I know today isn’t Thanksgiving Day–but it is Thanksgiving Day that I’m thinking about this morning. I’m not thinking about all that food–but I am thinking about all the changes that are about to happen with our family. It was just a few weeks ago that Dad had to be taken to the hospital because his heart was in severe A-Fib. But Dad is a tough old bird–95 to be exact. And a couple of days later he was back at HIS home–that same home he had built in 1962. We decided to ask him if it was OK with him–after all, it’s his home–to have Thanksgiving at his house. We would do all the preparations–and he agreed. All of us realize this may well be our last Thanksgiving Day with him.
And now it appears that a big change is about to happen. For over 3 years he has been living by himself. But recent events are bringing about a change that he, nor us, wanted to see happen. Last week he fell, but he was unable to get back up, so he had to use his alert button to get paramedics there to assist him in getting back up. No injuries. Then this Wednesday he fell again–and again needed assistance to get back up. But this time he twisted his ankle–and it really hurts.
I called him yesterday afternoon to see how he was feeling. The conversation I knew that would happen one day–happened Thursday, 10 November 2021. Fighting back the tears he told me it was time for a move to assisted living. But, in his own words, “I want to hold on until after Thanksgiving.” These words are from a man who is a fierce warrior in life. He worked for 30 years in a plant, the last several years while also serving as a bi-vocational pastor, spending his vacation time going to school. When he bought the place to build his home he bought an extra lot for the garden. It fed us and many others over the years. He continued that garden into his late 70’s. And after retirement from being a pastor, he spent many years working at a local funeral home.
Last night and this morning my heart is breaking for him. In April we had to convince him it was time to quit driving. That was a horrible day! We’ve had assistance coming into HIS HOME 3 days a week–something he did not like at all. He’s been losing his independence–something no fierce warrior ever wants to do. He and I have talked about his funeral–and that really wasn’t hard at all to do. This fierce warrior has been running The Race and has kept The Faith. But this change–and at Thanksgiving–is difficult beyond even my ability to find words.
Honestly, I am dreading next Thursday. But it is supposed to be a happy and joyful day. And this dark cloud is hanging over us–trying to crush my heart. I mean, how can you even pretend to be Thankful when you know what will happen very soon thereafter? Well, this is where YOU come in to play. I know my attitude must as genuinely hopeful as Dad’s has been over many years, some of which there wasn’t much hope.
Pray for us, please! I have been so blessed to have This Fierce Warrior for 95 years. He has loved me–forgiven me–and encouraged me all the time. I know I shouldn’t be so down and out. I’ve had him longer than most sons have had their Dads. But my heartache isn’t for me–it’s for Him! For all the times he has been strong for me–now I must be strong for him! I must genuinely show thankfulness and joy next Thursday. But the only way it will happen is if God helps me. And thanks for listening to my heart this morning.
What mountain is between you and the kind of life you deeply long to have today? At this exact moment, what flood is sweeping you away from the life you once knew? Where does your hope come from that says you will get over that mountain? Who will rescue you from that flood? IS there a source of hope AND strength that will simply get you through today without being crushed and broken? IS there even hope for a better tomorrow? What source of help has been tested and proven true over and over? IS there such help?
Image if you will, a new car manufacturer comes up with what they claim is the best, safest, and most reliable car ever. Imagine if you will, they claim it will get 60 miles per gallon of gas and go from 0 to 70 in 4.6 seconds. But then they also say, “We haven’t tested it yet. Heck, we haven’t even tried to crank it! But we just know it will do what we claim!” Would you be the first in line at the dealership to buy one?
Imagine if you will that you see an ad for a used car; the picture looks like that car is in immaculate shape. You go to see it and the first thing the salesperson says is “Well, sometimes it runs great, and sometimes it won’t run at all.” Would you pay Kelly Blue Book full retail price? Maybe even throw in a couple of thousand extra, just because? As nonsensical and preposterous as this sounds, yet this is what many do when facing mountains or when being swept away by some raging flood.
You will never be able to climb that mountain, and that flood will sweep you away–unless and until you trust God enough to surrender completely into His hands. He may not do it in the fashion you want–but He will do it. Trying to conquer that mountain or trying to be rescued from that flood by any other method (see my pun? I’m a Methodist!) will always end in disaster. Cry out to Jesus in this moment–and He will help you climb that mountain. And He will rescue you from this flood. This is His promise:
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight
Mottos! Yep! That’s what’s stirring up my gray matter this morning. When it comes to advertising–a great motto helps consumers to remember their product. So, what is YOUR motto? To help you tell me yours, I’ll tell you one of mine: “If you don’t like my sarcasm, don’t ask me stupid questions!”
Even our good old U.S. of A. has a motto: In God We Trust! The thing about mottos is that you gotta back it up–otherwise people just ignore or forget it. Unfortunately, with my aforementioned motto–I back it up with a healthy, sometimes an over-abundance of sarcasm. But that motto on all our currency? That thing about Trust In God? Not a good motto in these times–because it’s not backed up with action.
Before you start ranting and raving about the nefarious cesspool otherwise known as Washington D.C., know I’m not talking about that ash heap. This morning I am talking only to those who self-identify as Christian. I still remember decades ago getting emails about how Madeline O’Hare was going to the Supreme Court in an attempt to get In God We Trust removed from our currency. Now, I would have bought a plane ticket to see that, seeing she had been dead for years!
Christians want it on our currency–but it would be far better for them, for our nation, and for our world if it was just removed from the currency! There, I said it! But before you stop reading this morning’s pensiveness, read what is next. It would be far better for us, for our nation, and for our world if you have a motto that you embody with your attitudes, words, thoughts, and actions.
Yes! we need to Trust In God That’s a no-brainer! But more than saying we need to Trust In God, we need a motto that shows how much we Trust In God! Forget putting it on currency and government seals. Let’s put a new motto on our ordinary, going here and there, doing this and that life. And maybe it’s time I, too, changed my personal motto to one that better suits what God is doing in my life. So, what should it be, America? Hey! I have an idea. What about this one?
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
If we adopt this as our motto it means we would have to stop looking at political parties, the hollow (and I do mean hollow, not hallowed!I said what I meant, and I meant what I said!) halls of academia, and even ourselves in order to see a real transformation in our times; and really live through the strength of Jesus! How strong is Jesus? He carried the weight of all our sins while hanging on the Cross. And somehow, as strange as it may sound to some, I believe Jesus will strengthen us to be a light that brings hope to the hopeless. Call me crazy! You won’t be the first, and I dare say, you won’t be the last!
According to dictionary.com dwelling, as a noun, is defined as “a building or place of shelter to live in; place of residence; abode; home.” This morning I wasn’t thinking about nouns, I was thinking about verbs. And from the Cambridge Dictionary, as a verb, it is defined as “to think or talk about something a lot of the time”. And as I sitting here thinking about that word as a verb, the above picture is my mental image.
