I Choose To Be Hopeful

Today I choose to be hopeful that in the darkness of our times, the glory of God’s Kingdom will break through…and it will.

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(Picture from doinggreatbaby.com)

Yesterday’s post got me to thinking this morning. Please, no comments from the peanut gallery about me thinking. I need to focus on my choices, so I will attempt to write something about my “Choice Of The Day”. I blame Andy Andrews for this. I’ve been going back through my Kindle and reading some of his books I read several years ago. And my mind is rumbling because….well….truthfully….OK, I haven’t given enough thought and reflection on this radical idea of “choices”.

Today my choice is to be HOPEFUL! I’ve chosen HOPEFUL today because if I listen to the skeptics (they are all around us and some of them operate news networks) I need to renew my passport and seek asylum in Australia or New Zealand. I’ve been “sick and tired and tired and sick” about the culture around me. Well, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. But that’s not the right choice. I need, and maybe YOU need, a different choice.

Today I choose to be hopeful–hopeful that the wisdom of eternity breaks in on the mindless chatter around me. Hopeful that world peace begins when I am at peace with people. Hopeful that a person’s moment, maybe even their life, will change because of something I do or say. Hopeful that I will act like Jesus in the circumstances that happen to me today, rather than reacting. Hopeful that amidst the toxic waste oozing throughout our culture, that oozing waste that smells something like a combination of raw sewage, paper mills, and chicken houses will begin to recede and go back to hell, where it came from.

Today I choose to be hopeful that in the darkness of our times, the glory of God’s Kingdom will break through…and it will. Not because of me. No mam! But because that’s what the Kingdom of God does–it breaks in, breaks down, breaks through the darkness around us. I choose to be hopeful today.

Remember what Paul said:

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.

Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

Who knows, maybe this choice I make today will change the direction of our culture. I know it will change the direction of my life. And remember…Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM! Oh…choose to be hopeful…

It’s Hard To Live In Exile And Harder To Do What God Says About Your Place Of Exile

God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God.

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Do your circumstances feel like you are living in exile? You work at a job that under-appreciates your work, and under-pays you for overworking you. You have been terminated from work and the pile of bills is now a mountain of bills. Your spouse has left you for more excitement that you were able to provide. You wish your spouse WOULD leave because all they do is belittle you and tell you all that you do wrong. You look in the mirror with great disgust at the person looking back at you because you hate what you see. The doctor prescribes a series of chemo and radiation treatments because of your cancer. The church you attend is embroiled in political and in-house bickering and fighting. Your parents lament on a daily basis on how you could have done better. The air conditioner, refrigerator, and hot water heater all died the same day. The Sheriff’s Department just posted an eviction notice on your door.

Now, add to all of that the cultural and political wars going on in the good old U.S. of A. The news channels blaring away at all the upheaval, and the violence that is happening every day, all day long. I don’t know about you, but there have been many moments where I felt like I was in exile.

Feelings of exile have a long history. In many cases, it was more than a feeling, it was a national reality. Jeremiah lived in such a time–a literal time of exile. And Jeremiah has something to tell them–something God wanted them to know.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:2-7 (NLT)

They are living in a foreign land, under foreign rule, with foreign customs and a pagan culture. Pagan Culture–does that resonant with you? It resonates with me as a Kingdom Citizen. And I hear a lot of voices that seem to echo the same sentiments. Face it, as Followers of Jesus our culture neither likes nor embraces Kingdom Truth. This time has been appropriately called “The Post Christian Era”. Values of the Kingdom of God are considered outdated. And add to this, that many who professed to be Followers of Jesus looked nothing at all like Jesus. In fighting and self righteousness turned many away from becoming Followers of Jesus.

So, how do we live in a time and place that feels like exile? It seems to me, that the words of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies spoken to Jeremiah still apply today. Look carefully again at what God instructs those exiles to do:

Build homes, and plan to stay

Establish your allegiance and loyalty to Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Be that city on a hill, that candle on the candlestand.

Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 

Be a producer of the positive wherever you are. Do not lower yourself to engage in the bitter fighting that is so entrenched in this culture. Bring good things into your part of this dysfunctional culture.

Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

Reproduce Kingdom Values within your family, your circle of close friends, at work–wherever you happen to be. Be the example and encourage others to be that example. You reproduce those Kingdom Values as you teach others–and they see them verified in your daily life.

