DO YOU HAVE FAITH OR FUZZY FEELINGS?

 Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!

James chapter 5 verse 26 from the Contemporary English Version

Yesterday was an important day in Alabama. Though, based on the turn-out, most didn’t think it was important. It was the Primary Runoff election. And I was a poll worker. The particular precinct I worked had 117 votes cast in the primary election. But yesterday the number was only 61. Nearly 50% did not think it was worth their time to engage in the single most important principle of this nation–the right to vote. OK, OK! So one party’s run-off had only one office in the run-off. But when it comes to this representative republic, isn’t one office worth the effort to vote? I would say so, and so would the sacrifices and blood of those who fought and died for it. But I’m not here today to write about politics and elections. This event is a microcosm of a far more serious and deadly malady infecting so many today.

It’s called Faith Without Works! So, back to today’s title: Do You Have Faith Or Fuzzy Feelings? When it comes to this Life In Grace, it appears that many–way too many–have opted out of Faith With Works and opted in for Fuzzy Feelings! If we should learn anything from Jesus, it should be that our Faith is made for action. Faith is an action verb–things happen. There’s a dynamic occuring. Fuzzy Feelings is a noun. It describes something but doesn’t do anything. “Now wait just a doggone minute, Preacherman! Doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by faith, not works?” (Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9)

Indeed it does. And James is not contradicting Paul. Faith produces our salvation, not our works! But. . .what happens after we’re saved? After the fact of salvation by Faith alone, Faith produces a lifetime of works–or if you prefer–a lifetime of action! If all one has after they “think” they have been saved is a lot of Fuzzy Feelings then they haven’t been saved. This is what James is writing about. Read his words one more time: Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead! Are you breathing? Are you saved? Then go and act in this world that urgently needs to see Jesus in ACTION!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure that all the glory goes to Him! And if you are still breathing–go do something that honors Him!

OH, LORD! IT’S MONDAY! AND I’M NO DAVID!

Mondays tend to remind us of all the Goliaths that we will face this week. They stand taller than us and like that infamous Goliath from the Bible (see 1 Samuel chapter 17), they shout insults at us and tell us we can’t win. And though we should stand up to them as David did, we wrongly determine, “Hey! I’m no David!” And so, those Goliaths continue to intimidate you and the Monday Morning Spirit hangs over you. And you convince yourself that’s the way it will always be. But, what made David–well–David?

  1. He had confidence in God
  2. He saw the big picture
  3. He remember God’s faithfulness
  4. He was human

First, his confidence was in God, not in what logic or others said. To boost your confidence you can believe Philippians 4:13–I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. But it’s better to have the faith like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In case you haven’t heard the story, here’s what they said–“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel chapter 3 verses 17 &18, NLT, emphasis mine) We all need that even if He doesn’t kind of faith.

Second, he saw that this was a Kingdom of God issue, not a military problem. This was all about God’s reputation. It wasn’t about who had the biggest, strongest, and best warrior. It was about what will God do in the moment. David understood that it wasn’t Saul’s reputation or the army’s reputation that was at stake. It was about God, and God alone.

Third, he remembered all those other times God delivered him. David had a history with God. That history revealed both God’s strength and God’s faithfulness. Because of #1 he knew that God was able to take care of Goliath. Now, notice, I said that God is capable–not that it would happen–just that God was capable. But unless and until someone stood up to Goliath–the world would never see it.

Finally, David was human! He wasn’t Kal-El. What? Don’t you know the story of Superman? David was just as human and you and me! Did David never make a mistake after his victory over Goliath? He did–several of them. Don’t allow past mistakes (sins) nor the possibility of future mistakes (sins) keep you from facing your Goliaths in life. God does His best work in human vessels who know both their weaknesses AND God’s strength.

When you have confidence in God’s unfailing grace, and are willing to remain faithful to God even if not situations, then you can say: Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?

Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

3 “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

(This is from a few years ago.  Hope you find something to help you in your Journey!)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

PRAYER DOESN’T WORK!

I bet this got your attention, right? “What’s this Preacherman saying? Isn’t he supposed to be the one who should believe in prayer? Did the COVID damage his brain? Has all that wacky stuff he’s written fried what few brain cells he has left? What gives? Has the journey he’s been making these past couple of years finally done him in? What in the hell has Satan done to him?” Calm down, calm down! I haven’t lost my mind, my heart, nor my faith.

This audacious declaration isn’t how I feel, nor how I believe. This statement is an observation based on what I see and hear–among those who say they love Jesus. There is a cry–nay–a deprecatory bewailing pouring out across our culture. It’s louder that anything else. It’s the sound emitting from the melancholic heart–and I weep as I am hearing it. But when I hear this melancholy lament from God’s people–I get angry!

Why, in God’s name, are so many of God’s people giving up, at least here in the good old U.S. of A.? PRAYER DOES INDEED WORK! YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK! (Yes, I’m yelling out loud!) But some are thinking–“If prayer works, why is our culture in such a mess?” If you are struggling with that question, I have the answer: Go look in a mirror! That person you see either believes that prayer doesn’t work or maybe, just maybe, you’ve been praying the wrong way praying about the wrong things.

Some folks are good, I mean really good, at praying against people. Praying for their demise. Praying for them to suffer. Praying for another to take their place. We need to be praying “FOR” people. And we need to be praying with GREAT CONFIDENCE! We need the mustard seed kind of faith–faith that, be it ever so small, never loses confidence in God to heal, restore, and renew! Sure, there are some things that you need to see it before you believe it. Admit it, we could all have familial roots somewhere in Missouri.

But when it comes to prayer–the kind of prayers that honor God, restore people, changes the course of human history–You Have To Believe It Before You Can See It! Now, go back to that mirror and say this: “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT) Once you’ve done this, do it again–but say it this way:

If I, who say I am a Christian, will stop being who I want to be and become who I ought to be, and confidently pray, seeking HIS desires and heart, and give up my own sinfulness to walk more closely with Jesus, then HE will forgive MY sins, and bring a revival to our times, the likes of which have never been see!

Pray with the attitude and heart that God is moving to heal and restore. Pray in confidence that transformation will happen. Think about that moment when those Disciples of Jesus failed to drive out that demon (see Mark 9). When they asked Jesus why they failed, remember His answer–and it’s the same answer to our prayer problem. “It can only happen through prayer and fasting!” And remember, fasting doesn’t mean just abstaining from food–it’s about giving up something we have or want and accepting what God offers. I heard a new song (to me, anyways) called “When We Pray” by Tauren Wells. The line that grabbed me and shook me hard (and thus led to this edition of my thoughts and heart) is this one: “But what if we could be a people on our knees, as one before the King, ’cause we believe. All the world starts changing, when the church starts praying. Stongholds start to break. Oh, when we pray!” Maybe you need to see and hear the whole song:

NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

Today is New Year’s Eve 2021. If you look at calendars, there are only two days with that designation of “Eve”–Christmas and New Year. There is no Thanksgiving Eve, Valentine’s Day Eve, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, Mother’s Day Eve, Father’s Day Eve–nope it’s not on the calendar. Never has been, and probably never will be. But today is one of two days designated as “Eve”. Look at the picture above and definition number two: the period preceding or leading up to any event. Let’s take a deep dive into the idea of an Eve.

Are you excited that this is New Year’s Eve? This morning I was thinking about other New Year’s Days. Specifically 2019–I mean who could have imagined what 2020 was going to bring? Church sanctuaries were closed. Businesses considered non-essential were closed. Stores had limited capacities. Us preachers unfamiliar with live-stream learned how to use Facebook Live (and I still use it). We had to purchase equipment to enable us to do drive-in church. People who were in the hospitals and nursing homes were denied visitors. And so much more. Then New Year’s Day 2021 shows up–and while some of the restrictions have been lifted–this ain’t been a glorious year for most.

But we’re talking about 2022. Are you excited about 2022? Today I am truly excited for several reasons. I don’t have to worry about a ruptured appendix, that happened in 2020. I am excited that today THE University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) will be playing in the Semi-Final for another National Championship (Roll Tide)! Yes, I get excited over certain things. Don’t you think Jesus was excited at the home of Zacchaeus when He said, “Salvation has arrived in this home!” Personally, I think Jesus was shouting at the top of His lungs! If your image of Jesus saying that is one of a solemn face and monotone voice–you need a different Jesus.

Every morning is an Eve–leading up to some event! And I believe this event is the Eve of God pouring out the fires of Revival across our nation and around the world! Why would I believe such a thing with the ways things are? Because I’m not looking at the way things are–I’m seeing them the way that God wants them to be. Each morning is The Eve Of God Doing Great Things In Hearts And Lives! See, there are more than 2 eves–every morning has both the potential and very real possibility to be a life-transforming day for us and everyone else. It’s there–we just need to recognize it.

When we get excited about the movement of The Holy Spirit–before we ever see it–we call that Faith! Faith isn’t about WHAT we see–but WHO we see! Today is the Eve of God doing what Paul said God does in 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 Verse 17 from The Message–Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Did you see that word anyone? Anyone means anyone. Isn’t it exciting to see new life emerge? In just a very few weeks a new life will emerge in our family–our first great-grandchild! He’s going through a process, as is his Mommy. It’s not always been pleasant–and the delivery won’t be easy. But all of us will be so very excited about this precious wonderful new life! Will you get excited each morning knowing that this moment is the EVE of God bringing another Great Awakening? I’m excited! If you’re not, then you’ve got a serious problem. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got some exciting things to do before Kickoff! And Roll Tide! Oh, here’s a song to help your mindset in the right place on this and every following Eve!

The Eyes Have It

Good morning! It was William Shakespeare who wrote “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Maybe so if one is looking from the outside in. But eyes are designed to look outward. . .provided they are functioning as they should–which leads me to this morning’s reflections.

