Oh Lord, It’s Monday! And there’s no transforming grace

According to progressive theology, there is no need for grace that transforms us for the following reasons:

  • God loves us just the way we are
  • God wants us to love Him just the way we are
  • God wants us to love others just the way they are
  • (Sounds good so far, right?)
  • Because God loves us just the way we are and because we love others just the way they are, He blesses and sanctifies the way we are
  • That loves erases the idea that we have been infected with sin–i.e. changes that sin into holiness without us changing a thing, other than being loving
  • We are free to keep living the way we have been as long as we love others
  • Loving others must include accepting, condoning, approving, AND blessing their sin of choice
  • The only parts of the Bible that are accurate and relevant are those verses that talk about unconditional love
  • Jesus died on the Cross so that WE can determine what is right or wrong, as long as we love

Therefore there is no such thing as Transforming Grace. Why would anyone ever need to change, to be transformed? Right? Just embrace love and be loving–that’s why Jesus died on the Cross. This sounds like a simple solution to all the human problems today. And yet, even those who have embraced Progressive Theology continue to be unhappy, suspicious, and angry at everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

And the Monday Morning Attitude continues to overwhelm people. The primary reason. . .scratch that. . .the only reason we dread another week is because we have failed to be transformed by God’s Grace or we have forgotten that God’s grace HAS and IS transforming us. As long as we are unwilling to allow His Grace to work on us and in us, then each week provides us only with more misery, disappointment, and heartache.

Thankfully God’s Grace is Transforming us. Grace means God has been working to change us, is working to change us, and will continue to work on changing us until we are exactly who HE made us to be! Each week, each day, each hour, each minute, and every second God is working to make us whole and complete. The problems you are facing are moments where God’s Transforming Grace shines! The fears, anxieties, even failures–God’s Grace is at work to make us stronger, livelier, healthier, and confident.

When we open ourselves to God’s Grace and allow His Grace to change us–then we can say: Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?

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

Romans 12:1-2

Ripples

This morning as I sit here in my childhood home, I remembered another thing: throwing rocks in a pond. There was a pasture right behind our home. Sometimes my best friends and I would crawl through that fence because 200 yards away was a pond. No, we didn’t go skinny dipping. Cows frequented that pond. Sometimes we would throw sticks in the pond pretending they were warships and we would throw rocks at them trying to “sink” them. But sometimes we would sit there and throw rocks in it to watch the ripples.

Have you ever wondered about ripples? This morning I am–and it’s not about sinking battleships or watching the ripples reach the bank of that pond. I’m thinking about the effect that sin has had on my life–and the effect it has still when I mess up. The rock lands in the middle of the pond and sinks. But the ripples spread out until they reach the end. Sin is just like that. Think about the word SERP! It’s a serious disease that isn’t talked about in our culture–it’s more than a pandemic, it’s an epidemic. Don’t go to dictionary.com to look up that word and don’t go to WEBMD because you won’t find anything about it. Nonetheless, it’s real–very real–all too real!

I made it up! It’s an acronym for Spiritually Emotionally Relationally Physically. SERP is the effects that sin has on our lives when we allow it in our lives. Sin first affects us Spiritually. Sin denies us that connection with God. Sin gets in the way of the relationship God designed and wants with us. Then sin affects us Emotionally. Our emotional health declines because emotions take over and run wildly through our minds and hearts. Then sin affects us Relationally. Because we are not living within our design and purpose, it affects our relationships in a horrible way. Finally sin affects us Physically. It drains us of our energy, our strength, and at some point, it makes us physically sick.

SERP doesn’t go away and no medication–legal or otherwise–will stop the ripples as sin infects and affects our life. It sounds complicated–but the solution is simple. Bring our sin before God! Realize the negative impact it is having on every aspect of your life. Accept that it is what it is–SIN! Regret that you are living the SERP life. Then bring yourself and your sin before God. Admit you are a sinner and that Jesus is the only way to get rid of it. Then tell God that you regret it and that you want a different life–HIS Life–from that point forward. In church terms this is what confession and repentence are all about.

And this is what God will do when we admit our sin, accept we are powerless over sin, and desire a completely different life. “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.” (1 John 1:9 NLT) Rewriting the definitions of sin won’t work. Believing in the latest faux science won’t help. Even trying to fix it yourself won’t even come close to ending those ripples. It requires Grace–God’s Grace–and our unconditional surrender to Him and what He says. It may be fun making ripples in a pond as a child–but when it comes to being healthy Spiritually Emotionally Relationally Spiritually–you gotta do what God says! And The Great Physician will heal us–every time!

