THE GOOD SHEPHERD!

He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.

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Part 5 of my current series “The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

“I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.  A hired man is not a real shepherd.  The sheep mean nothing to him.  He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf.  He’s only in it for the money.  The sheep don’t matter to him.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.  I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen.  I need to gather and bring them, too.  They’ll also recognize my voice.  Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

This kind of talk caused another split in the Jewish ranks. A lot of them were saying, “He’s crazy, a maniac—out of his head completely.  Why bother listening to him?”  But others weren’t so sure:  “These aren’t the words of a crazy man. Can a ‘maniac’ open blind eyes?” John 10:11-21 (The Message)

You have probably heard this story, but it’s worth sharing again. Two men were called on in a large classroom to recite the Twenty-third Psalm.  One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama.  He repeated the psalm in a powerful way.  When he finished the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. 

Then the other man, who was much older repeated the same words—“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  But when he finished no sound came from the large class.  Instead people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.  Then the orator stood to his feet and said, “I have a confession to make.  The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend and what you heard from me is this:  I know the Psalm my friend knows the Shepherd.”  I wish I could say something as deep and profound as this little story.  One could call for the invitation hymn and the benediction and go home.  But I’m not going to let you off that easy.

Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.  To Navigate This Life Successfully, And Reach That Ultimate Prize Of Unending Life, You Need The Good Shepherd.  Deny this; disagree with me on this; argue with me about this—truth is, we cannot navigate this life on our own nor with any other guide.  Do not forget, that as Jesus is speaking, He is using the Eternal Name of God, that Name to be remembered for all generations when He said:  YAHWEH the Good Shepherd!  If you miss this then you have missed the whole point that Jesus is trying to make, and the word He has for us today.  I need you to see this with the same impact as when Jesus spoke these words.

Unfortunately, for many of us, we have the tendency to, what I call, “Americanize” the Bible.  We allow our cultural images to often influence how we see a passage.  The mental image of shepherds, or what the American version calls sheepherders, is not the same today as it was then.  Most of us have been influenced by all those old and great western movies.  Sheepherders were often portrayed as weak and defenseless people who were harassed and abused by the cattle barons.  It often took a hero in a white hat to save the day for them.  But that is not the shepherd of those times.  Shepherds were strong and rugged men.  They were more like cowboys because they had to be.

  • They were often in the wilderness for weeks, even months at a time. 
  • They had to protect the flock from wild animals and thieves.
  • They had to be self-reliant and self-sufficient during those times.
  • They were on the move looking for pasture and water in a desert region, so they needed endurance. 
  • They needed an understanding and knowledge of the sheep’s behavior.

Shepherds were not what we call “entry level” jobs.  It took above average knowledge, above average courage, above average strength, and an above average commitment for the task.

There are some things about sheep you need to know.  They are not the smartest animal, the sharpest tool in the shed, or the brightest light in the box.  Don’t get mad and report me to PETA or the Humane Society, because it’s a fact.  Did you ever see a trained sheep act at a circus?  Have you ever seen a sign that read:  “Beware!  Guard Sheep On Duty!”  You have seen the law enforcement vehicles which were labeled “K-9 Unit”, but have you ever seen one that said, “Sheep Unit”?  Have you seen TSA officers walking around airports with sheep trained to sniff for drugs or explosives?

Here is something else about the nature of sheep.  They can and sometimes will eat themselves to death.  David wrote in Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Sheep must stop eating to digest what they have eaten.  If they are standing up, they can eat until they die from over-eating.  But they will not eat if they are lying down.  As the expression goes, “They have to chew their cud.”  They will not drink from a stream of water that is moving fast. And they tend to NOT pay attention, so they wander off.  So in addition to being strong and courageous, shepherds also needed to be patient.

So when Jesus says I AM The Good Shepherd, they understood this image as was someone rugged, fierce, patient and kind.  Like I said, these are the cowboys of their day.  And this image of The Good Shepherd tells us more about God’s Eternal Name.  There are some lessons here that we need to learn, and principles we must abide within if we are going to find the life our hearts hunger for.

