HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR ADDRESS?

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

Romans chapter 6, verses 1 and 2; from The Message (Msg)

Being a pastor, I know something about this “change of address” thing. Today, it’s not a big thing. Go online, notify whomever, fill out a form, and PRESTO! The address has been change! But at the risk of sounding old I will say, “Back in the day, we had to fill out a form with the post office, and then write letters to those others who sent us mail notifying them of our change of address.” Moving isn’t easy. I still remember to this day what the late Bishop Sanders would always say before the reading of the appointments: “When you move, take everything! Take the piano and the dog!” Oh, one other thing he would say: “And don’t go back!”

Why all these random thoughts about moving and change of address? Before one is about to leave their old home or apartment, they make one last round to make sure that they haven’t left anything behind. But when it comes to following Jesus–it takes a complete break from what use-to-be and step into what-it’s-going-to-be. We cannot carry our old baggage with us if we are truly following Jesus. As a matter of fact, we can’t take anything with us from that old address! Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Alas! We have too many preachers and teachers who do not believe that God wants us to make a complete break with our old life. And these apostate teachers and preachers are leading folks into the life of Deception! Yes, I called them Apostate! Like Horton the Elephant, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant!”

Teaching and saying that you can still do the things you use to do and still be a Disciple of Jesus is akin to an addict who says: “I’m not an addict anymore. Although from time to time I still allow my addiction to control me. But I’m a follower of Jesus, so that doesn’t matter anymore.” Grace forgives us of our sins–but Grace Never Sanctifies Our Sins! Yet there are so many who have been taught that this is how it works; especially within the LBGTIQ community.

To be a follower, I mean a REAL follower of Jesus is disruptive! It’s the call and life of leaving everything else behind. It’s not always easy to leave the old address. And the temptation to “move back” to that old house is very real–and often very powerful. But the same Grace that invited us to move away from that old address and into this New Address, is the same Grace that is available to help us from that temptation to go back to that old home. God’s definition of “sin” hasn’t changed; nor will it ever! But thankfully He is always here to help us to keep moving forward–and to help us from wanting to move back to that old address. You just can’t carry that old baggage from our old life and follow Jesus. You just can’t! And that, my friends is the best news ever!

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WHO AM I?

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?

Psalm 8, verses 3 and 4; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

“Just who do you think YOU are?” Ever said that to someone, or at least thought these words? Usually these words are uttered at someone who has an over-inflated ego; someone who believes they are right and you are wrong. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of folks afflicted with that over-inflated ego in my Tribe, the United Methodist Institution, especially within much of the U.S. leadership. These knuckleheads (forgive me Lord, for I just sinned–but truth is truth!) believe they know more about God than most folks–even more than the Bible. But I’m digressing from this morning’s thoughts.

As I was sitting on our front porch, listening to my worship music, I looked up at the stars. I do this as a response to my morning worship and conversations with The Spirit. And as I was star gazing, Psalm 8 just smashed me flatter than a squirrel on an Alabama road. “Just who am I? Randy Burbank? Preacherman?” Well, I’m 66 years old. Born, raised, and live in the garden place of the world, Alabama! Married to the most wonderful wife a man could ever have. I have children, grandchildren, and a great-grandson. And I just preached twice yesterday. But still, that doesn’t answer that deeper question: “Who am I?”

In that moment, gazing upwards (is that coincidence?) I was blown out of the water! And I understood David’s Psalm 8 deeper than I ever had before. I am made in God’s image so that I may help tend to God’s creation–and fellow image bearers! Even though I’ve messed up more times than anyone can count–that image remains in me. Therefore, I can’t boast about it. Because I’m not all the titles I wear nor the things I do. I am who God says I am. When He says I’ve sinned, well, I’ve sinned. And when He calls me His son–I’m that, too.

As I try to scrap this flattened squirrel off the road, I am reminded that it’s all because of His amazing grace! Though unworthy–but by following, learning, and applying all that The Spirit is trying to teach me–I am being transformed back into my original design. And I just remembered Who I Am: I am His and I am nothing without Him! If you haven’t tried it lately, try being humble and humbled in the Presence of God. It will give you the perspective you need for today–and for the rest of your life!

WHO HAVE YOU INVITED?

