For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord?
Psalm 89, verse 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
One of the favorite pastimes for many is making comparisons. Some turn it into a sport. Others have made it an art form. By definition, comparison is a consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people. One thing is like another because of… Another thing is unlike another because… But unfortunately, most comparisons are made based on opinion, not facts. For example, the selection of the 4 college football teams to play for the national championship. Comparisons were made on the teams selected, and teams not selected. And though the process is projected as being unbiased and nonpartisan, it’s still the result of of opinions. And some people even compare opinions to a certain body orifice–everyone has one and most of them stink.
Seriously, comparing is quite common. We compare one product to another. One person to another. And especially comparing ourselves to others. We look at another person and think, “I could never do what they do.” Or, “Well, I’m not as bad as they are!” We compare political ideologies, theological perspectives, churches, and you name it. Compare! Compare! Compare! Some even do “taste” comparisons. Which cola tastes the best? Which cheese is cheesier?
But there is One that there is really nothing to compare with. And that is God–revealed in The Bible–affirmed by Jesus–and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, some want to compare God by their traditions; their opinions; even worse–to the values of this world. Truth Time! Nothing and no one compares to God. And this is why we need to stay close to Him, to know Him through the Scriptures, and listen to Him. Attempts to comingle Him and what the world says will only lead to disaster and destruction. Sure! He will contradict everything the world says is right. But He IS God. And there’s just no comparison between the two!
I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
Exodus chapter 20, verse 2; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
I can’t understand IT. I mean, REALLY don’t understand IT! Is there anyone out there who can help me? Now before you start referring me to therapists or psychiatrists, allow me to define IT! Why Is Religion More Important Than The Relationship? When Did That Happen? HOW Did That Happen? It only took me a half of cup of coffee when the Spirit planted that question in me. See, even the Spirit waits until I have that wonderful “living” water. And so, He and I talked a while about my question.
So, what is a “religion”? Well, according to Google, it’s “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”. If it’s indeed of supreme importance, how does one acknowledge it? How does it manifest itself? Well, here’s a partial list that I’ve come up with; maybe you can add to the list:
You’ve got to have beliefs/doctrines about it (something there must invoke convictions otherwise it’s not of supreme importance)
There must be some set of written or unwritten rules (how can it be a “religion” without some rules, right?)
It’s got to shape your opinions
It must control your attitudes
It creates your perspective
It demands your attention and loyalty
It gives you priorities
It must have outcomes ( also known as consequences)
But on the otherhand, A Relationship provides us one thing a religion can never give us. Personal Presence! Religion is cold and indifferent. It can never give us the assurance of that Personal Presence! After God delivered the Hebrews from what He called the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery He assured them of His Presence–in them and among them. I am compelled to tell you something this morning: Verily, verily, give up on religion, thus saith The Preacherman! Religion may tell me HOW to live–But The Relationship shows and helps me to live–to live the life He created for me. Oh yes, there are rules and expectations–we call that Holiness. But because of His Presence, He teaches me and He enables me. A religion can teach you–but only His Presence enables us to live out This Relationship! So, why is religion so important? Until you can convince me otherwise–I’ll stick with The Relationship!
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 18; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Well, I didn’t muse and write yesterday because we were packing up and cleaning up from our recent spiritual retreat on the beach at Pensacola. Then the drive home. A few stops for food, gas, and shopping–then unpacking when we arrived home. And though I usually take Saturday as a Sabbath from writing, this morning is different. As the Spirit and I were talking (for the uninformed it’s also known as prayer) He gave me this thought: Are You Thankful For The Struggles?
So many are in some type of struggle–myself included. Shocker Alert: We all have struggles! For some of you, I didn’t have to say that. Maybe you are struggling with some type of addiction (and surely you know there are more types of addictions than chemical addictions, don’t you?) Maybe it’s a rebellious child at home. Perhaps it’s you are living out the story of The Prodigal Son. Maybe it’s your marriage. A friendship. Your health. The health of a loved one. Perhaps even finding a new job or career. As Forrest Gump said in the movie: “It happens.” Or maybe your struggle is in and with the United Methodist (Alleged) Church.
The struggle, whatever it may be, is literally eating you alive. You’ve tried a gazillion things to end the struggle. Perhaps you’ve resigned to burying you hand in the sand, hoping it will go away–but even Ostriches know that doesn’t work. So, what now? Maybe now is the time to follow Paul’s advice to the church at Thessalonica–Be Thankful! Did you or someone else just think: “What tha’………….?” Yes, I said Be Thankful for our struggles! And I just heard a reader say out loud, “You’re crazy Preacherman! There’s nothing to help me by being thankful! I’m not reading any more of your insane gibberish!”
Hold on, pardner! Try to stay in the saddle just a couple of more minutes. Struggles are ripe moments to grow in both grace and wisdom. Lord knows we need a lot more wisdom in these days. We can be thankful for our struggles when we do 3 simple, yet deeply profound things–and here they are:
Lean Into The Spirit!
Choose in this moment of struggle to get closer to The Holy Spirit. Struggles are loud–VERY loud. And without leaning into The Spirit we will not be able to hear Him.
Lean on the spirit!
Let’s get real! In every struggle we are leaning on something! No exceptions! Either ourselves, another person, our chemical of choice–remember, no exceptions. Instead, lean ON The Spirit. Rely on The Holy Spirit to help you and even carry you when you are totally overwhelmed.
count on the spirit
When struggles seem impossible to overcome, it’s because we have empowered the struggle to be more powerful than anything else.Put your confidence in the work, power, and purposes of The Holy Spirit! ALL of your confidence. It may well be that His Plan isn’t in alignment with YOUR plan. Still, Count On The Holy Spirit to bring Victory over our struggles. The Spirit will never abandon you! So, count on The Spirit in the struggles.
As we do these 3 simple yet profound things, something amazing, maybe even unexpected by us, happens. We become thankful–thankful that God’s plans are so much better, so much more powerful than anything we can ever imagine. For then we live fully confident in God. And when we are living fully confident that God has us AND our struggles, those struggles lose its power over us and we become Victors! Even in this season of pondering disaffiliation!
I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians chapter 3 verse 14 from the New Living Translation
Think about this: Energy produces synergy; and synergy produces energy! Perhaps I should take a step back and share the definition of synergy: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Maybe I’m the only one this morning thinking about that word synergy. But YOU, think about it. Synergy is producing the energy that keeps your house with light, a/c, and such going. Think about hydroelectic energy. Water flows throw a turbine, the turbine spins against that thingy, and electricity happens. Or think about your vehicle. The gas (or diesel as the case may be) in the fuel tank is drawn up to the engine–then that computer kicks in pulling all the components together–and off you go to wherever. Remove just one part of these processes and the energy ceases to exist. What does this have to do with The Kingdom Life? Good question! Great question!!!
