3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans chapter 5 verses 3 through 5 New Living Translation
Today’s Morning Morning Spirit that robs us of life–the life God and God alone makes possible–is UNEFFORTABLE! Look in every dictionary–Google it–Bing it–Yahoo it–DuckDuckGo it–but you will not find this word. It’s a word I just made up! It means it’s not worth the effort! Just because it’s not in a dictionary nor in the World Wacky Web doesn’t mean it’s not real. Though it may not be real in the real world of words doesn’t mean it isn’t real in the real world!
Every moment of every day people run head-on into problems and difficulties. The UNEFFORTABLE spirit says, “Look for the easiest. Detour you life around this moment. It’s just not worth the effort to work through it!” People look for the easy and avoid the problems. There are issues with this Monday Morning Attitude that stands in the way of the life God is making possible for us. Beside, it’s an act of futility to think we can simply avoid all problems. So what can we do? We can do what Paul told the folks at Rome.
Rejoice that we are facing problems! Now, that’s counter-intuitive. Doesn’t this make a person a masochist? Well, if that’s all we want it does. We rejoice because we know that God is with us to help us push through.
Allow the problems to make us stronger in Jesus! If you want to lose weight and get in better physical shape, you can join a fitness center. But if you never GO to the fitness center, nothing will change. Right? Problems are the opportunities we need in order to become stronger in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit!
Allow the strength to build your character. A godly, Christ-like character doesn’t happen from reading about it. It happens in the furnaces of life.
Allow the Christ-Like character remind you of your hope! Our hope isn’t an easy life. Nope! It’s the life that is full of, saturated with, and overflowing with the Power Of The Resurrection!
And remember that God will never disappoint us! WE may be disappointed that God didn’t do this, that, or the other. But God will never, ever, ever, abandon us. If He promises that our problems will make us strong, strong enough to see Him at work–then we know that going through problems and troubles is worth the EFFORT!
When we know that God is with us and working for us in the problems of life–and that His work will give us both joy and hope, then we can say, “Good! Lord it’s Monday! What shall we do together?”
Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy! There was a commercial for Hefty Paper Towels that said these exact words. And who wants a wimpy paper towel? No one, that’s who! Why this remembrance of a commercial about paper towels this Monday Morning? Because one of the Monday Spirits that rob us of the joy of life is Wimpy! No, not the character from Popeye cartoons–but the willful acts of cowardice in the face of life’s many challenges.
So many have surrendered to the wrong things, and at the wrong places. They, maybe even you, are looking at today with weak resignation. Doubt of anything changes is the agenda of the day. Acceptance that nothing is going to get better drags us down and beats us to a pulp. There’s a big word like mahogany for this–it’s pusillanimous! It means the condition of being consumed by cowardice. When we are consumed by cowardice there is no reason to ever think there is any hope for things to change; and no hope for our life to change.
But watch the news and you will see a powerful example of resolve in the face of seemingly impossible odds playing out in front of us. It’s happening in Ukraine–from its leadership to the citizens, pusillanimity has been replaced by resolve. The bear has kicked down their door–but there are no white flags of surrender being waved. They understand that courage isn’t the absence of fear–but the presence and power of resolve and determination.
Where can WE find such resolve and determination? Remember what I wrote in the second paragraph? So many have surrendered to the wrong things, and at the wrong places. To defeat the Spirit of Wimpiness means we have to surrender at a different place. The only place where we need to–must surrender–is at the foot of the Cross! Look up into the facing of The Suffering Jesus and you won’t see pusillanimity–you will see resolve and determination! And this is what He will do for you today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life on this troubled orb. He doesn’t leave us without weapons or power. On the contrary–He equips us to face whatever life throws at us. Make up your mind–right now before your battles even begin–that when the dust of your battles settle, you will still be standing. All because you chose to surrender at the foot of the Cross!
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:13 (NIV)
When you surrender at the foot of the Cross and rise up with Resurrection Power, then you can say: “Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?”
This morning I am thinking about yesterday. I know, oh, do I know! As followers of Jesus we’re not to live in the past. But here I am! Honestly I don’t know how people live in the past–be it sad, bad, or even good. But like an old snapping turtle, yesterday has bit me and it’s not about to let go–and it’s painful. So, what has caused this harbinger of Good News to do the very thing he counsels people in hard times not to do? Let me tell you and perhaps it will help me let go.
