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:
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?
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!
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.”
34Then 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:
Admit That You Resist Total Surrender. The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
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.
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 Life—To The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered Life—And Make It A Wonderful Life!
The greatest generation ever was those who fought in World War II. I would like to think that my generation was the second greatest generation. Why? We spent more time outside than inside. We had sweat beads around our necks in the summer. We could turn the right stick into a Thompson sub-machine gun. We didn’t think much about stepping in cow manure. We drank water from the hose pipe. We jumped off of bridges into creeks. Best friends could have fights and after the fight, still be best friends.
We watched violent cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, yet we never had the desire or even urge to to shoot someone or order bomb making materials from Acme. Oh! One more thing–we had the very best music! Country music was COUNTRY Music and rock-n-roll was ROCK-N-ROLL. One of our songs was “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.
And now it is 2021, and the question begs to be asked and answered: What Are The Three Most Important Words For Right Now? I have been listening, and have advanced to the level of Intermediate Noticer. Based on what is being said and shouted, here is my comprehensive yet incomplete list of what different people are thinking is the answer to the 3 most important words needed for these times. In no particular order they are:
We need Trump
We need Biden
Ban all guns
Need more guns
Prayer in schools
Bibles in schools
Close the borders
New American revolution
End foreign aid
Drain the swamp
More government aid
Congressional term limits
Less on defense
More on defense
Change your mind
Change YOUR mind
We need love
We need peace
We need hope
Have judicial reforms
No more racism
New political party (I must say this, “Really??? Aren’t political parties part of the problem??? And you want to add to the sewage?”)
We need kindness
We need determination
Deport all Republicans
Deport all Democrats
New moral values
Old moral values
Legalize more drugs
Government medical care
Defund Law Enforcement
Something, Anything, Everything
There are more to add to this list. Some “imagined” solutions are more complicated than three words. As if our world isn’t complicated enough. There are no simplistic solutions to the problems our culture and nation are facing. But. . .the solution is simple; just that simple. This list reflects groups of people–group mentalities. Group mentalities tend to produce complicated, complex, and irrelevant solutions. The answer–the simple but not simplistic answer–is found in three words:
I Need Help!
All of the fake solutions to our issues are focused on what others need to do–never on what the individual needs to SAY! To say “I NEED HELP” is to acknowledge that NOTHING–NO THING OUT THERE–can help heal our brokenness and help us navigate this total mess. If nothing OUT THERE (I refer you to the above list as being “out there”) that can help and heal us–then the answer must be UP THERE! I’m talking about the One Constant in an ever changing universe and culture–the Throne of God.
To end this madness, the place to begin is with the person in your mirror–that’s YOU! To say “I Need Help” is to admit the limitations created by sin and the Hope found only when we surrender completely and unconditionally to God. My best days happen when I begin the day, end the day, and admit every moment between beginning and ending, “I Need Help!” My worst days happen when I fail to say it. My mediocre days happen when I forget to say it throughout the day.
It’s simplistic to approach life saying that others need to change. Simplistic solutions have never worked. But solving this crisis is really simple. Admit your own need for God and trust God to both change and guide YOU–not “them”! Let your words be the words of the Psalmist:
1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.
5 The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.
7 The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
I remember back when (dear Lord, I’ve turned into an old coot!) the gas lines in 1974. For you who haven’t a clue of what I’m talking about, and for those who forgot about it, I’m talking about “The Great Gasoline Shortage of 1974. I admit that even as a teenager I was frustrated with the long lines. But there is an even greater shortage today, this very moment–and that is the shortage of Graciousness.
Maybe I need to define Graciousness since there is so little of it going around. You may notice (hopefully!) that you can hear that word Grace! There are a lot of ways of defining Grace, but my personal favorite is this:
Unmerited and unconditional kindness and favor extended to everyone.
As a people and as the People of The United States of America, it seems that the majority have forgotten both the value and importance of Graciousness. Please, for the sake of this Republic and for the sake of the human race, Be Gracious! And in the morning and all day long, Be Gracious! Then on the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after than, and. . .hopefully you get the point. And the point is BE GRACIOUS!
