THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Timid And Intimidated!

Dale Earnhardt, Sr.–THE Intimidator

This week as I was preparing for the small groups I lead, a “not-so-random” thought hit me. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I have a severe case of “random thoughts”. But this time–it wasn’t so random. I’m leading the 2 of the 3 churches I serve in a weekly study and we are looking at the book of Acts. By the way, the third church I serve is at the local McDonald’s–a diverse group of employees, regulars, and the frequent visitor.

Here is where this “not-so-random” thought hit me:

About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 

Acts 12:1-4 (NLT)

It’s Verse 4 that deserves our attention, if we are followers of Jesus. “Then he (Agrippa) imprisoned him (Peter), placing him (Peter) under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.” Can’t you see it?????

Well, allow me to explain this for the less informed. Agrippa was a king-granted, placed their by Rome-but he’s a king. Because he’s a king and endorsed by Rome, he has a ton of power and authority. His authority reigns. Anyone who disagrees with that authority faces the might of Rome. Agrippa is indeed a powerful man. Got that part? Good!

Then, there’s Peter. Peter grew up to be a fisherman in an obscure village. He wields no great authority. He has no mighty army behind him. He has no endorsements from Rome. He’s just one person. OK. Got this part? Good!

In case you haven’t gotten my point, maybe this picture will help you understand, FROM A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE, the difference in the two men.

In human terms, Agrippa is the Great Dane, and Peter is that little Chihuahua. And there’s another group involved: 16 Roman soldiers, and there’s nothing sweet about this 16. Agrippa orders 16 highly trained, battle tested soldiers to guard this one man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Can you see it now?

Agrippa is intimidated by none other than Peter. I mean, why else would he order Peter to be guarded by 16 soldiers 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As bad as Agrippa is, he recognizes that Peter is a dangerous man to him. As much power and authority as Agrippa has, he senses that his power isn’t enough to contain Peter. Thus, the 16 soldiers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Man, that little Chihuahua is intimidating the Great Dane.

My Point? Glad you asked. Why are so many followers of Jesus being intimidated by our culture? Why are so many followers of Jesus afraid to speak up and out against a culture that is determined to undermine the ethics and authority of God and His Word? Why are so many pastors silent when confronted with the false ideology of liberalism? Why will Tenured Pew Sitters complain rather than engage?

It’s rather simple, the why that is: We, who should be The Intimidators, are being The Intimidated! Let’s end this now! I’m not telling, or even suggesting, that we become the new bullies on the block. The church tried that back in the Dark Ages, and it did NOT work.

Let’s be full of Grace, Love AND Truth. Don’t apologize for standing with The Word of God. Let’s become a Force for Good. Listen, followers of Jesus–the Devil is more intimidated by you when you follow Jesus as The Truth, than Agrippa was intimidated by little old Peter.

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.

1 John 4:4 (The Message)

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him….Dale, Sr. wasn’t intimidated by all those other drivers…and don’t you be intimidated!

My Difficult Journey…Today!

 

The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”  He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb.

1 Kings 19:7-9 (The Message)

This particular story best describes where I am this morning.  “It just so happened” (yeah, right!) that I read David’s Kitz’s blog A Dark Psalm For Dark Times.  I am on one of, if not the most difficult journey, in my life; even more so than my divorce.  At least during that dark period I had hope, though ever so small, that God would heal and restore me.  But today, honestly, I see no such hope, which is probably why it “just so happened” that I read David’s morning edition.

Today I and my son, Matthew, are going to look at some “nursing homes” for my Mother.  At 89 she is in that prison known as dementia.  In the last 2 weeks her mind has become in the words of Forrest Gump, “a gazillion times” worse.  Dad, who will be 92 next month, has been doing his very best to take care of his wife of 73 years.  And now it has taken its toll on him.  Yesterday as he and I discussed what we would do today, what he said literally broke my heart:  “Son, I would rather take her to the cemetery rather than do this.  But it has to be done.”  There were tears in his eyes and his voice quivered.  He was broken and in a prison, too.