I mean, how many people are dwelling in the wrong dwelling these days? And this is not a unique phenomenon for our times. It’s been around for a very long time. The particular dwelling I’m dwelling on this morning is that venomous, noxious, and vulgar eyesore called The Past. And though I was thinking about the verb form of dwelling, the noun form also fits.
Living In The Past is choosing to live each in a dilapidated house. Think about living in a dilapidated house. It’s cold in the winter; hot in the summer. It’s filled with critters and creatures that will make the skin crawl. I mean, who would even want to live in a house like the one pictured above? Of course not! Yet mentally, emotionally, and spiritually this is the kind of dwelling people live within when their focus is on The Past.
Dwelling on their own sins. Dwelling on someone else’s sins. Dwelling on the wrong someone did to them. Dwelling on being passed over at work. Dwelling on being betrayed by someone who we thought was our friend. Dwelling on how someone else’s life is great while yours is the pits. Dwelling on a harsh word spoken in the heat of a moment. Dwelling on missed opportunities. Dwelling on being denied a loan. DwellingDwellingDwelling in places that are not healthy for us at all. So, how do we change our Dwelling?
It’s simple; so simple that we make it difficult. Change your Dwelling!You just move out and move into! Out of the past and into the new present and new future. The move has already been provided and paid for–you just need to do more than decide–you gotta act right now! It’s just like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17:
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges!
From The Message
Dwelling on the past never changes the present; and it never offers us a future. On the other hand, Dwelling in and on Jesus–now that’s the kind of Dwelling to live in. It’s a great neighborhood, too! Regardless of how difficult you think it will be to make this kind of move, remember that God will take care of you. He has taken care of your Past–He has your Present–and oh, what a Future He will have for you!
Used car salespeople. Politicians. Late night infomercial hucksters. Major news outlets. Weather forecasters. What do the aforementioned persons have in common? They are capricious and dubious at best–especially the last one. I remember in 2014, I was living in metro Birmingham. There was snow in the forecast–but all the local forecasters said it would all be south of us and for us not to worry. That should have set off alarms! Our vacuous and insipid state highway department sent all their equipment to where the weather forecasters said it would snow. Not long after midday, metro Birmingham was turned into the world’s largest parking lot.
And yesterday. Here in lovely Mount Vernon, we are in a dry spell–very dry spell. Yesterday’s forecast, by these alleged experts, were only predicting a less that 20% chance of rain. So our expectations were another dry and very hot day. However, despite the forecast, we GOT RAIN! Six-tenths of an inch, Praise God! So where am I going with this rant against forecasters?
I can’t help but wonder how many people are getting their–call it Life Forecast–from unreliable sources? “They” say “There’s not a snowball’s chance in you know where you could ever do that!” They give up and capitulate that their life will ever change. They life in subjugation to a Life Forecast that crushes their hope and thus–live in defeasance to a Life Forecast that is inaccurate–like yesterday’s weather forecast.
When you are leaning towards and into that dark abrogation of the life you were created for–remember Abram and Sarai. This was their names before God changed their future. Before Isaac was born–God changed their name to reflect a new future. From now on, they would be known as Abraham and Sarah. The change happened before the reality of The Promise.
A short time later, Abraham received some visitors (sent from Heaven by God) with an important announcement: You are Sarah will have a son! Both are past their prime and the Life Forecast for them was they were too old to have children. When Sarah overheard the conversation she laughed–she believed the wrong Life Forecast! And my last word to you today is what God’s Messenger asked:
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Genesis 18:14 (NLT)
It may seem too hard to your Life Forecasters to see a different future for you. But it’s not too hard for God!
Sign, sign Everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery Breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that Can’t you read the sign?
“Signs” performed by Five Man Electrical Band, written by Arthur Thomas
If you were not singing along with the above lyrics, you are NOT a part of the best and coolest generation ever! Yep! I’m thinking about signs today–and the messages they disclose. When I’m on my motorcycle, I absolutely LOVE this next sign! As I recently posted on Facebook, sometimes you need a really crooked road to get your head straight!
There are more signs that just highway signs. Signs of summer:
Signs of fall:
Signs of winter:
And the ever popular signs of Spring:
But I am aberrating. There’s a road sign I’ve seen a few times, and today I started thinking about that sign. Can I be honest with you? It’s a sign that bemuses, bewilders, and stupefies me. And here it is:
I realize that a lot of churches are indeed slow, but I wonder what are the qualifications to receive such a designation? If I was the pastor of the church that had this sign–I would seek a new appointment. If I was a member, I would insist that the highway department take it down immediately. I mean, who wants to lead or attend a slow church? Apparently, there’s a lot who will fit the bill.
I call them Tenured Pew Sitters. The church has been SLOW to realize it doesn’t exist to serve it’s members. The church has been SLOW to accept people who don’t dress, think, or vote like them as people who need God’s grace. The church has been SLOW understanding that our story isn’t the story about the church, but the Saga Of The Kingdom Of God. The church has been SLOW recognizing the it isn’t a building but supposed to be a people.
It seems the church has been SLOW in responding the Great Heresy Of The 21st Century–that of progressive theology. This started back in the 1960’s. Yet Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters refused to believe it would ever gain traction. So…they remained silent.
And now it threatens to ripe apart the fabric of many churches. It’s a theology that depends and relies on human intellect and logic. And that is a train wreck about to happen, the likes of which have never been seen before. In it’s carnage will be victims of both sides–you see falsehood and heresy doesn’t care who it hurts–it will even hurt it’s most ardent supporters. The wake that will be left by progressivism will be a bloody mess of anger, doubt, fear, and broken spirits.
Slowness is killing the church in the U.S. of A. Elsewhere in the world, where the church isn’t SLOW, the Body Of Christ is Alive, Vibrant, and bringing new citizens into the Kingdom of God. Perhaps in the U.S., they should change words to a familiar hymn: Like a little snail, move the U.S. Church. But that’s just how I feel.
Good morning! It was William Shakespeare who wrote “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Maybe so if one is looking from the outside in. But eyes are designed to look outward. . .provided they are functioning as they should–which leads me to this morning’s reflections.
Since the seventh grade, I wear glasses–if you haven’t done the math, that’s 53 years. Other than that, and cataract surgery a few years ago, they have served me well. . .until recently. For the past several years I’ve noticed these things called “floaters”. At first I thought I was swatting at a gnat. My previous optometrist informed me that it was just little bits of something in the vitreous fluid in my eyes, and were common with people of a certain age. Oh, God, how I hate that term!
