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It’s Hard To Live In Exile And Harder To Do What God Says About Your Place Of Exile

God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God.

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Do your circumstances feel like you are living in exile? You work at a job that under-appreciates your work, and under-pays you for overworking you. You have been terminated from work and the pile of bills is now a mountain of bills. Your spouse has left you for more excitement that you were able to provide. You wish your spouse WOULD leave because all they do is belittle you and tell you all that you do wrong. You look in the mirror with great disgust at the person looking back at you because you hate what you see. The doctor prescribes a series of chemo and radiation treatments because of your cancer. The church you attend is embroiled in political and in-house bickering and fighting. Your parents lament on a daily basis on how you could have done better. The air conditioner, refrigerator, and hot water heater all died the same day. The Sheriff’s Department just posted an eviction notice on your door.

Now, add to all of that the cultural and political wars going on in the good old U.S. of A. The news channels blaring away at all the upheaval, and the violence that is happening every day, all day long. I don’t know about you, but there have been many moments where I felt like I was in exile.

Feelings of exile have a long history. In many cases, it was more than a feeling, it was a national reality. Jeremiah lived in such a time–a literal time of exile. And Jeremiah has something to tell them–something God wanted them to know.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:2-7 (NLT)

They are living in a foreign land, under foreign rule, with foreign customs and a pagan culture. Pagan Culture–does that resonant with you? It resonates with me as a Kingdom Citizen. And I hear a lot of voices that seem to echo the same sentiments. Face it, as Followers of Jesus our culture neither likes nor embraces Kingdom Truth. This time has been appropriately called “The Post Christian Era”. Values of the Kingdom of God are considered outdated. And add to this, that many who professed to be Followers of Jesus looked nothing at all like Jesus. In fighting and self righteousness turned many away from becoming Followers of Jesus.

So, how do we live in a time and place that feels like exile? It seems to me, that the words of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies spoken to Jeremiah still apply today. Look carefully again at what God instructs those exiles to do:

Build homes, and plan to stay

Establish your allegiance and loyalty to Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Be that city on a hill, that candle on the candlestand.

Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 

Be a producer of the positive wherever you are. Do not lower yourself to engage in the bitter fighting that is so entrenched in this culture. Bring good things into your part of this dysfunctional culture.

Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

Reproduce Kingdom Values within your family, your circle of close friends, at work–wherever you happen to be. Be the example and encourage others to be that example. You reproduce those Kingdom Values as you teach others–and they see them verified in your daily life.

So far so good, right? Challenging, yes–but doable. But there’s more–and it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.

Did you just see that? Work for the peace and prosperity of those people who make us feel like we are in exile. It’s simple, really simple. If you are on the left–help and pray that the right would be at peace and experience prosperity. For you on the right–help and pray that the left would be at peace and experience peace. If you are a centrist, then do the same for both the left and the right.

It doesn’t seem fair or just that God would tell us to do that. But…don’t miss that next line from the passage: “the city where I sent you into exile.” God sent Judah into exile because of their disobedience. And for us today? God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God. Their reason for exile was disobedience–and our reason is Obedience–obedience to God’s call to wage spiritual warfare against Satan.

Oh, and that last line: “Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” OK, do you want to see our culture transformed? The pray for their Shalom. That is the Hebrew word used. It means, among many things, peace. Pray for the opposite side from you to do well, be strong and have inner peace. If you don’t, well, God said what the outcome will be: You will NOT be strong or be well or have peace.

Your welfare rests upon what you want for others, even those on the opposite side. Followers of Jesus, we are in exile–but we are in exile for a purpose and a reason–to bring The Kingdom Of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” If you want some practical advice on how to accomplish this, well…listen to Paul in Romans 12:21

As long as you are agitated and mad at your culture, nothing will change and you will be miserable. It’s not easy to do–it’s not meant to be easy. It’s meant to cause you to turn to God, seek His Holy Spirit and rely on The Spirit. It doesn’t make sense to do it this way. But…it does work!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him…and it does when you pray for the peace of your enemies.

It Is What It Is. . . And That’s What Hurts So Much

Don’t point the finger of blame at others–instead point the way to Jesus, the Jesus that is clearly seen in you.