1.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Knows Us

He knows our limitations and our capacities.  He knows and understands the natural tendency of our wills and our spirits is to sin. We tend to get off track and off balance.  Isaiah leaves no doubt about this when he said in Isaiah 53:6—“All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” 

He is the Good Shepherd because He’s the one who goes looking for us to bring us back.  He knows that sometimes we don’t know our limitations and, like sheep that overeat, we overload ourselves.  But the Good Shepherd invites us to rest.  David didn’t say “He suggests I lie down” but “He makes me like down.”  I don’t mean that God strikes us down, but that He keeps urging us to rest, rest in Him.  The rest we need is found only in Him.  He knows that we can’t fight off the Enemy, so He equips us for the battle, giving us His strength, and fighting for us with a passion like none other.

He not only knows our limitations, but He knows our capacity to do far more than we can even imagine.  Remember that saying:  He Doesn’t Call The Qualified, But Qualifies The Called.  He is the Good Shepherd and the emphasis on that name needs to be on GOOD!

Whatever it is He wants you to do, Remember That He Is GOOD!  The tasks and missions He calls us into are those that He knows we can accomplish with His help.  At times He calls us into tasks and places that quite frankly, can scare the living daylights out of us.  I know from my own experiences He knows what I am capable of. 

After my divorce, I was really struggling with that beast called Recovery.  There were many times I felt like I just couldn’t handle it.  There were moments I wanted to give up.  There were dark times when I felt like I wasn’t worth the effort.  But He reminded me again and again, that He IS Good.  He knows our capabilities, so…

  • Count on what He is doing,
  • Count on what He is providing
  • Count on His strength and most of all,
  • Count on His wisdom.

Because He is the Good Shepherd He knows what we can do when we rely completely on Him.

2.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Cares About Us

He cares about our hopes and dreams, shaping them into a drive and passion in our life.  He gives us opportunities every day to experience His love for us through so many ways. 

When we are hungry for Him, He’s right there.  When we are thirsty, thirsty for the assurance of His love, He freely gives us that living water.  He is the Good Shepherd because He genuinely cares about us even if it feels like He doesn’t.  When it feels like He doesn’t care or has forgotten us, remember that this is coming from the enemy. 

His care isn’t an emotion or sentimental feeling.  His care is an active and progressive care.  His care is seen through all He provides. 

  • He provides grace when we need forgiveness;
  • Mercy when we are beating ourselves up for our failures;
  • Comfort when we are grieving;
  • Living Hope when the world caves in around us;
  • Joy through all the good things that come our way;
  • Strength and Power when the road is rough and steep;
  • And Peace that covers us when chaos is all around us.

His care is tender and filled with His desire to see us become everything He longs for us to be.  He never forgets us.  He is the Good Shepherd because He knows our name.  Our names have been engraved in those nail scarred hands.  He promises that we are always in His thoughts and best of all, in His heart.

3.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Protects Us

In your deepest and hardest struggles, He is the Good Shepherd who is right there to help you

  • When Satan tries to steal you away, He Won’t Let Go Of You.
  • When Satan tries to crush you with fears and doubts, He Will Deliver You From All Of Them.  
  • When Satan tries to devour you with innuendoes and threats, Jesus Won’t Back Down
  • When Satan is tempting you so much that you can’t handle it anymore, Jesus Steps In To Fight In Your Place.  He’s right there at your side.  And when the Good Shepherd is there, He Fights And When He Fights, Satan Runs

One of the things about shepherds is how they protect the flock at night.  There would be areas, man-made or made by nature, that provided a pen for the sheep at night.  There was only a single opening into that pen.  There was no wood gate because they wouldn’t last. 

Just an opening, but the Good Shepherd, after He has led the flock into the sheep pen, counted every one of them, would then make His own bed right there in that opening.  If someone tried to sneak in, He knew it.  If one of the sheep tried to slip away, He was right there to keep it safe.  You are safe with the Good Shepherd.  Everything you dream and hope for may or may not come true. 

But when our plans fail to work out, He is right there to protect us from the destruction and damage that comes from the pain.  And because He is the Good Shepherd, He longs for us to know Him.

Notice what Jesus said:  I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  How do sheep know their shepherd?  It’s not by their outward appearance, but by the Voice. 

A man was visiting the Holy Land when he noticed several shepherds in one area.  He asked them, “How can you tell which sheep belong to whom?”  One of them replied, “They know our voice.  Each sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd.”  Somewhat doubting it, he asked them to do an experiment and one of them agreed. 

