Sow What?

Image from Humintech

The title is not a typographical error nor is it an example of using a wrong word that sounds like another word. The word is: Sow! Early this morning, while it is still dark, I was wondering what to write about today. And there wasn’t any idea floating around in my gray matter. Then it hit me! Not an idea! But a pain–a pain caused by yesterday’s activity.

Rain was coming, and I needed to get a green field planted for the upcoming deer season. I do not have a tractor–but I do have a tiller and hand tools. I loaded up the tiller, fertilizer, and seeds and off I went. I tilled up the soil, fertilized it, tilled it again, then planted the seeds. Not just one kind–but a variety of seeds. Oats. Winter Wheat. Rye grass. A variety of clover. And turnip greens.

Though the air temperature wasn’t all that bad yesterday, we did have typical Alabama humidity of somewhere around 110-125%. There were more than a few moments when I just wanted to stop and wait until another day to finish this project. But I set myself a goal–and I completed it. And now my bones, joints, and muscles ache–oh, brother do they ache! But it did get me to thinking–about Sowing Seeds as well as the end results.

Why plant such a variety of seeds? I want the deer to see a smorgasbord of great and wonderful things to eat–things that are proven they like to eat. I want to attract them in–so why plant anything they won’t eat? And what does all this have to do with Kingdom Living? This is what.

Every moment of every day every person is sowing seeds of some type. And those seeds will produce something that will either attract or repel. You can’t plant saw briars and hope to produce roses.

Even The Bible teaches this horticultural principle. Look at Galatians 6:6-7 (NLT)“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Many people are sowing seeds of:

  • Anger
  • Apathy
  • Resentment
  • Bitterness
  • Rage
  • Prejudice
  • Hate
  • Malice
  • Selfishness
  • Fear
  • Doubt
  • Mistrust
  • ad infinitum
  • ad nauseam

Just look around! Watch the news! Listen to people talk! Such seeds as the aforementioned are growing everywhere. They repel people. They are repulsive and destructive. The fields look like kudzu patches–choking the life out of anyone and everyone. It’s not surprising to see what grows from such sowing. It’s that horticultural principle–sow seeds, add nutrients and water–and they grow into their nature. You can’t plant spinach seeds and expect to see watermelons.

But here’s the thing. There are a lot more varieties of seeds that can be planted, other than the aforementioned list. And these seeds live by the very same horticultural principles. Humor me with a few examples:

  • Kindness
  • Graciousness
  • Helpfulness
  • Mercifulness
  • Love
  • Tenderness
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Peacefulness
  • Hopefulness
  • Faithfulness
  • Joyfulness
  • Sincerity
  • Genuineness
  • Truthfulness
  • Honesty
  • Selflessness
  • And so many more wonderful seeds!

These types of seeds are far more attractive than repulsive. These types of seeds come from Jesus Christ. And Jesus promised that if He was lifted up, people would come to Him. I want to close out with a word to those who think they are or self-identify as “Christians”. Make sure the seeds you are sowing are the seeds that produce the character of Jesus. When Jesus was walking in the midst of His creation as one He created, sinful, messy, broken people were attracted to Him. Religious folks, not so much–with a few exceptions. There’s another verse in Galatians 6 related to sowing. Verse 9: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

After 4 hours of working on my greenfield, I was giving serious contemplation to giving up. But I let the thought of what it will produce override my pitiful desire to quit. So, what are you sowing today?

Saturday Shorts–The Smiling Jesus!

Starting the Saturday, and hopefully every Saturday after this–I’m going to do a “short” reflection. I know I have the tendency for verbosity–but not on Saturdays. You got stuff to do. I got stuff to do. Now I getting verbose–on to the point.

My evening reading is a book by Michael Murray called Nobody Left Out; Jesus Meets The Messes. No typo–the word really is Messes. It’s a 40 day devotional book (and I’ll just quote him) “for messy, broken people (like me).” Night before last I was reading about how Jesus invited himself to a party at the home of Zacchaeus. Remember that moment? Zach is up in a tree trying to see Jesus because he was short. Remember that song as a kid we sung at church? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.” I’m not so sure that was a good song to teach us kids at church. Oops, verbosity is creeping in.

On to my short point. Murray paints a word picture of Jesus by pointing out that as Jesus called Zach down from the tree, He was smiling at wee, little Zach. Of course Jesus was smiling! Jesus was smiling because He knew that the future of wee, little Zach was about to change. And what about you? Do you look like the frowning, angry Jesus? Or do you look like the Jesus who is smiling because somebody’s life is about to change for the better?

The Living Bread Life

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made.  We are looking at some of those rich and powerful moments when Jesus said:  “I Am.”  Remember that Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English.  He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he would have used was Yahweh.  Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.

It Is God’s Eternal Name, His Name For All Generations To Remember.  Jesus uses that Name at Mission Critical Moments. He doesn’t just claim to be Yahweh; He backs it up with truth and Kingdom Principles.  Let’s look at John 6:32-51 (The Message)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now:  Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.  I Am The Bread Of Life.  Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died.  But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven.  Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever.  I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came down out of heaven.  Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever!  The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

Have you ever thought about how images of bread are used in our ordinary day to day life?  “That’s the best thing since sliced bread.  He’s rolling in the dough (meaning money).  Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides (meaning they lack common sense).  Man, he’s toast.”  In Middle Eastern culture, and Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and connection.  Bread is a symbol for life.