As a pastor, I am fortunate enough to share life with those entrusted to my care.  Shared meals, baptisms, weddings and just enjoying the extraordinary joys of the ordinary life are a part of this life as a pastor.  I also share in times of heartache: sickness, loss of jobs, the prodigal child, the prodigal spouse, the prodigal parent, and yes, the journey with them of watching losing a loved one long before they die.  My heart has always broken for those families living through this nightmare called dementia.

And now, my own nightmare intensifies.  As I watched others go through this nightmare, I became angry with God.  “Why are you allowing this to continue?  For heaven’s sake, please take them home!”  Honestly, I do not understand why He didn’t and thus, the source of my frustration (I know I did a blog/sermon on frustration).  And at the risk of sounding to some as being callous and uncaring, I’m “praying without ceasing” that God will take my Mother home instead of us taking her to a nursing home.  Dad’s right;  a journey to the cemetery would be much easier.  This is frustrating!

So what do I do?  Can I do?  Psalm 88:18 describes where I am perfectly:  You have taken away my companions and loved ones.  Darkness is my closest friend.”  I looked up this Psalm and found out that the last word in the original Hebrew is DARKNESS.  Unlike other Psalms of despair that end with “hope”, this one ends in DARKNESS.

Maybe David Kitz is correct in pointing out this song written by someone known as Heman the Ezrahite.  I would like to think The Spirit inspired David to write this blog just for me; even further back, that He inspired Heman the Ezrahite to write it just for me in 2018.  And right now I am holding on, barely but holding on, to the middle, exactly the middle of this Psalm.  It’s verse 9:  Each day I beg for your help, O LordI lift my hands to you for mercy.”  Maybe there is something prophetic that in the exact middle of darkness, Heman begs and cries out to God.  And so do I….so do I…  Prayers greatly appreciated…

Why, Oh Lord, Why?

MSD High School (1)

Once again our nation is reeling from yet another act of senseless violence, though it made perfect sense to Nikolas Cruz.  And thus my question this morning:

Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?

There are those who will answer my question, but with the wrong answer.  “It’s the gun laws, rather, the lack of gun laws.  If we just ban those nasty guns, this would not ever happen again.”  I just don’t think this is the answer.  Chicago has the strictest gun laws and the senseless human violence continues every day.

“It’s that he wasn’t treated fairly.  He did not have the same opportunities as others.  If he had just received what he was entitled to, this would not have happened.”  Well, he may not have been treated fairly, but many others haven’t been treated fairly but they did not go out and kill innocent people.  So, how is this the answer?

“Well, they took prayer and the Bible out of the schools and this is the result!”  Do you really think that there is a “Prayer Void” or “Bible Void”, like a black hole, that exists in public schools?  I know countless students, teachers, support staff and administrators that cover their schools in prayer every day, and though they do not “read the Bible” in class, these Disciples of Jesus live out those words every day.  So, I don’t think that is the reason nor the answer to my question.  Besides, like the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, students will pray.”

“Video games and TV violence is the reason!  If Silicon Valley and Hollywood did not glorify violence, this would not have happened.”  If so, why isn’t everyone who plays video games and watches violent TV out there killing the innocents?  Mind you, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t desensitize people’s conscience.  But eliminating violent games and TV will not eliminate this threat.

They are coming out of the woodwork, from under rocks, all espousing reasons for this horrible act of human violence.  Their reasons will go on ad nauseam and yet, there will be another shooting at a church, school, community center–anywhere people gather.  So what is the answer to this burning question that oozes out of both my faith and my heart?

To be quite honest, I cannot accept the “pat” answers, but I admit that I do not have the answer.  Honestly, I do not know that there is an “answer”.  Perhaps I, along with many others should ask a different question other than the “why” question.  I’m simply thinking out loud right now because of this ooze of “why”.  Maybe the question that everyone who professes to be “Christian” (perhaps I should say ‘allegedly’ Christian) should be asking is: “What now?  What should we do now?”  This is a question for which I do have an answer.  And here is my answer to “that” question.

You need to stop be consumers of the services of the church.  Sorry, Jack, your local church does NOT exist for you.  You need to become the producers of what the church is really about; and that’s the Kingdom of God.  Quit living out a small story and step into the story of the Kingdom where God is in the business of redeeming and restoring human lives.  Stop spending so much of your budget on what happens at a 911 address (that means building/campus).

