Trying To or going to?

One of our grandsons, Ethan, really surprised us on Christmas Day at Dad’s. Ethan recently turned 17 years old. When E was younger all he talked about was the game Minecraft. He could talk on end about the things he would add to the game. So, naturally, we envisioned him being one of those rich game designers. But E had bigger dreams. Though his sister had always been the big dreamer, Ethan kicked up his game–and I had another proud Grandpa moment.

Ethan told us, “I am going to get my pilot’s license!” Notice his choice of verb–“going”. He’s not “trying to”–E is “going to”! Not only is E “going to” get his pilot’s license, but he is “going to” join the Air Force to fly cargo planes. Then he told us, “Then I will either be a cargo jet pilot or maybe a passenger jet pilot. I haven’t made up my mind yet.” This isn’t just a wild hair moment for him.

Ethan’s Dad is active military and one of his uncles is retired military. So E understands the challenges he is facing. Still, Ethan is “going to” fly; not as a passenger but as the pilot! I hear a lot of talk about how E’s generation (and older) lack the drive and determination to accomplish anything. But all that “talk” doesn’t affect nor infect Ethan’s thinking. And what about YOUR thinking?

What does YOUR future hold? What path are you carving out? In a few days it will be 2022. Will you “try to” make it different? Or, are you “going to” make it different? Think about it for more than a split second. Do you really want more of 2020 and 2021 to carry into 2022? The choice is yours, and yours alone. You can “try to” make 2022 different and better. That’s just another empty New Year’s Resolution. Or you can follow our grandson Ethan’s plan for 2022–“I am GOING TO make 2022 different and better.”

Enough of “trying to”–this is the moment to stop “trying” and begin “doing”. Resolve and determination must be your companions–but you need more. You and I need God’s strength that is provided through the Holy Spirit. And the only way this happens is by surrendering our will and desires to His Will and His plans for us. Ethan knows he was made to fly. And so are we–so are we! Stop saying “I will try to fly.” And begin to say, “I am going to fly!”

What’s Your Motto?

  • Just Do It
  • A Diamond is Forever
  • When you care enough to send the very best
  • I’d walk a mile for a Camel
  • Quality never goes out of style
  • Finger Lickin’ Good
  • With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good
  • Snap, Crackle and Pop!
  • So easy, a caveman can do it
  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
  • The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • The Quicker Picker Upper
  • We Bring Good Things to Life
  • The King of Beers
  • Fly the friendly skies
  • Because You’re Worth It
  • Let’s Go Places
  • Have It Your Way
  • I’m Lovin’ It
  • Betcha can’t eat just one!
  • When it rains, it pours
  • Taste the Rainbow
  • What Happens Here, Stays Here
  • When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight

Mottos! Yep! That’s what’s stirring up my gray matter this morning. When it comes to advertising–a great motto helps consumers to remember their product. So, what is YOUR motto? To help you tell me yours, I’ll tell you one of mine: “If you don’t like my sarcasm, don’t ask me stupid questions!”

Even our good old U.S. of A. has a motto: In God We Trust! The thing about mottos is that you gotta back it up–otherwise people just ignore or forget it. Unfortunately, with my aforementioned motto–I back it up with a healthy, sometimes an over-abundance of sarcasm. But that motto on all our currency? That thing about Trust In God? Not a good motto in these times–because it’s not backed up with action.

Before you start ranting and raving about the nefarious cesspool otherwise known as Washington D.C., know I’m not talking about that ash heap. This morning I am talking only to those who self-identify as Christian. I still remember decades ago getting emails about how Madeline O’Hare was going to the Supreme Court in an attempt to get In God We Trust removed from our currency. Now, I would have bought a plane ticket to see that, seeing she had been dead for years!

Christians want it on our currency–but it would be far better for them, for our nation, and for our world if it was just removed from the currency! There, I said it! But before you stop reading this morning’s pensiveness, read what is next. It would be far better for us, for our nation, and for our world if you have a motto that you embody with your attitudes, words, thoughts, and actions.

Yes! we need to Trust In God That’s a no-brainer! But more than saying we need to Trust In God, we need a motto that shows how much we Trust In God! Forget putting it on currency and government seals. Let’s put a new motto on our ordinary, going here and there, doing this and that life. And maybe it’s time I, too, changed my personal motto to one that better suits what God is doing in my life. So, what should it be, America? Hey! I have an idea. What about this one?