When It Comes To People’s Spiritual Lives, They Will Be Living Either The Manna Life Or The Living Bread Life.  There is a sharp distinction between the two.  There is no confusion about which life we are choosing to live.  And make no mistake about it; it is our choice whether we live The Manna Life Or The Living Bread Life

Let’s find something we can all agree on:  We have no control over some things that come our way in life.  There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control.  Does everyone agree with this?  I didn’t say we liked it; just that it happens. 

Now, my next point is something that you may dislike even disagree with, but it’s the truth:  We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those Times.  How we live each day and our reactions to life as it happens is the result of what we feed upon each day.  If you can remember only One Thing today, then remember this: 

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Are Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life. One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy and see us through anything that life throws our way.  Let’s see the difference by setting up today’s passage.  The day before Jesus had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.  Now Jesus and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus again.  This time they are seeking a sign.  They wanted a sign from Jesus before they would accept Him as Messiah.  They pointed out that Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was with them.  Now they want Jesus to give a sign that God was with Him

OK, excuse me, but He has turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who could not talk.  And added to all that, He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever had.  And Now, they want a sign?  Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their time.  More Than A Sign, Jesus Talks About Life Through The Images Of Manna Life And Living Bread Life.  Think about the differences. 

1.  First, Look At The Manna Life.

What does this life feel like?  Let’s go back to the time when God gave them Manna.  It appeared every morning on the ground.  Each family could pick up enough for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday.  Then they could pick up enough for 2 days.  It never lasted longer than that.  Every meal was the same.  The husband or kids never asked, “What’s for supper?”  It would be manna casserole, manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was always manna cake.  I mean, there was not a whole lot of variety to their meals.  And they had to do nothing to do to get it.  They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it.  Every morning, day after day after day, there it was.  And here was where the problems started.  It produces the same problems today:

  1. They Believed They Were Entitled To It.  They did not have to buy it and it was always there every morning.  They begin to feel like they were entitled to it.  Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and alive.  Living With That Evil Spirit Of Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude.  Oh, for sure, at first they were grateful.  But after only a few weeks of it, things changed.  First, they always expected it to be there.
  2. They Got Tired Of It.  But can you blame them?  The same meal day after day after day is enough to make them want something else.  This is what the Manna Life is like.  It’s waking up every morning to the same routine. 
    1. There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    1. There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    1. There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen In The Manna Life
  3. It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  4. It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone.  It produces its own kind of Comfort that becomes more important than Purpose.
  5. It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  6. It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life.  Now mind you, they haven’t sought great victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories and are disappointed.
  7. And For Church People, It’s The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It.  They never get to experience the surprises of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities.  And sadly, they never experience the joyful surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that life. 

It’s routine life, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life.  These people around Jesus thought they wanted the Manna Life.  But Jesus did not come to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better.  He came to bring them and us the Living Bread Life.  Jesus is much more than a free lunch or a vending machine dispensing what we want.

2.  Now Look At The Living Bread Life.

What does it feel like?  Look like?  Allow me to sum it up for you. 

  1. It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us.  It is living your life with the assurance and confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart as more than just a presence—He lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
  2. It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And Grace.  There is more than enough of Jesus living in the heart of every believer to accomplish everything that God wants.  It’s more than enough for today.  It’s more than enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity.  There is more than enough grace, more than enough mercy, and more than enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
  3. It’s The Life Of AdventureLiving Bread Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot See Or Even Imagine.  God wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull.  It’s the life of excitement knowing that Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never imagined. 
  4. It’s The Life Of Exploration.  It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants done.  God is anything but predictable when it comes to how He works in this world.  It’s going down different paths, trying new things.  The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence. 
  5. It Is The Life Of Contentment.  There will be times of abundance in our life.  And there will be times of scarcity.  There will be times when all of our ducks are in a perfect row.  And there will be times when the ducks will scatter in all directions.  There will be times when the sailing is smooth as silk.  And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster roller coaster.  But the one thing about the Living Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we learn to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world. 

The only source of life for all of this—comes through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes and every point between them.  I’m talking about Jesus living in your heart.  You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve.  And you know He is the ONLY one who will stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the steep mountains.

We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its Hollowness.  Or we can choose to accept The Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The Living Bread, into our hearts.  For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to invite Jesus into your heart. 

For the rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper into our hearts.  Just bread on the table will leave us hungry again.  But the ONE who dares to call Himself YahwehLiving Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s a Next Step: 

Select A Verse Or Passage That Speaks About God And Your Relationship With Him—Then Read That Verse First Thing Every Morning And Make It The Last Thing You Read At Night.

Change the verse or passage every Sunday.  Here’s mine for this week:  Isaiah 55:10-11

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.

11 It is the same with My Word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

The Great I Am!

For this Lenten Journey, I want us to look at the most profound statement ever made by Jesus while He was here in our human form.  We are going to be in John’s Gospel looking some of the “I-Am” sayings of Jesus—those moments and situations where He identifies Himself in a very specific way.

Let’s lay the groundwork for today’s passage before I read it to you.  Moses had this unbelievable encounter with God.  We call it “The Burning Bush” story.  God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and inform them that God has appointed him to lead them to the Promised Land. 

But before Moses agrees, he wants to know who it is that is sending him.  They will want to know who has sent him, so Moses poses the question:  “Who shall I tell them sent me?”  And in that moment God reveals His true Name:  I Am Who I Am!  In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh!  And God goes further with this statement:

This Is My Eternal Name, My Name To Remember For All Generations.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because without this knowledge, nothing that we look at this season will be really understood.  The first one we need to look at is from John 4:4-26 (N.L.T.)