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From Sunday, July 28 to this morning, August 4 there have been 4 mass shootings. If data is your thing, then here are the number this past 7 days of mass shootings:
Wounded: at least 68
Killed: Current Count, 34

The reasons for such carnage? Does it make a difference? And who is to blame? Well, it depends on which news channel you watch and who you talk to. Here are some of the conclusions I have heard about where to pass the blame:

  • Guns and their availability
  • Racial motivations
  • Anger
  • The NRA
  • The Republicans
  • The Democrats
  • And ad nauseam other reasons

The one in South Haven, Mississippi is less than 180 miles from me. All this violence has caused me to once again put to use daily my “Concealed Carry” permit. I do so, not out of fear, but my deep concern for those who could be among the next 102.

There are those who think if there were more controls for inanimate objects, there would not be another 102. We are being told all kinds of explanations for this carnage. But most I’ve heard speaks to the symptoms but fail to deal with the real disease.

It is what it is–human violence perpetrated by humans against their fellow human beings. Some of the victims were known, but most were unknown by the shooters. Human violence comes from hearts that have turned away from The Creator. Thus, they lose the sense of purpose we had before the fall. And that is to live in kindness with each other.

More laws can and probably will be passed. But the problem will not go away through legislation. Change of heart is what is needed. There’s an, call it irony, today. It was in the message I shared with the congregations I serve. You can see it here.

Our culture is being fueled by irritation, aggravation, and frustration that is creating the toxic environment of Despair.  And without a radical change of direction, a Divine Recalculating Moment, it will only become worse.

So I appeal, appeal to you who profess your faith in Jesus–to get busy with the work of God’s Kingdom. The work of God’s Kingdom is changing hearts, lives, situations and institutions to reflect HIS Glory, and His love. This is the time for believers to become followers of Jesus. Don’t give up Hope. Share your faith, using words only when necessary. Our culture needs an awakening and a renewal that comes through the Holy Spirit.

And it will to our culture–when you expected an awakening and renewal in YOU. When there is an awakening and renewal IN, then there will be an awakening and renewal THROUGH you!

Let’s be examples of treating ALL people with respect and dignity. Refuse to judge others by any human characteristic or standard. Don’t point the finger of blame at others–instead point the way to Jesus, the Jesus that is clearly seen in you.

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

Statistical Christianity

Statistical Christianity is defining what it means to be a Christian by the numbers, rather than the truth.

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Well, it’s the day after the Fourth of July, and I’m on a rant. Go figure. Maybe it’s seeing on Facebook all those who allege they are Christians going all patriotic, ranting against Kap and Nike. singing God Bless America. Some seem to “up their game” when it comes to achieving the status of being a “Patriotic Christian”. Patriotic Christian? Really? But that’s a rant for another day.

Today I’m ranting against “Statistical Christianity”. I’m not talking about Barna or Pew Research. I’m talking about those who use statistics as proof of their beliefs–why they are right and I am wrong. Maybe I should give you my definition of Statistical Christianity:

Statistical Christianity is defining what it means to be a Christian by the numbers, rather than the truth.

Randy Burbank

Statistical Christianity has two branches. One branch is occupied by the Tenured Pew Sitters. They look at the past and try to build the future based on what they used to do. They look at the numbers back then, and in an act of ultimate futility, insist that it can be that way again IF we just replicate what we did then. For this branch, it’s all about 3 things: the building; their personal preferences dressed up in the clothes of tradition; and the most important part of all: DEMOCRACY! Every decision should be made based on the vote of the majority–and they make sure that their governing boards are stacked with people who think like they do. It’s about the numbers!

The second branch is occupied by “The Allegedly Enlightened”. The Allegedly Enlightened Branch looks to the culture to define what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life based on assumptions, presumptions, feelings, and sincere personal beliefs. Oh, and don’t forget THE NUMBERS. Mark Holland is proud to point this out in his blog 76% of US Annual Conferences Reject Traditional Plan. Mark bears witness to something I learned way back in college days when taking Statistical Math: 92.5874685% of all statistics are made up on the spot with a 99.99 percent margin of error.

The Allegedly Enlightened have the Numbers on the assumptions, presumptions, feelings and sincere personal beliefs to back up their claims. This Branch of Statistical Christianity wants us to allow the views, feelings, and emotions of culture define the Body of Christ. Public Opinion, be it a majority or minority, trumps anything else provided our personal experiences and feelings bear them out as truth.

