7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there. 9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— 12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139, verses 7 through 12; from the New Living Translation
Rather than my ponderings, reflections, and musings–you get to write today’s blog. At the risk of sounding like an English teacher, write your essay–in your heart and mind, and in the comments below if you are so inclined–write an essay answering these 4 questions:
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
Romans chapter 7, verse 15, from the New Living Translation
The news is filled with stories about conflict. From homes, communities, within nations, and between nations. Even the “Church” is not exempt from conflict. But this morning I want to bring that word closer to home. And the word I am using isn’t conflict–but Conflicted. The definition of Conflicted is “having or showing confused and mutually inconsistent feelings.“ Notice those last 3 words: mutually inconsistent feelings. In this morning’s passage, Conflicted is what Paul is talking about–mutually inconsistent feelings.
It’s not enough to say there is conflict. Nay! It must go deeper within each person to realize that one is wrestling between 2 mutually inconsistent feelings. For example–let’s say someone has hurt you and you refuse to forgive them. And maybe it doesn’t bother them that they refuse to forgive that person. BUT. . .one day they read Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT) Now, if they are serious about following Jesus there is more than a conflict going on. They should be Conflicted.
There are 2 mutually inconsistent feelings happening. More than feelings, it’s conflicting ideas; more than ideas–it’s between truth and THE Truth: Unforgiveness versus Forgiveness. Our “truth” (not being willing to forgive, as in this example) is in conflict with THE Truth (that forgiveness is uncondition)! If we are serious about following Jesus, the result should be that we become Conflicted! Like with Paul, we know what we should do–maybe even “want” to do it. But instead we don’t. In every issue of life there is our “truth” and THE Truth.
Until we are Conflicted we will never deal with the difference between our truth and THE Truth. And when we become Conflicted, what should we do? Well, simple! First become Conflicted! In verse 24 Paul wrote: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Thankfully for us, Paul answered his own question (and what should be OUR question) in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”
Jesus delivers us from whatever it is that is Conflicted with THE Truth. He doesn’t bless our truth–but works to take away that Conflicted desire we have. And to my fellow United Methodist Institution tribal members, we should be Conflicted over what is happening. We have mutually inconsistent feelings within this Tribe. So, will you live with and in “your” truth, or will you trust God enough to take you into THE Truth? Being Conflicted is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Now we are contronted with truth versus THE Truth. Don’t allow truth to guide you to your conclusions. Instead, let THE Truth guide you and trust God with the results.
Psalm 121, verse 8, from the New Living Translation
In days which are hectic and fast-paced (nowadays it seems like it’s every single day), do you ever wonder, “Am I coming or am I going?” Direction is important in life. It matters when we are going somewhere. It matters on one-way streets. It matters on compasses and gps. And it matters in your life. Everyone is going in some direction. Even the most sedentary person is going in some direction. The issue is that first question I asked: “Am I coming or am I going?”
Many people–far toooooo many people–do not realize the direction in which their life is heading. Without knowing where we are going (or coming), eventually it leads to disappointment and feeling lost. And maybe you are honest enough to admit you have no clue as to which direction your life is headed. But there is Someone who does. God watches us every moment of every day. This is very comforting to know–at least it should be.
Why? He knows where we need to be. And since He knows where we are–He knows exactly how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. And as He watches over us, He provides us with a super-abundance of Grace and Mercy. He never abandons us. When we run away from Him–He runs after us. When we doubt Him–He is still the same. When we give up on Him–He NEVER gives up on us. And wherever we are headed–and whatever we face along the journey–you can count on God being right there–not as an observer–but as our Guide and our Strength.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Normally The Familiar isn’t a good thing because it keeps us from experiencing the Adventures God has for us. It denies us the wide open spaces where we uncover and discover the greatness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. It hides and denies us the truth that we can do anything through Christ who strengthens us. The wide open spaces teaches us how to hold on to God in every situation and throughout all seasons.
But. . .but sometimes we need to go back to The Familiar–the good Familiar. I’m talking about those times and places where are reassured of God’s faithfulness to us–even when–especially when–we have been unfaithful. Or maybe it’s a season of doubt where we struggle to embrace our future. Even David, the mighty King and Warrior, needed to go back from time to time to The Familiar. Psalm 23 places were essential for David. Before he became a mighty warrior and long before he became the Mighty King, David was a shepherd. And when life as a Warrior or as a King became difficult, I can easily imagine David singing this Psalm to himself–maybe even out loud.