There is a synergy in every person; it comes from seeking and wanting life as they want it to be. That’s the point: Wanting life as they want it to be. They know they can’t get there by themselves so they seek other sources to cooperate with them to that goal. That energy forms synergy and that synergy forms more energy. When it comes to the human life and human heart, where we seek cooperation or help matters. For that source ultimately determines success or failure.
Some are seeking cooperation with the world’s value system; allowing the world to tell them what they need. It might be money, power, fame, or even sex. We see this synergy happening within my beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church. Many believe that the Bible needs to be changed–or at least how we see the Bible–so that some might achieve what they believe will give them life. Cooperating with the latest pop psychology, the latest cultural trends is what many in our leadership believes will produce that synergy and energy that will reduce decades of decline.
The synergy that will produce the energy for the life we are created for is as Paul declared in today’s passage: through Christ! The synergy is found as we cooperate with Him through The Bible and with The Holy Spirit. For this synergy to work we must cooperate with God. You see, God doesn’t cooperate with us. He works ON us; IN us; and THROUGH us–never, never does He COOPERATE WITH us. WE cooperate with HIM!HE shows us what we need to achieve real and abundant life. And it’s all found in The Bible. But we also need the Presence and the Power of The Holy Spirit! Without The Spirit we end up with the form, but it’s void of the substance.
So, if you are finding your life missing some things–maybe even void of life–then do what Paul did–develop the synergy by cooperating WITH HIM that creates the energy which in turn produces the life, the ONLY life that fills us with peace, joy, and hope. And so much more. So VERY much more.
Yesterday I was full of vim and vinegar. But I figure at 66 years old I’ve earned both the privilege and right to be such. Yesterday’s words needed to be said, and more need to be saying them! But I have learned enough wisdom in these 66 years to know one cannot truly live this way 24/7. So, today I am turning to the hopeful me for something to write. And today’s thoughts are this: YOU BET HE CAN!
Disappointments and frustrations abound on this third rock from the sun. Think about those first disciples of Jesus. That Friday was a deep, deep disappointment for them. They were a mess! One of them, Judas, was such a mess that he committed suicide. The very last thing they probably had in their minds and hearts was HOPE! But Sunday turned it into their joy and hope, and it gave them their Message. And I’m thinking right now about Jeremiah. Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians and he was in jail because he was telling them what God wanted said.
In that jail cell, God told Jeremiah that a cousin was coming to visit him with an offer to sell his land to him. When a company is about to go bankrupt is NOT the time to buy stock in that company. They are about to be carried away into exile. So why buy land when it’s about to be seized and taken away? Because God reminded Jeremiah that there’s more to the story. So Jeremiah does exactly what God told him. And when the transaction was completed, here’s what Jeremiah said:
“O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!”
Jeremiah chapter 32 verse 17 NLT
Can God turn your disappointments into joy and hope, and a message? You Bet He Can! And here’s a song to remind you of this!
Are you on hold? Maybe you’re calling that alleged “customer service”, only after you’ve been yelling at a computer or punching in 3,678 numbers, and you’re on hold. Maybe you just answered the call about your car warranty about to expire and you’re on hold. Maybe you just called about the latest electronic innovation but you’re having issues getting it up and running, so you hear “Your call is very important to us. Please wait for the next available ‘customer service’ agent.” You’re on hold.
Waiting is not a new human experience, though some treat it that way. We don’t like to be put “on hold” because we see it as the obstacle to the resolution we most desire. Being put “on hold” isn’t enjoyable! And the music you are forced to hear. . .geez where do they get that stuff? Musicians and composers who couldn’t sell a single record? “Alleged Experts” say that elevator music is calming down the person on hold. Really? Who did they interview? Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum? Being “on hold” is annoying and frustrating to the point that no amount of elevator music is going to calm us down–regardless of how they hope it will! So what’s a person to do?
May I make a suggestion–with no elevator music involved? When life feels like you are on hold, switch those 2 words on hold. Now it reads “hold on”. Now, YOU say those 2 words out loud: “Hold on!” Why are you reading my next words when you haven’t done what I asked you to do? . . . I’m waiting! . . . I’m still waiting!! . . . Now you’ve got me “on hold”! OK, you’ve said it. Now I want you to shout it loudly: HOLD ON! Is that as loud as you can scream? Come on, try it again, this time even louder!
Hold on are the two most important words to shout and scream when we need help! But don’t say it to yourself or any other person. Say it to God! Shout it out to God! Scream it to the top of your lungs to God! When everything seems to be falling apart–and when you’re loving it because the plan is coming together–and in every moment between these 2 extremes–we need to allow God to hold on to us. When we are at our best–and especially when we are at our worst–we need to ask God to hold on to us.
God wants to–longs to–hold on to us in the most loving way possible. But He will not–until we allow Him. This is what I learned in this morning’s worship time–and it came through this song. Listen to the words–and when you are not “someone you believe in”–well just listen to the song!
Well, it’s still chapter 3 and there’s something else that has caught my attention…and my heart. It’s verses 4 and 5. I want to share it with you from 3 different translations:
Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. (New Living Translation)
Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Look here.” He looked up, expecting to get something from them. (The Message)
Peter and John, looking straight into the eyes of the crippled man, said, “Look at us!” Expecting a gift, he readily gave them his attention. (The Passion Translation)
Peter and John stared at him. “Look at us!” Peter said. So the man watched them closely. He expected to receive something from them. (God’s Word Translation)
The phrases that the Spirit highlights for me in all these translations is the response of that man who was unable to walk since his birth. In each translation there is that word (or a form of it) EXPECTATION! And what caused that sense of expectation in this man who never expected to walk? This man who had begged his whole life and who had no hope of anything else but a lifetime of begging had more than likely looked at some people and knew, “Well, they aren’t going to give me anything.” Why EXPECTATION and why now?
It must have been THE LOOK! Not his looking at them, but THE LOOK that was in the faces of Peter and John. He must have sensed that these men had something for him, something he desperately needed. THE LOOK on their face stirred up something in the man unable to walk, and that something was EXPECTATION! Granted, he didn’t have a clue about what he was going to receive–nonetheless, he knew something was coming. And it was coming.
He could have not looked at them. Or he could have looked at them and missed THE LOOK. But he didn’t because he could not afford NOT to look. Some people live a life of hidden and quiet desperation but not this man. Desperation was written all over him. There was that billboard behind him that everyone could see. And his desperation led to his EXPECTATION when he saw THE LOOK!
And this had led me to today’s musings–actually it’s more like a deep sadness in my heart. It comes from that question that the Holy Spirit has put in my heart. Here is that question:
WHAT HAPPENED TO ‘THE LOOK’?
The western church, meaning in Europe and the U.S.A., continues to be in a state of decline in mainline protestant churches. All around us are people living in desperation just like that man unable to walk. They are LOOKING for answers to calm their deep-seated desperation. They long for EXPECTATION beyond their DESPERATION. So they LOOK anywhere and everywhere…except to the church.
