The Rich Lighter Life!

Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference.

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I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.

As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.

Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains  terpene, a volatile hydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.

This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:

The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.

What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.

Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”

If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:

It’s A Wonderful Life Because It Matters Who You Know!

Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

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If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

There are certain clichés you hear all through your life that when you look closer, are false.  They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example:  It takes money:  To Make Money.  But there’s Sam Walton and Bill Gates.  Neither one was wealthy when they began their career.  Both men discovered it doesn’t always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation.  Another one:  You can’t fight:  City Hall.  Sonny Bono opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won.  He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his untimely death in early 1998.  Of course, his story reminds us of another cliché: If you can’t beat `em: Join `Em.

Another cliché we hear from time to time is:  It’s not what you know it’s:  Who You Know.  Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliché is painfully true.  Each each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something—maybe a club, a job, a business opportunity, and you never got a chance because you weren’t “in” with the right people.

At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair.  Today we’re going to examine how this cliché works in your favor.  In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life.  Like most of his fellow Jews, he believed that God a showed special favoritism to them.

But in the vision, he saw a large sheet lowered down to earth, filled with all kinds of critters.  A voice told him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter was caught off guard.   He said “Surely not.  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which prohibited eating things like shrimp, pork, fried catfish, and so on.  Then the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  

Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new.  Right after this vision, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea.  Peter accepted the invitation.  When he gets there, Cornelius gets carried away and starts to bow before Peter.  Peter gets him up and sets him straight.  As he looked across that room, Peter had that light bulb moment and now he understood the meaning of the vision.  Now, let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:28-43 (NLT)

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.  But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon.  Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.  He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’  33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come.  Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem.  They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him to life on the third day.  Then God allowed Him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses.  We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

This brief but powerful message can be summarized like this:  “It Doesn’t Matter What You Know, But WHO You Know!”  He told them that God’s great love is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or social status.  He told them that God loves everyone the same.  We’re looking at this thought:  It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s not perfect, nor is it always easy.  But it is promised to be Wonderful.  Today, we’re going to take a look at Peter’s sermon to find another reason why It’s A Wonderful Life

1.  God Accepts Everyone The Same.

Years ago singer-songwriter Mac Davis penned a song titled:  “It’s Hard To Be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way.”  This is the attitude many religious Jewish people had.  In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel were designated as God’s chosen people.  Most thought this meant they were his favorite people, that God loved them more than the others.  They believed that God had no use for Gentiles.  

It was this kind of racial prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome.  He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new:  God Is Not Only The God Of The Jews, He Is The God Of All Creation—and God loves us and accepts us all the same.  Vs. 34—“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”  Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources.  

There Is Only One Place In This World Where True Equality Exists:  In A Relationship With God.  God accepts everyone the same.  He doesn’t show favorites.  He doesn’t favor America over all other nations, He doesn’t favor white people over all other races, He doesn’t favor men over women, or the poor over the rich.  It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you as much as He loves everyone.  

This is good news, because The Only Thing That Really Matters In Life Is A Relationship With God, And It’s Equally Available To Anyone.  Anyone can Know Him.  Anyone Can Talk To Him.  Anyone Can Experience His Love.  Anyone Can Be Forgiven.  Anyone Can Do His Will.  Anyone can Live A Life That Brings Him Glory.  In all of the inequality that exists in our world, it is great to know that it doesn’t matter who you are because God accepts everyone the same.  

2.  God Judges Everyone The Same.

The Bible says that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our advocate.  Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge, vs. 42b—“Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.” There is no other judge I would rather have.  Think about it.  When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you’ve done, who do you want to face?  Your high school football coach?  Your boss?  Your mother-in-law?  Your ex-spouse?  Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy?  

The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God—not at all like a human judge.  Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor, and white men have the advantage over everyone else.  But it doesn’t work that way with God.  Human courts fail at administering justice, but God won’t.  He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness.  This means two things: 

  • There’s no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.  
  •  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you did it with. 

It’s not going to work for you or against you.  God treats everyone the same— with the same grace, mercy, love!