And so we see it: The Tenured Pew Sitters Branch and the Allegedly Enlightened Branch stand across from each other shouting derogatory remarks at each other, while the rest of the world (statistically speaking they are the true majority) shakes its head and says, “If this is what being a Christian is about, thanks but NO THANKS!”

I close with this:

Excuse me for a moment. Statistically speaking, I need another cup of coffee…..

Glorifying Temptation?

I am taking a detour from my reflections to address a cultural event in the realm of Reality TV. Reality TV? Now here’s an oxymoron, antimone, contrariety, asymmetrical absurdity ever known to humankind. The latest edition of this circus, that I’m aware of, is the USA Network’s “Temptation Island”, a far cry from the Fantasy Island back in the day.

It this alleged “reality” show, 4 dating couples agree to “live the single life” with those who’s purpose is to lead the individual “astray” from their relationship. In this incoherent journey, these 4 couples put themselves in the arena of temptation to see if they have what it takes to build a lasting relationship. At least to me, this seems like a variation on that old game of Russian Roulette.

Our culture has become fascinated, captivated, and enamored with the lowest common denominator of the human psyche–that of personal failure. There was a moment in time when people did everything they could to avoid temptation. And now? People run with abandon INTO temptation. We live in a society that…that…. . You fill in the blank, because this wordsmith cannot find a way to say what I feel without being painfully sarcastic, even rude and ugly.

Right now, I just heard some Tenured Pew Sitter way, “It all started when Hollywood allowed Clark Gable to say damn in ‘Gone With The Wind’. That’s when it started!” Au Contraire, Tenured Pew Sitter. You don’t know that Bible you worship and use to beat people over the head as well as you think. It goes back to Adam and Eve, when faced with the choice to trust God or trust themselves.

Shows, such as this, cause those who sit in churches, who should proclaim loudly in the power of God to transform human lives, choose to declare that things are hopeless, and that it’s all just more confirmation that Jesus is coming back at any moment. Truth is, they really want Jesus to come back. And why? They say it’s because the world is so corrupt that it’s beyond redemption. My thoughts? They long for Jesus to return in order to absolve themselves of their responsibilities as followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that this current batch of disciples think that being a follower of Jesus is meant to be lived in a safe and pleasant environment. There is much about following Jesus that is neither safe nor pleasant. If you want Jesus to come back right now so you can be liberated from this “vile and wicked” world–well, you do not have the heart and mind of Jesus.

Jesus insisted on going to people and places where temptation was glorified. And did you notice that Jesus never went in those places breathing fire and brimstone telling them they were an abomination to God? Don’t think so. The only places I ever saw Jesus get righteously rude was when He dealt with those religious folks who thought they knew God and what He wanted. I see the images of Jesus calling them low-down snakes, taking a whip and disrupting their comfortable religion.

And now in my own reflections, I can hear Jesus saying, “You know, I need to go to Temptation Island.” My response to Jesus? “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? Jesus have you lost your mind? Why in the name of Jesus Christ would YOU want to go there?” Oops. I think I just said the wrong thing. He’s smiling at me and saying, “Because that’s where people who need me are at. Randy, don’t you remember that night in the Garden? I call it Temptation Garden. If you can remember, I won in Temptation Garden, and so did you. You ask me why would I go there? Well….I did come looking for you.”

And now I realize…we live in the right place and time to be a Follower of Jesus. Jesus seeks out the darkest places because that’s where people, made in His image, are living. He sought out the Cross and The Grave. He knew His Light would shatter the darkness…and it did. Come on, Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who are feeling safe, smug and comfortable in your stain glass sanctuaries. There’s a boat taking people to Temptation Island. You need to be on that boat and that Island. You don’t need to be there to call them all wicked sinners. You need to be there as a faithful example of what real life looks like when you love God more than printed Bibles, more than buildings called churches, more than….yourself.

I want to say something way off the wall for some. Instead of you complaining about how evil and horrible our culture is becoming, realize that this is the perfect place and time to share God’s redeeming love. Instead of longing for Jesus to take YOU out of this miserable, sinful world, YOU take Jesus INTO the miserable, sinful world. After all, someone brought Jesus to you when you were identified with this miserable, sinful world.

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

When Did THAT Happen?

