PRODUCE OR PRODUCE?

Have you ever considered how difficult it is to master the English language as a second language? There was a time in my life when I thought that whoever invented this language was really bright and creative. I mean, creating a language–that takes some serious moxie. It takes a lot of imagination and creativity. Doesn’t it? That’s what I’m thinking about this morning. And as I am thinking, I have drawn a different conclusion about whoever invented the English language. Would you like to know what it is? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway!

Whoever invented the English language was lazy and had little to no imagination! There! I said it and now just think about it. There are words spelled identical but have completely different meanings. R-E-A-D is an example. It can be used this way: “I need to READ this book.” OK? Or it can be used this way: “I READ the entire book and didn’t like it.” Oh, and there’s another word that sounds like READ but has another different meaning–R-E-D–which is a color. Oh, and for the other READ, there’s REED which had nothing to do with books or colors. See? No imagination or creativity–just laziness in my opinion.

Then there’s today’s two words: P-R-O-D-U-C-E and P-R-O-D-U-C-E. Two identical words, that sounds almost identical, but each with its own uniquely different meaning. As a verb it means in the simplest of terms–to make something happen! As a noun it means in the simplest of terms–the result of something happening! Are you with me so far? Good! Let’s apply the results of those uninspired and unimaginative creators words. When it comes to the life of Grace, we don’t PRODUCE, we are the PRODUCE! And I daresay with the utmost confidence that any mess in churches in any place and at any time is the result of Tenured Pew Sitters thinking they are the verb and not the noun–that they are to produce rather than be the produce!

In other words, we are to be the results of a the processes done by an outside Source! That Source is the Holy Spirit. When we try to be the verb rather than the noun–the results are catastrophic and cataclysmic. We use up too much energy and time when we attempt to be the verb; which is a waste of both. Being the noun is–well, it’s a whole lot easier and a heck of a lot more enjoyable. What did someone just think? Did someone really say, “Show me in the Bible where it says that!” OK, dunderhead, you asked for it!

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians Chapter 5, Verses 22 and 23 (NLT)

And please note that the word “fruit” is singular! I see way too often the plural form: “fruits”! This isn’t the produce section at the grocery store where you are free (provided you have enough money) to pick and choose what you want. We are to be the result, the product if you would, of the work of The Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the verb–the forces acting upon us–to PRODUCE the PRODUCE that this world and culture urgently and desperately needs. But for The Spirit to Produce the Produce we have to be yielded and surrendered to God. Don’t make it happen in your life! (Produce) Allow it to happen–the Produce of the Holy Spirit–which is always a Single FRUIT! Who said the English language is easy?

his bed

This morning I am thinking about yesterday. I know, oh, do I know! As followers of Jesus we’re not to live in the past. But here I am! Honestly I don’t know how people live in the past–be it sad, bad, or even good. But like an old snapping turtle, yesterday has bit me and it’s not about to let go–and it’s painful. So, what has caused this harbinger of Good News to do the very thing he counsels people in hard times not to do? Let me tell you and perhaps it will help me let go.

Yesterday it didn’t rain, so I headed off to Dad’s. There’s still a lot to sort out and make decisions about. No one wanted Dad’s bed, so Debbie and I decided to get it. Tuesday Debbie will have a “foot overhaul”. The bed she and I sleep in is high–his bed is low to the floor. It will be easier for her to get in and out of bed after surgery. There were some other things he wanted us to have still there–so off I went. My truck and trailer headed out, and when I got there, I and a good friend started to work. As we went into his bedroom, I remembered the last time I saw him there. The hospice nurse had changed his clothes and made up that bed–and for the first time in a long time he didn’t look like he was in pain. But I was–I was visually reminded of how life changes. And now there was no bed in HIS bedroom–and what’s a bedroom without a bed?

When we arrived back home, we immediately went to work unloading and moving things around. And last night as I prepared to lie into that bed, it hit me hard. I was sleeping on HIS side of the bed–the same side I last saw him in HIS home. And this morning–Yesterday is doing a number on me–in my heart and mind. Did I sleep good on that bed last night? Sure–but I was physically exhausted. I could have slept good on a floor. And this morning–I am sorting through the morning after. And truthfully, I haven’t done well with it. And as God and I were sorting through this heavy grief, He came to me. Not with answers, but His very Presence.

Has my ache and pain disappeared? Absolutely–NOT! I am just as heartbroken right now as I was Yesterday, and This Morning. The snapping turtle that bit me doesn’t seem to be inclinced to let go of me–if anything, he seems more determined. But I am different–different because God sent me Himself, my very best friend–The Holy Spirit. So, I know that this voracious snapping turtle will release his bite on me–at some point, because he has no choice because I am leaning into and leaning on The Holy Spirit. This moment’s power filled truth came into my heart as I listened to this song. I pray it speaks into you as it is speaking into me–as I deal with Yesterday!

NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

Today is New Year’s Eve 2021. If you look at calendars, there are only two days with that designation of “Eve”–Christmas and New Year. There is no Thanksgiving Eve, Valentine’s Day Eve, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, Mother’s Day Eve, Father’s Day Eve–nope it’s not on the calendar. Never has been, and probably never will be. But today is one of two days designated as “Eve”. Look at the picture above and definition number two: the period preceding or leading up to any event. Let’s take a deep dive into the idea of an Eve.

Are you excited that this is New Year’s Eve? This morning I was thinking about other New Year’s Days. Specifically 2019–I mean who could have imagined what 2020 was going to bring? Church sanctuaries were closed. Businesses considered non-essential were closed. Stores had limited capacities. Us preachers unfamiliar with live-stream learned how to use Facebook Live (and I still use it). We had to purchase equipment to enable us to do drive-in church. People who were in the hospitals and nursing homes were denied visitors. And so much more. Then New Year’s Day 2021 shows up–and while some of the restrictions have been lifted–this ain’t been a glorious year for most.

But we’re talking about 2022. Are you excited about 2022? Today I am truly excited for several reasons. I don’t have to worry about a ruptured appendix, that happened in 2020. I am excited that today THE University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) will be playing in the Semi-Final for another National Championship (Roll Tide)! Yes, I get excited over certain things. Don’t you think Jesus was excited at the home of Zacchaeus when He said, “Salvation has arrived in this home!” Personally, I think Jesus was shouting at the top of His lungs! If your image of Jesus saying that is one of a solemn face and monotone voice–you need a different Jesus.

Every morning is an Eve–leading up to some event! And I believe this event is the Eve of God pouring out the fires of Revival across our nation and around the world! Why would I believe such a thing with the ways things are? Because I’m not looking at the way things are–I’m seeing them the way that God wants them to be. Each morning is The Eve Of God Doing Great Things In Hearts And Lives! See, there are more than 2 eves–every morning has both the potential and very real possibility to be a life-transforming day for us and everyone else. It’s there–we just need to recognize it.

When we get excited about the movement of The Holy Spirit–before we ever see it–we call that Faith! Faith isn’t about WHAT we see–but WHO we see! Today is the Eve of God doing what Paul said God does in 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 Verse 17 from The Message–Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Did you see that word anyone? Anyone means anyone. Isn’t it exciting to see new life emerge? In just a very few weeks a new life will emerge in our family–our first great-grandchild! He’s going through a process, as is his Mommy. It’s not always been pleasant–and the delivery won’t be easy. But all of us will be so very excited about this precious wonderful new life! Will you get excited each morning knowing that this moment is the EVE of God bringing another Great Awakening? I’m excited! If you’re not, then you’ve got a serious problem. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got some exciting things to do before Kickoff! And Roll Tide! Oh, here’s a song to help your mindset in the right place on this and every following Eve!

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.

Sighs Of The Times

Not a misprint–I said SIGHS of the time. I hear of lot of sighs around me. And for some time now–I’ve been SIGHING a lot.

  • I sigh when I hear people say we don’t need to talk about racism–though nearly every day I hear a racist statement or two or three or four…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that anyone younger than them “ain’t got a clue” about life–though they never try to teach…
  • I sigh when I hear people whine and complain that they are not getting their fair share of life–though they are unwilling to apply themselves to the challenges of life…
  • I sigh…when I hear employers complain they can’t find decent employees–though they regularly reject applications of people they think won’t fit in…
  • I sigh when I hear church folks wonder why people don’t come to their church, after all, they are a friendly church–though they take neither the time nor the effort to get to know others…
  • I sigh when I hear people complaining about the government–though they keep putting career politicians back in office…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that Democrats are the answer to our problems–though they have helped create those problems…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that Republicans are the answer to our problems–though they have helped create those problems…
  • I sigh when I hear people complain about the culture–and that’s all they do: COMPLAIN
  • I sigh when I hear people speak hate about other people today because of what other people did 175 years ago–as it they were the cause of poor decisions…
  • I sigh when I hear when folks point out the sins of others–why they ignore their own sin…
  • I sigh when I hear the researchers throwing out their fake science that is ruining so many lives–and vainly believe they are helping…
  • I sigh when I hear self-identified Christians say they want Jesus to come back right how–not thinking about all those who will not be ready for His Appearing…
  • I sigh when I hear me confess my sin–knowing I had the power of The Holy Spirit to successfully resist…
  • I sigh when I hear hate and anger catapulted at those who wear the badge–and don’t seem to care they are human beings who want nothing but to help others and keep us all safe…
  • I sigh when I hear nothing but silence–when it comes to the Truth of God and His Word…

What makes YOU sigh today? I could go on and on and on; and on some more about what makes me SIGH. But I am hit–and hit hard–by the Holy Spirit this morning. He asked me: “Randy, can you kindly tell me what all your SIGHING has accomplished? I mean other than made you feel sad, even an unhealthy bit of despair? After all, any amount of despair ain’t heathy for you.” So, I let that thought sink in a little bit. I refrained from that knee jerk reaction of: “I’m justified in this because that’s the way it is!” As His question marinated in my heart and mind, I finally answered Him: “It would be better for me, and my world, if I prayed instead of SIGHING!” And I could swear that I heard The Spirit say, “Mm-hmm.” Instead of SIGHING today, I’ll pray today, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next, and the next… Will you join me in giving up SIGHING and replace it with PRAYING?