The man swapped clothes with one of the shepherds.  He had one shepherd first call his sheep.  Some of the sheep followed that man’s voice.  Dressed in the clothes of the other shepherd, he began to call out to the sheep.  He knew the native language and he used it, calling out “Menah” the Arabic for “Follow me”.  And do you know what happened?  None of the remaining sheep moved.  Then, wearing the clothes of the tourist, the real shepherd called out “Menah” and the sheep began to follow him.  The real shepherd said, “Sheep will only follow another voice when they are sick.”

This is why Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep, and He knows that His sheep recognize His voice.  Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd?  You can know His voice the same way those sheep knew the voice of their shepherd.  You Know His Voice By Trusting Him.  You can trust Jesus because He has given His life as the sacrifice and atonement for every sin in every life, even your life.  You can trust Jesus, because He and He alone is the Good Shepherd!

Your Next Steps

  1. Is There A Place In Your Life Where You Are Not Following God?  It is either a place where you won’t give up control.  Or, it is a place where you feel uncomfortable and you do not fully trust that God is good.  Shepherds lead, sheep follow—but you can’t follow when you resist.
  2. Are You Willing To Follow God, Who Is Leading Us Into A New Way Of Being The Body Of Christ?  Without knowing what it looks like, or what it will require of you, to Follow The Good Shepherd means you make up your heart and mind now, to Follow Where He Leads. 

Step Up To The Plate

Welcome back to my musings from the Book of Acts. In case this is the first one you’ve read, or if you have forgotten, this is a different kind of journey as I read the Book of Acts. This is NOT a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegesis. I am reading this powerful book about The Holy Spirit looking for either those things I have forgotten, or for those truths that I’ve been missing these past 45 years since I first welcomed Jesus into my heart. Honestly, I not looking for the obvious, but for those nuances that I’ve been overlooking since I started this journey of faith.

And today, it is Acts 2:14–

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles …

OK, it’s 2 words….make that 3 words…rather 4 words….wait a minute….it’s all 9 words. So let’s begin….oh, what do you say….we start at the first word: Then. This word tells us something had just happened. That Promise of Jesus, that The Holy Spirit was a comin’….was no longer a promise, but the reality of Peter’s life. Peter doesn’t do anything other than wait and pray until the Then. When that Then happened, Peter stopped praying and waiting. He moved with that Spirit now living in him and every believer.

Next it’s the 3 words: Peter Stepped Forward. Why? Because of the Then. Up until Then, Peter was known as the one who would speak up without thinking. Come to think of it, I know some people like that. Oh, OK, I do that sometimes, too. He was rash and impetuous. He had the tendency for his mouth to overload his abilities. But….Then happened. With the indwelling and abiding of the Holy Spirit Peter Stepped Forward.

And why not? He had both the Power and the Message that could change his culture and world. This isn’t Impetuous Peter. This is Deliberate Peter. He saw what they did to Jesus. And he saw what Jesus did with what they did. And he paid attention to Jesus–WAIT UNTIL. Wait until…Then. Peter now has the Passion and the Focus. And he steps forward.

But today….so many….too many who profess to be a Christian….who are supposed to have the Power and the Message to change OUR culture….are either too timid….or unwilling to Step Forward. It seems to me that many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters would rather stay isolated and insulted from the world and then complain about the condition of the world. Yet….if they have had their own “Then Moment” they have both the Power and the Message to transform their culture.

It happens through the Holy Spirit. And today? People seem to get the heebie jeebies when it comes to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They don’t want to look “weird” or like one of “those” kind of Christians. The result is out culture continues to spiral downward.

Oh, there are those who step forward–step forward with words of anger, judgment and condemnation; whose only concern seems to be that they have the appearance of being better than others. An unholy sanctimonious attired that is repulsive to the outsider. And then, they have the gall to wonder why their culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Peter wasn’t going to live with that kind of attitude. Peter Stepped Forward.

Which leads to that last part: with the eleven other apostles…. This wasn’t a solo act, a duet, or even a quartet. It was all of them. And here’s what speaks to me that I had not recognized: The Holy Spirit Provides The Means, The Message And The Power needed to transform our Time, Place and Culture. The time has come, urgently arrived, to stop trying to compromise or allow others to dictate The Message in order to make life more comfortable and convenient.