3.  God Offers Salvation To Everyone The Same.

Without exception, we all are guilty.  He won’t let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but—here’s the good news—He Will Let You Off The Hook Because Of Who He Is.  His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said in vs. 43—“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God.  So Jesus died on the cross for you.  If you believe in Him you can experience God’s forgiveness, you can live in God’s presence, and you can be filled with God’s power every day of your life.  This is how you begin the Christian life—by believing in Jesus.  He Accepts You No Matter Who You Are; He Will Show You Mercy No Matter Where You Are; He Will Forgive Your Sins No Matter What You Have Done.

And this is how you live the Christian life.  Coming To Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace; Continuing In Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace, Too.  When we put our faith in Him we are covered by His mercy.  We will make mistakes along the way.  And He still forgives us as we choose to live like Jesus.  It Doesn’t Matter What You Know Or Even Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know.

Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way.  God has already done this for us.  God offers you acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness.  Knowing Jesus Provides Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness. If you want to have A Wonderful Life, it all comes down to this:  It Takes The Surrendered Life To Jesus, And It Only Happens One Way—When you do 3 things:

  1. Admit That You Resist Total Surrender.  The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
  2. Ask Him For His Power To Enable Your Unconditional Surrender.  The Resurrection of Jesus happened because of His Unconditional Surrender to dying on the Cross for all of us. 
  3. Then Operate With The Confidence That His Resurrection Power Is In You.  It’s more than just liking Jesus; it’s about The Deepest Commitment Of Your Heart.  It’s facing those battles head on because His Resurrection Power—whether you feel that Power or not—you know it’s there because HE SAID it’s there.

And because we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, here is our Next Step:

Decide To Give Jesus All Of Your Life.  Admit it!  There is a part or parts of our life we haven’t given over to Jesus.  Here are some examples:

  • A wound from a past hurt that you refuse to deal with;
  • A secret shame—from years ago or just last week;
  • Refusal to forgive someone;
  • An area of personal pride—you’re good at something or you have really achieved recognition for something good—and you’re holding on;
  • Here’s just one word:  Time—you see it as yours and that makes you want to spend it on you, for you and make it about you;

This is what it takes, all it takes—it’s the one thing you haven’t offered to Him—AND It’s The Only Thing He Wants From You Right Now!  Have you made—I mean really made—I mean absolutely made—Your Decision To Surrender Your LifeTo The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered LifeAnd Make It A Wonderful Life!

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

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

The greatest generation ever was those who fought in World War II. I would like to think that my generation was the second greatest generation. Why? We spent more time outside than inside. We had sweat beads around our necks in the summer. We could turn the right stick into a Thompson sub-machine gun. We didn’t think much about stepping in cow manure. We drank water from the hose pipe. We jumped off of bridges into creeks. Best friends could have fights and after the fight, still be best friends.

We watched violent cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, yet we never had the desire or even urge to to shoot someone or order bomb making materials from Acme. Oh! One more thing–we had the very best music! Country music was COUNTRY Music and rock-n-roll was ROCK-N-ROLL. One of our songs was “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.

And now it is 2021, and the question begs to be asked and answered: What Are The Three Most Important Words For Right Now? I have been listening, and have advanced to the level of Intermediate Noticer. Based on what is being said and shouted, here is my comprehensive yet incomplete list of what different people are thinking is the answer to the 3 most important words needed for these times. In no particular order they are:

  • We need Trump
  • We need Biden
  • Ban all guns
  • Need more guns
  • Prayer in schools
  • Bibles in schools
  • Close the borders
  • New American revolution
  • End foreign aid
  • Drain the swamp
  • More government aid
  • Congressional term limits
  • Less on defense
  • More on defense
  • Change your mind
  • Change YOUR mind
  • We need love
  • We need peace
  • We need hope
  • Have judicial reforms
  • No more racism
  • New political party (I must say this, “Really??? Aren’t political parties part of the problem??? And you want to add to the sewage?”)
  • We need kindness
  • We need determination
  • Deport all Republicans
  • Deport all Democrats
  • New moral values
  • Old moral values
  • Legalize more drugs
  • Government medical care
  • Defund Law Enforcement
  • Something, Anything, Everything

There are more to add to this list. Some “imagined” solutions are more complicated than three words. As if our world isn’t complicated enough. There are no simplistic solutions to the problems our culture and nation are facing. But. . .the solution is simple; just that simple. This list reflects groups of people–group mentalities. Group mentalities tend to produce complicated, complex, and irrelevant solutions. The answer–the simple but not simplistic answer–is found in three words:

I Need Help!