16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Luke chapter 14, verse 16 thru 24; from the New Living Translation

If you were planning a formal dinner and extravagandza, who would you invite? Suppose there would even be that proverbial “red carpet” and the paparazzi. And suppose the menu was prepared by a famous chef from a 5 star restaurant. Add to that champaign and wine from the world’s finest wineries. I ask you again, who would you invite to such a merriment? Oh, and add to that, your reputation would be on the line. So I ask again, who are you going to invite?

Being invited is a big thing! It’s important. No one likes being left off the guest list. When an invitation is given to someone, it’s telling them they have value and worth. This is especially true when it comes to being the Body of Christ. We have been given The Invitations to pass out by The Party Host. Now, our Party Host really knows how to throw a party. He provides the best of everything. He’s already proven that no price is too high.

But church, can I be honest with you? We haven’t done a good job at all of passing out The Invitations. Unfortunately, whether unconciously or consciously, we’ve passed out The Invitations to those we think are worthy, those who will fit in. We’ve readily given invitations to those who look, act, andd think like us. But the house isn’t full. The Master of The Party wants His Venue full of people, all kinds of people. In the story He sent them as far as the byways and hedges.

You see, the hedges were the walls around vineyards. Often the workers would have to live there. Back then it mean us Gentiles. That’s those people who don’t look, act, or think like they did. And the application is really clear for us today. We need to be going to where the people are and giving them The Invitation. That means even those who don’t look, act, or think like we do. That girl with all those body piercings. That man whose arm is covered in tattoos. That person who is struggling with addictions. That person who would rather party than anything else. Those whose skin color is different from ours. In short, we are to give The Invitation to everyone out there. And why? Because The Master of The Party wants us to. He wants the Venue for THAT Party to be full! And trust me, if there’s room for someone like me–then there’s room for someone like “them”. So, church–get out there and start passing out those Invitations. Not to a church building–but to THE Relationship and THE Life

WHERE YOU START MATTERS!

18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

Romans chapter 1, verses 18 through 21, from The New Living Translation

There is a Finish Line for just about everything in life. It’s where we want to be–call it–a goal! It’s where we want to end up at. Be it a sports competition or a career–and everything else in between. The goal is to reach that predetermined finish line! And most folks know where their finish line is located. So, off we go to reach that finish line! But where is the Starting Line?

If one wants to be a doctor, they don’t start by hanging up a shingle and opening an office. If you want to be a business owner, you don’t start by renting a building and putting up a “Grand Opening” sign. All races have a Starting Line! And participants do not get to choose their own Staring Line–the rules determine it for them. All football games start at Zero-To-Zero! This is, call it, The Rule In Life! You can’t have a finish line unless you also have a Starting Line! And if it’s true in this physical life (and it is!) then it is also true in our Spiritual Life!

Where You Start Matters! In life and in your spiritual life! We cannot get around this. Think about field and track events–oh, say–the 100 yard dash. The winner is the first one to cross the Finish Line, right? But suppose a runner decides to start at a different place, say 50 yards closer to the Finish Line. They will cross the Finish Line first, but they won’t win the race. Why? Because they cheated, goofy!

So, where does everyone Start in their spiritual journey for a relationship with God? And here’s the point of contention in my United Methodist Tribe, and many others. Many in life (and in my Tribe) want the Starting Line to be, what I would call, An Assumptive Ascertion–that

  • we arrive in life completely in God’s Design
  • we are free to correct misunderstandings about the Bible
  • and we are capable of figuring out what is and what isn’t “sin”

However, there’s these pesky verses from Paul to the church in Rome. While the finish line is for us to have eternal life and joy with The Father, the Starting Line is that we are sinners. Paul’s letter to the Romans is his systematic theology. Here he describes what life in Christ is all about–from Start to Finish! We enter this world perfectly innocent. But inside all of us is that seed of sin. And at some point, that seed begins to grow and eventually it corrupts us through and through. Sin is like Kudzu; it starts small but eventually takes over everything.