It Matters!

It Matters! There’s so much talk–scratch that–there’s so much SHOUTING about WHO matters. Black Lives. Blue Lives. Asian Lives. White Lives. All Lives. But this morning I don’t want to talk about WHO matters. The burden that has been in my heart for some time now has been IT MATTERS! The reason being is that there are so many–way too many–who believe IT DOESN’T MATTER–though it does. What is the IT I’m talking about?

The IT is What We Believe About God And His Word–otherwise known as The Bible! Theological progressives are promoting this crazy idea that when it comes to God and His Word, it doesn’t matter what we believe, as long as we believe, especially that part about Love. Progressives say, “Just let us believe what we want. And you can believe what you want. And let’s just live together side by side. As long as we love each other, then the rest doesn’t matter.” But IT does MATTER!

People are heading down what they believe is the yellow brick road to enlightenment full speed ahead. But left in the wake of their ignis fatuus are broken, disillusioned, and deeply wounded people. They live a disconsolate and wistful existence. And the Progressives blame that lugubrious state of mind on those who of us who understand that IT DOES MATTER what we believe. While their mantra has been “You believe what you want and we believe what we want and we can still get along” is an incongruity because it elevates US human beings as the highest and final authority of what it means to put our faith in Christ–and to be His disciple and follower.

This kind of thinking is built upon a supposition that we humans are fully capable of understanding the heart and mind of God. That WE have the mental acuities to determine who God created us to become. That WE are free to determine what is right and what is wrong; what is acceptable and what is unacceptable; what is sin and what is not sin. In an online conversation with a progressive, she told me, “The Fall was a good thing because it freed us to determine our own life.” Excuse me, but isn’t that what Satan told Eve and Adam? I think it was.

Another alleged Gospel has been presented–it may sound good and reasonable to the human mind. It even sounds like it’s the way for all of us to get along. But sounding good and being good isn’t the same. Paul warned about this in Galatians Chapter 1, Verses 8 and 9–“Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.  I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.”

Good News includes the truth that there is also Bad News! The bad news is that we are all infected, tainted, and under the influence of sin. This infection has corrupted our mind, and thus our ability to understand exactly what God wants of us. And the only reliable source to understand both the nature of sin and how it is affecting us is found in The Bible. Though the Bible was written by human hands, and though human minds brought together all these books as our Canon–our source for authority over us–I maintain that God was watching over these processes ensuring that today we have an accurate and reliable foundation, both about sin and God’s Grace. If God cannot protect The Truth from being transmitted through the millenniums, then God cannot be trusted at all.

We are not equipped mentally nor spiritually to determine what is or isn’t sin. Besides, we already have those definitions. It’s called The Bible. Here in The Bible is where we find Personal Holiness. Do we always get it right the first time? Hardly! But we are not left alone to our own devices to figure it out. We have many centuries of writers and witnesses who attest to the Truth of God’s Word. The Orthodox ways, though not perfected completely, reveal to us that Truth is Truth is Truth. And we are not free to redefine things like sin and personal holiness.

We have the Holy Spirit to help us. And the Holy Spirit will not, cannot contradict The Bible. We need to be careful, very careful, how we handle This Word. It matters what we believe–when it comes to sin, salvation, and a life of holiness. It matters, even if you think it doesn’t matter.

Scrambled Eggs

We’ve been gone on a Sabbatical, and I promised my readers that I would resume writing every day when we got home. We left Lake Millsite, Florida on Tuesday, going home by a “different” route. Soooo, in the immortal words made famous by Jack Nicholson:

Not in quaint and beautiful Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Right now I’m in Center Star, Alabama–in the home Dad had built about 59 years ago. Monday night, my son Matthew called and said they had to take Dad to the emergency room. His oxygen concentration was low. Turns out he was having a severe spell with his A-Fib and had caused his heart to have what is called RVR. (Click here to find out about RVR)

So Tuesday morning we packed up and headed to be with him in the hospital. The good news is they were able to restore normal heart rhythm. No more A-Fib or RVR. The bad news is that he has been diagnosed stenosis of the aortic valve in his heart. That’s when the flaps of the aortic valve become thick and stiff, or they fuse together. These problems cause the valve opening to become narrow. The narrowed valve reduces or blocks blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. The normal size of an adult aortic valve is around 3.0 to 4.0 cm2. His is now 1 cm2.