All of the fake solutions to our issues are focused on what others need to do–never on what the individual needs to SAY! To say “I NEED HELP” is to acknowledge that NOTHING–NO THING OUT THERE–can help heal our brokenness and help us navigate this total mess. If nothing OUT THERE (I refer you to the above list as being “out there”) that can help and heal us–then the answer must be UP THERE! I’m talking about the One Constant in an ever changing universe and culture–the Throne of God.

To end this madness, the place to begin is with the person in your mirror–that’s YOU! To say “I Need Help” is to admit the limitations created by sin and the Hope found only when we surrender completely and unconditionally to God. My best days happen when I begin the day, end the day, and admit every moment between beginning and ending, “I Need Help!” My worst days happen when I fail to say it. My mediocre days happen when I forget to say it throughout the day.

It’s simplistic to approach life saying that others need to change. Simplistic solutions have never worked. But solving this crisis is really simple. Admit your own need for God and trust God to both change and guide YOU–not “them”! Let your words be the words of the Psalmist:

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

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

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

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

Psalm 121 (NLT)

BEFORE I EVEN KNOW

Right now, the time is 4:22 a.m., I’m already on my second cup of coffee and I still don’t know the results of the Presidential Election. Did I wake up so early because I was so worried about who will be occupying the Oval Office? Not hardly! Yesterday an oral surgeon had to extract 3 teeth. When I was asked did I want a local anesthesia or be knocked out, I wisely opted for what they termed “the happy juice”. I slept all the way home and slept a lot with the aid of the lingering effects of that “happy juice” and a pain reliever. I’ve been sleeping like a baby!

And now the effects of the aforementioned miracle drugs worn off, I’m simply read to get up and get my day started. Yet even before my first cup of coffee I made a decision; a wise decision. I opened up my ®Spotify app and selected one of my playlists I named Holy Water because that is the first song.

I don’t need to know who will sit in the Oval Office for the next 4 years. I need the One who sits on The Eternal Throne. As this song boldly states:

God, I’m on my knees again

God, I’m begging please again

I need You

Oh, I need You

Walking down this desert road

Water for my thirsty soul

I need You

Oh, I need You.

Writers: Andrew Bergthold, Ed Cash, Franni Cash, Martin Cash, Scott Cash

I need the One Who Sits On The Eternal Throne not because of who will be sitting in the Oval Office, but because I really need HIM! This has nothing to do with Presidential Elections–it has everything to do with my own inclinations to lean into sin rather than Him. I need Him because His strength is the only source of power that will enable me to reflect Jesus. I need Him because He and He alone knows how to help me live the kind of life I’ve been created to live. I need Him because He loves me. I need Him because I love Him. And as I sit here at 4:46 a.m., I am filled with His peace and most of all His Hope for our world. I am all of this right now, and I don’t know who will sit in the Oval Office. And after I know the results? Nothing has changed. You see, I have Him, and HE holds me!

There Is No Quick Fix

This is the last in my reflections of my recent medical emergency. If you haven’t read the first one, then click here.

When we are hurting–whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or relationally–we want the pain to go away and go away quickly. And here is another lesson I have learned in my most recent episode:

The quick-fix rarely, if ever, works.

In my situation of my ruptured appendix, Dilaudid made the pain quickly go away. And for a little bit the quick-fix solved my problem with pain. But guess what? The effects of Dilaudid wore off and the pain returned. Other than making me feel comfortable, the Quick-Fix did nothing to solve the real problem. Can you make the connection here?

In case you did not, allow me to explain. There are things that will help us numb the pain but cannot treat the real condition causing our pain. It’s not just in the realm of physical pain–but all other forms of pain. For example, holding a grudge against someone who wounded you deeply can hide the pain momentarily–but the pain returns. Trust me on this one; I personally know about holding grudges–it won’t heal the pain.