The finish line in the spiritual journal is to be exactly like Jesus. You know, the one in whose image we are created. But we will never get there until we have the right Starting Line! The Bible clearly teaches us what is and is not a sin. And while it may sound mean and cruel to some, admitting that sin is in control of us, it’s really the place of hope. We can’t know the Savior until we know we are first sinners! Only sinners can recognize how much God loves us. We sinners see clearly that love on the Cross! The only way God’s Grace can restore us back to our Original Design is to admit we are sinners, that Jesus died to atone for our sins, that we need His help both NOW, and for the rest of the journey to the Finish Line. So, if your Spiritual Journey is making you unhappy and miserable, then clearly you haven’t started at the right place. It matters where you start!

An S.E.C. KInd Of Grace

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Matthew chapter 16, verse 24; from the New Living Translation

Those who know me know that I like college football. Now mind you, NOT over-inflated ego NFL football. College football! And I love the Conference that all other Conferences like to hate–the Southeastern Conference or S.E.C. And I’m passionate about the Team that most folks absolutely hate–ALABAMA! ROLL TIDE! I got to thinking this morning that THE Season begins in less than a month. And those 3 letters that most folks hate began rolling around in my gray matter. S.E.C.! S.E.C.! And I started thinking about Grace!

Many folks want a S.E.C. Grace! I opted in for S.E.C. Grace because the term Cheap Grace was already taken. So, what’s a S.E.C. Grace? Glad you asked. It’s Simple, Easy, Comfortable Grace! And I’ve noticed this about the S.E.C. Grace crowd–they are found in both the conservative camps and the progressive camps. In fact, the theological belief systems don’t really matter. Many people, way too many people, think of grace as that Get Out Of Hell Free Card!

Granted, it sounds good to say Grace is Simple, Easy, and Comfortable. After all, doesn’t God keep us Safe? Isn’t it so Easy that a caveman can do it? Just have faith? And doesn’t it take away the misery of guilt and make us feel Comfortable? But then there’s these words from Jesus:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Those who want the S.E.C. Grace fail to understand that in accepting God’s Grace mandates that we also follow Jesus! Now, let’s do high school biology anddissect what Jesus says. First He says “you must give up your own way”. Sounds simple, but it’s not exactly simple. Here’s the truth: we WANT our way and will fight to keep our way! We have this inherent thing called sin; and it wants to be in charge of us. And it will fight against us tooth and nail to win. Then He says: “take up your cross”. I don’t know about how you feel, but to me there’s nothing that sounds Easy about carrying our cross. Sounds like to me that I need to be dying every day.

And finally Jesus says: and follow Me! Does it sound comfortable to you to go the places where messy and broken people live, work, and play? While Jesus promised us the Comfort of the Holy Spirit, He never promised that He would make us Comfortable. Following Jesus is going head-long into the battlefield! It’s about making sacrifices. I know many combat veterans, my son and son-in-law included. But never once have I heard any of them describe their battlefields as making them feel Comfortable!

Grace doesn’t mean we get what we want. Grace doesn’t mean we get to keep what we want. And Grace doesn’t mean we get to choose where we go. Now, for some, this may sound like an argument against Grace. It’s not! It’s the reason why not just any “grace” will work. God’s Grace includes His presence and power to help us overcome the sins that hounds us to death. His Grace isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s a lifetime of growing, being stretched, and discovering the exciting things He has for us to do. And the joy that is waiting for us, on the other side. Grace that doesn’t challenge us–well, it’s just a S.E.C. kind of grace. And that’s simply not worth having; it just doesn’t give us what we need.

Are You Ready To Be Amazed?

Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 

Acts chapter 10, verse 44 and 45, from the New Living Translation; emaphasis mine

Tell me, are you going through some difficult “hard to see any kind of favorable future” times? Are you ready to “throw in the towel”, “raise the white flag of surrender”, “knucle under”, “concede defeat”, or “give up the struggle”? At the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial hawker, I say now unto thee: “ARE YOU READY TO BE AMAZED?”

Last night I was doing my Tuesday Night Facebook Live Bible Study. We were in Acts chapter 10 and the story of what is appropriately called The Gentile Pentecost! God gave a vision to this Gentile named Cornelius to call for Peter to come to his home. Then God gave Peter a peculiar dream about sheets and a variety of critters. Cornelius responded immediate to God’s vision. Peter, on the other hand, was trying to figure out the meaning of his dream. And God interupted Peter’s “trying to figure it all out” moment when Cornelius’s entourage knocked at the door with an invitation to come to his home–and mind you–it was the home of a “Gentile”! That was a place where no self-respecting Jew would ever go! But Peter went, and he brought along his own entourage.