So far so good, right? Challenging, yes–but doable. But there’s more–and it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.

Did you just see that? Work for the peace and prosperity of those people who make us feel like we are in exile. It’s simple, really simple. If you are on the left–help and pray that the right would be at peace and experience prosperity. For you on the right–help and pray that the left would be at peace and experience peace. If you are a centrist, then do the same for both the left and the right.

It doesn’t seem fair or just that God would tell us to do that. But…don’t miss that next line from the passage: “the city where I sent you into exile.” God sent Judah into exile because of their disobedience. And for us today? God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God. Their reason for exile was disobedience–and our reason is Obedience–obedience to God’s call to wage spiritual warfare against Satan.

Oh, and that last line: “Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” OK, do you want to see our culture transformed? The pray for their Shalom. That is the Hebrew word used. It means, among many things, peace. Pray for the opposite side from you to do well, be strong and have inner peace. If you don’t, well, God said what the outcome will be: You will NOT be strong or be well or have peace.

Your welfare rests upon what you want for others, even those on the opposite side. Followers of Jesus, we are in exile–but we are in exile for a purpose and a reason–to bring The Kingdom Of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” If you want some practical advice on how to accomplish this, well…listen to Paul in Romans 12:21

As long as you are agitated and mad at your culture, nothing will change and you will be miserable. It’s not easy to do–it’s not meant to be easy. It’s meant to cause you to turn to God, seek His Holy Spirit and rely on The Spirit. It doesn’t make sense to do it this way. But…it does work!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him…and it does when you pray for the peace of your enemies.

SURVIVING YOUR D-DAY INVASION OF DEATH

Death Isn’t The Reminder To Get Ready For Heaven. It’s The Challenge To Live Today.

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Job 19:23-27 (NLT)

23 “Oh, that my words could be recorded.  Oh, that they could be inscribed on a monument, 24 carved with an iron chisel and filled with lead, engraved forever in the rock.

25 “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last.  26 And after my body has decayed,
    yet in my body I will see God!  27 I will see him for myself.
    Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.  I am overwhelmed at the thought!

As we conclude our D-Day Series, I hope that there have been some hearts that have been tugged.  Maybe a few cheeks are a little wet.  Many of you have expressed appreciate for tackling this series because…well…because you have been invaded by 1 or more these D-Days. 

I promised you that what I would share, would come out of my own experiences.  And this has been true, up until today.  This is a D-Day Invasion I Haven’t Had—But I Know That One Day I Will.

Today we aren’t talking so much about the difficulty of death but of the hope we can have here in this life, as we know Christ—the hope that invades our lives.  Even when loved ones die after a long life, or those who have had their lives cut way to short, there is this thing called Peace that only comes through our Heavenly Father. 

Even though there may be sadness of a recent death of someone in your life, my hope is that you will leave with a song of praise in your heart because you know where real hope and peace come from.  Listen to these names, and let me ask you a question.  All of the names have something in common.  Try to figure it out:

Apostle Paul: Greatest missionary to have ever lived!  Adolph Hitler: Ruthless dictator and slaughterer of millions.  Mother Teresa: Sweet nun and caretaker of the world’s poor.  General George Patton: Great WW2 Leader.  Mary, The Mother Of Jesus: Enough said.  Moses: Great leader of Israel; Elvis Presley: King of Rock and Roll.  Dale Earnhardt: The Intimidator of racing.  Princess Diana: Royalty and compassion filled her life and her calling.  Ted Williams: One the greatest baseball players ever.  Todd Beamer: Average guy on Flight 93.

Do you have it in your mind?  What do all of these famous & infamous people have in common?  They have all experienced the D-Day invasion of Death!  They have experienced it and some have mourned their death.  They died because of natural causes, accidents, war, disease, tragedy—but all died.  Death—it’s the great equalizer

It’s not a respecter of persons.  It doesn’t matter how wealthy or poor you are, educated or uneducated, death is something that all of us will have to face one day.

No matter how common death is, when you lose a loved one, especially a child, I am not sure that there is any way to ever fully prepare for that.  I am not going to attempt to do that today.  I think when death comes to those who had a lot of life in front of them; it’s just a hard and difficult thing.  Death of a loved one can’t be shrugged off.  But Death is not the enemy of the survivor’s soul. 