There are a lot of ways–chemical, emotional, and mental–to numb the pain. Yet they fail to heal the cause of our pain. This is why we turn to God in times of pain. God doesn’t offer us a quick-fix–but He does offer us wholeness. And sometimes, wholeness requires both time and a process. In the case of my ruptured appendix, they did not immediately remove that vile and evil beast. To have done so would have exposed my entire body with poisonous toxins that would have put me in further danger. By treating the poisons in me first, it decreases the probability of further complications when they will remove my appendix.

Next Wednesday I revisit my doctor. Hopefully he will tell me when they will schedule surgery to remove my appendix. Doctors have helped me understand why I need to wait–and I trust their knowledge and skills. And you can trust the knowledge and skills of the Great Physician to restore your whole health–spiritually, emotionally, mentally and relationally. You can trust Him because He created you–and offered you redemption through His Marvelous Grace. God doesn’t offer us a day-trip with a quick-fix. He offers us a journey–filled with His more than sufficient Grace–and His Presence to help us when we can’t help ourselves.

IT’S BROKE! FIX IT!

Community is broken. May that community never be seen again.

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Since everyone else is either saying something or writing something I thought I might as well put my two-cents worth into the fray. Due to the inability of the vast majority of Americans to stay home when they have symptoms of even the flu or even the common sense to wash their hands, the government has been forced to step in with this thing called quarantine and social distancing. Some states and municipalities have gone further than the Federal Guidelines and moved into total lock down.

Florida has even closed it’s borders to outsiders unless they have a Federal Certificate of being a necessary person. Of course native Floridians say it’s too little, too late because of the damn Yankees. In case you are wondering what that term means, I will explain. A Yankee is someone who goes down South but then goes back north. A damn Yankee is someone who goes down South and stays. A good friend of mine once said that we should round up all the damn Yankees, put them in cattle-cars and ship them back north. But in all fairness, there are a few damn Yankees who are good; few but nonetheless good. They have adapted to our Southern Culture. They have repented of and renounced their Yankee ways. If there was only a way for them to get rid of their accent you wouldn’t even know they were once a Yankee. I am digressing so I will get to the point.

Due to social distancing and quarantine, community has been broken, well except at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club Costco and the local grocer. But the fact remains that what once was known as community is now broken. Not only in the sense of towns, cities and counties, but it has become illegal to assemble as the Community of Believers. And the very nature of The Kingdom of God requires being and living in Community. And many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters are bemoaning this current reality. And now the first penny of my two-cents worth.

The Community known as church, at least in the U.S., was already broken. Long before it was known as “church” the word used to describe this gathering was “kononia”. Kononia means a shared life, fellowship, and a sense of each contributing to the welfare of others. The U.S. church has been turned inward–and though it considered itself a “community”, it wasn’t the kononia community. It had already quarantined itself from a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit and had socially distanced itself from the very ones we are designed, called and commissioned to reach. This social isolation and quarantine only revealed what already existed–Real Kononia Community was broken. My first penny. Now, for the second penny of my two-cents worth.

Community, as it HAS BEEN defined SHOULD NOT BE fixed. If the COMMUNITY that HAD BEEN was the right kind of COMMUNITY, we would not be seeing the fear, panic, hoarding and complete disregard for their fellow human beings. There! I said it! Community BEFORE COVID-19 was defective, mean, ugly and it sucked at being Community. And not just outside the church. Many congregations who cherished their buildings and traditions in those buildings more than people in their community now have neither! And the social distancing now in place has been in practice by many congregations BEFORE COVID-19–and I pray it does not continue after the all-clear is given.

Truth Time! Can you handle it? We do not need community as it has been. My deepest prayer is that out of this calamity, there will be a Resurrection of Koinonia Community–This is Community as God designed it to be in the beginning. A Community unmarred by selfish desires and behavior. A Community that longs to be defined by the Creator rather than the created. A Community that reaches out to make sure no soul is left behind. A Community that celebrates together and that mourns together. A Community that isn’t defined by buildings and habits–but IS DEFINED by the heart that is completely surrendered to God.

Community is broken. May that community never be seen again. And may the Community of the Kingdom of God rise in its place. And it will happen if each of us heeds the words of this song:

JUST 3 PLANTS

As long as I can remember, Dad had a garden. I mean a BIG garden. I think it came from his growing up years when times were hard. In spite of those hard times, he absolutely loved planting a garden! I remember him coming home from an 8 hour day at the local Reynolds plant and working until dark. His Saturdays found him working in the garden. And when they decided to build a new home in a subdivision he purchased 2 lots–one for the home and the other for the garden.