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

If we adopt this as our motto it means we would have to stop looking at political parties, the hollow (and I do mean hollow, not hallowed! I said what I meant, and I meant what I said!) halls of academia, and even ourselves in order to see a real transformation in our times; and really live through the strength of Jesus! How strong is Jesus? He carried the weight of all our sins while hanging on the Cross. And somehow, as strange as it may sound to some, I believe Jesus will strengthen us to be a light that brings hope to the hopeless. Call me crazy! You won’t be the first, and I dare say, you won’t be the last!

What Is Leadership?

Last night was–how can I say it? It was wonderful, stupendous, marvelous, exalting, phenomenal, monumental, fantastic, and other such synonyms. Some of you may be wondering, “What is this crazy preacherman talking about?” What??? Where we you last night? It was there for everyone to see! In fairness, for those who may have just this very afternoon ventured outside of their cave for the first time in over a year, I will tell you. THE University Of Alabama, A.K.A. the Crimson Tide, won ANOTHER National Championship.

The Tide won not only another National Championship, but there were also tons of awards and recognitions given to members of The Crimson Tide. If I sound like a huge fan of The Tide, I am–because my daughter and a lot of my money went to that University. I have an investment in Tuscaloosa. And some of you may be wondering what all my rambling on about The Crimson Tide has to do with the Kingdom Life and today’s topic of Leadership. Good for you, wondering about that because I will gladly let you in on what The Spirit has been teaching me today.

Look at the question: What Is Leadership? Some would define leadership as the talent and ability to get everyone on board and in agreement with the current agenda or goals. But that doesn’t sound right. Some would say it’s the talent and ability create great ideas and lead others into getting onboard with those ideas. Nope, that’s not it. Some might say it’s the talent to be strong and forceful to get others in line. Oh, dear Jesus–that’s not it at all. Some think it takes great skill and talent to be a leader. In the words of the modern philosopher Madea,

So, What Is Leadership? I could go on and on with a lot of words, but let me drop a name: Devonta Smith. He’s been called Smitty and the Slim Reaper. He’s also this year’s winner of the Heisman Trophy. Oh yeah, he’s played football as a wide receiver the past four years for The Crimson Tide. By the alleged experts who have declared that wide receivers should be a certain height and weight, Smitty is undersized in both cases. In addition to being award the Heisman Trophy, Smitty has received Maxwell Award as the college football player of the year, the Walter Camp Player of the year, the Biletnikoff Aware as the nations top college receiver, and after playing only the first half of the National Championship game (because he was injured early in the third quarter) he the the Offensive Most Valuable Player. I’ve probably missed some.

If you haven’t seen or heard of Smitty, you may think this is some overwhelming personality. But watch the true Smitty in his acceptance speech for the Heisman Trophy:

Alex Leatherwood, one of those big and strong offensive linemen for The Tide had this to say about Smitty:

He’s grateful. But one thing about Smitty, he’s a great player, but he’s an even better teammate and person. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better friend, to be honest. I’ve known him since before we even got here, and he’s always been just like a great dude, know what I mean?

Sports Illustrated website at https://www.si.com/college/alabama/bamacentral/alabamas-devonta-smith-not-only-first-class-player-but-first-rate-teammate-as-well

Smitty is a leader, not because of his skills or, as analysts like to say, his physicality. It’s his character that makes him a leader. Great leaders are people who possess great character and who live out of that character every day. They aren’t perfect of course–but because of their character, their mistakes do not define them. I heard one announcer say that whichever NFL team drafts Smitty is not only getting a talented wide receiver, but they will get a man of character who will influence the entire organization.

Now, to me that sounds like what a real leader is and the real definition of a leader. A leader is someone of great character who influences others to desire those same qualities and will put forth the effort to achieve it. This definition of a leader will apply to every situation and scenario, period! Politics? We need more Smittys! Corporations and businesses? We need more Smittys! Families? Clubs and groups? Even Churches? Oh, do we need more Smittys.

