride and have a parade to tell everyone how wonderful this man is (wink-wink).  The king says, “Great idea!  Go get Mordecai ready for the parade, and you lead the parade telling everyone what a great man Mordecai is.” 

This humiliates Haman, but that evening it gets worse.  Esther then pleads for her people’s lives and reveals Haman’s evil plot and this angers the king.  Xerxes storms out, Haman falls on Esther’s couch to ask for mercy just when the King comes back in.  He gets the wrong idea, and has Haman impaled on the same pole he had built for Mordecai. 

Since the King cannot undo his decree to have the Jews killed, he gives another decree—they can defend themselves and their families.  Mordecai is then promoted to Haman’s position.  Let’s see if we can learn why The 21st Century Church needs a Change of Direction and Change of Heart, For Such A Time As This:

1.  We Are Living In A Time Of Moral Confusion.

If I or any preacher were to say:  “We are living in a time of immorality!”, there would be a loud echo of “AMEN!”  And we could cite instance after instance of why this would be true.  No doubt about it, immorality is in overabundance.  But I’m not so convinced the real issue of our culture is the immorality—as much as it is the Moral Confusion which exists.  The Crisis of our culture is the way it defines morality. 

The word definition of morality is simple:  “It Is The Principles That Mark The Distinction Between Right And Wrong Or Good And Bad Behavior.”  Our culture defines morality in contextual ways, rather than by Truth.  Here’s what I am trying to say.  Our culture defines right and wrong based on context, on the settingIf it’s OK in one setting, then it’s not immoral.

And it’s frustrating for us who identify as followers of Jesus.  Our culture needs to see a Morality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, in us.  I’m not talking about is it right or wrong to have a drink or divorce or the lottery or cut grass on Sunday—I’m talking about us living a full and joyful life by the standard God has given us. 

You and I are born for such a time as this—To Show How Meaningful Life Is When We Live It By God’s Standard.  This Chaos Is Alienating People—And We Can Be The Ones God Uses To End This Chaos.

2.  We Are Living In A Season Of Instability!

Without a solid foundation to define morality—the end result is that instability of character within people’s lives.  The Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary defines Character this way: 

“The Way Someone Thinks, Feels, And Behaves; A Set Of Qualities That Are Shared By Many People In A Group; A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.

Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary

Focus on that last part:  A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.  The instability of our culture is the direct result of the lack of being different from other places and things.  Most people don’t follow Jesus say that it’s because they don’t like the church.

And when they ask what the church is, they identify us by things we are against.  Character of heart and life isn’t measured by just what we are against—it is measured more by what we are for

  • We are FOR unconditional love. 
  • We are FOR people being treated with respect and dignity.
  • We are FOR values that build people up. 
  • We are FOR kindness. 
  • We are FOR compassion—love in action. 
  • We are FOR Grace and Mercy expressed as Forgiveness And A Commitment To A Life Of Holiness! 
  • We are FOR eliminating human distinctions. 
  • HOPE For A Life That Is Meaningful, Fulfilling And Abundant! 

This is why you are born for such a time as this.  To bring all this and so much more, through the Kingdom of God—as seen in you.  And this leads me to my last point:

3.  We Are Living In A Time Of Despair.

The Lack Of A God-Centered Morality, The Absence Of Christ-Like Character Fuels The Despair That Is Consuming Our Culture In The U.S. 

Watch the news, look at Washington D.C., look at what’s happening in the streets.  It’s not the fault of the Democrats, nor the Republicans.  It’s the despair that’s fueling all of it.  No one sees or senses any hope for anything better.  So they argue and fight and point the finger of blame.  They become fearful and angry at each other. 

All because of the absence of one thing:  Hope!  Democrats can’t create hope.  Republicans can’t create hope.  Socialists can’t create hope.  Government can’t create hope.  And the hate, anger and frustrations of the people can’t create hope.  These only intensify the despair.  Hope is missing.  Why?

It’s the failure of so many in churches who have either forgotten, or never understood, That WE Have Been Born, WE Have Been REBORN For Such A Time As This. Despair is ripping apart the fabric of our nation and world. 

We Need A Recalculating Moment To See That We Are Born And Reborn For Such A Time As This.  To Bring Moral Clarity, Lasting Character And Living Hope. 

A Day Comes When We’ve Got To Stand, Be Counted, And Fight To Proclaim What We’ve Been Entrusted With.  Today Is That Day. 

We should know we will never win a pagan culture by mimicking it and all it values.   The strongest influence we can bring in these chaotic and desperate times is to simply be peculiar—to be, with neither pride nor apology, followers of Jesus. 