Church, we are living in the perfect time–lives sinking in DESPERATION looking for EXPECTATION of something better. Local churches should be overflowing; instead they are struggling to survive. In a couple of weeks I will be attending another “conference” for my Tribe and there will be reports for disposal of congregations who have closed their doors since last year. What went so DESPERATELY wrong, Church?
It’s THE LOOK that we’ve lost. THE LOOK that says there’s more to living than DESPERATION! THE LOOK that opens eyes to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God! THAT, my friends, is what Peter and John had. Oh, we have A look, but it’s not’s what Peter and John had.
Church, we have a history of a different look. Our culture has seen a different look–
the look of contempt for our culture
the look of judgment and condemnation
the look of disapproval
the look of “I’m much better than you”
the look of “You don’t belong with us”
And so, the lives of DESPERATION look away from us. And who would blame them. I once served a church that had beautiful, I mean beautiful stained glass windows. To protect them they had installed Plexiglas protectors on the outside. But over the years they were no longer clear, only a dingy yellow. It prevented those on the outside from seeing the beauty of those windows. The only way to see them was from inside. And that was the message that church was sending. “If you want to see these windows, you need to be an insider, someone like us.” I don’t know if they ever replaced them. So I’m guessing outsiders still can’t appreciate the beauty that has been hidden from them.
Church, we need to give up our look for THE LOOK!THE LOOK that says, “I’ve been where you are, and truth is, I still struggle at times. But I have found The Way out and I’m working on my journey out of DESPERATION. Tell you what, let’s walk out together!” THE LOOK is one of–
and so much more
In fact, THE LOOK is looking just like Jesus! The sick and sinful were drawn in to Jesus because of THE LOOK and they will be drawn in today when we have THE LOOK rather than our own look. Is your church declining? Then I would highly encourage you to find a mirror, and LOOK at yourself. If you don’t see a face that is broken, a face that is crying for all those people living in desperation, you need a face transplant–you need The Face of Jesus!
Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
we are in week 4 of looking at the Boldest Statements Jesus ever made—those
places and moments where He categorically identified Himself as Yahweh—The
Great I Am.
When I am working on a message, I usually look at several different translations, and usually find one that fits the bill for what God is leading me to share. Our text is John 10:1-10. My favorite is to read from the NLT. As I was looking at the different translations, I found that the NLT and more recent translations uses the word “gate” and the KJV and the New King James Version uses the word “door”. There’s something about the image of a door that pushes me deeper into today’s passage. Let’s look at it together and I will be reading it from the NKJV:
1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the Doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when He brings out his Own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. 7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am The Door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.9I Am The Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Doors can also be intimidating. They can deliver the message to keep out and stay away. They become barriers that keep us out and away from potential hope, and even a future. Some doors may even seem scary because we are unsure about what lies behind them. I guess what I’m trying to say is that doors can be entrances to a much deeper and better life, or they can keep us locked out—locked out from the life that God truly wants every person to live and experience. Such is the case in today’s passage. Just before this Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath.
dare Jesus do something actually good on the Sabbath Day. Who in the world would ever do something good
on a day like the Sabbath? It’s supposed
to be a solemn day, a quiet day. There’s
a time and a place for everything, and a way to get things done because that’s
the way they’ve always been done. Then
this Jesus comes along and does something that has never been done that way
Well, all this makes for is chaos and confusion. We can’t have someone claiming to be the Messiah making mud packs for the blind and then telling them to wash it off so they can see. Things like this are not supposed to happen that way. He could have healed him on one of the other six days. If that man couldn’t get healed then, well, he just didn’t need healing to begin with. And the Pharisees go on the attack against Jesus, again. They question—His Ways, His Methods, His Teachings, And His Authority. Jesus isn’t playing nice with the Pharisees and they don’t like it one little bit. Sabbath days were designed by God to remind us of that all-important connection with God.
the Jews there was one day every week that was Sabbath—a way to remind them of
their need for God. Then they had Seven
Feasts that were also called Sabbath days—to remember God’s faithful presence
and His everlasting promises. God
designed the Sabbath to be a time for the people to remember their connection
to Him. Sabbath was to be the open door
into the presence of God.
But what was designed as a
door to enter God’s presence became a barrier. The Pharisees had devised 39
different categories of activities that were prohibited on any Sabbath. Any activity which changed the appearance or
nature of anything or anyone was prohibited. If it required 2 or more items to make—prohibited!
And just look at what Jesus had done. He had made a mud pack—prohibited! Told the man to wash it off—prohibited! Then Jesus changed the nature of that man by giving him his sight—that really was prohibited. All these rules and regulations were standing between God and the people He loved. So Jesus didn’t care about their rules and regulations. This Man Needed To Know That God Knew Him, Cared About Him, And Loved Him Enough To Change His Nature—even on a Sabbath.
get some crazy ideas about forgiveness. Some think that before they dare ask God for
forgiveness, they need to clean their act up more. It’s like they feel that their life is such a
mess right now, that there is no way God could forgive them. So they work on trying to be better and do
better. I mean, no one wants to go out
to eat at a fancy restaurant wearing dirty work clothes. You want to look your best. We think that God is like that 5 star
restaurant where He won’t let us in unless we have on a coat and tie.
Some people think that they are simply too sick for God to accept
them. So they need to find another way to get
feeling better. Let me ask you a
question. When do you go see a
doctor? When you’re sick or do you wait
until you feel better? If you wait until
you’re feeling better you won’t go.
that’s what happens when we try to fix ourselves. If we actually do manage to look better on
the outside by being nicer to others and developing some good habits, then we
start feeling like, “Well, I’m not so bad now.
I don’t need for God to forgive me anymore.” That kind of thinking is wrong on so many
God’s Doesn’t Turn Anyone Away Because They Are Dirty Or Sick. If anything, He welcomes them because He’s been waiting for them. Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for nice people. He died for sick and broken people like me! You bring it all, all the junk and the sin and the dirt and the filth, and lay it all out before Him. And do you know what? God will not turn away from that disgusting sight. Do you want to know why He won’t turn away from your pile of sins? Because He has already seen it—seen it when they were put on Jesus as He hung on that Cross. God won’t turn away from YOU, because He turned away from Jesus as He paid that awful price for us.
life gets unsettled, well more than unsettled—It’s Hard
To Relax When We Can’t See Our Way Through. When the pressures and demands of everyday
life tries to stress us out; when we see our plans unraveling at the seams; or
when we can’t even get our plans together and we are more than ready to panic—but
we are in full panic mode, we need
that deep abiding peace.
need more than for someone to say to us, “Oh, it will eventually be OK. You can’t control everything, so just
relax.” It’s hard to feel like
everything is hunky dory when things just aren’t working out like we
There have been times when my life has felt like I’ve been in the spin cycle of a washing machine that’s been turbo-charged and running on jet fuel. Doing the ordinary things, then extra stuff needed my attention. I remember February 2012. I had been pulled into the Disaster Recovery efforts after the 2011 tornadoes had ravaged our district. I wanted to honor God with this work. I had received a call from a group in Arkansas that wanted to frame and “get in the dry” 2 homes for 2 families of my choice. All I had to do was to get the foundations ready–they would do the rest. Oh, and they were to arrive in the middle of March. It seemed that after I got started on that project, everything was going wrong. Things were not falling into place on either home. Then my Mother was admitted to the hospital. I was stressed out, and I got mad at God and told Him, “Look, I’m trying to do this to honor You. Why is everything going wrong?”
and God had a serious talk, actually, several of them. But I finally heard God say to me, “I am
still in control. And Randy, I am going
to honor the desire of your heart for me.”