Here’s the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Death Isn’t The Reminder To Get Ready For Heaven.  It’s The Challenge To Live Today.  We Can Be Prepared In Such A Way That We Can Face Our Moment Of Extreme Mortality And Survive The Loss Of Someone In Our Life. 

We can get through this D-Day invasion of death.  More importantly today, as we talk about the death of someone close and our own destiny with death, we can be prepared.  It doesn’t matter what age a person is, one day you will experience the D-Day invasion of death and you can prepare and understand how to survive in this thing called death.

I want to talk about how we can survive but also, more importantly for each individual that you would understand that one day you are going to die.  Are you prepared for death?  It may be that some of you here today, you’re sitting right here and you have no assurance of a future hope after this life is over. 

If some were to be honest with themselves, they would say, “I do not understand eternity.  I do not understand where I will spend eternity when I die.” 

I think all of us in our hearts understand that there is an eternity.  For many of us here, if your life was really dealt a death blow of a loved one, it would really cripple us.  We wouldn’t know where our hope would come from.

How can you and I survive the agony of losing a loved one?  How can we know we will survive our own death?  It Almost Sounds Like An Oxymoron—Surviving Death.  But after death, there is eternity to be lived. 

What We Think About God And His Son, And The Ways We Commit To God And Jesus, Will Determine Where We Spend Eternity.  Here on this earth, when we experience the death of a loved one, it is the same truth that gets us up the next day. 

I want you to turn to John 14, read it, listen to it.  I’m going to build on what Job had to say about death.

1.  Believe In God’s Way!  

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled…”

John 14:1a (NLT)

That word, Troubled—it means “to agitate”.  It means to take away our calm and peace.  Think about an agitator in a washing machine.  It stirs everything up—sometimes twisting and tying clothes in a knot.  That’s what the thought of death does to us when we are confronted with our mortality—without that relationship with God.

The best way to deal with death of a loved or to understand our own mortality is to trust in God—to believe in God’s way.  Somewhere in your life you will have to recognize that God is the Almighty Creator and He is ultimately in control of our lives and the whole world.  None of you are here on this day for this message by accident.

Maybe you have been trying to understand your own mortality and you have been wondering.  “Can I have a personal relationship with God?  How would I handle it if someone close to me were to die?”    God is not the initiator of evil.  He does allow it.  We need to understand this: God Is In Ultimate Control And Is Able To Redeem Any And Every Moment To Bring Out Something Good.  There is comfort in that.

He Also Has An Ultimate Purpose For Our Lives.  Do you know what that purpose is?  Boil it all down—you are the loving creation of our great God.  To believe in God’s way is to understand that He loves you unconditionally and He wants to have a relationship with you.  This one little simple truth brings hope because it means we have a loving God who desires a relationship even with us!  When things are going so well, we see this world and think, “This is it!  Nothing could get better.” 

But God says, “Believe In My Way.  This Is Only A Glimpse Of Paradise.  Are You Enjoying This Life?  I Have Set Aside, For Those Who Believe In Me As Their God, A Place Called Paradise!”  Paradise is the place promised the thief on the cross, and it means “garden”—it’s the same word to describe the place where Adam & Eve were before the fall—that beautiful place of relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. 

God’s way for you and for me is to know true peace and hope through a personal relationship with God.  To be in a loving relationship with him made possible by the death of his son, Jesus Christ!  That day, the Creator died for His creation.  Second,

2.  Trust Your Life To Jesus! 

“Trust in God, and trust also in Me. 2 There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

John 14 Vs. 1b-2 (NLT)

This Is The Classic Hope Found In A Relationship With Christ, To Trust Our Life To God’s Son Jesus. He was saying, “Listen, trust in God—believe in God as the Almighty Creator—but also, trust in me.”  Why Jesus?  Because He Is The Incarnation Of God Here On Earth. 

God loves us so much that He came to earth as Emmanuel, God with us.  God came and walked among us so that He could die for us.  Isn’t that amazing?  Our creator God came to die for us. Listen to this—In John 14:6 when Jesus says about himself:

“I Am The Way, The Truth, And The Life. No One Can Come To The Father Except Through Me.”