Our call, God’s vision for this place, will reveal the character of Jesus—a character saturated with love, mercy, grace and compassion—a character that just doesn’t point out what’s wrong with others, but sees their hurts and their needs—a character that does more than see their needs, but does something to meet those needs.

Your Next Steps is to accept these 3 truths and live them out:

1.  The People Of God Do Not Succeed In A Pagan World By Hiding Their True Identity.

2. You Can Win Admiration By Conforming To The Standards Of The Age, But It Will Take You Further Away From Having A Heart For God.

3.  We Have An Enemy Who Is Out To Destroy Us, And No Amount Of Hiding Will Save Us.

Did you catch Mordecai’s last warning to Esther?

“Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive.  If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, Help And Deliverance Will Arrive For The Jews From Someplace Else; but you and your family will be wiped out.”

God is at work bringing help and deliverance to this vast spiritual wasteland.  The issue for you and for all of us, will it be through some other people, or will we rise For Such A Time As This?

Will You Be A Doubting Thomas?

John 20:24-29 (NLT)

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.  The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them.  “Peace be with you,” He said. 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands.  Put your hand into the wound in My side.  Don’t be faithless any longer.  Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas exclaimed.  29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen Me.  Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me.”

  • Doubt can be called the leprosy of faith, eating away at our hearts until we are unable to sustain that life-giving faith. 
  • Doubt can be called a thief, robbing us of the truth of God’s unfailing grace. 
  • Doubt can be called blindness, causing us to believe that God doesn’t love us. 
  • Doubt can be called demoralizing, making us feel unworthy to ask God to forgive us. 
  • Doubt can be called deafening, denying us the ability to hear God calling us to His Heart. 
  • Doubt CAN Be All Of This WHEN We Refuse To Acknowledge It And Deal With It In The Presence Of God.

This leads me to the one thing you need to remember: 

Knowing About Jesus Is No Substitute For Knowing Jesus In Our Heart.

It seems that after I turned 50, a lot of my notions and ideas began to change, and one of them is about Thomas.  When someone doubts something, we often say, “Oh, don’t be such a doubting Thomas.”  Doubting Thomas.  What a moniker to be stuck with nearly 2,000 years later.  Now I have come to a different opinion of Thomas. 

Some of it has come out of my own personal experiences, and some of it has come by reflecting more on the Scriptures without the usual and typical comments people make about him.  I have found that Thomas’ strength comes out of what WE callHis Doubts.

Be fair to Thomas.  He wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to some of the disciples—the same disciples who Doubted the report of Mary and the other women.  And don’t make a big deal about him not being there.  The scriptures do not say why he wasn’t there. 

Maybe the others sent him out to Burger King for some food, or to Publix for some groceries.  They were afraid of the Sanhedrin, but it was Thomas who said, “Let us go to Jerusalem with Jesus that we may die with Him.”  He’s not afraid of the Sanhedrin, send him out.  And we don’t know When Thomas was back with the other disciples.  And it doesn’t matter When he came back.  Point is, He Came Back!

Now they are telling him, “We saw Jesus and He’s alive!  Isn’t that great Thomas?”  And Thomas should believe them, right?  After all, these guys believed the women’s report from the cemetery.  I mean, James and John were fishermen and we all know fishermen never lie. 

And there’s Matthew who was a tax collector and everyone knows how truthful and honest tax collectors are.  And there’s Peter telling the same story and we all know how reliable and stable Peter is.  And Mary Magdalene is saying the same thing, and everyone knows she’s always been the sanest person around.  I mean, with these kinds of witnesses, Thomas should be saying. “All right!  I just knew Jesus would do something else!”

But Thomas doesn’t say that.  His response to all these witnesses is:  “Unless I see . . . I won’t believe it.”  I have come to like Thomas and even more—I love his response.  Of all the things said by them after the resurrection, Thomas makes the most profound statement of all.  His Heart Is The Heart Longing For Faith.  He does not want to be known as the doubter.  His heart wants to believe in the deepest way possible. 

So I have sat in the class taught by none other than Thomas, and I want you to join me as Thomas teaches us some powerful lessons about what it means to be a Real Disciple of the Risen Jesus!  Don’t call him the Missing Disciple.  Simply mark the role of who is there and who is not present.  Don’t read more into this than what’s here. 

Sure, he may have had his doubts about why Jesus had to die, but so did all the others.  They have been on a roller coaster ride.  One day Jesus is hailed as King, and a few days later called a criminal. 

Each of them had their own notions about what Jesus should do.  Each of them was weighed down with the traditions they had been taught about the Messiah.  And Jesus met none of their expectations or traditions.  It was bound to be disappointing.  But none of them seem to say what they are feeling.  None of them seem to be willing to deal with their doubts.

