Satan is a sneaky you-know-what! Known this for decades. He doesn’t always successfully sneak up on me, but yesterday, he succeeded–and of all days–it was SUNDAY! The nerve of that reprobate! And thus the inspiration (or disconsolateness) for today’s musings.
Yesterday morning started out great–really great. The Holy Spirit showed up and showed out in worship. The anointing was great. The message was so good that I started taking notes on myself! (Kidding folks! I’m NOT that vain!) But both services were powerful, not because of me, but because of The Holy Spirit. And when He has the freedom to move–it’s whatever the word is for better than the greatest–that’s what it was.
Came home with the intent to unwind through my spiritual discipline known as The Sunday Afternoon Nap. Between churches, my son had texted me to call him after church. I did, and that’s when the wind was taken out of these sails full of wind, the Holy wind! And I know that’s how Satan planned it; sneaky-you-know-what. There is 2 hours of travel time between me and my sister and my dad, but Matthew lives just minutes away.
My sister, Jacque, hasn’t been feeling well at all lately. Her symptoms sounded very similar to when my gallbladder needed to be kicked out of my body. She called me Tuesday to say she had been admitted to the local hospital for testing. We were both hopeful the doctors would agree with my diagnosis–and she would be on the way to full recovery. Sneak Attack!
The news Matthew shared wasn’t good at all–and my sails that were full of the Holy Wind collapsed. Since Tuesday she had become non-communicative–and when she did talk, it wasn’t making sense. She is diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and there is fluid around her brain. She was transferred to a physical rehab center. The prognosis is not good. I thought of her 2 children, my niece and nephew. And I thought of my 95-year-old Dad.
Dad stood by the grave of his firstborn, and now–well, you know. In 2019 he wept at the grave of his 70 years plus bride. And now it is looking like he may stand by the grave of his second-born child. I felt numb all afternoon long. My own sails were flat. I didn’t feel like I could even fall asleep last night. But God knew I needed some rest–and He made sure I got what I needed.
This morning I did my First-Thing-First, connected my earbuds to my phone, and listened to my morning music list. It’s set on shuffle, so I never know what’s coming up. Would you believe the first song wasI Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe? Who says God’s timing is ever off? My phone didn’t cause that song to come up. It was the Holy Spirit shuffling through my list and finding me the song I needed to hear! And now, I am feeling a gentle breeze starting to stir these lifeless sails of mine.
When that sneaky you-know-what hits you and hits you hard, and the wind is taken out of your sails, remember that you are never alone! Remember one of the songs written by the prolific songwriter David:
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139 (NIV)
When the wind is taken out of our sails for any reason–count on God being there. And He comes with His own source of wind–The Holy Spirit! Oh, just one more thing. Wanna know what the last song the Holy Spirit planned for me to hear this morning? Here it is!
Last night God provided me today’s topic. It comes from a book I am reading, Praying The Promises: Anchor Your Life To Unshakable Hope, by Max and Andrea Lucado. Here’s what made me think, and also made me sad, very sad.
Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes more than a hundred references to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said more about the Holy Spirit than He did about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)
Praying The Promises: Anchor Your Life To Unshakable Hope, by Max and Andrea Lucado
Two-thirds of God? How is that even possible? I mean, the bare minimum standard of God (the whole God) is daunting: “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). What? My ESPN just kicked in again, and on a Monday. Someone just thought, “Oh, that’s Old Testament stuff. I’m a New Testament person.” OK, if that’s the way you feel, try this on for size, and it’s from Jesus, Himself: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NLT)
See? It’s daunting, difficult, and down right IMPOSSIBLE! Why would God even expect us to be “perfect” if it can’t be done? That’s where that other one-third comes in–The Holy Spirit! But if you don’t know or understand The Holy Spirit, how do you get to “perfect”? Living with only a two-thirds god (notice, I used the lower case “g”!), how does one even get close to perfect? Well, here are some (poor, very poor) substitutes I’ve seen people use in a vain attempt to fill up that missing one-third:
Sunday attendance at church
Sitting in the same pew (that’s to make sure that God sees you)
Giving some money to the church
Able to recite The Lord’s Prayer without looking at the bulletin or screen
Keep the same traditions–and oppose any changes
Wear your finest clothes to church and frown on those who don’t
Pick up from your church a “devotional booklet” and read it, sometimes
Say a blessing before each meal
(Here’s a good one:) Point out where others aren’t “holy” and “perfect”
Align with a political party you think best follows what God wants
Make sure no other person sees or hears you “sin”–after all, appearances are everything, right?