He had to go through Samaria on the way.  Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”   Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep.  Where would you get this living water?  And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”  “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.  “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

We need be begin our journey with boldest statement ever made by a human being.  Jesus tells her:  I AM!  For what I am about to say, some would want to tar and feather me and run me out of town, but I’m going to say it.  Jesus did not say “I Am”.  Now, you look confused.  “Preacher, you just read that Jesus said I Am.” 

But Jesus did NOT say I Am—because He did not speak English.  Jesus spoke in both Aramaic and Hebrew.  So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh!  The Eternal Name of God that everyone is to remember!  Can you imagine the shock on this woman’s face when Jesus identified Himself as Yahweh?  It was a name so sacred that Law prohibited its use in public.  No human being since Moses was allowed to use that name. 

And no one dare named their child Yahweh!  Yet this is the name Jesus calls Himself.  What were the first thoughts running through her mind?  “Is he crazy?  Has he been out in the sun too long?  Is he playing mind games with me?  Is he mocking me because I’m a Samaritan?”  Whatever her first thoughts might have been, they didn’t stay long. 

Somehow she knows His words ring true, so she runs back into Sychar with the news, telling everyone she can find:  “I’ve found Him!  I’ve found Him!”  And the people may have laughed, “Who, husband number 6?”  She catches her breath, “No, no, I think I’ve found Messiah!  I just know He must be Messiah!”

I know it says she asked a question:  “Could He be the Messiah?”, but it’s not a question of doubt.  Hers is the question of hope.  And here’s the One Thing you need to remember today:

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!

Hers may have been a tarnished hope, or it may have been a secret hope that no one could see in her life.  But somehow, deep down in her heart, there must have been that hope that God would come near to her to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart. As we make our Lenten Journey, we need to know that we are going to find that same longing in our heart—to see and experience the nearness of the One, True and Living God.  And we can count on Jesus being that just for us, as He was for her!  And it is all because of The Name:  Yahweh!  Jesus is Yahweh and here’s why:

1.  He Is Yahweh Because He Looks For Us

Jacob’s Well was the place ordained by God for this woman.  He Has A Place Ordained For You, To Meet Him Face To Face, For You To Surrender Your Life To Him.  And Jesus planned it out for that moment when she would be coming to draw water.  As Jesus and his entourage arrives at Jacob’s Well, Jesus announces, “Guys, I need to stop and rest; besides it lunch time.  Tell you what, go into town to McDavid’s and get you something to eat, and bring me back a #7 combo.  I’ll just wait right here.  Now, go on guys.” 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them ahead while He stayed behind?  Well, I have and I’ve come to this conclusion.  If there had been several of them with Jesus, that woman probably would have stayed away.  But just one man there, it’s not as threatening to her.  Jesus wanted this moment with her.  He had been looking for her and the time was right. 

And He looks for us.  There are God-ordained moments where He is looking for us.  He is looking for us to have this special relationship with Him.  God wants us to have more than a mental knowledge about Him.  He longs for us to give Him our hearts.  But God-ordained moments go further than for us to become a Christian.  There are God-ordained moments to comfort us, encourage us, strengthen us, and to take us deeper into this relationship with Him.  And you never know when they will appear.  This woman came in the middle of the day; not the usual time to draw water.  And God may surprise you with ordained moments because He is always looking for us. 

2.  He Is Yahweh Because He Knows Us

Everyone in Sychar must have known this woman.  Five divorces and shacking up with another man.  They looked at her and saw someone who couldn’t keep commitments.  They saw someone who had no morals.  They saw someone whose only contribution to the community was to keep the gossip lines hot.  They saw her as dirtied and all messed up.  They saw everything that was wrong with her.  They thought they knew her.  But there was so much about her they could not see because they had made up their minds about her.  But Jesus knew there was more to her than what was on the surface. 

Only God, Only The One Whose Eternal Name Is YAHWEH Can See Into The Deepest Recesses Of The Human Heart.

He sees the secret sins we hide from others.  He knows the dark secrets we keep pushed down deep.  But He knows more, much more.  He knew what she was truly longing for, and He knows what we are longing for.  This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises.  She knew one day Messiah would come.  Though it may have been a weak hope, there was the hope that Messiah would come to save her.  Listen to your heart; your heart knows it wants to be known deeply and intimately by God.

3.  He Is Yahweh Because He Offers Us Life

At Jacob’s Well this God-Ordained moment was for one single purpose:  To Bring Real Life To This Dirty, Broken Woman!  It wasn’t an accident Jesus was there.  It didn’t just so happen that this woman appeared.  She needed life and Life is what Jesus has to offer.  Nothing Can Give Us The Life We Long For, Only Jesus.

Some people settle for a life of thrills, but there are never enough thrills.  Some settle for a life of wealth; but there’s never enough.  Some settle for a life of respectability—but they are hollow and empty inside.  This woman was looking for life through one relationship after another.  But none of them satisfied the cravings of her heart.

Nothing in this world can give you real, abundant, lasting, eternal life.  This is something only God has—Jesus is Yahweh because only HE has the life that we hunger for.  Only He Has The Life That Will Survive The Ups And Downs Of Life Here On Earth.  Only Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He does it as The Gift.  He and only He paid the price necessary to take away the dead things of our life, and put in their place Life.  It’s not just any ordinary life, but the most extraordinary life of all—His Very Own Life.