Only Thomas has the courage And The Faith to deal with his doubts.  And here is the first lesson Thomas teaches us:

1.  Doubting Can Be The Most Fertile Ground For Faith To Grow.

When We Seriously Deal With Our Doubts Before God, It’s Ripe For Growth.  Why do you try to hide your doubts from God?  Do you honestly think God doesn’t know when you doubt?  Life can be tough and there can be lots of things that make us question our faith and even question our God’s goodness and love.

A child is stillborn.  A promising high school student dies in an automobile accident.  A trusted spiritual leader falls flat on his face.  Someone’s son commits suicide.  A faithful leader and servant in church dies from ALS.  My Mother suffered from dementia.  Bad things, horrible things happen to good people. 

So we seek God’s counsel.  We pound on the doors of heaven but there’s no answer.  But because of the seed of faith that God put in us, we keep on pounding.  And It Is Faith Making Us Pound On Heaven’s Door Because We Know There’s No Other Place Where We Can Find The Answer.  It is in these moments that our faith can grow the deepest—when we know that we can keep coming back and that God will not stop loving us.  Where else can Thomas turn with these doubts? 

Their word about the Resurrection is not enough for Thomas. 

Their experience does not satisfy the hungering and thirsting of his heart

Thomas is living out one of those beatitudes:  Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness For They Will Be Satisfied!  In my imagination, I can just see Jesus doing a fist pump when Thomas makes that declaration and saying, “He gets it! I’m proud of Thomas! Just look at that hunger of his!”

So Thomas says out loud for everyone to hear:  “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”  And if you are paying attention, you will hear the second lesson from Thomas:

2.  You Can’t Live On The Experiences Of Others!

Some people never get close enough to God, they never surrender their heart completely—in order to have a faith story about God in their life.  They Want Just Enough Of God In Their Life To Feel Comfortable In Their Complacency.

They listen to the stories of others and protect the traditions and say “This is enough!  This is all I need!”  And Those Without That Genuine Experience Will Fight For Those Traditions More Than They Will For The Message And Ministry Of Jesus Christ.  Our culture is sick to death of precious traditions and ancient stories.  They told their story.  But Thomas wanted more.

And the good news for those witnesses is this:  They Were So Genuine, So Convincing That Thomas Wanted That Same Presence In His Life!  No Bible stories about Jesus for Thomas, no sir!  He wanted the real presence.  And our culture wants none of the traditions and ancient stories—

But They Do Want A Genuine, Authentic Story Of What Jesus Is Doing Right Here And Now In Relationship With Us

The Greek word for I see is eidō.  It means more than to see with the eye.  It Means:  To Cherish.  To cherish means we recognize the real value.  There are many things we cherish which have little or no monetary value.  But they are important to us because they have personal meaning. 

Resurrection Had To Have Personal Meaning For Thomas Or It Was Nothing

To cherish the Resurrection, it must have personal meaning for us.  Thomas wanted the relationship, not the Cliff Notes and not the Readers’ Digest version.  And if you are paying attention to Thomas, you now know the third lesson he teaches us:

3.  He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him!

Even with those doubts Thomas stayed with it for 8 days.  And because he did, he was there when Jesus came again. 

Our Doubts Never Disqualify Us From The Relationship God Seeks To Have With Us.  And Our Doubts Do Not Disqualify Us From Serving God

Thomas chose to hang in there, to wrestle and struggle and seek for himself the reality of the Risen Lord.  His hunger for God couldn’t be satisfied with “their” story—he knew that the only way his hunger would be satisfied is through HIS own story

Personally, I would rather go into battle with 1 Doubting Thomas than 100 comfortable pew sitters.  There are too many sitting in churches this morning who want an Easy Faith, so easy even a caveman can do it.  They want it to be neat and tidy.  But life isn’t so neat and tidy, and Jesus understands this. 

That’s why Jesus came back 8 days later for Thomas, to bless Thomas with His presence.  Some people look at verse 29 and think Jesus is chastising Thomas:  “Why couldn’t you believe without seeing?”  But most of the ancient manuscripts do not use Thomas’ name.  The pronoun used by John can be plural:  Jesus said to THEM.  Literally it says:  “Blessed are they, believed, and now you (plural) are blessed; yet no less blessed those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence.” 

Now I understand:  the blessing is equal for Thomas and the others and for us.  Their blessing is not greater than ours, nor is ours greater than theirs. 

The Blessing Is In Coming Face To Face With Jesus. 

And if you are struggling to believe, then remember Thomas: 

He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him, And Jesus Did.  And Jesus Will Come To You. 