And last, but not least (and this one is absolutely hilarious!) Trust your own intellect and abilities
I could go on with this list, but suffice it to say, my point is made–the one that Max and Andrea made in the book–We need the Holy Spirit–not only do we need the Holy Spirit–we need to understand His work and purpose in our life. What is that “work and purpose” in our life? Glad you asked! See the aforementioned passages–oh, let me reiterate them again:
“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
New Living Translation
You and I need God, the WHOLE God and nothing but God–who comes to us through The Holy Spirit!
If you ever see the above picture while driving your vehicle–you better be hoping that a gas station is just ahead. Here’s an eye-opener: Our vehicles will not operate without fuel–be it gasoline or diesel. And if you have ever heard the dying sound of an engine when the last drop of fuel is consumed. . .well, it just doesn’t sound good. You can trust me one this one. Yes, yours truly has been guilty of saying, “Oh, I’ve got plenty of gas to get there.” I was wrong!
What does an empty fuel tank have to do with the Kingdom Life? Glad you asked! It’s the perfect analogy of what happens to our life when we ignore our need to be refueled with the Holy Spirit. We sputter, jerk, and slowly come to a complete stop–and we can’t get to our next destination. While I’ve been guilty only a couple of times of running out of gas–this latter image of running out of spiritual fuel has unfortunately happened more that a couple of times.
Our–call it “heart”, “spirit”, or “soul”–needs constant attention. Without this constant attention to the “fuel gauge” we will, sooner than later, run out of the fuel we need in this journey with Jesus in His Kingdom. So how do we keep the tank full, as it were? The price of fuel for our vehicles is getting higher, and it can put a dent in our household budget. But the fuel for our Life In Christ? It’s already been paid for by our Heavenly Father. We call that Grace.
How do we fill ‘er up? The same way as we do our vehicles. We pull up to the pump and either get out of the vehicle or have someone pump it for us. The spiritual version of this event is that we come to our Father, and ask for a fill-up. My way of doing this is starting my day with music and prayer. Sometimes the song I’m listening to becomes my prayer. I block out any distractions–and when those distraction get through, I consciously choose to give them the boot. After all, this is My Father’s and I time. My “tank” isn’t full and for what I will be facing each day–it needs to be full even before I start–and often times I have to stop in the middle of the day for some more “fuel”.
The “fuel” we use is none other than The Holy Spirit–God’s Holy Presence. You don’t fill up you vehicle just once–depending on how far you’re going–you may need even more fuel. So, remember what Paul tells the folks at Ephesus Church:
17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.
As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.
Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains terpene, a volatilehydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.
This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:
The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.
What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.
Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”
If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:
We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made. We are looking at some of those rich and powerful moments when Jesus said: “I Am.” Remember that Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English. He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he would have used was Yahweh. Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.
It Is God’s Eternal Name, His Name For All Generations To Remember. Jesus uses that Name at Mission Critical Moments. He doesn’t just claim to be Yahweh; He backs it up with truth and Kingdom Principles. Let’s look at John 6:32-51 (The Message)
32-33Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”
34They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” 35-38 Jesus said, “I Am The Bread Of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.
Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
39-40“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then Aligns With Him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”
41-42At this, because he said, “I Am The Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? Don’t we know his father? Don’t we know his mother? How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”
43-46Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me. You’re not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come.
Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’
Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see Me.
47-51“I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I Am The Bread Of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
Have you ever thought about how images of bread are used in our ordinary day to day life? “That’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s rolling in the dough (meaning money). Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides (meaning they lack common sense). Man, he’s toast.” In Middle Eastern culture, and Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and connection. Bread is a symbol for life.
When It Comes To People’s Spiritual Lives, They Will Be Living EitherThe Manna Life Or The Living Bread Life. There is a sharp distinction between the two. There is no confusion about which life we are choosing to live. And make no mistake about it; it is our choice whether we live The Manna Life Or The Living Bread Life.
Let’s find something we can all agree on: We have no control over some things that come our way in life. There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control. Does everyone agree with this? I didn’t say we liked it; just that it happens.