What I’m trying to say is this: You can and WILL be a leader when you are a person of great character, one who values others and understands that nothing good comes our way without the willingness to work hard, to have the desire to get back up one more time than you are knocked down, and ignore the naysayers who say you can’t! We need leaders today–not the loud and obnoxious ones. We need those who by their example, that God can and WILL us to bring about real and positive change in the culture.

Oh, one more thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Sitters.

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

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

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

2.  Now, Let’s Look At Runners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sitting By The Fire

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

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

One Resolution: One Spirit!

New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life.  The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment.  So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are.  I surfed the web and here is what I found:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read More

Here’s what else I found:  It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point.  Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions.  And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them.    Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions?  I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment.  When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:

  1. Most People are not content with their lives.  In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
  2. Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives.  According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.  This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%. 
  3. Every human heart longs for contentment.  Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.

But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life?  And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life?  Does that sound good to you?   But wait!  There’s more. 

What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested?    Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make.  Want to know what it is?  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  “Oh, is that all it is preacher?  Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics?  I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel!  Thanks for nothing!” 

And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel.  We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving.  And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel.  But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do

The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us.  It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ.  We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct.  But remember Paul didn’t write in English.  He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word:  Live As Citizens of Heaven. 

This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace.  And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength.  And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse.  For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us!  Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.

And this process is found in ONEOne Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret.  And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year.  So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit.  And here’s The 1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit. 

Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit.  What Is Your Spirit?  The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.”  And it is, but I want you to go deeper.  Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process.  And this is the real problem.  Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit.  Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained.  Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit:  One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart!  So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.

And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions.  He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit.  Here is how to develop this One Spirit. 

1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace

Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace!  And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace?  Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace:  hungering and thirsting.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled. 

It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God.  It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray.  It is about all that God offers.  And trust that God will provide His grace.  When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God.  When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God.  And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.

2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion

Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material.  Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily.  But that’s not Devotion.  The Dictionary Defines Devotion As:  Profound Dedication.  It is moving your life in the direction of God.  This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 

Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to.  Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion.  If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football.  If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self.  Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence.  It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere.  Make God your greatest passion.

3. Live With Total Determination

It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight.  It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough.  Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome.  To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About. 

It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 

Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin.  But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross.  Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life.  Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him. 

Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  So here’s your Next Steps:

  1. Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
    • Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
    • Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible.  Begin with Philippians
  2. Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
    • Find a person who has a need, and meet that need
    • Find something happening locally
    • Talk with me about starting something new
  3. Dream of something that only God can do

God Chooses You!

(Sermon for June 2, 2019)

I remember playground games.  Whether it was softball, kick-ball, football or dodge ball, we would divide into teams.  Sometimes the teacher would select captains, sometimes 2 would just volunteer.  But one thing I remember most, is that in the process of selecting teams, no one wanted to be the last person picked.  It meant people didn’t see much in you, that you lacked the skill necessary to be a vital part of the team.  Being picked last was often humiliating.  As we celebrate Communion, I want you to know that in God’s eyes you are never the last person picked for God’s team!  Let’s look at today’s passage from Ephesians 1:3-14 found in The Message

3-6 How blessed is God!  And what a blessing He is!  He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him.  Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.  Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!)  He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either.  Abundantly free!  

He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

 11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.  Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

Today is the most important day in your life.  Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week or next year.  This leads me to the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  God speaks of his relationship with you in permanent, irrevocable terms of adoption, ransom and guarantee.  God chooses you, and that will never change.

If you’ve ever felt unsure about your usefulness in God’s plans or if you are acceptable to God, then I want you to pay close attention for the next few minutes, because these few verses tell you three important things about You in God’s eyes.  Embrace these 3 truths into your life, you will experience a greater sense of self-worth and more spiritual confidence than you have ever known. 

1.  You’ve Been On God’s Mind From The Beginning.

Go back to my image of standing on the playground.  At first, you were just part of a crowd, but now selections have been made and now you are standing alone, and the captain who has the last pick, says “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to take them.”  I think all of us can relate to this feeling; we all know what it is like to be the last chosen—the least talented in at least some area—academically, athletically, musically, and so on.  But there is an area where you never need feel that way: Your Relationship With God

Probably all of us have wondered, at one time or another, “If they had it to do all over again, would they choose me?  Would they hire me?  Would she marry me?”  Maybe some of you have even thought, “If Jesus had to do it over, would He die for me again?”  Some of you may believe that you have been such a disappointment to God that you would have been better off not to have been born.  The message from God is the exact opposite. 