Since the seventh grade, I wear glasses–if you haven’t done the math, that’s 53 years. Other than that, and cataract surgery a few years ago, they have served me well. . .until recently. For the past several years I’ve noticed these things called “floaters”. At first I thought I was swatting at a gnat. My previous optometrist informed me that it was just little bits of something in the vitreous fluid in my eyes, and were common with people of a certain age. Oh, God, how I hate that term!

Here’s the thing about those floaters, I don’t notice them until I do notice them–and then they keep hanging around–until I forget about them. They are still there, I just don’t notice them. Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to a new optometrist since my old one was a couple of hours away. After he dilated them, he spent a lot of time–I mean a LOT of time–looking into what Shakespeare called the windows to the soul. It was more time than I thought he needed.

He then showed me something abnormal about my eyes–in particular–in the back of my eyes–left and right. There was a bulging at the back. It wasn’t a detached retina–Praise God!–but, it was something that concerned him, and told me I needed to see a specialist to see if my eyes needed surgery to fix and prevent future problems. I could say I didn’t have a clue about this condition–but I remember a few months ago having this sharp pain behind my eyes–but passed it off as a sinus headache–something I have from time to time.

So, this morning at 8:15 CDT I will see the doctor for a further diagnosis. I want to say I’m not concerned–but we are talking about MY eyes and MY future vision. But then I remember the prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby who wrote tons of hymns about the glory of God–though she was blind. So, I’m thinking to myself, “Self, what’s your issue? If Fanny could see God’s glory though she was “blind”, you need to keep your eyes on Jesus.”

And here’s my point for today. Whatever comes your way in life, keep your eyes, your spiritual eyes, on Jesus. The Bible has something to say about this. It comes in Hebrews chapter 12–right after that long list of people who experienced many difficulties but maintained their faith. Verses 1 and 2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

When life throws you a curve ball or a change-up, just keep your eyes on Jesus–like Fanny Crosby did. And everything will ultimately be good–God promises us this. I will SEE all of you tomorrow!

We Need Graciousness!

I remember back when (dear Lord, I’ve turned into an old coot!) the gas lines in 1974. For you who haven’t a clue of what I’m talking about, and for those who forgot about it, I’m talking about “The Great Gasoline Shortage of 1974. I admit that even as a teenager I was frustrated with the long lines. But there is an even greater shortage today, this very moment–and that is the shortage of Graciousness.

Maybe I need to define Graciousness since there is so little of it going around. You may notice (hopefully!) that you can hear that word Grace! There are a lot of ways of defining Grace, but my personal favorite is this:

Unmerited and unconditional kindness and favor extended to everyone.

As a people and as the People of The United States of America, it seems that the majority have forgotten both the value and importance of Graciousness. Please, for the sake of this Republic and for the sake of the human race, Be Gracious! And in the morning and all day long, Be Gracious! Then on the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after than, and. . .hopefully you get the point. And the point is BE GRACIOUS!

The Word In Our Feet: In The Wilderness!

What we need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless. 

And here is the One Thing you need to remember this morning:  Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  So, for the next two Sundays we’re going to focus on Getting The Word In Our Feet.  It’s about learning to take action.  We are going to look at two stories: one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. 

This week it is from Numbers 13.  This is a time when the Hebrew children thought they were lost—feeling unsure and uncertain about the future.  They were wandering in the wilderness, looking for a better land which God had promised them.  But somehow, just like our world, they feel lost, unsure of the future.  I would encourage you this week to read chapters 13 and 14, but for now let’s look at a few verses:

Vs. 1-2“The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.”  

As you may know, this is the story of the 12 spies.

Vs. 17-20“Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land:  “Go north through the Negev into the hill country.  See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many.  See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad?  Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps?  Is the soil fertile or poor?  Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)  

The 12 spies go out and Moses tells them what to look for. They spend some time there, and then we find in vs. 25-28

After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran.  They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land.  This was their report to Moses:  “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey.  Here is the kind of fruit it produces.  But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!”

Now, that word doesn’t mean much to us, but to that crowd of Hebrews it struck terror in their hearts.   Now the people are not only uncertain, but now they’re terrified and angry!  “What in the world are we going to do?” 

Vs. 30-33—“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses.  “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said.  “We can certainly conquer it!”  But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed.  “We can’t go up against them!  They are stronger than we are!”  So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak.  Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”  

These 12 spies go out, spend 40 days checking everything out, trying to decide if this is where they would like to live—And Forgot What God Said—and they come back with a majority report and a minority report.  The vote is 10-2.

All 12 agree that the land is good, that it’s fruitful, and that it would be a great place to live.  All 12 agree that the cities are strong and well fortified and that the people who live there were like giants.  But 10 Of The Spies Drew A Conclusion That Wasn’t Theirs To Draw—they went beyond what God wanted them to do. 

They said, “We’re whipped!  We can’t do it! We can’t go forward!  They’ll do us in!”  But Joshua and Caleb presents the minority report and says: “Oh yes we can! Let’s go forward. We can occupy this land because God said so!”  So, how do you think the crowd voted?  

With the majority and Number 14 opens that way.  I won’t read on, I’ll just tell you what happens in case you forgot.  God gets disgusted with the whole crowd and decided that a people who have so little faith don’t deserve what He’s giving to them.  

So God says he’s going to let them have it—just give up on them and start with a different people.  Well, this upsets Moses, so he goes into his tent and prays all night, telling God that He is a gracious, loving and generous God.  He also has a little private prayer I call a Public Relations Prayer.  Moses says to God, “If you destroy this people and start all over, others will hear about it and they’re not going to think much of you.”  Then Moses prays for God to forgive them, and God does forgive them.

Then God does something very interesting.  He sets up the first generation gap in the Bible.  God declared, “Everyone over 20, except Joshua and Caleb, I condemn to wondering in this desert for 40 years, there to die.  Everyone under 20, along with Joshua and Caleb, may inherit this land after those 40 years.”  Let’s learn something about Getting The Word In Our Feet When We Are In The Wilderness:

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Minority Report!

The Minority Report can teach us some obvious lessons for the church today and for you here this morning.  

Lesson 1:  The People Of God Are Supposed To Live By Faith!  It doesn’t matter if they are in the wilderness or the Promised Land.  It doesn’t matter whether everything is going well and growing, or whether we find ourselves in adversity and hard times.  Whatever the environment may be that surrounds us, WE are to live by faith.

Lesson 2: The People Of God, Those Who Live By Faith, Somehow Manage To Win In The End, Even If It Takes A Miracle!  God’s people will always manage to win!  Why?  Because the Lord is with them!  No matter how tough the problem, if we will follow God’s directions and trust God’s plan and timing, we can’t help but win!

Lesson 3: We Can Expect To Find Some Disagreements, Even Among The People Of God.  It shouldn’t surprise us that there is a majority report and a minority report. This is quite often the way the people of God operate. We respond differently to the situations life brings us.  But I really like what is said in Chapter 14:24

“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored.  His descendants will possess their full share of that land.”  

What Marks The Difference In The People Of God Is Not What Life Brings And Puts In Their Hands, But What We Bring To Life In Our Spirit And Attitude.

You’ve seen it.  2 people go through similar tragedies, one comes through victorious, the other bitter and defeated.  People Of Faith are to bring into those difficult situations courage, commitment, joy, hope, confidence, trust and love. Indeed, this is a different spirit and that different spirit enables us to go forward against all odds.

2.  Next, Let’s Look At The Spirit Of The Majority Report.

The spirit of the people in the Majority Report is both simple and sad: “Oh, No!  We Can’t Make It!  It’s Better If We Go Back To Egypt!”  The way this type of attitude is expressed today is usually when someone says: “That’s not the way we did it back then!”  Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  

There are 2 ways to learn Great Lessons:  Experience And Observation.  Allow me to share nearly 46 years of Experience And Observation as a pastor:  Most local churches have a Back To Egypt Committee.  It may be a large committee or a committee of one.  They may be vocal, or they may sit silently waiting for the right moment to pounce.  

But whenever there is a proposal to go forward in ministry, forward in outreach, inevitably the Back To Egypt Committee stands up and says “Oh, no!  We can’t do that!”  

But you can look forward to the future with confidence and say with Joshua and Caleb, “Because The Lord Is With Us, We CAN Go Forward.” And I thank God, and thank Him often, for those of you who will rise up even as a minority report and say, “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”   

Our issues today are rather clear.  Let’s talk first about the Elephant In The Room, General Conference 2020.  Many wonder what’s going to happen.  Some wonder if anything will happen.  What will we look like after May 2020?  But there are more issues and they are just as important.

One issue is our resources, to use our resources to move forward toward God’s Promised Land.  What are our resources?  We have the Gospel and all its power, and that’s a lot.  We have our physical resources of money, talents, and building.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have each other.  Your faith, commitment, leadership, spiritual service and prayers are resources for this church and should be talked about more than our physical resources.

Another issue is strategy—making decisions on how we will use our resources.  Will we recognize their value or will we go out and bury them?  Once we recognize their value, how and where will we use them for God’s kingdom and His glory?  At this point, this is usually where we disagree.  Now, I believe it’s OK to disagree with each other at this point IF we agree that we are all God’s people and that if we trust God and follow Him, we can overcome any obstacle, and that our main purpose as a church is to make more disciples for Jesus!

For these Hebrews their Canaan, their land of promise, was physical land.  Our Canaan, our land of promise, is Spiritual.  Our Canaan is relating people to Jesus Christ.  What are we doing to bring people into that relationship?  

So what do we do?  Do we listen to the Back To Egypt Committee and give up?  Or do we listen to the Joshua and Caleb Committee and say, “God Is With Us, So Let’s Go Forward!”?  The real issue we are facing is not survival but Mission!  Think about this:  If we focus on survival, we won’t survive.  The Majority Report was about Survival.  The Minority Report was about Mission!  Which Report worked?

Is the Word in your feet?  Getting the word in your feet is a matter of deciding that the Lord is with us and because the Lord is with us, we can more forward, even in the face of giants, because God is the ultimate Giant Killer! 