Now, my next point is something that you may dislike even disagree with, but it’s the truth: We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those Times. How we live each day and our reactions to life as it happens is the result of what we feed upon each day. If you can remember only One Thing today, then remember this:
Your Heart, Life, And Mind Are Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life. One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy and see us through anything that life throws our way. Let’s see the difference by setting up today’s passage. The day before Jesus had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Now Jesus and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus again. This time they are seeking a sign. They wanted a sign from Jesus before they would accept Him as Messiah. They pointed out that Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was with them. Now they want Jesus to give a sign that God was with Him.
OK, excuse me, but He has turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who could not talk. And added to all that, He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever had. And Now, they want a sign? Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their time. More Than A Sign, Jesus Talks About Life Through The Images OfManna Life And Living Bread Life. Think about the differences.
1. First, Look At The Manna Life.
What does this life feel like? Let’s go back to the time when God gave them Manna. It appeared every morning on the ground. Each family could pick up enough for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday. Then they could pick up enough for 2 days. It never lasted longer than that. Every meal was the same. The husband or kids never asked, “What’s for supper?” It would be manna casserole, manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was always manna cake. I mean, there was not a whole lot of variety to their meals. And they had to do nothing to do to get it. They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it. Every morning, day after day after day, there it was. And here was where the problems started. It produces the same problems today:
They Believed They Were Entitled To It. They did not have to buy it and it was always there every morning. They begin to feel like they were entitled to it. Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and alive. Living With That Evil Spirit Of Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude. Oh, for sure, at first they were grateful. But after only a few weeks of it, things changed. First, they always expected it to be there.
They Got Tired Of It. But can you blame them? The same meal day after day after day is enough to make them want something else. This is what the Manna Life is like. It’s waking up every morning to the same routine.
There Is No Sense Of Excitement In TheManna Life.
There Are No Adventures To Explore in theManna Life.
There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen In TheManna Life.
It’s The Dull Life. Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone. It produces its own kind of Comfort that becomes more important than Purpose.
It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk. Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life. Now mind you, they haven’t sought great victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories and are disappointed.
And For Church People, It’s The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It. They never get to experience the surprises of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities. And sadly, they never experience the joyful surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that life.
It’s routine life, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life. These people around Jesus thought they wanted the Manna Life. But Jesus did not come to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better. He came to bring them and us the Living Bread Life. Jesus is much more than a free lunch or a vending machine dispensing what we want.
2. Now Look At The Living Bread Life.
What does it feel like? Look like? Allow me to sum it up for you.
It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us. It is living your life with the assurance and confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart as more than just a presence—He lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And Grace. There is more than enough of Jesus living in the heart of every believer to accomplish everything that God wants. It’s more than enough for today. It’s more than enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity. There is more than enough grace, more than enough mercy, and more than enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
It’s The Life Of Adventure. Living Bread Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot See Or Even Imagine. God wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull. It’s the life of excitement knowing that Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never imagined.
It’s The Life Of Exploration. It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants done. God is anything but predictable when it comes to how He works in this world. It’s going down different paths, trying new things. The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence.
It Is The Life Of Contentment. There will be times of abundance in our life. And there will be times of scarcity. There will be times when all of our ducks are in a perfect row. And there will be times when the ducks will scatter in all directions. There will be times when the sailing is smooth as silk. And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster roller coaster. But the one thing about the Living Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we learn to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world.
The only source of life for all of this—comes through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes and every point between them. I’m talking about Jesus living in your heart. You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve. And you know He is the ONLY one who will stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the steep mountains.
We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its Hollowness. Or we can choose to accept The Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The Living Bread, into our hearts. For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to invite Jesus into your heart.
For the rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper into our hearts. Just bread on the table will leave us hungry again. But the ONE who dares to call Himself Yahweh! Living Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst. Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s a Next Step:
Select A Verse Or Passage That Speaks About God And Your Relationship With Him—Then Read That Verse First Thing Every Morning And Make It The Last Thing You Read At Night.
Change the verse or passage every Sunday. Here’s mine for this week: Isaiah 55:10-11
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with My Word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
Several years ago Debbie and I had been taking care of 3 of our grandchildren: Rileigh Breeze was our 10 year old granddaughter who loves to talk, Hampton was our three year old grandson who MUST talk, and then there was Cooper, a year and a half old who talks with his hands. I am so grateful for all of our grandchildren because they teach us so much about life and even more about God. And I discovered something through little Cooper.