The message from the heart of God is that you are accepted not because He had to, but because He wanted to.  You are part of His plan.  From The Beginning, He Has Wanted You To Be A Member Of His Family.  Whether or not you think it’s possible, the Bible makes it clear that God Believes It Is Possible.  Whether or not you believe in your potential, God Believes In Your Potential.  You are part of His plan.  

God knew that you would be where you are today in all areas of your life.  He knew you would be here at this moment and for some, it may have been a rough ride.  There may have been mistakes and disappointments along the way and you may have wanted to give up many times.  Even though your past may be littered with failures, it doesn’t change the fact that God Loves You, He Chooses You, And He Believes In You.  You have been, are now and will always be on His mind and in His heart.  This is RANSOM!

2.  You Belong To God, And That Will Never Change.

This passage defines your relationship with God in permanent terms.  It says, first of all, that we have been adopted.  The citizens of Ephesus understood the significance of adoption, because it was common in their society. Adoption wasn’t just a case of parents choosing to provide a home for a parentless child. 

Adoptions also frequently occurred for business or political reasons—for one grown man to adopt another grown man to ensure that his wealth and power were passed on in the way that he intended it to be.  The Most Important Thing To Remember Is That Adoptions Were Irrevocable.  A man could disown his birth son, but could not disown his adopted son.  It was a permanent relationship. 

Paul said, “You’ve been Adopted into the family of God.  Get comfortable because He’s not going to give up on you.”

3.  Everything You Need, You Can Have.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to abandon you now.  God is generous.  He doesn’t withhold His kindness, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His compassion, or His blessings from you.  He showers you with kindness.  He will lavish His generosity on you, If You Are Willing To Receive It

It’s not just about your physical needs; he is referring to your spiritual and emotional needs as well.  God will give you All The Joy You Need—All The Love You Need, All The Faith You Need, All The Mercy You Need, And Much More

You may have spent most of your life thinking that you had to manufacture these things on your own, and that most of the time God is ticked off that you don’t do a better job at it.  You may have spent most of your life thinking that God doles out blessings only with great resistance, and only to the most deserving. 

The truth is, He Wants To Shower His Kindness On You.  Everything you need, He wants to provide.

See your relationship with God in a new way—in a non-adversarial way.  God isn’t mad at you.  He isn’t sorry that He chose you.  And if He had to do it over, He Would Die For You Again.  Why?  Before you were born, you were on His mind and IN His heart.  He chooses You to be His very own.  You belong with Him, and that will never change.  And He will be with you every step of the way, blessing you with what you need each and every moment.

How do I know this?  Even more important, how can YOU know this?  You and I can know this without a doubt because the Holy Spirit is given as our guarantee.  “Guarantee” Is A Term That Means The Assurance That Another’s Obligation Will Be Fulfilled

It comes from a Hebrew word that means “a pledge”—God has made a pledge to fully restore you back to His Intended Design—To be the you He created you to be.  Until that work is finished He gives us the Holy Spirit, as His Personal Pledge

The presence of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God’s commitment to you will not stop until the final result—We become exactly like our Intended Design—The Perfect In Every Detail Reflection Of God.  We come to the table, the ONLY Table where it all starts, where we are called to live, and one day where it will be completed—the Table of Grace…

Next Step

This week it’s rather simple:  Find where God is at work and join with Him.  After all, He has chosen you to work with Him!  Or, find a place where you know God wants to work, and get started.  After all, He wants you to work with Him!

Will You Be A Doubting Thomas?

John 20:24-29 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their word about the Resurrection is not enough for Thomas. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blessing Is In Coming Face To Face With Jesus. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

Priorities For Mothers And Others Imprisoned By The Tyranny Of The Urgent!

The Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles Hummel is a small booklet with a big punch.  Written for the business world its message rings true in the Kingdom Life.  As a pastor I understand how the urgent becomes a tyrannical dictator of my time.  There have been times I felt more like a firefighter in the church, than when I was in the fire department; running here and there putting out fires caused by human friction.  At other times I felt more like a referee than a coach, separating players rather than directing them.  If for no other reason, I understand how mothers and fathers can fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent.