To be able to reach the Father, we have to acknowledge our sin, acknowledge our inability to get rid of it and stop being controlled by sin.  The ONLY way this happens is by giving our life to Jesus—trusting our life to Jesus.  We can give up on God—but God never gives up on us. 

When We Say YES To Jesus, God Gives Us Eternal Life, Not Because We’re Good, But Because GOD IS GOOD!  We can work through our grief when we lose someone close, because if they said YES to Jesus, we will see them again!  And if they haven’t?  We have Jesus living inside us through the Spirit to help us through our grief.

3.  Rest In God’s Presence In You, The Holy Spirit! 

“But when the Father sends the Advocate as My representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”

John 14:26 (NLT)

All through the New Testament, the Bible uses different words for the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes He is called The Counselor Who Guides Us With The Wisdom Of Eternity.  He’s the person who helps us understand.  He is also the Great Comforter that Gives Peace And Hope.  He holds us close to His heart to protect us from the pain and despair from this broken world we live in. 

Nothing Causes God To Fret Or Worry.  This Is The Presence That Lives In Every Follower Of Jesus.  The best part of being in a personal relationship with God is to understand that God is always there.  There is a hope and sincerity—I can’t even explain it to teach it.  It is just something about being in personal relationship with God.

Let me ask you another question.  It has to be a question that you take to heart.  When Death Comes To Invade Your Life, Will You Know Peace Or Will You Know Mayhem?  Where does your hope come from?  Does it come from your bank account, your job, your family, your country?  Those things will all be gone when you’re gone.  What about eternal hope?  What about eternal peace?  Where does it come from?

Throughout this series, I have shared with you how to survive some D-Day invasions — disillusionment, defeat, divorce and depression.  All of what we said this whole series hinges on Your Personal Relationship With God. 

Let me be very clear, for anyone who has never given their life to God, why not right now, simply Put Your Hand In His Hands. 

That’s all, but it makes a world of difference in your life now, and an eternity of difference in your life after death.

Are you struggling with fresh grief?  Are you at war with old grief, grief that just won’t go away?  Jesus understands this and has something for you.  It is what Jesus said and did for the Disciples after The Resurrection.  In John 20:21-22 Jesus says:  “Again he said, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’  Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” 

Next Steps

  1. To Conquer Death, Make Sure You Are In A Relationship with God—not with what you know about God.
  2. Don’t Wait Until You Die To Start Living.

And we know how Life Conquers Death, and we know how To Start Living Now at the sacramental table we call Holy Communion.  Here we see and taste that His Death defeats Death in Us Now—and when that moment comes—His Resurrection defeats our death.

Surviving Your D-Days Of Defeat

Getting Knocked Down 7 Times Does Not Make You A Failure, If You Get Up 8 Times.

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Many of you may remember the theme of ABC’s Wide World of Sports:  The Thrill Of Victory, And The Agony Of Defeat.  Isn’t it true?  You play any sports, take a standardized test, work in sales, or just live in our culture and you will understand one thing about our culture.  We love winners.  We love champions. 

I, like most of you, have lived long enough to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  When you experience victory, the crowd cheers and you hear the roar of your name.   But, if you experience defeat, crowds “boo and hiss”, people avoid you and they reject you.  I’ve had my agony of defeat and maybe you’ve had yours.  Here’s what I’ve noticed and experienced:  People Are Drawn Towards Those Who Have Won By Defying Adversity.  They’ve Beat This Thing Called Defeat.

I think this cultural bias is why people are drawn to the story of Job.  We are using this story from the Bible to go through this series:  Surviving Your D-Days.  As we described last week, Job is the classic story of this struggle between good and evil, of someone who is a great guy who doesn’t deserve to have bad things happen to him; but who has to deal with evil things.  He has to overcome life’s most challenging obstacles. 

As we’ll see today in Chapter 2, he had to survive the worst kind of invasion—the invasion that becomes personal.  It’s different when the invasion hits our friends, work, our nation, or even our family members.  It’s not that we don’t care about what is happening to our family and friends.  But when it becomes personal, it’s a different movie all together.  For Job, this is personal; it became a personal defeat, a personal D-Day invasion for Job. 

Job 2:1-7 (NLT)

1 One day the members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. 2 “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan.  Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

3 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job?  He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity.  He fears God and stays away from evil.  And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.”