As a shepherd in the wide open spaces, David experienced the faithfulness and provisions of His Heavenly Father. Imagines of green pastures and still streams helped him remember the Faithfulness of God. I have my places where I am reminded of God’s faithfulness to me. Sometimes all I can do is go there in my mind. And sometimes I can literally visit those places. Each time I find myself renewed and refreshed, and enabled to go forward into “my” unknown future, but a future that is known to God–and a future where I know He is right there with me. What are The Familiar places for you? Places where God’s amazing love and grace overwhelmed you? The Familiar isn’t a place made to live in–but it is the place to visit where we find the reassurance we need when the Journey becomes difficult.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
There are some who question the Season of Lent. Some say that Protestantism do so to maintain a connection to Catholicism; even being under its influence rather than God’s. The thing is that there are historical documents that precede the formation of the Roman Catholic Church that indicate early Followers of Jesus engaged in this discipline. There is even a connection to it at the Council of Nicaea, which produced the original Nicene Creed in 325. Though Roman Catholicism says it began with Peter, most historians agree it began after the Council of Nicaea where Constantine was trying to unite the Roman Empire through Christianity.
Some say that it isn’t commanded for Christians to do in the Bible; only Baptism and Communion. Well, didn’t Jesus say something about Foot Washing? Besides, there is nothing commanded about stain glass windows, pipe organs, projectors, Sunday School literature, or padded pews and seats.
Some say that it’s origins come from pagan religions in Babylon and Egypt; as such, it is idolatry and blasphemy. What about when God instructed Moses to make that bronze serpent to heal all those who were bitten by the snakes? The Asp was a sacred idol in Egypt who was supposed to protect the Pharaoh. The Asp was included on the Pharaoh’s crown for people to see. Was God ignorant of that? Did He promote idolatry? For those who say Lent promotes idolatry, then so did God.
Others say that it’s simply not needed to be a Christian. Well, on this point I must say that I wholeheartedly agree. To BE a Christian rests solely on the atoning work of Jesus and our faith in that work. We need to change one word in that statement: the words TO BE. Change it to AS; so that it reads: “I need Lent AS a Christian!” I need this time to give up something important to me so that I can focus more on my relationship with Jesus.
I admit that I am not yet exactly like Jesus. To become like Jesus I must change even more things in my life, my heart, and my mind. It’s backed up in the Bible. Moses fasted 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai while God gave him The Law (Exodus 34); he did it again on the behalf of the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 9). Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights on his way to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19). And Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before He began His public mission (Matthew 4).
In paganism it was the god or goddess who needed its worshippers to fast. It was a demand from them because the god or goddess required it from them to remain a god or goddess–i.e.–it gave the god or goddess power. But in one of my favorite liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, says: “God does not need Lent. But we do.”
Now, if you want to make Lent about paganism and Roman Catholicism and idolatry and being unnecessary–well you are within your rights and free will to do so. As for me? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself thought it important to spend a time away from things in order to focus on God. So, I will embrace it as important in my growth as a Disciple and Follower of Jesus. The Discipline of Lent isn’t about giving up something only to pick it back up later. It is about reflecting on ALL that Jesus gave up for us. Whatever we give up, we spend that time remembering how it came to be that we have been made right with The Father. This season I’m giving up sweets–and those moments I long for something sweet, I will remember what Jesus gave up for me.
A text message this morning got me to thinking. My thinking went way back in time–October 1974 to be exact. This was when I was appointed to serve 2 small congregations while I pursued licensing as a pastor at the ripe old age of 18 years old. I mention this because we all know that beginning at 18, we tend to be full of vim and vigor; or was the vim and vinegar? Come to think of it, the latter is more true for me than I want to admit. My thinking moved forward through all the years I served as a pastor all the way to right now.
And now? I have less vim, but at times, a whole lot more vinegar. If you have followed me here on this blog, you know it’s true. And you may wonder who is about the become the object of my vinegary thoughts. It is my profession–“the” pastor. I was trained in the classical model of “The Professional Pastor”. I had someone whom I thought was a colleague, tell me once after I made the decision to remain in serving small and medium churches as what we call a “Local Pastor”, “You really need to become one of us.” His poke was that until one was an ordained elder in the UMC, they weren’t really pastors. By the way, I was eventually ordained, but not to be “one of them”.