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here is your Next Step:  Make Up Your Mind If You Want To Go Back To Egypt, Or Move Forward Into The Promised Land.

If you long for the good old days when it was simpler, then you are Heading Back To Egypt.  But, even if it scares the living daylights out you, if your desire is to see The Kingdom On Earth, then make up your mind with Joshua and Caleb:  “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”  Then the word is in your feet!

Does AT&T Know More About Faith Than The 21st Century Church?–Wednesday’s Wondering 5 February 2020

This Wednesday I’m wondering about. . . faith; more exactly, Where Is The Faith In God Today? Clarification is in order: By the word FAITH I am talking about unconditional and unlimited trust in God–in God’s ways, timing, and most of all, in His Word to us, The Bible.

While the Church is supposed to be the one who leads the way in understanding and living in and by Faith, it seems that this huge corporation called AT&T® has a better grasp on Faith. Maybe you’ve seen this commercial:

For many who wear the name “Christian”, they think Faith is a set of beliefs and creeds. That is the context in which they use and apply Faith. If you are one of them, how can I say this??? You missed the boat. The plane has already taken off. You’re playing solitaire with a deck of 49 cards. Too many won’t believe until they see it. But AT&T® understands the power of Faith.

“A lot of people say I’ll believe it when I see it. But I’ll tell you what. They got it backwards. Because there are certain things in life that you can only see when you first believe.” Whoever wrote this script must have read at some point in their life Hebrews 11:1–“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

In the midst of this political chaos, if you do not believe there is a way forward for us as a nation, then you don’t have Faith. If you think your vote, your voice, your life will never make a difference, then you don’t have Faith. And for my United Methodist friends, if you think the future of our Tribe is gone, then you don’t have Faith.

Too many are living each day with those sleep masks, blind and oblivious to what God is doing right smack dab in the middle of all this messiness. Without Faith you are doomed to your petty, minuscule world and you will end up looking like and acting like that nameless Speaker of the House did last night.

On the other hand, there are certain things you cannot see until you first believe. Faith empowers and emboldens people to see beyond the immediate to what can be when we cooperate with God. Think about those 10 lepers who approached Jesus. Man! Talk about messiness. And Jesus had the audacity to tell them, “Go show yourselves to the Priests and get your certificate of clean health so you can be reunited with your families and communities!”

Now get this–they were STILL lepers. The signs of leprosy was all over them. The “rule” was you had to be clear of leprosy, now make sure you get this part, BEFORE YOU GO TO THE PRIEST FOR YOUR CERTIFICATE OF HEALTH! But these lepers didn’t go by the “rule”; while they were still messy lepers they acted as if they were already healed. They couldn’t see themselves healed until they believed they were healed.

And how did that work out for them? Well, they got a clean bill of health from the Priest. They were reunited with families, friends and communities. And it was all because they knew that certain things couldn’t be seen until they believed. And if you believe this nation, your state, your family, your community, and your church is doomed–then it’s time for Faith. Not faith in yourselves, but FAITH in Jesus who said…

17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” 20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Luke 4:17-21

If you can’t see this happening in our time, take off that sleep mask and start living out your FAITH!

Saturday Stories–Ernie And Today Is Not That Day!

Welcome to another Saturday Story. Today’s story is from several years ago; it was such a powerful moment that I still remember it as if it occurred yesterday. Listen to it, and maybe Dad has something to say to you…

TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY

Ernie was a retired sheet metal worker. He and his wife Bettye had retired to Scottsboro. They never had children, so they “adopted” kids of all ages, including me. Both spent many hours serving Jesus at Randall’s Chapel (no, that church wasn’t named after me!). Ernie served Jesus in so many ways. Teaching, leading committees, the men’s group, serving in whatever way he was asked. Needless to say, this pastor fell in love with them.

Ernie was the epitome of an “active member”; but I and several others noticed Ernie didn’t have his usual level of stamina. Ernie noticed it too, so he went to his doctor to find out why. After several tests, Ernie was given the diagnosis of ALS (I refuse to call this evil disease by the name of one of baseball’s greatest players).

Word reached me of this diagnosis. As “pastor”, my job was to give him and Bettye words of encouragement and wisdom. This wasn’t my first encounter with someone dehumanized by ALS. I knew what Ernie’s future would look like. The day after his diagnosis I was going to “visit” with them and share those “words of encouragement and wisdom”. And as I sat in my office that morning, I struggled to find any such words. But it was my “job” to do it, and honestly, I felt like a failure because I simply couldn’t find the right “words”.

Just then (remember that “just then” or “it just so happened” are usually God prepared and ordained moments) I heard Ernie come in. He stuck his head in my office and asked, “Bro. Randy, do you have a few minutes, I need to talk about something.” Of course I had time, I always have time for a good friend; but this time my mind is in panic mode. I still didn’t have those words of “encouragement and wisdom”. In my heart I said, “OK, Holy Spirit, you’re going to have to do the talking because I don’t know what to say!”

And my, oh, my did my Friend, the Holy Spirit, do some talking. But it wasn’t me doing the talking–it was Ernie. “Randy, I know you heard about my diagnosis. And I need you to understand that one day I won’t be able to teach the Sunday School class. One day I won’t be able to be involved in the men’s group. One day I won’t be able to serve this church. One day I won’t be able to do all the things I love doing around here.” And what Ernie said next is still with me.

With a love and fire in his eyes he said, “But today is not that day! I’m going to continue to do all the things I’ve been doing. Whatever you or this church needs me for, I’m here! I know that day will come, it’s just that Today Is Not That Day!” The words of encouragement and wisdom wasn’t meant to be shared by me; that Holy Moment was given to Ernie.

And Ernie kept that Sacred Vow. He kept on working and moving forward with Jesus. And a little over a year later, that day finally came. Bettye asked me to do the funeral service. And the message I shared? It was the very same one Ernie shared with me that morning in my office. Ernie prepared his own eulogy and funeral message: Today is not THAT day to give up. God is with you every step of the way. And on that sad day, God’s Grace abounded.

Application Time

We all face difficult, even terrifying moments in life. The temptation, even the urge to give up can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve faced many such moments. And in those moments, I see Ernie, sitting across my desk. He’s smiling and saying to me, “Now Randy, you know Today Is Not THAT Day!

Whatever it is that you may face in life; whatever you ARE facing right now that is overwhelming you with the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness and you want to give up; remember my good friend Ernie’s words: Today Is Not THAT Day! Ernie lived with the confidence that whatever the future held, HE was held by God and was secure in that knowledge.

How To Be A Water-Walker: Use Leverage

Today we’re going to talk about Leverage.  But before we do, let’s look at our theme passage again from Matthew 14:25-32, but this time I want to share it with you from The Passion Translation:

25 At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the waves! 26 When the disciples saw him walking on top of the water, they were terrified and screamed, “A ghost!”  27 Then Jesus said, “Be brave and don’t be afraid. I am here!”

28 Peter shouted out, “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!”  29 “Come and join me,”  Jesus replied.  So Peter stepped out onto the water and began to walk toward Jesus. 30 But when he realized how high the waves were, he became frightened and started to sink.  “Save me, Lord!” he cried out.

31 Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and lifted him up and said, “What little faith you have!  Why would you let doubt win?”  32 And the very moment they both stepped into the boat, the raging wind ceased.

Before we dive into looking at the principle of Leverage, let’s back up and do a quick review from last week.  We talked about that process of discovering and uncovering your giftedness for the Mission of The Kingdom.  Here’s what the process looks like:

  • God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
  • God’s Gift Requires Gritty Determination To Use It.God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
  • Your Gift Will Far Exceed Your Abilities.
  • Surround Yourself With People Who Have Godly Wisdom.
  • Align Yourself With People Who Pray.
  • Start Using The Scientific Method of Trial And Error

OK, on to Leverage.  I know I just heard some of you thinking, “What does Leverage have to do with being a Water-Walker?”  Good for you thinking like this—I’m glad you asked because it’s the next step in overcoming fear and getting out on the water with Jesus.

Let’s start with a definition of Leverage.  This word is used in a lot of different contexts, but let’s go back to the scientific principle of Leverage and move from here:  “Leverage changes the amount of force needed to move an object.  It reduces the strength required to move a much heavier object.”  This principle is applied in finance, business and politics.  But there is a spiritual application to the concept of leverage that needs to be explored.

Like most things in The Kingdom Of God, spiritual applications and principles work in Backwards Logic.  Here’s a few: 

  • In Order To Live, You Must Die;
  • In Order To Find, You Must Lose;
  • In Order To Receive, You Must Give;
  • In Order To Rise Above The Crowd, You Must Serve The Crowd.

Now let’s apply the Backwards Logic of The Kingdom to Leverage.  Spiritual Leverage Reduces The Influence Of The Stronger Object.  Think about moving a rock that weighs 3 times more than you.  You take a lever, find the right pivot point and even though you weigh 3 times less, you can move that rock.  Your weight and the weight of the rock remains the same.

In Spiritual Leverage, the weaker you become, the weaker the object becomes, until you are stronger.  What I’m trying to say is that whatever is in the way of you stepping out of the boat to become a Water-Walker, becomes weaker as you become weaker.  Insane!  Am I right?  Does this really make Logical Sense to us?

And this leads me to The One Thing You Need To Remember From This Message, And It’s Not My Idea, But the Apostle Paul’s:  God’s Power Works Best In Our Weaknesses. 

In case you forgot, Paul had been pleading with God to take away some unknown “thorn in the flesh”.  It didn’t happen—instead God revealed something more powerful that Paul needed—and so do we.  2 Corinthians 12:9— “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  This was God’s answer—3 times.

Most people love the hear stories about the powerful God we serve.  But herein lies the problem:  That information alone is not enough to create courageous human beings.  I can receive tons of information designed to assure me that God’s power is sufficient.  But the information alone does not transform my human heart. 

In order for such a transformation to take place, we need to learn how to apply Leverage—using one force to move what seems to be an immovable object.  If you want to know if you are living outside the boat, then ask yourself this question, and ask it often:  What am I doing now that I could not do apart from the power of God?  It’s clear, the only way Peter could stay afloat was if God took over.   