Appeasement is defined as “the action or process of appeasing”. And the word “appease” means: “pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands. I looked up synonyms for placate and here are the words I found: “lull, tranquilize, calm, mollify.” Mollify? Had to look up that word and here’s what mollify means: “Make more temperate, acceptable, or suitable by adding something else; moderate.” Since 1974, I’ve been told by my leaders (well, except one, he IS a mighty warrior for God) that I need to make sure to appease the congregations I had been appointed to. I needed to pacify them so they wouldn’t complain. In other words, let them have it their way. Having it their way may have been a great advertising slogan for Burger King years ago, but it is a pitiful way to operate the Body of Christ.

And for Peter, he couldn’t make the Message more acceptable by adding something else to it. Why? Because of that single word: “Then”–the Holy Spirit had a hold of him and he had a hold on the Spirit. And the reason for Peter’s powerful message was two-fold:

  • The Power of the Holy Spirit
  • And the willingness of the other 11 to stand with him

It’s time for us to run with those who want to run with the Holy Spirit–His Power and The Message. It’s time to leave the paths of placation that does nothing but tranquilize people and lull them into a false sense of peace and security. Appeasement is the desire of Satan. Transformation is the Great Desire of God–and it happens only with HIS Power through The Message of The Kingdom of God–and not the petty preferences of those who have neither the Power nor the Message.

It’s time for us to Step Forward because if we don’t…..well Yogi Berra puts it like this:

And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Give Up That Too Small God!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

 

 

2 Kings 6:8-17 The Message

One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel:  “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.”  10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him.  This kind of thing happened all the time.

 11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel?  Who is the spy in our ranks?”  12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king.  It’s not any of us.  It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel.  He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.”  The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.”  14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force.  They came by night and surrounded the city.

15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out.  Surprise!  Horses and chariots surrounding the city!  The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw.  A wonder!  The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

How Big Is Your God?  This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today.  I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me:  “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?  That’s the wrong question to ask!”  Then He gave me the right question:

Is Your God Too Small?  What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small.  It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book.  J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”.  By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe.  What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953.  And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.

Slide15And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small.  God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be.  The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small.  And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.

Putting it this way:

  • If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.

Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small.  Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes.  Here’s the story.  The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.

If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think?  “There’s a spy among us!”  Logical, right?  And you know what happens to spies.  But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha.  When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him.  He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.

That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded.  He did not know what to do.  In his mind, the situation was hopeless.  But God has something else in mind.  When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind.  But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you.  In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:

1]  Elisha Remembered The Mantle.

What’s the Mantle?  Glad you asked.  The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah.  It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths:  Authority and Power.  Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.

Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request:  to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah.  Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him.  And Elisha was there.  As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice:  give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.

Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!

We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone.  Young and old, men and women.

Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone.  Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion.  You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.

2]  Elisha Kept The Vision

He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven.  He knew the plans and purposes of God.  He knew what the King of Aram was doing.  He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.  Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.

Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”.  He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire.  It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius.  He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies.  The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.

God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.

When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small.   Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength.  In other words, small gods give you projects to complete.  It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.

3]  Elisha Lived In Confidence

Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more.  He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies!  He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army.  He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!

Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.

He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God.   This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others.  And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these.  The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!

Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you.  Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith.  Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.

There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.

Today I have my conception of God.  That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago.  And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years.  My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him.  When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small.  So, I keep growing…

And now you must choose:  Have you given your heart to a god that is too small?  Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined.  Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple.  For Lent, give up your small god.

The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion.  And that is a choice that only you can make.

Give It Up: Fear

(Part 2 of my Lent Series “Give It Up’)

Matthew 14:22-33 (N.L.T.)

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

In case you missed last week, our Lent Series is about this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  We are looking at things that we need to give up for more than 40 days.  Most things that we give up for 40 days are shallow when we know we can pick them back up again at Easter.  And we should know that God is never pleased with shallow sacrifices.  We should always be looking for those places in our lives that God wants to cut away, to prune.  Truth is, we don’t; so, Lent is a great time to refocus and maybe, just maybe we can engage in this Spiritual Discipline every day, not just at Lent.  Today’s “thing” we need to give up is Fear.