Normally, the treatment is to replace the diseased valve, going through the femoral artery. However at 95 years old, he is not a candidate for the procedure. Bad news, right? Well. . .the Good News he is ready to go Home; you know, the Eternal Home where there’s no such thing as A-Fib, RVR, arthritis or any of these aches and pains we experience on this orb known as Earth. He has 2 daughters already there and his wife of 73 years. Best of all, he knows Jesus is there.

Our conversations in the hospital revolved around the best care for him now. We talked about Hospice, and agreed it was time. In case you didn’t know, Hospice isn’t just for when death is imminent. It’s also for cases where death is medically determined to be inevitable because there are no longer viable medical treatment options. So today, Thursday, the twenty-eighth day of October in the year 2021 of our Lord, he and we met all of those who will be involved in his care until the inevitable happens.

Great people! We met his social worker, hospice aide, RN, and his chaplain. I enjoyed meeting all of them, as did Dad! But it was something that his chaplain said that is provoking these thoughts tonight. Garry, that’s his name, said, and listen very carefully: Only God Can Unscramble Eggs. Isn’t this rich!!!

When you make scrambled eggs, the shells are broken–and you can’t put the shells back together–I mean, someone might could try like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. But it ain’t gonna be able to hold anything, much less those innards of the egg. Then the egg whites and the egg yellows are all mixed together–the whites are indistinguishable from the yellows–dear Lord, you can’t separate them back into just the egg whites and egg yellows again. It is impossible, I say, impossible!!!

We just can’t do it! But that is just a small thing for God to do. In fact, He is the only one who can unscramble eggs. And this is why The Holy Spirit used Garry’s words to say something important to me–something I needed to hear.

Right now we are walking through the Valley of the Shadow of death. Dad is still alive, and kicking–and in his own words–“just not very high.” But negotiating the rest of the journey through this Valley, well. . .we need a little help. You may remember back in August we made this journey when my sister died.

And the help we are receiving right now and the help that will be with us as we journey from one end of this Valley all the way to the other end–comes from the only One who can unscramble an egg. With that kind of skill–I reckon we will make it just fine.

TICKS!

This past Friday afternoon I committed to a decision to work on another place to hunt. It was in the woods behind my house. So I cleared me a path to it, found a good spot for a feeder and to make a mineral lick. I needed to clear a lot of undergrowth and to make a couple of shooting lanes from my stand. It was exhausting, but I made a lot of progress and felt really good about my efforts; at 65 years old, too!

Being a bit sweaty, covered in dirt and what the chainsaw threw back on me, I headed for the shower. As I was about to step into the shower, I noticed a tick on my right leg. It was firmly imbedded and was feasting on my Type O negative blood. It took a pair of tweezers to dislodge him from his dinner table. End of story, right?

Wrong! The next morning as I was sitting outside and enjoying the Living Waters (a.k.a.) coffee, I found another tick. This one had already been feasting overnight on MY blood. I carefully removed him, sending him to Tick Hell! Then I found another–and then another! Three that morning who had spent the night enjoying my Type O negative blood. And it was those 4 Ticks that got me to thinking about this morning’s musings.

Ticks are blood-sucking ogres who want something from me–and they don’t care what they do to me. Some of them even carry serious diseases such as Lyme Disease and the infamous Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. Ticks are not insects, they are classified as arachnids, or relatives of spiders, scorpions and mites. Ticks also are found in other forms.

Some Ticks come in the form of feelings. Feelings such as fear, depression, despair, anger, bitterness, remorse, regret, uselessness, or memories of past failures. Some ticks come in the form of persistent sin in our life. They attack and attach themselves deep within us. And they do not want to let go. After all, they are getting free food from you.

And sometimes nature’s Ticks come in the form of human beings. I’m not talking about vampires or zombies. I’m talking about real, live, walking and (unfortunately) talking human beings. And like those small Ticks, they may not be noticed at first. But from the first moment they attach themselves to you, they begin sucking the life right out of us. Examples are people who dwell on and spew the venom of the negative; those who like you only for what you can do for them; those who are living in self-destruct mode but they want others to self-destruct with them; and of course–abusers! Abuse can be verbal, mental, physical, or sexual. We call these toxic relationships because they are deadly to us.

And like nature’s Ticks, emotions and toxic relationships get bigger the longer they stay attached to you. While a small nature’s Tick may not be all that noticeable at the beginning, the longer they remain attached the more obvious and ugly, they become. See?