Even after my sister and I grew up and moved away, Dad continued his garden. After he retired, I remember my Mother fussing because he was working so hard in that garden. At first I suggested he slow down; but then I realized if he died working the garden, he would have died happy. Lord knows I’ve seen enough people die in misery. But as the years passed, he made his garden smaller. The only way he could do that was to plant some fruit trees so there wouldn’t be room to plant something else.

Finally, time did catch up with Dad and he just couldn’t garden the way he wanted. So he would plant in buckets and the inside of a washing machine tomato plants, squash and sometimes a cayenne pepper. But this spring, I was worried about him. Recently I asked him about his tomato and squash plants he told me, “I don’t think I’ll be doing them this year.” Understanding my Dad, I knew this wasn’t a good sign.

A bit of context. Dad just turned 94 years old. My Mother, his wife of 72 years, died 2 years ago come May. He still lives in that house he had built in 1962. It is filled with many wonderful memories, for him and us. He sounded tired, and I know he is; at times his grief is almost overwhelming. And for him not to plant at least 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants meant he didn’t see a future for himself here on earth. I know he longs to go home to be with The Father.

But this week, 3 plants changed everything: 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants. When I called him he proudly told me that he had put out his “garden”. That, my friends, is what is known as hope. Hope doesn’t blossom and become fruitful in the best of times–but in the most difficult of times. My Dad’s hope has grown. I realize that at 94 years old he may not eat a single tomato sandwich or fry up a skillet of fried squash–but he is planning on it. That is when hope becomes visual.

And the lesson, my dear readers, is clear in these days. COVID-19 is scary and there are many, maybe some of you, who have ONLY hunkered down and you do not see a future filled with hope. Let me ask you this question: What are you doing right now to plan for the future? I’m not talking about hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What are your plans WHEN this pandemic is over? And are those plans simply a reflection of what you are doing now? Where’s the hope in that?

So start “planting” now how to enjoy life more than ever. “Plant” those plans of spending more time with family and friends. “Plant” those plans of reconnecting with the Body of Christ. “Plant” those plans of being kinder in public. “Plant” that plan of a special trip with your family. Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to “plant” your hope. Do it now! Otherwise, your current mindset will continue to control your life. Three plants changed Dad’s perspective. It doesn’t take a whole lot to change your perspective. After all, only you can determine your perspective.

A Ninja And A Missionary–Saturday Stories 22 February 2020

Children can teach us a lot and we need to learn from them. Today’s Saturday Story is about the power of imagination and it comes from another one of our grandchildren, Caroline. Enjoy!

When I Grow Up I’m Going To Be. . .

Caroline has quite the imagination, even if I say so myself. I think it’s because she inherited it through her Grandpa! She was always telling anyone who would listen what she was going to be when she grew up. Once she announced she was going to be a “Petanarian”–that’s a doctor who takes care of people’s pets. That is, until one day she asked me if Petanarian’s had to go to school. When I told her “Yes”, she kinda lost interest in that.

But before she was going to grow up to be a Petanarian, she told her parents that she was going to be a Ninja Missionary. Though her body was small, I think she was about 3 or 4, her imagination was enormous. She explained it like this: “I’ll go out and do ninja stuff and when I’m not out doing ninja stuff I’ll be a missionary doing missionary stuff.” And the wonderful thing is–She Believed That She Could Do Just That! One day be a ninja doing ninja stuff and the next day be a missionary doing missionary stuff. Who could ever come up with a combination like this–but a child like Caroline!

Moral Of The Story

Children like Caroline see the future with unlimited potential. They even see the most unlikely things as a real possibility. They see things that we adults see either as impossible or incompatible. And because we have lost the imagination to have unlimited dreams, we lose that God-Given Gift of Seeing Potential. Adults today are living with self-imposed blinders that limits both our potential and what God has designed for us to do and to be. This has produced a dull and painful existence; when we forget how to dream without limits.