It is His Eternal Name, Yahweh and He is looking, looking for you because He knows you. He knows you need more than an ordinary life—but the most extraordinary life of all.  Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put the life of Christ in you.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here are your Next Steps:

  1. Identity Anything That May Have Robbed You Of Hope.  The news;  This controversy going on in our Tribe;  Guilt;  Some fear, named or unnamed; Crushing grief that you keep holding on to, that you never completely give over to Jesus; Feelings of inadequacy.  It’s the thing that is limiting your potential.  Once you identify it—
  2. Give It Up To Jesus.  Make it your offering to Him.  He’s not looking for only the good things to offer Him, He wants the pain, the burdens that you carry to be given over to Him.  You don’t have to keep carrying them because He carried that weight, while on that Cross! 

THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE!

(Final message in the series “YAHWEH–The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

The Eternal Name—The Name for all generations to remember—The Name that God has chosen to reveal to us all is YAHWEH—I Am!  His Name says that He exists as Himself.  He isn’t shaped or twisted by our own ideas and conceptions.  Whatever it is that we may think about HIM, doesn’t change who He really is.  Whatever you say about God doesn’t change Him.  Whatever you may believe about God, does not change the identity and nature of our God.

He is who HE says He is; not necessarily who we think He is and not necessarily who others say He is.  He exists as He truly is

  • In Indescribable Glory,
  • Immeasurable Power,
  • Overwhelming Holiness,
  • Pure, Uncontaminated Beauty
  • And All This In Awesome And Breathtaking Majesty. 

He has never been weaker nor stronger than He is right now in eternity, nor will He ever be.  Think about the changes that have happened in the history of humanity.  We have gone from walking everywhere to riding a horse to an automobile, to flying across the skies, even made the journey to the moon and back.

Think about all the changes that have happened just in your lifetime.  Yet, God has never ever changed—not even a fraction.  He Is Constant And Consistent To The Point We Really Cannot Describe All That He Is.  This Is The Eternal Name For All Generations To Remember. 

As we have been looking through John’s Gospel, Jesus has been publicly using His Eternal Name.  And it has caused a lot of discomfort and anger with the Pharisees because we are not supposed to say that name—even though God wants His Eternal Name remembered by all generations. 

They felt like, “We can’t have this guy going around calling himself God.  We’ve got to put a stop to it.  We’ve tried to be reasonable.  We’ve tried to show that He’s a phony, but many don’t believe us.  We must put an end to Jesus!”  So they begin to formulate their plans, but what they don’t understand is that God already has a plan.  They want to wait until AFTER Passover, but God has ordained that this Passover is THE time for THE perfect sacrifice that will end all sacrifices. And now, it is time for THE Passover.  Jesus has gathered His inner circle in that upper room.  Everything is in place and they think it’s just another Passover.  They know the ritual; after all, they grew up with it.  But Jesus now changes everything.  In public He had been using the Eternal Name, and now in a very private moment, He uses it once more.  Let’s turn to John 14:1-7 (NLT)

 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  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?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.  And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said.  “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”   Jesus told him, “I am The Way, The Truth, And The Life.  No one can come to the Father except through me.  If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

All that Jesus said He is–The Great I Am—The Living Bread, The Light Of The World, The Door, The Good Shepherd—is so true—truer than you may even realize.  But here, in a private and intimate moment, Jesus reveals the Deepest Part Of The Heart Of God.  He Doesn’t Say This In Public, But Rather To Those Hearts That Are Longing For God’s Heart. 

This leads me to The one thing you need to remember:   You Do Not Follow Jesus In Order To Love Him.  You Love Him In Order To Follow Him.  

Love comes first—before the following.  But—If you follow Jesus in order to love Him, it becomes a list of rules and things to do. This way becomes legalistic.  And after a while, you either love the rules more than you love Him; or you will give up. 

But…if you love Jesus first—it gives you the desire to follow Him.  Here is how it works:  You see His beauty and that Beauty pulls you in deeper.  Then You Begin Seeking His Beauty, And His Heart So That You May Be Transformed BY His Beauty INTO His Beauty.  In Other Words, You Follow Him!

In this very sacred moment, Jesus says something to every heart.  For inside every heart is that deep, deep longing to be near to and close to God’s very heart.  The heart knows what the heart needs but the problem is we don’t always listen to it.  Many try to ignore it, but the longing is still there.  Others try to fill it with everything else, but the heart is still empty.  Jesus Knows What Their Hearts Long For, Thirst For, Hunger For—So He Reveals What Every Heart Around That Table Longs To Know.  And it is true in your heart.  Listen with your heart what Jesus is saying to it.

1.  He Is The Way!

When Jesus said He is The Way He means He is the ONLY way to find release from the guilt and shame of our sin.  And we have to get rid of all that sin because it’s standing in the way of us entering God’s heart and God entering our heart.  He Is That Entrance Into Freedom From All That Holds Us Back, All That Puts Us In Bondage, And All That Chains Us To Fear And Condemnation. Jesus is the only entrance to God’s heart.  Contrary to the view of many, there are not many ways to discover God.

There is only ONE way and that way is Jesus.  And The Way is a Journey, and The Journey is first to fall in love with God.  Not what He does.  And not by falling in love with His ways.  Falling in love with God—with HIM!  Being captivated by His Glory—which is His love for you.  Until you see HIS Glory—you cannot love Him the way He deserves to be love Once we are in love with HIM, then He is The Way that leads us into that Holy Journey with God.  The Way means that God invites us into this Journey with Him.

  • It Is A Journey Filled With Adventure And Excitement Where God Uses Us To Reveal Jesus To Our World.
  • It’s A Journey That Can Be Difficult At Times, Especially When Things Don’t Work Out Like We Hoped, And Even When We Can’t See Where This Journey Will Lead Us. 
  • It’s The Journey That Requires We Surrender Control To Him.  It’s The Journey Where We Will Be Stretched At Times. 
  • It’s That Journey Where At Times The Only Thing We Can Hold On To Is God Himself.  It May Even Be Frightening To Some. 
  • But It’s Not A Journey We Make Alone.  Jesus Is Right Here With Us Every Step Of The Way.

Jesus didn’t say “I am the pew.”  But many treat Jesus that way; confident and comfortable in the pew.  But Jesus didn’t say that, He said, “I Am The Way!”  He invites us to travel this road called Grace, and it’s a road that is meant to be a life time journey.  Along the journey we will see, do and experience so many things.  The journey at the end will be different than at the beginning.  But one thing will remain throughout this lifetime journey:  Jesus walks every step with us.  It’s the journey with Jesus where He leads us to wherever and whatever He wants for us.

2.  He Is The Truth

Since it is The Journey that Jesus invites us into, we need some guideposts, road signs that help us keep us on the right path for The Journey.  And here is what it looks like to call Jesus The Truth.

  • The Truth Is He Loves Us Unconditionally And Completely. 
  • The Truth Is He Has Saved Us And Forgiven Us Completely And Not A Single Sin Brought Under His Blood Exists In His Heart Or Memory.
  • The Truth Is He Lives In Us To Empower Us. 
  • The Truth Is He Gives Us A Holy Calling And Task That He Wants And Expects Us To Do. 
  • The Truth Is He Holds Us Accountable To Share The Grace He Has So Extravagantly Given To Each Of Us.
  • Truth Is We Live Each Moment Of Each Day By And IN The Truth. 
  • The Truth Is That People Are More Important Than Things—Jesus Did Things For People Even If It Violated The Way Things Had Always Been Because People Are More Important Than Things. 
  • The Truth That We Must Grow In This Grace—Grow More Confident—Grow Wiser About The Truth—Applying The Truth In Real Life Situations.  “What Would Jesus Do?” is more than a cute saying for shirts, bracelets and bumper stickers, it’s the way we live and respond to every situation life throws at us. 
  • The Truth Is Persistent And Consistent For All Times, Places And People.  It Doesn’t Change Or Fluctuate With The Times, Nor The Culture.
  • The Truth Is That Service And Sacrifice Are Part Of The Way. Service And Sacrifice Are What Truly Marks Us As Disciples Of Jesus And Members Of The Body Of Christ.
  • This Truth—Lived By Jesus Every Day He Walked This Earth As One Of Us—Is The Anchor For Every Age, Every Generation, And Every Moment Of Every Day We Walk This Earth. 
  • Jesus As The Truth Is More Than A Creed Or Belief.  It is the convictions that hold us, hold us closely when we need assurance of God’s love—and that challenges us to follow Jesus in The Way!  The Truth Is That Jesus Is The Alpha And Omega, The First And The Last, The Beginning And The End. And whatever it is we do as believers in Christ, makes each day all about him and not anything about us!

Truth isn’t a weapon we use against others.  It’s the discipline that reminds us that we are in love with God—and that God is in love with us.

3.  He Is The Life!

The Life gives the journey meaning.  It is The Life that should be the force that makes our feet hit the floor every morning.  Jesus is The Life that brings us to life with a passion and excitement to be a part of what God is doing in our world. 

Some people are waiting to die.  They have given up on the excitement and adventure of life.  If Jesus is really in your heart, you don’t have to wait to die to experience life, but you can start living, really living with that sense of joy, purpose and anticipation of all that God wants to show you every day.  Jesus didn’t suffer and die on that Cross for you to be sad and miserable; cranky and whiney; to grumble and complain.    

His Life Is About Life That Has An Eternal Meaning In The Here And Now.  Jesus wants you to live and breathe, not exist.  And The Life is offered to you through The Gift—the Gift of Perfect Love when Jesus went to the Cross to die for you.  But He didn’t just die for you—He conquered death for you, too. 

And the Resurrection Life isn’t just for that day when the body dies.  The Resurrection Life Is For Here And Now. It begins with the Journey.  And the Journey begins with falling love with God.  God is in love with YOU.  Not with what you can do or ought to do.  He is in love with YOU right now!  Jesus is The Way into that love.  Truth reminds us of this—that God is in love with us.  Truth isn’t a set of creeds—it is more—Truth is a Person—Jesus Christ—And this makes Truth a Love Relationship.  This Is The Life!

Life is knowing we are loved by God—being in love with God—in the way that causes us to be His Agents, Agents of Redemption for the world.

Next Steps

  1. Are you simply waiting to die?  Do you feel that life has become too hard to do anything significant?  Do you think it was easy for Jesus to forgive the crowd while hanging on that cross?  Stop waiting to die—decide today to begin living.
  2. What are you doing that is life-giving to others?  Have you heard of that TV series The Walking Dead?  It’s about the Zombie Apocalypse.  Some call it science fiction.  It’s truer than you may realize.  The Walking Dead are all around us.  The thing is they don’t look like those zombies on TV—they look like us.  But they are dead on the inside.

The Light Of The World!

(This is the third in my Lent Series: YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM)

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made when He Claimed To Be The Great I Am.  Our focus verse is Exodus 3:15 “Say this to the people of Israel:  Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”  It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  Though it was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name and He backs up that claim in another moment when He uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 8:12-20 (NLT)

12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

13 The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself!  Such testimony is not valid.”

14 Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself.  For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. 15 You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. 16 And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. 

17 Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. 18 I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked.  Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is.  If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” 20 Jesus made these statements while he was teaching in the section of the Temple known as the Treasury.  But he was not arrested, because his time had not yet come.

Jesus is now making His move toward the ONE reason He came:  The Cross.  Jesus is making the calculated steps toward His Purpose.  And in today’s passage, Jesus lets us in on yet another dimension of His Eternal Name:  Light.  Have you ever given serious time thinking about “light”?  Light tends to be one of those things we typically do not think about, until—until we find ourselves in the dark. 

Let’s review where Jesus used that Name.  Jesus has dramatically called people to come to Him.  To the Samaritan woman thirsty for God’s presence, He explicitly called Himself YAHWEH—the eternal name for all generations who provides us Living Water. 

Last week by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus clearly called Himself YAHWEH—The Bread Of Life.  They asked for a sign like the manna in the wilderness.  Jesus contrasts the Life He offers to the life they were wanting.  Unlike Manna that never lasts and never inspires us to the Great Adventures with God, He calls us to a relationship that satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts.  And now He refers to himself in a most startling way, saying, I Am The Light Of The World.  If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord!  This claim to be the Light Of The World, like the claim to be the Living Bread, has a setting.  This is it!

It’s the Feast of Tabernacles, where they remember how God led their ancestors by the pillar of cloud in the day and the pillar of fire at night to the Promised Land.  In this feast there was a lamp-lighting ceremony that took place in the temple every evening of the Feast.  Large lamps were set up in the Court of Women and lit.

Then, lamps filled every courtyard in the city. In the light of these lamps there was great singing and dancing all evening in celebration of God’s salvation, especially His deliverance at the Exodus as He led his people with his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  They were never in the dark when it came to God’s presence and when it came to following God.

In the sight of these great lamps in the Temple and throughout Jerusalem, Jesus proclaims himself to be The Light Of The World.  Light, pure light, is composed of all the colors of the spectrum.  Filter one of those colors out and the light changes in appearance—the hue becomes different. 

When Jesus said, I Am The Light Of The World, He was saying that He alone is all of God, and to follow that Light means we accept Jesus as He is.  When we reshape Jesus to someone easier for us to follow by resisting and refusing to do what He wants, we change the light that we follow. 

We take out a little here, and a little there, and soon we have shaped a formed a Jesus that is easier to follow; but he’s not the real Jesus.  If you take away all the colors of the spectrum and do you know what you have?  Absolute Total Darkness.  For the Pharisees, that Pillar of Fire, God’s Holy Presence, had been replaced by the Law.  Everything For Them Was About A List Of Things To Do And An Even Longer List Of Things NOT To Do.  They pursued and followed what they thought was the light with every fiber of their being.  They Were Religious For Sure

That’s why they didn’t have the time to even care about people who did not fit their description of being religious.  They wrongly believed that following the Law would be the light that would lead them into the very presence of God.  But it didn’t!  All it did was make them feel more important and better than most folks.  And rather than leading them into the Promise of God, it brought the darkness into their life. 

And there they were in the middle of the Holy Days, days that were to remind them that just as their ancestors followed the Light of God in the wilderness, so were they to follow the Light of God in their day to day life.  It must have been a spectacular sight at night…but:

Surrounded By All Those Lamps, Illuminating The Temple Courts, Lights Shining Out Into The Streets Of The City, They Didn’t Have A Clue Of What It Meant To Follow God.

A lot of people today are clueless just like those Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.  They think they’ve got it all figured out—following everything from power and money, to rules and traditions.  And they think in their hearts, “Eureka!  I’ve found the light, I’ve found the light!”  But all around them is darkness—without a clue they follow and follow and follow and then they wonder, “Why is my life so empty?  Where’s the purpose?  What’s the meaning?”

And then Jesus makes the bold statement:  “If You Want Light—If You Want To Know What It Means To Follow God—If You Want To Know That Your Life Is Meaningful And Has A Holy Purpose—Then Follow Me!  I AM—YAHWEH—The Light.”  And let me share with you why Jesus is The Light!

1.  First, His Light Is Revealing

He Is The Light That Reveals The Secrets We Hide In Our Hearts.  We can all be masters of deception when it comes to what goes on inside our hearts.  Any of a number of us could have an Academy Award sitting on a shelf in our living rooms—if others just knew what we were hiding. 

When I think about Jesus as The Light, I must be honest; there are times when thinking about The Light that I shudder.  I tremble because Jesus sees those times that I am living a lie, those things that make me feel ashamed.  Every corner, every dark cave where we try to push down those things we don’t want anyone to see, Jesus sees because He shines The Light in there.  When He shines The Light and reveals the true me, I feel the shame and regret.  But He isn’t disgusted with what the Light shows. His light makes us deal with some dark stuff that resides in our heart.  And here’s why:

His Light Reveals The Solution, The Cure For What Is Ailing Our Hearts And Spirits.  He isn’t content to leave us in the dark because He loves us too much to leave us there.  He wants to lead us out of the dark places of our heart with the Light of His Love, His Grace, His Mercy.  It’s the Light that shines and shows us what we need the most. 

And what we need the most is to kneel, kneel at the foot of the Cross that is soaked with His blood.  If you feel like everything has gone dark in your life, Look!  Look at Jesus because His Light shows us our shame, and His Light shows us the way out of the darkness.

2.  Second, His Light Is Restoring

Jesus Came Because God Wanted To Restore His Image Bearers Who Are Held Captive By Sin.  He came to set back right everything that was wrong.  He came to put things back right—to put us back right with our Creator!  What Sin Takes Away, What Sin Destroys Is Our Birthright To Be The Daughters And Sons Of God.  Jesus Is All About Restoring Everyone Who Is Broken In Their Heart—Alienated From The Father

Don’t overlook what happened just before this revelation from Jesus.  Earlier that day, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had dragged a woman into the presence of Jesus.  They publicly shamed her.  They publicly declared this woman was worthless.  She was wasting space and oxygen.  They did that when they said, “Rabbi, this woman is guilty of adultery.  The Law says she should be stoned to death.  What do you say?”  But Jesus ignored the question and quietly started writing something in the dirt.  They push Jesus for an answer and it never ends well when anyone tries to push Jesus

So He does, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one who is without sin.  Then the rest of you can join in.”  Then he goes back to writing.  Do you ever wonder what Jesus was writing?

I do.  Maybe it was from Numbers 14:18—“The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.”  Maybe it was Psalm 107:1—“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”  Whatever it was, it must have been powerful because one by one the rocks hit the ground and they drifted away until it was only Jesus and her.  And what does Jesus do? 

He restored her by forgiving her and releasing her from her shame and guilt—restored her back into fellowship with God.  He came in the flesh, died on the Cross, Rose from the grave to Restore us to the relationship we were created for—with God our Father.

3.  Third, His Light Is Renewing

There Are No Chains, No Fears, No Prison That Can Stand Against The Light.  When the way gets hard and difficult; when the pressures and stresses of life puts the squeeze on us; when it feels like the last drop of energy is about to leave us—The Light comes to put everything back in us, and more. 

In Those Times When The Life In Grace Feels More Like A Routine Than A Relationship—

  • The Light breaks the shackles that have imprisoned us.
  • The Light cleans and heals those wound caused by the shackles.
  • The Light rekindles the Fire of the Holy Spirit in us. 
  • The Light places the song back into our heart. 
  • The Light puts the step back into our dance. 

His Light Lifts Up Our Hearts With Joy, Hope And Purpose. The Light IS the Life.  It’s all about the relationship. 

It’s not just a dim light, but the Light that literally shatters the darkness.  He is the Light of the World!  The word John used from the Greek was “kosmos”.  It means more than just the globe we call earth.  It means literally everything around us—what we see and what we can’t see—what we understand and what we don’t understand!  It’s the realms of both time and eternity.

And He Wants To be The Light in us, but He wants something more from us.  He wants to be The Light that shines through us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16—“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” 

Motel 6 had a very popular slogan:  We’ll Leave The Light On For You.  God has left the light on for you first.  Will you allow Jesus to be the Light that will guide you to the very throne of your Heavenly Father?

Next Steps

It’s the same as last week.  Our world needs the Light of Jesus.  It’s our responsibility to get it out there.

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect With Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

THE LIVING BREAD LIFE!

(This is the second in the message series “YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM”

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made.  We are looking at some of those times when Jesus said:  “I am.”  Last week we looked at the Story of the Woman at the Well.  But remember that Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English.  He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he would have used was Yahweh.  Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.

It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  It was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name when He revealed himself to that woman. Claiming to be Yahweh, He backs up that claim with another moment when Jesus uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 6:32-51 (The Message)

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

34 They jumped at that:  “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.  I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.  Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.  I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

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

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

43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me.  You’re not in charge here.  The Father who sent me is in charge.  He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come.  Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End.  This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’  

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

47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now:  Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.  I Am The Bread Of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died.  But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven.  Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever.  I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came down out of heaven.  Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever!  The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

Have you ever thought about how images of bread are used in our ordinary day to day life?  “That’s the best thing since sliced bread.  He’s rolling in the dough.  Hey Dad, I need some bread, (meaning money).  Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides (meaning they lack common sense).  Man, he’s toast.”  In Middle Eastern culture, and Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and connection.  Bread is a symbol for life.

When it comes to people’s spiritual lives, they will be living either the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life.  There is a sharp distinction between the two.  There is no confusion about which life we are choosing the live.  And make no mistake about it; it is our choice whether we live the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life

Let’s find something we can all agree on:  We have no control over some things that come our way in life.  There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control.  Does everyone agree with this?  I didn’t say we liked it; just that it happens.  Now, my next point is something that you may dislike even more, but it’s the truth:  We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those Times.  How We Live Each Day And Our Reactions To Life As It Happens Come Out Of The Life That Is In Each Of Us. If you can remember only one thing today, then remember this: 

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Is Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life.

One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy and see us through anything that life throws our way.  Let’s see the difference by setting up today’s passage.  The day before Jesus had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Now Jesus and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus again.  This time they are seeking a sign.  They wanted a sign from Jesus before they would accept Him as Messiah.  They pointed out the Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was with them.  Now they want Jesus to give a sign that God was with Him. 

OK, excuse me, but He has turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who could not talk.  And added to all that, He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever had.  And NOW, they want a sign?  Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their time.  More than a sign, Jesus talks about life through the images of Manna Life and Living Bread Life.  Think about the differences. 

1.  What Does The Manna Life Look Like?

What does this life feel like?  Well go back to the time when God gave them Manna.  It appeared every morning on the ground.  Each family could pick up enough for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday.  Then they could pick up enough for 2 days.  It never lasted longer than that.  Any thing left over would be ruined the next morning, so they would have to go out and pick up more. 