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” Genesis 3:4-5, The Message

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Though I haven’t been actively writing much lately, I have been actively thinking… more like…reflecting on the current state of affairs. I have been engaged in active observation of our culture… of the church… and though it’s given me a headache, frustrations, aggravations, agitations, and a variety of discombobulations, it has not filled me with despair nor desperation. Maybe a Goody’s Headache powder or a little 15 year old single malt–but I’m not anywhere near throwing in the towel and giving up. But I have reached a moment. It happened this evening as I was taking a shower. This moment is NOT an epiphany–but a question? Here it is:

In the book of Acts, those who committed to be Disciples of Jesus were committed to the Good News of The Kingdom of God. Their life was called Koinonia, a shared life together. Others were always more important than themselves. Sharing was natural. Caring was deeper. They hungered for more understanding of this Kingdom. This Kingdom came first. Koinonia Community marked by being TOGETHER in the Ekklesia (that’s the Greek word mistranslated as church). Ekklesia is a Greek word that means “the called out ones”. They were passionate about The Gospel of The Kingdom of God, telling that powerful story. And church today? Tenured Pew Sitters have stopped being producers for the Kingdom and started being the Consumers. As consumers, they want to church to do and be what best suits them. They want to be in control. It’s no longer about Koinonia Life, but what suits them.

Another thing, it seems there are those who think that with the passing of centuries, suddenly WE know more about what God means than the ancient writers who shared their stories. I know the saying , “With age comes wisdom.” LIE! LIE! LIE! I’ve seen way too many examples of age coming all by itself; wiðutan–that’s an old English word that means ”  a word expressing lack or want of something”. They called themselves “Progressives”, thinking that their thinking is making progress for humanity. They insist that there are parts of the Biblical Ethos that is, for a lack of a better word from me, WRONG! Progressives insist that our minds, our reasoning processes (a process that is polluted by sin in ALL of us) are better suited to guide us in life on earth. Pardon me, but isn’t that what Satan told Eve and Adam? It’s not longer about seeking, praying and listening to the Holy Spirit.

Yet another thing, unique to the U.S., is that politics will solve all our problems. Voting becomes a matter of religious preferences. It’s about which political party sits in the Oval Office, which party controls the Senate, which party controls the House of Representatives. We are about to enter a new election cycle and there will be all kinds of ads of candidates holding Bibles, talking about Biblical values, while standing in front of an American flag. Since when did Jesus give up His purpose of being The Messiah to a political party? I’m wondering if there are other responsibilities Jesus is giving up and where do I apply for it? People get all worked up over politics and say our nation is doomed because of this party, that party, that politician. Whatever happened to making our culture better through personal actions that reflect the heart, mind and glory of God? Somehow, I don’t think God is neither Democrat nor Republican. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that both parties causes God to have many a face palm moment!

Oh, I’m just getting started. Entitlement! In the words of Madea, “Oh, Lort!” Whatever happened to personal effort and goals worth WORKING toward? In an earlier blog I place much of the blame on participation trophies (Click here for that blog) People simply think that (and I call it a ‘philosophy’) I exist therefore I am owed! Look, folks, you are not owed anything simply because you breathe oxygen. It takes drive and determination to achieve success. You want us to reward mediocrity as if it were a virtue.

And then there’s “feelings”….feelings, nothing more than feelings….Got that song stuck in your head? Good. People are being lied to that you are who you feel like you are. In other words, your feelings override everything–biology, truth, reality. And to inflict as much damage and harm humanly possible, there are some who insist that God, the Creator, made you that way and that the Cross sanctifies your feelings. Well, I feel like a Billionaire, and you need to provide me with everything that would make me a billionaire. Whether I have the cash or not, give me what a Billionaire would want–a jet, huge mansion, multiple cars, you name it! After all, my feelings are that I’m a Billionaire, that’s what matters the most. Living by feelings does not liberate you–it makes you its prisoner. We are all more, much more, than our feelings!

Well, I could go on….but I’ll stop here. I’ll end with this:

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5, The Message

An Open Letter To Young Clergy In The North Alabama Conference

It has been nearly a month. I have had time to process it, so now I will write.

Well, I have just been to Dante’s 45th Level of Hell. Excuse me, I meant to say my 45th consecutive North Alabama UMC Annual Conference. For those unfamiliar with my Spiritual Tribe, it’s that annual gathering of pastors and laity to “do” the “business” of UMC congregations within the boundaries of the North Alabama Conference. The italics and bold font indicates it’s alleged purpose. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how much we really do and how much of what we do really is the business of the Body of Christ and the Tribe known as United Methodists or the business of our personal opinions and beliefs.

