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….

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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.