Our response to Caroline’s dream of becoming a Ninja Missionary should not be “Oh, that’s just childish imagination.” No! Our response should be like Elisha’s prayer in 2 Kings 6:17–Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. What if you stopped being disappointed, sad, disillusioned, angry and similar ways of thinking? What if, like Caroline, you could dream of being the second Ninja Missionary? You can’t the be first, Caroline was the first Ninja Missionary. Stop thinking about what can’t be done and begin seeing what could be, in your life, your family, your neighborhood and in the world. Use God’s gift of IMAGINATION!

FYI, Bart Mallard originally gave the rights to this song to Amy Grant because he couldn’t imagine himself recording it. But she had enough imagination for both of them. And as the saying goes, the rest is history–a double platinum album for MercyMe.

One Resolution: One Hope!

Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You!

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Hope is the sustainer of life.  It’s the motivator for action.  It’s the promise of tomorrow.  Life without hope is like a car without an engine, a jet without wings, a train without tracks.  You just aren’t going to be able to get anywhere.

We are in the 5th week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  Contentment.  The One Resolution that provide deep and abiding Contentment is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but the Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!

This Life Of Contentment grows out of 6 Conscious Choices that we make over and over.  Review time for the first four:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart—Your loyalty and allegiance is to Jesus and His Work in our world.
  2. Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God—We focus on each other and those who are not here yet. 
  3. Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!  To reveal God’s love in ways that meets the deepest needs of others.
  4. Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You—and the only way this happens is to live with Great Resolve, remembering that our Goal in life is to be just like Jesus in our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.

In order to reach this Life Of Contentment we need more than a best guess estimate.  Sometimes when we have a problem with our car or an appliance we want to know how much it is going to cost us.  Without a thorough diagnostic, the best they can do is to give us a best guess estimate.  But in this life in grace, we need more than a best guess estimate.  Let’s pick up where we left off last week at Philippians 3:15-16 (The Message)

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

Many people are drowning today—drowning in grief, drowning in fear, drowning in despair—all because they don’t have the One Hope.  Oh, they had hope, but not the One Hope.  They had hope in the stock market, hope in a political party, hope in that relationship they thought would never end, or hope in their own ability.  And now they have cast their lot with some of the most miserable people in the world—those who have lost hope, and keep looking in the wrong places, or worse—have given up ever finding hope. 

When human hope fails, there is another kind of hope—the One Hope—that does more than sustain us in the wilderness times of our life.  This One Hope enables us to dream again and live again and it’s the one thing you need to remember—Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You! 

How confident are you of God’s grace?  Do you trust God enough to live in confidence that the grace Jesus showed people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, that thief on the other cross, Peter, and an overly ambitious Pharisee named Saul is the same identical grace He extends to you?  Or do you believe that it’s another, less powerful grace that He offers you?

Do you believe that the mercy Jesus lavished on lepers, the blind, the possessed, the woman caught in the act of adultery, is the same mercy He lavishes on you?  Or do you think that He shows some other lesser form of mercy on you?  Hope, the One Hope is built on the truth that in Christ God has only One Love that is full of grace and mercy for everyone.  This grace and mercy that God freely lavishes on everyone has a reason and a purpose:  that we become what we were created to be:  an exact reflection of our Creator!  And because we are not yet that complete image of our Creator, that Grace And Mercy Has A Resurrection With Your Name On It!

In 1993 a song written by Jenny Yates & Garth Brooks made its début, and in 1994 made it to #3 on the Country Western charts.  The song was “Standing Outside The Fire”.  The chorus of this song says so much more than I ever could.  It goes like this:  Standing outside the fire, Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.  This is what life is like without the One Hope—just merely survived.  Like the lyrics from this song, There’s this love that is burning deep in my soul constantly yearning to get out of control wanting to fly higher and higher I can’t abide standing outside the fire.” 

The life God offers us is not found standing outside the fire, outside of the risks.  Sure, there will be times when we get burned by the risks, the fire of stepping outside our comfort zones.  But it’s in the fire of God’s Holy Spirit that we discover what it really means to be fully alive in Jesus and Jesus fully alive in us!  Jesus took the risk, not just in becoming human, but in going to the Cross. 