When we risk using our Spiritual Giftedness, we can know the joy of being used by God.  But we have to trust before we act.  We see this over and over again in scripture.  Moses had to trust that God would part the Red Sea.  Gideon had to reduce his army from 32,000 to 300 before God would bring the victory.  Naaman had to wash 7 times in the water before he was cured of leprosy.  The loaves and fish had to be relinquished before they were multiplied.  The seed has to be planted in the soil and die before the harvest can happen.

Most of us have an area that might be called our “Spiritual Comfort Zone,” which is the area we feel most comfortable trusting God.  When God calls us to go beyond our spiritual comfort zone, we begin to feel nervous or uncomfortable.  We would prefer not to go outside that zone until we feel better about it.   

You have to follow the Path of God, which requires us to admit our weaknesses and inabilities.  Pay close attention to Peter’s Statement:  “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!”  It’s those 5 words:  “have me join you”—it’s the words of weakness and inability.  Most folks don’t have the problem of being too weak—though that is what they say.

The problem is many are often Too Strong.  What God told Paul is the same thing He wants us to hear:  “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  Where do we need to Leverage our weaknesses so that God’s Power works the best?  There are a lot of points and places, but think about these as a start in your life.

1.  Leverage Our Points Of Our Fear!

Step out of the boat at the point of your fears.  Why?  Because He wants us to overcome them through His Power, and not be intimidated and defeated by them. 

For example, one of the most exciting adventures in life is helping another person find God.  What keeps us from getting out of the boat evangelistically?  Fear!  But on the other hand, look at the upside potential.  We might actually be part of God’s redemptive purpose on earth.  But if I wait until I feel like I’ll be 100% effective, I will never step out of the boat to help someone surrender to Jesus. 

What, exactly are you afraid of, spiritually?  Bring those fears to God and God will provide His Power.  But, if you never admit your weakness of fear, you will never know His Power.  Secondly,

2.  Leverage Our Points Of Frustration!

Sometimes people in Scripture get motivated to trust God in remarkable ways when they become frustrated with the brokenness of a fallen world.  We see it in David when he couldn’t stand any longer the insults of Goliath.  We see it in Elijah when he could stand the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel. 

In the world today, it is at the point where we are frustrated by the mess our culture is in and that sense of what God desires.  To fix that gap between what is and what God desires should motivate us to action for a cause that is greater than ourselves.  It may be your frustration with political systems that abuse people.  It may be your sense of frustration that there are so many homeless people.  It may be your frustration with the loneliness the elderly often feel when placed in a skilled nursing facility.  Whatever it is that makes you feel frustrated, take your weaknesses to bring about change and allow Him to fill you with His Power.  Thirdly,

3.  Leverage Our Points Of Compassion!

Being A Water-Walker Means We Move Towards What Breaks Our Heart.  Compassion is expressed in our actions.  Jesus certainly modeled this for us.  Scripture says that many times when Jesus looked at the crowds, seeing their deepest needs, He was filled with compassion. 

When was the last time you took a serious compassion risk?  Jesus did it all the time.  He touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, associated with prostitutes; all these were a part of His calling—they were why He came!  For you it is working with Christian Center of Concern, Delivering meals on the Third Saturday, or coming up with an idea that Shows Compassion To Those Who Need It, Not Those We Think Deserve It.  Finally,

4.  Leverage Our Points Of Prayer!

Real-life stories of Water-Walkers are always stories about prayer.  There is something about getting out of the boat that turns people into Intense Pray-Ers.  They live each moment of each day with the conviction that they cannot accomplish things without God’s help.

Paul prayed—3 times—about his thorn in the flesh.  And all 3 times, God’s answer was the same—“My strength works through your weaknesses.”  Peter’s Prayer Request Was To Join Jesus On The Water.  So tell me this:  What’s Your Prayer Request For Yourself?  Is it about yourself?  Is it complaining about the shape of our culture?  Is it wanting Jesus to come back now to get you out of this miserable culture? 

Water-Walking is not about the great thing you will do.  It is about the great thing God longs to do with you through his powerful grace in you.  But first you have to Leverage Your Weaknesses!  It’s more than getting your feet wet.  Those in the boat had wet feet—Peter had wet feet—the difference was Peter Leveraged His Weakness By Bringing It To Jesus AS He Walked On Water.

Well, I’m down to your Next Step.  For some of you, this Next Step may well be the most painful moment of your life.  It’s a moment you’ve been putting off—or you’ve been living in denial. 

Tell God Your Weakness. 

  1. It could be pride that is keeping you from getting out of the boat and into a relationship with Jesus.  You’ve been playing the church game, and you don’t want anyone else to know.
  2. It may be fear that is holding you in the boat—fear of failure—or just maybe your fear is the fear of Truth—that if the truth of your life becomes public knowledge, you’re afraid that those closest to you will be ashamed of you and turn away from you.
  3. It may be shame that’s keeping you in the boat.  It may be a private shame of something you once did—or a public shame that everyone knows about.  It may be a lifetime of shame—of doing the wrong thing—making the wrong choices.
  4. It may be doubt that keeps you off of the water.  You don’t want to admit it, but you seriously doubt you could ever be a Water-Walker because, well because Jesus couldn’t help you be that Water-Walker you’ve been hearing about.
  5. Or it may be the worst weakness of all—You Have No Weaknesses.  Arrogance is your weakness and you don’t even know it.

Here is what I’m asking you to do this morning.  Leverage Your Weakness.  If one of these, or any of an infinite number of weaknesses is yours—take that weakness to the right place. 

Bring it to The Father—tell Him all about it.  Then listen…listen to what HE says about your weaknesses—“My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”

I’ve asked you not to focus on Peter’s sinking—but think about it now.  When Peter started sinking what did he do?  He Leveraged His Weakness By Crying Out To Jesus.  And Immediately—Immediately Jesus Saved Him!  Leverage Your Weakness By Bringing It To God, And The Grace Of God Becomes Stronger Than That Thing That Is Keeping YOU In The Boat

Will You Be A Doubting Thomas?

John 20:24-29 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their word about the Resurrection is not enough for Thomas. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blessing Is In Coming Face To Face With Jesus. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

Step Out In Faith!

Part 3 in the Series Building A New You

The term, “Playing It Safe” is about avoiding the risks, even if the risks might lead to a greater result.  We do so for 1 of 2 reasons.  One is that we choose a more cautious approach because we are afraid of the other resultfailure.  The other reason is because some simply are not willing to pay the price of complete surrender—i.e. selfishness.  So, we settle for something less, much less.  There is a fine line that exists between being courageous and being foolish. 

Our problem is we call it “risky” when we make our resources primary and God’s resources secondary.  Usually, but not always, when we face the choice between what is risky and what is safe, we will give in toward playing it safe. 

And many people, especially when it comes to church, prefer playing it safe over taking risks.  Why?  Because isn’t that what it means to be a Christian?  Doesn’t God want us to be safe from harm and evil?  Absolutely He wants to keep us safe from evil. 

But I am concerned that we’ve taken being safe too far, especially when it comes to following Jesus.  Following Jesus isn’t about playing it safe; It’s About Taking The Risks!  In the desire to play it safe we have mistakenly thought that God wants us to be comfortable.  But What God Wants From Us Is Faith.

In the Blueprint For A New You we started at the beginning with changing from thinking in an entirely human perspective to thinking with the mind of Christ.  Last week we uncovered the next step:  that we need perspective to go along with this new way of thinking.  We need Jesus to open our eyes in order for us to follow Him into the work of The Kingdom.  Now comes action—specifically taking action that comes out of our faith.

If you can remember only 1 thing this morning, then remember this:  Life With Jesus Is About Stepping Out In Faith And Giving Him Complete Control Of Our Life Regardless Of How We Feel

Playing it safe is looking at our abilities and resources then making our decisions.  But where is the faith in that?  Faith leads to more.    Faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross is required for us to be saved.  There is more to faith.

Faith isn’t a trophy we put on a shelf and say to our friends, “See that faith?  Yep, that’s when God saved me from my sins and gave me a new life.  I keep it there to remind me how gracious, loving and good God was to me.  Yep, I dust it off every week.” 

But faith does so much more.  Faith isn’t just for our salvation.  It is for our daily walk with Jesus, and this daily walk requires that our faith grow and expands.  The Life Of Faith Isn’t About Feeling Safe But Being Confident In Whatever It Is That God Wants Us To Do. 

In this Blueprint For A New You, there comes that moment when we must Step Out In Faith!  Never has this been more important than at this very moment.  This place, and this movement of Wesleyan Awakening hinges on answering this question:  Will You Play It Safe Or Take The Risk Of Stepping Out In Faith?  Or will you retreat to some moment in history when it was safer and easier to follow Jesus?  To help us understand what it means to Step Out In Faith, turn to Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLT):

But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you.  O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you

Did you hear those words:  deep waters, rivers of difficulty, fire of oppression?  Pardon me, but does that sound safe?  Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound safe.  And did you notice what God said about those times? 

He didn’t say “If” you face those moments, but “When” you are in those places.  When the waters run deep, When rivers are turbulent, When the fire rages—we step out into those risky places because we are not alone in those moments. 

But we do tend to forget that He is with us.  So, we choose to avoid risks at all costs.  And the price we pay is too high!  To Step Out In Faith means we know that in the risky moments, God is with us.  He said He created us, and He created us FOR those moments

The Hebrew word for “created” doesn’t mean just the story found in Genesis.  It means To Create With New Conditions And New Circumstances.  The New Condition is that God has made us a totally different person.  The New Circumstance is that He now lives IN us. 

Our New Condition is that we are now Formed By His Hand To Join In His Purpose Of Restoring Others and this New Circumstance is that The Holy Spirit Lives In Us For That Purpose. Now more than ever, we need to remember God’s promise through Isaiah.  When the challenge is great and the risks are high, remember His promise.