4 Satan replied to the Lord, “Skin for skin!  A man will give up everything he has to save his life. 5 But reach out and take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

6 “All right, do with him as you please,” the Lord said to Satan.  “But spare his life.” 7 So Satan left the Lord’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot.

Job is afflicted with a painful skin disorder from head to toe.  It’s probably not that long since he was grieving in Chapter One.  Now he is grieving in a culturally relevant way.  He is sitting in a pile of ashes and he’s shaved his head but this time he’s covered in sores from head to toe from this disease. 

He is in pain, and this pain takes on a whole new meaning.  He has broken pieces of pottery and he begins to cut at his sores to relieve the pressure and pain.  Listen, defeat cuts us to the core because it’s personal.  Satan, our adversary, knows that.  However, Job shows us that the main way to survive the D-Day Invasion Of Defeat And Failure is to not let it become personal. 

It takes Job a while before he understands this.  It can’t be personal in the sense of who we are!  We may suffer defeat or may fail at things but it does not mean we are failures, and that we are forced to live defeated lives.  So, Here’s the one thing you need to remember: Getting Knocked Down 7 Times Does Not Make You A Failure, If You Get Up 8 Times.

The movie “The Rookie” tells the true story of Jimmy Morris.  Jimmy grew up in a poor town in Texas.  It was an oil town that knew defeat when its booming oil industry dried up and the town dried up too.  He had an unsupportive father.  Because of injuries he was never able to go beyond 1A Baseball after high school. 

Jimmy stayed in the same dead town and was a high school science teacher, but it’s not what he dreamed of being.  He’s coaching a losing team in a failing baseball program.  They had only won one game per year from 1996-98.  In 1999, spring baseball had begun.  The school doesn’t want this team; no one comes to see these boys play.  They play their first game and they lose. 

But more than just lose the game, Jimmy sees the bigger picture.  They aren’t just losing on the baseball field.  They are growing up to be losers.  They are growing up to be failures.  They aren’t just failing; they believe it about themselves.  After this game, he gives a speech that will forever change their life and his.  He tells them, “You’ve given up even before you started.  And the sad thing is you don’t even know it.” 

Let me ask you some questions: 

  • What Kind Of Failures From Your Past Or Even Your Present Haunts You
  • What Areas Are You Feeling An Invasion Of Defeat In Right Now?
  • Have You Given Up On Dreams Because Of Some Failure? 

Have you ever said, “That’s who I am; I’m just a failure.  That’s all I will ever be.  I will always be dumb, or poor, or divorced or had or did or whatever.”?  What is it for you? 

For many of us, we have lived with or we are living now with the sense that we are a failure and that we will always be just that: A Failure.  So we live a defeated life.  We allow the invasion of defeat take control and wipe us out.  Allow me to share 4 quick lessons with you today from the life of Job, and from my own experiences:

1.  Failure Is Inevitable

Failures can be of a spiritual nature or a non-spiritual nature—both kinds are normal and unavoidable.  God understands that we are human and we make mistakes.  If you are a Christian, you have to know this to be true.  And we should be glad that God understands that we are just created from dirt. 

He knows that we are not god and not perfect.  You should know that God, who desires a relationship with you, knows you aren’t perfect.  He doesn’t expect you to be—just yet.  God understands that we are going to fail sometimes and fail miserably and that it’s unavoidable. 

We need to understand that too, so that we can deal with it in a constructive, not destructive way.  Listen, Our View Of These Life Failures Determines If We Will Truly Survive Them. 

Haunted by the jeering of his father, Jimmy Morris took one failed attempt at the Big Leagues and made that who he was.  He made one try towards his dream and put it together with what his father said and decided that’s who he was. 

He thought, “If I really was a great baseball player then it would come easily for me and failure would have been avoidable.  I am just a failure.”  He didn’t understand what the Bible says.  Failure is unavoidable and normal.

2.  Failure Is Something We Experience But It’s Not Who We Have To Be

When we make a bad decision or we make a dumb choice as a teenager, or our life as adults takes a different path than we intended, understand that It Doesn’t Define Us; It Defines Only A Moment, An Experience! 

Who Are You?  How do you answer that question?  How you answer that question speaks volumes about how you perceive yourself, your self-image and your self-esteem.  Do you answer it with the role you play in your life?  Do you answer that question with “I’m a father, mother, grandparent, farmer, retired?”