So what’s person to do if they finally see the ugliness of their “Infestation of Ticks”? Do what Paul recommended to the Colossians:

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us.

(Emphasis mine) Colossians 3:8-11

If you will give me a little liberty with Paul’s words, I would say to you: In this new life, it doesn’t matter who you are, or who you used to be. And you are not defined by those toxic relationships. Jesus has and will continue to deliver you from all of that!” Don’t let those Ticks ruin your life. Jesus has the best life of all for you!

But What About?

The above is a picture of one of our local “fast food” chains. It’s also one of the homes for “Old Coots Giving Opinions”. Yes, I have sat among them. This location is in the middle of a remodel and update. The outside is going to look “brand new”. But what about the inside? Honestly, I do not know how it passes it’s monthly inspection. Sometimes the food is lukewarm, and I’m with God on what lukewarm makes you want to do. The culture of the management, well, it doesn’t fit in with the best examples. Some employees make the effort to do a great job–the others are just there to get a paycheck. And the floors? Not very clean–especially in the food preparation area.

But the outside is going to look great! And a lot of people today live by the same attitude. As long as the outside looks great, that’s all that matters. Many even believe that if they can get the outside looking great that the inside will automatically look great. Others vainly believe that if they successfully tackle the outside appearance, then they can do something about the inside.

It might be, mind you, I said “Might be”, great if this formula really worked. But it doesn’t. Think about the encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were all about the outside appearances. They worked diligently on the outside. And here’s what Jesus had to say about all that sincere effort: 27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew chapter 23 verses 27 & 28). Around here we have this thing called “Decoration Sunday”. Cemeteries are cleaned up and new floral arrangements are put out by families and friends. It’s looks good on the outside–but in a few months those arrangements are faded. And what lies beneath the trimmed sod, hasn’t changed.

So, what’s a person to do? Well, may I suggest what King David did? For the most part his “outside” looked pretty good. But his inside needed help; a lot of help. So he penned in Psalm 136 verses 23 and 24 (NLT): “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Someone may be thinking: “God doesn’t want to see what’s inside me!” But He has already seen it. David trusted God with the mess inside him–and so can you!

To me, the best part of The Good News is that it doesn’t matter to Jesus what our outside looks like. He starts in the places we need Him most–on the inside. He wants to lead you from the inside to the outside in a journey that will radically transform you more than any “curb appeal” work you can try. As far as that “fast food” location here? I can only hope they will eventually get to the inside. After all, that’s what matters the most!

RECALL ALERT!

Recall Alert! No, not your vehicle. Not some baby product. Not your C-Pap machine. Not the food in your pantry or freezer. Not your coffee maker. Not your hair dryer or curling iron or flat iron. Not some power tool. Not your washer, dryer, refrigerator, or freezer. It hasn’t been on the news, but it should be. Are you wondering what I’m writing about this morning? Well, let me first tell you a short story.

One Sunday morning at my previous appointment, I was talking with someone about something (I forgot what it was), but as I was talking, I forgot some key point of the story. The person I was talking with was Dr. Joe Cooney, a physiology professor. I told Joe, “Oh, man! I can’t remember! I’m losing my memory.” And in his usual calm manner, Joe told me, “No, you’re not loosing your memory. It’s up there. You’re having a RECALL problem.” God bless Joe! I wasn’t loosing my memory, and he’s spent his whole life understanding and teaching about the human body, including the brain!

Recalling that episode this early morning got me to thinking–about Recall! And what does Recall have to do with this thing called the Journey of Life? Sometimes I forget. Do you? It acts like memory loss–but it’s a Recall issue. As a matter of fact, life can be, scratch that, life IS difficult to say the very least. You don’t need this old preacher to remind you of this reality.

Problems at work. Problems at home. Problems with our health. Unexpected deaths. Failures. Divorce. Abandonment. Loss of job. Foreclosure. Depression. These are just a very few of the moments in life that will cause us to question–question the Only One who loves us and takes care of us no matter what happens. Or am I the only one who has ever questioned the faithfulness of God? Felt abandoned by God? Felt like He just doesn’t care? When those moments overwhelm us–we act, think, and feel like there are no memories of how faithful God has been to us. But He has been–we just need to Recall those memories of other overwhelming moment when no doubt, God was with us!