1.  When You Go Through Deep Waters, Think About Moses (Exo. 14)

God called Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt.  Remember in Egypt that Moses’ first attempt at being a leader failed.  In Egypt, Moses is a man wanted for murder.  When God calls him to go back, he offers all kinds of excuses, but God doesn’t let go.  He has created and formed Moses for such a time as that.  So, Moses takes the risk.  He had no idea what would happen, only that God was with him.

After some plagues, Pharaoh agrees to let them go, but changes his mind and sends the army to go bring them back.  God has led them to the Red Sea.  Behind them is the army to take them back to bondage.  In front of them is the Red Sea and not a bridge or boat in sight.  Moses is about ready to panic, but God reminds Moses of His presence.  They go “through” the deep waters of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army tries but doesn’t make it. 

If you remember the story, it tells us a wind divided the water so they could cross over on dry land.  That “Wind” Was The Holy Spirit—The Same Holy Spirit That Comes To Live In Us With The Presence Of Jesus

There are many deep waters we face—and the greatest risk we face is being the Body of Christ in this world.  When you face your deep waters, remember that God has given you the wind and breath of the Holy Spirit.  He Has Created And Formed YOU For Such A Time As This.

2.  When You Go Through Rivers Of Difficulty, Think About Peter (Matt. 14)

Jesus had sent the disciples on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but He stayed behind because He needed His “safe place” to get away for a time.  During that night journey, an enormous storm came up.  It looked like they would sink and drown. 

But through the storm someone said, “Look, someone is walking on the water.  It’s a ghost!”  But Jesus said, “Oh pipe down, guys, it’s ME!”  Peter wants to be sure that it’s really Jesus, so he said, “Well, if it’s really you, invite me to join you out there.”  And what does Jesus do?  He invites Peter to take a walk, not on a calm sea, but a stormy one.  Do you remember what Peter does? 

(And don’t say “He sinks”!)  He steps out of that boat, and really walks on that stormy sea.  The preacher, teacher and writer, John Ortburg, is right.  To follow Jesus, we have to get out of the boat, because Jesus isn’t in the boat.  Jesus invites us to join Him in an adventure. 

Jesus Calls Us To Go Into Those Places Where It Is All About Him.  He doesn’t call us to a set of rules or traditions; He doesn’t call us to the safety of a bank account, home, family, career, or some other thing.  He calls us to be in relationship with Him and working with Him in what He is doing.  When the river is turbulent, take the risk of joining Jesus in what He is doing.

3.  When You Walk Through The Fire, Think About Shadrach, Meshach, And Abednego (Dan. 3)

The Israelites had been carried into exile.  Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were blessed by God with wisdom.  King Nebuchadnezzar recognized their talents and appointed them to leadership positions.  Some of the local guys were jealous, so they convinced the king to construct this enormous statue with the order that when the theme song was played, everyone was to bow before that idol. 

But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused and were hauled in before the king.  He gave them one last chance to worship an idol or be thrown into a fiery furnace.  And in that defining moment of decision—play it safe—or—take the risk—they said:

“Look, King, no disrespect intended.  We worship only one God, and that statue isn’t Him.  And about that furnace, our God has the power to protect us even there.  (Here’s the great part.)  But even if He doesn’t deliver us, if He whispered in our ears ‘Guys, this is gonna hurt’, we will not bow down to this or any other image.  So, go ahead and throw us in.”

Well the King got mad and put that furnace on super high, and had them bound and thrown in.  And once in there, an unbelievable thing happened.  The only things that burned were their captors and the ropes.  Once inside they didn’t see 3 being burned up, but 4 freely walking about—IN that fire.  God did not send some kind of force field to keep the flames away.  He showed up in that furnace and said, “Mind if I join you?” 

Whatever the risk is for faithfully following Jesus, count on Jesus being right there with you.  Those times when the heat is on for you to show Jesus to our world, count on Jesus to see you through it.  The risks He calls us to take, will at times look like it will destroy us.  Outside the furnace, no one else saw God but Shadrach, Meshach and AbednegoBut Inside That Furnace, Everyone Could See God.  Not outside the furnace, but inside the furnace is where others could see God.

Life with Jesus isn’t about playing it safe, where we can control everything.  Life With Jesus Is About Stepping Out In Faith And Giving Him Complete Control Of Our Life Regardless Of How We Feel.  Stepping out in faith means that we really, I mean REALLY trust in Jesus.  If we can see it with our physical eyes, touch it with our hands, and understand it with our natural minds, then it’s nowhere near faith. 

Faith is about giving up control—control of trying to save yourself, to be good enough by yourself—to be smart enough by yourself, to be strong enough by yourself—in order to totally trust God with everything, I mean every detail and every part of your life. 

Trust Him—when the waters are deep—when the rivers are difficult—and when the furnace is hot!

Next Steps (Homework)

We’re talking about Faith.  Remember what it says in Hebrews 11:1 about Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Young’s Literal Translation puts it this way: “And faith is of things hoped for—a confidence; of matters not seen—a conviction.”  With this as the definition of Faith, answer these questions this week and consider it your homework:

  1. Where are you showing Faith in your life?  Remember that faith isn’t when you know the outcome, but when you have confidence that God is there with you.
  2. What are you NOT willing to do either because of your fears, or you are unwilling to pay the price?  The fear of failure and selfishness prevents us from experiencing the power of Faith.
  3. Is there some change that might happen in this church that makes you nervous or uneasy or that you simply do not want to see happen?  Church, as we have all known it, is changing.  It will never be the same, But It Will Be Better.  God is prepared for this moment.  But to see it, you have to make a commitment to it—and that’s where faith comes in. 

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 7 The Final Answer

Slide1

Well, here we are at the end of this semester.  I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans.  I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question:  How Do You Get Into Heaven?  Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans.  So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven?  Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some.  If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart:  How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God?  With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:

Slide25

We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan:  To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now!  And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens:  Be Born Again

Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian?  This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy.  It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”.  If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again.  If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian.  You don’t have to say it both ways.  Here’s a diamond of Truth:  You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again.  Not now—not ever!  But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!

Slide26.JPGThis was the source of confusion for Nicodemus.  Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means?  Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought.  And this is the one thing you need to remember today:  You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again!  We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people.  Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.

None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again.  So, how are we born again?  It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.

 1. We Die! Die to all that you have been.  If it’s your goodness, then die.  If it’s your sense of failures, die.  If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die.  If it’s your fears, die.  Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God.  Philippians 3:8-9—

8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God.  This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.

2.  Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God.  Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives.  But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.

Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.

This is what repentance means and looks like.  We turn away from that old life and into the new Life.  We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do.  You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward.  What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.

3.  Be Born By The Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life.  It’s the only power for people who are Born Again.  People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.

2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)— They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power.  Stay away from people like these!

This is what walking by faith means.  This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God.  You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit.  This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you.  It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam.  Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3

How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again.  The Final Exam has only 2 questions:

1.  Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away?  Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?

2.  Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost?  It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.

Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world.  At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher:  PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

And remember…love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!

Slide28

GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix.  We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.

I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX!  What’s in this box will fix anything and everything.  If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed.  And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX?  For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out.  But there’s more.  I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92.  But wait, there’s more.  For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one.  Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95.  Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords.  Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!

Sometimes quick fixes work.  It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville.  A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival.  It was Friday, the last day.  I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line.  I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them.  Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering.  The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out.  I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit.  They didn’t.  But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.

I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying.  Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer.  Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.

I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus.  And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it:  Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.

The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable.  Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry?  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not.  While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.

In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation.  The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional:  use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual:  Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness.  Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.

Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God.  Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption.  The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place.  Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.

And as Paul says, this is great joy for us!  I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan.  I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK?  But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart.  But…but what about all those moments afterwards?

What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy.  Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either.  Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless.  Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact.  Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.

When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix.  The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible.  But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.

So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us?  Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place.  Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you.  Here’s step 1:

Endurance Development

Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance.  Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass.  Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane.  Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise.  As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly.  Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs.  Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine.  He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue.  10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down.  His head was only 12 inches from the runway.  Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries.  Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder.  That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up.  Here are some guides to help develop endurance.

  • Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise.  Think about a pearl.  Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand.  The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
  • Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change.  Think of it like this story.  A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer.  One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.”  He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.”  He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.”  Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn.  Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
  • Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.”  Abiding is living in your connection to God.  You’re not alone in those difficult moments.  Learn to lean and rest on The Father.  He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
  • Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God!  No matter how much pressure is on you.  The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.

Step 2:

Character Development

Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character

God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort.  He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness.  He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions.  God is getting you ready for your inheritance.  Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on.  And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen!  There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:

  • Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action.  1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
  • Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity.  Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”   Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
  • Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom.  Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
  • Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind.  You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
  • Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.

Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits.  Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5.  This is the Character God wants from His people.  Step 3:

Expectation Development

Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Expand Your Expectations!  The word expand means to enlarge or spread out.  The word expectation means eager anticipation.  When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.

The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments.  Expand your expectations of yourself.  Expand your expectations of this church.  Expand your expectations of who God can use.  Expand your expectations of the ways God will move.  Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think.  Step 4.

Love Development

Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you.  1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”  It’s not God loving the good and lovable people.  It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me!  The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us.  You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good.  Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.

The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.

Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living.  Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.

The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him.  And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.

Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven!

2 Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven

(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)

Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:  Disclaimer

OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus.  Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth.  He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth.  He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally.  But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration.  And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole.  2 Steps:

  1. Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself.  If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole

If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole.  But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority.  Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings.  It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this:  Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven.  This is what Jesus is really saying here.  Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven.  These are good, moral and honest people.  This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars.  These are the people who talk a good game.  Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas.  So, is Jesus serious here?  OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:

  1. Is It Possible?
    1. One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was.  And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
    2. The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
    3. Think about this:  Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord?    It happens every day.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
    1. Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
    2. And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.

Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow.  If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.

But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something?  I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others.  It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars.  For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage.  We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.