After they arrived at this “Gentile-Unholy-God Awful” home, Peter shared the Good News of Jesus and The Kingdom Of God. And before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit came upon and within those “Gentiles”! And that infilling resulted in the very same thing that had happened earlier in Jerusalem during the Feast Of Passover. And the Jewish believers were “amazed”, “astonished” that it was happening to these “unclean” Gentiles. And get this: They weren’t even converted Jews–they were still Gentiles!

I looked up the Greek word translated amazed or astonished. Among it’s many meanings is this: “to throw out of position, displace”. In other words, they were not expecting such a display of God’s power in the place they were at. Maybe you’ve sung the song Amazing Grace. But tell me–be honest with yourself–“When was the last time you were amazed, astonished, thrown out of place by the display of God’s Grace and Power?” The synonym that should be used (but seems to be rarely used) is AWESTRUCK!

So, when you are stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”, don’t you dare hand over to our Enemy your hopes and dreams! Even when the obstacles seem to be unsurmountable. Grace is truly amazing when we allow God to be in control of ‘dispensing’ it, even in unlikely places! And to my Tribal Members who are facing a difficult time trying to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Institution (see, I can’t even bring myself to call it a church anymore!) don’t you dare “Say Uncle” and give up on God’s Vision to bring into our messes, another Great Awakening! Allow yourself to be displaced from what seems to be an unfavorable outcome and get ready to be Amazed!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

The Lost Art Of Disagreeing

39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 

Acts chapter 15, verses 39 and 40, from the New Living Translation

The book, The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, was written over two millenia ago, but it is still read and studied. And it shows! But there has been an art that appears to have been both lost and forgotten. It’s The Art Of Disagreeing. And this shows as well. How should we handle those moments when Disagreement happens? Well, there’s something about this in The Bible, and in particular, the book we call Acts. Paul and Barnabas had a shared history. Here is is in a nutshell:

  1. Barnabas gets the apostles to accept that Paul had indeed been converted and was accepted by the apostles. (Acts chapter 9)
  2. Barnabas enlists Paul to help to teach the new followers in Antioch. (Acts chapter 11)
  3. God calls Barnabas and Paul to share the Good News in other places, and the church there blessed and sent them. (Acts chapter 13; note how they were identified at first: Barnabas and Saul/Paul, indicating that Barnabas is the team leader)
  4. It is Paul and Barnabas who go back to Jerusalem to settle the issue about circumcision. (Acts chapter 14)
  5. It is Paul and Barnabas who agree to return to all the places they had been to check up on the followers there. (Acts chapter 14)

And it is at this point when a Disagreement erupts between the two. Not just any ol’ Disagreement, but a SHARP Disagreement! It was so Sharp that this team that had worked so well together, went separate ways. Can’t speak for you, but I would say this was a seriously big Disagreement. Ever had that kind of Disagreement with someone or a group? Maybe it was with your best friend–and you became fiends instead of friends. Perhaps it happened in your family. Maybe in a club or group you were in; perhaps at work; perhaps at church. Wherever it happened, the results are very similar. Harsh words were spoken. Suspicion went wild.

And then the rest of the world heard all about how the friend became the fiend. But what if we simply followed the example of Barnabas and Paul? What if we went our separate ways without talking maliciously about the other? What if we focused on our daily walk with Jesus instead of the Disagreement? Does being angry and bitter contribute anything positive? Remaining focused on the Disagreement serves only to keep the wound open and festering. And who knows? If we simply allow the other to go one way and you another, eventually you might become friends again. But even if that doesn’t happen, at least you will be free of the anger and bitterness.

And now to my United Methodist Tribe; the time has come for our Barnabas and Paul moment. Our Sharp Disagreement isn’t doing either side any good. And this Sharp Disagreement is doing great harm to the work of The Kingdom of God. Allow the other side to go in peace and with grace. Then focus on what God is wanting from you and what He has for you to do. Tell you what, whether your Disagreement is with another person or with the UMC–let’s have a good ol’ fashion funeral. Bury that Disagreement and let’s move on. I leave you this morning with some sound advice from an old Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel. It came after a Disagreement between the Sanhedrin and some followers of Jesus:

“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

Acts chapter 5, verses 38 and 39, from the New Living Translation

bless my mess and sanctify my stuff and i will be ok! not!!!!!