Cooper was learning how to talk. But at that time his talk was limited to a few words and a lot of gibberish. But one thing I noticed during that recent visit was the way he communicated when he wanted me to do something. Rather than calling me by name (which then was Paw) he extended his hands, palms upward, and then he proceeded to move his fingers, much like squishing an overripe tomato. If that didn’t get me moving, then he would come over to me and take hold of my finger and tug on me. Of course he wasn’t physically strong enough to move me, but my love for our grandchildren moved me. Then, still holding my finger, he led me to where he wanted me, and then pointed to what he was after. If I reached for the wrong thing, he shook his head NO and pointed again at what he wanted. This cycle of events continued until I got the right thing. When I succeed at his appointed task for me, Cooper then told me “Tanks!” He acknowledged the completion of the task with gratitude.
This scenario was repeated many times that weekend. And as I sit here at my desk, I had (not another random thought) an epiphany, an “AH HA!” moment struck me. So I took a moment to say to God, “Tanks for revealing your heart and mind to me, again, through the eyes of a little child.” I do not know why I was so amazed; after all, Jesus said the Kingdom belongs to little children. And here is today’s lesson I want to share with you, a lesson I “re-discovered” through Cooper.
As I read the Word, there are times when a single word leaps from the pages and captures my attention. Listen to Romans chapter 8 verse 14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” The word that leaped from the passage is LED! To be led means that Someone has to do the leading. It also means that someone must follow that lead. It means that I cannot do both (be led and do the leading), so I must make a choice. Will I lead or will I be led?
As the people of God we get to be a part of the many wonderful things that God is doing. Being a part of God’s activity is both humbling and exciting. Isn’t it great to be used by God! But if we are not careful with that excitement we may jump ahead of God and move from being led to taking the lead. The nature of our relationship with God requires a hierarchy of leadership. There have been many moments in my life where God has used me to reach another person with His love. But then I get feeling pretty good about myself and I rush forward because I want to do so much more for Him who died for me. But in that rushing to do more, I have found myself at times switching places with the Holy Spirit. I have found myself taking the lead, grabbing the Holy Spirit by the finger and saying, “Come on, let’s get going! There’s so much more to do!”
And when I do that, the dynamic of our relationship has changed. When I jump out front, I not only leave the Holy Spirit behind me, but I also put His power behind me. Even though my intentions are good and honorable, I have abandoned the place of real power and strength. In those moments, I was trusting in my abilities, rather than relying on His grace. When I realize I have done this (usually after I fall flat on my face in failure), I have to stop and repent, and seek God’s forgiveness. And you know what? I have always found God’s grace truly is greater than all my sin. The Spirit picks me up, dusts me off, bandages my wounds, and says, “Next time, let Me lead.”
And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
This Saturday’s story goes back to 1996. I remember it because of 2 unforgettable things happened. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my son said, “Daddy you were right.” I had been trying to help him understand you could work hard or you could work smart. I was right; he said it and even if he doesn’t remember that moment, I always will. The other thing that happened that led to that utterance of Matthew was when he graduated Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Here’s the story.
KEEPING WITH THE CADENCE
When my son Matthew graduated from the Army’s Basic Training, I made the trip to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to see his great accomplishment. One of the many images that was engraved on my mind was the way they walked as a unit. Each member, each soldier was in step with the other. Their lines were sharp and crisp because only ONE was calling the cadence. Their Drill Sergeant was the only voice heard. Their ears were in tune with only their Drill Sergeant.
I don’t remember the exact cadences they used. I remember some of them were…well it was 1996 before political correctness was fully operational…some couldn’t be repeated. But I do remember part of one of those cadences. It was something like this: “My buddy’s in a foxhole, a bullet in his head. The medic says he is wounded, but I know that he is dead.”
Then their Drill Sargent would start a new cadence call; and they never missed a step. And not far away you could hear other Drill Sergeants calling cadence, but their platoon did not heed the other voices, only the voice of one kept their focus and attention. They were not distracted by any other voices. It was impressive, to say the least. Many cadences, many voices–but he and his platoon were in tune to only one voice. And they moved as if they were one person.