To the young clergy and and young Christians, I want you to know I heard you cries of despair; of your feelings of being neglected because you felt your voice wasn’t important. It is important, but not in the way you may think. I also heard your anger because…well…because you did not obtain the results you wanted.

It appeared that you felt like BECAUSE you are young, your voice and your beliefs are the most important one. You were disappointed that none of you were elected to attend our General and Jurisdictional Conferences…and thus you assumed we weren’t listening. Au contraire, my sisters and brothers. You were heard, and there were many times when your voices did not sound like our Head, Jesus Christ.

With youth comes many advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantages of youth are qualities and virtues we all need to reclaim. We need to reclaim the excitement of the sense of unlimited possibilities. We need to reclaim the excitement of new discoveries. We need the stepping stones of fresh perspectives. These are just a few of the things you youth can teach us old fogies.

But there are also some disadvantages to youth, disadvantages us old fogies also had. The lack of depth of wisdom comes to mind. Wisdom doesn’t come from the surface of information, but from the depths of God’s heart and mind. This takes time…a lot of time. You lack the scars of battle with the Enemy. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I know you have faced and done battle with the Enemy…otherwise you would’t be here.

Allow me to give you the image of my son, now retired from the military. He has been in many literal battles. And when the battle was intense, he did not look to that fresh out of West Point or ROTC second lieutenant for guidance and courage, he looked to the seasoned officers who had more experience in battle. What I want to say is that experience trumps youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience helps steady the ship when the storms are intense.

Young clergy and laity, you bring much to our Table. We need what you offer. But you also need what we old fogies bring to the Table. We bring years of failure and success. We bring hearts and minds deeply rooted in the Truth of Scriptures (well most of us anyway). We also bring a knowledge of our processes.

Do not think you are unimportant because you did not get your way at the North Alabama Annual Conference 2019. The anger many of you manifested at Annual Conference did not serve your purposes at all. Take a moment to breathe, and reflect in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And for a moment, set aside all that your seminary professors told you–and simply seek the Holy Spirit–then listen.

I do not blame you for feeling disappointed. I do blame those who told you that you have the only answer for the problems ad issues of the church in the 21st century. The Body of Christ has many parts, and you are one of those parts. Bring your energy and insights to the body of Christ.

But also listen…listen to the scars of us old fogies…listen to the wisdom from above that we have because we have been on the front lines for a while. The, when it’s time for decisions to be made, contact those delegates elected, and with the spirit of grace and kindness, share your views and opinions. Those will be a part of the mix that helps us ALL, regardless of age, to move forward with the Kingdom of God.

And most of all remember Paul’s words to young Timothy. Study…learn…seek wisdom from Above. Rejoice in your successes but also learn from your failures. The scars we bear are the most fertile ground for spiritual maturity…

A Prosthetic Grace

Grace without a lifetime of transformation??? It’s not real. It’s not grace.

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This morning, I was “provoked” to write. It was another provocation by the Holy Spirit. And as is His habit, He provoked me through another person. It happened as I was reading the blog See, There’s This Thing Called Biology (click here to read insanitybytes thoughts). It was the one she calls Why Do We Hate Grace?”

It made me think about the Great Debate going on in my Tribe, the United Methodist Church. While some have chosen to make it a debate about human sexuality, I see that it is something much more that this single issue. The real issue is Grace. There are some within our Orthodox Camp who show little grace to those who are struggling with their identity, but I’ll leave their narrow view of grace to another post.

I’m talking about the artificial grace from those with a progressive persuasion. They claim that because of grace, sin needs to be redefined. At the core is that the suffering of Jesus was designed to free a person from that nasty thing called sin. Grace gives us the authority to redefine everything. Not so fast, Buckeroo.

The grace that condones and encourages anyone to live outside God’s Intended Design, is not Real Grace, rather a prosthetic grace. I have nothing but deep respect admiration for our Wounded Warriors and others who have lost a limb and then proceed to live their life to the fullest through the use of that prosthetic limb. If you are one of these, know that you inspire me to do better, BE better.

But to insist that there is a form of grace that allows us to live by our desires, our feelings, our understandings–well, it’s not really grace. What I see is a progressive grace that denies people the opportunity to experience God’s Power of Transformation. And thus, their theology ceases to be progressive…it becomes regressive. Perhaps this explains the aggressive behavior of many within the progressive camp.