Yes, he got burned by His creation, but it didn’t stop Him.  Yes, he got burned by the pain of the Cross.  But even that Cross didn’t stop Him.  He went through the fire because He knew, He knew that the Resurrection was in that fire and the only way to reach it was through the trials and sufferings.  And why would He do that?  Because Of His Unconditional Love For Us.  He knew that if He didn’t experience Resurrection we never would.  We have the One Hope that will never let us down because There Is A Resurrection With Our Name On It!  Because of His Resurrection, we can have a Resurrection In This Life and The Next Life.

1.  He Gives Us Resurrection Over Sin

How do you suppose Peter felt when confronted with the truth that not once, not twice, but 3 times he denied Jesus?  Jesus told him he would, but Peter was so confident.  But he did the unthinkable—more than deny Jesus, he abandoned the One who called him “The Rock!”  Then those crazy women came with a tale of Resurrection—and it wasn’t good news to Peter—because Peter would have come face to face with the One he denied. 

Others May Have Been Finished With Peter, Peter May Be Been Finished With Peter, But Jesus Wasn’t Finished With Him. That’s why the angel said in Mark 16:7—Tell His disciples and Peter that He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see Him there, exactly as He said.”  The Resurrection came for Peter and 50 days later, Peter helped lead thousands to Jesus.  What The Resurrection did for Peter, it does for us.  We may have given up on ourselves and others may have given up on us, but not Jesus—because He has a Resurrection right now with your name in it!

2.  He Gives Us Resurrection When We Doubt

The epitome of doubt isn’t in the story of Thomas—it’s in the story of a man named Cleopas and his unnamed friend in Luke 24.  Cleopas and his friend are going back home.  There was nothing left for them to do.  By their own admission, they “Had Hoped” Jesus was the Messiah—Had Hoped but now they doubted.  They knew Jesus had been crucified—and even heard the rumor of the Resurrection.  But all they knew for certain was that the tomb was empty—beyond that was only speculation.

They Had Hoped, but now it seems like wishful thinking.  But Jesus takes the time to come to those who were struggling with doubt.  He comes to those who “Had Hoped” but now wondered and doubted.  Why come to Cleopas and his friend?  Because Jesus had A Resurrection and they needed A Resurrection.

3.  He Will Give Us A Resurrection When We Die

He gives us a Resurrection when we sin and when we doubt because He wants us to experience Resurrection when we die!  We do not have to live in fear of death because the only One who conquered death gives us the assurance that we will overcome death.  John wrote in 1 John 5:13—My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. 

We do not have to face our death with feelings of uncertainty, wondering if we will make it.  You do not have to be afraid to die, you don’t have to be afraid to LIVE!  Because of The Resurrection and God’s unconditional love there is a Resurrection with your name and my name on it.  You can count on God! 

Why can you count on God?  Philippians 1:6—There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. 

God started this great work of grace to make you and I what we were created to be:  to be the exact image of Him, to be just like Him in every detail.  But we are not there yet—we are an unfinished project.  But God has no unfinished projects.  One day we will be God’s finished work, and He will step back, look at us and say, “You look just like me!”

God promises a Resurrection then because He gives us Resurrection now!  And because He gives us a Resurrection now, we can count on the Resurrection then.  Your One Hope is this:  There Is A Resurrection For Us With Your Name On It!  When we sin, when we doubt, and when we die, Jesus shares His Resurrection because, well because He’s The Resurrection!

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, Here’s Your Next Step:

Bring whatever you “had hoped” to Jesus for YOUR Resurrection today.

How Do You Let Go?

When one is in the middle of a tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, 8.5 earthquake and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one, cute and easy doesn’t cut it; at least for me.

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How do you let go? Of the past? Of your growing up children, your grown children? The persistent pain? The chaos? That bitterness? The fear? The inundations of the current political climate? The uncertainty of the future? How do you let go of WHAT IS RIGHT NOW? Allow that last question to sink in a bit.

Well, some would say (and perhaps cheerfully say) “Well, you just gotta LET GO AND LET GOD!” And I reply, “Exactly what does that mean?” And some, maybe you would reply, “Silly, it means let go of it and let God take care of it!” And my response will be, “Yeah, but. . .what does it mean when I’m right smack dab in the middle of the storm?”