MORAL OF THE STORY
We need someone to call cadence for us. But not just anyone–The ONE who is been given that responsibility–for us as individuals and us collectively as the Body of Christ. That’s Jesus. And He does give us the cadence call through the Holy Spirit. It’s like Paul wrote in Galatians 5:26–
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
In real life, there are a lot of things that demand our attention: family, jobs, appointments, and activities. It is easy to find ourselves frustrated or disappointed at the end of the day because of the busyness with which we are seemingly perpetually engaged in. And this is where the stress comes in and often overwhelms us.
I’m glad Jesus taught us to pray saying “Our Father” rather than “Our Drill Sergeant.” So, if you find yourself out of step and full of stress, remember my lesson. Let God lead the parade called life. Listen to His voice as He calls out the cadence. Life flows much better when we cooperate with God, much like that platoon that followed only one Drill Sergeant’s cadence.
It has been nearly a month. I have had time to process it, so now I will write.
Well, I have just been to Dante’s 45th Level of Hell. Excuse me, I meant to say my 45th consecutive North Alabama UMC Annual Conference. For those unfamiliar with my Spiritual Tribe, it’s that annual gathering of pastors and laity to “do” the “business” of UMC congregations within the boundaries of the North Alabama Conference. The italics and bold font indicates it’s alleged purpose. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how much we really do and how much of what we do really is the business of the Body of Christ and the Tribe known as United Methodists or the business of our personal opinions and beliefs.
To the young clergy and and young Christians, I want you to know I heard you cries of despair; of your feelings of being neglected because you felt your voice wasn’t important. It is important, but not in the way you may think. I also heard your anger because…well…because you did not obtain the results you wanted.
It appeared that you felt like BECAUSE you are young, your voice and your beliefs are the most important one. You were disappointed that none of you were elected to attend our General and Jurisdictional Conferences…and thus you assumed we weren’t listening. Au contraire, my sisters and brothers. You were heard, and there were many times when your voices did not sound like our Head, Jesus Christ.
With youth comes many advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantages of youth are qualities and virtues we all need to reclaim. We need to reclaim the excitement of the sense of unlimited possibilities. We need to reclaim the excitement of new discoveries. We need the stepping stones of fresh perspectives. These are just a few of the things you youth can teach us old fogies.
But there are also some disadvantages to youth, disadvantages us old fogies also had. The lack of depth of wisdom comes to mind. Wisdom doesn’t come from the surface of information, but from the depths of God’s heart and mind. This takes time…a lot of time. You lack the scars of battle with the Enemy. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I know you have faced and done battle with the Enemy…otherwise you would’t be here.
Allow me to give you the image of my son, now retired from the military. He has been in many literal battles. And when the battle was intense, he did not look to that fresh out of West Point or ROTC second lieutenant for guidance and courage, he looked to the seasoned officers who had more experience in battle. What I want to say is that experience trumps youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience helps steady the ship when the storms are intense.
Young clergy and laity, you bring much to our Table. We need what you offer. But you also need what we old fogies bring to the Table. We bring years of failure and success. We bring hearts and minds deeply rooted in the Truth of Scriptures (well most of us anyway). We also bring a knowledge of our processes.
Do not think you are unimportant because you did not get your way at the North Alabama Annual Conference 2019. The anger many of you manifested at Annual Conference did not serve your purposes at all. Take a moment to breathe, and reflect in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And for a moment, set aside all that your seminary professors told you–and simply seek the Holy Spirit–then listen.
I do not blame you for feeling disappointed. I do blame those who told you that you have the only answer for the problems ad issues of the church in the 21st century. The Body of Christ has many parts, and you are one of those parts. Bring your energy and insights to the body of Christ.
But also listen…listen to the scars of us old fogies…listen to the wisdom from above that we have because we have been on the front lines for a while. The, when it’s time for decisions to be made, contact those delegates elected, and with the spirit of grace and kindness, share your views and opinions. Those will be a part of the mix that helps us ALL, regardless of age, to move forward with the Kingdom of God.