When The Wind Is Taken Out Of Our Sails

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 was I 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:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
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!

PS: Prayers greatly appreciated for our family!

A Fraction Of God

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!

Running On Empty!

(Image from MentalFloss.com)

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.

Ephesians 5:17-19

The Rich Lighter Life!

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 volatile hydrocarbon. 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:

The Living Bread Life

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)

32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.  The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” 

34 They jumped at that:  “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  35-38 Jesus said, “I Am The Bread Of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.  I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.  

Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.  I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will:  that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole.  This is what my Father wants:  that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then Aligns With Him will enter real life, eternal life.  My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

41-42 At this, because he said, “I Am The Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him:  “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?  Don’t we know his father?  Don’t we know his mother?  How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”

43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me.  You’re not in charge here.  The Father who sent me is in charge.  He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come.  

Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End.  This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’  

Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father.  No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see Me.

47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now:  Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal 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 Either The 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 Of Manna 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
    1. There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    1. There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    1. There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen In The Manna Life
  3. It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  4. 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.
  5. It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. It’s The Life Of AdventureLiving 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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 YahwehLiving 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.

Learning To Be Led–Monday Musing 17 February 2020

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!

Keeping Cadence–Saturday Stories 8 February 2020

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.

An Open Letter To Young Clergy In The North Alabama Conference

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…

Never Too Far!

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!

Far, Far Away

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 churches today:

  • 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!

Step Up To The Plate

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.

More About The Kingdom Than The Church

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!

Acts Of WHO???

Well, here I go again on another Journey. It seems I’ve become a bit slack in my spiritual discipline of reading the Word. I was looking at my Bible on the desk and it was like I heard, “You know, it’s been a while since we talked. Don’t you think it’s time to catch up?” So I reached over and took it; then I found me a journal to write in, and an ink pen. That’s all: the Bible, a clean sheet of paper and a pen. No commentaries and not even Google to help me look up words and thoughts. Just me, The Book, and of course, the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of which (the Holy Spirit, that is), I’m wondering right now why did I have to have all those commentaries (because I started this journey with Jesus before the internet was so readily accessible)? And why do so many today have this book, that website, that author along side THAT Book? Over the past several years, I discovered to my amazement, that the Holy Spirit actually helps me understand what I’m reading! Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Well, God could.

Back to The Book. Where would I ever begin such a journey? There are so many books to choose from. One would think I would have to spend a lot of time deciding which book to begin with. This time, I had no trouble. He, the Holy Spirit, whispered, “The Book of Acts.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m not reading a chapter a day–nothing against people who read the Book that way–just reading until I sense Him saying, “Let that sink in for a while.”

And this morning my Companion and Comforter said, “You know, you’ve been talking, I mean talking a lot, about starting back to regular blogging. Why not share what you’re discovering? After all, I did give you that gift of writing.” So who am I to argue with the Wisdom of The Ages.

Today’s entry is simply about the title applied to The Book Of Acts. It’s been titled “The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles.” For many, many years I’ve insisted that those earliest editors misnamed this Book. I wish right now I could borrow Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean and go back to that first group of editors when they came up with this title and ask: “What are you thinking? It’s NOT the acts of the Apostles. It’s the Acts of the Holy Spirit in surrendered people!” Gee whiz, guys. You’re better than that! Think, man, then listen to that title. A bit short-sighted, don’t you think?”

Why do I think that it’s an inaccurate title? I’m so glad you asked me that question. To read Dr. Luke’s stories with the title “Acts of the Apostles” taints your thought processes, and it’s easy to conclude that what happened then, was “limited to a handful of select special people and not really for me or my time.” Calling it the Acts Of The Apostles limits what this Book can do in you and I.

First, it relegates it just another History Book. Now, I love History more than most. I blame it on my High School History teacher Ronald Pettus. He is a collector of artifacts, many of which he brought into the classroom. He filled my little mind with more than memorizing dates–but left me hungering to know more about the people and the times. This is a priceless tool in understand THE BOOK! If we see Acts are only a history book of a select few people, we’ve missed the point of Dr. Luke’s work.