I’m not talking about those healthy fears—like being afraid of poisonous snakes, walking across busy highways and dangerous animals.  Certain fears can protect us from harm.  I’m talking about those fears that imprison us and deny us the ability to enjoy life.  There’s a technical term for those kinds of fear:  Phobias

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Have you ever wondered when the emotion of fear first entered God’s creation?  When was the first time Adam or Eve knew what it felt like to be afraid?  Well, I know the answer:  After They Had Sinned!  We read in Genesis 3:10—He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”  We never find prior to that moment, Adam or Eve ever being afraid; not once!  To know why they were afraid, you need to remember the temptation they faced:  To become their own god.  That was the promise and the lie from Satan.  “Eat this and you will be just like God.  That’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it.  He doesn’t want the competition.”  Take a moment to think about what scares you.  I’m not talking about flying in a plane or snakes or bugs.  Think about some of the more serious issues of life.

  • Fear Of Failure. Fear of failure is the thought that failure defines us. Some think it is for the rest of their life; but it doesn’t have to. They take no risks and cower down in their comfort zones.
  • Fear Of Rejection. Fear of rejection creates the desire to win the approval of others. You focus more on pleasing others than God, and usually end up either pleasing neither one and become miserable.
  • Fear Of Being Alone. Fear of being alone causes you to engage in dangerous behavior and take on toxic relationships. Those living by the fear of being alone are swallowed up by wrong choices and people.
  • Fear Of Being Discovered. Fear of being discovered creates a fake self. It’s the fear others will stop loving you if they knew the truth about you.  It manifests itself with that judgmental attitude of pointing out the faults of others.
  • Fear Of Change. The fear of change is rooted in the need to be in control. That desire to be in control comes out the very same reason Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit—to replace God with self. Change may, and probably will involve you giving up control of the issues you feel like you must control.

Think about those disciples in that boat in that storm.  We’re not talking Carnival Cruise Lines.  There was barely enough room for those 12 men.  Now there are fierce winds and big waves.  They are literally stuck in that storm.  It’s not unreasonable that they are afraid.  There’s a good probability that Peter had friends who went out one night to fish but were never seen again.  It is a frightening situation and getting worse.  It’s not abnormal when we face the storms to be afraid. It’s what we do with…

If you can remember only one thing, remember this:  The More Energy That You Put Into Trying To Stop Fear, The More Energy Fear Has To Use Against You.  Living in fear makes you guilty of idolatry.  Fear that controls us becomes the idol that you serve.  Remember last’s week’s 1 thing:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life .

Whatever you promote with your thoughts, attitudes, words and actions is the expression of your idol.  Your Fear will become your idol.  What can we do when faced with those unsettling and scary moments that come against us?  You can’t tell someone, “Oh, grow up!  Stop being afraid!”  Telling someone to NOT be afraid is like telling a cat, “Stop acting like a cat.”  It just won’t happen.  Instead do these 3 things to control your fears:

1.   When Afraid, Stop

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t want a little bit of our attention—it wants it all!  Fear pushes us to do something, anything to try to calm it.  As we do something, the fear grows stronger, so we do more.  It’s a never-ending and vicious cycle.  But no amount of activity or actions we take will ever calm that fear.  Here’s the fine print that fear doesn’t want you to see:  Fear Disappears As We Rest In God.

Instead of thinking about it or trying to stop it, remember what David wrote in Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God!”  For most of us, being still is the hardest thing to do in the face of fear.  It goes against our grain and the logic of the world.  But when you stop and are still before the presence of the Great I Am, you’re draining the strength that fear has over you.  Fretting and anxiety just doesn’t work in the presence of God.  The longer you are still before God the less control fear has over you.

Think about the time when the Israelites were in that frightening moment of the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  What did Moses tell them?  Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.”  Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote in Psalm 37:7—“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”  It’s not always easy, but train yourself to stop when fear presents itself.  Wait for God’s timing.  God’s timing is just right because God loves you.  This leads to the second thing you need to try:

2.  When Afraid, Love

When you give fear power and control over you, it elevates YOU to the top of  the importance ladder.  When life is all about you, it’s impossible to love God or any others.  Fear tells you one thing only:  “God doesn’t love you.  He’s holding out on you!”  Every time you allow fear control, you are echoing fear’s lie:  “God doesn’t love me!”  But He does, and your fear doesn’t change this truth.  Fear knows that if you doubt God’s love for you, then it has you in its grip.