And most of all remember Paul’s words to young Timothy. Study…learn…seek wisdom from Above. Rejoice in your successes but also learn from your failures. The scars we bear are the most fertile ground for spiritual maturity…
Seems I remember somewhere about a certain road paved with good intentions; but it leads you to a not so nice place. Well, I’m guilty. I have good excuses, really good excuses; but I don’t have a good reason for failing to share what I’ve discovered as I read with fresh eyes the Book of Acts. So, forgiveness please….and my next “insight” says much, so very much, about grace. It’s Acts 2:39 NLT)–
This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
The struggle in the arena of self-esteem has two extremes. At one end of the spectrum are those whose ego is over-inflated. They see themselves as “God’s Gift” to the world. That somehow, everything would collapse were it not for them. Know anyone like that? I sure do! I’ve even had the occasion (more accurately “burden to bear”) of being their pastor. But today, I’m putting them back up on the shelf. Maybe I’ll write something about them at a later time.
Today I want to focus on those on the other extreme, and those words of Peter in that famous Pentecost Message: “This promise is … to those far away.” I’m talking to those who feel totally, completely, absolutely worthless. I know how you feel. I’ve been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. When it comes to the personal sense of well-being and worth, it’s a vacuum.
I compare this feeling to road kill. You know, that critter that wasn’t just hit once by a vehicle. It has been run over multiple times…and now is just a flat disk on the pavement. One would have to really focus to make out what it once was. It’s original image is gone.
There is nothing there at all. Well, there is that gnawing feeling of worthlessness. And being created in the image of God, and you are created in His image, this is a burden we were never equipped to carry. God knows this, and so even before The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”, the 3 of them sat down and talked. They talked about you….and me.
And what was the subject of their conversation? Our redemption! My redemption! YOUR REDEMPTION! As they were planning this wonderful, beautiful, awe-inspiring creation, they were determined to put God’s image upon it. That image wasn’t placed in trees or any other created matter–it was on the last day they added it–when they created human begins. As they discuss this, the Father looks at the Son and says, “You know Jesus, part of our image is free-will. Unfortunately, they are going to use this precious gift for their own design, and we will be cut off from them, forever. Forever, unless you agree to become one of them, live like them, and also die FOR them a horrible, painful death. But it’s the only way to bring them back to us in this perfect relationship. So, Jesus, what do you say?” And Jesus said, “They are so wonderful and awesome I will do anything to restore them, restore them back to us! Let’s get busy creating!”
Does that conversation sound a bit far-fetched for you who feel so far away from God. Well, try this on for size…it fits you perfectly:
18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. (1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT)
Remember that these words were written by a man who said he would never, never, never deny Jesus. But he did; 3 times to be exact. If anyone ever felt far from God, it would be Peter. Yet on Pentecost, this same man stands up, without a prepared script, to proclaim the truth–this truth–YOUR TRUTH–that God has come looking for you. And you are never too far away for Him to find you.
Right now I’m thinking about another man who must have felt far away from God after Jesus was arrested. That would be Judas. He felt so far away from God that he could not see what was right in front of him. Earlier that night, Jesus took the Cup, gave thanks, and passed it to them, including Judas, and said, “All of you drink from this cup. This cup is my blood poured out for you and for many–for the forgiveness of sin.”
Judas felt remorse for his actions. Peter felt remorse for his actions. The self-esteem of these 2? Flattened Road-Kill. Peter, though, stayed around long enough for the Resurrection and experienced a resurrection of his own. And Judas? He just couldn’t see it. Can you image the impact of the testimony of Judas if he could have just held on to that Sunday? But the world will never hear of that kind of testimony because he gave up, too soon…
For those who feel so far away…..you are NOT too far away. God knows where you are,exactly where you are. He has a testimony for you to share with others living in that land of far, far, away. Remember that whatever led you to this “far away” place–also remember that God has the Promise–of forgiveness, a new beginning, and the indwelling of The Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit will help keep you from going back to that “far away place.”
And should you ignore Holy Spirit and go back again to the far away place, He will find you even there and lead you back home….I know….He did it for me! You are never too far away for God to find you, and lead you home.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Jesus went the distance for us who were far away. Let’s follow Jesus and go the distance, do whatever it takes, to let those far away know that they can be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Who did Jesus die for? Well, if you listen to the Calvinists, He died for the Frozen Chosen. If you listen to the Universalists He really didn’t have to die because if we all get in, why did He die? If you listen to the Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters He died for the good, honest folks. If you listen to the Unitarians, “Who’s Jesus?”