Yesterday it didn’t rain, so I headed off to Dad’s. There’s still a lot to sort out and make decisions about. No one wanted Dad’s bed, so Debbie and I decided to get it. Tuesday Debbie will have a “foot overhaul”. The bed she and I sleep in is high–his bed is low to the floor. It will be easier for her to get in and out of bed after surgery. There were some other things he wanted us to have still there–so off I went. My truck and trailer headed out, and when I got there, I and a good friend started to work. As we went into his bedroom, I remembered the last time I saw him there. The hospice nurse had changed his clothes and made up that bed–and for the first time in a long time he didn’t look like he was in pain. But I was–I was visually reminded of how life changes. And now there was no bed in HIS bedroom–and what’s a bedroom without a bed?
When we arrived back home, we immediately went to work unloading and moving things around. And last night as I prepared to lie into that bed, it hit me hard. I was sleeping on HIS side of the bed–the same side I last saw him in HIS home. And this morning–Yesterday is doing a number on me–in my heart and mind. Did I sleep good on that bed last night? Sure–but I was physically exhausted. I could have slept good on a floor. And this morning–I am sorting through the morning after. And truthfully, I haven’t done well with it. And as God and I were sorting through this heavy grief, He came to me. Not with answers, but His very Presence.
Has my ache and pain disappeared? Absolutely–NOT! I am just as heartbroken right now as I was Yesterday, and This Morning. The snapping turtle that bit me doesn’t seem to be inclinced to let go of me–if anything, he seems more determined. But I am different–different because God sent me Himself, my very best friend–The Holy Spirit. So, I know that this voracious snapping turtle will release his bite on me–at some point, because he has no choice because I am leaning into and leaning on The Holy Spirit. This moment’s power filled truth came into my heart as I listened to this song. I pray it speaks into you as it is speaking into me–as I deal with Yesterday!
Coping with this COVID mess these past couple of weeks has been a challenge, to say the least! Fortunately I did not have the upper respiratory issues that often come with this plague. But I did have one overwhelming at times issue: Fatigue! The sore throat and body aches weren’t a cake walk–but that Fatigue! I was tired of being tired! Each moment I started feeling better I would begin doing something. But before I could finish it, sometimes before I could even get started, the Fatigue led me back to my room for another nap!
Quitting seem to be my only option. But can I be honest with you? In addition to being sick and tired of being sick and tired, I was fed up with Quitting! But yesterday afternoon, I had enough Quitting to last me a lifetime–so I chose to push through a project I needed to do–rewiring a utility trailer I recently purchased. I didn’t finish it but I did enough late yesterday afternoon to be able to finish it this morning! And in the early morning darkness, I had my own epiphany about Quitting!
Here it is: There are a million and one excuses for quitting, but not one single justification! I’m thinking about folks like Helen Keller, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Joni Eareckson Tada, Robert Hensel, and countless stories from The Wounded Warrior Project. Quitting is a popular activity in our culture. From jobs to relationships to dreams–quitting seems to be the default setting–and it makes Mondays and every single day a burden and a pain. Quitting causes us to lose the joy, and miss the what could have been moments of achievement and great satisfaction.
Paul the Apostle could have easily joined the ranks of Quitters! But he made a different choice–he chose to not quit! Beaten, imprisoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, and God knows what else. He had a plenitude of excuses but made the decision not to live his life out of those excuses. And how did he come to that choice? He took his excuses to God and sought God’s help! God did help Paul, but not the way Paul had hoped. Rather than removing what was fueling that temptation to quit–God gave Paul something better.
So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12, Verses 7 through 9 (New Living Translation)
When we give up all our excuses for quitting, and ask God for help, then we can say: “Good! Lord it’s Monday! What shall we do together?” It’s easy to quit–but it’s far more rewarding and satisfying to fight through!
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!”
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!
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
Learn a new skill or hobby
Live life to the fullest
Save more money / spend less money
Spend more time with family and friends
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:
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.
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%.
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 ONE: One 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 The1 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:
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
Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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…
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!
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
Doubt can be called a thief,
robbing us of the truth of God’s unfailing grace.
Doubt can be calledblindness, causing us to believe that God doesn’t love
Doubt can be calleddemoralizing, making us feel unworthy to ask God to forgive
Doubt can be calleddeafening, denying us the ability to hear God calling us to
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
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
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
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
He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him, And Jesus Did. And Jesus Will Come To You.
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?
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!
Are You Having Any Doubts
About The Future About This Place? Thomas was looking for a future with Hope And
Promise. He would not have
found it unless he brought it to Jesus.