For this Lenten Journey, I want us to look at the most profound statement ever made by Jesus while He was here in our human form. We are going to be in John’s Gospel looking some of the “I-Am” sayings of Jesus—those moments and situations where He identifies Himself in a very specific way.
Let’s lay the groundwork for today’s passage before I read it to you. Moses had this unbelievable encounter with God. We call it “The Burning Bush” story. God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and inform them that God has appointed him to lead them to the Promised Land.
But before Moses agrees, he wants to know who it is that is sending him. They will want to know who has sent him, so Moses poses the question: “Who shall I tell them sent me?” And in that moment God reveals His true Name: I Am Who I Am! In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh! And God goes further with this statement:
This Is My Eternal Name, My Name To Remember For All Generations.
Why am I telling you all this? Because without this knowledge, nothing that we look at this season will be really understood. The first one we need to look at is from John 4:4-26 (N.L.T.).
He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”
We need be begin our journey with boldest statement ever made by a human being. Jesus tells her: I AM! For what I am about to say, some would want to tar and feather me and run me out of town, but I’m going to say it. Jesus did not say “I Am”. Now, you look confused. “Preacher, you just read that Jesus said I Am.”
But Jesus did NOT say I Am—because He did not speak English. Jesus spoke in both Aramaic and Hebrew. So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh! The Eternal Name of God that everyone is to remember! Can you imagine the shock on this woman’s face when Jesus identified Himself as Yahweh? It was a name so sacred that Law prohibited its use in public. No human being since Moses was allowed to use that name.
And no one dare named their child Yahweh! Yet this is the name Jesus calls Himself. What were the first thoughts running through her mind? “Is he crazy? Has he been out in the sun too long? Is he playing mind games with me? Is he mocking me because I’m a Samaritan?” Whatever her first thoughts might have been, they didn’t stay long.
Somehow she knows His words ring true, so she runs back into Sychar with the news, telling everyone she can find: “I’ve found Him! I’ve found Him!” And the people may have laughed, “Who, husband number 6?” She catches her breath, “No, no, I think I’ve found Messiah! I just know He must be Messiah!”
I know it says she asked a question: “Could He be the Messiah?”, but it’s not a question of doubt. Hers is the question of hope. And here’s the One Thing you need to remember today:
The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!
Hers may have been a tarnished hope, or it may have been a secret hope that no one could see in her life. But somehow, deep down in her heart, there must have been that hope that God would come near to her to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart. As we make our Lenten Journey, we need to know that we are going to find that same longing in our heart—to see and experience the nearness of the One, True and Living God. And we can count on Jesus being that just for us, as He was for her! And it is all because of The Name: Yahweh! Jesus is Yahweh and here’s why:
1. He Is Yahweh Because He Looks For Us
Jacob’s Well was the place ordained by God for this woman. He Has A Place Ordained For You, To Meet Him Face To Face, For You To Surrender Your Life To Him. And Jesus planned it out for that moment when she would be coming to draw water. As Jesus and his entourage arrives at Jacob’s Well, Jesus announces, “Guys, I need to stop and rest; besides it lunch time. Tell you what, go into town to McDavid’s and get you something to eat, and bring me back a #7 combo. I’ll just wait right here. Now, go on guys.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them ahead while He stayed behind? Well, I have and I’ve come to this conclusion. If there had been several of them with Jesus, that woman probably would have stayed away. But just one man there, it’s not as threatening to her. Jesus wanted this moment with her. He had been looking for her and the time was right.
And He looks for us. There are God-ordained moments where He is looking for us. He is looking for us to have this special relationship with Him. God wants us to have more than a mental knowledge about Him. He longs for us to give Him our hearts. But God-ordained moments go further than for us to become a Christian. There are God-ordained moments to comfort us, encourage us, strengthen us, and to take us deeper into this relationship with Him. And you never know when they will appear. This woman came in the middle of the day; not the usual time to draw water. And God may surprise you with ordained moments because He is always looking for us.