Calling this a crazy world out there doesn’t do justice to describing our current culture. Crazy doesn’t come close to describing the malady of our times. When you look at the development of civilization the most imediate thing that is clearly in focus is that even the most primitive civilizations recognize that there exists some “higher being”–A.K.A. a “god”. This is a powerful acknowledgement–to realize there is “someone” out there with more power and wisdom than us punny human beings. And thanks to The Bible–yes, that outdated and irrelevant book for our times–we know that the ONLY “higher being” is God–or using His name that He revealed to Moses–Yahweh!

The Bible reveals to us seven indesputable, ironclad, unassailable, and undeniable facts about Him and ourselves. And here they are:

  1. We ain’t that God! Many an empire has fallen into dust because their king wrongly believed they were a “god”. Check out history as it actually happened, not the revisionists version.
  2. God doesn’t need us to improve upon Himself, or help Him out! God doesn’t need our approval nor even our validation to exist. And He certainly doesn’t need our help when it comes to what is right and what is wrong.
  3. We human beings are messed up and we can’t fix ourselves! I mean, if we could fix ourselves then why even need God? Yet throughout the history of civilization we see human beings doing this very thing–and without success. Look, if human beings could fix themselves, then why is civilization (if you want to call it that) today so messed up? The philosophy of liberalism that emerged in the 1950’s believed we had what it takes to straighten up this world. And even changing their name to “Progressives” hasn’t fixed one problem. If you doubt me on this, just read Facebook!
  4. Though we are all screwed up, only God has the remedy for us! We call this Grace! We don’t deserve to be redeemed. We can’t earn His redemption. It’s free for us–but on God’s terms, not ours.
  5. We must admit we are fallen, messed-up, screwed-up sinners! We call this “confession”. Confession doesn’t mean writing down every sin we’ve ever committed. Confession is the Admission that I Am A Sinner! Maybe that’s exactly why so many are tearing out so many pages from their “Bibles”. We don’t want to admit that we’re broken, and if we do admit it, then we want to fix outselves. One way that’s being promoted today is to embrace our brokenness and simply ask God to bless our mess and sanctify our stuff. Rather than BEING JUSTIFIED, so many want to JUSTIFY their mess and stuff. They call it their “feelings”. So, since God is love, all one needs to do is love God and love others–then God will approve of their mess and stuff. Then Voilà! They are no longer a sinner! And those who believe to the contrary are simply mean and ugly!
  6. We need to turn away and go in the exact opposite direction! We call this repentance! And it comes from and through the acknowledgement of the truth that we’re a mess. When we truly allow God’s love into our hearts, then the desire to stop sinning rises up within us. Without the desire to give up sin–there is no repentance. And though our redemption is free–it never becomes the power we need for becoming that New Creation until we desire to give up our old life.
  7. And God will forgive and redeem us when we come to Him on HIS terms, not ours! God isn’t a negotiator. And He certainly isn’t a car salesman where we can give and take in order to come to a deal. But in His Mercy and Grace, He will transform us from a mess into a message. Read what John wrote in 1 John chapter 1, verses 8 through 10: “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—He won’t let us down; He’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of Him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” (from The Message)

God will never let us down when we come to Him on His terms, and not our terms. And His terms are simple and straightforward: Unconditional Surrender! Unconditional surrender doesn’t mean we become slaves to Him. It means we become His Sons and Daughters, Princes and Princesses! After all, that’s why we were created–to become just like Him!

LIVING WITH NO TAIL LIGHTS!

Several weeks ago I had another one of those sleep cycles–better described as waking up before 4:00 a.m. I went to the fountain of life, otherwise known as a coffee pot, filled my cup, put on my headphones and begin my morning worship. I noticed a delivery truck going down the highway because it had no tail lights. The driver did have his flasher going, but only one tail light was working. I thought to myself, “Poor guy. At least he had enough sense to turn on that flasher even if only one light was working. Well, he will probably get it fixed later that morning.