Some may chastise me (even flog me) for my next thoughts: “That sounds real cute and easy–but right now I don’t need or even want cute and easy. I need HELP!” When one is in the middle of a tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, 8.5 earthquake and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one, cute and easy doesn’t cut it; at least for me. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. . .but I suspect I’m not the only one.

In my spiritual journey, I started out as a “Methodist”. Then in 1968 I became a “United Methodist”. This has been my Tribe since 1956 when I was born and God said, “You better watch out for this one!” I had always thought I would die as a “United Methodist”. And now, at 63, it’s not going to happen. I am literally watching the Tribe that nurtured me, helped me see Jesus, find grace, explore and affirm God’s call on my life, implode and disintegrate before my very eyes.

For some, it’s not about their Tribe, but for some other horrible reason, they are in that tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one moment. Whatever was, and currently is–that “feeling” comes upon us with a weighty realization–It’s time to let go! It may be living in a harmful relationship, the rebellious child hell bent on destroying the lives of people around them, overwhelming grief, that crushed dream; even that bitterness of soul that comes from the wound no one sees but you. . .and God. It’s this question: How do you let go?

This is the question that is haunting me, and perhaps you, or maybe someone you know. As one struggling with this, and speaking on the behalf of fellow strugglers, don’t give me, or us, cute sayings or post on our FB page some “inspirational quote”! This only tends to exacerbate our inner turmoil by either making us feel like we are failures in faith; or that you haven’t really listened to us. How do you let go? I’m really asking, millions are really asking, “Can you do something to help me let go?”

The answer is No! And Yes! Wow! You’re thinking (I know you are because I have the gift of espn!), “Preacherman, you’re a world of contradictions! It’s gotta be Yes or No; not Yes AND No.” I guess I need to explain myself, and hopefully lower your blood pressure, and keep you from chastising me for my lack of faith.

No, you cannot help me let go because this is my choice, and the choice of all who are in the WWE Smackdown Steel Cage Match of our lives. We who are wrestling with this question are not unlike those battling some type of addiction. We can be clean and free for a season because you give us cute phrases or simply nag at us; but if it’s not our choice, then we relapse into that vicious cycle. We who are in the alligator grip of seeking to trying to decide how to Let Go must decide to Let Go for ourselves, not for any other person–just to release whatever it is that has filled our minds, and our hearts with all this smog. Not that this gator from hell is going to let go of us, he won’t; but now he knows he’s losing, even lost, the battle.

And Yes, you can help us Let Go; and here is how:

  1. Listen to us. Fight your personal urge to “fix” us. Many times we just need to talk and know someone has heard us, who doesn’t have on their agenda to “fix” us. We’re not asking you to agree with us. Remember Proverbs 18:13–“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” And in case you didn’t get my message, hear how The Message puts it: “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Got it?
  2. Love on us without trying to fix us! It’s called “unconditional” love. The Biblical word is Grace! Remember the mark of a follower of Jesus. John 13:34-35–“Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Yes, Jesus wants to change us–but never before we know we are loved by HIM. Do the same!
  3. Pray for us! Pray that God puts a person or 2, maybe 3 or 4, in our path today who will share with us God’s wisdom. Pray that our eyes will see a surprise from God, who is always at work to heal us. Don’t pray for God to give YOU the answer we need; pray that WE see God’s answer, however it comes to us.
  4. Be an example for us! Don’t “tell” us what to do; SHOW US what it looks like to Let Go! And you can’t do that for us if you haven’t been there! After my divorce I got a lot of “counsel”; and honestly–not much if any at all helped. But when I found (I think someone was praying that I find it) my Divorce Support Group, I found how to Let Go from a small group of those who were in various stages of Letting Go! Show me your scars and I will first watch you, then I will listen to you. Otherwise, either pray for us or bug off!

While I may grieve what may appear to be the end of my Tribe, and while I may wonder what to do next, I know the ONE who can either CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY of this current mess–OR–who is prepared for what happens next, always prepared for what happens next. Only HE can help us Let Go WHEN we are ready to let go.

So, when you think of me, and when you see someone in different circumstances but still is wresting with the question, How Do I Let Go, remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others (even us who are wrestling that gator) the way Jesus loves you. And please make sure that all the glory goes to HIM!