Not everything is fixed instantly.
And when I want to panic, I remember, I remember God’s promise to
me. God keeps His promises.
doesn’t always work things out in our time schedule, but He does work things
Is The Doorway To Peace Because He Stays With Us Through Thick And Thin. In good times and bad times—He will never
abandon us. I confess I haven’t always
remembered this, but when I do remember it, the peace always comes back to
me. Do I ever get a bit stressed even
now? Oh yes, but I’m not worried any
more. God is going to take care of me
and because of His love expressed in Jesus, and He is going to take care of you.
That’s our peace. Peace
is not the absence of any conflict or problems—but it is the unending presence
This same Jesus
wants to live in us with every bit as much power as He did when He walked this
earth in our flesh. If we fight temptation on our own, then we
lose. But the Jesus who faced Satan in
the wilderness, the Jesus who faced Satan through His enemies, and even at
times through His closest friends lives in us.
Jesus who faced Satan in Gethsemane, the Jesus who faced Satan on the Cross,
the Jesus who faced Satan in the tomb—and who won every one of those battles,
resides in the heart of every believer who trusts Jesus and only Jesus.
Then His Liberty Also Gives Us The Strength, Courage And Wisdom To Live A Life That Brings Him Honor And Us Immeasurable Joy. He sets us free to live out our relationship in ways that makes changes in the world, makes changes in people’s lives. He gives us the liberty to become who we are created to be. We don’t have to be bound by people’s labels or our own fear of failure. We can dare to do great things for God because Jesus—who gave sight to that blind man—will take up residency in our hearts with every bit as much power as it took to open that man’s eyes!
Life Is What God Wants Us To
Experience. All the laws, rules and traditions of the
Pharisees took the life right out of the people. Jesus is The Door—the
ONLY Door that takes us from the deadness and emptiness that comes from living
with the wrong purpose.
The Door to the life you have been created for.
This life ismore than you can see, think or
imagine. It’s the life
where God gets all, I mean ALL the glory.
The Life Where He Shines In Us And Through Us.
you loaded down with guilt? Is chaos and
fear running a marathon in your mind and heart?
Do you feel imprisoned by demands and unrealistic expectations? Does your heart ache for a real life?
Is There Some Guilt You Have Been Carrying, That’s Been Weighing You Down?Your next Step is to step towards Jesus. We are not made to carry guilt. The Door is always open for those who need forgiveness.
Are You Overwhelmed? Your next step is to give all your fears, worries and anxieties over to Him. He is The Door to inner peace.
Does Your Ordinary Days Feel Like A Prison Sentence? Your next step is to reclaim the Joy of Living. He’s The Door to Liberty—that fills your life with Great Joy. God wants you to live with an uninhibited, open Joy in your life.
Does Your Life Feel At Best Ordinary Or At Worst A Drag? Your next step is to begin living our His purpose for your life. One of two of the things that keeps people from their purpose is fear—fear of the unknown—or fear of failure. God walks with you in your God-Given Purpose and opens The Door that gives you the freedom to truly live—to live life the way He designed it.
We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements
Jesus Ever Made. We are looking at some
of those times when Jesus said: “I
am.” Last week we looked at the Story of
the Woman at the Well. But remember that
Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English. He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he
would have used was Yahweh.
Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.
It is God’s eternal name, His name for all
generations to remember. It was illegal
to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name when He revealed himself
to that woman. Claiming to be Yahweh, He backs up that claim with another
moment when Jesus uses His Eternal Name.
It’s found in John 6:32-51 (The
32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that
Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you
bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and
is giving life to the world.”
34 They jumped at that: “Master,
give us this bread, now and forever!” 35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more
and thirsts no more, ever. I have told
you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t
really believe me. Every person the
Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and
don’t let go. I came down from heaven
not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the
Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I
have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he
is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life.
My part is to put them on their feet
alive and whole at the completion of time.”
41-42 At this, because he said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,”
the Jews started arguing over him: “Isn’t
this the son of Joseph? Don’t we know
his father? Don’t we know his mother? How can he now say, ‘I came down out of
heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”
43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me. You’re not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that’s the only way
you’ll ever come. Only then do I do my
work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they
wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’
Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really
listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it
with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it
firsthand from the Father. No one has
seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you
can see me.
47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal
Am The Bread Of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert
and died. But now here is Bread that
truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone
eating this Bread will not die, ever. I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came
down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this
Bread will live—and forever! The Bread
that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this
Have you ever thought about how images of bread are
used in our ordinary day to day life?
“That’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s rolling in the dough. Hey Dad, I need some bread, (meaning money). Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides
(meaning they lack common sense). Man, he’s
toast.” In Middle Eastern culture, and
Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and
connection. Bread is a symbol for life.
When it comes to people’s spiritual lives, they
will be living eitherthe
Manna Life or the Living Bread Life.
There is a sharp distinction between the two. There is no confusion about which life we are
choosing the live. And make no mistake
about it; it is our choice whether we live the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life.
Let’s find something we can
all agree on: We have no control over some
things that come our way in life. There
are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control. Does everyone agree with this? I didn’t say we liked it; just that it
happens. Now, my next point is something
that you may dislike even more, but it’s the truth: We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those
Times. How We Live Each Day And Our Reactions
To Life As It Happens Come Out Of The Life That Is In Each Of Us. If
you can remember only one thing today, then remember this:
Your Heart, Life, And Mind Is Being Fed By Either
The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life.
One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy
and see us through anything that life throws our way. Let’s see the difference by setting up
today’s passage. The day before Jesus
had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley
loaves of bread and 2 fish. Now Jesus
and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus
again. This time they are seeking a
sign. They wanted a sign from Jesus
before they would accept Him as Messiah.
They pointed out the Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was
with them. Now they want Jesus to give a
sign that God was with Him.
OK, excuse me, but He has
turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put
before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who
could not talk. And added to all that,
He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever
had. And NOW, they want a sign? Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their
time. More than a sign, Jesus talks
about life through the images ofManna Life and Living Bread Life. Think about the differences.