Since that morning, I have had several more opportunities to be up that early, and would you believe he still hasn’t fixed that tail light? And then this morning I observed a car that was void of tail lights and didn’t have on their flashers! Not to be harsh on that driver, but perhaps no one told them they did not have tail lights. And someone needs to let them know before they cause a terrible wreck. Why all this mumbling about tail lights?

It’s a great analogy about how sin and forgiveness has been skewed in our culture. Take the delivery truck. Obviously he knew his tail lights weren’t working. But why, weeks later, hasn’t it been fixed? Perhaps he thinks all he needs to do is just keep that one tail light flashing and it will be enough. And today, people want to believe that if they can justify their sin of choice, then it’s all OK. But it’s not! Sin, like non-working tail lights needs to be dealt with in a decisive way. This means, “STOP IT!”

And the car without any tail lights? Someone needs to tell them. So many today are walking around impregnanted with sin–but no one warns them. And when we do, we are accused of being mean, hateful, ugly, and phobic. And as they go merrily down the highway of life in the dark, one day they will wreck and then it will be too late to change anything. So, what should we do? Keep on, in patient and loving ways, warn them–even if they hate us for it. They hated Jesus because He pointed out their sin of choice.

Sin in any life is a real and serious problem. But it’s a problem that has a simple solution. John wrote in 1 John chapter 1, verse 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.” That word confess doesn’t mean, “Oh, OK, since you call it a sin, I will admit to it.” That word means to agree with! And when we agree that we have sin living in us, notice what God will do:he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” Ignoring sin or pretending sin isn’t a problem leads to disaster. But when we agree with our Heavenly Father that it is what HE says it is–well freedom and liberty happens!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

BOOTS!

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This morning The Spirit has me thinking about boots.  To be more specific, the first pair of boots I bought—and the several pairs thereafter.  I was looking primarily at the price point.  Oh, I saw all those others, but I was focused on the price.  That was my focus—forget how they looked.  And forget how they felt on my feet.  Then—then I discovered Ariats®.  The comfort and durability of those boots were amazing.  I could have bought 3 pair of those other boots for the price of that first pair.  Now I have 3 pairs of Ariats.

I have a “Sunday Go To Meeting” pair, an everyday pair, and a pair of hiking boots for those rare occasions when it’s a little cold here in Alabama.  Normally, I refuse to pay high prices for anything!  But we found a great source for boots (and clothes) on one of our semi-annual trips to Florida.  Between Montgomery and Troy, Alabama is a place called Sikes and Kohn.  This was where I discovered the comfort of Ariats® and at a price I could afford!

On our most recent return from Florida I told Debbie that I needed a new pair of everyday boots.  I’ve been wearing my everyday pair for over 7 years.  Though they were still comfortable—still I needed a new pair.  So we stopped.  As I was looking through the Ariats® I noticed another brand, Twisted X®.  A couple of our grandsons wear them, so I gave them a try.  Finding a style I liked (remember, I’m going after comfort AND style, not price), I walked up and down the aisle, and loved them.  So I paid the very reasonable price for them. (see the above picture!)  Now I have 2 brands of boots to choose from.  Sweet!

What does all my rambling about the price, style, and comfort of boots have to do with The Kingdom Life?  Simple!  So many today are seeking what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”.  Here’s a man who knows the difference between “cheap grace” and “real grace”.  Bonhoeffer was hanged April 9, 1945 in a Nazi concentration camp at Flossenbürg.  It wasn’t long after that the camp was liberated by Ally Forces.  Here’s what Bonhoeffer has to say about “cheap grace”.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And we see so much of this today.  If I wanted to wear a pair of boots that was comfortable and in a style that looked good, then I had to give up the cheap bargain rack.  And if we want to experience the peace and power of Christ living in us, then we have to abandon the cheap bargain rack.  To be a “Christian”, or as I prefer to say, “a real disciple and follower of Jesus”, then we have to come to Jesus on His terms.  Cheap grace cheapens what Jesus did for us in His suffering and on that Cross.