One of my favorite memories was in July of 1971. At a youth service the Holy Spirit moved in my heart and invited me into this relationship with Jesus. I fought so hard that I held on to the pew in front of me–and I said NO to God. Why is this a good recall for me? Because a year later, that same Holy Spirit spoke that same message to me–and this time I said YES!

In September 2003, another of my favorite memories happened. I was a total train wreck, and the darkness was strong in me because of my divorce. I had performed a wedding ceremony for a very good friend’s nephew. A friend called me that next week and told me I really impressed one of the wedding directors and that I really needed to call her for a date. Debbie became God’s Gift to me in my darkest times. And on November 13, 2020 we celebrated our 16th Wedding Anniversary.

It’s not easy–but if we stop focusing on what we have forgotten–and start to Recall, well–it just changes everything. We recover the Truth that God hasn’t abandoned us or forgotten us. Recall is a good thing–an excellent thing. May I suggest, as I did this morning–to Recall moments when God overwhelmed us with love, mercy and grace.

Don’t wait until the crucible heats up–every day Recall something that God has done for you. And if you are having a Recall Problem and can’t remember–then think about Jesus on that cruel Cross. Look at the Cross–and the Recall Problem is resolved!

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.

1 John 4:10 (NLT)

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 3

Well, here I go with yet another one of those incongruous and cacophonous things some people believe are in the Bible. Today’s episode is:

The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves!

Now, I do agree that way too many people live out their paltry and pathetic lives as if there are no consequences for their decisions, choices and actions. Way too many are waiting for a free lunch that isn’t going to be delivered. Heck, there’s no one even in the kitchen cooking that free lunch. And The Bible is clear that whatever kind of seeds we plant, THAT is going to be the crop we produce. But this? The Lord helps those who help themselves? That’s a train of thought that derailed at the station! This kind of thinking isn’t a train without a caboose (this analogy goes back to the days when trains had a caboose)–it’s a train without an engine! It doesn’t get us anywhere!

It’s preposterous and maniacal to think that God is waiting for us to do something to help ourselves before He is willing to lift a finger to help us. It only makes sense to those who live in the futility of believing that we, broken and messed-up human beings are au fait when it comes to fixing the messes we create. Do you want the truth about the human (in)ability to help ourselves?

SPOILER ALERT! We cannot help ourselves. Our best efforts are always tainted by our sinful and fallen nature. Here’s the Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! It takes the Grace of God to help us, period! God doesn’t give His Grace to those who are trying–and certainly not to those who think they deserve His Grace. If we deserve Grace, then it’s no longer Grace. It’s payment for our efforts. Do you want a Bible Verse to prove it, and thus make me “Biblical” in this assertion? OK, buckaroo, you got it!

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:3 (NLT)

So, quit tell others that if they want their lives to change, they have to help themselves first before God will help them. And if you still believe this anathema and abomination–all I can say is: God help you! Please God, help them!

Who Deserves Forgiveness?

My brain operates on a level different from most. Of course you who know me, have heard me preach, and read my thoughts here on this blog have been aware of this for a long time. I offer no excuses or justifications for the way I process my thoughts. I own it! And with all the humility I can muster, I must say that I am quite proud of it. And I’ve discovered that sometimes God actually uses my “unique” ways of thinking. Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not my critics, or even myself most times.

And this morning, I find that it’s amazing how mortality and the death of my sister, have been churning my thoughts. And though I have an advanced affliction of random thoughts, there is nothing random about this line of thought. It hit me on the morning (perhaps the word should be mourning) after my sister’s death as I sat alone on Dad’s front stoop dreading sharing the news of her death with him.

That dark morning around 4:30 a.m. I was hit and hit hard with the names of 3 people. My thoughts about these 3 individuals were not kind; I repeat myself–NOT kind nor gracious. One of them had wounded me over 3 years ago. Honestly, I thought I was over that wound–but it appears I’m not! The other two individuals, their wounds are fresh and still bleeding profusely. And no, these two are not, nor have they ever been, my enemy. But if I was a prolific song writer like David, I could write a scathing imprecatory song about all 3 of them.

And what I am still struggling with (and I ask for your prayers so that I will change my feelings about them) is that…can I be honest with you? To you who just nodded your head in the affirmative, thank you for letting me be real with you. I do not want to forgive them. Yes, this pastor and proclaimer of Grace, is fostering and nurturing one old wound, and two new wounds. I know, I know, that holding tightly onto resentment and grudges as if they were my only friends, serves only to hurt me and open those wounds even more–adding more bleeding and unbearable pain.