Second, we slam the door shut to the potential of the Holy Spirit using folks like us. There’s more going on here than dates and geography. If we agree that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all about Jesus (and they are), then Acts MUST be all about The Holy Spirit, and it is. Each Amen on that? The Book of Acts opens up with Jesus telling those first disciples about, guess who? The Holy Spirit! And in Chapter 2, all Heaven breaks loose on earth. And it all happens because of and through the power of The Holy Spirit!

Now, I want to add a little side bar comment about the current state of the church culture. For the last century, more emphasis is put on human understanding and abilities rather than The Holy Spirit. I see it in my Tribe as Progressives try to tell me they know more about what God wants and expects than the Bible. Add to this that so many in churches want to hear what someone else says about the Bible rather than read it for themselves.

The result has been that a powerful Stallion has been reduced to a gelding. People are following today, an impotent message about an impotent life. And once again, Jesus weeps. So staring tomorrow, I will share from my personal journal some of the insights and wonder I am discovering as The Teacher, teaches me.

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

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

Slide5

A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming:  “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.  Isn’t this also your experience?”  Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison.  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.  He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

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

The Power Of A Name

Image result for names

Well, it happened again.  Last night Debbie (most definitely my better half) and I went out to eat supper.  We had chosen Cracker Barrel.  I thought that was a great ending to a great day.  I had spent the day at New Room Conference listening, learning about sowing the seeds of God’s Word for another Great Awakening.  The theme word this year is RISE.  I was overwhelmed by Damien Boyd’s sermon about the importance of connecting with people, especially the poor.  Damien pointed out that the poor isn’t limited to those without material substance–but especially those who are spiritually poor and those who have been broken by life.

Our server was Miles.  He was polite and attentive to us.  But this isn’t about Miles.  It’s about Marissa.  Many years ago The Spirit taught me the importance of acknowledging people at the Huddle House in Guntersville.  We had been out to eat, and I noticed her name tag, and thanked her and used her name.  She sat her coffee pot down, and thanked me for using her name.  She said that no one called her by her name.  It was always “Hey, you!”  Fighting back the tears, she was overwhelmed that someone noticed she had a name.  Ever since that evening I have made it a point to call servers, associates and cashiers by their name when I can see it.

Back to Marissa.  We had just left our customary 20% tip on the table and was getting up to leave when another server, Marissa, was walking by.  I said to her, “I hope you have a great evening, Marissa.”  She smiled and thanked me.  Then she turned back around, for a conversation.  She said, “I was wondering how did we know each other, but then I realized my name is on my apron.”  And I replied, “Well, you are a human being and you have a name, so I used that name.”

A bright smile came over her face and she said, “Oh, how sweet.  Give me a hug!”  We hugged and said our goodbyes.  I noticed as she walked away, there was a renewed joy in her steps.  Oh, it wasn’t me.  It was the Holy Spirit.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for Him to do what HE does best:  Remind people of God’s Presence, that He values them, and best of all, He loves them.

And early this morning I reflected on that simple but Holy Moment of God being with us.  I’m not bragging on myself–I have way too many faults to engage in such silliness.  But the Spirit impressed on me this truth.  All day I had been listening too and learning about the Kingdom of God.  And that night I put it into practice–doing what I have been doing since that night in Huddle House in Guntersville–what I heard and learned.  I thought I almost heard the 6 words I am striving to hear one day:  Well Done Good And Faithful Servant.

You see, learning about the Kingdom of God but doing nothing is like a sandwich without meat, mayo, lettuce, and tomato–you’re toast.  Jesus showed people that God values and loves them by connecting with them where they are.  A person’s name–using a person’s name is a profoundly simple way of acknowledging their value and worth–as a person and as someone who bears the Image of the Creator.

When you see people, acknowledge their worth and value, then if you pray the Lord’s Prayer, it has become real and true in you–Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  See people the way God sees them.  They have a name.  God knows their name.  Do you?

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

Great Anticipation!

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

(Anticipation lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Who remembers that song by Carly Simon?  Guess I’m revealing my age; actually I don’t have to reveal my age–it shows naturally.  But early this morning, I’m awake and filled with great anticipation, like a child on the way to Disney World.  What is the cause of my great anticipation?  I am leaving for Brentwood, Tennessee for another New Room Conference.  This will be my third consecutive time.  I don’t know how long this event has been happening.  If I did, I’d probably kick myself in the butt for missing the earlier ones.

What is it?  I’m so glad you asked me that question.  It’s a time of inspired worship, spirit-filled preaching and teaching, and a time for Spiritual Renewal.  Not all “conferences” I have attended over these past 44 years have filled me with anticipation.  OK, OK, it’s closer to 99% of those conferences never filled me with anticipation.  But this is different.  I looked up synonyms for “anticipation” and there was a single word that leaped out at me from that list.  It’s a word you seldom hear used unless you’re singing that great old hymn, Blessed Assurance, FORETASTE!