Quit pointing out where everyone else is wrong and admit that somewhere you are broken, too.  Get to know the people around you, without offering judgment against them.  Get out of, way out of your comfort zones.

Jesus wasn’t comfortable in what He did for you on that Cross, so why should you get to be comfortable in what you do for Jesus! 

Quit whining about us needing to become ‘again’ a “Christian nation” and understand that as Disciples of Jesus we are “aliens and foreigners” in this land; God’s true people have always been “foreigners” wherever they lived.  Show me one verse that says God wants to establish a “Christian Nation” and I will show you a hundred verses where Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God!  Let’s start doing something, just one thing at a time, that helps others, including yourself, to be restored to the image of God.  Live out Grace the way Jesus lived out Grace.

I just don’t know the “Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?”  But I am now reminded that even with my doubt and questions, God is still working to establish His Kingdom, that place where His will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

I Just Don’t Feel Like It Today or “It’s The Best I Can Do Right Now.”

For decades now, in my teaching and preaching I advocate that we should go to worship God even if we don’t feel like it.  “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Yep, that’s what this preacher said.  Well, to be honest, this morning I did not want to worship God in my private time of worship because, well, I just didn’t feel like it.  And to be even brutally honest, I don’t know that I feel like it right now.

I could blame this feeling right now on the fact I had just stacked 2 large stacks of firewood that had fallen over.  But the reasons go much deeper, and I am not going to bore you with all the details of what is going on inside me in this time.  If I did, I would sound like a whiner, and whiners are a pitiful and pathetic lot.  So I’m just not going there and be like “them”.  (I think I just heard some of you readers breathe a sigh of relief!)

To give you a view of my early morning disciplined habit, go back to a previous blog called Assumptions.  This morning I filled up my coffee cup (Praise God who inspired that native so long ago who roasted, grounded, and poured hot water through those beans!), put in my earbuds, looked at my Spotify app, and honestly, I just didn’t want to start it.  But then I remembered that crazy preacher who said, “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Oh, well; time to practice what I preach.  If I don’t, I am just another Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter.  If I ever become one of them, I hope someone still loves me enough to give me a good ol’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head.

Now, did my mind and attitude change instantly?  Absolutely.  NOT!  But I pushed through it, keeping my focus on God.  Now, was this the best way to worship God?  Absolutely NOT!  Jesus said it’s about worshiping in Spirit and in Truth.  I was worshiping truthfully.  I just didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway.  Somehow I think that God is pleased with my worship this morning, though it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, my best offering.  But, it reflects where I am, much like David reflected in Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Had God forgotten David?  Had God been looking the other way, His face turned away from David?  Has God forgotten Randy?  Is God looking the other way, His face turned away from Randy?  The answer to all 4 questions is…..NO!  NO!  NO!  NO! no-no But it sure does feel like it, and David must have felt it to.  Otherwise, why did he write such a worship song?  And for you who may also be struggling with mine and David’s feelings, the answer for you is EMPHATICALLY, NO!  He hasn’t forgotten us and He hasn’t turned away from us.

Somehow this morning, a morning I am really struggling, that perhaps God is more pleased with this act of reluctant worship than any other act of worship I have offered since I began this spiritual discipline.  HE certainly deserves better, but I now believe that God is pleased with my “It’s the best I can do right now” worship.  What?  Oh, I just heard some Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters say, “You’re wrong, wrong, wrong!  Give me a Bible verse to back up your blasphemous claim.”  OK Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, remember that you asked for it.

In Luke 18:9-14 you will find the story Jesus told of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector who went to encounter God in the Temple.  The Pharisee was full of himself and his perceived goodness and made the point he wasn’t like that Tax Collector.  The Pharisee was NOT honest.  On the other hand, the Tax Collector was brutally honest.  He presented himself to God in worship as he really was–a sinner!  Gee whiz, he didn’t even worship in the right position.  His head was down when it should have been up.  And in response to these 2 acts of worship (one correct in form but not in substance; the other wrong in form but correct in substance), Jesus says this:  “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Verse 14)

And in this act painfully honest worship, this is what The Holy Spirit taught me and said to me:  “Sing it until you believe it!”  Here is the song that was coming through my earbuds in this epiphany:  10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  So, I am going to keep on singing it until I believe it!

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