There is one sentence which really hits me hard, and maybe some of you.  And it’s the one thing you must remember this morning: 

Don’t Let The Urgent Take The Place Of The Important In Your Life! 

Charles Hummel, The Tyranny of the Urgent

For you mothers, let me give you some examples of the urgent:  getting supper on the table on time; the unexpected guest who arrives at supper time; those stacks of clothes by the washing machine; that spider web in the corner; paying bills; the Mom Taxi; and in the summer time putting up those vegetables for later consumption. 

These are a few of the urgent things which we think require our immediate attention.  Believe me, the urgent will really fight, claw and scream for attention.  It will plead for our time and make us think we’ve done the right thing by calming our nerves when we give in to the urgent. 

But the tragedy of this is that while you and I were putting out the fires of the urgent, the important was left in a holding pattern.  It’s Interesting To Me That The Tyranny Of The Urgent Will Scream And Shout For Attention, But The Important Is Neither Noisy Nor Demanding.  It patiently and quietly waits for us to realize its significance.  In this moment, let’s forget the urgent and ask ourselves:  “What’s really important to me?”  Say it out loud.

This is a big question, maybe one you need some time to think about.  It’s one I need to think about often, but not until I get so many irons in the fire that I find myself like the person standing on the stairs wondering, “Was I going up or down?”  Then I have to separate the important from the urgent.

Let me give you some insights into real life: 

1. We tend to lose vitality as individuals and as the church rather than gain it as time passes. 

2. We tend to give greater attention to what we WERE rather than what we are BECOMING.  It’s easier to look back and smile on yesterday’s accomplishments rather than look ahead to the future and think about tomorrow’s possibilities. 

God’s people are not meant to be museum pieces placed and anchored on a shelf to collect dust.  We are alive, moving and active people called by God to make an impact on a world that isn’t quite sure which end is up and it certainly doesn’t ask for our help, and often treats our help with hatred and contempt.  To move forward as a family and as The People Of God, we need to determine to keep our lives in step with where God is active and moving!

Look at today’s passage:  1 Thessalonians 2:1-13 (NLT)

Even though Paul’s visit was brief, his coming was not a wasted effort.  It may have been brief, but it was not in vain.  Paul pinpoints the characteristics of his life and ministry there.  In doing so, he gives us 4 essential steps for every mother, parent, in fact, for all of us.

1.  Our First Step Is To Be Biblical.  verses 2-4

You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.  So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery. For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people.  He alone examines the motives of our hearts.

I am confident that there was a constant barrage of urgent needs pounding away in Paul’s mind, but he made sure that his life and ministry were firmly fixed first and foremost, on the Scriptures.  Did you catch his thoughts as we read: 

►When he faced strong opposition, it was the Gospel he proclaimed.  ►His motives were not impure but driven by The Truth Of The Word.  ►And he considered The Word Of God something entrusted to him and that Word gave him such peace and confidence that he didn’t feel the need to be a people pleaser.

Even though it may sound old fashioned, the first and most significant step we must take is to make the Scriptures a part of our lives.  A Word mentality is the secret to being able to turn a deaf ear to the shouts of the urgent, and hear the soft voice of the important.  We must daily soak ourselves in the Word—not by dissecting it piece by piece, but by seeing the magnificence of the whole scheme.   

For sure it’s rare, and it leads to a great deal of self-examination.  But did you catch the end of vs. 4“He alone examines the motives of our hearts.”  As we soak up the truth of God’s word, it goes to work on us.  It goes beyond what the surgeon’s scalpel can touch—the soul, the spirit, thoughts, attitudes—the very essence of our being.  God uses His truth to shape us and mature us in our walk with Him.  Be determined that we are not going to allow the tyranny of the urgent to steal from us all those important moments with God in His Word.

2.  The Second Step Paul Gives Is Be Authentic!  Verses 5-6

Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!  As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.

For a moment, Paul moves the emphasis from the Message to the messenger.  Even though he was an apostle, a genuine first century big shot, he did not push for the spotlight.  He resisted being a power abuser.  He used the authority of Truth, Wisdom And Experience.  This was the type of leader Paul was.  He did not take advantage of his role.  Right alongside his desire to be biblical was his desire to be authentic. 

