The God Who Fights For Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

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

A Lesson From The Pelicans!

God is a Great Teacher; the best ever.  I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived.  In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences.  Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.

I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery.  This week is no exception.  We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach.  Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall.  God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.

I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat.  As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber.  No reluctance.  No hesitation.  Head long as fast as they could go into the water.  They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation.  I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive.  Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it.  Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.

Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me:  We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal.  When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish.  What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us?  It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference.  And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.

Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans.  Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t.  And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again.  What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”?  They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before.  And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.

Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus.  Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live.  Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.

We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us.  And if we fail?  Do what pelicans do.  Get back up and go at it again.  Not every attempt ends in failures.  Just ask those pelicans!

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.

A Moving Journal-Day 7

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

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

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

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

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

A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

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

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Like He Said He Would

Mark 16:1-7 (The Message)

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!

Goodbye, Eddie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Way To Help Right Now…

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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!

 

Are You Thomas?

(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog.  This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service.  Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)

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 John 11:6-16 (NLT)

6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.  14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this:  The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.

What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity.  Understand this:  Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice.  We call it consequences.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point.  They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later.  Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated.  The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point.  There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.

Let’s look at tonight’s passage.  The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at:  Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas.  But wait!  Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!”  Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter?  I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.

But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro.  No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas.  It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”  Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction:  “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’”  I had to let that sink in.  Did Thomas really say that?  Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas.  And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.

Let’s step into the scene.  Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross.  These Disciples sense something ominous in the air.  They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus.  He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion.  They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.

Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different.  Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus.  They sense that their next trip will probably be their last.  Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus.  They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.

At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan.  2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”.  They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.”  But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go.  They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin.  There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words.  Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.

That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas.  Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11.  Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus.  Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point.  As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.

We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart:  “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?”  Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God.  It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love.  Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him.  Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Remember the story in Matthew 14.  Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm.  When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea.  That’s not safe.  Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things.  It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom.  To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules.  He demands that HE becomes the schedule.  When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people.  And so must we.  As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we.  He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died.  To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again.  To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like.  Following Jesus Requires Our Death.

The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.  The easy Jesus never existed.  The safe Jesus is an illusion.  The convenient Jesus will never be found.

We want power without painful rejection.  We want risk with no danger.  We want victory with limited commitment.  Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus.  Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus?  Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?

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You Are A 5-Star Prospect!

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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:

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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.

#MessyGrace