Does The Manna Life Look Like?
What does this life feel like? Well go back to the time when God gave them
Manna. It appeared every morning on the
ground. Each family could pick up enough
for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday.
Then they could pick up enough for 2 days. It never lasted longer than that. Any thing left over would be ruined the next
morning, so they would have to go out and pick up more.
Every meal was the same. The husband or kids never asked “What’s for
supper?” It would be manna casserole,
manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was
always manna cake. I mean, there was not
a whole lot of variety to their meals. And
they had to do nothing to do to get it.
They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it. Every morning, day after day after day, there
it was. And every morning, whatever was
left in the jar was ruined. And here was
where the problems started. It produces
the same problems today:
They Believed They Were Entitled To It. They did not have to buy it
and it was always there every morning. They
begin to feel like they were entitled to it.
Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of
entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and
alive. Living With That Evil Spirit Of
Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude. Oh, for sure, at first they were
grateful. But after only a few weeks of
it, things changed. First, they always
expected it to be there,
They Got Tired of it. But can you blame them? The same meal day after day after day is
enough to make them want something else.
This is what the Manna Life is like. It’s waking up every morning to the same
There Is No Sense Of
Excitement In The Manna Life.
There Are No Adventures To
Explore in the Manna Life.
There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen in the Manna
It’s The Dull Life. Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That
Comfort Zone. Comfort is more important than Purpose.
It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The
Risk. Playing it safe is the key to survival for
It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then
Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life. Now mind you, they haven’t sought great
victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories
and are disappointed.
And For Church People, It’s
The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is
Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It. They never get to experience the surprises of
God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities. And sadly, they never experience the joyful
surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that
routine life, and nothing is more boring, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few
things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life. These people around Jesus thought they wanted
the Manna Life. But Jesus did not come
to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better. He came to bring them and us the Living
Bread Life. Jesus is much
more than a free lunch—more than a vending machine dispensing what we want.
Exactly Is The Living Bread Life?
What does it feel like? Look like?
Allow me to sum it up for you.
It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately
Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us. It is living your life with the assurance and
confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart—lives in you so that you can
grow to become all God sees in you!
It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And
Grace. There is more than enough of Jesus living in
the heart of every believer to accomplish anything that God wants. It’s not just enough for today. It’s enough for tomorrow, and the next day
and the next, all the way to eternity.
There is enough grace, enough mercy, and enough love to lead us right up
to the very throne of God.
It’s The Life Of Adventure. When the Hebrews would wake up each morning
in the wilderness, they didn’t have to look far to find the manna—just go
outside and pick it up. But Living Bread
Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot
See Or Even Imagine. God
wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull. It’s the life of excitement knowing that
Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never
It’s The Life Of Exploration. It’s going down different paths, trying new
ways. The only thing we know about the
future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal
presence. So every day offers us the
opportunity to find that God is always doing something new. It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants
done. God is anything but predictable
when it comes to how He works in this world.
It Is The Life Of Contentment. Let me tell you something about real
life. There will be times of abundance
in our life. And there will be times of
scarcity. There will be times when all
of our ducks are in a perfect row and all marching to the same beat. And there will be times when the ducks will
scatter in all directions. There will be
times when the sailing is smooth as silk.
And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster
roller coaster. But the one thing about
Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we will learn
to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world.
The only source of life for all of this—comes
through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes
and every point between them. I’m
talking about Jesus living in your heart.
You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve. And you know He is the ONLY one who will
stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the
We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its
hollowness. Or we can choose to accept The
Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The
Living Bread, into our hearts.
For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to
invite Jesus into your heart. For the
rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper
into our hearts. Just bread on the table
will leave us hungry again. But the ONE
who dares to call Himself Yahweh! Living
Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and
Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!
For a child
is born to us, a son is given to us. The
government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called: Wonderful
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never
end. He will rule with fairness and
justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike. And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route. I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west. I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home. Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure. We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again. We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?” She said, “No, where are we?” And I said, “I haven’t a clue.” She replied, “No, really, where are we?” And I said, “Really, I don’t know. But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.” I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.
to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever,
considering a different route. Now that
Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and
all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to
go back to the dull routines of everyday life.
We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us.
But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty. More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!” And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.
In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message: The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us. Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah: For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us. These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation. In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus. Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us!
And at the same moment The Son Is GivenTo Us—Jesus Is Also Divine. The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem. The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine. The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus.
this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals
His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son! The Mystery is that
God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that
stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.
If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it: He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US! God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens. God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on. He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory. God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.
And the government will rest on His
shoulders. Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of
God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus. There was more than the weight of the Cross
on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to
us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of
all peoples in all ages.
felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders? Ever felt like the weight of a project at
work was on your shoulders? But try to
imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on
your shoulders. God’s eternal purpose is
carried on the shoulders of Jesus. God
has no plan “B”!
in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives,
we encounter the mystery of grace.
Isaiah says, “He will be called”
and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter.
We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful! It really is
an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace!
We Encounter The Counselor! The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is
placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world.
We Encounter The Mighty God! We come face to face with Him who holds all
power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love!
We Encounter The Everlasting Father! We encounter the only one who will never ever
give up on us! Love, grace and mercy
that is Never Ending!
We Encounter The Prince Of Peace! He gives us peace not because of what we have
done, but because of everything that He has done for us.
There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.
In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life.
God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him.
In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness.
In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast.
In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.
Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.
is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us. Now, you have a choice. You can go back the way you came into this
encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back
to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us. Or, you can go back into the real world, a
Think about those Wise Men. In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)—They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person. When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about? The sand storms they faced? The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey? The beautiful palace of Herod? That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem? The wonderful eating places they found? Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?
don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and
believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that
was given, and The Son that they saw in person.
And it should be the same for us.
This morning you are faced with a choice. Go back to the old life, the usual things,
the ordinary things.
Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person. Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works. Then spend some time at the Cross.
on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.
Focus on the nails. Focus on the
crown of thorns that pierced His head.
Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says
“Father, forgive them.” Now, how can you
be the same person who walked in that door this morning?
This Child, This Son who is Wonderful,
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is
the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they
encountered. And when they encountered
Him they went home a different way. It
was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People.
people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way. The
mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed
the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world! And It
Ought To Change Us!
Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known
They went home a different way because they were different people. The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery: He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us. This Different Way changes everything. 3 things should change in our lives:
1. It Changes How We Think About Life!
is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks. Life is meant to be about relationship—with
God first and then in relationships with others. Because of The Child, because of The Son,
life isn’t about us and what we want.
It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.
2. It Changes How We See Life!
See your life in light of what God can do, not what
you can accomplish. Start looking at
situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth. Start seeing people the way God sees them—people
in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love. Stop Seeing
Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.