Those are roles you play.  That’s not who are you.  Listen to this:  Our Self Esteem Should Not Be Wrapped Up In What We Do But In Who We Are In God’s Eyes.  God loves you.  He says this about all of us—this is who we really are. 

We are fully loved and accepted unconditionally.  We are always forgiven when we ask.  We are special and one of a kind.  Failure is not who we are.  God never sees us that way. 

3.  Failure Is Not An Enemy

Some of us are so afraid of what people may say if we fail that we don’t take any risks.  Failure is treated as if it was cancer.  Failure is not the enemy, though often we think it is an enemy to faith.  If You Are Afraid Of Failing, You Will Achieve Small Things, But You Will Never Achieve Anything That’s Really Important. 

(Repeat that to yourself!  Say this out loud:  If I Am Afraid Of Failing, I Will Achieve Small Things, But I Will Never Achieve Anything That’s Really Important)

You will achieve some things that are easy but you’ll never achieve the passions in your heart that you really could have achieved if you had taken the risk.  The bottom line is this:  Fear Of Failure Creates Inaction.  It has a name:  Atychiphobia.  It’s living under the persistent fear of failing.

It paralyzes people and keeps them from reaching their God-given aspirations and goals.  It keeps them from moving on after the invasion of defeat has paralyzed them.  They don’t move on because they don’t want to do it anyone.

The question for those of us who are Christians should be, “What Is God Asking Me To Do?”  Even those who haven’t crossed the line of faith know something is bubbling up inside of them. 

We know what the Creator has put inside of us, what really moves us and makes us different.  We should want that and we should know that failure will come as an opportunity to learn and to grow.  Anything that helps us grow is NOT an enemy.

4.  Failure Is Not Final Unless You Give Up

God doesn’t care how many marriages you’ve been though, how many times you’ve done this or that.  That simply does not matter.  You are not a failure.  You may have failed, yes, but You Are Not A Failure Until You Give Up.  You can move on.  You can keep your eyes on your dream. 

You understand that God loves you unconditionally so that you can take responsibility for your actions and then continue to press on.  And Jimmy Morris?  He made a promise to that high school team if they made it to the District Playoffs, he would try out for a major league team.  That group of players, known as losers, not only made it to the playoffs, they won! 

In 1999 at the age of 35, Jimmy made his Major League début for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays striking out Royce Clayton.  OK, so his major league career did not last long, but how many 35 year old rookies have played in MLB?  He said, “It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t quit.”

Do you doubt these 4 truths?  Maybe you’re thinking, “Preacher, you don’t know how bad I’ve failed.”  Listen, on the Cross, people looked at Jesus and thought he had been defeated and that it was over.  Even those closest to Him had those thoughts. 

But Jesus’ death on that Cross had a purpose.  And that Cross was not final.  Jesus knew if He laid down His life for us that there would be a Resurrection. 

If Someone Wrote A Book On Your Life, The Most Important Chapter Would Be The Last Chapter.  Would it reveal the spirit of determination?  Or would it reveal the spirit of failure, of quitting?

It Is Not About Who You Have Been, And Not So Much About Who You Are Right Now.  It Is About Who You Are Becoming.  The only way, the only way, the only way, we can push on through life is with a connection to God.  That happens only by faith, by saying a definite YES to Jesus.

Next Step

  1.   When you believe that failure is fatal, it’s toxic to your soul, heart and mind. Jesus knows how to deal with what appears to be a failure.  Remember the Cross did not have the last word.  And Jesus knows how to deal with your failures.
  2.   It’s a proven fact, that the fear of failure can become stronger than our motivation.  It’s because the event of failing is mistakenly believed to be the final defining moment of our life.  Remember Henry Ford’s words:  Whether You Believe You Can Or You Can’t, You’re Right!

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!

Did You Know Someone Touched You?

Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

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Well, God just wouldn’t leave me alone about this, so here I go.  Before I start, please know this isn’t about me.  It is about something I did, but it’s not about me.  Now that this is clear as muddy water, on to what happened to me.

