Far, 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.

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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!)

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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

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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.