And the Holy Spirit led me to this Very Intentional Thought: Who Deserves Forgiveness? Knowing that it’s the enemy who wants me to feel this way doesn’t really help me. One of my theme Bible verses that often describes me is this: “But I need something more! For if I know the law (or as in my case, knowing it’s the enemy polluting my mind with such thoughts) but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7:17-20 The Message; EMPHASIS MINE)

And even this Monday morning, the Intentional ThoughtWho Deserves Forgiveness?–is playing in my mind like a kid in a mudhole. And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, don’t tell me how sorry you are that I’ve been wounded–even by some closest to me. It won’t help me–it will only fuel my resentment and bitterness. And I have reached an answer and come to a conclusion–No one deserves forgiveness! Not these 3! (And here is the bitter pill I am trying to swallow even as I write) NOT EVEN ME!

And if The Spirit hasn’t poked and prodded me enough, yesterday as we headed home, 2 very good friends of ours wanted the four of us to break bread together before we returned. They had come to the visitation and attended the funeral; so how could we decline. In fact, we were looking forward to that sacred meal. Oh, their names are Jim and Grace; yes “Grace” is her real name–and she lives up to that namesake. They are members of the church I previously served–and we have stayed connected as fellow Disciples of Jesus Christ. Their faith and witness are powerful!

In their conversations they mentioned they had recently been to a Revival Service, and one night the preacher, another good friend of mine, was preaching about the very issue I am toiling with–Forgiveness. Mark, my friend and fellow preacher, said that not only are we to forgive those who wound us, but we are also to pray for God to bless them. I knew that The Father arranged this meal without me being aware of it! Sneaky Grace is what I call it! The nerve of my Heavenly Father doing such a thing! He wants ME not only to forgiven them–but to ask HIM to bless THEM!

I don’t know which text Mark used, but right now I am remembering some words of Jesus Himself, words I wished He had never spoken: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT; EMPHASIS MINE) None of us deserve forgiveness. It doesn’t matter how sanctified, sanctimonious, or goody-two-shoes you are. Yet He forgives and blesses us–and He expects no less from us to the same toward others–when those others deserve neither to be forgiven nor blessed.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some work to do–I mean–a LOT of work to do on me! Random Thought: I wonder, if there are others out them who are struggling with this same issue?

Slip And Fall

Have your feet ever slipped out from under you? Maybe ice was the culprit; or maybe it was snow; or perhaps water on the floor; or like me, maybe it was mud. I’ve slipped more times that Carter has little pills (maybe you have to be from the South to understand this analogy). About 2 months or so before the slip and fall I’m thinking about right now I had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and move a large bone spur. One particular Saturday my wife Debbie wasn’t around–and the leaves in the back yard were taunting me.

So I did what I had no business doing–I grabbed my leaf blower and went to work. I was blowing them into an old pond but the pile got so big, I need a rake to finish the job. I got the rake and went to work. I got to the edge of that old pond (there wasn’t much water in it) and carefully–I said CAREFULLY–began raking the leaves into that old pond. Then it happened! Between the leaves and the mud, my feet refused to stay underneath me and down I went.

I was younger back then, so in an instant, quick as a flash, I extended my arms including the left one which had the aforementioned surgery. I don’t know why we do that–I mean–extending the arms as if they would soften the landing. Get the picture? Both arms experienced Newton’s Third Law. Something popped in that left shoulder–and the pain could be described as. . .well, it can’t be described. And almost as quick as the extension of my arms, I looked around to see if anyone saw me. Why do we do that? No one saw me fall, and through the mega voltage of pain in my shoulder, I was thankful no one did.

There’s another kind of “slipping” that is far worse. It’s when we spiritually slip and fall. We do the same things as in a physical fall–we extend our arms hoping to soften the landing (it doesn’t help) and look to see if anyone saw us fall. In spite of our best intentions as a follower of Jesus, sometimes we slip and fall–and hope no one saw or heard us. But God both saw and heard. The last one we wanted to see us fall, saw it all.

So what can we do as followers and disciples of Jesus? We have a choice. We can do a Simon Peter. . .or we can do a Judas. Remember Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed Jesus–neither men were “less” sinful than the other. If we ever fall (we call that sin), the choice is ours. We can put ourselves back in the presence of Jesus–or we can completely avoid His Presence. Peter was restored, but Judas wasn’t–but he could have been.