Cheap grace, like cheap boots, may be affordable, but it fails to deliver the life our heart longs for, and the life Jesus died to provide for us sinners.  Remember, Bonhoeffer died not for cheap grace—but for real grace.  Yes, Jesus paid the full price for our sins.  But if we are going to follow Him and learn from HIM, then we have to also pay a price.  And it’s this:

23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way (that’s cheap grace), take up your cross DAILY, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 

Luke chapter 9, verses 23 and 24 from the New Living Translation

So, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!  And cheap grace does not bring Him glory!

GRUESOME, GHASTLY, AND GRISLY FRIDAY!

We need to have the tax collector moment before we can call it Good Friday! (see Luke chapter 18) Maybe we need more than just one moment. Do you think it would help us if we really could see what Jesus went through that gruesome, ghastly, and grisly Friday?

All night long, He had been questioned, insulted, and abused. Deprived of sleep He was carried to the Roman’s governor’s palace. There He was questioned more. Then taken to the courtyard of the Roman Garrison where He was bound to a post. Two Roman soldiers began to flog Him. The Roman flagrum was a whip with at least 3 stips of leather. Attached to each end was a piece of metal or a sharp bone fragment. Each lash left its mark; sometimes ripping a piece of flesh from Him. Then a crude crown made from a thorny bush was forcefully pushed down on His head. He was mocked and slapped and hit.

Then He was presented to the crowd with an option. Instead of calling for His release, they shouted, “Crucify HIM, yes crucity HIM!” The patibulum (the crossbeam of the Roman cross) was placed on His already bleeding shoulders. It weighed about 70 pounds, or more. The splinters went into those open wounds, adding to His torment. He walked approximately half a mile with the patibulum, at one point falling to the ground. When He finally arrived at the place of execution, He was forced on the ground where one of the soldiers drove long nails in His wrists. Another soldier climbed a ladder, threw a rope that was attached to each end of the patibulum, and was lifted up to the notch made for the patibulum.

As He was being lifted up to that notch, He was unable to breathe at all. The weight of His body was held by those two nails. Once the patibulum was in securely in place, His feet were positioned one on top of the other. His knees were pushed up sightly and another nail driven into both feet. This enabled the condemned to push up so they could breathe. You see, the cause of death from a Roman crucifixion was suffocation. From there the insults and mockery continued. He pushed against those nails to get another breath. Then His Father treated Him like the sinner. Now alone, He continued to suffer. He struggled to push up again just to breathe. Until. . .until He had no strength left. Without breathe in His lungs, He suffocated. And the one who breathed the breath of life into Adam, was dead. THIS was that Friday we call Good. But if you had been there as an outside observer, seeing it for the first time, it wasn’t good. It was gruesome, ghastly, and grisly.

And this morning I can’t help but to think and wonder how much it cost for us to call it good. And I’m wondering if truly know how it really was that day, for Jesus. That’s why I said We need to have the tax collector moment before we can call it Good Friday! In that parable the tax collector realized how messed up, broken up his life was. He felt the pain of his sin. And all he could utter in that moment was “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” If we do not know we are sinners, how on earth can we know we need a Savior?

So rather than call this GOOD Friday, I challenge you to do something different! See the beaten, bruised, and bloody Jesus on the Cross. Watch Him painfully struggle for a brief gasp of air. See His agony. And know. . .know He did it all for you. Maybe, just maybe, we will stop thinking some of those horrible thoughts we have. Maybe, just maybe, we will stop justifying ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, we will see that we can’t liberate ourselves from the power of sin. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally see that it’s time to stop pretending–and become broken. Then. . .and only then can we be liberated from sin’s destructiveness. . .and begin a new life. . .the life that Jesus paid for with His Life.

HE LOVES TO CREATE!

Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains

Debbie and I are on another sabbatical. We intentionally take at least 2 sabbaticals each year. Occasionally we have taken 3–and sometimes 1 or less. Most folks calls the vacations. We prefer the word “sabbatical” because when most folks hear the word “vacation” they think of an agenda of going here and doing this, that, and the other. We have found that vacations leave us tired–but sabbaticals leave us refreshed and renewed.

