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…