Sometimes life can be a real mess and the upheaval can feel like an erupting volcano.  What do you do when life is like that?  What do you do when there are more questions than answers?  What do you do when the neat answers don’t fit the messy questions? 

Be a Doubting Thomas.  It’s looks like this:

  • Refuse To Settle For Neatly Packaged Answers That Rarely, If Ever, Satisfy The Heart. 
  • Don’t Be Content With What Someone Else Says About Jesus. 
  • Yearn For Your Experience—Know That The Force And The Power Of Resurrection Can And WILL Have Meaning For You!
  • Have That Unquenchable Thirst And Appetite To Cherish The Living Presence Of Jesus Himself.

Our culture isn’t interested in our traditions or stories told of long ago.  But they are interested in and are hungry for a relationship.  Be a Thomas—and hang in there, because Jesus is coming to you.  A lot of people know ABOUT Jesus, and that is good—But…It…Is…Not…Good…Enough!

The Gospel insists and demands that you KNOW Jesus personally.  Have you been struggling?  Doubts can only lead to growth when we bring them into the presence of God. 

The Good News about bringing our doubts to God is this:  Jesus is coming for you, and He’s coming with the blessing.  Will you accept Him today?

Next Steps

  1. Do You Know More About Jesus In Your Head Than You Have Experienced In Your Heart?  Then today is the day like Thomas had—to experience the Risen Lord and fall in love with Him—and His beauty.  To give up WHAT you know, for the One who knows you and desires for you to know Him!
  2. Are You Having Any Doubts About The Future About This Place?  Thomas was looking for a future with Hope And Promise.  He would not have found it unless he brought it to Jesus.  When he brought those doubts to Jesus, everything changed.  I’m asking you to bring your doubts about the future of this place to Jesus.  It changed the outlook of Thomas—it will change your outlook, too!

The Butterfly Effect

2 Timothy 1:3-7 (NLT)

3 Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did.  Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. 5 I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6 This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:3-7 (NLT)

Does anyone here know The Chaos Theory?  No, it’s not a way to describe what happens daily in Washington D.C. and Montgomery, though we could make a good argument for it.  Chaos Theory is the science of surprises, of the unusual and the unpredictable.  It Teaches Us To Expect The Unexpected.  

While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with things that are practically impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on.  

Chaos Theory maintains that a very small change will make a system behave completely differently.  Very small changes in the starting position of a system that is subject to chaos, make a big difference after a while.  Something happens at a certain point in time that will produce much bigger result than can be predicted.

Edward Norton Lorenz was an American mathematician, meteorologist, and a pioneer of The Chaos Theory.  It started out as a mathematic theory, but before long, it was being applied to every aspect of science, economics, human behavior, and social development.  He noticed it by rounding decimals—that even rounding a number up or down by 1 one-thousandths will create an entirely different outcome. 

He introduced and coined the term The Butterfly Effect to explain The Chaos Theory.  In an over-simplification, The Butterfly Effect states that if a butterfly in Africa flaps its wings at the right moment, the air it moves will lead to the formation of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.  Meaning, had the butterfly NOT flapped its wings, the hurricane would not have happened. 

Sounds insane, doesn’t it?  But there are scientists who insist it is true.

Let’s bring The Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect and apply it to nations.  Anyone here know the name Gavrilo Princip?  Well you should.  Gavrilo hated a certain man and his pregnant wife.  He went up to them, pulled out a gun and killed the man, his wife and their unborn baby.  Now do you know him?  His act of killing  Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie, led to 37 million people either being killed or wounded.  It was called World War 1.  Butterfly Effect

Let’s bring The Butterfly Effect into another realm—the realm of people, society and culture.  Who here knows Philo Taylor Farnsworth?  He grew up in a home that did not have electricity until he was 14.  Yet he successfully demonstrated the first television signal transmission on September 7, 1927.  Who can deny the impact of TV?

Now let’s look at The Butterfly Effect within the spiritual context.  Remember the point of it:  “Small Causes Will Have Large Effects”And to bring this home, let me ask you a question:  What Are You Doing To Change The Lives Of People Around You?  Think long and hard on that question.

What Are Things You Are Doing, The Memories You Are Creating—That Will Change The Heart And Future Of Another Person?  Each and every one of you can be an instrument of God’s plans.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it: 

Your Life Has The Potential To Change Another Life—And The Culture Around You.

You, yes you, can be a mover and a shaker in our community and culture.  You can be responsible for The Butterfly Effect in a person who needs it so much.