We don’t use that old word much anymore, but maybe we should.  It means “a slight and partial experience, knowledge, or taste of something to come in the future”.  You get that small taste, and you know, “Wow!  This is just a sample, I can’t wait to get the full course!”  This foretaste has been given a name at New Room–AWAKENING!  I confess that my hope for the church in the U.S. before New Room was at an all time low; I mean the bottom of the cellar, ocean bottom low.  But here….I was Elisha’s servant who had his eyes opened to the presence of Heaven’s Army!

We worship together, learn together and we have these things called “breakout sessions”.  From a list of subjects we choose where we want to go.  Last year was an especially powerful Epiphany for me.  I can’t even remember which breakout session I had signed up for, but something (actually someONE) drew me into a different one on Travailing Prayer.  I was like a puppy being drawn towards that treat.

I was taking notes right and left.  At the end, now there was another Epiphany.  The speaker asked that anyone who needed prayer to come and offer themselves to God.  This preacher never hesitated.  I went forward and stretched myself out on the floor.  As I was praying I became aware of another presence.  Someone was standing over me, and he was praying for me.  He was praying in tongues FOR me (a new experience for me), but I wasn’t freaked out by it.  In fact, I felt a calmness come over me.  From time to time, he touched my shoulder as he prayed in tongues and I felt the most amazing coolness where he touched me and a profound calmness in my heart.  Somehow, I sensed it was a prayer for preparation for what was ahead for me.

In the time that followed, I tried to figure out what God was trying to prepare me for.  There were some moments that I thought I figured it out–but I was wrong.  And now?  I am still assured it was and IS a prayer for preparation–not just where I thought it would me.  Through a tumultuous April, a time when I allowed hurt to consume me, I have finally learned that this prayer of preparation was for where I am right now.

I still don’t know all the details of what God is preparing me for here–but I know He’s Got This, and I am OK with that.  Actually, better than OK.  I am filled with anticipation!  Unlike the anticipation of Carly Simon that was keeping her waiting–this anticipation is keeping me moving forward.   I don’t know where it’s leading me, but I DO know that HE is both with me, and waiting for me as He reveals more and more of what He has for someone like me.  Now here’s a testimony of grace and mercy.

Truthfully, I never anticipated that at 62 years old that God would have so much more for me–but HE anticipated it.  And that moment of being prayed for in a language I could not understand has given me more confidence in God than I ever had before.  Well, excuse me but my “foretaste” is beckoning me.  Need to pack up and head out to God knows where–and I’m perfectly good with that.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  OH, and don’t miss the “foretaste” He has for you….

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 7 The Final Answer

Slide1

Well, here we are at the end of this semester.  I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans.  I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question:  How Do You Get Into Heaven?  Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans.  So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven?  Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some.  If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart:  How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God?  With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:

Slide25

We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan:  To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now!  And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens:  Be Born Again

Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian?  This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy.  It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”.  If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again.  If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian.  You don’t have to say it both ways.  Here’s a diamond of Truth:  You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again.  Not now—not ever!  But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!

Slide26.JPGThis was the source of confusion for Nicodemus.  Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means?  Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought.  And this is the one thing you need to remember today:  You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again!  We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people.  Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.

None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again.  So, how are we born again?  It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.

 1. We Die! Die to all that you have been.  If it’s your goodness, then die.  If it’s your sense of failures, die.  If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die.  If it’s your fears, die.  Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God.  Philippians 3:8-9—

8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God.  This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.

2.  Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God.  Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives.  But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.

Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.

This is what repentance means and looks like.  We turn away from that old life and into the new Life.  We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do.  You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward.  What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.

3.  Be Born By The Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life.  It’s the only power for people who are Born Again.  People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.

2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)— They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power.  Stay away from people like these!

This is what walking by faith means.  This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God.  You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit.  This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you.  It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam.  Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3

How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again.  The Final Exam has only 2 questions:

1.  Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away?  Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?

2.  Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost?  It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.

Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world.  At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher:  PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

And remember…love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!

Slide28

GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix.  We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.

I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX!  What’s in this box will fix anything and everything.  If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed.  And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX?  For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out.  But there’s more.  I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92.  But wait, there’s more.  For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one.  Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95.  Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords.  Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!

Sometimes quick fixes work.  It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville.  A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival.  It was Friday, the last day.  I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line.  I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them.  Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering.  The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out.  I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit.  They didn’t.  But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.

I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying.  Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer.  Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.

I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus.  And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it:  Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.

The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable.  Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry?  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not.  While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.

In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation.  The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional:  use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual:  Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness.  Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.

Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God.  Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption.  The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place.  Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.

And as Paul says, this is great joy for us!  I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan.  I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK?  But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart.  But…but what about all those moments afterwards?

What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy.  Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either.  Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless.  Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact.  Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.

When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix.  The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible.  But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.

So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us?  Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place.  Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you.  Here’s step 1:

Endurance Development

Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance.  Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass.  Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane.  Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise.  As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly.  Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs.  Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine.  He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue.  10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down.  His head was only 12 inches from the runway.  Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries.  Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder.  That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up.  Here are some guides to help develop endurance.

  • Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise.  Think about a pearl.  Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand.  The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
  • Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change.  Think of it like this story.  A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer.  One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.”  He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.”  He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.”  Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn.  Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
  • Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.”  Abiding is living in your connection to God.  You’re not alone in those difficult moments.  Learn to lean and rest on The Father.  He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
  • Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God!  No matter how much pressure is on you.  The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.

Step 2:

Character Development

Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character

God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort.  He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness.  He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions.  God is getting you ready for your inheritance.  Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on.  And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen!  There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:

  • Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action.  1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
  • Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity.  Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”   Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
  • Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom.  Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
  • Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind.  You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
  • Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.

Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits.  Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5.  This is the Character God wants from His people.  Step 3:

Expectation Development

Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Expand Your Expectations!  The word expand means to enlarge or spread out.  The word expectation means eager anticipation.  When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.

The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments.  Expand your expectations of yourself.  Expand your expectations of this church.  Expand your expectations of who God can use.  Expand your expectations of the ways God will move.  Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think.  Step 4.

Love Development

Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you.  1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”  It’s not God loving the good and lovable people.  It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me!  The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us.  You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good.  Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.

The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.

Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living.  Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.

The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him.  And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.

Give Up That Too Small God!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

 

 

2 Kings 6:8-17 The Message

One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel:  “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.”  10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him.  This kind of thing happened all the time.

 11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel?  Who is the spy in our ranks?”  12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king.  It’s not any of us.  It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel.  He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.”  The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.”  14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force.  They came by night and surrounded the city.

15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out.  Surprise!  Horses and chariots surrounding the city!  The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw.  A wonder!  The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

How Big Is Your God?  This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today.  I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me:  “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?  That’s the wrong question to ask!”  Then He gave me the right question:

Is Your God Too Small?  What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small.  It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book.  J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”.  By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe.  What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953.  And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.

Slide15And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small.  God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be.  The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small.  And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.

Putting it this way:

  • If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.

Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small.  Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes.  Here’s the story.  The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.

If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think?  “There’s a spy among us!”  Logical, right?  And you know what happens to spies.  But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha.  When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him.  He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.

That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded.  He did not know what to do.  In his mind, the situation was hopeless.  But God has something else in mind.  When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind.  But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you.  In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:

1]  Elisha Remembered The Mantle.

What’s the Mantle?  Glad you asked.  The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah.  It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths:  Authority and Power.  Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.

Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request:  to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah.  Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him.  And Elisha was there.  As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice:  give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.

Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!

We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone.  Young and old, men and women.

Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone.  Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion.  You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.

2]  Elisha Kept The Vision

He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven.  He knew the plans and purposes of God.  He knew what the King of Aram was doing.  He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.  Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.

Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”.  He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire.  It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius.  He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies.  The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.

God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.

When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small.   Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength.  In other words, small gods give you projects to complete.  It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.

3]  Elisha Lived In Confidence

Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more.  He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies!  He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army.  He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!

Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.

He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God.   This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others.  And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these.  The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!

Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you.  Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith.  Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.

There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.

Today I have my conception of God.  That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago.  And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years.  My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him.  When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small.  So, I keep growing…

And now you must choose:  Have you given your heart to a god that is too small?  Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined.  Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple.  For Lent, give up your small god.

The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion.  And that is a choice that only you can make.

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

The Through AND With Prayer!

praying man on beautiful sky background

Probably my shortest blog, but a message that is unfinished in me and I long for the day when this prayer has perfected the work in me.  It came to me, and I know it is from The Holy Spirit, as I was doing my morning stroll around the yard and praying.  I want to share this prayer with you this morning and invite you to pray this prayer as well.  Who knows, perhaps this will begin the transformation that my nation and culture most urgently needs:

Holy Spirit, I need You to walk WITH me because I need your presence to guide me and encourage me.  Holy Spirit, I need You to walk THROUGH me because my church, community and culture urgently needs Your presence.

Holy Spirit, I need you to talk WITH me because only You have the Words that will give me the life that the Father longs to give me.  Holy Spirit, I need you to talk THROUGH me because I know my words can sometimes be critical, false and unhealthy.  But my church, community and culture needs to hear the Life-Giving Words only You provide.

Holy Spirit, I need you to work WITH me because the mirror of my daily life doesn’t always reflect Jesus and I want it to be so in me.  Holy Spirit, I need you to work THROUGH me because there is a spiritual war happening all around me, YOUR church, my community and my culture and I do not have the strength, courage nor weapons to successfully defeat The Enemy, but YOU do!