2. He Is Yahweh Because He Knows Us
Everyone in Sychar must have known this woman. Five divorces and shacking up with another man. They looked at her and saw someone who couldn’t keep commitments. They saw someone who had no morals. They saw someone whose only contribution to the community was to keep the gossip lines hot. They saw her as dirtied and all messed up. They saw everything that was wrong with her. They thought they knew her. But there was so much about her they could not see because they had made up their minds about her. But Jesus knew there was more to her than what was on the surface.
Only God, Only The One Whose Eternal Name Is YAHWEH Can See Into The Deepest Recesses Of The Human Heart.
He sees the secret sins we hide from others. He knows the dark secrets we keep pushed down deep. But He knows more, much more. He knew what she was truly longing for, and He knows what we are longing for. This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises. She knew one day Messiah would come. Though it may have been a weak hope, there was the hope that Messiah would come to save her. Listen to your heart; your heart knows it wants to be known deeply and intimately by God.
3. He Is Yahweh Because He Offers Us Life
At Jacob’s Well this God-Ordained moment was for one single purpose: To Bring Real Life To This Dirty, Broken Woman! It wasn’t an accident Jesus was there. It didn’t just so happen that this woman appeared. She needed life and Life is what Jesus has to offer. Nothing Can Give Us The Life We Long For, Only Jesus.
Some people settle for a life of thrills, but there are never enough thrills. Some settle for a life of wealth; but there’s never enough. Some settle for a life of respectability—but they are hollow and empty inside. This woman was looking for life through one relationship after another. But none of them satisfied the cravings of her heart.
Nothing in this world can give you real, abundant, lasting, eternal life. This is something only God has—Jesus is Yahweh because only HE has the life that we hunger for. Only He Has The Life That Will Survive The Ups And Downs Of Life Here On Earth. Only Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He does it as The Gift. He and only He paid the price necessary to take away the dead things of our life, and put in their place Life. It’s not just any ordinary life, but the most extraordinary life of all—His Very Own Life.
It is His Eternal Name, Yahweh and He is looking, looking for you because He knows you. He knows you need more than an ordinary life—but the most extraordinary life of all. Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put the life of Christ in you. Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here are your Next Steps:
Identity Anything That May Have Robbed You Of Hope. The news; This controversy going on in our Tribe; Guilt; Some fear, named or unnamed; Crushing grief that you keep holding on to, that you never completely give over to Jesus; Feelings of inadequacy. It’s the thing that is limiting your potential. Once you identify it—
Give It Up To Jesus. Make it your offering to Him. He’s not looking for only the good things to offer Him, He wants the pain, the burdens that you carry to be given over to Him. You don’t have to keep carrying them because He carried that weight, while on that Cross!
Last Tuesday I was on my way to the hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi to see a parishioner and a very good friend who has Stage 4 cancer. I’ve been praying for his healing and it seemed like God wasn’t listening, or at least doing what I thought He should do. It’s about an hour and a half drive from home, so I had some time to do something other than thinking, about my friend and my soon to be 94 year old Dad. He had been having a difficult week. I needed a distraction–not from my driving–but from my thoughts.
I decided to listen to some podcasts from one of my mentors (who doesn’t know me)–Andy Andrews. I find him insightful and humorous. God knows I needed a laugh, and I hoped Andy wouldn’t disappoint me. He didn’t. But about 15 minutes into my hour and a half drive, the podcast was interrupted by a text. So I did the safe thing and found a place to pull over and check out the text. And here is what I saw:
I started to reply with one word: Thanks. But that would have been deceptive by me. So I told my friend, Matthew Winters, exactly what I was struggling with. By the way, Matthew has started blogging again with a new direction. You can check him out HERE! Commercial over, back to Monday’s Musing.