Here’s the thing about those floaters, I don’t notice them until I do notice them–and then they keep hanging around–until I forget about them. They are still there, I just don’t notice them. Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to a new optometrist since my old one was a couple of hours away. After he dilated them, he spent a lot of time–I mean a LOT of time–looking into what Shakespeare called the windows to the soul. It was more time than I thought he needed.
He then showed me something abnormal about my eyes–in particular–in the back of my eyes–left and right. There was a bulging at the back. It wasn’t a detached retina–Praise God!–but, it was something that concerned him, and told me I needed to see a specialist to see if my eyes needed surgery to fix and prevent future problems. I could say I didn’t have a clue about this condition–but I remember a few months ago having this sharp pain behind my eyes–but passed it off as a sinus headache–something I have from time to time.
So, this morning at 8:15 CDT I will see the doctor for a further diagnosis. I want to say I’m not concerned–but we are talking about MY eyes and MY future vision. But then I remember the prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby who wrote tons of hymns about the glory of God–though she was blind. So, I’m thinking to myself, “Self, what’s your issue? If Fanny could see God’s glory though she was “blind”, you need to keep your eyes on Jesus.”
And here’s my point for today. Whatever comes your way in life, keep your eyes, your spiritual eyes, on Jesus. The Bible has something to say about this. It comes in Hebrews chapter 12–right after that long list of people who experienced many difficulties but maintained their faith. Verses 1 and 2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
When life throws you a curve ball or a change-up, just keep your eyes on Jesus–like Fanny Crosby did. And everything will ultimately be good–God promises us this. I will SEE all of you tomorrow!
The greatest generation ever was those who fought in World War II. I would like to think that my generation was the second greatest generation. Why? We spent more time outside than inside. We had sweat beads around our necks in the summer. We could turn the right stick into a Thompson sub-machine gun. We didn’t think much about stepping in cow manure. We drank water from the hose pipe. We jumped off of bridges into creeks. Best friends could have fights and after the fight, still be best friends.
We watched violent cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, yet we never had the desire or even urge to to shoot someone or order bomb making materials from Acme. Oh! One more thing–we had the very best music! Country music was COUNTRY Music and rock-n-roll was ROCK-N-ROLL. One of our songs was “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.
And now it is 2021, and the question begs to be asked and answered: What Are The Three Most Important Words For Right Now? I have been listening, and have advanced to the level of Intermediate Noticer. Based on what is being said and shouted, here is my comprehensive yet incomplete list of what different people are thinking is the answer to the 3 most important words needed for these times. In no particular order they are:
We need Trump
We need Biden
Ban all guns
Need more guns
Prayer in schools
Bibles in schools
Close the borders
New American revolution
End foreign aid
Drain the swamp
More government aid
Congressional term limits
Less on defense
More on defense
Change your mind
Change YOUR mind
We need love
We need peace
We need hope
Have judicial reforms
No more racism
New political party (I must say this, “Really??? Aren’t political parties part of the problem??? And you want to add to the sewage?”)
We need kindness
We need determination
Deport all Republicans
Deport all Democrats
New moral values
Old moral values
Legalize more drugs
Government medical care
Defund Law Enforcement
Something, Anything, Everything
There are more to add to this list. Some “imagined” solutions are more complicated than three words. As if our world isn’t complicated enough. There are no simplistic solutions to the problems our culture and nation are facing. But. . .the solution is simple; just that simple. This list reflects groups of people–group mentalities. Group mentalities tend to produce complicated, complex, and irrelevant solutions. The answer–the simple but not simplistic answer–is found in three words:
I Need Help!
All of the fake solutions to our issues are focused on what others need to do–never on what the individual needs to SAY! To say “I NEED HELP” is to acknowledge that NOTHING–NO THING OUT THERE–can help heal our brokenness and help us navigate this total mess. If nothing OUT THERE (I refer you to the above list as being “out there”) that can help and heal us–then the answer must be UP THERE! I’m talking about the One Constant in an ever changing universe and culture–the Throne of God.
To end this madness, the place to begin is with the person in your mirror–that’s YOU! To say “I Need Help” is to admit the limitations created by sin and the Hope found only when we surrender completely and unconditionally to God. My best days happen when I begin the day, end the day, and admit every moment between beginning and ending, “I Need Help!” My worst days happen when I fail to say it. My mediocre days happen when I forget to say it throughout the day.
It’s simplistic to approach life saying that others need to change. Simplistic solutions have never worked. But solving this crisis is really simple. Admit your own need for God and trust God to both change and guide YOU–not “them”! Let your words be the words of the Psalmist:
1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.
5 The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.
7 The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
As long as I can remember, Dad had a garden. I mean a BIG garden. I think it came from his growing up years when times were hard. In spite of those hard times, he absolutely loved planting a garden! I remember him coming home from an 8 hour day at the local Reynolds plant and working until dark. His Saturdays found him working in the garden. And when they decided to build a new home in a subdivision he purchased 2 lots–one for the home and the other for the garden.
Even after my sister and I grew up and moved away, Dad continued his garden. After he retired, I remember my Mother fussing because he was working so hard in that garden. At first I suggested he slow down; but then I realized if he died working the garden, he would have died happy. Lord knows I’ve seen enough people die in misery. But as the years passed, he made his garden smaller. The only way he could do that was to plant some fruit trees so there wouldn’t be room to plant something else.
Finally, time did catch up with Dad and he just couldn’t garden the way he wanted. So he would plant in buckets and the inside of a washing machine tomato plants, squash and sometimes a cayenne pepper. But this spring, I was worried about him. Recently I asked him about his tomato and squash plants he told me, “I don’t think I’ll be doing them this year.” Understanding my Dad, I knew this wasn’t a good sign.
A bit of context. Dad just turned 94 years old. My Mother, his wife of 72 years, died 2 years ago come May. He still lives in that house he had built in 1962. It is filled with many wonderful memories, for him and us. He sounded tired, and I know he is; at times his grief is almost overwhelming. And for him not to plant at least 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants meant he didn’t see a future for himself here on earth. I know he longs to go home to be with The Father.
But this week, 3 plants changed everything: 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants. When I called him he proudly told me that he had put out his “garden”. That, my friends, is what is known as hope. Hope doesn’t blossom and become fruitful in the best of times–but in the most difficult of times. My Dad’s hope has grown. I realize that at 94 years old he may not eat a single tomato sandwich or fry up a skillet of fried squash–but he is planning on it. That is when hope becomes visual.
And the lesson, my dear readers, is clear in these days. COVID-19 is scary and there are many, maybe some of you, who have ONLY hunkered down and you do not see a future filled with hope. Let me ask you this question: What are you doing right now to plan for the future? I’m not talking about hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What are your plans WHEN this pandemic is over? And are those plans simply a reflection of what you are doing now? Where’s the hope in that?