Then why isn’t this enough?  I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong.  We helped our neighbor a few times.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough.  If we do more good things than bad things—hey!  We should be able to get in.  Makes human sense, doesn’t it.  After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good.   It works in accounting, but not at judgment.  Why doesn’t it work at judgment?

Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.

The Kingdom is God’s realm.  And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness.  Now how righteous are we to be?  Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  How righteous were they?  Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own.  They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion.  They were obsessed with religious function.  As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.

They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting.  They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law.  It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.

God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish.  Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus.  So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?

1) The Problem Of Sin

Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside.  John Wesley called it “Original Sin”.  We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature.  It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark.  We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness.  We miss the mark when it comes to judging others.  We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy.  We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done.  Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.

Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God.  In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  The Law of God is one single Law.  Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws.  When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience.  All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.

2) The Issue Of Holiness

1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness.  We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin!  When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.

We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image.  God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God.  Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain.  Being good is different from being Holy.  Being good is acting nice to others for the most part.  Being good is acting joyful for the most part.  Being good is acting grateful for the most part.  Being good is going to church on most Sundays.  Being good is reading your Bible for the most part.  Being good is helping someone from time to time.  Being good is paying the bills on time.  Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are.  Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.

The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.

Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.

No exceptions and no exclusions.  Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner.  Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone.  And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.

3) The Need For Righteousness

Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God.  But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God.  And we never will by our best efforts.  So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner.  In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God.  Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.

Righteousness is received in two acts.  The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.

  Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.

Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross.  It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness.  By Grace—Through Faith

But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning.  Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness.  Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right.  It’s the reason for:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God.  It happens when we get involved with what God is doing.  It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.

  1. The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
  2. The Great Love For God—with all your life
  3. The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
  4. The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus

Getting into heaven isn’t about being good.  It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good.  So, how do you get into heaven?  It’s by obeying.  Listen again to verse 21:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?

  1. Confess And Repent:  Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins.  Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner.  Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
  2. Trust And Believe:  Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
  3. Surrender And Follow:  Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
  4. Learn And Do:  Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching.  Then do the things you have learned.  In other words, obey Jesus.

Next Step

Are You Settling Or Moving Forward?

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(We have all heard about the “faith of Abraham”, right?  Read Hebrews 11:8-10 in case you need a refresher course.  What follows next is an excerpt from today’s message.  I realize that it’s a bit different, but I’m OK with that.  Looking forward to your comments.  Happy New Year!)

I need to make a confession to all of you this morning.  As many times as I have read and studied, taught and preached from the story of Abraham, there’s a part of his story that I have missed.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave Haran and head out to the Land of God’s Promise.  The part I have been missing is from Genesis 11, verses 31-32.  It is connected to the Story of God’s Promise to Redeem and Restore His fallen Image Bearers.  It is a connection I never made until this past Tuesday. And don’t blame it on the flu.  Here are the verses:

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.

I have no idea why the editors of the first official Bible put those 2 verses in chapter 11.  These 2 verses go with the story in Chapter 12—the Promise of God to redeem and restore the fallen Image Bearers.  God gave The Vision to Terah and Terah set out following that Vision.

There’s a tragedy in the life of Terah that’s so very clear when our eyes, mind and heart are open to it.  “He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”  Terah was heading into God’s future, to The Promised Land but Terah stopped at Haran and settled there.  I don’t know why—maybe it was simply easier to settle in Haran rather than to keep on that journey.  Maybe he changed his mind and decided it was too risky.  Or maybe Terah simply wanted to be comfortable.

What have you settled for instead of God’s Promise?  As tragic as it was for Terah to settle for Haran instead of The Promise, the worst tragedy for Terah is Verse 32:  “Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.”  If Terah had died while headed towards The Promise, there would be no tragedy.  The tragedy was he died while still in Haran, the place he substituted for The Promise.

The Bible tells us that Terah lived for 205 years—more than enough time to settle in The Promised Land.  If Terah had not settled for Haran, then we would have read this morning about the Faith of Terah instead of the Faith of Abraham.  Terah settled in Haran and died there instead of moving into God’s Promised Land.  Let this thought sink in:  He Died Where He Settled.  Terah settled for some second best.

But God doesn’t give up on His Promise to Redeem And Restore His Image Bearers.  When Terah settled on Haran, God chose another for the Promise—Abraham.  The Vision was now given to someone else.  And I believe God still works this way.  If we refuse to follow God’s Vision by settling down at our Haran, then God is going to take the vision away from those have settled for some Haran, to those who are willing to trust God, who will live out the Going Without Knowing Faith in God.

The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us.  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting.  The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith.

When I read this passage from Hebrews, there are 3 questions that challenge me, and should challenge you:

 1. “Will I Give Up Everything To Follow Jesus?”

Slide21Everything means, well, everything—nothing held back, all in. But when we say, “I trust you God, but I’m not doing that; I trust you God but I’m not giving up this; I trust you God but I’m not going there; I trust you God but I’m not changing what’s important to me”, it’s no longer a trust relationship and it’s not faith.  It becomes a negotiation; and God is not a negotiator.  You cannot know the depths of this relationship until you stop negotiating with God and begin trusting Him.  And beside this, you do not want to negotiate with God.  You will lose every time!

2. “Will I Give Up What Makes Me Feel Comfortable And Secure?”

Slide22All of us have things that make us feel comfortable.  That’s why it’s called “Comfort Zones”.  There is little risk and no challenges, in our Comfort Zones—and neither is Jesus.  What things are in your Comfort Zones?  Better yet, when it comes to the direction God is calling us into, what makes you uncomfortable?  Jesus does provide us Comfort—but it’s never meant to make us Comfortable.

 

 

Think for a moment about Jesus in the Upper Room on that night when He would be arrested. Jesus was calm—He held it all together—but I think He was in great discomfort.  Did Jesus find Comfort?  Absolutely, He’s deeply connected to The Father.  Was Jesus uncomfortable with the task in front of Him?  Absolutely!  Look at what happens after they leave that Upper Room and that Olive Press became His altar.  All those “uncomfortable feelings” poured out of Him.  Do you think He was “comfortable” facing the Cross?  Was the cross “comfortable” as He hung on it?

What I am trying to say is this: It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, even uneasy, when following Jesus because Faith is never found in our Comfort Zones.  If we wait until it feels safe or we feel like we can succeed, then it’s NOT faith NOT trust, NOT love.  It’s just another one of our projects.  Jesus isn’t interested in our projects—only our absolute surrender.

3. “Will I Choose Today To Go Deeper With Jesus?”

Slide23Trust is like a swimming pool.  I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m the only one who could come up with that analogy.  If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense—and it’s the truth.  Most swimming pools have 2 ends—shallow and deep:

First, there’s the shallow end. It’s the end where our feet touch that solid bottom and our head is above the water.  It takes no effort on our part to keep our heads above the water.  Unfortunately, this is where many seem to want to live their faith—where it takes no effort to keep their heads above the water.  It’s safe on the shallow end, but here’s the truth:  Jesus is not found on the shallow end.

Then there’s the deep end. The deep end is where trouble may happen.  It takes an effort to keep our heads above the water.  It’s not always safe on the deep end.  Things may happen, and we go under.  But here’s the other Truth:  Jesus is always found on the deep end.  And Jesus isn’t interested in helping us just keep our heads above the water.  He wants us to walk on top of that water—like that night when Jesus called Peter out of the boat.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I could walk on the water at the shallow Slide24end of the pool, too.” You could, but you won’t—because you know your feet will touch bottom and your head will stay above the water.  God called Abraham to the deep end, where he would drown unless he held on tightly to God.  Faith is Trust, and Trust only happens in the deep end.

 

Which end of the pool will you live in starting today?

 

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.

A Yo-Yo Without String Living

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Pray tell, what good is a yo-yo without string?  I mean, really?  What’s its purpose?  Maybe it will make for a good late, late night infomercial?  “That’s right folks, a stringless yo-yo.  It’s available in 4 stunning colors and for a limited time you can get it for only 4 easy payments of $16.43, plus a reasonable processing fee.  But that’s not all, call in the next 17 minutes 14 seconds, we will send you another one in the color of our choice absolutely free, you only pay a separate processing fee.  And for just a very limited time, because you know we can’t do this forever, we will reduce it by 1 payment.  That’s right, only 3, you heard correctly, 3 payments instead of 4.  Call 888-2ABSURD, operators are standing by.  Batteries are not included.”

Can anyone out there in Blogland tell me what good is a yo-yo without string?  The only thing I can think of is maybe a paper weight or something to throw at somebody who is really annoying you.  (If you think of any other purpose, please share in the comments section below.)  Right now I hear some of you readers thinking, “Where is he going with this?”  (Be forewarned, I do have ESPN).  As ridiculous as it is to think of a stringless yo-yo, there is something happening in our culture that is even more than ridiculous, it is disheartening.

Many people have chosen to build their life upon how they feel.  They have chosen a purpose based on feelings, but wait, there’s more.  They have chosen to identify themselves based on how they feel.  A friend was sharing with me that his daughter who was, if I remember correctly, either a kindergarten or first grade teacher who had a parent that came to her at the first of the school year with important information about her child.  She told this teacher that one day “he” may come to school as a “she” or may come as a “he”.  It just depended on how he was feeling that morning.  Not based on biology and plumbing, just on those feelings of the day.

And living this “stringless yo-yo” life is not only being promoted in the arena of human sexuality, it is being lived out in so many, too many human lives.  Someone calls you worthless, a failure.  That feeling creeps, even comes like a tsunami over you and you live each day believing you are just that and nothing more.  You see others have success and lots of “stuff” and you “feel” like you are entitled to it.  Feelings!

Let’s say you have a medical condition and you need a specialist.  You don’t know one so you find one and make an appointment.  You’re first question should be, “Where did you go to school and what special training have you had?”  What if their answer was, “Oh, I only graduated high school.  But today I feel like a neurologist.  Oh wait, now I feel like a proctologist.  Where are those gloves?”  What would be your response?  I’m sure it would be to exit that room like the Roadrunner in those old cartoons.

