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!

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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