I call your attention to a particular passage of Scripture to remember when you fall. I’ve used it numerous times and can testify that it works! It’s found in 1 John 1:9–“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.” God sees us every time we fall. So, instead of looking around the next time you fall, look up. Own your mess. Tell God you were wrong–and that you want to change. And HE will be faithful to forgive you and help you back up again!

Making For A Better View

Well, our last full day at this cabin. As I was sitting on the back porch, my eyes were not drawn to the beautiful mountain peaks, but to something unexpected. It wasn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it was in great contrast to those Smoky Mountain peaks we have enjoyed this past week. Would you like to see what I noticed? It’s nothing like the pictures I have posted, so a disclaimer is in order: Not for immature audiences due to it’s starkness:

Blue Mountain View Cabin

One might wonder why in the world would someone, anyone cut down those beautiful trees? I’m not a ultra-extreme tree hugger, so it did not take me long to figure it out. They were cut down so we, and others who stay here, could see those majestic peaks. See?

Blue Mountain View Cabin

There are other benefits to the removal of those trees. One is that the undergrowth is given a better opportunity to grow, thus reducing the amount of erosion. The tree trunks and limbs begin decaying, adding back to the soil, making it richer and better. Then there’s that view. None of these would happen without the chainsaw cutting down those trees. There’s a spiritual lesson for us right here. Tree huggers may not see it, but it’s here.

Remember the benefits of controlled cutting: undergrowth can thrive reducing erosion, decaying limbs and tree trunks add nutrients to the soil for plants to grow better, insects collect around the cuttings for birds to have food, and one can see the view for which we came. Sometimes things in our life can grow so tall that we cannot see our God’s desired destination for us–which is to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes there are things in our heart and especially our mind that must be cut down. We call this “God’s pruning”. He cuts off the dead parts of our life because they are a threat to the living parts. Now get this, He even cuts off productive parts of our lives as well. Why would he do that? Glad you asked. The answer is found in John 15, verses 1 and 2:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

New Living Translation (emphasis mine)

Speaking from personal experience, pruning is neither easy nor pleasant. Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning. What is cut away in my life is like those limbs and tree trunks–it’s enriching the soil of my life. My “mess” becomes His “Message”; not a bad trade if you ask me. Furthermore, the pruning of my productive part will decrease my production for a short time, but the long-term result is an even greater production for my Father. Again, however you look at it, this is a really great deal. It’s like trading in an old clunker car for a brand new car–without paying for the difference between the two.

So, if it feels like God has had His chainsaw out–it’s for our good. And when the pruning shears come out–get excited! There is a greater harvest coming for Our Father!

It’s A Wonderful Life Because It Matters Who You Know!

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

There are certain clichés you hear all through your life that when you look closer, are false.  They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example:  It takes money:  To Make Money.  But there’s Sam Walton and Bill Gates.  Neither one was wealthy when they began their career.  Both men discovered it doesn’t always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation.  Another one:  You can’t fight:  City Hall.  Sonny Bono opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won.  He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his untimely death in early 1998.  Of course, his story reminds us of another cliché: If you can’t beat `em: Join `Em.

Another cliché we hear from time to time is:  It’s not what you know it’s:  Who You Know.  Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliché is painfully true.  Each each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something—maybe a club, a job, a business opportunity, and you never got a chance because you weren’t “in” with the right people.

At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair.  Today we’re going to examine how this cliché works in your favor.  In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life.  Like most of his fellow Jews, he believed that God a showed special favoritism to them.

But in the vision, he saw a large sheet lowered down to earth, filled with all kinds of critters.  A voice told him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter was caught off guard.   He said “Surely not.  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which prohibited eating things like shrimp, pork, fried catfish, and so on.  Then the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  

Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new.  Right after this vision, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea.  Peter accepted the invitation.  When he gets there, Cornelius gets carried away and starts to bow before Peter.  Peter gets him up and sets him straight.  As he looked across that room, Peter had that light bulb moment and now he understood the meaning of the vision.  Now, let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:28-43 (NLT)

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.  But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon.  Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.  He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’  33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come.  Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem.  They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him to life on the third day.  Then God allowed Him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses.  We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

This brief but powerful message can be summarized like this:  “It Doesn’t Matter What You Know, But WHO You Know!”  He told them that God’s great love is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or social status.  He told them that God loves everyone the same.  We’re looking at this thought:  It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s not perfect, nor is it always easy.  But it is promised to be Wonderful.  Today, we’re going to take a look at Peter’s sermon to find another reason why It’s A Wonderful Life

1.  God Accepts Everyone The Same.

Years ago singer-songwriter Mac Davis penned a song titled:  “It’s Hard To Be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way.”  This is the attitude many religious Jewish people had.  In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel were designated as God’s chosen people.  Most thought this meant they were his favorite people, that God loved them more than the others.  They believed that God had no use for Gentiles.  