And I now thank you Jesus, that your life, death and resurrection has opened the way for me to boldly come with this, the desire of my heart, the heart that YOU have given me.  Amen and Amen!

Live In A Different Story!

d52a631a337f182e54842dc709c51079--adult-adhd-adult-humor

“But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.” (Numbers 14:24 The Message)

I absolutely love the Story of Caleb.  Read Numbers 13 and 14 and how can anyone NOT love Caleb?  I love this man so much I just finished a sermon series about him.  There are so many things about this guy and I could preach a year or more just on him, if The Spirit would allow me.  I am blown away by how The Message translates God’s opinion of Caleb.  (You do know that God has an opinion about you, don’t you?)  “But my servant Caleb—this is a different story.”

How was his story different?  God sent 12 spies, leaders actually, into the Promised Land with very specific orders.  But it was never in their directive to determine if they could succeed at occupying and conquering the land.  But 10 of these alleged leaders exceeded their directives and made a decision that wasn’t theirs to make.  “We can’t do it!  We’re whipped!  Lets get a new lead pastor and go back to Egypt where we can eat all the onions and garlic we want!”  OK?  So, you want bad breath instead of God’s Promise?  Ain’t it amazing what good church folks will give up for bad breath!

It would now seem, if they are going to be a good old American democracy, that God’s Promise would never happen, at least by the story of the Halitosis Ten.  But there is another Story being told and written.  Caleb, along with Joshua, has a Different Story to write and tell.  Allow me, if you will, to share just a little bit about That Different Story.  It’s a Story of living in The Promise, not The Halitosis.  There is much to be said, but I will share 4 of the Key Qualities of Caleb.

1.  He Had A Different Mindset

Caleb isn’t being naive.  He saw the well fortified cities.  He saw that the land produced NFL Linemen sized people.  He saw every obstacle in front of them.  But Caleb saw more.  He saw God’s Presence through The Promise.   He saw the challenges in front of him through the faithfulness of God.  He had the mindset of looking at The Problem Solver, not the problem; of looking at the Giant Slayer, not the giant.  Caleb was really radicalhe trusted God.  I am amazed (probably more like disgusted) at those who say they are a Christian while insisting that as a church we have to play it safe.  Where’s the faith in that?  And where did Jesus ever say that following Him was safe?  See your situations as an individual and a church the same way Caleb saw what was in front of HimGod’s got this!

2.  He Had A Different Purpose

Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of GodHis heart and His purposes.  Caleb was willing to give up his Story to become a part of a much bigger Story, the Story of God’s purposes.  Ever since Adam and Eve messed it all up and ever since we perpetuate The Fall with our sinfulness, God has been at work and His work is very clear.  He wants to Redeem The Sinner, bring Recovery For The Broken, and to Restore His Image Bearers.  All of us have a Life Purpose, good, bad or indifferent, you have a Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose will be based and built upon the information you believe is true.  Caleb believed God’s Promise is greater than any obstacle, so he chose as the Purpose of his life, to work where God is workingRedeeming, Recovering and Restoring.

3.  He Had A Different Courage

Caleb’s courage came from his Trust in God.  Caleb saw God as Trustworthy.  He didn’t stutter, blink or hesitate.  “Come on, gang!  God is Trustworthy!  You say you Trust in God?  Well, let’s put some action in that trust!”  Caleb’s roots grew deep in God.  Caleb understood that “roots” are not what holds us down to the ground, but enables to grow up and out.  This courage came out of something Caleb did not fully understand, but somehow knewthat God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him.  He knew that wherever he went, God was with himand that was enough.

4.  He Had A Different Plan

His plan was to stay close enough to God so that he could see how God would work it out.  He didn’t trust himself to figure it outhow it would happen.  He knew that God had a plan and all he needed to do was to be available for the ways that God wanted to use him.  Translated to 2017, the work of God is a Spiritual Work that requires Spiritual Tools (known as the Gifts of the Spirit), A Spiritual Heart (which is the heart of a servant), and A Spiritual Attitude (known as HE is the vine and we are the branchesbranches designed to bear much fruit).

Goodness gracious!  Where have all the Calebs gone today?  You can find the next Caleb by looking the mirror.  He’s longing to get outbecause there is a Caleb in you but you need to make the choice between The Promise and The Halitosis.  Which do you really want?

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

Radical: Spirituality! Part 2

Welcome back to Episode 2 of True Spirituality.  Remember that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  There are 3 key components to this and let’s get to the first one:

 1.  True Spirituality Is Evidenced By Love.

If you want to become spiritual, there are a number of things you must master in your personal life.