So start “planting” now how to enjoy life more than ever. “Plant” those plans of spending more time with family and friends. “Plant” those plans of reconnecting with the Body of Christ. “Plant” those plans of being kinder in public. “Plant” that plan of a special trip with your family. Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to “plant” your hope. Do it now! Otherwise, your current mindset will continue to control your life. Three plants changed Dad’s perspective. It doesn’t take a whole lot to change your perspective. After all, only you can determine your perspective.
New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life. The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment. So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences. I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are. I surfed the web and here is what I found:
Learn a new skill or hobby
Live life to the fullest
Save more money / spend less money
Spend more time with family and friends
Here’s what else I found: It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point. Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions. And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions? I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment. When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:
Most People are not content with their lives. In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives. According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions. This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%.
Every human heart longs for contentment. Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.
But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life? And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life? Does that sound good to you? But wait! There’s more.
What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested? Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make. Want to know what it is? Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30
27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this: Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel! “Oh, is that all it is preacher? Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics? I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel! Thanks for nothing!”
And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel. We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving. And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel. But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do.
The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us. It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us. It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ. We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection! We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct. But remember Paul didn’t write in English. He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word: Live As Citizens of Heaven.
This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace. And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength. And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse. For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us! Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.
And this process is found in ONE: One Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret. And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year. So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?
It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day. The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit. And here’s The1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message: Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit.
Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit. What Is Your Spirit? The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.” And it is, but I want you to go deeper. Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process. And this is the real problem. Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit. Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained. Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit: One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart! So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.
And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions. He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit. Here is how to develop this One Spirit.
1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace
Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace! And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace? Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace: hungering and thirsting. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled.
It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God. It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray. It is about all that God offers. And trust that God will provide His grace. When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God. When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God. And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.
2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion
Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material. Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily. But that’s not Devotion. The Dictionary Defines Devotion As: Profound Dedication. It is moving your life in the direction of God. This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to. Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion. If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football. If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self. Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence. It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere. Make God your greatest passion.
3. Live With Total Determination
It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight. It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough. Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome. To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About.
It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin. But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross. Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life. Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him.
Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are. So here’s your Next Steps:
Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible. Begin with Philippians
Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?
Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.
And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!
Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
This week as I was preparing for the small groups I lead, a “not-so-random” thought hit me. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I have a severe case of “random thoughts”. But this time–it wasn’t so random. I’m leading the 2 of the 3 churches I serve in a weekly study and we are looking at the book of Acts. By the way, the third church I serve is at the local McDonald’s–a diverse group of employees, regulars, and the frequent visitor.
Here is where this “not-so-random” thought hit me:
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover.
Acts 12:1-4 (NLT)
It’s Verse 4 that deserves our attention, if we are followers of Jesus. “Then he (Agrippa) imprisoned him (Peter), placing him (Peter)under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.” Can’t you see it?????
Well, allow me to explain this for the less informed. Agrippa was a king-granted, placed their by Rome-but he’s a king. Because he’s a king and endorsed by Rome, he has a ton of power and authority. His authority reigns. Anyone who disagrees with that authority faces the might of Rome. Agrippa is indeed a powerful man. Got that part? Good!
Then, there’s Peter. Peter grew up to be a fisherman in an obscure village. He wields no great authority. He has no mighty army behind him. He has no endorsements from Rome. He’s just one person. OK. Got this part? Good!
In case you haven’t gotten my point, maybe this picture will help you understand, FROM A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE, the difference in the two men.
In human terms, Agrippa is the Great Dane, and Peter is that little Chihuahua. And there’s another group involved: 16 Roman soldiers, and there’s nothing sweet about this 16. Agrippa orders 16 highly trained, battle tested soldiers to guard this one man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Can you see it now?
Agrippa is intimidated by none other than Peter. I mean, why else would he order Peter to be guarded by 16 soldiers 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As bad as Agrippa is, he recognizes that Peter is a dangerous man to him. As much power and authority as Agrippa has, he senses that his power isn’t enough to contain Peter. Thus, the 16 soldiers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Man, that little Chihuahua is intimidating the Great Dane.
My Point? Glad you asked. Why are so many followers of Jesus being intimidated by our culture? Why are so many followers of Jesus afraid to speak up and out against a culture that is determined to undermine the ethics and authority of God and His Word? Why are so many pastors silent when confronted with the false ideology of liberalism? Why will Tenured Pew Sitters complain rather than engage?
It’s rather simple, the why that is: We, who should be The Intimidators, are being The Intimidated! Let’s end this now! I’m not telling, or even suggesting, that we become the new bullies on the block. The church tried that back in the Dark Ages, and it did NOT work.
Let’s be full of Grace, Love AND Truth. Don’t apologize for standing with The Word of God. Let’s become a Force for Good. Listen, followers of Jesus–the Devil is more intimidated by you when you follow Jesus as The Truth, than Agrippa was intimidated by little old Peter.
My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.
1 John 4:4 (The Message)
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him….Dale, Sr. wasn’t intimidated by all those other drivers…and don’t you be intimidated!
Thursday, we marked the 75th Anniversary of
the D-Day Invasion, the day that marked the beginning of the end of WW 2. Nonetheless, it was a horrible day. German casualties on D-Day have been
estimated between 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with
4,414 confirmed dead on just that first day.
Stories of those from that day were stories about survival—just to get
through those initial first hours—and the days that followed.
Today we’re beginning a new series called “Surviving Your Personal D-Day Invasion.” This series addresses some of the tough
issues that many of us have to face from time to time. These
Invasions Are Designed To Enslave You. There
Are No Vaccinations Against These D-Day Invasions, And No One Has Natural
Immunity From Them.
We’ll journey together through God’s word as we talk
about these D-Day Invasions.
I want you to know something about this series.
I’m not teaching theory here—I’m teaching from the scars of my
experiences. I’ve learned that
everything Jesus promises is absolutely true.
The invasion may be happening right now, but it is not
a battle that you have to lose. In this
series, we’re going to learn that surviving our Personal D-Day Invasion will take complete trust—and it
will take complete hope—in God alone. I
want you to discover that through Christ we have overwhelming victory—no matter
what we face. This morning our passage
is found in one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. Job 1:13-21 (NLT)
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest
brother’s house, 14 a messenger arrived at Job’s home with
“Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding
beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the
farmhands. I am the only one who escaped
to tell you.”
16 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and
burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
17 While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen
your camels and killed your servants. I
am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
18 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in
their oldest brother’s home. 19 Suddenly, a powerful wind swept
in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are
dead. I am the only one who escaped to
stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then
he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He
“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be
naked when I leave. The Lord gave
me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
Today’s topic is Disillusionment. I’m
not talking about disappointment
or discouragement. These emotions are painful, but
disillusionment is much, much deeper—and so much darker.