When he brought those doubts to Jesus, everything changed. I’m asking you to bring your doubts about the
future of this place to Jesus. It
changed the outlook of Thomas—it will change your outlook, too!
The 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Apply the truth of
Develop a compassionate
Meet people where they are—Be
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 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:
“8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. 9 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
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.
Step: Get To Know The Weapons
Truth, Righteousness, Peace,
Faith, Salvation, And The Word. Make a commitment now to study, then use them.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”
4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.
6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”
One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character Dr. Seuss ever came up with has got to be Horton the elephant. I love that guy. Remember that flaky duck mother who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?” She leaves that egg and hits the road. Horton stays with that egg until it hatches. He’s a wonderful mother. Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton? He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent.”
It’s devastating when people break their word. It can feel like betrayal. It crushes the spirit, drains the hope and often the joy of living right out of us. This is where those first disciples were on that Sunday…
When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope. Many believed in what Jesus was saying. It seemed to ring so true in their life. Incredible as it seemed, somehow they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real stuff.
Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles and followed Jesus full-time; a few even gave up very lucrative careers, all to follow Jesus. And they did it without regret or remorse. But then it happened. Jesus was arrested—fairness was nowhere to be seen. He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—Justice was thrown out the window. And when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.
They saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there. They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet. They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die! As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—for their hope and peace and joy died also. Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus. They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them. We all need people who will keep their word.
When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience. Some of the greatest historical moments have been moments where people kept their words. In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia. Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.” MacArthur had a flair for the dramatic. But it went deeper than that. When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.
Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. They said, “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.” But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made. He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur stepped on the beach to keep a promise.
What you need to remember this Easter and for the rest of your life is this: God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant. God Is Faithful 100 Percent! He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. And He kept that promise. He promised Moses that He would deliver the people from slavery. And He kept that promise. He promised Joshua that He would fight for them. And He kept that promise.
He promised David that he would be king. And He kept that promise. He promised through the Prophets that the Messiah would come. And He kept that promise. He promised Joseph that Mary’s child was the Messiah. And He kept that promise.
Easter is a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us. Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts. Easter is about Jesus—The One who keeps His word to us. There’s not a single promise that God makes to you that He doesn’t keep.
The angel says to the women, “He’s alive.” Jesus of Nazareth is alive. There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ that the angel is talking about. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is alive. He has conquered death. And He kept that promise. He will meet his friends in Galilee, as he said He would.
Everything that Jesus had told them—it’s all true! “Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.” That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word.
I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise. God meant what He said, and He said what He meant. God is faithful 100 percent! This Easter and for the rest of your life, you need to remember:
He Loved Us Then, He Loves Us Now, And He Will Always Love Us—Just Like He Said.
Before the Cross, Jesus said in John 15:12-13, This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The fact of the Cross is nearly 2000 years old. If He loved us while He hung on that Cross—and He did love us—do you really think at any point now he will stop loving us?
Nothing you can do will make God love you more than when Jesus hung on the Cross. And nothing you can do will make God love you less than when Jesus hung on the Cross. His love is given to you without any conditions. His love never has any small print. There are no exclusionary clauses.
You can count on God’s love. 1 John 4:16 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love. God meant what He said and He said what He meant. God is faithful 100 percent.—Just like He said He would.
God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said.
On that Cross He said it. In the middle of that pain, He said it. While people were mocking Him, He said it. While soldiers were gambling for His clothes, He said it. While those who were closest to him were doubting and giving up hope, He said it! What did He say? Luke 23:34“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And if there is sin that has not been confessed and if there are sins you haven’t repented of, Jesus says it to you: “Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing. Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.”
Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to all those who were inflicting that pain and mocking his Mission. His forgiveness is not just to those around that Cross. This to us as well. It’s this Word that Jesus still speaks today. He speaks it into every broken heart—every filthy-sin-stained heart every moment of every day. And if there is anyone here today who thinks that they have gone too far to be forgiven, remember—God meant what He said and He said what He meant. God is faithful 100 percent. —Just like He said He would.
Finally, God Will Stay With Us—Just Like He Said.
Tombs are memorials and markers to what used to be; monuments to the past. They are designed to remember what was is not forgotten. But The Tomb on that first Easter was empty then because He was alive. There’s all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem. Some say it’s The Church of The Holy Sepulcher, and others day it’s The Garden Tomb. Several spots claim to be that place, but know what? That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb. Tombs are for dead people.
Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Stalin is buried in Moscow. Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina. But I don’t care about which place Jesus was buried. Truth is, He’s alive. He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him. Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because God meant what He said and He said what He meant. God is faithful 100 percent.
Can you really walk away this morning, of all mornings, when you remember that God meant what He said and He said what He meant? God is faithful 100 percent? Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus? How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant? God is faithful 100 percent? How can you pass this off as just another holiday and go back to life as usual knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant? God is faithful 100 percent? He was faithful to those first Followers, and He will be faithful to YOU 100 percent.
And the beauty and wonder of all of this, is that He doesn’t expect you to understand 100% how He will transform your life back into the glory of His Image. Because He is faithful 100%, He doesn’t give up on His plans when you try to make changes to that plan. And because He is faithful 100%, He will not stop loving, forgiving or transforming you when you mess up or want to give up. God meant what He said and He said what He meant. God is faithful 100 percent!
This week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie. A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room. This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it. Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December. But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat. I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm. After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request: a shot of antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs. That’s always worked in the past. But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A. No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years). No being there for my Mother’s surgery.
On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day. Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted. When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain. I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.
I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day. Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now. I miss Eddie. I miss his writing. I miss his friendship. I miss his encouragement. I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”. I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.
So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family. I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD. And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother. I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey. But his journey up the mountain is completed.
But can I be honest with all of you? I do not like it. I do not like what is happening around me. I am crushed and broken beyond words. Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God. All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others). And now Eddie is gone. And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something. I heard a question: “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?” There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.
I stopped and said, “Well, of course. I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.” So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie. And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life. And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.” But I still miss you.
Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing. I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”. It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message. My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy. Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.
The very best way to help SURVIVORS (I say survivors because it is a better word than “victims”) of Harvey RIGHT NOW, is stay away, listen, and donate money. In the arena of Disaster Response I am now a seasoned veteran and speak out of and from my personal experiences. I am not so dumb as to think everyone has had the same experiences I have had, so I allow room for anyone to disagree with me. And please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.
Within every disaster are the disasters that happen after the event, which can be as catastrophic, IF NOT MORE THAN the original event. Here are the disasters that happen AFTER the natural disaster, and they are caused by human beings, well-meaning human beings, but these add to the problems and do not help:
THE ARRIVAL OF SUVs. No, not the type of vehicle. Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers. Some of these have had some type of training but most have not. These start showing up IMMEDIATELY and do want to help, and get upset when they don’t get to help. When volunteers show up BEFORE they are requested, you get in the way and hinder First Responders. The first phase of a disaster is known as the Emergency Phase. They are the ones who rescue, recover, and prepare a path for volunteers to safely go into the impacted neighbors. DON’T GO IN UNTIL YOU ARE INVITED! Do you want visitors simply walking unannounced and uninvited into YOUR home? Well then, extend the same courtesy to the Emergency workers and SUVIVORS.
WATER! Listen before sending bottled water. After the April 2011 Tornadoes I sent an 18 wheeler stacked full of water back to our Disaster Warehouse from one location, and had more than that still onsite. This becomes a logistic nightmare. A couple of evenings ago I was in a conversation with my counterparts in Texas and one of them said that after the wildfires a couple of years ago they had enough water left over to end their drought.
CLOTHES! Oh, my Lord, what a disaster. Do not send clothes unless requested. And…NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER SEND USED CLOTHES! While working in Waveland, Mississippi after Katrina, we have our own levee built in the parking lot we were working out of from USED CLOTHES! In Hackleburg, Alabama I filled up 2 dumpsters every other day with used clothes. Could have filled them up every day but they only emptied those dumpsters every other day. Their condition was pitiful and many even had 25 cent yard sale stickers still on them. Don’t use a disaster as a way to clean out your closets. The survivors had already had too much dumped on them for you to DUMP your used clothes.
SHARING MISINFORMATION! This is perhaps the biggest disaster of all. After the loss of life and property, the next casualty of a disaster is The Truth. Please allow those “in-the-know” to share “what-they-know-at-that-moment” to pass along vital information, I said VITAL information. Just because “somebody told me that somebody told them who was told by somebody else” doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth. And even if it shows up on Google…well, everything on the internet is NOT true, sorry to burst someone’s bubble. And understand that information gathered changes constantly. It’s not that the officials are dumb or trying to mislead the public. Conditions are very fluid in the aftermath of a disaster, so be patient and understanding.