1So why do people make the choice to live their lives based on feelings, either those feelings that have come from deep within or those feelings created by someone’s opinion of them?  Living by feelings is like a yo-yo with a string.  Up and down, up and down, over here, over there.  It’s a roller coaster ride that never ends.  And when you accept those “feelings” as your identity or even your purpose in life, the string is removed.  You are that stringless yo-yo.  But that is not the life you were created and designed for.  Your life is much more than a feeling.  The song is right, it’s “feelings, nothing more than feelings.”

There is a beauty, strength and design that exceeds those feelings.    Solomon shared in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  God has a unique design for you that reflects His image.  Go back to the very beginning of the Bible and we can clearly see it.  Relationship–Perfect Relationship.  Perfect Relationship with Him, self and others.  This life is never based on a feeling, but on The Truth, Truth as God defines it.

And if you are living by and through your feelings, I want to take this moment to encourage you to take the time to really know God–His heart and purpose for your life.  It’s found in the Bible.  Take the time to read it for yourself, without add the interpretations and opinions of others, even mine.  Ask the Holy Spirit to join you in this journey to help you understand the big picture, not isolated bits and pieces that will be used to confirm those feelings.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading, and trust–trust in the God who loves you right where you are.  And loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to stay where you are, but to become all the HE sees in you.  Even if others don’t see it in you, and especially if you can’t see it in you.

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And don’t forget that God’s love is not a feeling, but His whole heart, a heart for you.

Are Your Words Creating An Environmental Mess?

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions for the word Environment is:

the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded

Today is a unique day in our current world:  the Constitutional transition of power.  We are in a minority of this world in that we have a system that allows the peaceful transition of power from one person to another.  There are citizens in scores of nations what would love to have this moment we have today.  Instead, they face violent revolutions and military coups, followed by unrest and imprisonment of dissenters.  One petty despot replaces another without the citizens having a say-so in the process.  But thanks to our Founding Fathers and framers of the U.S. Constitution, we have a Representative Republic.  I know some use the word “democracy”.  Actually, we do not have a true democracy for which I am most thankful.  In a true democracy, the majority rules.  Take a vote and whatever the majority wants, they get.  There’s a word for this type of process:  CHAOS!  Why am I writing such words?

I am moved to write this morning for which we should be thankful is being marred because of all of the unrest being created by WORDS!  I want to speak openly and honestly to only a select group of people (though most will never read them, still it helps me to vent).  I want to talk to those who “say” they love Jesus.  You know who you are.  The ones that post on Facebook, “Type Amen if you love Jesus.”  “If you’re not ashamed of Jesus share on your page.”  “Don’t share but copy and paste if you agree God should be let back into schools.” (As if God was not already there.  If your god is being kept outside schools because of some man-made rules, you’re god is way too small!  You do know Jesus conquered death, don’t you?  And you think a rule is going to keep Him out?  Geez!)

It’s not these comments of yours that I am taking issue with (though I do), I’m talking to those who say they love Jesus but their words about today’s transition of power are filled with hate, anger or gloating.  With all of the recent protests and the planned protests some are wondering why such things are happening.  I know why they are happening.  Remembering Merriam-Webster’s definition, an environment is being created that incites such actions, even by children.  Have you seen this video?  A child says, “Screw the president”?  It’s the environment!

75933b82f55e92db4972ebf70ec4c650The environment is more than weather and living things.  Environment is what surrounds us.  When your words are filled with hate, anger, or even gloating, YOU are partially responsible for warping that child’s mind.  This environment is the exact one our Enemy (that’s Satan for you who did not know our true Enemy) is wanting.  In fact, he thrives and grows stronger when words are filled with anger, hate or gloating.  I do not release the protesters from their responsibility because they, too, have a choice to be influenced by this sinister environment or work to change it.  Words are the direct product of what or who controls our mind.  In your heart you may say “I love Jesus”, but your mind doesn’t and shows that it does not reflect your words that allegedly are coming from your heart.

The mind is must be changed if the words of our heart ring true.  Too many Churchians and promoters of Churchianity (another word I’ve borrowed) think it’s all about the heart.  Well, there’s more to loving Jesus than just with our hearts.  Fact is, Paul had much to say about the mind.  Here are some examples:

Romans 7:23 (NIV) I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
Romans 8:6 (NIV) The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 12:2 (NIV) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ephesians 4:22-23 (NIV)  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Colossians 3:2 (NIV)  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Pay careful attention to that last one from Philippians 4:8.  See, I’m not crazy!  Our words, that come from our mind that is being influenced by our real heart, creates an environment.  You hate-mongers, fearful minions and boastful parasites are creating this environment we are seeing on the very day we should be celebrating this Representative Republic, and when we should be modeling the way of Jesus.

To those who say “I love Jesus” but continue to say words of anger, hate. boasting or he’s not my president, take your whiny part of your anatomy that sits on a commode and move to some other nation.  And to those who are thinking, “Preacherman, where is the love?”, I say:  “Do you think that Jesus’ words to the Religious Police were sweet and syrupy when He called then a den of snakes?”  And if my words have offended your “sensibilities”, all I can say is, “Oh, well.” because I am sick and tired of those who say they love Jesus fueling this environment where Satan is roaming free and laughing at us!  Yes, you bear a level of responsibility for this environment we are in.

Listen up to what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write.  Think about what is true (the Greek word used here is “alēthēs” and it also means “to love the truth”, who is Jesus), noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable (was that child who said “Screw the president” admirable?), excellent and praiseworthy.  These kinds of thoughts are not natural to us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  Don’t box in Jesus to just your heart.  Let Him invade your mind in a revolutionary kind of way.  Allow Him to demolish the Enemy’s strongholds which are located in your mind, not your heart.  Otherwise we are headed to total environmental disaster in this nation.

Your words can create environmental change in our culture, if you use the right words that come from your mind that has been taken prisoner by Jesus in order to be liberated to think like He thinks.  And like the knight who told Indiana Jones and Dr. Walter Donovan when trying to decide which cup was the Holy Grail, “Choose wisely.”  And remember the knight’s words after Dr. Donovan dissipated into dust and bones,  “He chose poorly.”  Make good use of your words by allowing your mind to reflect the heart that Jesus wants to put inside you.  DON’T CHOSE POORLY!  #YourWordsMatter

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#5 Fear Of Change

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(This is the sixth in a 10 part series.  Reason Number 4 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude;  and finally read #6. Self Reliance before reading this one)

There are a lot of reasons why western congregations are declining in membership, attendance and impact.  This list is by no stretch of even my active imagination, not an indictment against all local churches.  I have not engaged in Barna-like  research polls; nor have I started a consultant business going about to different congregations across the nation analyzing what is ailing them.  No, this is what I said it would be at the very beginning:  simply observations that I have drawn by reading and listening very carefully.  And I do not expect everyone to agree with my conclusions and I am sure there are other reasons that could make it on a Top 10 List such as this.

But after a season of prayer, these are the ones that I see as significant “Destroyers Of The Church”.  The Enemy does not have to get a local church to embrace all 10 of these, or 9 or 8 or 7 or 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 or even 2 in order to effectively make a local congregation ineffective.  I realize I did not have to do the entire countdown for most of you.  But I have met people who need the whole shebang to understand; they are not creative thinkers; heck, they aren’t thinkers at all; but I digress, so forgive me.  Any local congregation that is guilty of even 1 of these has greatly reduced their impact for the Kingdom of God.  This is why self-evaluation should always be an ongoing and unfinished project; not just people, but for the entire congregation, especially its leadership.

Now we have finished the bottom tier of this list, it’s time to move on to our Top 5.  This part of The List was the most difficult because of so many other things could have fit here as well.  But coming in at Number 5 is Fear Of Change.  But it is the unique beginning of Change that qualifies it to be in solidly at Number 5.  To show how this has been a persistent problem, let’s look at a story about change from Numbers 14:1-4 (The Message)

1-3 The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”

Soon they were all saying it to one another: “Let’s pick a new leader; let’s head back to Egypt.”

Unless one is a pastor or member of the military, two callings that require adaptability to change because change is a constant, change creates a lot of anxiety in many people, especially long-term members of a local church.  This does not seem to be a problem with new Christians because they typically have not developed their hierarchy of importance.  The excitement of new birth and new life, well, all they want to do is serve Jesus.  Everything is new and everything is changing for the newborn Disciple of Jesus.  But for the church members with long-standing tenure, it is usually viewed with more than just suspicion, but downright hated and anger.

But it is that first great Change mentioned in the Bible that takes fear of change into that realm of being an oxymoron.  You see, prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, everything was moving forward.  The only constant that had never changed in the Garden and in their lives was that God was in charge.  Then comes Satan on the scene with an offer to, you guessed it, CHANGE!  He came at them proposing that things needed to change:  “Why should HE be in charge?  You could do just as good, probably better.  In fact, He knows you could do better, that’s why He doesn’t want you eating from this tree.”

So in the beginning, humans were not afraid of change.  And today, many tenured pew sitters are terrified of change and see any change as spawns of Satan, himself.  But there was a time when humans were not afraid of change.  Oops, I just heard a tenured pew sitter saying, “See!  That’s why we need to be afraid of change!  Look at what it got us back then!”  Well Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, had things not changed back then, we would not even be having this discussion now.  But because of the fallen nature that exists in each of us, even Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, change is needed.

Our world has been in a constant state of change.  Growing up, education was based upon books and pencils and paper.  Today it’s about I-Pads and Google Books.  Where I learned through the sense of hearing, kids today are more visual learners.  When I was growing up, single parents were a minority.  In some school systems, the majority of students come from a single parent family.  I could go on and on with the changes that happen in our culture.  Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, you know I’m right on this.