Listening to the stories of those who have those prosthetic limbs, I hear the difficulties and pain involved in learning to use these marvelous devices. Ask anyone who is required to use a prosthetic limb, “Which would you rather have, the real limb or prosthetic limb?”, and I believe that would answer, “The real one, of course.”

This false grace being promoted is filled with both difficulties and pain. False grace leaves no room for the true purpose of Grace–which is to engage us in a lifelong process of transformation. It is telling people you are a prisoner to your desires and feelings. And to the LBGTQI+ community I say, “God loves you, period. But His GRACE is made to liberate you from your feelings and desires about who you want to have sex with. You are not identified by your sexual desires. You are identified by the person God wants to make you. Because God is good, He will transform you into someone beautiful and wonderful.”

Grace without a lifetime of transformation??? It’s not real. It’s not grace. It’s a prosthetic to replace the real.

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!

Everybody Has A Present!

(This is Part of my current 3 Part Sermon Series I’m calling Everybody!  Next week I’ll share the third, and final installment.  Click Everybody Has A Past to read the first.)

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Everybody Has A Present!  Joshua 24:14-15 (N.L.T.)

We’re in Week 2 of 3 of the series that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The Holy Spirit is inspiring this series because we live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.

Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.  This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  Remember that it’s not always been like this.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.   In the beginning, God designed life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  But this “Everybody That Was Together” was shattered when Adam and Eve made their tragic decision to be their own god.

But God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.  The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.

Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still EverybodyEverybody has 3 conditions in common.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:

Your Present Will Either Echo Your Fears Or Express Your Hope.

The Scripture this morning is all about echoing fears or expressing hope.  It comes from Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly.  Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt.  Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.  Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates?  Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

This particular passage has been applied to the thought that God wants us to have Christian families.  All kinds of pictures and wall plaques have been manufactured and sold.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  God does want Christian Families.  Christian families are the most important battle formation in God’s fight to reclaim what Satan took away from Him in the Garden.

But, if you would indulge me, I would like to give you a lesson in good, solid biblical exegesis.  Oh, that big word like Mahogany—exegesis.  Exegesis means to study in ways that helps understand a passage so that we can find ways to apply it to our lives.

Now, you certainly can apply these words of Joshua to you home, family, kids, grandkids and so on.  BUT. . .before you can do that, you need to understand the original setting.  Joshua has been leading them in the conquest of The Promised Land.  They’ve occupied most of the territory, but there’s still work to be done.  And Joshua is getting old.  This is his retirement announcement.

He’s not going to be around much longer—so they need to decide what they are going to do now.  Keeping walking with God in the present moment, or go back to some point in their past.  It’s about choice.  This is a defining moment for them.

In this moment, this defining moment, what are they going to do?  Joshua has made his own decision.  Joshua understands the importance of the Present.  He’s made his decision.  Now they have to decide—make their own decision.

I realize not everyone has had equal opportunities.  Not everyone has had a wonderful family background—not everyone has had a good past.  Bad choices were made.  Unfair situations happened to them.  But. . .we can allow the past to make us its captive—or—we can use it as a classroom where we learn to mold a new future.  And that New Future begins with The Present!

As with Joshua, our Present is all about The Covenant With God and What He Is Doing.  Just as at the foot of the Cross, we are all equal, so it is with The Present.  Everyone of us has The Present—it contains 60 seconds in a minute—60 minutes in an hour—and 24 hours in a day.  It’s the same for everyone.  How you choose to spend this time—what you choose for The Present—is your own decision.

Everybody needs The Present.  The Present is for everybody because some need a fresh start, all of us need to adjust our course and we all need to live out our true purpose.  Let’s look at each of these reasons.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need A Fresh Start

Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives a remodel won’t do the trick.  Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives an upgrade won’t do the trick.  A fresh coat of paint won’t work.

There are times in our life when no amount of tweaking will be enough.  It may be bad choices, lots of bad choices.  It may be that we’ve been hurt so deeply that the grudges have caused bitterness to take root and grow like kudzu.  There are lots of reasons why some of us need a Fresh Start.  And the Grace for that Fresh Start is available now—in the Present.  Now, I’m not saying that there may not be grace for you in the future—because grace is always there for us.  But. . .but there’s no guarantee that you will have that future.  Grace works in the Present—it’s made for the here and now.