But try this instead:  Remember How Much God Loves You.  Fear will say, “Well not very much.  Just look at you.”  But you tell fear, “Jesus left the glory of heaven for a smelly stable.  He faced temptations and endured being misunderstood.  He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans.  He died on that Cross for me!  He rose from the grave for ME!  And He is coming back for ME!”  God never stops loving you even when you don’t love Him.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9—You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.  Even your punishment was put on Jesus, that’s how much God loves you.  Fear is disabled when we start caring more about others than ourselves.  When we love others with our actions, fear loses its control over us.  And one more thing to try:

3.  When Afraid, Trust

Let’s get back to our passage today.  It’s been a scary time for them, and it appears to them that Jesus has forgotten all about them.  They are afraid and more than the boat sinking, they are spiritually sinking.  But someone looks out and they have a tough time believing what they are seeing.  Someone is walking on the stormy waters.  It must be a ghost!  But listen to Jesus’ first words to them.  He didn’t chastise them for their lack of faith.  He said:  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”  The Greek can also be translated, Don’t be afraid.  ‘I Am’ is here!  The Greek word for “I am” is the equivalent word for the Hebrew word “Yahweh”– the name God revealed to Moses!

Take control of that fear because you trust in His presence to make the difference in your life.  And now Peter wants to be sure it’s really Jesus.  So, he says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Notice what Peter doesn’t say.  “Lord, calm the waters and then invite me to come to you.”  He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  So Jesus invites Peter to walk on that stormy sea.

Now what’s Peter going to do?  The waves are high, the wind is strong, and everyone knows you can’t walk on water.  What do you think the other 11 were thinking about Peter?  Probably, “Well that is about the dumbest thing Peter has ever said!  This is not going to end well for Pete!”  That’s what fear says. But Peter steps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus.

He trusted Jesus, and it worked.  And when Peter started listening to fear again and started to sink, what does he do?  Does he call out to fear to save him?  Does he call out to the guys still in the boat?  NO!  He calls out to the only who he knows will be there for him, especially when he fails!  He Calls Out To Jesus Because He Can Trust Jesus To Reach Out And Take Him By The Hand.  And Jesus saves him.

And what Peter learned, you need to remember:  Trust Him Because He’s Trustworthy.  He’s Proven That There’s Nothing, Absolutely Nothing He Will Not Do For You.  His promise rings true from Matthew 28:20—“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He’s true to His word.  The Greek word “always” means “for each individual”—none are excluded!

And how is it with you?  Is fear controlling you?  Then you’re holding on to an idol and not to Jesus.  Jesus will not share you with anything else.  He gives His all for you and will not accept anything less than your all for Him.  To anyone and everyone who is afraid, Jesus has something to say:  “Don’t be afraid, ‘I Am’ is here!”  Will you be still, love and trust the only One who loves you enough to die for you?  If you are living in fear, only Jesus can break those chains.  It’s your choice; intimidated by fear or living in Christ.

Spreading A Bad Rumor!

21-25 With that they were on their way. They scouted out the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob toward Lebo Hamath. Their route went through the Negev Desert to the town of Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, descendants of the giant Anak, lived there. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they arrived at the Eshcol Valley they cut off a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it took two men to carry it—slung on a pole. They also picked some pomegranates and figs. They named the place Eshcol Valley (Grape-Cluster-Valley) because of the huge cluster of grapes they had cut down there. After forty days of scouting out the land, they returned home.

26-29 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip:  “We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.”

33 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”  But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”

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.”

Numbers 13:21-14:4 (The Message)

If you have followed my train of thought in this blog, then hopefully you understand that this is primarily for the U.S. and Western church.  I know there are some who think my train derailed a while back, but I’m still here and moving forward.  At issue is addressing the mindset of the mainline church which has become a “church centric”  message, meaning it is all about the location of local congregations rather than “Kingdom Centric”, meaning it is about the message of the Kingdom of God.  Living out a church centric message, and thus a church centric gospel, is way too small.  God invites us into the epic story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the narrative that is much bigger than any and all of us.

When a congregation finally wakes up and realizes that their declining membership, attendance and influence is the direct result of living out of a way too small narrative, inevitably there will be those Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians who will fight against such a move to the much bigger narrative of God’s Kingdom.  One of the ways they fight against the move to the Kingdom Story, and thus fight against the Good News Jesus brought, is to spread bad rumors through false stories and very flawed assumptions.  And it’s a tactic that goes way back, all the way back to God delivering the Hebrews, HIS people, from slavery.