Yesterday I delivered a gift from Mt. Vernon to a young single parent who is living like many single parents–under great pressure.  I went to the home, introduced myself, and presented her with a gift from the Body of Christ at Mt. Vernon.  As with baptisms and weddings, this is the part of my job I absolutely love.  I simply told her, “God loves you and so do we.”  I left and went to Wal Mart to exchange something and pick up a few more things.

I’m waiting in the refund line when my phone rang.  OK, here’s where the story takes a twist.  When I’m in a line I NEVER answer my phone.  I consider it rude and a tarnishing of the image of me as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  The number that came up was not in my contacts.  My natural response to a number not in my contacts is, “Oh, dear Lord, another telemarketer!”  Usually at that point, I send it to voicemail.

But this time, I didn’t.  Something, well, actually SOMEONE said, “Answer it Randy!”  So, I did.  On the other end of that call was that single Mom crying profusely, telling me how much that gift meant to her.  She needed to express her gratitude.  And God selected me to hear that gratitude.  And I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had a small part in reminding this single Mom, she was loved by God and that He remembers her every need.

But…WHAT IF….I sent that message to Voicemail?  Maybe in a couple of days I would have listened to it, since it was from someone NOT in my contacts….and I would have missed the joy of her heart….and being humbled to be a part of God’s Kingdom work in even a small way.

And then I remembered….on one of those typical days when Jesus walked this earth.  There was a crowd, pressing against Him.  When…well just read Luke 8:45–“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”  It was that woman who had run out of hope that she could ever be whole.  But she believed if she could just touch the hem of that garment, it would be OK.  And Jesus knew the moment she touched that hem.

And I wonder, how many people today are looking to touch the hem of hope and reach out to us for that hope, but we are unaware of it?  We live in a “Way Too Busy Culture” to notice the people pressing in against us.  And that is sad….too sad.  So be aware of those pressing in against you.  They just may be looking for Hope!  You are the HEM of HIM!  If you’re too busy to help someone find Hope, you’re just too busy.  Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

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

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

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

Deepest Grief!

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.”  Isaiah 53:3

Grief is another of the tools of the trade used by our Enemy to make us dread another week, another day, even another minute.  Our source of grief can be the death of a family member or friend.  Just yesterday we found out our family doctor’s wife died after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Dr. Wampler is more than our doctor.  I consider him a friend.

And if it isn’t death that causes us to grieve, then it is the ordinary “stuff” of every day life.  The loss of a job, a home, a marriage, a friendship.  And if that isn’t enough to make us grieve, then there is the news—the heartaches and tragedies we see in the news.  Without some comfort and relief, grief drains us of peace, hope, and even our purpose in life.

And so, we have these words from Isaiah.  Did you catch the last two words?  Deepest Grief!  Not to minimize our griefs, He has experienced deepest griefs.  His is deepest griefs not by comparison to our griefs, but because He takes into the deepest part of His heart, our griefs.  All our griefs, all of everyone’s griefs.  And He does this for only one reason:  He Loves Us Completely And Unconditionally.

God hears our cries this morning.  We can cry to Him because He has felt, feels now, and will always feel the pain of grief.  We need to turn our grief over and release it to His grace and compassionate love.  For it is His heart—His love that always reaches out to us, to heal us and make us whole.  We need deliverance from the easy thing of pointing out the symptoms of what we think causes our griefs.

 All we need to do is tell Him.  Tell Him honestly everything you feel.  Even if—especially when you are angry and blame Him.  Then simply lean on Him and listen—listen as He pulls you against His chest, so close you can heart His heartbeat—the heartbeat that is for you.  Then He will begin to heal your broken heart and bring back the peace, hope and purpose that you thought was long gone.  He went the distance for your heart—all the way to the Cross.  Then He went the distance to reclaim your heart—to that tomb and then He walked out of that tomb in victory!

When you know He feels the deepest grief—your grief—and remember that He does it for you out of deepest love—and will restore your heart, then you can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together this week?”  Let’s pray:

Lord here is why I am grieving……..(put your list of griefs here)……  It hurts and honestly, I wonder where is the hope?  Where is that peace?  How can I go on?  I share my questions with you because You know deepest grief.  I trust You now to lead me out of my grief.  You walked to the Cross and walked away from the Tomb.  I know you will do the same for me.  Even if I don’t see how….I know you see the way.  Amen and Amen…

 

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.

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

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

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