And when you look at others—remember!  Remember that their past is not so horrendous that God doesn’t have a fresh start for them.  God’s grace is all about a fresh start for anyone and everyone.  Grace isn’t reserved for the brightest and best.  It’s for the least, the last and the lost.  Here in the present, we remember that it is never too late for God’s grace for anyone.  We need to stop judging people by their politics, their addictions, or anything with their outward appearances.  God can use anyone and everyone.

He used a dishonest tax collector to write a Gospel.  He used an unstable fisherman to be a leader in the very first churches.  He used a murderer and hater of Gentiles to be the one HE sent to the Gentiles.  Look at the genealogy of Jesus.  He used a prostitute to be the great-great grandmother of Jesus.  He used Jonah to show grace to the Ninevites, even though Jonah didn’t want to go, and even hated that God showed mercy and grace to the Ninevites.  That person you look down own, has a Present—This moment for God to give them a fresh start.  Stop judging others on their past.  Know that God has a Fresh Start—with their name on it.  And who knows, there may come a day when in your life, YOU need a fresh start.  The Present is for those who need a Fresh Start.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need To Adjust Their Course

I remember reading this years ago from Chuck Swindol—I don’t remember which book—but I remember what he wrote:  “Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  Thinking that we are hitting the mark, we can miss it by a mile.”  While else would David write in Psalm 139:23-24—23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Can I be honest with you?  This is about me.  I have learned more about God, about this relationship with Him, and about His design for my life in the last 15 years than I learned in the first 47 years of my life combined.  I now know it all started in that moment when I was broken.  And I know I still need some more course adjustments.

David points out 3 things in Psalm 139:23-24—

  1. We don’t know everything about our hearts. If so why did David invite God to dive deep into his heart?  Test me.  Know what makes me anxious.  Like when we’re taking a trip and there’s a blocked road or detour—the GPS does this thing called “recalculating”.  We need that for our hearts as well.
  2. We all have blind spots. David asked God to point out anything that was offensive to God.  Why?  Blind spots.  Sin has this sneaky characteristic of slowly changing our thoughts—changing them to beliefs and attitudes that are not those of God.  We need that course correction when we become blind to our own sinful ways.  They are called Blind Spots for a reason:  We can’t see them, but HE can.
  3. We don’t know it all. David asked God to lead him along the path of everlasting life.  David knew he couldn’t get there by himself.  He needed a Guide.  The Holy Spirit is with us to help us get to where God wants us to be.

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:14— For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  The leader is out front, making those adjustments in the course so that we can reach the goal of holiness in this life in Grace.  And the last thing:

  1. We All Need The Present To Live Out Our True Purpose.

What I am about to say, may upset someone–but just hang with me and listen to the whole thought:

Jesus didn’t die on the Cross just to get you into Heaven.  He saved us to get Heaven into us and into this world right now. 

Right now, in The Present, is where we live out our true purpose.  And true purpose is  live and love in ways that makes God real to each other—and to the world.

You can’t put off the work of the Kingdom of God.  It’s for here and now.  God has a plan, a purpose and the Power for your life.  You can’t put off doing what God wants done now.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10—For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  It means we begin now, in the present moment.

We all have the Present.  Your present will either echo your fears or express your hope.  Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now, In The Present—YOUR Present!

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Everybody Has A Choice With What To Do Right Now. You can follow Jesus, get closer to Jesus, or not. . .
  2. Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now. If you know anything about Jesus, if you’ve given Him your heart and life, you already have enough to make a difference now.  And by doing it now, you can make a bigger difference down the road.

DEFINING OUR FUTURE, which we are going to talk about next week, begins with The Present.  The Future isn’t what you wait for—it’s what you develop and work towards in The Present.  You Have The Present To Change Your Future!  The Present Is For Those Who Want To Have A Future Of Hope.

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

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A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (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.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

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

Spiritual Erosion

This morning a word came into my mind–yet another random thought–a condition with which I am afflicted.  I wonder, is some 12 Step program to help me with this?  It has served me well at times, so I guess I will allow this condition to continue.  Oh?  The word?  OK, it’s erosion.  One definition says:

the gradual destruction or diminution of something

In case you were wondering (I know I was) about that word diminution , here’s that definition:

a reduction in the size, extent, or importance of something.