Remember with me the setting for this passage from Numbers.  God sent 10 plagues against the Pharaoh and Egypt before the Pharaoh agreed to let them go.  Then the Pharaoh did a very human thing:  he changed his mind.  The Hebrews were trapped–the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  God parted the Red Sea and they successfully crossed over.  Pharaoh’s army tried and drowned.  God’s guidance was always present in the daytime with a column of clouds and at nighttime with a column of fire.  Fresh food fell from heaven every morning (except before the Sabbath when they could collect 2 days worth).  When they grew tired of heaven’s food God provided them with quails.  Water came from rocks when they needed it.  They had a few battles along the way and God always provided them with victory.  Oh, and don’t forget, the column of clouds during the day and the column of fire during the night never left them.

Now they are at the edge of the land which God has promised them they would occupy.  He didn’t tell them how they would occupy it; just His personal assurance they would.  God directs Moses to send one leader from each tribe (notice the use of “leader”) who were to become 007’s, meaning spies, with a very clear set of directions:

  1. Assess the people: Are they strong or weak? Are there few or many?
  2. Observe the land: Is it pleasant or harsh?
  3. Describe the towns where they live: Are they open camps or fortified with walls?
  4. And the soil: Is it fertile or barren? Are there forests? And try to bring back a sample of the produce that grows there—this is the season for the first ripe grapes.

End of the mission.  That’s all!  And make sure you see what is not included in the mission directives.  Have you seen it yet, what’s not there?  Have you?  Well, in case you haven’t seen what’s not there I will share it with you.  God never said, “Then I want you to decide if you can occupy this land.  I want you to decide if this task is possible or not.”  Ten of these alleged leaders decided it WAS their job to determine if it was possible or not.  Without even consulting God, these 10 pitiful and pathetic leaders made a determination that was NOT their’s to make, a determination that was based on their personal assumptions not facts:  “We’re whipped!  Before we even start, we’re finished.  We just need to go back to Egypt.”

But it was Caleb, from the Tribe of Judah, the same Tribe Jesus was born into, and Hoshua (renamed ‘Joshua’ by Moses) from the Tribe of Ephraim, who recognized that these fake and phony 007’s had exceeded their mission directives and made assumptions which they were unqualified to make.  And more than recognize the treasonous act of The 10, they spoke out against them.  Outnumbered 5 to 1, these 2 stood by their Divine Mission Directives.  And what was the result?  Did these 10 confess they were wrong?  Did they repent, change their direction, and stand with Caleb and Joshua?  Nope, nope and nope!

Here is what they did.  They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel.”  I want to  take this moment to speak just to local tribal (meaning church) leaders, whether you are clergy or a layperson.  When you find yourself in a place that has a church centric message and lifestyle, and you hear God calling you to change the culture and climate to the Kingdom Centric Gospel, there will be opposition.  They will follow the same path as these 10 phony and pathetic 007’s in Numbers 13 and 14.

So how does one handle “The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s”?  To answer this question would result in an entire blog 5840ca9163571-imageseries lasting for several editions.  The best way to handle The 10 is NOT to argue with them and here is why.  There are 2 reasons why people engage in rumors and assumptions:  ignorance and simply being dumb.  There is a difference between these two.  Ignorance is simply the lack of information and is easily overcome with the truth.  Being dumb is choosing to ignore the truth.  If you argue with someone who has chosen to be dumb (like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s) they will beat you down to a pulp every time with their experience of being dumb.  Hear me out from my experiences:  When I have chosen to engage in battle with those who do not want the truth, I lose every battle.

I am currently dealing with some who do not have truthful information so I share with them with grace and love, the truth.  And for those who do not want to be ignorant, they receive the truth well.  But for those aligned with The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, I choose to pray for them and avoid arguing with them, for the above mentioned reason.  I would encourage you leaders to do the same.  But remember, there was Caleb and Joshua in this story.  I make sure that like Moses, I surround myself with those who have the same spirit and attitude as Caleb and Joshua, and so should you if and when you find yourself attacked by The Fake & Phony 10.  What was the attitude and spirit of Caleb and Joshua?  Glad you asked!  Here is it:

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Rumors that spread the quickest and cover the largest territory are meant to harm, hurt and crush.  And if you are one engaged in the rumors like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, take a moment to stop and reflect on your words and the way you engage in conversations.  Rumors are entanglements created by the only one who does not want to see God and His people succeed.  Go ahead with the spread of bad rumors if you wish.  I would simply encourage you to read this from Proverbs:

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

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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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