The dictionary defines authentic by suggesting 3 things it is NOT: 

►it’s not imaginary;

►it’s not false;

►it’s not an imitation. 

Today we would say that being authentic means not being phony; free of the hype that so permeates our world.  Let’s make this a priority in our homes and our churches.  In the midst of all that’s called fantastic or super or awesome—let’s work hard at being real.

This means we are free to question; to admit failure or weakness; to confess wrong; and to declare truth.  Great mothers, great Christians, great saints are not those who look super pious.  Dr. David Naglee, in whose classes I learned so much about the Bible, once said:  “The more I study the Bible, the more I realize how much I don’t know!”  You don’t have to be perfect or expect perfection, just be real.  Authentic people enjoy life more.  They don’t take themselves so seriously.  They actually laugh and cry and think more freely because they have nothing to prove—no image to protect—no role to play.  They have nothing to hide.  As we study the Word, let’s also be committed more to being authentic and less to being superficially pious!

3.  The Third Step Is To Be Gracious!  Verses 7-11

Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you?  Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.  You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.  And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children.

Paul had a Grace-Filled Spirit!  Did you hear his word pictures?  He cared for them like they were his children.  He didn’t want to dump a truckload of theological data on them.  He wanted to share not only the Gospel, but his life with them as well.  As parents, and especially as the church, we have to be careful not to become so judgmental that we forget to be compassionate.  Yes, there are times to be firm, but we must remember to weave the thread of grace into our talk and attitudes.

We must remember that people are far more important than rigid rules and demanding expectations.  Somehow, we must regain The Idea That People Are More Important, PERIOD!  If my children can’t remember all the rules I laid down, that is all right—as long as they can remember the sound of laughter in our home.  This point was driven home when Leslie once wrote an essay for her high school English class, on ME!  It ended up in the teen section of the Times Daily.  Now, I don’t remember exactly what she wrote, probably because I chose to forget it—but I do remember the laughter we shared over it.  Be gracious!  Now, one more step to bind all these together:

4.  Our Fourth Step Is To Be Available!  Verse 13

We never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas.  You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is.  And this word continues to work in you who believe.

Make yourself available wherever people are.  If we are going to reach our children, grandchildren and society in this 21st century, we must make our presence a high priority!  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He met people as they were, not as they ought to be.  Angry young men, proud politicians, loose living street walkers, dirty and naked victims of demonism, and grieving parents all received equal time, and because He did, they hung on every word Jesus had to say. 

Even though He could have blown them away with His power and authority, Jesus intentionally related to them on their level.  And I am concerned that it is we, the Church, who have hauled His cross out of sight.  It is we, the church, who have left the impression that the cross belongs only in the sophisticated halls of academia or surrounded by beautiful stained glass.  We must bring the cross out where people live!  Before God can raise them up, we must reach out to them on their grounds—to literally take the cross into the world!

Now, let’s go back to something I said at the beginning: 

The Tyranny Of The Urgent Will Scream And Shout For Attention, But The Important Is Neither Noisy Nor Demanding.  It Patient And Quietly Waits For Us To Realize Its Significance. 

The tyranny of the urgent will always out-shout the essential nature of the important—if we let it!  The secret in is taking the right steps:

  • Set a firm foundation—Be Biblical
  • Apply the truth of scriptures—Be Authentic
  • Develop a compassionate spirit—Be Gracious
  • Meet people where they are—Be Available

When we do this, Christianity becomes something that is absorbed, not just worn.  It is more than believed, it is incarnated.  Are you imprisoned by the tyranny of the urgent?  Then be set free by what’s really important—this life in Christ—the Kingdom Life! 

Are you consistently taking all 4 of these steps?  If not, God invites you to His altar to confess it—agree God is right; and to repent—turn away from it.  If you are not already doing it, come and renew your commitment or make your first commitment to—Scripture, Authenticity, Graciousness, and Availability—the children in your life, and to a world that desperately needs you to be this!

The God Who Fights For Us!

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.

A Moving Journal-Day 7

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

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

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

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

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

A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

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

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

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

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

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

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

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

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