The text message from this morning, well, it brought me under conviction of the Holy Spirit. Stay with me a moment, especially if you are a pastor. And really hang in with me if you are studying to become a pastor. In reflecting over these past 46 plus years, one picture stands clear to me. The church in the U.S. has been in a steady decline; almost to the stage of an avalanche. There have been all kinds of explanations, even justifications (even though we can never justify decline) for this event. But the biggest thing is the placing of blame on this state of disgrace.
I realize that some of this decline is caused by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who vainly think the local church exists for them–and who fight tooth and nail to keep their control. But from my perspective–we pastors share the major share of the blame. We were trained to be professionals rather than authentic people who are to be servant leaders. I remember an incident at my previous appointment. After a funeral in my first year, the family was gathered for a meal in the church fellowship hall. I noticed the tea glasses, water glasses, and coffee cups were nearly empty. Well, I proceeded to go to each table refilling their beverage of choice. One of the church members mentioned, “This is our new pastor.” and the response was obviously one of shock when she said, “Oh, really?” To my fellow pastors–if you expect church folks to do things you are unwilling to do or think it is beneath your training, then you’re in the wrong place.
I am convinced that Professionally Trained Pastors are the Achilles Heel of the U.S. Church. It did not happen overnight–it took centuries for this to develop and in 2021, we are reaping the harvest of this with declining congregations. When I began this journey, I thought my job was to herd them up and get them moving in the right direction under MY leadership. What I discovered was that this model was more like herding cats. So I started looking for a different model to emulate. Here’s what I noticed over the past 4 decades plus of noticing.
The Underachiever Model. This is the pastor who really doesn’t care about the flock, just the paycheck, and the next church.
The Don’t Rock The Boat Model. This pastor is focused on survival–their own and that of their family. These fear confrontation–and as such, cannot guide the church to where it needs to be.
Then on the opposite end is The Dynamite Model. I do not mean as in dynamic–but dynamite, C-4 explosives, and the like. They are convinced that their job is to correct the problems that they see as the real problems. Their definition of “real” problems are typically about 7 bubbles off plumb. They do catastrophic damage to a congregation and leaves the damage behind for the next pastor to deal with. And you can always count on The Dynamite Model to leave a few unexploded devices behind which will explode at the worst possible moment.
The One Issue Model. This pastor has defined the one issue that a church needs to address even before they arrive. They are convinced that their own wisdom knows which issue the church MUST address.
The Goodyear Blimp Model. I’m not talking about their physical size. It’s the size of their ego. It is large and very inflated. They want the church to know that they have the latest Rock Star Pastor. I once listened to a mega-church’s podcast of a worship service. Truthfully, I only listened for about 3 minutes. The person who was going to bring God’s word opened up that “their” pastor and wife would be back next week. And she said, “Let’s give a hand to Pastor ________ and his wife _______ and let them know how much we missed them. I changed to another podcast–it was about herding cats.
And last but by no means least, The Control Freak Model. Churches are not churches without them. Instead of checking the pulse of the congregation, they are putting the thumb down on folks. Nothing can be done without their permission. If something is done without their permission? Forget that adage that says it is easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission first. Obviously, whoever came up with that adage never had to deal with The Control Freak Pastor. They make Kim Jong-un look like the second coming of George Washington.
Why do I say that The Professional Pastor the primary cause of church decline? I look at the first Models of the church. There was leadership, trained leadership–but that leadership did not get in the way of the church reaching thousands and thousands of people. Oh, for sure, when a local church lost its sense of its true mission, someone was there to set the record straight. And then turned them loose to be The Body Of Christ. No one had to ask permission to lift up the name of Jesus. No one had to ask approval to feed the hungry, take care of the widows and orphans, and bear witness to Jesus and the power of the Cross to save. No one waited for some Professional Pastor to do the work.
There is another Model, a Model that the U.S. church in particular needs today. I would call us The Pastor Model. This pastor guides the congregation into a deeper relationship with Jesus, first and foremost. Then The Pastor Model challenges and equips the Congregation to BE the Body of Christ. And when the Congregation wants to be that Body–he or she gives them PERMISSION to be the Body Of Christ. The congregation doesn’t have to ask The Pastor Model for permission to do anything that lifts up the name of Jesus–and lifts up the least, the last, and the lost. In recent years, when someone comes to me and asks, “Is it OK with you if I do this, that, or the other?”, my response now is: “If it exalts Jesus, if the honors God and the Holy Spirit, if it touches the least, the last, or the lost, then know you have God’s permission and that’s good enough. Now, can I help you or do I just need to stay out of the way?”