The death of Jesus was the first step in God’s wonderful
design to take back what The Enemy has stolen from Him. There had to be another
step, otherwise people would fall back into the trap of legalism. In my reading
of The Book of Acts Of The Holy Spirit In Surrendered People, I came upon this
in Chapter 2, Verses 38 and 39.
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and
turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of
your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This
promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all
who have been called by the Lord our God.” (emphasis mine)
For many it’s easy for them to comprehend that Jesus died
for them. After all, they aren’t all that bad; at least not as bad as most. But
for many more it’s difficult because they are beaten back and beaten down to a
pulp by guilt and shame. And if that’s not bad enough, they are beaten down by
self-promoting, self-righteous ingrates who forgot they are sinners, too.
I love that inspired line of Peter’s message that in Jesus
we are both forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit–to those near–and hear
this–TO THOSE FAR AWAY! The Cross can step across any length of chasm to reach
anyone and everyone. Here’s some of my personal observations about many
Some won’t cross the street and get to know their neighbors
Some are consumed with only reaching folks who are like them
Some are more interested in preserving their traditions and Tribe
Some are more concerned about keeping buildings open
Some are afraid of the future, that “their” church will close its doors
My friends, it’s time to remember both the “near”
and those “far, far away”. If you are one of those who are
“near”, meaning you’ve been in church most of your life, then start
reaching out to those “far away” by getting to know them and become
their friend. And if you are one of those who are “far away”, then
please, please know, Jesus wants you,too! Hope is available for everyone, so we
need to stop saying that anyone is ever “hopeless”. Remember….He
came for both the near and the far away…..
Jesus went the distance for us who were far away. Let’s
follow Jesus and go the distance, do whatever it takes, to let those far away
know that they can be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And remember…Love God with all your heart. Love others the
way that Jesus loves you. And make sure that all the glory goes to HIM!
Welcome back to my musings from the Book of Acts. In case this is the first one you’ve read, or if you have forgotten, this is a different kind of journey as I read the Book of Acts. This is NOT a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegesis. I am reading this powerful book about The Holy Spirit looking for either those things I have forgotten, or for those truths that I’ve been missing these past 45 years since I first welcomed Jesus into my heart. Honestly, I not looking for the obvious, but for those nuances that I’ve been overlooking since I started this journey of faith.
And today, it is Acts 2:14–
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles …
OK, it’s 2 words….make that 3 words…rather 4 words….wait a minute….it’s all 9 words. So let’s begin….oh, what do you say….we start at the first word: Then. This word tells us something had just happened. That Promise of Jesus, that The Holy Spirit was a comin’….was no longer a promise, but the reality of Peter’s life. Peter doesn’t do anything other than wait and pray until the Then. When that Then happened, Peter stopped praying and waiting. He moved with that Spirit now living in him and every believer.
Next it’s the 3 words: Peter Stepped Forward. Why? Because of the Then. Up until Then, Peter was known as the one who would speak up without thinking. Come to think of it, I know some people like that. Oh, OK, I do that sometimes, too. He was rash and impetuous. He had the tendency for his mouth to overload his abilities. But….Then happened. With the indwelling and abiding of the Holy Spirit Peter Stepped Forward.
And why not? He had both the Power and the Message that could change his culture and world. This isn’t Impetuous Peter. This is Deliberate Peter. He saw what they did to Jesus. And he saw what Jesus did with what they did. And he paid attention to Jesus–WAIT UNTIL. Wait until…Then. Peter now has the Passion and the Focus. And he steps forward.
But today….so many….too many who profess to be a Christian….who are supposed to have the Power and the Message to change OUR culture….are either too timid….or unwilling to Step Forward. It seems to me that many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters would rather stay isolated and insulted from the world and then complain about the condition of the world. Yet….if they have had their own “Then Moment” they have both the Power and the Message to transform their culture.
It happens through the Holy Spirit. And today? People seem to get the heebie jeebies when it comes to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They don’t want to look “weird” or like one of “those” kind of Christians. The result is out culture continues to spiral downward.
Oh, there are those who step forward–step forward with words of anger, judgment and condemnation; whose only concern seems to be that they have the appearance of being better than others. An unholy sanctimonious attired that is repulsive to the outsider. And then, they have the gall to wonder why their culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Peter wasn’t going to live with that kind of attitude. Peter Stepped Forward.