One of our sabbaticals is going to the Smoky Mountains. Most of our time this year will be spent at the condo that one of her cousins graciously allows us to stay here free of charge. We arrived here late Monday afternoon. And against our usual tradition, yesterday was a bit of a busy day. Normally we settle into a routine of rest and relaxation. Instead, we went out for breakfast–a meal we usually prepare where we stay. But we wanted to try a new place that some friends of ours recommended we try. It was Crockett’s 1875 Breakfast Camp. Now, they are not a sponsor of this blog, but I highly recommend them if you are ever in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Since we were already out, we decided to go through Cades Cove, a beautiful place with a rich history. And thinking about yesterday has led me to today’s thought: God Loves To Create! This morning as I sat on the deck looking out and talking with the Holy Spirit, I blurted out, “Man, you just love to create, don’t y’all!” And I realized the great joy God had as He began creating this amazing universe. I was thinking about all the scenes we saw, the rocks, the trees, and all the wild rhododendrons we saw, and me and Debbie talked about how beautiful it will be in the spring when the wild rhododendrons would begin blooming.

And as those thoughts were running through my mind, the Holy Spirit put another thought into my mind, and it went straight to my heart. He said, “Oh, yes we love to create, but we love even more to re-create our Image Bearers back into Our Image and it brings us even greater joy!” And I thought–thought about the moment when I was 16 and surrendered my life to Jesus. And I thought about the many more moments when I screwed it up and made my life a mess–but The Father was right there with open arms willing to take me back again–and picked right up where I resisted and continues to this day re-creating my life.

Then I had a fresh memory of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 and verse 17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! Pay attention to how that verse ends: “a new life has begun!” Not over–but begun! There is a journey, a process, that The Father takes us on where HIS work continues to shape, form, and transform us back into His image. And every moment when we allow HIM to take over our heart, mind, and will–well, it just brings Them a much greater joy that when They finished the physical creation! And I leave you this morning with this song that spoke into me hope, life, and strength! I hope it does for you, too!

IT WAS DIFFICULT AND PAINFUL UNTIL

Last Friday Debbie and I went back to Dad’s house. On Saturday, me and his grandkids were going to sit down to begin sorting through some things–in particular, items he left for each of us. I stopped by to get some items from his safe deposit box that would need to be distributed according to his directions. Later on that day I begin looking around for some other things he bequeathed to certain ones. I confess that it felt like I was ransacking his treasures. Walking around and looking, it was difficult and painful. But by Saturday morning, everyone had a “pile” of items he wanted each of us to have.

Everything went very well–no family squabbles. But there were still a lot of items around the house. So I opened it up for everyone to go through and see if there was anything else they might want–especially pictures! Dear Lord, Mother and Dad loved pictures. The ladies found lots of things–and they had their own personal “swap shop” trading this for that. The boys and I went up to Dad’s workshop to look around–boys and their toys! Dad had a lot! We didn’t get through everything–but it was time to eat. And everyone knows you can’t make important decisions on an empty stomach!

They decided where we would go. Frankly, I was too emotionally spent to make another decision. As everyone was gathering up the items they could take with them, our niece, Christa Lynn, walked by me and said, “I feel like we are in an episode of American Pickers!” And what started out as a difficult and painful event turned into something good. There were 3 moments for me.

The first happened when I found an old letter, still in the original envelop from 1959. Dad had gone out of town for some reason–I concluded it must have been related to his work with his union. It was on the hotel stationary and it was about missing and loving his family. The second happened when I found their framed marriage certificate. And Dad had placed a small note in the upper left hand corner that said, “It happened around 10:00 a.m.” The third happened when Debbie noticed an old brief case in the top of a closet. We opened it and it was filled with what we call “clergy information” from all the funerals he had ever presided over. People and memories were important to him–and my personal burden finally let go of me.

And that trip down memory lane ended up being good for me–very good. And maybe you have some special and sacred places that you need to revisit. It may feel like it would be too painful–but feelings do pass. Where are those places for you? When was the last time you went there? When we arrived at Dad’s, I was focused on the pain. When we left to go back home, I was focused on the wonderful memories. It’s amazing and healing how God’s grace turns something painful into something healing–and replaces our tears with a smile on our face.

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!

The Three Most Important Words. . .in times like these

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

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:

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121 (NLT)

We Need Graciousness!

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!

The Great I Am!

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:

  1. 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—
  2. 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! 

Timely Text–Monday Musing 27 January 2020

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!