In my tribe, only Ordained Pastors can administer the sacraments–as if we are somehow more holy than anyone else. Local pastors can administer the sacraments ONLY in the church they serve. The irony of my tribe is that it also professes the power and importance of the priesthood of all believers. I guess all doesn’t mean all. Before this pandemic hit, there was a significant rise in the number of House Churches. These are homes where people are hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus, a connection with other Followers, and believe that the Kingdom Of God is needed in their neighborhoods, towns, cities, communities, states, and nation.
To my fellow Pastors, encourage your congregations. Inspire your people given to your care (not your dictatorship)! Don’t be afraid to give them permission to be who God calls them to be, The Body Of Christ. Support them in what they do. Help them but only when asked. Praise them when they look like Jesus. And if they get off-mission–gently take them aside and remind them who WE BOTH serve. You can’t build someone up (remember Ephesians 4:11-12) if you constantly tear them down, or worse, never give them the opportunity to do the real work of Jesus Christ.
If some pastor (or Churchian or Tenured Pewsitter) is upset with me, understand I will soon be 65, closer to the moment I stand before my Judge. The last thing I want to be held accountable for is my failure to speak the truth in love. So if you are offended–it is what it is. I still love you and my prayer for you is that your heart, mind, and eyes will be opened to the Mission God has called us to do.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.
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
Recalculating…it’s a word that pops up on the GPS screen
when we miss a turn in trying to reach a destination. We count on those recalculations to get us to
our destination. As a unique individual,
you are trying to reach a different destination. But…you’ve missed a turn somewhere and deep
down you know you’re not getting there and you need a recalculation of where
your life is going. Garmin, Waze, Google
Maps—none of those will help you find the destination for which you heart
The church, the Body of Christ, is trying to reach a
destination. Along the way to that
destination, we are supposed to be bring others along with us in that
journey. But declining membership and
attendance reveals we have missed a turn somewhere. We need a recalculation. Some try to recalculate by looking backwards,
trying to repeat some era in our history went we were growing. But the recalculation we need isn’t by
looking backwards—it’s by looking forward.
God’s Vision for your individual life and the life of the church is what is needed most. God has a recalculation…and His recalculation involves His Vision. Join us for the next 4 Sundays…just in case you need a recalculation…
What was once primarily a military device is now a
common device. We have them in our cars,
in our hands, and on our phones. It’s
called GPS. We know them as Tom-Tom,
Garmin, Waze, or Google Maps. GPS helps
us get to places we may have forgotten where they are; or we are uncertain of
where they are; or to places we’ve never been before. If we aren’t paying attention to it, or we
simply miss a turn, they do this thing called Recalculating.
Recalculating helps us get back on track—and Recalculating Requires A Change Of Direction.
It’s not only when we travel that we may need a change
of direction, but also in our life’s journey.
It’s easy to not pay attention to the tried and true directions God
gives. It’s easy to miss a turn. And we get lost—and lose our bearings. This is true for us as individuals and for us
as the Body of Christ.
am asking you to pray and find the answers to 3 questions:
What is God
asking you to do?
What is God
asking this church to do?
willing to do it?
These questions were not randomly chosen, nor are they
the result of my creative mind—even I’m not that smart. It comes from the heart of God to the heart
of this congregation—to you.
It’s About Vision—Not Seeing
What Is, But Catching A Glimpse Of God’s What Will Be. God has a What
Will Be—for each person and every church. God’s What Will Be comes out of
God’s Power And Abilities—Not Our Own. It is easy, so very easy to be caught up and
confined to what is. What Is
creates a prison where people, dreams and churches die.
These 3 questions are about the direction you are
heading towards—as an individual and as a church. And they are the questions about arriving at
where God wants us to be, as individuals and as a church. They are the
questions that challenge us—about our faith, commitment and fears. There are moments in our journey where we
need a recalculating moment
to get our lives back on track with God’s
Plans And Purposes.