Which leads to that last part: with the eleven other apostles…. This wasn’t a solo act, a duet, or even a quartet. It was all of them. And here’s what speaks to me that I had not recognized: The Holy Spirit Provides The Means, The Message And The Power needed to transform our Time, Place and Culture. The time has come, urgently arrived, to stop trying to compromise or allow others to dictate The Message in order to make life more comfortable and convenient.
Appeasement is defined as “the action or process of appeasing”. And the word “appease” means: “pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands. I looked up synonyms for placate and here are the words I found: “lull, tranquilize, calm, mollify.” Mollify? Had to look up that word and here’s what mollify means: “Make more temperate, acceptable, or suitable by adding something else; moderate.” Since 1974, I’ve been told by my leaders (well, except one, he IS a mighty warrior for God) that I need to make sure to appease the congregations I had been appointed to. I needed to pacify them so they wouldn’t complain. In other words, let them have it their way. Having it their way may have been a great advertising slogan for Burger King years ago, but it is a pitiful way to operate the Body of Christ.
And for Peter, he couldn’t make the Message more acceptable by adding something else to it. Why? Because of that single word: “Then”–the Holy Spirit had a hold of him and he had a hold on the Spirit. And the reason for Peter’s powerful message was two-fold:
The Power of the Holy Spirit
And the willingness of the other 11 to stand with him
It’s time for us to run with those who want to run with the Holy Spirit–His Power and The Message. It’s time to leave the paths of placation that does nothing but tranquilize people and lull them into a false sense of peace and security. Appeasement is the desire of Satan. Transformation is the Great Desire of God–and it happens only with HIS Power through The Message of The Kingdom of God–and not the petty preferences of those who have neither the Power nor the Message.
It’s time for us to Step Forward because if we don’t…..well Yogi Berra puts it like this:
And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.
Well, here we are, my first entry from my journal as I read the Book of Acts. As a little more background to this adventure, I’m reading with critical eyes. Hold on now! I didn’t say “criticizing” eyes–I said “critical eyes”. I’m looking for things I may not have noticed before, those “nuances” that are not often pondered. Here in Chapter 1, I’ve found a few of them.
Acts 1 is primarily taught with the emphasis on the Ascension and the waiting in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. And as I was reading, I was captured and convicted by Verse 3 (emphasis mine):
During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Here is why this verse captured and convicted me. I was taught, trained, and expected to grow “the church”. The problem today is that “church” doesn’t mean what it meant by then. Besides, the Greek word used wasn’t “church”. (Sniff, sniff…I smell smoke and the heating of tar….as in being tarred and feathered). Hey, I’m just sharing what The Book says.
One would think that since Jesus knows He is shortly to be ascending back to Heaven, that He would teach and train them about the “church” and His expectation that they were to grow the church. Now, if this Book of Acts is truly more about the Apostles than the Holy Spirit, that’s what we would read.
But if Jesus is anything, He is CONSISTENT! Jesus taught about The Kingdom, not the church. OK, OK, He did mention “the church” in Peter’s declaration of His true identity. But Jesus didn’t speak English. I know, shock, shock. (Or for some, “Blasphemer! Blasphemer!”) The Greek word used was ekklēsia, and it means a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.
Jesus focused on the instrument of God’s Power and Authority–and that’s the Kingdom of God. And I’m wondering, “What if we stopped teaching and training people for the church and followed Jesus’ own example and taught and trained people in The Kingdom?” The Kingdom is important to Jesus, because it’s important to God. And it should be important to us.
But us “Americanized” Christians would rather have the church than the Kingdom for only 1 reason. It gives us the illusion of control. But Kingdom, on the other hand, presents us with the hard truth that there is an Absolute Ruler, and it ain’t us!
There must be a new language spoken in the ekklēsia. It’s the language of The Kingdom of God. Our terminology, mindset and focus must go back to what Jesus thought was most important. That was, and continues to be the focus of Jesus. If last words are important, and they are, then let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches about The Kingdom of God. If our emphasis was on the Rule and Authority of God, rather than our own, I strongly suspect we would see the same results found in the Book of Acts.
Let me leave you with this final thought, and it’s not an original one from me:
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!