With that said (and believe me, I could say a lot more!), what IS the Best Way To Help the SURVIVORS of Harvey RIGHT NOW? Glad you asked me that! Here’s the Best Way To Help:
#1 is PRAY! Now if you are one of those who are thinking, “Well, I guess that’s the least I can do”, please wait before you start praying. And if you are one of those who think “Prayer won’t help” then don’t pray. Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most you can do. Prayer is powerful because I’ve seen the results of honest, earnest prayer, powerful results. You will be surprised what God will do when we get our heads and hands out-of-the-way.
GET SOME TRAINING! Many organizations, especially faith-based groups offer training. I know because I am a trainer for my Tribe. “Why? Just get the stuff out-of-the-way. It doesn’t take degree to do that. You’re just making it more complicated.” Well, did you know that you need the PROPERTY OWNER to sign a “Right of Entry” or “Right of Access” form BEFORE you go to work. Without that signed form, you are guilty of trespassing. And…if the survivor has insurance, you could cause the survivor to lose money in the insurance settlement. Now that’s being real helpful. And in the case of flooding, do you know how much needs to be disposed of and what can actually be reused? Speaking of removing debris, what are the local rules for sorting the debris? You may not be able to just dump everything into one pile if local officials require sorting the different materials. The result is you have left the SURVIVOR with a mountain of debris in their front yard.
CONTACT THOSE OPERATING REFUGEE CENTERS! See what they are needing to assist the survivors. OK, so you may not be seen on The Weather Channel, but you will be seen by a SURVIVOR and that may be the very moment that changes them from despair to hope.
LISTEN FOR BRIEFINGS AND REPORTS FROM LOCAL AUTHORITIES! Don’t go by what the Weather Channel or news networks say is needed. Go the extra mile to find out what supplies are ACTUALLY needed for the SURVIVORS. Listen to organizations that will be “boots on the ground” for what is needed. Typically, these are faith-based organizations. In my Tribe, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) has a long history and knows what is needed to help in the clean-up. Give only what is asked for.
DONATE MONEY! This isn’t the preacher begging for money. There will be some things that will need to be purchased. But don’t give to just any organization. Give to those who will get the most bang from your buck. In my Tribe, when you give to UMCOR Disaster Response 100% of those funds provide direct aid to the SURVIVORS. There are absolutely no administrative or operating costs taken from your donations. I know that other Faith Tribes have a similar group and process. I know that the Red Cross gets a lot of publicity in times like this. Remember, I am speaking from my experiences and only mine, but I have noticed that Red Cross gets more news publicity in reports and does less work. I have a good friend who volunteers for Red Cross. I know they do a lot of good things. But know that some of your donations are used for program and administrative costs. (I refer you to this Newsweek report).
WHEN THE INVITATION IS GIVEN FOR (TRAINED) VOLUNTEERS TO HELP, IF YOU ARE ABLE, THEN GO. And please remember in a disaster of this magnitude that clean-up efforts will be going on for weeks, probably months. Again, speaking out of my experiences, initially there are tons of volunteers. But when the camera crews go away, the number of volunteers begin to diminish. Don’t be sad if you can’t go in with the first groups. Be glad that you may be able to go in later because the job is not finished until the last home is mucked out. (Don’t know what mucking out a home means? See, you need training!)
FINALLY, BE THERE FOR THE LONG TERM RECOVERY! This process will take years, not months. After roofs have had tarps put on and all homes mucked out, then comes the repairs and rebuilding. Many SURVIVORS will not have adequate insurance, or maybe no insurance at all and will need help, both in volunteer labor and funds. And this is yet another reason why I encourage you to support faith-based organizations. I have sat around many long-term recovery tables with some of the finest people ever as together we looked for ways to get the SURVIVORS back into their homes, homes that are safe and sanitary to live in. My Tribe’s group, UMCOR, is always among the first in, and the last to leave. I know because I am part of the UMCOR Team. By the way, if you are in my Tribe, United Methodist, then YOU are part of the UMCOR Team!
And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the praise and glory goes to Him! Oh, and stop calling the “victims” and call them who they are: SURVIVORS!
(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog. This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service. Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)
John 11:6-16 (NLT)
6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this: The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.
What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity. Understand this: Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice. We call it consequences. Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point. They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later. Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated. The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point. There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.
Let’s look at tonight’s passage. The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at: Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas. But wait! Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!” Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter? I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.