In the midst of all these changes, the church does have something that never changes–and it’s not our traditions.  It is the truth of God’s Word.  We call it the Bible.  And within this Bible, God reveals more than truth, He reveals Kingdom Truth about how life is without Him and how it can be with Him.  But how we present and share the Kingdom Truth, that does go through changes.  Think about the dinosaur.  What happened to the dinosaur?  It’s culture changed; it didn’t; it died.  Remember the 7 words of a dying church (or any organization) “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Hear this consistently and know that death is imminent.

Look back at the passage from Numbers.  For a long season everything was predictable for the most part.  Now they were about to be challenged to trust God even deeper as the conquest of the Promised Land was at hand.  Big changes are coming!  And what was their response to entering the Promised Land, a Land that God said He guaranteed they would occupy and would fight for them?  “Let’s get us a new leader/pastor (I just had to throw that in) who can lead us back to Egypt!”  Now, what was it they had in Egypt?  Slavery!  go back to chapter 11 and you see even then they were wanting to go back for free onions AND SLAVERY!  Why did they want to go back to slavery?  Why do Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter fight so fiercely to maintain the status quo?  I know the answer!  I know the answer!

Once the Enemy got Adam and Eve to believe that his idea of change was good, he then gave humanity a new lie.  He gave them, and so many still today, the idea that predictability is the preferred status over some unknown future.  Predictability is believed to produce peace and stability.  It gives neither.  Predictability always, always, always produces complacency.  When complacency happens, one becomes both deaf and blind to the movement of the Holy Spirit and oblivious to what and where God is moving.  The Enemy knows that if he can keep Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter as Guardians Of The “We’ve Always Done It This Way” dogma, he knows that local church will never ever be a threat to him.

I’m not suggesting that all change is good and I do not believe in change simply for the sake of change or to follow the latest fad.  I am doing more than suggesting, I’m outright telling you, that to defend the status quo simply because it is the status quo has deadly consequences.  Congregations who stubbornly resist any change need to be ready to plan their last Sunday Service, because it will not be long until they can no longer sustain their facility.

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On This Day After The Election, What If. . .

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28 One of the religion scholars came up.  Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question:  “Which is most important of all the commandments?”

29-31 Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel:  The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’  And here is the second:  ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (The Message)

We can understand anything with more clarity and depth when we know the context of what is being said or written.  I believe that in order for you to have both clarity and depth in these words I share, you must know my context-where I am in my heart, mind, soul and my literal geographical location as I write these words.

Here is the first thing you need to know:  As of this early morning on the day after the Election I do not know who was elected President of these United (man is that an oxymoron!) States.  I hear some of you thinking, “What???  Are you hiding in some cave?  Gone off the grid as some wacko survivalist?”  No, allow me to tell you where I am and as they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

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Debbie and I are on our annual sabbatical to the Smokey Mountains.  It was 12 years ago on November 13 that we spent our honeymoon in these mountains.  Last night I made the very intentional decision NOT to watch the election returns.  The closest I came to it was watching reruns of the show “Criminal Minds”.  Maybe there is something prophetic about that.  And this morning, on this Internet, I have managed to avoid any reference to the outcome of yesterday’s election.  I did it by simply keeping the web browser open from yesterday on another page, so when I opened up this laptop I saw no news feed and I turned off notifications on both my phone and tablet.    Oh, we did vote by absentee ballot so do not accuse me of not participating in the process.  I mentioned this in another blog, Oh Lord It’s Monday.  So I do practice what I preach, most of the time.

And because we have chosen to separate ourselves for this short season from all the “stuff” out there, I am in that place where I can and will rest in God.  He sent His only Son, His very Self, to this earth-the Creator became one He created and then died that horrible death all for me.  How can I NOT rest and trust in Him who has never denied this sometimes misguided and often broken life His infinite grace and mercy?  Since I have no clue as to who won, I am renewing my commitment to God to live like a true citizen soldier of the Kingdom of God.  Here is how I am going to work it and I challenge you to do the same.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

1.  Believed in prayer?

That as we pray, we pray with the conviction that it is the summons for Heaven’s Angel Armies to surround a person or situation with the full authority of God, Himself.  That prayer wasn’t our last resort, but our first resort.  That prayer isn’t the least thing we can do but the most important thing we can do.  That prayer which comes from faith the size of the mustard seed can move mountains and we can see miracles.  That this faith is not something we produce or build up but that wonderful gift God gives us.  That prayer causes all the demons of hell to shudder in fear!

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

2.  Became kind to others?

That we gave up our place in the check-out line to the person behind us even though their shopping cart is packed and overflowing.  That after the meal we just ate at our favorite restaurant we left our server at least a 20% tip or more.  That we genuinely smiled at that person who is not dressed as nice as we are and said “Hello” to them.  That we smiled and said “Oh, that’s OK.  Thank you for helping me” to the associate who just informed us that they did not have that sale item in our size.  That we did something kind to others without expecting anything in return.  That if we are able, we did not pick the closest parking place but left it for someone else.  That we removed limits to who, when and where we will be kind and that no act of kindness will be too small or too extravagant.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

3.  Refused to judge others who are different?

That we stopped blaming those living in poverty for their mess and admitted to them (and ourselves) that we are all in poverty somewhere and that we can walk together out of our poverty.  That we become more concerned about the homeless living out in cold of winter needing a warm place rather than focusing on why they are homeless.  That we offered to sit beside that guest who came to church dressed differently than us good “church folks” and instead of being friendly we started building a friendship with them.  That tattoos and body piercings do not make them unfit for the Kingdom.  That we stop thinking the divorced or unwed mothers have no place of leadership in the church.  That the “bum” begging change on the street bears inside them the image of God and are unconditionally loved by God.  That God wants those who are not like us, just as much as He wants us.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

4.  Refused to insist on having our own way?

That we realize we are not the most important person.  That the world does not revolve around us.  That sometimes we are disappointed but that disappointment does not change our true identity.  That we are not entitled to anything in this life but are given unlimited opportunities to be like Jesus by symbolically or literally washing the feet of others.  That we truly live like we believe what Jesus said is the Greatest Commandment and the Second Greatest Commandment.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

5.  Stopped acting like our local church belongs to us.

That we exist for those who are not here yet.  That we prepare for those not here yet by understanding them without judging them.  That we look for ways to connect with them in ways they understand.  That we do not train them how to be like us but that we encourage them, challenge them and enable them to be the unique person God created.   That we stopped treating “church visitors” as invaders of our space and accepted them as one of God’s gifts to us so that we have the opportunity to be a real follower of Jesus by showing them the difference Jesus is making in our life.  That we stopped grumbling about the crying baby  in church and gave thanks that this child is surrounded by God’s sanctuary of love, grace and mercy.  That we see our challenges in this unchristian culture not as obstacles but as opportunities to grow spiritually and understand that the Body of Christ is always counter-cultural.  That we are not called to create a Christian nation but to usher in the Kingdom of God.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

6.  Stopped criticizing our leaders and blaming them for everything that is wrong?

That we started praying for them and not against them.  That God would fill their minds with His wisdom.  That God can and WILL use even the worst scoundrel in Washington D.C.  That they would find the liberty to do what is right rather than what their constituents want or their lobbyists want.  That they would follow the model of Micah 6:8-“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:  to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”  That the Micah model is not impossible for God to achieve in any politician.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

7.  Made the commitment to stop spouting words of fear and hate, especially about who won or who lost?

That we disengage our mind, heart, words and actions from all the negative stuff we see and hear in our world concerning this election.  That we would not post in social media words that, in the end, are words of hate, words of despair and hopelessness, or words that brag about “our” candidate winning.  That our words become life-giving words.  That our words will be hopeful words.  That our words will always be gracious and filled with kindness.  That our words reflect THE WORD rather than the world.

On this day after the election WHAT IF WE. . .

8.  Realized that God is counting on us?

That God has only one plan to bring the Good News of Jesus into the world.  That plan is for us to become the person that Jesus modeled when He was in our form.  That God is not looking to transform our nation through Washington D.C. but through lives that have been transformed by His grace.  That God has no other plan but to use our hands, feet, heart, mind and voice to reveal the life that everyone is created to enjoy.  That anyone and everyone matters more than our plans, programs, political ideologies and everything else.  That one life, our life, will make the difference in one other life as we live this life as more than a fan of Jesus, but as a real follower that offers no excuses or limitations to the ways that God wants to use our ordinary life in extraordinary ways.

Can you understand this context?  Without knowing who will be sitting behind that desk in the Oval Office, my purpose and my mission does not change.  And neither does yours.  That person, be it Hillary or Donald, has no impact on who we are, if we truly are citizen soldiers in the Kingdom of God.  The hope of our nation and our world is found in only one place and it is not located in Washington D.C.  It lies at the Throne of Heaven that is always occupied by the same One–the Creator and Sustainer of true life and the One who is full of truth, love, grace and mercy.  God is not handcuffed or limited by the winner of this election result when it comes to redeeming, restoring and renewing His Creation.  If you cannot see and embrace this truth then maybe the problem is not who won this election but you.  I know this last sentence sounds harsh, but it truly is spoken out of love and hope for you, if this is you.

Even though in this exact moment I do not know who won this election, I will eventually know the truth.  You see, the truth has a way of finding us.  Even if we are not seeking the truth, the truth always reveals itself.  What this truth is, be it President Hillary Clinton or be it President Donald Trump, Jesus is still my King and His Kingdom has been given to me-given to be to live in, to live through and to share-this Kingdom of Life as God designed it to be.

Now, excuse me please because I need to step on out the back porch of this cabin to see the sunrise.  Context, again please.  It is cloudy this morning and I probably will not see the actual sun rise over those mountains in front of me.  But I will see the sun rise because this darkness will give way (it has to!) to the light of the sun that these clouds are trying to hide.  The clouds will not stop what the sun produces–LIGHT!  Could there be a lesson for our nation in this?

And remember, to love God with all your heart, love others the way God loves you, and make sure that all the glory goes to Him!

Pastor Randy

Pray with sincerity this prayer from John Wesley:

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

 

Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

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“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor…