Sometimes It’s A Tractor Pull

Life is sometimes like a tractor pull! No, really it is. It can be loud and dirty. But that wasn’t my thought just a few moments ago. I’m not an expert on tractor pulls but I know a bit about how they work. A souped-up tractor is connected with a sled that has a lot of weight. The weight is at the back of the sled. Then when the tractor starts moving that weight starts moving towards the tractor until that tractor can’t go forward anymore. When the weight is at the rear, the tractor can handle it–but as it moves closer to the tractor the resistance sets in and eventually it overcomes that powerful engine.

So, how is life like that? I’ll tell you! Last night I left Dad’s home and headed back to our home. I will not tell you the details–but there was a deep–call it a mix of pain and frustration–in my mind and heart. It had nothing to do with Dad’s situation. Remember, life still goes on! This morning as I spent my time with God in private worship, my mind started telling me there were a lot of things I needed to get done today. A couple of times I started to take my earbuds out in order to get the stuff done my mind was telling me I really needed to do.

Then I remembered yesterday’s thoughts about priorities. My mind was like a tractor pull. My mind was in a race to finish all the things I thought I need to get done. Had I chosen that course, the weight of that sled would moved closer and closer to me until I came to a grinding halt. But what I needed to do–and what I did–was to disconnect that sled of things I only thought I needed to do–and to take those moments and simply rest in God.

And how is it with you this morning? Is there a weight you are that is slowing you down from the most important part of your day? That weight, whatever it is, is getting closer and closer to you–and eventually it will catch up with you and you will not be able to move forward. The way to disconnect from that sled of weight is to stay focused on where God wants you to be–right next to His Heart! I think I made Satan really mad when I put aside what he wanted me to think what I should be doing–and stayed focused on what I really needed to be doing! Remember these words of Jesus found in Matthew 11, verses 28 and 29.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The Message

Looking For. . .

Tell me. Tell me the honest truth. More importantly, tell yourself the honest truth. What exactly am I asking you to be honest about? What are you looking for? You see, we are all looking for something–every day–every hour–every minute–every second. Granted, we may forget what we are looking for at a particular moment (I do this more frequently than I like!), nonetheless, we humans are always looking for something.

It may be the keys to our car; an ink pen; the scissors; a tool; and the worst one of all–OUR CELL PHONE! We not only look for things that someone else moved from where we put it–by our nature–we are inquisitive beings. From our birth–our eyes are probing the environment around us. Not only our eyes–but our minds are inquisitorial. And it’s a good thing our eyes are inquisitive–otherwise, we can’t find what someone else moved from where we put it down. But the mind–that’s where we can get into a whole heap of trouble, as we say down here in the South.

And it’s that inquisitorial mind that I am speaking into today. Have you ever heard the expression, “Your mind can play tricks on you!”? It’s true. But sometimes…sometimes we see exactly what we are looking for! If you are looking for something to complain about–you will find it! If you are looking for something to be angry about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something to be sad about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something that will offend you–guess what? YOU WILL FIND IT! It’s become a contagion in our culture and an infestation to the mind–looking for things that disrupt–disrupts our peace, our relationships, our attitudes, and our spirit.

When are looking for the wrong things it takes away the joy of this inquisitive nature that God placed within us. It’s a deplorable misuse of a very good gift. The inquisitive mind has done great things–eliminated some diseases–created treatments for others–solved engineering problems–and so much more. But the misuse of our inquisitive nature has also made us suspicious–doubtful–resentful–and bitter. It causes us to say hurtful things. And even worse–it makes us see things that just aren’t there. You do know the classical definition of insanity, don’t you? It’s doing the same things over and over and over and over while expecting different results!

May I suggest looking for something different? Let’s go back–back to the beginning when we were first created in the image of God. Let’s once again become inquisitive about the wonders and beauty of creation–and the mysteries of God. Let’s start looking for God in places, situations, and people–even the most unlikely of people and places you might expect to see Him. After all–He was found in a feed trough just outside of Bethlehem. And a few years later, He was found just outside Jerusalem–dying on a cruel Roman Cross. And He freely did this just so we would begin looking for Him! So I ask you again: What Are You Looking For?

Did You Just See That?

Oh, wow! Did you see that? Oh, my–there’s another one. Wait! Another one! Goodness, gracious–there’s another one! And another! There’s another one! And Another! Another One! Man, they just keep coming–one right after the other! I’m telling you! There’s more of them than you can shake a stick at! What? I just had a vision that some of you are shaking your head at me, wondering if I need some special medication; wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end. Well, I haven’t–because in the time it took me to write these words, I saw many more. What is it I’m seeing so many of this morning? Actually, I’m only seeing one at a time. Let’s call them MOMENTS!

During my habitual time of listening to Christian Music to start my morning, I confess I was distracted–again. Instead of simply praising God in worship–I was thinking. Thinking about what to write this morning. Sometimes my words just flow out–most times I have to seek and seek hard on what to write. This morning was one of those latter times. As the music was playing in my earbuds, I was trying to find an idea for this morning. It was then, above my own thoughts, I heard the Spirit say, “Listen to that song, please!” Truthfully? He had been trying to get my attention the whole time–but I was lost in my thoughts.

Well, I listened and the song was “Keep Me In The Moment” by Jeremy Camp. And it was at the line in the refrain I heard ever so clear which said: “Keep me in the moment, I don’t want to miss what You have for me.” I knew what I was missing, so I sat my thoughts down, put them in the corner and told them not to move until I was ready for them to move. And as I lost myself in that Moment of worship, it was then I saw them–one at a time. Moments where God is present and offering me so much–much more than I deserve. He’s offering me His Presence. And with that presence, I find everything I need for anything!

Whatever you are facing in This Moment–remember that God is also present. Whatever the battle you face in This Moment, God is there waiting for you to put Him in the game. He will fight for you–and He’s a great fighter. He’s never lost a battle. Don’t let another Moment pass you by where you fail to see The Faithful Presence of your Heavenly Father. Every Moment He is with you. Remember these words of David who at first thought he found a Moment where God was not with him:

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (The Message)

And to help you see This Moment, here’s the song from Jeremy Camp:

Some Parts Are Missing

Image from Omni Containment Systems

Three of the most dreaded words to read are: “Some Assembly Required”. Maybe that’s just the “man” in me–you know–“Who reads the instructions? Real men don’t need instructions!” But have you ever tried to put something together and near the end find out that some parts are missing (or lost)? Frustrating, isn’t it!

Several years ago my fabulous wife purchased me a Smoker. I couldn’t wait to put it together and try it out! Well, I removed all the parts, found that useless Instruction Manuel, but something was missing! The nuts and bolts required to assemble it. I called myself looking, still no nuts and bolts. I started to return it to the store, but that useless Instruction Manual caught my attention. It said, and I quote: “If any part(s) are missing contact customer service. Do not take it back to the retailer.” So I called and in just a couple of days the nuts and bolts arrived. And I assembled it; mind you, without the Instruction Manual because that’s what real men do!

It was a work of beautiful art when I finished it. I began cleaning up all that cardboard and packing materials and something hard hit the patio floor. Can you guess what it was? Yep! The nuts and bolts. In defiance of my most diligent search, right there they were; plain as day! But how could that be? I rummaged through all that packing material and I knew they weren’t there. Put me on a lie detector machine and I would have passed it with flying colors! So, how could they have been there all along? There must be somebody to blame! They snuck in when I wasn’t looking, carefully cut the packing tape, found those nuts and bolts, and sealed the box back. Yes, that’s what must have happened! I mean, it’s impossible for me to have missed something! Isn’t it?

No it’s not impossible! And it’s not impossible to miss the presence of God. It happens with regularity to the best of us. It happens as we get more busy with things than with life. It happens as we live life haphazardly–with no real focus. It happens when, as in my case, we think we are right–but we are wrong, oh, so wrong! It happens when we look only at the surface of Scriptures without taking that deep dive where the Treasure often lies.

Following Jesus isn’t always easy–but it is really simple. So simple, that many often miss out on Real Life. We let the wrappings and “packing materials” get in the way, and like I thought about those nuts and bolts, we believe the lie that God is holding out on us. The truth is, Life has been there all along–we just didn’t look deep enough. Learn from my mistake (no, not ignoring the Instruction Manual)–take a deep breath, and look through everything. And if you want Life–I mean Real Life–I mean Life To The Max–look to Jesus. He’s been there all along!

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NLT)

COOKIES!

Today my affliction of random thoughts has directed my attention to cookies! Honestly, I don’t know if I really like them–in fact, I’m frustrated with them a bit. Oh, no! Not those sweet delectable orbs of manna from above–my personal favorite it the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie! I’m talking about these little zeros and ones that infest our computers, smart phones, and tablets which keep “track” of our activities on the internet.

Have you noticed that when you are looking or shopping for something online, that in just a short time, ads for that item start appearing on other websites? And just in case you didn’t know, that website you were shopping on left your computer some cookies for the next website to create for you that “personal” experience. Personally if they want to create a personalized experience for me–I’d rather they give me a couple of dozen white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

So what does my random thoughts about cookies have to do with the Kingdom Life? Whatever we “look” at each day whether it involves a computer or not, leaves behind a “tracking cookie”. And that “tracking cookie” will reappear–in our minds and in our hearts. The purpose of those “computer cookies” is to get you to spend (also known as ‘invest’) your hard earned money with this company or that company. The logic behind it is that if you see enough ads, then you will be enticed to buy–more than enticed–but to buy!

So, today and for the rest of your life, look at something different–something that doesn’t take away from your net worth–but adds value to your life. It’s call The Fruit Of The Spirit! Paul wrote in Galatians chapter 5, verses 22 and 23: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” “Looking” at such things will continue to stay with you throughout the day–and if you’re serious about it–for the rest of your life. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to see if we have any white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

Vacation, Rain, Peace And Joy

Sevier County Tennessee

This morning it’s raining–during our vacation. A few hours after I took this picture, the fog and rain mist has blocked the view to just a few yards. A lot of people would be upset, even mad, if rain and fog invaded their vacation plans. But us? We are continuing to enjoy this vacay! I’ll admit it, there was a time when if anything interrupted my plans–I would have something like a combination hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, and tempter tantrum. And I have come to realize that it revealed a lack of maturity on my part.

But today, it’s all good for me and Debbie. OK, there’s been rain, fog, and clouds that obscured our view. But! We still have this cabin, at least for a few more days. There’s food in the pantry and fridge. We have books and our Kindle app. Wood for the fire place. A central heating system to keep us warm. Plenty of hot water for showers. There’s an indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor hot tub. We come here to relax, enjoy some scenery, and maybe go out one day, which we did yesterday. Our Expedition stays parked the rest of the time. And even though our view is nonexistent, we know everything we love about this area is still there. Do you understand: It’s All Still There!

What’s my point? My point is more than about vacations and mountains. In life we make a lot of plans–but something, or someone, gets in the way. It may happen at work, at school, in the family, or even at church. How you respond speaks volumes about your faith or your lack of faith. Your word for right now is Contentment. Look at what Paul said about contentment:

 I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 

Philippians 4:11 (NLT)

Contentment doesn’t come from having everything you want. If you are discontented at work, at home, in church, and yes, even with election results, it is all because you haven’t learned how to be content. You are in an exercise of futility if you think certain things and certain people will give you contentment. This attitude is fruitless when it comes to contentment. It’s like I’m teaching in my current message series. Life isn’t perfect, and it’s not always easy. Nonetheless, It Is A Wonderful Life–when you know the keys.

Contentment is found, or lost, in our purpose. Our purpose this week is to relax and enjoy our time. Weather doesn’t change our purpose for this week because this week’s purpose is guided by our True Purpose. Our True Purpose is to honor God and bring Him glory through living the life HE has given us. God is neither glorified nor honored when I had hissy-fit, meltdown, conniption, tempter tantrum. Or when anyone has one of these.

So keep your focus on your True Purpose, not the interruptions. These days call for teachers on Contentment. If you are whinny or grumbling, then how can you teach all those who need contentment? You can’t! So get your act together! Calm down! Steady yourself! Cool it! Get a grip! Pull in your horns! Get your stuff together! I still can’t see the higher mountains–but I know they are still there. And God is still in control, even when you’re not. This means the HE wins at the end!

The Word In Our Feet! When The Times Are Dark!

This is the second and last of the series Getting The Word In Our Feet.  We need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless.

Last week we learned that Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  That’s what the Old Testament illustration of the Hebrews at the edge of the Promised Land teaches us.  All those over 20, except Caleb and Joshua, never got to live within God’s promise.  Their direction was cemeteries scattered throughout the wilderness.  Now we look at a New Testament story about a single cemetery that illustrates the need for Both Direction And Action.  Turn to John 20:1-9 (N.L.T.)

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb.  They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.  Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.  Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

Decades ago, before radar and computer flying, an airplane was somewhere over the Rockies in a fog that went from the ground to way above the clouds.  The pilot came over P.A. and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good new and some bad news.  First, the bad news: we’re lost!  But the good news is, we’re 2 hours ahead of schedule.”  This describes the culture we live it; it describes people all around us—2 hours ahead of schedule but lost.

When times seem to be the darkest, people struggle to find the right direction and the subsequent actions that will bring them out of the darkness.  And here is the One Thing you need to remember today and it’s a principle that will always work:  Actions, Not Intentions, Produce The Right Outcomes. The Good News Of God’s Kingdom isn’t about changing our intentions—it is about changing our actions.  It’s not all that complicated.  Intentions cannot produce faith.  Cannot manufacture hope nor deliver us from our fear and despair. 

I can intend to do something all day long and will accomplish nothing.  If you don’t believe this, just trust me on this because I’ve done it enough to be an expert.  Just suppose Debbie asks me to do something before the day is done, I’ll say, “OK, dear, I’ll do it.”  Well, I intend to get that done.  But come the evening, if I haven’t done that, she’s going to get upset at me.

But why?  I mean I intended to do what she asked.  I intended to do it better than she thought I could do it.  Why is she so upset?  I intended to do it.  It’s just unbelievable that she would get upset that I didn’t do that—even when I intended to do it.  Are you starting to get the picture here?

Let’s bring this down to this principle and the passage behind it.  Easter Morning. I don’t know what went through your minds then I read the text. Maybe you thought that Easter’s not here yet.  Lent doesn’t even start until Wednesday.  I still have a couple of days of indulgence left.  

When I read this, I focused on what was happening to the people.  Mary Magdalene RAN to tell the disciples.  The disciples RAN to the tomb.  These folks were RUNNING!  There was motion and movement by these people. The Resurrection got the disciples involved with direction, motion and movement.  They no longer stood still!  Christians are people who Run!  The question for us here and every church is this:  How Can We Get The Word In Our Feet So That We Can Get Motion And Movement On Our Part Into God’s Promises? 

Well you have to understand that there are Sitters and there are Runners.  One of the ways you can sort out people in church is to say they come in 2 types:  Sitters and Runners.  OK, let’s look at each.

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Sitters.

The best way to describe sitters is to image them in a rocking chair, rocking and watching the world go by.  Sitters Are Those Who Are Content With Motion Without Movement And Momentum.  They Have Been Deceived Into Thinking Motion Is Movement When It’s Clearly Not Producing Momentum.

Well, here, let me show you with this rocking chair.  There’s motion, but nothing is really changing.  If you’re not prone to motion sickness, rocking really is relaxing—if you’re into that sort of thing.  There’s activity and motion, but look—this rocking chair is still here.  Am I right?  I’m moving; I’m just not going anywhere. If I turn the rocking chair around, nothing’s really changed—I’m just looking in a different direction.  OK, I’ve changed direction, but I still in the same place.  The only thing that has changed is my view.  I’m not in a different place—I’m in the same place, just a different view.  And nothing has really changed. 

Sitters Are Those Who Are Deceived Into Believing That Because They Are Rocking—There’s Motion—That This Motion Is Enough.  While rocking in a chair may be relaxing and enjoyable it is not accomplishing anything—other than make us feel better about ourselves. 

2.  Now, Let’s Look At Runners.

Runners are different!  They don’t stay in the same place.  And their view is always changing.  Runners have direction and motion—just like the sitters—but runners add the all important element of forward movement.  It Is Movement Not Motion That Always Creates Momentum.  Movement and momentum described what was happening in that cemetery just outside of Jerusalem.  Transformation began when they started running.  Running Produced Movement And That Movement Starting Producing Momentum.

Churches Are Dying Today.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Direction.  Everyone is pointed in some direction.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Motion.  Ever heard the phrase “Going through the motions”?  It’s Because They Have Lost Movement And Without Movement There Is No Momentum.   Remember the rocking chair.  There is always motion—but no real movement or momentum.

There was a runner by the name of Saul of Tarsus, running as hard as anyone against Jesus.  But God grabbed him on the Damascus Road, turned him around, and he kept right on running, this time as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles!  Give me a church full of runners every time; even if like Saul, they are running in the wrong direction.  

Because when you get runners going in the right direction, things happen!  Communities change for the better.  Families become stronger.  People quit complaining and whining so much.  People meet and follow the real Jesus.  And The Very Foundations Of Hell Tremble And Shake In Fear!  God Wants Runners!

We need to get the Word in our feet and start running!  How?  Well, the Nike commercial says it best: Just Do It!  Don’t talk about it, plunge in with both feet.  The problem with a lot of congregations is that they want a pastor to be successful for them—to do the praying, serving, witnessing and get more members.  But this is not what God has called the pastor to do.  

The pastor is one called out of the life of the church, trained and approved to help you, the lay people do your ministry.  The pastor is not to be a busy body, his job is to get the body busy!  Now, I can back this up with scripture, Eph. 4:11-12—“These were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ!”  

Who is the body of Christ? Those outside waiting to be saved?  NO!  You are!  How do we become Runners rather than Sitters?  Allow me to give you a few principles:

  1.  Begin By Being Still. We can’t be running in just any and every direction.  We need focus.  Being still before God gives us the direction to begin running.  Think about Elijah in that cave at Mt. Horeb.  He was running in the wrong direction.  But when he stood still before God, and listened, he found that new direction—and that new direction created Movement And Momentum.
  2.  Don’t Question Or Think About The Direction, Just Run. Try to do a cost or risk analysis on the direction—and Satan will convince you it won’t work.  Think about that day Jesus told the disciples to find something to feed that crowd.  They found a boy’s small sack lunch.  They should have been ready to run—but they did the cost/risk analysis and concluded it wasn’t enough.  If Jesus sends you to do something, then He knows what’s out there and He knows it will be more than enough.
  3. Build Upon Even Small Successes.  Your running doesn’t have to produce things worthy of a page in Guide Posts.  Think about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  After discussing buckets and wells, Jesus led her to thinking about the Messiah.  In the world’s economy it was a small success.  When He had her thinking about the Messiah He was able to get her thinking about herself.  And when He got her thinking about herself and The Messiah, she went and told her whole village about Jesus.
  4. Sustain Momentum.  Keep on praying.  Keep on studying The Word.  Keep up the pace.  Keep on living this Life In Grace.  Don’t ever settle in one place of success.  Think about those Disciples after Pentecost.  About 3,000 people were saved.  Hey, that’s a lot.  Time to rest, right?  Wrong!  They kept it up—sharing life together in meals, Holy Communion, praying and growing in maturity.

And since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Decide Right Now If You Are Going To Be A Sitter Or A Runner!  

Years ago, someone gave me this poem, called “Sitting By The Fire” and it’s on the back of your sermon notes page:

Sitting By The Fire

He wasn’t much for moving about, it wasn’t his desire,
No matter how hard the others work, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
This went on from day to day, he never seemed to tire,
when others were working so hard in the church, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
He died one day as all must do, and some say he went up higher,
but if he’s doing what he’s always done, HE IS SITTING BY THE FIRE

Are you a Sitter?  Or will you become a Runner?

The Nose Knows!–Saturday Stories 15 February 2020

Today’s Saturday Story is about a dog who can teach us a lot about knowing what really matters.

The Nose Knows!

It was somewhere around 2005 as best I can recall. My son Matthew and another buddy were deployed back to Iraq, along with their dogs. Their dogs were trained to sniff out and detect materials used for the making of those dreaded IEDs. Matthew’s dog was name Kitchee (I think this was how it was spelled). I wouldn’t make fun of that name; he was a big German Shepherd who knew not only how to smell explosive materials, but trained to violently attack anyone when given the command.

Each time Matthew would be deployed we would send him those famous care packages. We would send him whatever he needed and always something sweet and good to eat. We also sent something for Kitchee–a bag of rawhide chews. That dog was protecting Matthew so I made sure to always include a big bag of chews. Both soldiers, Matthew and Kitchee, always looked forward to that care package. I called Kitchee a soldier because he was–he had a rank and it was one grade higher than his handler. If Matthew had received a promotion, Kitchee did as well.

Back to the story. We had sent them a care package that arrived on their base while they were out on a mission. When they arrived back to the base Matthew picked up the package and he and Kitchee went to their room. Matthew told me he just put the package on his cot, released Kitchee from his leash, closed the door and went to the chow hall for something to eat. When he returned to their room that care package had been ripped open by Kitchee. All the contents were scattered on that cot except for that package of rawhide chews. And he was having a ball with those chews.

Kitchee bypassed homemade cookies and candy–his only interest was those chews. The box was sealed and those chews were still in a sealed factory package. But he could still smell them. He wasn’t interested in the other stuff–only what mattered the most to him–and what he knew belonged to him! The nose always knows!

Moral Of The Story

Kitchee wasn’t distracted from his mission. He bypassed all the things that weren’t meant for him. But how many times do we get distracted from our mission of becoming more and more like Jesus? God has things for each and every one of us that HE designed to help us become more like Jesus–and He sends them as a “Care Package” waiting to be opened for us to discover that special gift. It’s know as Every Day Life. Unfortunately we get distracted by the things not meant for us. But Kitchee? He teaches us that the Nose Knows! Don’t get distracted from what God has for you!

Keeping Cadence–Saturday Stories 8 February 2020

This Saturday’s story goes back to 1996. I remember it because of 2 unforgettable things happened. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my son said, “Daddy you were right.” I had been trying to help him understand you could work hard or you could work smart. I was right; he said it and even if he doesn’t remember that moment, I always will. The other thing that happened that led to that utterance of Matthew was when he graduated Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Here’s the story.

KEEPING WITH THE CADENCE

When my son Matthew graduated from the Army’s Basic Training, I made the trip to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to see his great accomplishment.  One of the many images that was engraved on my mind was the way they walked as a unit.  Each member, each soldier was in step with the other.  Their lines were sharp and crisp because only ONE was calling the cadence.  Their Drill Sergeant was the only voice heard.  Their ears were in tune with only their Drill Sergeant. 

I don’t remember the exact cadences they used. I remember some of them were…well it was 1996 before political correctness was fully operational…some couldn’t be repeated. But I do remember part of one of those cadences. It was something like this: “My buddy’s in a foxhole, a bullet in his head. The medic says he is wounded, but I know that he is dead.”

Then their Drill Sargent would start a new cadence call; and they never missed a step. And not far away you could hear other Drill Sergeants calling cadence, but their platoon did not heed the other voices, only the voice of one kept their focus and attention.  They were not distracted by any other voices. It was impressive, to say the least. Many cadences, many voices–but he and his platoon were in tune to only one voice. And they moved as if they were one person.

MORAL OF THE STORY

We need someone to call cadence for us. But not just anyone–The ONE who is been given that responsibility–for us as individuals and us collectively as the Body of Christ. That’s Jesus. And He does give us the cadence call through the Holy Spirit. It’s like Paul wrote in Galatians 5:26–

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

In real life, there are a lot of things that demand our attention:  family, jobs, appointments, and activities.  It is easy to find ourselves frustrated or disappointed at the end of the day because of the busyness with which we are seemingly perpetually engaged in.  And this is where the stress comes in and often overwhelms us. 

I’m glad Jesus taught us to pray saying “Our Father” rather than “Our Drill Sergeant.”  So, if you find yourself out of step and full of stress, remember my lesson.  Let God lead the parade called life.  Listen to His voice as He calls out the cadence.  Life flows much better when we cooperate with God, much like that platoon that followed only one Drill Sergeant’s cadence.

Details, Man, Details!

Last night I completed yet another course in another advanced degree from The School Of Experience! I decided to go pick up a few things at Sam’s Club. More context: The nearest Sam’s Club is about 45 miles away. I thought (my first mistake), “Well, it’s late Sunday afternoon, surely all the Black Friday shoppers are at home admiring their latest conquests.” So, I get ready and head out. This was my second mistake.

My first stop, though, was to stop by at the local nursing home for a party. One of those given to me in my care grandmother resides there. They were having a birthday party–she will be 100 years old on Wednesday. After enjoying the time there and talking with her, I headed out to Tuscaloosa. It was an uneventful trip; that is, until I got to the intersection of McFarland Boulevard and Skyland Boulevard.

Sam’s closes at 6:00 p.m. I arrived at that intersection at 5:04. I wasn’t worried because I wouldn’t be in there that long. After several cycles of changing lights, at 5:15 p.m. I got through the intersection. No problem. Still have time. I found a parking place; got out of my car; locked the doors and headed to the entrance. As is my habit, as I walked I reached into my pocket to get my Sam’s Card out. . .

Here’s why I completed another course for another advanced degree from The School Of Experience. Imagine my frustration when my hand discovered I forgot one thing: The Billfold. I had my keys, put on a cap, holstered the Ruger (I have a concealed carry permit), grabbed my sunglasses, and put on a jacket. Only one detail I forgot; and it was the most important one.

There was a time, not all that long ago, I would have allowed my frustration to take over my feelings. But I didn’t; that was the Holy Spirit working in me. I called my wife, Debbie, and when she answered I said, “Call me an idiot!” She asked me why and I told her just call me an idiot–with which she complied! Then I told her what had just happened and we got a big laugh out of it.

On the way home I was thankful–thankful I had enough gas in the tank to get home because gas is about 15-20 cents cheaper and I always fill up when leaving Tuscaloosa. After talking to Debbie, I pulled up the Andy Andrew podcasts and enjoyed a better learning experience.

And if you have not figured out the lesson I learned from this latest course in The School Of Experience, here it is: PAY ATTENTION TO ALL THE DETAILS! And the most important thing is to seek out the most important detail of all. No, not the billfold. If you just thought that, then you failed the course, and will have to take it again.

The most important detail is seeking and inviting God to be with you wherever you go and whatever you do. Talk with Him. Listen to Him. Who knows, maybe the 4 of you (remember that God is Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit) will have a good laugh together like we did in the parking lot of Sam’s Club. I leave you with these thoughts:

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:6 (ESV)

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! Now, please excuse me. I need to shopping this morning. . .and yes. . .I will have my billfold with me.

Step 7—Live With Focus!

This is the very last message in this series about how to become a water-walker.  So, let’s look at that passage one more time.  

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.

Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

Let’s do our final review today.

  • Step 1—Get Out Of The Boat.  You will never walk with Jesus UNTIL you’re out of your boat.
  • Step 2—Have The Right Attitude.  There will be challenges —just remember Jesus is with you.
  • Step 3—Discover Your Gift.  This comes out of your giftedness and God gives all of us gifts.  Discover them.
  • Step 4—Use Leverage.  The leverage we use is our weaknesses against the Power of God.  
  • Step 5—Overcome The Fear.  The way to overcome fear is to Rehearse His presence.  Renew your mind.  And Refocus all your attention on Jesus.
  • Step 6—Know That It’s More Hazardous In The Boat Than It Is Risky On The Water.  Water-Walkers will not live in hazardous waste—but they will live in the Risks.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity

Everybody has chosen a Focus—without exception.  Even those who you clearly see are living without a Focus.  Even those who admit their lives are not focused—They have chosen a Focus for their lives—it’s just in the wrong place.  Focus Plays Out Every Day, In Every Moment And Situation.

What happens when we Focus in the wrong place?  We see danger, trouble and problems.  And we open the door to uncontrolled, ferocious fear.  I’ve been saying all along, that water walking is risky business. 

But the only way we can grow in our faith is through taking risks, and risks always involve having the Right Focus because we’re stepping out of our comfort zones into new territory.

This is the way it was for Peter.  He’d been on this lake thousands of times.  But every time he was IN The Boat.  Now he is about to take a stroll ON the lake WITHOUT The Boat.  This is a new experience, a new adventure for Peter.  He has always been comfortable in the boat.  It was his livelihood.  So, Peter takes his leap of faith, and focuses on Jesus, who had just invited him to join him for a leisurely stroll on the water. 

And guess what, Peter actually walks on the water.  As long as Peter kept his Focus on Jesus, he didn’t sink.  But the moment his Focus changed—he immediately sank!

Unfortunately, some people choose to Focus only on the winds and the waves, and so they, like the others, stay in the boat.    Today, I want us to learn how to keep our Focus on Jesus, and thus continue the most exciting adventure ever; an adventure that fills the heart of God with indescribable joy. 

If you are one of those unfortunate people who have chosen to Focus on the negative that has saturated our culture and politics rather than the mission of God—Then Change Your Focus—And It Will Change The Way You See Your Life—And That Will Change Why You Live Your Life

To have be a Water-Walker, it takes the Right Focus.  When you are on the Water, Focus alone determines whether you walk or sink.  We know what happened when Peter’s Focus turned to the waves and the wind.  So let’s look at Peter’s Focus while he was Walking On The Water.  Let’s start with the easiest and most obvious:

1.  Focus On Jesus

When Peter accepted the Opportunity to Walk on Water, His Focus was on Jesus.  Water-Walkers Focus on Jesus.  Water Sinkers sink because they have Focused on the wind and waves—or they have chosen to Focus on the Jesus of their imagination and understanding.  To Focus On Jesus Requires Us To Focus On 3 Truths About Jesus:

Focus On His Nature—His nature is what always comes to the surface.  It’s the way He responds to us.  He responds to us out of and through His unmistakable love.

Focus On His Desires—His biggest desire is to see a different world filled with different people.  The way Jesus fills the world with different people is by Delivering captives—releasing prisoners—filling the hungry and empty with His Resurrection Presence.  Jesus intentionally redeems and restores His fallen image bearers.

Focus On His Character—His Character is that of A Warrior!  Gentle Jesus meek and mild doesn’t exist!  He was meek on the Cross—but He Is The Bold Warrior coming out of the Grave!  He’s not giving up or backing down.  The commitment He had on the Cross—the determination He had in that tomb—and the lengths He goes to get us to turn away from sin and the power of sin in us is His Character.  If we Focus On The True Character Of Jesus—then we will not stay in The Boat.  We will join Him on the Water.

2.  Focus On Your Purpose

Your Purpose Is To Be Involved With What Jesus Is Involved.  Jesus is involved in a lot of things—but it will always be found where people struggle—where people need encouragement.  Put it this way:  Jesus Is Involved With People.  Good people.  Bad people.  Ugly people.  Mean People.  Nice People.  Broken-Messed Up People.

True Water-Walkers accept, even at times with a bit of reluctance—that Real Disciples Of Jesus Are Focused On God’s Purpose For Their Lives.  Water-Walking Is Living In Confidence That Your Purpose Is Both Divinely Given And Worthwhile In Your Life.

God’s purpose for your life is important. Your role in the Kingdom of God is essential and significant.  Focus on Jesus and your life makes a difference in the world.  If You Don’t Believe That, Then You Are Not Focused On Your Purpose, Not Focused On Jesus And You’re Not Really Following Jesus.  When you say that you don’t have much if anything to offer—you’re saying God is lying.

3.  Focus On The Partnership

This is not something we do alone.  Remember what Peter said in the boat:  If it is you, Jesus, then invite me to join You.  It is impossible to sink when you partner with Jesus in your life.  Remember what we said about leverage:  God’s Strength Is Made Perfect Through AND In Our Weaknesses. 

The Partnership with God is simple—bring it all to Him and give to Him all of your weaknesses—all of your fear—all of your excuses about what you can’t do—then Accept From Him, His Strength.  This is what Partnership With God looks like.

The Story Of Every Person God Uses In The Bible Is The Story Of Focus.  Focus is what made Abraham leave his home.  Focus is what made Moses willing to challenge the Pharaoh.  Focus is what led Gideon into battle with only 300 soldiers against 10’s of thousands.  Focus is what drove the prophets to proclaim their message, even when it seemed no one was listening.  Focus is why Peter and the others stood up at the Feast of Pentecost to proclaim the Good News Of The Kingdom of God.  Focus is what led Paul into unknown territory—all the way to Rome.  Focus is what led people like Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C.H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, A.W. Tozer to change their world.

If You Believe Or Even Think That This Culture We Live In Is Beyond Revival—Then You Are Not Focused On The Partnership.

The Bible often uses the term:  “losing heart.”  Losing Heart Is Just Another Way Of Saying Losing Your Focus.  It’s not what we’re capable of doing—it’s about what God wants to do through us. 

Whenever God calls you to get out of the boat, He gives you the power to walk on the water.  He never calls anyone to sink.  Water-Walking Is Not The Conviction That Something Will Turn Out Well, But The Certainty That Something Makes The Difference, Regardless Of How It Turns Out. 

Every person submits to some thing or some one who will be their source of authority.  That authority has control over your mind, heart and actions.  Authority defines your values and your ethics—that moral compass of what is right or wrong, good or bad. 

Who or what is the authority over your life?  Before you give the “I’m-in-church” answer, answer this question first:  “Where Is Your Focus?”  Focus Reveals Who Or What Gets Your Immediate And Primary Attention.

Focus Is About Your Definition Of Authority.  You Determine Who Or What Has Authority Over Your Life.  That source of authority demands your attention—and you will give your Focus to that Authority.  Authority is what influences your decisions.  Authority is where you look for answers and for guidance in the choices you make.  In The Boat, your Authority is the comfort of the familiar—playing it safe—choosing fear over adventure.

Focus defines and ultimately reveals your Primary Priority. Through Focus, we declare that God is real!  Through Focus, we remember that reality is more than what we can touch or see or hear.  It is about the God who is ALL power, ALL seeing, ALL knowing, ALL caring and loving.  Focus Is About Magnifying God—Enlarging Our Understanding Of Who He Is And How He Moves In And Through Our Lives. 

I’ve intentionally left Verse 33 in the reading each week.  The Spirit has been saving it for now.  Listen again to Verse 32 AND Verse 33—

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.

Matthew 14:32-33 (NLT)

There’s a word of tragedy in Verse 33—It’s The Word Of Missed Opportunity, Missed Moments, And Missing The Reason.  Figured out the word?  It’s the first word in that verse:  THEN!  Not during the moment—just THEN.

I’ve heard teachers, preachers and people say, “The rest of the disciples finally understand Jesus, praise God!”  Well…I’m going to burst some bubbles this morning.  They did NOT understand Jesus.  They did not acknowledge Jesus until He stopped the Wind.  Jesus isn’t just the one who controls the wind—He’s The One In Complete Control IN The Storm.

I always try to give you something to try each week.  That’s why I call them Your Next Steps.  I always try to find some Step that will help you put the Scriptures we looked at into some tangible act or decision on your part.

Today’s Next Step is more important than any other Next Step I’ve challenged you with.  How important?  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s how important this Next Step is—Your Future, The Future Of Your Families, The Future Of Your Friends, The Future Of This Place Will Begin To Change—For The Better If You Take It—Or It May Take A Change For The Worse If You Don’t.

It is never too late—and you are never too old to make choices that will become positive changes—in your family, with your friends, in the community—and especially in the Kingdom of God.

If you trust God, make your choice to do this Next Step to see the future change—for you and for others:

If you trust God, make your choice to do these Next Step to see the future change—for you and for others:

  1. You Can Choose To Focus In The Boat. 
  2. Or You Can Choose To Focus On Jesus.

Your choice–and as the Knight said in the movie Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, “Choose wisely.”

I Choose Focus

(Photo from medium.com)

Tuesday I chose to be joyful. Yesterday I chose to be hopeful. Early this morning as God and I were talking, He reminded me that those 2 choices need to be made everyday, all day long. So at 4:45 a.m., reflecting on what I would write this morning, here is what I said. “Today I choose to be joyful. Today I choose to be hopeful.” Now, what do I add to these two? OK, here it is: “Today I choose to be focused.”

OK, OK, what’s the big deal? What’s the difference? People, that includes you and me, are focused every day. Even when “we” say we aren’t focused. . .reality is we are focused on NOT being focused. Not being focused IS a choice of focus. I’ll leave this thought for another blog.

Today, I will choose, carefully choose I might add, the objects of my focus. It is going to look something like this:

  1. I will focus on my relationship with Abba, Poppa.
  2. I will focus on maintaining a pure heart, for HIM.
  3. I will focus on Defining Moments that will take me deeper in Him.
  4. I will focus on on those Divinely Engineered Moments HE prepared so that I can have even a small part in the work HE is doing in the hearts and lives of others, even those who in the moment annoy me.
  5. I will focus on people who show kindness, and express to them my personal appreciation.
  6. In short: I choose today to Focus On The Kingdom Of God.

Deliberate, laser beam focus is the choice I make today. . .along with being joyful and hopeful, I choose to focus on The Kingdom Of God. This means I look for His Kingdom in the expected places. . .but most of all in those UNEXPECTED places. . .ESPECIALLY in those UNEXPECTED places. Whoever would have thought that God’s Kingdom, and His Glory would have been found on a Roman cross? Jesus did.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed (by the way this is the definition of focus)—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God

Hebrews 12:2 (The Message)

Today I choose to be joyful, hopeful, and focused. Will you join me in this? I pray so. And remember. . .Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Whatever

When my daughter Leslie was a teenager, there was a word she would say that drove me insane. I know that’s only a short trip for me, but still… It wanted me to shake the teeth out of her mouth, but then there would be that dental bill. So I restrained myself. “What was that word?”, you ask? WHATEVER. I was boring her.

It was more than the word, it was the way she said….and her tone of voice. It would usually come at the end of a discussion about getting her to do something, or not do something. Honestly, I believe she said that word because she knew what it did to me. What does this have to do with Kingdom Life? I’m glad you asked.

Yesterday I was returning from making a hospital visit in Columbus, Mississippi and it was lunch time, but I also needed to get back home. So I decided to stop at a certain fast food chain and get something to go. I needed to make a pit stop, so I went inside to get my order to go. Remember, I needed to be somewhere else.

I walk up to the counter to get some “fast food” and be on my way. And…nothing. The employee who was covering the counter was looking away…looking bore. I looked at the other employees, even the shift manager….there it was–the Look of Boredom. Even after she finally saw me there that look on her face said, “Whatever.” That entire shift looked like prisoners to boredom…to “whatever”.

This time I didn’t lose my cool. I am finally discovering that with age, comes wisdom. Not always, mind you…I can show you many examples from a lot of people where age comes alone. I wasn’t impatient or demanding. Honestly, it surprised me that I wasn’t. Patience isn’t one of my strong suits. Instead of being impatient, my heart was breaking for that shift of workers.

And this morning I realized one of the reasons why my knack for impatience didn’t kick in at that “fast” food restaurant. It’s a disease that has infected and affected so many in my culture–the disease of boredom. Boredom is the result of feeling empty…yet longing for a life that has purpose, more purpose than is found in the 9-to-5 life.

It’s even in churches. Some may want to blame the music or the preacher for making it boring. Granted, some preaching and some music is boring. But boredom? That’s a carrot of a different color. Boredom, as I understand it, is the result of how one thinks–that “whatever” attitude comes from that deep well of emptiness.

Our desire for a life with meaning and purpose comes from our Creator. He put His image in us, and trust me on this, there’s nothing boring about God! And honestly, it is hard to be excited about asking, “Would you like a pie with this order?” But it’s more than what job we have or what we do in our ordinary days. It is about living with that razor-sharp focus–like Jesus did when The Creator walked among the creation as one He created.

There are many who think that boredom will disappear if they had a different job, a different person in their life, a different house, a different car, lived in a different place. Spoiler alert! If you do get that different job, person, house, car or “whatever”–your boredom will follow you…and patiently wait for that opportune moment to make you bored again. Then it becomes an endless cycle of “whatever”. So how does one break free of this cycle? Glad you asked!

It comes down to our thoughts–specifically–what we think about. Paul gives some wise advice on this in Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Eugene Peterson and his crew renders it this way in The Message: “I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” In case you are still confused about how to break free from boredom, allow me to break the code.

Focus on where God is at work. And where is God at work in our culture? Think back to the pattern He revealed when Jesus was in our flesh. Where was Jesus at work? Jesus was drawn towards both the best and worst places. A wedding in Canaan, a leper, a tax collector, a fishing village, the metropolis of the day known as Jerusalem. In short, wherever there were people, people broken and hurting and wounded–where people were joyful and full of praise–there we find Jesus.

He’s all around you. He’s got so much for you to discover–even at the counter of a fast food joint…even in dull music and even more dull preaching… But you will not find it until you surrender–your dreams, your will, your vision, your own interpretation of what will make you truly happy–to the one who “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

I know, you think it would be easier to be bored with 10 gazillion dollars in the bank–but it won’t be easier. Happiness will not overcome boredom. The Enemy will make sure of that. But Joy–Joy that flows from what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, will smash boredom like smashing that mosquito that has just come out of its winter hibernation. Don’t like the “Whatever Life”–live the Life Jesus revealed in His Life, His Death and best of all, His Resurrection.

And remember, Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him. It may be tough sometimes, but it is never BORING!

THE LIVING BREAD LIFE!

(This is the second in the message series “YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM”

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made.  We are looking at some of those times when Jesus said:  “I am.”  Last week we looked at the Story of the Woman at the Well.  But remember that Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English.  He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he would have used was Yahweh.  Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.

It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  It was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name when He revealed himself to that woman. Claiming to be Yahweh, He backs up that claim with another moment when Jesus uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 6:32-51 (The Message)

32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.  The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” 

34 They jumped at that:  “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.  I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.  Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.  I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will:  that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole.  This is what my Father wants:  that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life.  My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

41-42 At this, because he said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him:  “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?  Don’t we know his father?  Don’t we know his mother?  How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”

43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me.  You’re not in charge here.  The Father who sent me is in charge.  He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come.  Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End.  This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’  

Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father.  No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.

47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now:  Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.  I Am The Bread Of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died.  But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven.  Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever.  I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came down out of heaven.  Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever!  The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

Have you ever thought about how images of bread are used in our ordinary day to day life?  “That’s the best thing since sliced bread.  He’s rolling in the dough.  Hey Dad, I need some bread, (meaning money).  Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides (meaning they lack common sense).  Man, he’s toast.”  In Middle Eastern culture, and Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and connection.  Bread is a symbol for life.

When it comes to people’s spiritual lives, they will be living either the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life.  There is a sharp distinction between the two.  There is no confusion about which life we are choosing the live.  And make no mistake about it; it is our choice whether we live the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life

Let’s find something we can all agree on:  We have no control over some things that come our way in life.  There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control.  Does everyone agree with this?  I didn’t say we liked it; just that it happens.  Now, my next point is something that you may dislike even more, but it’s the truth:  We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those Times.  How We Live Each Day And Our Reactions To Life As It Happens Come Out Of The Life That Is In Each Of Us. If you can remember only one thing today, then remember this: 

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Is Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life.

One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy and see us through anything that life throws our way.  Let’s see the difference by setting up today’s passage.  The day before Jesus had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Now Jesus and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus again.  This time they are seeking a sign.  They wanted a sign from Jesus before they would accept Him as Messiah.  They pointed out the Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was with them.  Now they want Jesus to give a sign that God was with Him. 

OK, excuse me, but He has turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who could not talk.  And added to all that, He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever had.  And NOW, they want a sign?  Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their time.  More than a sign, Jesus talks about life through the images of Manna Life and Living Bread Life.  Think about the differences. 

1.  What Does The Manna Life Look Like?

What does this life feel like?  Well go back to the time when God gave them Manna.  It appeared every morning on the ground.  Each family could pick up enough for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday.  Then they could pick up enough for 2 days.  It never lasted longer than that.  Any thing left over would be ruined the next morning, so they would have to go out and pick up more. 

Every meal was the same.  The husband or kids never asked “What’s for supper?”  It would be manna casserole, manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was always manna cake.  I mean, there was not a whole lot of variety to their meals.  And they had to do nothing to do to get it.  They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it.  Every morning, day after day after day, there it was.  And every morning, whatever was left in the jar was ruined.  And here was where the problems started.  It produces the same problems today:

  1. They Believed They Were Entitled To ItThey did not have to buy it and it was always there every morning.  They begin to feel like they were entitled to it.  Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and alive.  Living With That Evil Spirit Of Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude.  Oh, for sure, at first they were grateful.  But after only a few weeks of it, things changed.  First, they always expected it to be there,
  • They Got Tired of it.  But can you blame them?  The same meal day after day after day is enough to make them want something else.  This is what the Manna Life is like.  It’s waking up every morning to the same routine. 
    • There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    • There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    • There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen in the Manna Life
  • It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  • It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone.  Comfort is more important than Purpose.
  • It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  • It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life.  Now mind you, they haven’t sought great victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories and are disappointed.
  • And For Church People, It’s The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It.  They never get to experience the surprises of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities.  And sadly, they never experience the joyful surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that life. 

It’s routine life, and nothing is more boring, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life.  These people around Jesus thought they wanted the Manna Life.  But Jesus did not come to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better.  He came to bring them and us the Living Bread Life.  Jesus is much more than a free lunch—more than a vending machine dispensing what we want.

2.  What Exactly Is The Living Bread Life?

What does it feel like?  Look like?  Allow me to sum it up for you. 

  1. It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us.  It is living your life with the assurance and confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart—lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
  • It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And Grace.  There is more than enough of Jesus living in the heart of every believer to accomplish anything that God wants.  It’s not just enough for today.  It’s enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity.  There is enough grace, enough mercy, and enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
  • It’s The Life Of Adventure.  When the Hebrews would wake up each morning in the wilderness, they didn’t have to look far to find the manna—just go outside and pick it up.  But Living Bread Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot See Or Even Imagine.  God wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull.  It’s the life of excitement knowing that Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never imagined. 
  • It’s The Life Of Exploration.  It’s going down different paths, trying new ways.  The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence.  So every day offers us the opportunity to find that God is always doing something new.  It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants done.  God is anything but predictable when it comes to how He works in this world.
  • It Is The Life Of Contentment.  Let me tell you something about real life.  There will be times of abundance in our life.  And there will be times of scarcity.  There will be times when all of our ducks are in a perfect row and all marching to the same beat.  And there will be times when the ducks will scatter in all directions.  There will be times when the sailing is smooth as silk.  And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster roller coaster.  But the one thing about the Living Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we will learn to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world. 

The only source of life for all of this—comes through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes and every point between them.  I’m talking about Jesus living in your heart.  You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve.  And you know He is the ONLY one who will stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the steep mountains.

We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its hollowness.  Or we can choose to accept The Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The Living Bread, into our hearts.  For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to invite Jesus into your heart.  For the rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper into our hearts.  Just bread on the table will leave us hungry again.  But the ONE who dares to call Himself YahwehLiving Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst.

Next Steps

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

THRIVING IN THE KAIROS LIFE IN CHRONOS TIME!

(This is the second in my current Message Series, “Kairos Living In A Chronos Life!” You can find the first message here)

Remember from last week that Chronos Is Measured by Quantity.  Kairos Is Measured By Quality.  Kairos Time reveals and expresses quality moments that First Changes Us, and then Changes Our Surroundings

Our passage today is taken from Habakkuk 2:1-3.  Here’s the background you need to understand before we read it.  Habakkuk was a prophet just before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.  He senses doom is just ahead, and he does a very human thing:  He complains.  First he complains about his culture and why God doesn’t do something to change it.  God answers his complaint with the truth. 

Because they have been unfaithful, just as Habakkuk complained, He’s about to send Babylon to bring judgment.  Habakkuk doesn’t like God’s answer, so he complains again—complains about HOW God is addressing the problem.  All of this is chapter 1.  Now let’s look at the heart of God’s reply to Habakkuk’s complaining in Habakkuk 2:1-3 (NLT)

I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.   Then the Lord said to me, “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others. This vision is for a future time.  It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
    for it will surely take place.  It will not be delayed.”

This passage talks about the impending judgment on Jerusalem.  But it also says something about God’s Time and Timing, especially that last sentence:  “It will not be delayed.”

Now here’s the one thing you need to remember today:  When We Are Controlled By Chronos Time, It Limits, Even Eliminates, Our Ability To See God’s Time Of Kairos.

The life that God offers us is The Kairos Life—moments full of God’s Kairos Time.  And as I said last week, we live IN a Chronos World.  We are surrounded by Chronos.  Until we die or unless Jesus comes back there’s no escaping Chronos Time.  And there are demands that Chronos puts on us.  To deny this truth is to live in a fantasy land.  It’s unrealistic and untrue. 

And as God’s messenger, I’m not going to deceive you into thinking that Chronos Time is no longer real once we become a disciple of Jesus.  There’s no way around it; but we do not have to be controlled nor limited by Chronos Time, because God has another Time and it’s the Life called The Kairos Life.  So, how can we thrive in a Chronos World with a Kairos heart? 

If give our heart to Jesus and throw our life into the Kingdom of God, Chronos Time remains for now.  But we do not have to live in Chronos Time the same way.  It’s all a matter of the mind and heart—and where we hitch our hearts and minds. 

At every given moment, our minds and hearts are attached—tethered to either Chronos or Kairos time.  Chronos remains dull, boring, and a difficult thing to endure without being connected deeply and strongly with Kairos Time.  But, When we are tethered to—fastened to The Kairos Life, it changes how we live in the Chronos Time.

Kairos changes our perception to see beyond times and appointments and duties.  Kairos opens us up to the true power of the Kingdom of God that redeems and transforms anything and anyone—that brings God’s glory into everything and everyone.  You just have to be in that place to see Kairos Time.  To make sure you can thrive in The Kairos Life in Chronos Time, allow me to share some steps you can take so you will Thrive In The Kairos Life:

1.  First, Check To See If What You Are Doing Really Matters To God & The Kingdom

Luke 17:21—“You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

When your focus is on what you are doing it’s hard to focus on what God is doing. (Allow me to repeat this: When your focus is on what you are doing it’s hard to focus on what God is doing.)  Our focus tends to be on the external trappings of what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, touch with our hands.  It’s not that way with the Kingdom of God.  And what matters to God and His Kingdom?

Your salvation!  Your spiritual maturity!  Speaking to each other rather than about each other!  Helping others!  Getting to know people, their hurts and their hopes.  Caring about others more than yourself!  How much more time do I have?  Well, obviously not enough.  Let me put it this way—God cares more this community than He does about this building.  And if you want to live in Kairos Time, then you need to do the same.

2.  Second, Kairos Is Planned By God’s Time And Not Us

Ecclesiastes 3:11—Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Kairos is that Moment where God is making a move—in the hearts of people and at the center of communities.  It is all about trusting in God’s timing.  I have moments where I have issues with that timing.  But God sees farther ahead than we do.

This requires us to make a mental shift.  Instead of looking at our time as grains of sand slipping through an hourglass, we view our time as opportunities that God has been planning.  Trying to control as much as possible is living in Chronos time.  We need to live into time by seeing it as Kairos time, God’s time.  Instead of viewing our time as seconds ticking by, we can see God’s grace at work.

3.  Third, Kairos Time Is Big Picture Time

Isaiah 55:8-9—8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

In Chronos Time we get locked in our stuff—our abilities, our limitations.  Human reasoning and human logic are under both the influence and the control of Chronos Time. 

Kairos Time Is Under The Influence And Control Of God.  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts.”  God’s thoughts are rooted in His Power and His heart, not our abilities nor our desires.  God knows what He can do while we think about what we can’t do.

And look at that other part:  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”  As wild as my imagination can be at times, it’s nothing compared with God’s imagination! Our perspective is always limited by time and space—so we imagine in ways that are limited by Chronos Time.  So we use time selfishly—what we want and desire.

God’s perspective is unlimited because there are no boundaries to eternity.  Kairos Time reveals that unlimited perspective and unlimited opportunity that God sees because of Eternity.  When you lock God into Chronos Time, you deny yourself Kairos Time!  Last, but by no means least—

4.  Kairos Is An Invitation Time

Matthew 28:19-20—“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Some moments are more valuable than other moments.  The five minutes that I have to share the gospel with an unsaved stranger is more valuable than the five minutes of listening to people complain.  I must take advantage of my opportunities—and so must you.

Kairos Time is when we accept God’s Invitation to be involved with Him, rather than us asking Him to be involved with what we are doing.  (I need to say that again)  Chronos Time is doing what we want.  Kairos Time is living in what God wants.  Chronos Time is killing the church.  But Kairos is bringing the Kingdom that will never die! 

God is looking for those of us who are sick and tired of living with a Chronos Heart—and who long to live with The Kairos Heart–to lean in and step into what God is doing, unlike what King Asa did. The story is in 2 Chronicles 16. King Asa saw his Chronos as what Chronos ends up being: HOPELESS! So he made a treaty with his enemy. But the prophet Hanani calls Asa on this and gives us hope:

2 Chronicles 16:9 (The Message) – God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

Asa saw his future as Chronos time but Hanani saw it as Kairos Time. Your current situations are the direct result of your past decisions.  Your future situations depend on your current decisions.  It comes in the moment of opportunity. 

The perfect moment is perfect because God has been planning it and now invites you into a moment that can never be measured.  When you realize the Kairos moment, take a breath and pause before you exhale.  If you do this your life will be changed.  We only have such a brief opportunity to shepherd our kids and grandkids when they’re still young children. When a friend is experiencing pain, we have a brief window of time in which to reach out to them.  You never know when the Chronos Time you spend with any person is in reality—a Kairos Time for both of you.

Next Steps

  1. Each day this week invest some of your Chronos Time in prayer.  Specifically in 3 areas: 
    1. Someone who has been on your heart
    1. The upcoming General Conference
    1. Our future as a church
  2. Get involved in our new Bible Study Group that begins Feb. 27 on the Book of Acts

Kairos Living In A Chronos World

This is the first of my latest Message Series, “Kairos Living In A Chronos World)

I have a riddle for you. 

  • It’s free, but it’s priceless. 
  • You can’t own it, but you can use it. 
  • You can’t keep it but you can waste it. 
  • Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back. 
  • In one person’s hands it brings hope and in another person’s hands it brings pain. 
  • It can crawl or it can fly, but it has no hands, legs or wings.

Think you know the answer?  It’s Time!  Let’s take a look at today’s passage found in Ephesians 5:16-17 (NLT):

Today we begin a new series called Kairos Living In A Chronos World.  The 1 thing you need to remember from today’s message is a question:  What Are You More Interested In–Counting Your Days, Or Making Your Days Count?  Let this question roam freely in your mind this week.  In fact, I will beg you NOT to answer this question until you have spent a lot of time thinking about it.

Have you ever slowed down enough to do serious reflection on time?  When it comes to “time”—what thoughts do you have?  What effect does that word “time” have on your emotions?  Are you overwhelmed?  Frustrated?  Fulfilled?  Stressed?  Fearful?  Anxious?  Happy?  Joyful?  Depressed?  Discouraged?  How do your emotions respond to “time”?

Think about how often we use that word “time”:  What time is it?  What time is the next doctor’s appointment?  I can make it on time.  There’s not enough time in a day to get everything done.  What time is practice?  What time does the movie start?  It’s time to move on.  It’s time to give up.  And, my favorite, TIME OUT! 

Our word “time” covers a variety of settings, each with its own unique “ambiance”.  Verse 16 says, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”  Some of you may be more familiar with the KJV:  “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  While our language has only 1 word for “time”, the classical Greek has 2 words—words that have different meanings: 

Chronos and Kairos.  Both words are accurately translated as “time”—but they are diametrically opposite in meaning.  So, let’s spend the first Sunday in this series looking and exploring at those 2 words.  Bonus information, the word in this text is Kairos:

1.  Chronos

Here is definition for Chronos:  Chronos is a duration that can be measured.  It has a certain set of values.  Seconds, minutes, days, weeks, month, years, decades, centuries, millenniums, is how we measure Chronos.  Chronos Is Quantitative Time.  A second here has the same quantity as a second at the Beach or in the Mountains.  It just seems longer here.  The duration of a second in the U.S.A. is the same duration in every other country.

Chronos Time is the ticking of the clock.  Chronos is where we get our word chronological.  To keep up with Chronos we wear these things on our wrists called a watch.  Do you know why it’s called a watch?  It’s so we can watch Chronos go by. 

Chronos Time Is Found In Our Agendas, Calendars And Bulletin Announcements.  Chronos gives identifying labels to those measured durations.  The labels are not just the units of measurement, but about the power that Chronos Time has to drain and debilitate those held captive by Chronos Time.  Chronos is driven by very human-centered sets of values.

Each day contains 86,400 seconds of time—which represent 1,440 minutes—which equal twenty-four hours each day.  It never fluctuates or varies.  And truth is we live in a Chronos World.  You have appointments, places to go, bills to pay, TV shows to watch, church to attend, practices, games and recitals to attend.  And all of this happens in that measured duration of Chronos.  Now let’s look at that other word:

Kairos

Kairos cannot be measured by the ticking of a clock, but by the beating of the heart. Here is the definition for Kairos:  Kairos is when God steps into time and space and does something incredible.  Kairos are the moments that are Right, Ripe and Rich with meaning.  Think about each of these:

Kairos are the moments that are RIGHT.  They fit into the rhythms of life as The Creator intends.  Debbie and Sandy love to work jigsaw puzzles.  And there’s the truth about jigsaw puzzles:  Each piece will only fit where it is made for.  Kairos never contradicts God’s Design and Purposes—It fits perfectly.

Kairos are the moments that are RIPE.  They are moments designed and prepared by God for His Image Bearers.  Have you ever read something or had someone call you and it was words that you were needing in that moment?  This is what Ripe means.

Ripe means it is the perfect moment.  The Time was Ripe when He called Abraham.  Ripe when He called Moses.  Ripe when He anointed David to be King.  Ripe when Jesus was born in that Manger.  Ripe when He died on that Cross.  And Ripe when He conquered death!

Kairos are the moments that are RICH with meaning.  These are the Epiphany Moments, when the Light Bulb comes on and clarity happens for us.  Epiphany Moments—Discovery Moments that define and redefine us—that shape and reshape us—that form and transform us—only happen in Kairos Time.

Kairos are the moments provided by God to know Him more deeply.  Kairos is about seizing the opportunity God provides in that moment.  Chronos drains life and hope out of us but Kairos enriches our lives with hope, love and grace. 

Understanding these differences, what you need to decide is this: Will You Live ON Chronos Time Or IN Kairos Time?  Where Chronos Is Quantitative Time, Kairos Is Qualitative Time.  Chronos Time measures seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years.    Kairos Time reveals and expresses quality moments that first changes us, and then changes our surroundings.  It is easy to think that our time is the most important time.  It is easy to be controlled and consumed by Chronos Time.  But What Are You More Interested In–Counting Your Days, Or Making Your Days Count? 

Every one of you will face multiple defining moments in your lifetime.  Defining Moments Are The Moments That Will Shape And Determine Your Character, Your Attitude, Your Altitude And Your Future

It changes your future course by changing how you see your life.  Defining Moments happen in both Chronos Time and Kairos Time.  But Defining Moments that will transform your life into that life marked by holiness are never found in the Chronos Time of schedules and calendars, but only in Kairos Time of following Jesus.  The reason why your life will remain empty and dead in Chronos Time is that Kairos can’t be planned, and it certainly can’t be forced. 

Kairos Time does not wait for you to fit it into your schedule.  It simply happens, and if you miss one—it’s gone and won’t come back. This doesn’t mean that there will be no more Kairos Moments. More Kairos moments will indeed come, but they are new and different ones.  Kairos Moments happen one at a time.  Unlike network TV there will not be any reruns of what you missed.  This is what makes them priceless.

The “Kairos” Opportunities we face in 2019 speak into what is God calling this church to be!  And with this in mind, it’s important to ask—are we a community of people who simply gather each Sunday with good memories to celebrate—or

Are We A Community Of People Who Are Willing To Listen To The Stirring Of The Spirit, Who Are Ready To Explore New Ideas And Who Are Prepared To Embrace Where Change Needs To Happen And To Be The Church In New, Creative And Even Uncomfortable Ways?

The decision you make today about time—is a decision only you can make.  Your Next Steps will be your answer to this question.

“Where Do I Need To Change So That I Will Experience More Kairos Time And Less Chronos Time And Am I Willing To Do It?”

The answer is as unique as you are.  Perhaps it’s spending more time in the Bible.  Maybe it’s having that dedicated time to pray.  Maybe even change HOW you pray.  Maybe it’s getting to know your neighbor better.  Maybe it’s in stopping your voice of fear about our future.  Will you live BY Chronos Time, or will you live IN Kairos Time?

As we step into this moment of Holy Communion—it can be for you a Chronos Moment—where you step in and do something. 

Or—it can be for you a Kairos Moment where God steps in and He does something.  It all depends on that 1 Thing You Need To Remember:

Are You More Interested In Counting Your Days, Or Making Your Days Count?

When Jesus walked this earth as one of us, He was more interested in making His days count.  And we see it here on This Table.

What The Church Should Learn From Bikers

 

 

I started to title this “What The Church Can Learn From Bikers”, but I realized that should is the word that fits.  Now, a bit of explanation of my terminology.  When I say “biker”, I mean BIKER!  Not those people who wear spandex peddling those steel  or some alloy tubes on skinny wheels.  Those are called bicycles, not bikes.  Cyclists are NOT bikers.

Bikers wear leather, not spandex.  I know, because I am one.  In 2003, after my divorce ended 29 years of a marriage, I set out to “redefine” myself.  Decades ago I had a dirt bike and then a smaller street bike; but that was decades ago.  I found myself drawn into a local dealer and started looking.  Then I even went out price shopping at other dealers.  Then I bit the bullet, and picked one out.

Being a preacher, it had to be black and it must have lots of chrome.  I love chrome!  I thought at the  talledegatime I was redefining myself from the rubble of my life.  It turns out, though, that God was taking me on a journey to DEFINE my life, the person HE created.  For over 4 decades I allowed others to define me; that’s my fault.  I needed God to define me, and He did.  Not that I always got it right, but I kept coming back.  And HE kept accepting me back.  That’s how I became a biker.  Now, back to what I’ve been learning.  One thing I’ve learned is that many churches look nothing like the Body of Christ, but Bikers….they get it!  And here are 6 things the church today needs, urgently needs to learn from bikers.

1.  We Love What We Do!

We take great joy in what we do.  There are few things more exhilarating than finding a winding road with the wind in your face.  I never have heard a biker complain about going for a ride.  However, I have heard bikers lament when they had to hang up their174809558-612x612 leathers.  Now that’s a sadness that words cannot describe.  No whining.  No complaining.  Just loving what we do at the end of the day and wishing for more time and planning the next ride.  You will never hear a biker say, “You know, this morning I just don’t feel like riding today.”  If you do, immediately dial 911 and get her or him to a level 1 trauma center.  One of my Biker friends had this pillow on his book-case that said:  “You never see a bike parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office.”

But church?  Whining?  You bet!  Complaining?  You can take it to the bank.  Missing church?  There is an unending list of really good sounding excuses.  And when at church?  Not much joy, except that it’s over for another week.  Like Bikers, we should love what we do, but….here’s another lesson for church today.

2.  We Are A Diverse Group

White collar, blue-collar, dog collar….a model of diversity.  I’ve met factory workers, farmers, retirees, a federal judge, dentist, lawyer, small business owner….and yes, other preachers.  But in leather, we are held in a common bond.  Our backgrounds do notBiker matter.  There is a brotherhood and sisterhood that is not formed by how we are alike–but by our differences held together by a common passion.  Whatever you do the rest of the week doesn’t matter when you fire it up, put on the leather and ride.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your politics are or where you live.  The diversity adds beauty and strength to this ‘Hood of Bikers.

And church?  Martin Luther King, Jr. was right then, and still right today when he said, “Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour every week.”  And today, segregation still happens.  In some churches it’s race.  For others, it’s political views, traditions, economic status, where you work, where you live.  The church for decades has tried to be a cookie cutter factory, where we all look and sound alike.  I don’t think those 12 guys Jesus hand-picked for the first disciples looked alike, talked alike and acted alike.  I love seeing a congregation that’s gathered, reflecting the diversity of the community around it.  But it’s rare to see it.  Conformity rules the group.  But like Bikers…we should be a diverse group.  Another lesson we should learn from Bikers.

3.  We Are Friendly

Bikers who do not know each other, never met before, meet at the gas pump , we talk to each other.  In a meat and 3 diner, we talk to each other.  If a biker is having trouble with their bike, we do more than just talk, we help each other.  There’s a lot of people who act afraid of bikers.  I don’t know why.  They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.065.jpg  Ever noticed how Bikers acknowledge each other on the road?  Usually with 2 fingers down.  It mainly means “keep 2 wheels down”; that’s important on a bike because you don’t want them on their side, because you will be, too. The bike, the leather, the road–is a culture of friendliness.

I know that churches like to say they are friendly.  And they are friendly–if you talk like them, act like them, believe like them.  They are friendly, as long as you don’t sit in their pew or try to change something in their church.  Then it’s Katie bar the door.  Friendliness stops.  Bikers are friendly because they don’t focus on the surface things.  They focus on what matters the most to them.  But we Bikers are more than friendly–we are friends–even if we don’t know each others names.  It’s unconditional friendliness, a lesson the church should learn.  Another lesson we should learn from bikers is:

4.  We Are Loyal To Each Other

Bikers have each other’s back.  They stand up and support one another.  Even among thef220bc461577d6409506165d8758af56 “One Percenters” (that’s outlaw biker clubs for the uninformed) there is a loyalty for those in their club.  If someone gets hurt and can’t work?  Forget Aflac, they hold a Rally, a Poker Run, or simply pass the helmet to help the one who’s hurt and their family.  Bikers stand with and by each other, through good times and hard times.  They even help others.  There are Rides to benefit St. Jude’s, March of Dimes, Toys For Tots, and the list goes on.

And the church’s track record on loyalty?  As long as everyone behaves themselves, and does what they are told to do, yeah. they’re loyal.  But when one falls, when one is hurting, when one is struggling–many churches either kick them out, or even worse–they simply ignore the fallen and the hurting.  Speaking as one wounded (more than twice) by the church, I didn’t see a lot of loyalty.  Honestly, I didn’t expect it because their track record had already been establish–and it wasn’t good.  But there should be a strong sense of loyalty to each other in the church.

5. We Don’t Worry About What Others Think About Us

We accept that some people will never accept us because, well, we are different.  We look different, act different, talk different.  Though I’m a preacher, truthfully when I have 3jpeg days growth of beard and in all my leathers on my loud bike, I can see why some good honest church folks who don’t know me might think not so nice things about me.  One Saturday I went riding with some friends, all of us with at least 2 days worth of beard, full leathers and we stopped at a little diner for lunch.  As we walked in I noticed people staring at us, and not in a good way.  Know what?  I’m OK with that.  I’m not out trying to win the approval of others.  There’s only One whose approval I need.  We don’t care about external stuff, well maybe except for our bikes.  We are comfortable in our own skin and do not need validation through the approval of others.

And in the church?  Nearly, if not everything is about appearances and outward stuff.  Emphasis is on the external, the very thing that angered Jesus about the Pharisees.  Being a Christian becomes more about what one does NOT do than what one actually does; more about how they look more so than who they are deep inside; more about certain beliefs than Kingdom Living.  When it’s all about appearances, we lack the substance of the Kingdom Life.  Bikers teach us not to worry about appearances and what others think.  Here’s another thing that Bikers can teach the church.

6.  We Know The Risks And Ride Anyway

We realize the being a Biker isn’t for everyone.  It is risky.  There’s a motto often seen in motorcycle-wreck-maggieour community.  “Live To Ride.  Ride To Live.”  There are inherent dangers.  In my part of the world one of the dangers is deer.  You’ve seen the damage they inflict on a car, think about a bike.  Then there’s the dangers of car drivers.  Road conditions.  And when we are inattentive to those dangers.  Honestly, there are tons of reasons not be to a biker.  Yet, each day we gear up and ride.  Are we oblivious to the dangers?  Absolutely not.  But we believe that the rewards most definitely outweigh the risks.  Do I pray before I ride?  While I ride?  Is the Pope Catholic?  We respect these machines but we don’t allow the fear to keep us from riding.  When fear does override the joy, they sell those bikes and buy a convertible.  What should the church learn from this?

A malady that has inflicted the 21st Century Church is the unwillingness to take risks for Jesus and the Kingdom.  They want to play it safe.  They want to know the outcome before venturing out, and that the outcome is worth it; meaning, the church will get new members.  If you can’t get new members then it’s not worth the risk.  The Devil knows he can’t defeat The Kingdom; he’s already tried and failed.  Remember that empty tomb?  Instead of attacking The Kingdom, he has filled many local churches with the need for playing it safe, and avoiding the risks.  He won’t win the final victory, but he takes great delight in the impotency of churches unwilling to risk it all for Jesus.  People risk eternity for the sake of time.  Why not risk Time for the sake of Eternity?

 

Well, that just 6 of the lessons many churches should learn from Bikers.  It’s 5 lessons the church MUST learn if it is ever to escape the current “survival mode” and once again THRIVE!

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

Now, if you will excuse me, I think there’s a curvy road calling out to me….

A Lesson From The Pelicans!

God is a Great Teacher; the best ever.  I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived.  In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences.  Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.

I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery.  This week is no exception.  We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach.  Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall.  God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.

I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat.  As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber.  No reluctance.  No hesitation.  Head long as fast as they could go into the water.  They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation.  I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive.  Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it.  Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.

Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me:  We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal.  When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish.  What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us?  It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference.  And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.

Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans.  Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t.  And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again.  What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”?  They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before.  And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.

Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus.  Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live.  Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.

We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us.  And if we fail?  Do what pelicans do.  Get back up and go at it again.  Not every attempt ends in failures.  Just ask those pelicans!

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.

A Moving Journal-Day 10

Well, the day has arrived.  Usually I’m sharing this at the end of the day–but at the end of this day….well, I might be a bit too tired to write.  But already this morning I have learned “another” lesson.  What is it?  Glad you asked!

Sometimes, many times, it’s not that we need God to teach us something new–but to remind us of what He has already taught us.  

The lesson I learned Saturday night and Sunday.  And it’s this:  Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!  That lesson taught me that He has control, even though I don’t have control.  So for the rest of this day, and hopefully for the rest of my life, I will remember this lesson:  I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!  The Lessons We Learn At The Feet Of Jesus Are Timeless And Timely!

A Moving Journal-Day 7

Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack.  And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped.  Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving.  I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed.  OK, I WAS overwhelmed.  But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.

The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed.  The food pantry hadn’t been touched.  So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away.  The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes.  This to pack.  This to move out of the way.  Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load.  The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded.  My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck.  Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday.  I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.

Now it is early evening.  My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore.  Honestly?  I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor.  At the age of 17, that was my plan–until….  So what other lessons did I learn today?

  • There is still much to be done.  The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work.  It is an ongoing work inside of me.  And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
  • We can do more than we think.  Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
  • Stay focused on the main thing.  Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time.  As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.

A Moving Journal-Day 3

OK, Day 3 is in the books.  In 4 more days the moving company will arrive to pick up our belongings.  Then, on Monday afternoon we will meet them again at our new home.  I guess you could say this is entering “crunch time”.  At least it feels this way.  Here was my day.

At about 5:30 a.m. I boxed up some more of my stuff in the garage.  Now it’s trying to figure out which box will work without any wasted space.  Back to the office to finish all the filing and paperwork.  Filing and sorting was something I was going to get to, eventually.  But it is evident I never got around to it.  So now it’s sorting through documents; filing them chronologically–something that wasn’t done before I arrived, but it will be done before I leaven.  I began preparing notes for my successor of things, people and situations he should be aware of in the beginning–again, something I wasn’t given much of upon my arrival.  I’m finding duplicate documents so I am properly disposing of them.

I arrive at home and after supper, it back to “seek and ye shall find” the right size box.  I’m finding some more “stuff” that I was going to do something with eventually.  Now it’s at the curb for curb shoppers and the street department to pick up on Thursday.  I need to get everything out to the curb by Wednesday night so that my successor will arrive without “stuff” stacked by the curb.  And now, I am writing.  So, what lessons have I learned today?  To the casual observer, it might not seem like much, or worth mentioning.  But I have come to realize that the greatest bits of wisdom most often come from lessons learned; even the smallest lesson.

  • First, I learned that organizing is essential for the long run.  I mean, by putting things that will go together in the same space at the new home will make the unpacking go much quicker; not that it’s all that quick.  But if I put things from 3 different spaces in just one box, I will be spending more time going between spaces that putting those things up.  Forward thinking is either an art that is being lost in people and churches; or it is a skill that is about to become lost upon the general population; or it is a gift that no one wants anymore.
  • Second, I learned that I need to quite practicing the art of procrastination.  There you have it, the one thing that keeps me from being perfect.  I know I just heard someone I know who is reading this fall to the floor laughing.  One of my constant struggles is putting off until next week what I should have done yesterday.  I gotta work on this problem with better results.
  • Third, there are still things to be done here before I leave.  One thing I started doing today that I haven’t mentioned is I’ve been praying, listening and thinking of what to say at our friend’s funeral on Wednesday morning.  Another thing I did not mention is that I’ve been working with our financial manager and volunteer accountant on an accurate financial statement.  This church has been using a system that had 2 not so slight issues–it never balanced with the bank statements and it never balanced at the end of the year.  I made a commitment that the financial picture would be clear as a bell before I left.  And after today, I believe it is.
  • Fourth, I need to be thinking about our next place of Kingdom work.  About midway through the day I realized I have not been praying nor thinking about our new appointment.  I had not been taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit who I believe is guiding us to these 2 wonderful communities of Jesus followers.  Even in crunch time I need to also be thinking about the most immediate future of next week.

 

 

Eliminating Cultural Bias As Followers Of Jesus

 

Well, I know, it’s a deep subject for such a shallow mind as mine.  But the Holy Spirit finally led me to the concluding post about this scourge and plague infecting the Body of Christ known as Cultural Bias.  I could go on and on listing views and even honest beliefs people hold as the truth from the Throne of God Himself that are influenced more by the culture of humanity rather than the richness of heaven itself.  But all good things must come to an end, or so we are told.  And even bad things come to an end.  When life gets tough there are some words often repeated in the Bible I turn to:  “and it came to pass”!

What the Holy Spirit reminded me of was back in the ninth grade in Mrs. McPeters’ typing class.  Yes, I am that old.  At the risk of sounding like an old geezer, back in my day it was all about typewriters when it came to “publishing”.  But I do remember, probably much to the surprise of Mrs. McPeters, that the first lesson in operating a typewriter was in knowing the home keys, the position to put your fingers BEFORE you started typing.  Oh yes, there were computers back then, but the one you hold in your hand has far more capabilities that those back then that took up very large rooms.

And the very first thing we typed was this:  “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  This sentence utilized every letter in the alphabet.  Our first appointed task was to type this sentence, over and over and over and over and over.  Talk about boring.  But then she added stress–she started timing us on how quick we could do it.  I now understand what she was doing–making sure us students started in the right place, otherwise we would never master the typewriter.  And this is where the Spirit offered me a jewel known as wisdom.

The home keys for the left hand are asdf and the home keys for the right hand are jkl;, unless you type with 2 fingers using the biblical method of “seek and ye shall find”.  If we began there we would indeed type The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  But…if I change the home key for the left hand by moving it only one place to the right, it looks something like this: Yhr wuivy ntoen goc jumpd obrt yhr lsxy foh.  Well, that certainly make a lot of sense.  The spell correction feature of WordPress is scratching its head wondering, “What in the world is he trying to spell?”

Starting in the wrong “home keys” is not only disastrous for keyboarding, but also in living.  The influence of cultural biases affect our thinking and will create theological nonsense just like that sentence when my fingers were NOT on the right home keys.  So my mind began racing away by thinking of 7 simple steps to overcome cultural bias as Followers of Jesus.  It was then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Holf on nih noy.”  Oops, my fingers were on the wrong home keys.  What He really said to me was, “Hold on big boy.”  So I thought, are there more than 7 simple steps?  Is it like a 12 Step Recovery Program?  I now can see the Holy Spirit doing a face palm.

Then it hit me, the word I needed to focus on is “simple”.  By use of this word I do not mean “simplistic”, rather basic.  The Bible is a narrative, THE Narrative of God.  “In the beginning” God creates perfection.  It remains perfect until Adam and Eve mess it all up and fall out of this perfect relationship.  Then the Bible becomes the narrative of 2 stories.  One narrative is how humanity keeps messing up God’s Intended Design.  The other narrative is how God faithfully and persistently seeks to restore His Image Bearers.

Everything in the Bible is about this narrative, this story of falling and restoring.  Unlike what most of us were taught, the Bible is not a library of different books.  It is the unfolding narrative about us falling and how God is seeking and working to restore us.  So to overcome the influences of cultural biases here’s what we all need to do–what I am doing.  I read.  I allow those words, just those words, soak and simmer into my mind.

Then I explore and study the what, where and when those words were spoken.  In other words, I seek to know the context, but always filtering those thoughts through the narrative of me falling and God seeking and working to restore this fallen Image Bearer.  And that is why I did not use the words “easy steps” and used the words “simple steps” because it is not easy, but it is doable because of this simplified process of allowing the Bible to speak TO us instead of us speaking FOR the Bible.

One of the good things, perhaps very few good things, about this internet thing is the easy access to uncovering the contexts of this Biblical Narrative.  I do not have to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar.  All I have to do is visit www.blueletterbible.org and see what people like James Strong and Joseph Henry Thayer have discovered about the ancient Greek or what Strong and Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius can share about the ancient Hebrew.

I can also visit www.biblegateway.com and look at that passage from a variety of translations and paraphrases and find certain nuances from each translation.  I can Google and find out the history of those times and places.  All the while listening to the Holy Spirit.  Many times I wrestle and struggle with the Narrative, but I do not wrestle or struggle alone.  I have my Companion, the one Jesus promises to freely give me if I only trust in Him.

So, first open the Bible then open your heart before you open your mind.  Our mind is where the junk and garbage of these cultural biases live.  Do not allow your minds to influence your heart as a Follower of Jesus.  The restoring work of God begins in the heart because this is where His Image resides and longs to be released and unleashed upon the mind, and then the world.  Jesus gives us a new heart that is designed to transform this mind that is polluted with the biases of our culture.  I cannot stress enough that you begin listening with your heart first.  Oh, you want me to give you a passage from the Bible on this?  Ok……you asked for it; Romans 12:1-2 (NLT):

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (emphasis mine)

Better yet, listen to how The Message puts it:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (emphasis mine)

Oh, one more thing.  This does not mean, by any stretch of even MY most active imagination, that I have mastered the Bible.  It does mean that The Bible, This Word of God, is mastering my life.  I am now being processed by God’s Word, and I am learning so much more than I ever have before.

Give Up Negativity

(This is the sixth of my current message series GIVE IT UP! (for Lent and Beyond)

Here lately I’ve been accused of stepping on some toes.  Well, have I got some good news for you!  This message will not apply to you.  It’s for those other folks—the person sitting next to you—on the other side—your neighbors—your in-laws—your coworkers—your boss!  We’re going to look at Giving Up Negativity!  Only 1 verse for today.  Proverbs 10:11 (NLT):

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.

You know I was being facetious about this message not being for you but all those other folks.  The truth is, at any time all of us become guilty of being negative.  Look at these words again, this time from The Message—“the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.”  Don’t shut off your hearing—just hear me out.

It’s not so much that WE are wicked—it’s that if we are not careful AND intentional, we allow our mouths to become an instrument of THE Wicked One!  And we become another wicked mouth—another instrument for the Wicked One—when our words stink with negativity!  It’s what Brian Houston of Hillsong Church in Australia calls “Verbal Terrorism”.  Most of those who have the wicked mouth are appalled at and are against any form of abuse.  Yet those who speak negative words from their negative hearts and minds are the most abusive of all.

If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  

Slide6

Negative energy can squash positive energy.  A negative thought, comment or action is very good at destroying good things and making someone or something fail.

A negative remark becomes a rumor that becomes a false witness, which becomes an ugly situation. Negativity works by being passed from one person to another.  We all know negative people. We know them at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, our in-laws and yes, even in our church.  Some of them whine; they are almost always critical and never satisfied.  Others are harsh, nasty and angry.  And still others are cynical, malicious, sarcastic, narcissistic and unfriendly.  We know to stay out of their way.

And there are those who follow only their egos and desires, doing whatever it takes to attain their goals, leaving behind a long trail of negativity, pain and destruction.  Some of us are constantly fending off the negativity that pushes against us.  The bad experiences of life take a heavy toll on our spirit.  If gone unchecked, we can become the same grumpy and sad people we criticize and try to AVOID.

People do not become negative overnight.  There are more than a few happy-go-lucky kids who grew up to become nasty or depressed old people because of the negativity accumulated over the years.  Many people spend their adult lives trying to prove themselves to the world because of a few bad kids who taunted them in childhood.

Negativity is a killer. Negativity will Kill your present life and any chance of a future fulfilling life. Negativity creates more negativity.  Negativity sticks around and leaves deep wounds that do not heal easily.  The wicked mouth is used by the Wicked One to kill the Vision and Mission of a church.

No one likes negativity, yet everyone participates in it and at a moment’s notice—joins right in.  How many of you jump into a gossip session or throw in a snide remark if a person’s name is mentioned?   Point the finger of blame at someone else?

The fruit of negativity is too large to list: pain, division, anger, fear, sadness, paranoia, isolation, bitterness, are just a few.  A negative church raises negative Christians.  You can tell them by their fruit.  Their focus is NOT on ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’, ‘hope’ or ‘love’.  Some focus on ‘sinners’ and ‘hellfire’.  They love to SCARE their members to God.  They succeed not only in making their members afraid of God, but they are nervous and afraid that the devil will get them.  They reluctantly serve God just to save themselves from hell.  No love for others, but care only for their self-preservation.

A negative church also creates coarse, self-righteous, divisive members who isolate themselves and demonize those who disagree with them.  It takes as few as one negative person whose angry nit-picking, to catch fire with other members and eventually bring down the whole church.  Negativity is a great tool of the devil.

No church is ever 100% negativity free.  Many can have great music, worship, sermons and teachings, yet still have hidden prejudices, in-fighting, gossiping and self-righteousness among themselves.  In a church setting, many people who visit a church can SENSE that something doesn’t seem right, and they don’t come back.  Those that do come back and stay think that is the way the church operates because the people in the congregation don’t say anything against it, then it must be OK. Right? WRONG!

How many good intentioned churches have all the makings of a wonderful place of worship, but quietly keep out ‘undesirables’ or teach their congregations, that certain people are not loved or forgiven by God.  Or teach that God only cares about following the rules exactly. Somehow, forgiveness, love and grace are secondary.  There are certain ‘diagnostic’ Here Are The Signs Of The Spirit Of Negativity In A Person And In Church:

1] They Ignore The Good.

Instead of the “whatsoever things are good”, it’s a witch hunt for ‘whatsoever things are not good’.  “Not good” is defined by their definitions, not God’s definition.  Attention, energy and resources are directed toward fixing things—be it programs or staff or pastor.  Just One ‘not good’ thing becomes the driving force for them—whether it is a person, a program, style of worship or an issue.

2] They Focus On Mistakes.

For them it doesn’t matter what else is happening—it’s all about the mistakes.  Because mistakes are their focus, they are looking for them.  Their eye is trained to look for someone to make a mistake.  And even if the mistake is an honest and unintentional one, the benefit of the doubt is absent.  They look at others so critically that they believe someone is going to make that mistake.  So they watch and watch, and if anything gets close to what they consider a mistake, they pounce on it like a big cat pounces on its prey and unload both barrels.

3] They Sacrifice Their Gifts And Passion.

When I say sacrifice, I do not mean it in the sense that they give it up for Jesus.  They set their gifts and passion aside—put it in a box and in a closet.  They are not interested in the Mission of God  Because They Lose Sight Of The Big Picture.  All that they could become and do for Jesus is locked away; and it’s all because of their wicked mouth.  The result of this sacrificing of their gifts and passion is that they become more in love with their past than they are in God’s future!  They moan that things are not like they used to be.  That negative spirit, those negative words, causes them to look backwards to how it was back then and miss how it can be right now.

Negativity is among the most dangerous diseases UNKNOWN to people.  I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  Over my years, I’ve only known a handful of people who intentionally chose to have that wicked mouth and live in the spirit of negativity.  Most I’ve seen just eased into it.  One thing goes wrong; something changes—and before they even realize—negative words form.

Those negative words ooze into their thinking just once.  Then another thing happens, and their mouth becomes wicked.  Then it’s another and then another.  Soon, even unaware, they are possessed with those wicked lips become another instrument of the Wicked One.  But There Is A Way Of Overcoming the Spirit of Negativity.

1] Transform Your Minds (Romans 12:2).

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Notice that this word is TRANSFORM, not REFORM.  It’s not about doing a little tweaking here and there.  Think about an automobile engine:  It’s the difference between changing spark plugs and complete overhauling the motor.  It’s look at every part and replacing everything that’s not up to the original specifications.  The original specifications of your mind is to think the way God thinks.

But the wicked mouth reveals that it ain’t so because we are tainted by the Wicked One.  And Paul tells us how to transform the mind:

  • Begin each day by giving your day to God
  • Remember what God has done and is doing for your life (picture of Him on the Cross)
  • Reject what your environment and culture say is right
  • Listen to what God wants from you; it’s found in the Bible
  • Then respond immediately to what God wants

And God will begin changing you from the inside first.  Then He lifts you up on the outside by giving back to you what the Wicked One took away from you because of your sin.

2] Change Your Thinking (Philippians 4:8).

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Once God has transformed your mind—He expects you to use it in ways that are consistent with His ways.  There is a key word Paul uses:  Fix or as the KJV puts it Think.  In the Greek it means “to consider, take account, weigh, meditate”.  The Wicked Mouth doesn’t say things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious the best, the beautiful, things to praise.

Wicked lips speak things from the Wicked Mind—malicious words, degrading words, dishonorable words, despicable words.  God sees things, situations and people in a different way.  Consider the ways and heart of God.  Give God’s thoughts more weight than your thoughts.  Words that tear down, words that discourage others, come from the Wicked Lips.

3] Control Your Mouths. (James 3:6)

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire.  It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.  It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Rather than me explaining this, let’s just see what the Bible says about controlling your mouth:

  • Psalm 141:3—“Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.”
  • Proverbs 12:13—“The wicked are trapped by their own words,     but the godly escape such trouble.
  • Proverbs 13:3—“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”
  • Proverbs 11:11—“Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.
  • Proverbs 21:23—“Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” Or from The Message—“Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
  • Ephesians 4:29—“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
  • Proverbs 10:19—“Too much talk leads to sin.  Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
  • Proverbs 10:11—“The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.”

Lips express the words that are formed in our mind produced by our thoughts.  The wicked mouth expresses the wicked mind, that reveals the Spirit of Negativity.  The Negative Thoughts We Have About Others And The World Are Often Rooted In The Negative Thoughts We Have About Ourselves.  Have you ever consider this to be true in life, in others, even in yourself?

Your next step is to make this declaration about your own mind and attitude.

Therefore, I hereby declare this to be true about me:

  1. I repent of my past negative attitude and words.
  2. I am a child of God.
  3. I am who He says I am.
  4. I am special to God and His Kingdom.
  5. I am forgiven.
  6. I am a product of God’s grace.
  7. I am a Christ-follower.
  8. I am a champion for Christ.
  9. I am more than a conqueror.
  10. I am filled with His Spirit, and will walk in the Spirit throughout this day.
  11. When I return home, I will praise Him for His protection, I will bless Him for His mercy, and I will sing His praises in the night!
  12. I will live life to the fullest today.
  13. I will bless someone today with my words.
  14. I will speak words of life, of comfort, of healing and power.
  15. I will walk in victory.
  16. I can do what He says I can do, and today I will live life in abundance!
  17. There is no turning back.

Now, go do the next right thing!

STOP WASTING TIME!

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(This is the last of the series about the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Thanks for all the comments and likes!)

 Disclaimer

We do not have the time to get into all the Hard Sayings Of Jesus, so this will be our last in this series.  I hope by now you have the tools and the courage to tackle on your own the hard, even harsh things Jesus had to say.  Simply because we don’t like them or do not want to deal with them doesn’t mean we have the luxury of simply ignoring them.  Frankly, I do not want to face Him on the day of judgment and have Him ask me why I chose to ignore them.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 10:5-15 (NIV)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 

13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What exactly is Jesus saying here?  There is a principle and a Truth that is guiding all the other messages we see and hear.  And it is in Verses 14-15—If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  2 things about this image:

  1. It was a sign of an unclean place. It’s what devout Jews would do if they ever had to go into a Gentile city or home.
  2. It was a sign that you were finished with that person or place, and you were not responsible for their decisions and actions. It was a sign of letting them know that God’s judgment was now upon them—no more excuses.

It seems that Jesus is saying that when people reject Him and His Kingdom, His disciples are to shake the dust off their shoes and move on, and that Sodom and Gomorrah will do better at judgment than them.  But Where is the Grace and Mercy and patience of God?  Well, let’s apply the process of the 2 questions:

  1. Is It Possible?

Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and in Mark 3:6 we read—“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Obviously Jesus moved on.  Now look at the second question:

  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian where the people began listening to them.  But the religious leaders stirred up trouble and expelled them.  And we read in Verse 51—So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

So the answer to both questions is clearly yes.  If you can remember only 1 thing from Slide15this message, this is it:  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.  I am not more important than The Mission.  You are not more important than The Mission.  Our families are not more important than The Mission.  This nation and its politics are not more important than The Mission.  Your wants and wishes are not more important than The Mission.    The church is not more important than The Mission.  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.

So, how do we apply this authoritative word?  Does it mean that we go up to someone and ask them, “Do you want to be a Christian?” and if they say “No”, we forget about them and ask the next person and the next and the next?  Absolutely not.  Putting this hard saying of Jesus into the right context is the key to the application of His Truth.  This is The Pattern for how The Kingdom works and moves:  Jesus SENDS!  Jesus sends the First 12 Disciples, and He continues to send His Disciples.

This isn’t an Apostolic Age thing.  The word apostle means one who is sent.  Everyone is sent somewhere for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It may not be to a pulpit or foreign country, but you are sent nonetheless.  Jesus is sending Disciples.  They aren’t apostles (lowercase a) until they are sent.  And notice where He sends them:  Not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans—but to those He calls “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Why?

Because The Kingdom Of God Should Begin Here!  Before we can take the Kingdom of God into the world, it must be firmly rooted in our hearts.  God has a Mission for Real Disciples.  Those who attended the Small Group Training learned that it’s wrong to say Slide16the church has a mission.  Truth is that God’s Mission has a church.  We call it Missio Dei—the sending of God.  God’s mission needs a church that will embrace and follow His Mission.  I see at least 3, let’s call them Kingdom Principles, that Jesus demands from us if we are going to be more than Christian in name, but in heart and life.

1] The Mission Needs To Be Focused.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

God sends Disciples to the places that needs what only God provides.  This passage, these words of Jesus, is where we need to focus.  First focus on ourselves, then on others.  Here’s where the focus needs to be rather than on all the external trimmings that we think give us our identity:

  • Heal the sickthe word “heal”, means to serve. The word “sick” means those who are weak, powerless, without the strength to change their life
  • Raise the dead—it means to wake up and cause people to stand in life, not the death that sin produces in us. The Walking Dead TV series isn’t original.  There are the Walking Dead all around us.  Not zombies, but broken and lifeless people.
  • Cleanse those with leprosy—that word leprosy includes the disease of leprosy but was also applied to a variety of skin diseases. Spiritually it’s about those who are carrying around external labels that crush and destroy the human heart.
  • Drive out demons—the devil is having a heyday and causing mayhem because the church has stopped fighting them and starting fighting people. The phrase here means with force and strength.  This is the warfare that God calls us into.

Freely have you received, freely give—It’s about sharing the extravagant grace and mercy that God has shown you with others.

2] We Need To Give A Clear Message.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The church can be really good at sending mixed messages.  For example:  Jesus can set you free—but to be with us, there are certain ways you need to act and a certain way of doing things.  Here’s another:  God has an unlimited supply of grace for you—but don’t be surprised if my supply of grace is limited.  Oh, this is a good one:  Christ makes all things new—just like they were 40 years ago.

The Greek word for “at hand” is eggizō (en-gē’-zō).  It means: to join one thing to another.  The Message of the Kingdom is to connect people to the Kingdom of God!  The gospel message is not difficult. The Message Is Clear:

  • Let’s be clear that brokenness persists in all of us. We are all broken somewhere. We are sinners in need of the Savior.
  • Let’s be clear that Only by faith in Jesus can we be forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion over us.
  • Let’s be clear that when we are forgiven we join in with what God is doing in the world.

Some people place the stained glass windows of tradition and liturgy in front of Christ and hide Him. Some are destroying the Good News of the Kingdom by replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of how we feel and what WE want to believe.  The apostles were to “go and preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It’s about the Kingdom, not the local church.  We are to keep the message of God clear—it’s all about Jesus and His Authority to rule us.

3] Do The Mission With Urgency.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (vs. 14-15)

What I see missing in so many lives is The Passion for the Mission.  Until we see and know how Urgent the Mission is, we will never have the Passion.  Urgency Creates Passion.  And that Passion motivates us to become apostles—people who are sent!

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The Greek word for apostle is apostolos and it means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō—to order one to go to a place appointed.  Real Christians Are Sent People.  You Have Stopped Being A Sent People When You Become A Settled People.  Me?  I’m not going to be a settled person.  I’m moving with God and with those moving with God and I’m shaking the dust off my shoes for those who have settled.

Without that sense of Urgency with Passion, then there is coming a time when those who are supposed to know—know the Truth and Live it in Urgency and with Passion—but have ignored and rejected The Kingdom—that God is going to shake the dust and judgement is going to be upon those people and churches.  The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah will not be as severe as those people and churches that reject God’s Kingdom for their own Kingdom.

Until you know how urgent the message and mission of the Kingdom is, you will never be a real Disciple of Jesus.  People are hurting deeply all around us.  Every day people are going into eternity without Jesus.  Every day people are being deceived and believing the lies.  Our work is urgent.  Join in now before someone shakes the dust off the shoes towards you.