But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro. No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas. It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction: “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’” I had to let that sink in. Did Thomas really say that? Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas. And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.
Let’s step into the scene. Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross. These Disciples sense something ominous in the air. They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus. He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion. They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.
Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different. Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus. They sense that their next trip will probably be their last. Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus. They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.
At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan. 2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”. They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.” But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go. They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin. There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words. Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.
That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas. Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11. Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus. Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point. As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.
We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart: “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?” Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God. It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love. Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him. Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life. We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
Remember the story in Matthew 14. Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm. When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea. That’s not safe. Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things. It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom. To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule. We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules. He demands that HE becomes the schedule. When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people. And so must we. As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we. He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died. To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again. To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like. Following Jesus Requires Our Death.
The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus. The easy Jesus never existed. The safe Jesus is an illusion. The convenient Jesus will never be found.
We want power without painful rejection. We want risk with no danger. We want victory with limited commitment. Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus. Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus? Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?
Today is Groundhog Day. But yesterday was an even more important day. Why? Today is Groundhog Day. But yesterday was an even more important day. Why? Today is Groundhog Day. But yesterday was an even more important day. Why? OK, enough reference to Bill Murray and the movie Groundhog Day. But that movie does have something to say to this left-handed, right-brained Kingdom pastor.
Yesterday was a most important day for us in the South. If you are scratching your head wondering what was so important about yesterday, I would suggest you move out of the South and go back to where you came from. Just kidding! It was National Signing Day! For those of you reading this but are unfamiliar with this significant day I will explain it. It is the day when 17 and 18-year-old boys who have been offered the opportunity to go to college for free, cleverly disguised as a Football Scholarship, can publicly announce where they will attend college–to play football of course.
These young athletes have been carefully analyzed by so-called experts and assigned a rating called “stars”. They range from being 1 star players to 5 star players. The goal of every football coach is to get as many 5 star prospects as possible. The belief is that the more 5-Stars that you have, the more likely you are to have a successful football program. Now what does all this have to do with the Kingdom Life? Glad you asked.
Sometimes we, the Church, get caught up in evaluating (that’s a nice way of saying “judging”) people in how much someone has to contribute to success in life. All of these high school players are evaluated based on past performances with the assumption that these past performances will be expressed in the future, which is at a different level. And what I have observed is that some 5-Star athletes turn into 0-Star athletes because their past performances were not enough at the next level.
Case in point from the Bible–Samuel’s trip to look for a replacement king. Samuel is at home of one Jesse because God told Samuel that’s where the replacement king would be found. Consciously or unconsciously, Samuel brought with him a 1-5 Star rating system based on external appearances, similar to the “experts” judging of athletes past performances. Samuel picked a 5-Star at first, but God corrected him. And for Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who engage in the same process, I love to quote this passage:
Here’s the Kingdom Truth for anyone today who has ever been rated (that is “judged”) by a set of external criteria: Talent can only get you so far in life–and it is not enough to get you to where you need to be. This is for those “5-Stars” who think they have it all and are great for the company, family and even the Church. Some of those 5-Star football athletes fail not for lack of talent, but for lack of heart, resolve and determination. They never reach their full potential.
And if you are one of those who have been rated a “1-Star or less” there is a Kingdom Truth for you. You are not bound to your past IF you are willing to give your heart to Jesus. Yes, God sees your stained and painful past. He saw it all as His Son was nailed to that cruel Cross. And that was more than enough to cover over, pay the price and wipe away the debt for anyone, everyone, and even you. We call it Grace.
And now back to my opening reference to the movie Groundhog Day. In that movie Murray keeps looping back to the morning of February 2 until he realizes that there is more to life than what he had been doing. He can only move forward to February 3 if he decides to make a difference in the lives of others. And though the movie never says directly that it is about living life for The Kingdom of God, to me at least, the reference is clear.
Groundhog Day, both the date and the movie by this name, remind us that our future cannot be determined by mindless events, or human predictions. There is another future out there for us–a future that is hopeful and truly makes a difference in the lives of other people. And we can become a part of this when we shed the “Stars”, or lack of “Stars” put on us by others, and realize that when God looks at our heart, the very heart that bears HIS Image, and knows what we can become when we give Him control of our whole life.
His presence, through the Holy Spirit, makes all the difference in our future. Oh, you may not make the headlines at ESPN, but you will make the headlines in the hearts and minds of others who finally see Jesus through you. God has something special for you. Do not think to highly of yourself, or too low. He knows you are a 5-Star even when the world has written you off.