Disillusionment comes when what we thought was going to happen seems
to be impossible. It is losing the
ability to dream and vision about your future.
Disillusionment is what causes us to feel despair—the feeling that we
will not survive.
Disillusionment is what makes
us cynical—and cynicism always makes us bitter.
We say, “Oh, I’ll never become disillusioned!” So we turn to motivational speakers and
posters. But they don’t really
help. In fact there is a website called http://www.despair.com
operated by a company called Demotivators.
Here’s their mission statement on their website:
No industry has inflicted more suffering than the
Motivational Industry. Motivational
books, speakers and posters have made billions of dollars selling shortcuts to
success and tools for unleashing our unlimited potential. At Despair, we know such products only raise
hopes to dash them. That’s why our
products go straight to the dashing.
The fact is that there will come a day when you will
experience the D-Day Invasion Of Disillusionment. When things start crumbling around you, you
will need something to hold onto, something that’s steady and constant. And what you may have thought you could count
on—evaporates before your very eyes.
So here’s the one thing you need to remember: The Only
Way You’ll Be Able To Survive Is If You Have Learned To Put Your Trust And Hope
In God Alone. True survival
for now and for eternity comes when you know God personally in a deeply
intimate and personal way.
There is classic story in the Old Testament—nearly
everyone is familiar with Job. It’s the
story of a man who suffered much during his Personal
Invasion, yet he was able to survive. We’ll look at his story and others during the
course of this series and learn how they did it and how you can do it,
You need to understand that it wasn’t easy for Job nor
did his victory come instantly. Job was
a man who loved God deeply and had life going his way. Then comes Satan, who accuses that Job only
loves God because of his blessings. The
eternal conflict between good and evil is revealed once again.
Are you experiencing disillusionment in your life
today? The disillusionment of being in a
dead-end life? Of struggling
financially? Of a crumbling health? Of rebellious children? Of broken dreams? What’s disillusioning you? Job faced his Personal D-Day Invasion.
Let’s take a look at three survival tactics Job used to survive—these
same tactics worked for me and they will work for you. Here are 3 things that Job did that you need
to do in the face of Disillusionment.
1. Be Open And Honest About Your
Job didn’t try to hide the pain in his life—he grieved openly and admitted his
suffering. In order to get beyond pain and experience healing in our
lives, we have to grieve.
Too often, we try to mask our pain through denial,
through superficial spirituality, through a drink or pill, or some other thrill. Job doesn’t do this. And he doesn’t resort to clichés, “Hallelujah;
I’m just going to let go and let God. I’m
just going to claim my victory.” Instead, Job Grieved. He tore his clothes, he put on sackcloth,
covered himself with ashes, and he began to mourn.
This is how grief was expressed in his time and
culture. And in doing this he was
telling everyone there that he was grieving—he was being open
and honest about his suffering. It’s normal to grieve.
In fact, it’s abnormal not to grieve. Through grief we can express our feelings about the situation.
This is what Job did—He expressed all his feelings about the situation. Through grief, we are able to gripe and express
our desire for the circumstances not to be true.
Job was brutally honest with God, and when we go
through struggles, we can be brutally honest with God about what is going on in
our lives. Grieving helps us to express the effects that
we’ve experienced from the impact of The
Invasion. We can begin to
tell God and even other people how we really feel.
Grieving has a purpose.
It Forces Us To Become
Honest With Ourselves So That We Can Begin Making The Necessary Changes In Our
Lives. Grieving gives a
chance to ask the hard questions that we need to ask—“Why did this happen? Is it God’s will? Did God do this? Is it my fault?” As we ask the questions, we can then begin to
discover the source of our disillusionment.
Like Job, sometimes it’s the result of evil, like
planes flying into buildings. Sometimes,
it’s the result of wrong choices on our part.
Through either situation, there are lessons to be learned, and we can’t
learn them until we Grieve,
until we ask the tough questions. That’s
the first tactic to handling disillusionment.
The second is:
2. Choose To Put Your Complete
Trust In God.
We don’t know how long Job grieved, but we do know
there was a day when he stopped. He grieves,
but he doesn’t stay in grief.
Did you notice verse 21?—“Then Job fell to the ground and worshipped
God!” Real trust comes only
through a personal relationship with God.
I want to make sure you understand this.
We can do a lot of different things to feel good once
in a while—but true faith, true trust comes only through a personal
relationship with God. When we trust or
value anything more than God, guess what happens? We’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.
You can’t trust in your money; money can be lost. You can’t trust in your skills; there are
some things your skills can’t get you through.
You can’t trust in your relationships; relationships can unravel. Where do you put your trust and hope? If you put it anywhere else than God for here
now and for eternity later, you will become a disillusioned
I Have Learned That I Can
Trust In God Because He Loves
Me Unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’m
doing, or what I will do. God loves me
unconditionally and I cling to this truth.
And so can you! I discovered that I can cling to this truth and I
can trust God because He’s always in control.
In your D-Day Invasion, you need to know who’s in control. God is—and you can trust in God.
Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but God is still in
control. I can trust God because He loves me unconditionally. He is in total control. He knows what’s going to happen. Most importantly—He promises to never leave
me and to always be there. Here’s a
third tactic to help you through the invasion of disillusionment:
3. Restate Your Eternal Hope In
We all need to believe in dreams—to believe that we
have a purpose and can achieve great things.
We should desire to be effective and successful. We should want to be the best that we can be
and drive hard towards it. However, when
these positive thinking traits are not balanced with the real world and real
life and the sovereignty of God, we can become Disillusioned.
When we develop unrealistic expectations, we’re
setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.
There’s a hard truth we have to face—The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You And It Doesn’t
Revolve Around Me. Sometimes
we have a hard time believing that, but it’s true.
Believing that the world revolves around you is a
sword that cuts you down. We have these
expectations that we should shoot for but when we don’t balance it with reality
we become Disillusioned. It’s great to dream,
and we need to work toward those dreams.
Jesus said that life would be hard sometimes. But he also promised to help us
overcome. We can walk around angry and disillusioned and wish things could
be different, or We Could Stop
And Take Responsibility For Our Own Stuff.
We Can Stop And Re-Evaluate Our Priorities—And Focus On What’s Really Important.
Really, what’s more important to you—to have a big
house and a new car, or to play catch with a child? It’s your choice. It’s perspective, isn’t it? This sword
cuts us down when we’re not honest with ourselves about our passions, our
purpose in life, and about our time constraints. Re-Evaluate
Your Expectations. Prioritize Your
Life. Set Your Face, Values And
Priorities With God And Continue To Move Forward.
The economy can crash, relationships fall apart,
health declines, but God is always the same.