The word “erosion” hit me this morning during the news.  Tropical Storm Gordon, flooding alerts, another teen shot in Birmingham, a mother arrested in Florida for the death of her 2-year-old child are just some of the stories that caused this word to invade my gray matter.  Most people think of erosion as something that happens to dirt and rocks.  But there is another type of erosion–spiritual erosion–that is far more dangerous and even more deadly.

I can’t remember exactly when I heard the term “Post-Christian Culture” but I am keenly aware that it exists.  My definition of “Post-Christian Culture” is as follows:

The loss or dismissing the values of  the Kingdom of God

Can you handle the truth?  Here it is:  The values and ethics of God’s Kingdom are no longer the dominant influence on our culture.  Over the years, as people who claimed allegiance to Jesus became passive, silent, or even worse–the consumers of what the church produces–it created an ethics and values vacuum.    Aristotle once hypothesized “horror vacui” which means Nature Abhors a Vacuum.  In other words, nature can’t stand for any space to be empty.  When lightning forms it creates a vacuum, so air rushes in to fill that vacuum, thus creating thunder.

It’s not just nature–but human beings also abhors a vacuum.  Way back in March 2009, Dr. Leon Seltzer wrote an article for Psychology Today titled “Human Nature Abhors A Vacuum”.  He wrote, “We humans crave stimulation, and on many different levels. To experience ourselves as fully alive, we all have various “arousal requirements”–“whether physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual.”  A little further into his article he makes this astute observation:

“…I’ve become acutely aware of how experiencing an inner vacuum can lead people to make poor life choices, especially in relationships.”

We are in a Post-Christian culture because the values of God’s Kingdom and Rule are noticeably absent in the American culture.  A vacuum of solid and proven values and ethics have left, creating the vacuum.  To fill that values/ethics vacuum, people are turning anywhere, everywhere to fill that void.  Entitlement, selfishness, disregard for consequences, blame, hate, distrust….and the list goes on to what has filled that values/ethics void created when people stopped being followers of Jesus and opted more for a fan or casual relationship.  “Jesus, I need just enough of you to avoid hell.  That’s all.”

So, how do we change the current values and ethics environment we find our culture in?  May I suggest we do what Jesus did and continues to do.  Infuse the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, once again.  Here’s a list of ways we can do this, and if you have others ways, please share them in the comments section:

  1. Tip servers at 20%, or more
  2. Call the clerk, associate, cashier by their name if they are wearing a name tag
  3. Stop being a consumer of what the church does–be a producer
  4. Give up you place in the checkout line to the person behind you
  5. Put your cellphone on vibrate mode when in a waiting room and wait to call the person back
  6. Smile, smile a lot, especially in the presence of grumpy people
  7. Refuse to judge someone by their external features.  In fact, be friendly to them and get to know them
  8. Help someone do something
  9. Get acquainted with your neighbors
  10. Volunteer with some outreach program
  11. Accept and be glad that you are not entitled to anything
  12. Work hard for something you want
  13. Accept responsibility and even the blame when do something wrong
  14. Admit you’re not always right, and certainly not perfect
  15. Offer to take someone to lunch on Sunday, right after the Worship Service
  16. In church, sit next to someone you don’t know, and strike up a conversation
  17. When someone lashes out at you–respond with kindness and grace, not more heated words.
  18. Care about God’s creation by being a good steward of this earth
  19. Find common ground with others–hey, at the very least, we are all sinners.  That’s a great place to begin
  20. Simplify your lifestyle–don’t go into deep debt for the latest “toy”
  21. Do one random act of kindness a day–if someone sees your act of kindness, it doesn’t count–so keep doing it until no one notices
  22. Better yet, do random acts of kindness even if no one notices
  23. Read the Bible and ask: “What does this say to me?  About me?”
  24. Pray–not with churchy “King James” words, but as if you were talking with your best friend, because HE wants to be your best friend
  25. Allow someone to merge into traffic
  26. Freely forgive even if–especially when–they don’t deserve it
  27. At the fast food drive thru, pay for the person’s purchase behind you (I got this one from a Christian radio station)
  28. Excuse yourself from conversations that are rude, ugly or lewd
  29. Slow down and do something relaxing
  30. Love God with all your heart, mind and life
  31. Love others the way Jesus loves you
  32. Make sure all the glory and credit goes to God for everything good

I could go on, but what specific things can you do to change the Values and Ethics of our culture?  Please post in the comments….