At the moment I needed help, God sent me help. But it took someone else to bring me that help. In this case, it was Matthew. And this morning I’m thinking about a particular passage, Philippians 2:4 (NLT)
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
That afternoon God spoke and Matthew was listening–and God’s grace once again renewed my heart and mind. Matthew took an interest in me; his heart was directed to me; and Matthew was obedient to God. And here’s the point I want to make, and it’s in the form of a question:
God is wanting to help someone who is in a struggle–and He’s chosen you to send His help. ARE YOU LISTENING?
Only by having a deep walk with Jesus and The Holy Spirit can you be in a place where you can hear God speaking. Like a 911 Operator, God is saying, “Help is on the way!” Make sure you’re “on call” to receive His Dispatch.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
So far my Saturday Stories have been about moments where God shows up in unexpected places. Well, this Saturday Story is about what the phrase “young and dumb” looks like…in me.
STUCK IN THE MUD
It was back in 1977; I had my first pick-up truck. One day I decided to take it off the paved road through some trails. I had been on this particular trail before, but on a dirt bike. It had rained that week and my truck was only a two-wheel drive, but I felt confident I knew that trail well enough to stay out of trouble.
Things were going pretty well, I had made it through some rough parts of the trail when I came upon a place in the road that was covered in water. I stopped and looked at it carefully. I knew what this place in the road looked like when it hadn’t rained, so I decided on a course of action that would I felt would take me safely to the other side.
I really believed that if I backed up a bit and went through the right side of the mud hole I could get to the other side. I really believed I could get to the other side. So, I backed up a bit and moved full speed ahead. Now, I believed I was well on my way to the other side. About one-fourth of the way through I slowed a little but I kept on going, confident I was about to get to the other side.
About two-thirds of the way through, I found that my faith in my reasoning ability was wrong, seriously wrong. My truck came to a complete stop and would not move. No matter how hard I tried, I remained stuck in the mud. This was in the days before cell phones, so there I was, miles from the main road, and not another person in sight. My choice and my decision were seriously flawed even though my confidence was high. There I was on LaGrange Mountain, alone and stuck, unable to go any further, or even go back. It was the middle of the week and the likelihood of someone coming along in another truck was the same odds as a snowball’s chance in that certain place.
Just then I heard a dirt bike coming down the trail. Good news to me. Better news he stopped. Best news was he went back to get his truck and a chain and pulled me out of my created mess. Reflecting now on that “young and dumb” moment, I wondered why did this stranger decide to go riding that day? And of the many off-road trails, he ended up where I was stuck in the mud. Call me simple-minded and naive, but I think God may have been at work that day–even though I wasn’t aware of it.
The Moral Of The Story
Our choices and decisions can be…often are flawed. Without the right information that fits the situation we can end up where I was that day in 1977, stuck in the mud. But because of His Grace, God has already been at work. He’s ready for our “stuck in the mud” moments. It may not be as dramatic as a lone dirt bike rider who had his truck and chain ready to help, but God knows where we are, what we are facing–and best of all, He has a plan–and if we follow His plan, we get unstuck.
Addendum to my story: Once I got unstuck, I went back the way I came in and left that mud hole in my rear view mirror. I learned enough not to try that again! Allow God to help you make more than good choices, but the best choices of all.
“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?
Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.
And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!
Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
Telling stories. No, not telling “untruths”. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, we were allowed to say the word “Liar!” It was appropriate, and thus avoiding “the look” from Dad, to say, “You’re telling a story!” That’s not what I’m writing about this morning.
I’m talking about telling a story, revealing a storyline, you know, revealing things about your own life. I’ve been fascinated with body art. I said “Body Art”, not body sculpting. I have too much flab and too many scars to enter that world. Most call them tattoos. For some time now, I’ve engaged in dialogue with people who have body art.
While some of those with body art have told me they just like it, I have found many more who are telling a story in their body art. They are stories of hope, joy, sadness and even failure. But it’s their story and the way they tell their story. Well, a little over a week ago, I went to see a local Body Art specialist. Oh, come on, don’t you think I know those passages in Leviticus?
You Leviticus folks will not like this next picture, and feel free to judge me all you want. It will give those other folks you judge a break from your indignation. I wanted something that would tell a story from my life. And it was really easy to decide how I wanted to begin my story through Body Art.