Our hope is in Jesus. It’s the
confident expectation that God is willing and able to fulfill the promises that
He has made. Christian hope is based on Who He Is And What He Can Do, not on
you and me. It’s not based on our
With Christ, we are able to rise above our
circumstance no matter what they are because of who God is. Do you need that kind of hope? That firm foundation of trust? Are you wondering where your hope can be
It can only be found in the one who knows your past
and loves you anyway. He Promises To Hold Your Hand In The Present
And Has Your Eternal Security In His Heart And It’s Secure In Him. Hope and trust in God alone is the backbone
of this whole series. It’s how we can
survive and even learn to thrive in our D-Day invasions.
If You Are Hiding Your True
Feelings, Be Honest With God. You need not be afraid of telling God how you
really feel. He already knows and He’s
so full of grace and love for you, He can handle whatever it is you are
When Your Life Is Invaded By
Disillusionment, Talk It Out! I am always available to you. But find someone who will listen as you grieve, and at the right moment,
offer you hope. Make it someone who
won’t say “Let go and let God” or some other cute phrase. Make it someone who will listen to you, AND
the Holy Spirit.
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!
Well, yesterday didn’t end like I had planned it. I even forgot to publish Day 8 until this morning. Everything was supposed to be finished with just our dirty clothes, bedding and toiletries to pack. This morning was supposed to be a “chilling-out” day. Well, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Oh, and good old Murphy! How I despise that guy–you know–Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible moment. I know he’s not on that moving truck because he’s still around here. I hope we don’t pack him in our vehicles. But I suspect he will find a way to get to Fayette. He always seems to know where I am.
I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t go back to sleep because all those best laid plans of mine went awry. An hour or so later, I finally managed to go back to sleep. The turning point in my mind was when I said, “Jesus, you’ve got to help me!”
So this morning, it was back to the plan that wasn’t completed. Now it is. Had a representative from the church inspect the parsonage–it was in great order. After the last thing, I cleaned up, and spent some time with my Dad. He was obviously sad, but at the same time, encouraging. That’s what he does–I know a lot of people who need to learn that lesson. Stopped by my very good friend Dennis’s home for just some good conversation between friends. Now, I am home–ready for some sleep.
So, what did I learn today? I love it when y’all ask that question. Here goes:
Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!
My plans didn’t work out the way I wanted. But God’s plans always works out. Sometimes people get in the way. Sometimes WE get in the way. But neither situation will stop God’s plans. He just chooses another route to accomplish His purposes. 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!
Good night, John Boy.
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.
Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy. “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.” And the answer is: “This picture is what it feels like.”
Yes, Randy: “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?” Correct!
Well, today started like usual. Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral. Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death. Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe. God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News. A trifecta, if you would. The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.
Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave. It was the Finance Team. Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog? Chaotic to the Nth degree. Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices. Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced. Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems). Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months. She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY. I kept my promise. I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected! Thank you Samantha and Jennifer. After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her. These words coming from an only child–priceless. Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had! I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.
So, what have I learned today? I’m so glad you asked:
Keeping your word is important. Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters. In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God. Well, maybe once. When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment. It’s true for you, too.
There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts. Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up. I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement. And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with. Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing. And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years. Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated. What else can I say about this? Nothing! If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
Even in dark times–there is still Good News! Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today. But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do. The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others. Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News. Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News. Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.
Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night. Now that would be great! But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me! Good night, John Boy.
Well, good evening to all. I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair. Yeah, Right. Even I’m not that delusional. Well, today can you guess what we did? If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy. More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home. Did some more packing here, and still throwing away. And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.
Gee Whiz! How much stuff is there around here? Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer. Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today. Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy. And then there’s that other thing: a funeral message tomorrow morning. More tearful goodbyes. It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors. I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray. I’m thankful they keep us in their journals. Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.
I think this is about it. So what have I learned today? Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?” Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself. I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:
Don’t talk to yourself. Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to. Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life. Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow. As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath. I honestly thought the worst was behind me. Boy, was I wrong. But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter. For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy. Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too. I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama. But my friends? I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart. That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for. I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb. But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years. Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart. I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving. I felt it again–my bitterness. It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen. Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all. I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.
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.
Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move. Today I preached my final message at this church. It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness. Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back. Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future. Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine. This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.
This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman. I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull. I challenged them with this question: “What do you do with broken people?” The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman. Maybe I will post that message here some day.
At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness. I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life. So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.
And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today. And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him. It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother. It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me. Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.
So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2? So glad you asked me:
Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life. At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service. And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette. In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
I learned that God moves in different ways at different times. He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message. Instead, He had a timely and timeless message. I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time. God loves to surprise us.
And I learned today the value of friendships. It is our friends that are holding us up at this time. It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy. And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles: “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat. The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.
I didn’t sleep well at all last night. I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread. But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.
The work of God’s Grace is always about transforming us into the instruments He wants in order to reclaim His Creation’s Image Bearers. Being “in the world but not of the world” is not only possible through His Grace, it is ESSENTIAL to be a real follower of Jesus!
We urgently need more martyrs today! Can you imagine the revival that would happen in the U.S. if “Comfortable Christians”, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians and others who are more focused on their little piece of the church than the Kingdom of God would embrace J.D.’s challenge?
(Note: This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!” It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)
2 Kings 6:8-17The Message
8 One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel: “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.” 10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him. This kind of thing happened all the time.
11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel? Who is the spy in our ranks?” 12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king. It’s not any of us. It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel. He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.” The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.” 14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force. They came by night and surrounded the city.
15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out. Surprise! Horses and chariots surrounding the city! The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”
16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.” The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw. A wonder! The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!
How Big Is Your God? This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today. I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me: “Have you lost your ever-loving mind? That’s the wrong question to ask!” Then He gave me the right question:
Is Your God Too Small? What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small. It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book. J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”. By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe. What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953. And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.
And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it: One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small. God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be. The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small. And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.
Putting it this way:
If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.
Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small. Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes. Here’s the story. The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.
If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think? “There’s a spy among us!” Logical, right? And you know what happens to spies. But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha. When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him. He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.
That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded. He did not know what to do. In his mind, the situation was hopeless. But God has something else in mind. When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind. But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you. In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:
1] Elisha Remembered The Mantle.
What’s the Mantle? Glad you asked. The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah. It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths: Authority and Power. Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.
Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request: to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah. Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him. And Elisha was there. As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice: give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.
Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!
We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone. Young and old, men and women.
Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone. Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion. You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.
2] Elisha Kept The Vision
He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven. He knew the plans and purposes of God. He knew what the King of Aram was doing. He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.
Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”. He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire. It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius. He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies. The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.
God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.
When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small. Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength. In other words, small gods give you projects to complete. It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.
3] Elisha Lived In Confidence
Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more. He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies! He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army. He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!
Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.
He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God. This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others. And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these. The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!
Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you. Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith. Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.
There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.
Today I have my conception of God. That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago. And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years. My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him. When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small. So, I keep growing…
And now you must choose: Have you given your heart to a god that is too small? Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined. Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple. For Lent, give up your small god.
The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion. And that is a choice that only you can make.
If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words. As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”. I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.
To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me. I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue. I believe it is.
In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me: “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?” Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response. I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian? Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian? Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian? My answer is yes. But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.” And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community. Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God. Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest. What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”. And now the reason I am writing this blog.
The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line: “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.” But what about The Bible? Does it no longer hold any value? Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth? More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?
Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:
Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice. In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “
And what about The Bible? Everything in each “option” is about “their view”. And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve. Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes. I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’ so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design. But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.
So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision. My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design. After all, HE created me. Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth. I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility. Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”. As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…
Once again our nation is reeling from yet another act of senseless violence, though it made perfect sense to Nikolas Cruz. And thus my question this morning:
Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?
There are those who will answer my question, but with the wrong answer. “It’s the gun laws, rather, the lack of gun laws. If we just ban those nasty guns, this would not ever happen again.” I just don’t think this is the answer. Chicago has the strictest gun laws and the senseless human violence continues every day.
“It’s that he wasn’t treated fairly. He did not have the same opportunities as others. If he had just received what he was entitled to, this would not have happened.” Well, he may not have been treated fairly, but many others haven’t been treated fairly but they did not go out and kill innocent people. So, how is this the answer?
“Well, they took prayer and the Bible out of the schools and this is the result!” Do you really think that there is a “Prayer Void” or “Bible Void”, like a black hole, that exists in public schools? I know countless students, teachers, support staff and administrators that cover their schools in prayer every day, and though they do not “read the Bible” in class, these Disciples of Jesus live out those words every day. So, I don’t think that is the reason nor the answer to my question. Besides, like the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, students will pray.”
“Video games and TV violence is the reason! If Silicon Valley and Hollywood did not glorify violence, this would not have happened.” If so, why isn’t everyone who plays video games and watches violent TV out there killing the innocents? Mind you, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t desensitize people’s conscience. But eliminating violent games and TV will not eliminate this threat.
They are coming out of the woodwork, from under rocks, all espousing reasons for this horrible act of human violence. Their reasons will go on ad nauseam and yet, there will be another shooting at a church, school, community center–anywhere people gather. So what is the answer to this burning question that oozes out of both my faith and my heart?
To be quite honest, I cannot accept the “pat” answers, but I admit that I do not have the answer. Honestly, I do not know that there is an “answer”. Perhaps I, along with many others should ask a different question other than the “why” question. I’m simply thinking out loud right now because of this ooze of “why”. Maybe the question that everyone who professes to be “Christian” (perhaps I should say ‘allegedly’ Christian) should be asking is: “What now? What should we do now?” This is a question for which I do have an answer. And here is my answer to “that” question.
You need to stop be consumers of the services of the church. Sorry, Jack, your local church does NOT exist for you. You need to become the producers of what the church is really about; and that’s the Kingdom of God. Quit living out a small story and step into the story of the Kingdom where God is in the business of redeeming and restoring human lives. Stop spending so much of your budget on what happens at a 911 address (that means building/campus).
Quit pointing out where everyone else is wrong and admit that somewhere you are broken, too. Get to know the people around you, without offering judgment against them. Get out of, way out of your comfort zones.
Jesus wasn’t comfortable in what He did for you on that Cross, so why should you get to be comfortable in what you do for Jesus!
Quit whining about us needing to become ‘again’ a “Christian nation” and understand that as Disciples of Jesus we are “aliens and foreigners” in this land; God’s true people have always been “foreigners” wherever they lived. Show me one verse that says God wants to establish a “Christian Nation” and I will show you a hundred verses where Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God! Let’s start doing something, just one thing at a time, that helps others, including yourself, to be restored to the image of God. Live out Grace the way Jesus lived out Grace.
I just don’t know the “Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?” But I am now reminded that even with my doubt and questions, God is still working to establish His Kingdom, that place where His will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”
OK, since God calls us to be a Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2:9) I ask you: Whose altar is it? Priests in the Old Testament served before the Altar of God, meaning God owned that altar. If the altar is yours then the Fire of Revival will never fall on it. The fire from Heaven didn’t fall on the altar of Jezebel’s priests because it wasn’t God’s altar. As long as we try to control the altar, God’s fire won’t fall on it!
Do you know what an expert is? Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words. The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was. The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure. Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure. So know that I am not an expert. But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.
As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation. I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories. I am sure you might could think of other categories. But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.
First there are the “Noobs“. It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance. I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.
The other group is the “Kabitzers“. Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada! They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky. They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right. So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.
Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay! Entrenched, Nay! Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye! Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose. Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!
I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location. We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design. What is that original design? Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.
It is to be a Kingdom of Servants. Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture: The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago. It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator. And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people: Life As God Intends! That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:
I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)
My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)
(and my personal favorite) I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)
Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions. He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of. Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other. To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant. Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires. And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them. It begins when we accept them unconditionally. Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them. Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King. And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life. The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.
If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read. If they are hungry, we feed them. If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment. If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them. If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.
And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us. When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move. But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card. But if they do not, then we need to persist. We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants. And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to Him. Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!
Well, there is more, much more to the Radical Message of the Kingdom of God. When I think about this Radical Message I think about God’s Grace. And when I think about God’s Grace, I think about Jonah. Let me back up. When I think about God’s Grace in its entirety, of course I think about the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. But today I’m thinking about God’s Grace at work in the human arena of life as it actually happens to each of us. That is why I connect the dots, from Jonah to God’s Grace.
There are a number of things we do in life in which we have only one chance to get it right. For example, if you borrow money from the bank or from a friend and don’t pay it back, you probably won’t get another chance to borrow. If a job promotion is tied to a certain project that you are doing at work, and you muddle the project, you probably won’t get another chance to do the job right, and you’ll miss out on the promotion.
Or, if you invited all your friends to your house for a big party, and then when everyone showed up you said, “I decided I didn’t feel like having a party tonight, why don’t you come back another time?” I doubt if any of your friends would come to another one of your parties. In any of these cases, if the appeal was made, “I’ll do better next time,” more than likely the appeal would be ignored and the second chance would be denied.
Another example: Each Sunday I have one chance to deliver the message that God has laid on my heart that week. What if, after I finished preaching one of those mornings, I was to say, “Folks, I think I can do better. Why don’t we all stay an extra 30 minutes after the service, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more the second time around?” How well do you think that idea would go over? How many would stay? I doubt even Debbie would stay. She would say, “Listen, I hear it twice every Sunday. I’m going home.” That’s because everyone pretty much expects me to get it right the first time. And, of course, I don’t blame them.