3. It Changes How We Live Life!
Make your life an offering to
God. Make every thought, form every
word, make every choice as an offering to God.
Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)
Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled: The Road Not Taken. He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path. Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled. In the last verse he writes these famous words: “I shall be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” You are about to go home, back into the world, your world. Which way will you go?
Your Next Step
Decide if you will go back to life the
same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a
God is a Great Teacher; the best ever. I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived. In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences. Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.
I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery. This week is no exception. We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach. Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall. God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.
I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat. As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber. No reluctance. No hesitation. Head long as fast as they could go into the water. They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation. I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive. Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it. Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.
Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me: We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal. When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish. What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us? It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference. And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.
Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans. Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t. And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again. What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”? They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before. And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.
Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus. Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live. Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.
We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God. Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us. And if we fail? Do what pelicans do. Get back up and go at it again. Not every attempt ends in failures. Just ask those pelicans!
“28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him. Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.
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!
In midst of all the chaos of recent weeks, I found myself thinking about self esteem and ego. Perhaps it came out of my grieving the loss of my Mother and my deep concern for my Dad. Perhaps it’s the reality that in about a week and a half we will be moving into a new home, serving 2 churches while leaving behind what I feel is unfinished work–but also leaving behind great friends and encouragers. Whatever the cause, I know God wants me to write. Turn of all electronic devices, return your trays and seats to the upright position and buckle your seat belts for take-off.
Contrary to a few would say, I don’t have that big of an ego–but I regularly battle my own self-esteem. It is not as bad as it was when I was growing up. But even after my first marriage, I still struggled with self-esteem. I could say it was because of how some treated me–but that’s a cop-out. I refuse to play the victim card. And it wasn’t until I was 47, when my self-esteem completely crashed and burned, that God took me on a journey to see myself differently–than others saw me or how I even saw myself.
Since that time I find myself recognizing low self-esteem in others–and a new clarity about those with an ego problem. In church you see both, but rarely, if ever, is it acknowledged. Well, here is the epiphany I had about self-esteem versus ego.
Ego is all about self-importance. Self-Esteem is all about value and worth!
Ego is that over-inflated sense of how important a person thinks they are. Right now I have a couple of pictures in my mind of people I’ve encountered while here. That sense of Importance focuses on the container–not the source. They see themselves are being more important than others–and in the church–more important than the work of the Kingdom of God. They push themselves into other conversations and run over anyone who dares to challenge them. Ego equals Importance.
On the other hand, Self-Esteem is the recognition of your value and worth, to the One who created you. HE has deemed and declared your worth, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. Jesus deemed and declared your worth by giving up the glory of heaven for a dirty diaper; and ultimately by His willingness, and insistence, to die on that Cross. It is about recognizing your value as you live your life in Christ. Those with the EGO accuse those of us who recognize our worth in Christ as being arrogant. Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.
Ego is about seeing yourself as important. Healthy Self-Esteem is seeing the worth that God sees in you–and accepting that His value of you comes fully alive in you as you become fully alive in Jesus. Nothing is wrong with having Self-Esteem–don’t let the enemy make you feel guilty. When you say you have no value or worth you are calling God a liar–and that, my friends, is NOT a good thing to do. God’s image is in you–even if buried under years and mountains of bad choices (that means SIN). Only the Creator, our FATHER, knows how to restore His image. After all, He made you and knows you better than others know you–or you even know yourself.
Let me end this with Romans 12:3, from a new translation I recently came across. It is known as The Passion Translation and it goes like this:
God has given me grace to speak a warning about pride. I would ask each of you to be emptied of self-promotion and not create a false image of your importance. Instead, honestly assess your worth by using your God-given faith as the standard of measurement, and then you will see your true value with an appropriate self-esteem.
God gives you value–He says, long before that commercial ever said it–because YOU are worth it!
Well, here we are at the end of this semester. I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans. I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question: How Do You Get Into Heaven? Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans. So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven? Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some. If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart: How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God? With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:
We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan: To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now! And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens: Be Born Again
Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian? This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy. It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again. If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian. You don’t have to say it both ways. Here’s a diamond of Truth: You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again. Not now—not ever! But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!
This was the source of confusion for Nicodemus. Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means? Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought. And this is the one thing you need to remember today: You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again! We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people. Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.
None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again. So, how are we born again? It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.
1. WeDie! Die to all that you have been. If it’s your goodness, then die. If it’s your sense of failures, die. If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die. If it’s your fears, die. Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God. Philippians 3:8-9—
8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God. This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.
2. Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God. Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives. But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.
Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.
This is what repentance means and looks like. We turn away from that old life and into the new Life. We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do. You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward. What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.
3. Be Born By The Spirit. The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life. It’s the only power for people who are Born Again. People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.
2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)—They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power. Stay away from people like these!
This is what walking by faith means. This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God. You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit. This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you. It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam. Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3
How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again. The Final Exam has only 2 questions:
1. Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away? Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?
2. Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost? It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.
Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world. At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher: PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!
And remember…love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!
This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1. My reason was simple: I was practicing what I preach. Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches. I was reading for the sake of listening to God. No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog. Just reading, and listening. Two things jumped out at me this morning: Light versus Darkness. In other words, sin versus Holiness. And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans: Feelings. No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings. In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.
First there are what I term Emotional Feelings. Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth. I believe that God created us to have emotions. After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few. Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions. Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.
Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings. These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche. Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings. Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else. Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings. Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche. This human psyche is another part of how God created us. These are what influences how we see people and situations. On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths, narcissists, or psychopaths.
Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings. These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul. This is our moral compass. It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong. Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.
And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“. In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy. It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses. (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone: “I Told You I Was Sick!”) But these feelings go deeper. It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity. Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together. Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact. I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you. It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.
And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings. Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:
5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others. Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans. And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design. This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness. Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.
And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI. This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”. Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA. But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us. I hope they call it for what it is: The Adam and Eve Gene! While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!
How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity. Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image. When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.
God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually. He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design. We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually. If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story). All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.
Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that. Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus. Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created. You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire. Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth. Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image! In Sam Allberry’s words: Identity is something God gives us. We do not create it or discover it. It is GIVEN to us by God.
Can you see the difference between “the church in the world” and “the world in the church”? Of course you can, unless you’ve been blinded by the Wicked One. When you try to operate your local church by the values and principles of this world, you will only be a petty and pathetic private club. Not the vibrant Body Of Christ!
1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix. We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.
I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX! What’s in this box will fix anything and everything. If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed. And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX? For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out. But there’s more. I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92. But wait, there’s more. For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one. Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95. Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords. Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!
Sometimes quick fixes work. It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville. A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival. It was Friday, the last day. I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line. I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them. Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering. The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out. I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit. They didn’t. But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.
I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying. Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer. Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.
I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus. And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it: Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.
The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable. Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry? The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not. While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.
In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation. The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced werePhysical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional: use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual: Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness. Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.
Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God. Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption. The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place. Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.
And as Paul says, this is great joy for us! I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan. I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK? But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart. But…but what about all those moments afterwards?
What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy. Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either. Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless. Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact. Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.
When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix. The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible. But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.
So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us? Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place. Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you. Here’s step 1:
Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance. Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass. Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane. Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise. As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly. Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs. Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine. He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue. 10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down. His head was only 12 inches from the runway. Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries. Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder. That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up. Here are some guides to help develop endurance.
Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise. Think about a pearl. Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand. The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change. Think of it like this story. A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer. One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.” He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.” He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.” Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn. Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.” Abiding is living in your connection to God. You’re not alone in those difficult moments. Learn to lean and rest on The Father. He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God! No matter how much pressure is on you. The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.
Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character
God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort. He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness. He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions. God is getting you ready for your inheritance. Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on. And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen! There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:
Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action. 1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity. Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom. Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind. You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.
Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits. Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5. This is the Character God wants from His people. Step 3:
Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Expand Your Expectations! The word expand means to enlarge or spread out. The word expectation means eager anticipation. When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.
The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments. Expand your expectations of yourself. Expand your expectations of this church. Expand your expectations of who God can use. Expand your expectations of the ways God will move. Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think. Step 4.
Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you. 1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” It’s not God loving the good and lovable people. It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me! The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us. You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good. Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.
The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.
Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living. Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.
The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him. And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.
(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.
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!
“But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.” (Numbers 14:24 The Message)
I absolutely love the Story of Caleb. Read Numbers 13 and 14 and how can anyone NOT love Caleb? I love this man so much I just finished a sermon series about him. There are so many things about this guy and I could preach a year or more just on him, if The Spirit would allow me. I am blown away by how The Message translates God’s opinion of Caleb. (You do know that God has an opinion about you, don’t you?) “But my servant Caleb—this is a different story.”
How was his story different? God sent 12 spies, leaders actually, into the Promised Land with very specific orders. But it was never in their directive to determine if they could succeed at occupying and conquering the land. But 10 of these alleged leaders exceeded their directives and made a decision that wasn’t theirs to make. “We can’t do it! We’re whipped! Lets get a new lead pastor and go back to Egypt where we can eat all the onions and garlic we want!” OK? So, you want bad breath instead of God’s Promise? Ain’t it amazing what good church folks will give up for bad breath!
It would now seem, if they are going to be a good old American democracy, that God’s Promise would never happen, at least by the story of the Halitosis Ten. But there is another Story being told and written. Caleb, along with Joshua, has a Different Story to write and tell. Allow me, if you will, to share just a little bit about That Different Story. It’s a Story of living in The Promise, not The Halitosis. There is much to be said, but I will share 4 of the Key Qualities of Caleb.
1. He Had A Different Mindset
Caleb isn’t being naive. He saw the well fortified cities. He saw that the land produced NFL Linemen sized people. He saw every obstacle in front of them. But Caleb saw more. He saw God’s Presence through The Promise. He saw the challenges in front of him through the faithfulness of God. He had the mindset of looking at The Problem Solver, not the problem; of looking at the Giant Slayer, not the giant. Caleb was really radical—he trusted God. I am amazed (probably more like disgusted) at those who say they are a Christian while insisting that as a church we have to play it safe. Where’s the faith in that? And where did Jesus ever say that following Him was safe? See your situations as an individual and a church the same way Caleb saw what was in front of Him—God’s got this!
2. He Had A Different Purpose
Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of God—His heart and His purposes. Caleb was willing to give up his Story to become a part of a much bigger Story, the Story of God’s purposes. Ever since Adam and Eve messed it all up and ever since we perpetuate The Fall with our sinfulness, God has been at work and His work is very clear. He wants to Redeem The Sinner, bring Recovery For The Broken, and to Restore His Image Bearers. All of us have a Life Purpose, good, bad or indifferent, you have a Life Purpose. Your Life Purpose will be based and built upon the information you believe is true. Caleb believed God’s Promise is greater than any obstacle, so he chose as the Purpose of his life, to work where God is working—Redeeming, Recovering and Restoring.
3. He Had A Different Courage
Caleb’s courage came from his Trust in God. Caleb saw God as Trustworthy. He didn’t stutter, blink or hesitate. “Come on, gang! God is Trustworthy! You say you Trust in God? Well, let’s put some action in that trust!” Caleb’s roots grew deep in God. Caleb understood that “roots” are not what holds us down to the ground, but enables to grow up and out. This courage came out of something Caleb did not fully understand, but somehow knew—that God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him. He knew that wherever he went, God was with him—and that was enough.
4. He Had A Different Plan
His plan was to stay close enough to God so that he could see how God would work it out. He didn’t trust himself to figure it out—how it would happen. He knew that God had a plan and all he needed to do was to be available for the ways that God wanted to use him. Translated to 2017, the work of God is a Spiritual Work that requires Spiritual Tools (known as the Gifts of the Spirit), A Spiritual Heart (which is the heart of a servant), and A Spiritual Attitude (known as HE is the vine and we are the branches—branches designed to bear much fruit).
Goodness gracious! Where have all the Calebs gone today? You can find the next Caleb by looking the mirror. He’s longing to get out—because there is a Caleb in you but you need to make the choice between The Promise and The Halitosis. Which do you really want?
And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Yesterday I hopefully left you wanting to know a secret about this Warrior God. So here it is: WE Need To Know That Our God Is Our Warrior God! When we face our personal battles, we need The Warrior God. When we are facing the mountains we need The Warrior God. When we are facing the giants, we need The Warrior God. When we are hemmed in by confusion, chaos, or fear, we need The Warrior God. When Satan attacks us and his blows hurt, we need The Warrior God. When the weight put on our shoulders is about to crush us, we need The Warrior God. And when we make up our mind that we are going to be followers of Jesus and become the Body of Christ, we need The Warrior God.
We gather as the Body of Christ in worship, in study, and in fellowship because there is a war going on out there. We need our wounds healed. We need our minds encouraged. We need our spirits renewed. We do all this because we need to get out there in the battle against sin and against Satan. Think about God as the Warrior who does powerfully amazing things like…
God Is The Warrior Who Fights For The Heart, Mind And Soul
God’s love is pure and unconditional. At His heart is this unconditional love. Love is His identity. But God’s love isn’t an emotional sentimental kind of love. Our God’s Love Is Fierce And Intense. Our God’s love is unstoppable. His love is strong, durable and resilient. He never stops His pursuit for any of us. He goes the distance with a determination that cannot be matched or exceeded by anything or anyone else.
God’s love, yes, is kind and gentle, compassionate and merciful; But His Love Is Also Fierce And Intense. You and I are so important to the Father; more important than we could ever imagine. But Satan doesn’t want us to know this! Satan lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t love us, can’t love us. And when we believe his lie, he owns us.