It was this kind of racial prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome.  He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new:  God Is Not Only The God Of The Jews, He Is The God Of All Creation—and God loves us and accepts us all the same.  Vs. 34—“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”  Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources.  

There Is Only One Place In This World Where True Equality Exists:  In A Relationship With God.  God accepts everyone the same.  He doesn’t show favorites.  He doesn’t favor America over all other nations, He doesn’t favor white people over all other races, He doesn’t favor men over women, or the poor over the rich.  It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you as much as He loves everyone.  

This is good news, because The Only Thing That Really Matters In Life Is A Relationship With God, And It’s Equally Available To Anyone.  Anyone can Know Him.  Anyone Can Talk To Him.  Anyone Can Experience His Love.  Anyone Can Be Forgiven.  Anyone Can Do His Will.  Anyone can Live A Life That Brings Him Glory.  In all of the inequality that exists in our world, it is great to know that it doesn’t matter who you are because God accepts everyone the same.  

2.  God Judges Everyone The Same.

The Bible says that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our advocate.  Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge, vs. 42b—“Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.” There is no other judge I would rather have.  Think about it.  When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you’ve done, who do you want to face?  Your high school football coach?  Your boss?  Your mother-in-law?  Your ex-spouse?  Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy?  

The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God—not at all like a human judge.  Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor, and white men have the advantage over everyone else.  But it doesn’t work that way with God.  Human courts fail at administering justice, but God won’t.  He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness.  This means two things: 

  • There’s no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.  
  •  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you did it with. 

It’s not going to work for you or against you.  God treats everyone the same— with the same grace, mercy, love!

3.  God Offers Salvation To Everyone The Same.

Without exception, we all are guilty.  He won’t let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but—here’s the good news—He Will Let You Off The Hook Because Of Who He Is.  His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said in vs. 43—“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God.  So Jesus died on the cross for you.  If you believe in Him you can experience God’s forgiveness, you can live in God’s presence, and you can be filled with God’s power every day of your life.  This is how you begin the Christian life—by believing in Jesus.  He Accepts You No Matter Who You Are; He Will Show You Mercy No Matter Where You Are; He Will Forgive Your Sins No Matter What You Have Done.

And this is how you live the Christian life.  Coming To Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace; Continuing In Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace, Too.  When we put our faith in Him we are covered by His mercy.  We will make mistakes along the way.  And He still forgives us as we choose to live like Jesus.  It Doesn’t Matter What You Know Or Even Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know.

Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way.  God has already done this for us.  God offers you acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness.  Knowing Jesus Provides Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness. If you want to have A Wonderful Life, it all comes down to this:  It Takes The Surrendered Life To Jesus, And It Only Happens One Way—When you do 3 things:

  1. Admit That You Resist Total Surrender.  The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
  2. Ask Him For His Power To Enable Your Unconditional Surrender.  The Resurrection of Jesus happened because of His Unconditional Surrender to dying on the Cross for all of us. 
  3. Then Operate With The Confidence That His Resurrection Power Is In You.  It’s more than just liking Jesus; it’s about The Deepest Commitment Of Your Heart.  It’s facing those battles head on because His Resurrection Power—whether you feel that Power or not—you know it’s there because HE SAID it’s there.

And because we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, here is our Next Step:

Decide To Give Jesus All Of Your Life.  Admit it!  There is a part or parts of our life we haven’t given over to Jesus.  Here are some examples:

  • A wound from a past hurt that you refuse to deal with;
  • A secret shame—from years ago or just last week;
  • Refusal to forgive someone;
  • An area of personal pride—you’re good at something or you have really achieved recognition for something good—and you’re holding on;
  • Here’s just one word:  Time—you see it as yours and that makes you want to spend it on you, for you and make it about you;

This is what it takes, all it takes—it’s the one thing you haven’t offered to Him—AND It’s The Only Thing He Wants From You Right Now!  Have you made—I mean really made—I mean absolutely made—Your Decision To Surrender Your LifeTo The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered LifeAnd Make It A Wonderful Life!