There are many situations in life in which we have only one chance, and even if you need a second chance, it’s just not available. You had one shot, you blew it, and that’s all there is to it. This is the way it is in many areas of life, and there’s nothing you can do. The good news is that with God, it works differently. With him, we get a second chance. We don’t deserve a second chance, but we get one.
Enter the story of a Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach the word. Instead, Jonah got on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is basically in the other direction. Once the boat was in the middle of the sea, a storm came along and the boat started to sink. When the sailors found out that they had a backslidden preacher in their midst, they tossed him overboard.
Believe it or not, getting tossed out was Jonah’s own idea. Apparently he decided he would rather die than repent. So he allowed himself to be hurled into the sea. I’m sure everyone thought that was the end of Jonah, but God had other plans. A great big fish came along and swallowed Jonah.
Then, the Bible says three days later, 2:10— Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. The very next verse is one of the most encouraging verses in all of scripture. (3:1) Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time. Jonah got a second chance from God. He didn’t deserve it, but he got it. This is God’s grace at work; this is what He does. Even if we blow it the first time, God gives us a chance to try again. This is good news, because without exception, from time to time we all need a second chance from God.
There’s only one way to interpret Jonah’s behavior. He sinned. God said, “Go to Nineveh” and Jonah said, “No.” In Jonah’s story we learn an important truth: God Could Have Given Up On Jonah—Some May Even Say God Should Have Given Up On Jonah—But God Was Gracious To Jonah—He Gave Him A Second Chance. The story of Jonah teaches us that God’s grace is greater than our sin, and there are simply some things our sin cannot change.
It is God’s nature to give a second chance. Nothing can change that. He forgives and lets you try again and again and as often as you need it. Your boss, your coach, your teacher, your spouse may not give you a second chance, but God will—He Is The God Of The Second Chance. His grace is greater than our sin. We tend to think in human terms. But God is not human nor does He think and react the way we humans tend to think and react.
We make the mistake of thinking that once we have blown it, we can never get back on track—God can never use us again. The story of Jonah shows us this simply isn’t true. If you have been running from God or even God’s plan and purpose, and you are now ready to come back, God is willing to pick up where you left off. If you have blown it, it doesn’t mean you’ve blown it forever. He will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins. Period. They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change.
And in the next post we will look at some of the things our past sin doesn’t change. And remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)
EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON
We call it the death spiral. I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe. By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.
There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.
There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.
Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.
Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.
Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.
Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday. Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God: To Make More Followers For Jesus. This is why every church exists. It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others. The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs. Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is. There is a simplified way to make followers for Jesus!
But it is not all that easy but it is really simple. If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on the Cross for our sins, that He arose on the third day, that He ascended back into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, and that this is true IN us, then we have to believe what Jesus told His first Followers is what He tells us: Go make followers! Listen, Jesus didn’t say, “Uh, folks, I would like for you to try to make more followers. As long as you try, that’s good enough.” No! He said: “Go make Followers!” If we aren’t making followers then we are not the Church. Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s hard to do!” My response is this: It’s NOT hard to do. It’s not hard to do, if we remember 3 things:
1. Presence. (Verse 3—So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.)
We live with the confidence that He actually is present with us. Only His presence gives us the passion, the desire to do what we are redeemed to do. The Holy Spirit is who sets our hearts on fire. If Jesus has never done anything for you, then there is no fire in our hearts. But we can have a fire when we realize what God has done for us. We can have a fire when we realize what God is doing for us. We can have a fire when we realize what God will do for us.
And what has God done for you? He has nailed your sins to the cross and you bear them no more! What is God doing for you? He is at work transforming you and your moments for your good and His glory. What will God do for you? Stay by your side until you as you live forever in His Kingdom! To make another Follower of Jesus doesn’t take a committee nor a team, but the passionate conviction that God has been, is now, and will continue to be present and at work in your life. The Passion To Make Followers Comes From Knowing The Presence Of Jesus.
2. Power (Verse 4—There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.)
The source of our power is the Holy Spirit. Have you ever been surprised or amazed by something you did or said? Then afterwards you wondered, “Well where did that come from?” Those are moments when HE has complete control of us. It is so important that we stop relying on our abilities by living in His power. Do you know why some meetings are irrelevant, dull and boring? It’s because we have forgotten the real power of the Church. Whatever it is that God calls you to do, He will give you the strength and power to do it.
When you feel the nudging and prompting of the Spirit to do something, do it because with His Prompting comes His Power. God designed the Church to withstand the power of hell itself! And this is the power that lives in us. Did you hear me? The power that conquered death, the power that hell cannot overcome, is the power that lives inside each and every one of you when you desire God above all else. Remember the third thing:
3. Provision (Verse 7—A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.)
To engage our heart in what God is doing, we have to know the Provision of spiritual gifts that are designed by God for the common good. The gift God gives you is designed so that you are able to help others both inside and outside of the church. The Work Of The Body Of Christ Is A Spiritual Work And Requires Spiritual Tools. These provisions are not rewards for us being good, but they are the result of our God being awesome! God Gives Us The Tools We Need Not To DO Church Work, But To BE The Church That Is The Body Of Christ In Your World. You have to know your spiritual gifts. God does reveal your spiritual gifts. If you do not know your Gifts it’s your fault.
It’s not easy, but it’s not hard. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a politician. You’re thinking if it’s not hard, then it is easy, but if it’s not easy then it must be hard. If you think it’s too hard to do the ONE thing God wants this place to do, then remember Genesis 18:14—Is anything too hard for the Lord? God had just told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son within a year. He was an old man and she was an old woman. Looking at them, you would be right to believe that they were too old to have a child. It was impossible for them. But do you know what? By the next year, they had a son. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too hard for the Lord. All you have to do is Trust Him with all your heart.
When you give Him all of your heart, over and over again, when you worship Him with all of your heart, when you listen to Him with all of your heart discovering the truth about God, the world and yourself, here is what you will discover: God Is Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!
Failure To Do This Is Failure To Love God, Worship God and really, Failure To Know God. Pursuing the heart of God means that after surrender, after worship, after studying The Word, we must be doing the things that will make disciples of others, which will bring them into this process of surrender, worship, study and doing! This is the cycle of Kingdom Life.
You and I NEED His Presence. You and I NEED His Power in order to be faithful to our Primary Task. And You and I NEED what He alone can provide to be more than disciples of Jesus in name only, to be real Followers of Jesus by doing what HE wants done.
And the question for you in such a time as this, is Do You Have It? To have it you must WANT it. You and I must say: I WANT Your Presence. I NEED Your Power so that I can be found Faithful. I MUST HAVE what You Provide for the Task You have given me. Without it, you miss not only The Gift, but most importantly, the Giver…
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!