Once he owns us, he controls and dominates us, and we are powerless to stop him. And he doesn’t want to let go of us. So God fights for our heart, mind and soul. Jesus fought for us in the wilderness. He fought for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He fought for us on that Cross. He fought for us in death. And He still fights for us, to give Him our heart, mind and soul. He fights for us to discover, accept and live in the only life we are made for. If you have never accepted God’s gift of a new heart and a new life, right now He is fighting for you to see your emptiness, to see your brokenness, and see that He will set you free. He will never stop fighting for you.
God Is The Warrior Who Fights—Against Darkness, Fear, And Sin
If we will accept The Gift of New Life, God doesn’t stop fighting. The Warrior God doesn’t fight against ideas or groups or ideologies. He fights against the powers that seek to enslave us again. He fights against the darkness that seeks to rob us of our joy. When we are living in joy, Satan wants to steal it away. He tries to put us in a fog so that we can’t see our way out. When the darkness tries to creep over you, when Satan is trying to cause you to give up, The Warrior God is there fighting for you and for me. He fights the darkness with the Light that is His love.
When Satan comes against us with fear it can unnerve us. We can allow fear to control us—fear of being alone, fear of being sick, fear of losing our job, fear of what might happen. And if we are not careful, we will let fear control us. But we have The Warrior God who fights against fear by giving us His peace that nothing can take away. He will remind us of His peace because He is fighting against our fears. And He fights against sin—sin in the world, and the temptations we face. It’s easy to be overtaken with sin. But our God is The Warrior who will always be in the world fighting sin in whatever form it takes.
God Is The Warrior Who Fights—With Us
Now, here is where we need to be every day of our life. Our God, The Warrior Who Fights For Our Heart And Against Everything That Tries To Destroy Us, Want Us To Join In The Battle. Being a real disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. It is not enough to show up and be counted on Sunday morning. God wants us to fight, to join in the battle. But He doesn’t want us to go with just our strength, or with the strength of a few friends. First, He fights FOR us, But Then He Wants Us To Fight With Him. He wants us to fight for the hearts, minds and souls of those around us.
The Way He Wants Us To Fight For Them Is To Do What He Does—To Fiercely Love Them. He wants us to put our time, energy and efforts into making more disciples for Jesus. To fight means we make the commitment to do whatever we can to show them God’s love.
To fight means that we need to become restless, to feel the burden God feels for those who do not know Him. He wants us to fight against the darkness, the fear, and the sin that is in our world. He wants us to fight by feeding the hungry, clothing those in poverty, caring for the least, the last and the lost. And We Can Make A Difference In Our World When We Remember—Remember That God Is The Warrior Who Fights With Us.
Our God Is The Warrior God, and He waits for us to remember—remember that He is calling us to join in the battle. The great tragedy of many churches is that they have either forgotten we are in a war, or worse, they have given up. We are called to become engaged in the most significant battle of all time and eternity. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12-13—“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”
And remember, that we do not go into this battle alone. You can’t sit on the sidelines and follow Jesus. Many want to think of Jesus as being gentle and mild. Jesus is gentle for sure, but He definitely isn’t mild. He is The Warrior, and He fights for you. Will you accept His offer for a relationship with Him? And if you have, will you step onto the battlefield with Him?
There’s movie called “We Were Soldiers.” It was based on what happened to the Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. Before they were deployed, Col. Moore said, “I will be the first to step onto the field of battle, and I will be the last to leave.” He’s not the only one who said that. Jesus said it long ago and He is still on the battlefield. This is MY God—The Warrior! Is He your God?
Remember these words from that same Psalm, Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)
32-35 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth. Sing praises to the Lord. Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky. Tell everyone about God’s power. His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens. God is awesome in his sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
I need you to do something before I begin; actually it is something God wants you to do. I want you to clear your minds of any distractions, and prepare yourself to be open and honest. Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale. Get rid of any tension—slowly roll your neck and shoulders; shake your hands and feel the tension just leaving you right now. Today I want us to look at something that maybe some of you have never thought about. Your mind and thoughts need to be open to something that I had not given much thought about until recently.
I want us to begin with a thought that we can all agree upon. It’s rare when everyone agrees on anything, but I think we can on this: Let’s agree that God is so holy, so awesome, so magnificent, so glorious, so powerful that there is no way we can contain Him. Can we all agree on this? Here is the question we need to really think about: When you think about God, what are some of the images that you think of? Maybe one of your images is God is our Shepherd. David understood God that way in Psalm 23 when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Maybe you think about the time when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, and you see that God is Our Provider. Maybe one of your images of God is Father as you think about Jesus gathering the children around Him and blessing them. Maybe your image of God is Compassion—as you remember Jesus healing lepers. Maybe your image of God is The Judge—as you remember what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah. When you think about God, what’s that word or phrase that almost immediately comes to mind?
Hopefully, one of those word images you have for God is Savior—as Jesus died on that Cross for you and me. But we need to remember that there is no single image that defines or describes who God is. God is bigger and more than any single image we may have about Him.
Furthermore, if we put all of our images of God together, collectively they still would not express who God is. Now, if you can define your God completely, then maybe your God is too small. Now that you are thinking about how you would describe God, have you ever seen God as Warrior? Does that image of God even come to mind?
God is not just a warrior, but He is the Ultimate Fierce Warrior. Now before you think that writer and teacher John Eldridge has corrupted me, listen to Exodus 15:3—“The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!” The reason I bring this up is because our world is looking to us, who go to church, who profess to be Christians, who are viewed by this world as disciples of Jesus, to show them what our God is really like. In every human heart is the desire for a God that is two things: 1. That He is bigger than they are; and 2. That He can be counted on to be there for them.
Think about it, the person who loves money wants it because money will get them things bigger than they are; but it always disappoints them because it is never enough. The same holds true for the drug addict, the alcoholic, and those who crave pornography, power and prestige. It is in our spiritual DNA. Solomon testified to this when in wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has planted eternity in the human heart.” And because all this stuff out here always disappoints them, they are looking, even longing to find a God who will satisfy that deepest longing of the heart. And our text today is all about that and much more. It’s found in Psalm 68:1-10 (NLT)
1-10 Rise up, O God, and scatter your enemies. Let those who hate God run for their lives. Blow them away like smoke. Melt them like wax in a fire. Let the wicked perish in the presence of God. But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy. Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord—rejoice in his presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. O God, when you led your people out from Egypt, when you marched through the dry wasteland, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured down rain before you, the God of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land. There your people finally settled, and with a bountiful harvest, O God, you provided for your needy people.
In any moment of every day, we are expressing our image of God. How we act, the ways we react, the priorities we set, the words from our mouths, and the attitude of our mind are all expressions of the God we are following. And our world needs to know that the God we follow, the God we profess our allegiance to, is among many things, Our Warrior God! And can I let you in our a secret? I’ll share that secret with you in the next edition!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!