God has a purpose for your life—to bring Him Honor and Glory.   When you genuinely bring God Honor and Glory it will impact another life.  This Is How His Purpose For Your Life Works.  Remember that:  His Purpose Is HIS Purpose For HIM

It Is Not To Make Your Life Shine—But To Shine The Glory Of HIS Life Through You!  But you must be deliberate with your life.  These are serious times, my friends.  God has never been, nor will He ever be looking for a casual relationship with anyone.  God is looking for serious people who want more than an hour or 2 on Sunday morning. 

Think about Timothy’s grandmother and mother.  We don’t know a lot about them, but there were a lot of people who felt the impact of their lives.  Their impact continues to be felt today.  Their impact continues to be felt all around the world.  It’s here today, and it will be here the next day and the next—until the end of time. 

Here’s the thing about God’s Glory:  Anyone Can Reflect It, And When Someone Reflects That Glory, It Becomes The Butterfly Effect That Reaches Out And Changes Everything.  But it takes 3 key, let’s call them, “Immoveable Commitments” By You.  Here they are:

1.  Make An Immovable Commitment To Be Hungry For God’s Grace!

Live your ordinary daily life knowing that real life is found only as we live it in God’s Grace.   

  • Through your life show others that Grace is what overcomes the power of sin.
  • Through your life show others that Grace is what overcomes the damage of sin. 
  • Through your life show others that Grace is the place to go when you fail.
  • Through your life show others that Grace is what you need when life gets hard and difficult. 
  • Through your life show others that when the questions of life arise, Grace holds the answer—whether you find the answer here and now—or you reveal the confidence that one day God will make the answer clear. 

We equally need Grace, and if are going to see lives change and cultured transformed—we need to recognize our need for Grace.  We often say our world to change, it needs to know its need for God.  But I would say it this way:  For Our World To Change, The World Needs To See Our Need For God!  And when we recognize our need for Grace, it’s easier to then share that Grace. 

Grace Does Its Best Work When One Person Transformed By Grace, Shows Grace To Another Person.  Butterfly Effect

2.  Make An Immoveable Commitment To Live Into The Bigger Purpose

Live with the sense and expectation that you are part of something much bigger than anything else.  What Would Jesus Do is a phrase most of us are familiar with. 

It comes from Charles Sheldon’s book “In His Steps”, where he told stories of people facing a dilemma between choices, and he would ask the question:  “What Would Jesus Do?”  The answer to that question is our purpose.  And that purpose is to love God and honor Him by becoming the reflection of Jesus with our attitudes, words and actions. 

Our Purpose Is To Think In Ways, Act In Ways, Speak In Ways That Reflect The Real Jesus To The World.  To do this you need to Expand your capacity to enjoy God’s presence and reflect His Heart. 

Don’t ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  Start Doing What Jesus IS Doing!  The Butterfly Effect

3.  Make An Immoveable Commitment To Be Get Involved With God’s Mission

See yourself as part of an unfolding story—an ongoing narrative.  And the narrative is about God reaching out into the world to redeem and restore the broken and fallen lives.  Too many are living out a story that is way too small. 

There’s a word being said frequently to churches wanting to grow.  The word is WIG!  Not hair!  WIG stands for Wildly Important Goal.  It’s so wild, it’s impossible for us to do—but it’s possible with God!  It comes from that sense of urgency that the Holy Spirit is working in our culture.  Without that W.I.G. here’s what we do:

  • We Dream Too Small. 
  • Our Vision Is Too Short Sighted. 
  • We Muzzle Our Imagination. 

It’s time to set our hearts and minds free because we are in the middle of God’s Story! We make a difference in our community and culture—By Our Need For Grace—Through Our Purpose—With Our Mission. 

Your Life Has The Potential To Change Another Life—And The Culture Around You.  The Butterfly Effect!

Stop selling yourself short.  Remember the Butterfly Effect—that if a butterfly flaps its wings at just the right time—everything changes in the future. Andy Andrews, author and great speaker wrote in his book The Butterfly Effect: 

“Every Single Thing You Do Matters.  You Have Been Created As One Of A Kind.  You Have Been Created In Order To Make A Difference.  You Have Within You The Power To Change The World.”

Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect

And we see this effect that 1 life can have at this Table of Holy Communion. The effect of Jesus’ death continues to transform and change human hearts and lives.

Next Step:  Come up with your own W.I.G.— Wildly Important Goal that reflects the truth, that God designed your life to make an impact on His creation.

The God Who Fights For Us!

God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.

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The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

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.

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

Live In A Different Story!

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

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

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

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

1.  He Had A Different Mindset

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

2.  He Had A Different Purpose

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

3.  He Had A Different Courage

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

4.  He Had A Different Plan

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

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

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

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!