And this leads us to our text. Usually, I like to read from the more modern
translations because even I can understand them—but this morning, I want to
read first from the KJV. Turn to Proverbs 29:18…
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he
that keepeth the law, happy is he.
We’ve probably heard the first part of that passage,
but did you listen to that last part?
Now, let me read this same passage from The Message….
If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble
all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most
This morning I have Good News, Bad News, and Hard News:
Good News: The Best Argument For God To The World Is The Church. Every day,
God becomes accessible to a hurting world through the People of God. In our simple acts of compassion and
servanthood, in our worship and ministry of the Word, through our breaking of
bread, we make the invisible God visible.
John wrote in I John 4:12—No one has ever seen God, but if we love one
another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. The church stands as a powerful testimony of a
God who will not let us go until He blesses us.
There is not one period in history you can point to and say, “The church
offered the world nothing. It had no
light at all!” We’ve
always given something to the world, even at our worst moments.
Bad News: The Worst
Argument For God To The World Is The Church. Every day, God becomes more
remote to a cynical world because of the church. In our foolish acts of self-righteousness and
self-indulgent attitudes, in our judgment and smugness, through our breaking of
trust and lack of actions, we obscure God.
John goes on to say in Vs. 20-21—If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his
brother, he is a liar. For anyone who
does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not
seen. And He has given us this
command: Whoever loves God must also
love his brother. Even when we’re at our best, the church is
still marred by hypocrisy, apathy, and false piety. There is not a single period in history you
can point to and say, “Yes! There it is! The church in all its fullness,
exactly as God intended it.” We’ve
always fallen short.
News: The Only Real Argument For God To The World Is The Church. Put aside all philosophical defenses and
church doctrine. Philosophies and
doctrines can convince the mind, but only the church, walking in the light, can
win the heart. God does not have a Plan B.
He does not have a backup strategy for making himself known among the
nations. It’s the church or bust. We’ve always been all there is.
The church lives between the splendor of God’s intent
and the debacle of our own shortcomings. Paul speaks of God’s intent for the church in Ephesians 3:10–11…
God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom
in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly
places. This was his eternal plan, which
he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
But don’t you want to live out God’s intentions for
you? Isn’t there a part of you that
wants to have all God wants to give—no matter what it costs or where it
leads? Don’t you want to be able to say,
“I’m what He had in mind when he made me and called me. I’m exactly what God wants to reveal His
I believe that this church today doesn’t lack for
vision—but like many congregations, we are lacking God’s Vision. I read of someone who compiled over 40 Killer Phrases—Phrases that will
kill the Vision God has for a local church.
Let me share with you to Top 10
10] It’s Right In
Theory, But It Won’t Work Here
9] It Will Be
More Trouble Than It’s Worth;
8] It’s Not In
7] You’ve Got
To Be Kidding;
6] It’s Too Far
Ahead Of Our Time;
5] We’ve Tried
4] It May
Offend Some Of Our Members;
3] We Don’t
Have Enough People To Do It;
2] Let’s Appoint A Committee
To Look Into It And Report Back;
1] But We’ve
Never Done It That Way Before!
Now, a vision from God will have 3 key elements,
always. Now with these 3 elements, the
vision for here will be powerful and life changing. I know it works because all 3 elements have
been tried and tested—and happening now in our culture.
1. In God’s Vision, There
Will Be Purpose!
There is a reason why this place exists today, a purpose for us being here. That purpose will define our mission and ministry. The problem is that we have allowed our mission and ministry to define our purpose; and that’s backward—it’s putting the cart in front of the horse.
The purposes of God will be much bigger than our
individual selves and even bigger than all of us combined. If you can do it with your own effort and
strength, then it’s not likely that it’s God’s purposes you are following.
God’s Purpose Transcends Beyond Our Selves In Order That We May Be
Transformed By God’s Power. Church does not exist for Sunday morning
service, and to meet just your needs.
And that purpose will go beyond the physical confines of this community. This answers your 1st Question.
You must believe that you are here because God has been preparing your whole life for such a
time as this. If you are not prepared
for God’s Vision, then it’s not because God has tried to prepare you, it’s
because you haven’t made yourself available to God. This answers your 2nd Question.
3. And In God’s
Vision, There Will Be A Plan!
There was a time when the “Field of Dreams” worked—You
remember the Kevin Costner movie—the voice telling him “If you build it they will come”—and
they did come. But that style will not work
any longer. It didn’t work that way for
the 1st Century Church. There’s
an old saying, but it is so true—God Will Not Lead Us
Where His Grace Will Not Sustain Us!