The Cross is at the core of my story. And those two blood drops? One drop was for me, the other blood drop was for you. Frankly, I choose this act as a way to remind me of…well ME! I’m worthless and nothing without the Cross of Jesus. Now I carry with me the reminder that how I act, what I say and what I do needs to be aligned with The Cross.
Jewelry and wristbands can be taken off so that I’m not reminded of my propensity to sin. But this? It’s always there to remind me!
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them! Quite frankly, I don’t want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith. I bear in my body scars from my service to Jesus.
Galatians 6:14-17 (The Message)
There are many ways to tell my story of God’s Grace. I want to use all the means I can to tell that Story. And my story isn’t finished. If you did not pick up on that last sentence, I am going to have some more added. I’ll share that with you as it happens.
I’m out telling my story–sometimes I do it with excellence and sometimes….well sometimes not so well. YOU have a story to tell. Your life has a story and you are telling it–with your words, values, attitudes and actions. What story are you telling? Me? I’m telling the story of The Cross–my place in THAT Story and best of all, my future because I’ve chosen to enter into the Storyline of God’s Amazing Grace!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
We are looking at the process of discovering God’s
vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place. To do this, I want us to look at a couple of
examples we need to learn from: Jonah
and Esther. Today, let’s look at Jonah1:1-5
1 The Lord gave this
message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great
city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment
against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from
the Lord. He went down to the port
of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping
to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm
that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for
their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the
cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But
all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.
When God gives us a Recalculating
Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described
as Becoming Peculiar People. In other words—to stand out from everything
else. Always to be different from the
world. But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be
different from the Religious Culture.
Don’t you want to be a peculiar people? The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James
Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But
ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew
forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous
In Greek, the phrase A
Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that
uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost. We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or
tails of us unless you bring God into the equation. But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.
It’s the story of Jonah. When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard
the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith. At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he
would rather die than go. But God showed
grace in the form of this big fish.
Jonah changed his mind and would go. The Hero, right? Wrong.
Jonah refused God’s Recalculating
Moment at first. Eventually
he followed God’s Recalculating Moment,
but he did so without The Heart Of
God. Jonah shows us that it’s
not enough to simply change direction.
Here’s the Lessons he teaches:
1. Jonah Was A Prophet Who
Wanted Nothing To Do With God.
Jonah—his name means dove. Ironic, isn’t it? Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his
attitude. Biblically, the dove was a sign
of hope and peace. In the Old Testament,
Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness,
sacrifice, peace and good news. In the
New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign
from Heaven. Jesus instructed his
followers to be “harmless as doves.”
Hope. Renewal. Grace. Beauty.
Innocence. Spirit. Swiftness. Sacrifice. Good News. Peace.
Jonah is none of this. Jonah’s no dove! He’s a hawk, a vulture. Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of
despair, and a herald of bad news. He’s
a scrappy, noisy, crow! And that’s the point. Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do
with God. He’s an evangelist who wants
nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People
Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.
He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name
only—not in character, conduct, or conviction. He is an example of what happens to many
Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied,
self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell. Jonah avoids sinners. When that’s no longer possible, he crusades
against them, picketing their towns.
He first tries to ignore their existence, then he
protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether. If I had to identify the primary question that
drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this: Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In
Name But Also In Heart? And
that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In
Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.
2. Jonah Rejects God’s Word.
The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to
Jonah. But Jonah resents and resists the
word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience. It doesn’t fit into his plan. It doesn’t meet his expectations. It doesn’t agree with his beliefs. But the word comes anyway.
The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks
in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still
comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever!
The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed: Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of
the Lord to Nineveh. Nineveh was the
capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians.
They are the enemy. Jonah is
called to go to the enemy. But the
crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.
First of all, He
sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before
God and reached a tipping point in heaven. God’s had enough; He’s going to act.
But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city. Her greatness is not just in sheer physical
size. The Hebrew word used in the text means
more than magnitude. It speaks of
importance and weightiness. Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if
only she turned from her wickedness.
Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to
see her potential for greatness, so he runs away. He is called to something too hard, so he
flees. This is where the story gets
interesting. Jonah doesn’t just flee the
call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.
This Jonah heart is in each of us. We all face a constant temptation to demand
God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service. Entire church communities can have a desire to
seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are
sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.
Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero.
Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far. He books passage on a ship bound for
Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world. Here’s something I learned just this week
about the name Tarshish. According to the New Unger’s Bible
Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the
Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or
Refinery. In biblical
times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire. He’s trying his best to get as far away as he
But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire. God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still
Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his
identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.
At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea. Jonah is suicidal. God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole.
Three days later, the large fish spews
him up on the shore. Jonah, duly
chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty.
He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that
his desire to run away.
He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps
on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city
and its people. But something strange
takes place. The king of Nineveh hears
Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart. He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on
the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy. The entire city turns to God, and God shows
mercy. And Jonah couldn’t be more
Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet
in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our
churches. He is a Refuser Of Festivities.
He misses the grace of God and lets
bitterness take root. Like the older
brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t
live in grace.
God is involved in an extravagant, surprising,
mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts
once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about
how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else. They stew about things taken away from them,
and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without
In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair,
a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ
figure—if he eats girls. Aslan responds,
“I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.” And here is an even more interesting
question: Has He swallowed you?
How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life? With joy?
Or with the resentment of Jonah?
Well, things are really shaking and moving in California; and not in a good way. My heart goes out to all those impacted by this disaster. I’ve read a lot about “experts” saying this may well be the prelude to “The Big One.” Excuse me, now I’ve only experienced a few minor tremors (yes, in Alabama we do have earthquakes, small ones, but it was still an earthquake), but what could be bigger than a 7.1? Gee whiz, geologists, thanks for adding to their fear.
But those comments are not the cause of me writing this morning. It was a question posed by someone in a Facebook group of which I am a member. This person asked the group, “Do you think this earthquake is the result of God’s judgement against the people of California?” This picture must have been the expression on my face when I read it.
Being a Disaster Response Coordinator for my local Tribe, this and similar statements irk me on the scale of a 10.7. When a person goes through a natural disaster, they don’t need The Disaster of Poor Theology. Statements like:
“God needed them more than we did.”
“It was just things.”
“We have to accept it as God’s will even if we don’t understand or like it.”
“You’re young, you can always find someone else.”
“God just wanted your attention.”
“If y’all don’t repent, something worse is going to happen.”
I could go on, but I won’t….
Even as I’m writing, I remember something very dumb I said back in the early 80’s when I was in seminary. The Aids crisis was growing and I asked a fellow pastor, whom I looked up to because he was conservative like me, “Don’t you think this Aids epidemic is God’s punishment?” Even now, I’m hanging my head in shame for even allowing that thought to remain in my head. His response caught me off guard. “NO! All our punishments were put on Jesus while He was on the cross!” He then gently addressed my Poor Theology; and I’ve never forgotten it. Come to think of it, his facial expression was just like that picture above.
To say this latest earthquake is God punishing California, qualifies you for membership in that Wacko Westboro Baptist Cult. Look, maybe you or someone you know is going through a difficult time–a disaster if you will. Maybe you are thinking, “God is punishing me and I deserve it.” Well, you are half right.
We all deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took that well-deserved punishment upon Himself as He hung on that cross. The prophet Isaiah foretold this truth:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5 (NLT)
The next time you see someone going through a disaster–be it a natural disaster, man-made disaster, a spiritual disaster that resulted from poor choices in their life–don’t look at them and think, “Well, they got what they deserved.” And don’t you dare say it! Instead, be broken and cry for them. Then get up and do something to help rebuild their lives.
Yes, God disciplines–He disciplines those whom He loves and who loves Him. But disasters are not acts of discipline. They are reflections of our current reality–that we and our natural world are infected, affected and broken by sin. Not just Adam and Eve’s sin, but our sin as well. If you think God is punishing California, get your emergency kits out because He is about to punish you, too.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!