  1. We Need To Be Committed To The Goal Of Spirituality. We need to be able to say, “I’m not going to let the world, or sin, or traditions, or money, or enemies, or friends, or family stand in the way of my becoming close to God.”
  2. We Also Need To Be Disciplined. We need to be able to govern ourselves and force ourselves at times to do what we don’t necessarily feel like doing, and, at times, not do what we really feel most like doing.
  3. We Also Need To Be Consistent. We need to make a regular habit of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to God.  These things can’t be done in a half-hearted when I feel like it fashion.

As important as these habits are, Paul tells us they are not really the key to spirituality.  It’s Not Enough To Accumulate Knowledge, Or Be Disciplined, Or Be Committed.  There is something much more important than any of these.  You Must Develop A Heart Full Of Love.  Look at the latter half of verse 1:  “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”  And he follows this up later with the most famous passage of all in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13—The Love Chapter.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is the primary component of the Christian life.  This is the key to growing God’s Kingdom “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, They Want To Know How Much You Care.”  Have you ever wondered why your friends who are not Christians (hopefully you have some of these, if not, “Shame on you!”) never ask you about your faith?  Well, it may be that they sense in you that all you will talk about is WHAT you know.  Quite frankly, they do not need to know what you know.  They need the WHO, not the WHAT!  If all you talk about is The What, then it is clear that you are unclear about The WHO!

God has a primary concern about you once you decide to follow Jesus.  His primary concern for your spiritual growth is not how much you know, But How Much You Love Those Created In His Image.  When you stand before the throne on judgment day, He won’t say, “Wow! You really knew the Greek.” Or…”Wow! You could argue the authorship of Isaiah with the best of them.” Or…”Wow! You sat in the same pew every Sunday for 57 years.”  Those aren’t the things God is looking for.  He wants you to develop a heart full of love towards others and towards Him. True spirituality isn’t measured merely by how good you are, but by how good you are to others.  And this is measured by how well we love.  If you have been reading me for any time, you know what’s coming next…

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

Tomorrow we will look at the next component of True Spirituality.

Radical: Spirituality! Part 1

Have you ever known people who acted so deeply spiritual that you really admired them and wished you had their kind of spirituality, only to discover another side of them?  I’m talking about the kind of person who acts spiritual and pious at church, in a class or any other religious setting.  But get them out of that setting, and they become irritable, moody, and unkind to those around them.  Put them in a religious environment and they shine like the sun.  Put them in the real world with real people and their whole appearance changes.

I don’t want to sound like I’m judging these kinds of people.  Jesus did say we could be arborists; in fact, He insisted we be arborists, you know, being able to identify a fruit tree by the kind of fruit it produces.  The fact is I get confused.  They talk so much about true spirituality and the deep things of God, yet something is obviously missing.  Maybe I view the world too simplistic, but I always thought being close to God would bring out the best in people.  Take, for example, the life of Jesus.  Sure, there were times he was stern—when the situation called for it—but the words describing his life and ministry are words such as compassionate, forgiving, and merciful.

Peter summed up Jesus’ life by saying:  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. (Acts 10:38)   As I study the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul, I discover that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul addresses the subject of true spirituality.  In those days there was a big debate about whether or not it was all right for a Christian to eat certain types of meat.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NLT)

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols.  Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue.  But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.  Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.

So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols?  Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.  There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords.  But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.  And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

However, not all believers know this.  Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.  It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat.  We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?  So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.

And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.  So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion have misused this passage.  They have moved away from being arborists to being Judge Judy’s.  They see this passage as justification for them to point out where others are missing the mark.  Which just goes to show that Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion really do not understand the Bible they falsely claim to follow.  They prove what my homiletics professor, the late Dr. Thompson, always told us:  “A text without a context is just a pretext, and usually a false one at that.”  Let’s go deeper than the surface pretexts and see the context.

The Corinthians lived in a pagan society filled with pagan temples.  People would take meat to the temple and sacrifice it to the pagan gods; afterwards, the meat could be purchased in the temple food court for a good price.  Some Christians said, “It’s a sin to eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan god.”  Other Christians said, “That’s superstitious.  We have freedom in Christ and we can eat sacrificed meat if we want to.”  This was Paul’s opinion on the matter.  He said, in effect, It is not a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but before you do, you have to consider how your actions and attitudes affect other believers.

In our society, eating meat sacrificed to idols is no longer an issue.  But the principles Paul teaches in this passage are as relevant as ever.  1 Corinthians 8 is not about eating food sacrificed to idols as much as it is about discovering the characteristics of true spirituality.  Paul had a radical approach to spirituality.  He insisted that true spirituality is not determined by whether or not you eat certain types of meat; it’s determined by your attitude in the process.

Simply put, Paul Teaches That True Spirituality Is Defined Not By How Good You Are In Church, But How Good You Are To Others.  Now we are going to look at three evidences of true spirituality.  Hope you come back tomorrow.

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