And like the purpose, the plan is much bigger than we are.
Those plans are not only for this community, but they will reach out beyond the confines of this placeand out into the world. I’ve heard some church people say, “I don’t think we need to get involved with world missions because we have enough to do right here. But God’s plan is bigger than this community. It’s not local projects or outside missions—it’s BOTH local projects and outside missions. That plan includes the involvement of each and every one of you. And this And this is where you answer your 3rd Question.
Think about Jesus and This Process We Are
God Had A Purpose! In creation, God,
out of His love, made us in His image for the purpose of sharing a relationship
of love with Him and to join with Him in the care of His marvelous
creation. But sin alienates us from His
relationship of love.
God Was Prepared For Our Sin. Before
He created one thing, redemption was in God’s heart—so He was prepared to send
His Son to atone for sin and redeem us back to Himself. 1
Peter 1:18-20— For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the
empty life you inherited from your ancestors.
And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It
was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose
him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he
has been revealed for your sake.
God Had A Plan! His
Son, would become one of us, live among us, but without sin. He would then offer His life in the place of
punishment, the place we rightly deserve.
Then He would call those who accept the Gift of Grace, to share the Message
What is God asking
you to do? It will reflect Jesus and help the
church. It will be with the people you
know—teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, where you eat, at the library,
at the bank, at the grocery store, where you work, where you hang out, your
next door neighbors. And it WILL BE with
people you see but don’t know and people who haven’t met yet.
What is God asking
this church to do? It will be something that shows we care
about people and places. Think about
things that will improve the places that involves the people you know and
see. Schools, libraries, community
events, police department, fire department, nursing homes, places for those
with physical, emotional or mental health issues. God seeks to redeem people, and He longs to
redeem places where people live, work, play and struggle.
Are you willing to
do it? Without exceptions or compromising the
Vision. It may require giving up some
things. It will definitely require
expansion—expansion of possibilities—expansion of what you see as your
capabilities—expansion of your relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Well, after a season of computer problems (it died, had the blue screen) and getting caught up, I’m back to my insights from the Book of Acts (Of The Holy Spirit In Surrendered People). If you missed the first one, then click here, because it is, call it our Magnetic North in this journey. As I was reading in the first chapter, there’s another insight that I’ve overlooked for all my life. It is one word, and that word is TOGETHER. It’s from Acts 1:14
They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.
That word, “together” is one that has been, call it haunting me. I use the word “haunting” because it is M.I.A. in many, many established congregations. Between congregations and within congregations, little exists that would even slightly hint that we are together. And here, in the good old U.S. of A., people sit around McDonald’s, in church committee meetings, around the water coolers lamenting that this culture is so far from God. They blame Hollywood, Trump, Democrats, Republicans, Educators, Video Games and various News Networks. As I read this part, I am left wondering, “Is it really ‘their’ fault? Or is it the fault of the Body of Christ forgetting our humble beginnings? Of being together–in life, in helping others and in Christ?
Between congregations there is much competition. To have the best preacher. The best musicians. The most campuses. Rather than moving in and claiming the territory of The Enemy, they encroach on each other trying to draw away members. Together? Hardly!
And don’t get me started on within congregations. They meet in the same building, but are not really together. Each part moves, speaks and acts out of an agenda, their agenda. Those who have been in power do not want to give up their power. They operate on a seniority system–whoever has been there the longest (including previous family generations) are the only ones who should have power. And should a congregation actually decide that the Kingdom of God is the Pearl of greatest value, it becomes a matter of navigating the rapids. The Art of Compromise becomes the guide, and those who recognize that Pearl, either find another congregation, or simply give up.
But it wasn’t that way then. They were Together. Men and women. Young and old. Educated and uneducated. Poor and the not so poor. They were in this TOGETHER. This means that they supported each other. Encouraged each other. Listened to each other. At this point, now get this: They were of one mind. They were in this for Jesus, not themselves. Jesus said stay together and they did. Jesus said wait, so they waited. Jesus said don’t begin until you receive the Holy Spirit, and so they waited–TOGETHER.
Think about this, they didn’t really know a lot about the Holy Spirit, other than what they saw of Him in Jesus. After the Resurrection, they were smart enough to know that they would be foolish to do this Kingdom Thing without The Holy Spirit. And to that goal, look at what else they did TOGETHER:
and were constantly united in prayer
Because they were TOGETHER, it wasn’t about selfish prayer. It was about being TOGETHER in what Jesus wanted. I strongly suspect, no, I strongly believe that they were so intimidated by the task in front of them that they knew they NEEDED each other. They needed each person to be committed to Jesus; to be completely surrendered, completely passionate about this Kingdom. Folks, they were UNITED in prayer. They were praying FOR each other, not against each other. Wow!
Recently I was reading through one of my personal study times. It’s from a group called SEEDBED (website is here). J.D. Walt is one of the writers and one of my teachers. He wrote that there are only 2 stories being told in our world: 1 is the story of the world, and the other is the story of The Kingdom of God. J.D. said that we will live out our lives on one or the other storyline. Then he said this (and I quote):
“Until Jesus becomes the center of our devotion, He’s just another distraction.”
And thus, that word, TOGETHER. I want to speak now only to my American readers. What would happen here in the good old U.S. of A. if WE, who profess to be followers of Jesus, gave up our agendas and made an all out commitment to being TOGETHER?
Feel free to answer this question in the comments section. I would love to hear what you believe would happen IF we were really TOGETHER. And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
So far this has been a great Spiritual Summer Retreat. Some may call it a vacation, but for me, it’s been a time of refocusing on God in my life. Some of the things that have happened to me this year have been, well, challenging. Truthfully, I let some of those things get the best of me. My life has been off-kilter. So God is using this time for me to get my “kilter” back.
This morning got me to thinking about The Tide. No, not the greatest College Football Dynasty ever, but the “other” Tide. No! Not the laundry detergent either! The ocean tide is a lesson I’ve been rediscovering in this time of retreat. I am not certain John Wesley would agree with me, but the beach is a means of grace for me.
The Tide happens every day because the water is being influenced by outside forces. Technically, it’s being influenced by a single source, gravity. And the gravity that affects the Tide comes from 2 sources. Do you know that they are? Did you guess the moon? Very good class. Now, what’s the other source of gravity? Did you say the sun? Correctamundo!
The Tide in a particular area is determined by its position in relation to both the moon and the sun. This gravitational pull determines whether the Tide is high or low. And these gravitational forces come from outside our planet. It is a force that is unseen, yet it produces a noticeable effect. And here’s the lesson that this Tide is teaching me.
We are under the gravitational pull of another influence; whether we realize or not. This force impacts how we think, what we say, what we do, and even why we do it. They change the shape and direction of our life. Either for good–and unfortunately–for bad. Think back to the effect of the ocean Tide. The ocean tides have a positive impact on marine life. It also determines the best time for fishermen to catch fish. And who doesn’t love a good seafood dinner?
But unlike the oceans that have no choice but to be affected by gravity, we do have a choice. Remember that the ocean Tide is influenced at one time by the sun, and at a different time by the moon–it all depends on their location. We choose which gravitational pull influences us–in any and all situations of life. We all face situations which we did not cause–but our response to that situation–it is influenced by which outside source of power we live under.
Allow your life to be under the “gravitational pull” of the Holy Spirit. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 (NLT)
Those who are dominated (think about the tide) by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled (think about the gravitational forces on the oceans) by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.
More than thinking about the things that please the Spirit, it is about the impact of those thoughts and how they change the ways we think, speak, act, and why we do what we do. That’s called MOTIVE. Like the oceans are being influenced by the power of gravity from either the sun or the moon (and never both at the same moment), you are being influenced by some power that determines your journey. Unlike the oceans that have no choice, you do have a choice. And remember that line from the climatic scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”–“Choose wisely!”
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Now excuse me, but the classroom beckons me. I wonder what the Tide is doing?
This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see. I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology. But I do have a question for you. The most important question you will ever be asked is this: How Do You Get To Heaven? Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.
Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question. I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us. OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.
Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK? Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs. It’s obvious. If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left. HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.
When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs. So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question. Look at John 3:1-12 (NLT)
1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” 9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit? You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t. The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching. Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.” But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.
Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask: How Do We Find God? Now here’s where it gets confusing. Some say there are many ways to find God. They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City. We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City. But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.
There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject. It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God. And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism. It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there. The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.
So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here. I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven. Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!