Every meal was the same.  The husband or kids never asked “What’s for supper?”  It would be manna casserole, manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was always manna cake.  I mean, there was not a whole lot of variety to their meals.  And they had to do nothing to do to get it.  They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it.  Every morning, day after day after day, there it was.  And every morning, whatever was left in the jar was ruined.  And here was where the problems started.  It produces the same problems today:

  1. They Believed They Were Entitled To ItThey did not have to buy it and it was always there every morning.  They begin to feel like they were entitled to it.  Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and alive.  Living With That Evil Spirit Of Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude.  Oh, for sure, at first they were grateful.  But after only a few weeks of it, things changed.  First, they always expected it to be there,
  • They Got Tired of it.  But can you blame them?  The same meal day after day after day is enough to make them want something else.  This is what the Manna Life is like.  It’s waking up every morning to the same routine. 
    • There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    • There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    • There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen in the Manna Life
  • It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  • It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone.  Comfort is more important than Purpose.
  • It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  • It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life.  Now mind you, they haven’t sought great victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories and are disappointed.
  • And For Church People, It’s The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It.  They never get to experience the surprises of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities.  And sadly, they never experience the joyful surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that life. 

It’s routine life, and nothing is more boring, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life.  These people around Jesus thought they wanted the Manna Life.  But Jesus did not come to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better.  He came to bring them and us the Living Bread Life.  Jesus is much more than a free lunch—more than a vending machine dispensing what we want.

2.  What Exactly Is The Living Bread Life?

What does it feel like?  Look like?  Allow me to sum it up for you. 

  1. It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us.  It is living your life with the assurance and confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart—lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
  • It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And Grace.  There is more than enough of Jesus living in the heart of every believer to accomplish anything that God wants.  It’s not just enough for today.  It’s enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity.  There is enough grace, enough mercy, and enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
  • It’s The Life Of Adventure.  When the Hebrews would wake up each morning in the wilderness, they didn’t have to look far to find the manna—just go outside and pick it up.  But Living Bread Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot See Or Even Imagine.  God wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull.  It’s the life of excitement knowing that Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never imagined. 
  • It’s The Life Of Exploration.  It’s going down different paths, trying new ways.  The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence.  So every day offers us the opportunity to find that God is always doing something new.  It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants done.  God is anything but predictable when it comes to how He works in this world.
  • It Is The Life Of Contentment.  Let me tell you something about real life.  There will be times of abundance in our life.  And there will be times of scarcity.  There will be times when all of our ducks are in a perfect row and all marching to the same beat.  And there will be times when the ducks will scatter in all directions.  There will be times when the sailing is smooth as silk.  And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster roller coaster.  But the one thing about the Living Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we will learn to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world. 

The only source of life for all of this—comes through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes and every point between them.  I’m talking about Jesus living in your heart.  You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve.  And you know He is the ONLY one who will stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the steep mountains.

We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its hollowness.  Or we can choose to accept The Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The Living Bread, into our hearts.  For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to invite Jesus into your heart.  For the rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper into our hearts.  Just bread on the table will leave us hungry again.  But the ONE who dares to call Himself YahwehLiving Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst.

Next Steps

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

A Moving Journal-Day 9

Well, yesterday didn’t end like I had planned it.  I even forgot to publish Day 8 until this morning.  Everything was supposed to be finished with just our dirty clothes, bedding and toiletries to pack.  This morning was supposed to be a “chilling-out” day.  Well, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Oh, and good old Murphy!  How I despise that guy–you know–Murphy’s Law.  If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible moment.  I know he’s not on that moving truck because he’s still around here.  I hope we don’t pack him in our vehicles.  But I suspect he will find a way to get to Fayette.  He always seems to know where I am.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t go back to sleep because all those best laid plans of mine went awry.  An hour or so later, I finally managed to go back to sleep.  The turning point in my mind was when I said, “Jesus, you’ve got to help me!”

So this morning, it was back to the plan that wasn’t completed.  Now it is.  Had a representative from the church inspect the parsonage–it was in great order.  After the last thing, I cleaned up, and spent some time with my Dad.  He was obviously sad, but at the same time, encouraging.  That’s what he does–I know a lot of people who need to learn that lesson.  Stopped by my very good friend Dennis’s home for just some good conversation between friends.  Now, I am home–ready for some sleep.

So, what did I learn today?  I love it when y’all ask that question.  Here goes:

Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!

My plans didn’t work out the way I wanted.  But God’s plans always works out.  Sometimes people get in the way.  Sometimes WE get in the way.  But neither situation will stop God’s plans.  He just chooses another route to accomplish His purposes.  I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!

Elizabeth:

Good night, John Boy.

John-Boy:
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.

John:
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen:
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.

Olivia:
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.

Jim Bob:
Good night, Mama. Good night, Erin.

Erin:
Good night, Jim Bob. Good night, Ben.

Ben:
Good night, Erin. Good night, everybody.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 6

So here we are, the next to the last class.  I hope you are learning something valuable here.  Yesterday we looked at the Rules Plan and its shortcomings.  Hopefully by now you know that God is not the Cosmic Warden, but that He sends The Good Shepherd to search for us.  Take really good notes as we now look at:

 

Now this plan acknowledges that we don’t always get it right.  But hey, it’s not our fault.  There’s always a reason and good excuse for whatever we do wrong.  For extra reading I encourage you to obtain the book Yes Lord I Have Sinned:  But I Have Several Excellent Excuse.   The best part of this plan is that it challenges our “creative” side to be able to justify our sins.  And if you come up with an excuse that sounds good to you–then you get into heaven.

Another bonus to this plan is that if we want to be lazy and not find an excellent excuse, then there’s someone else to blame.  It’s called “playing the victim” card.  This plan works off of a truth:  That Life Isn’t Fair.  But hey, life should be fair, am I right?  It’s about getting what we rightfully deserve, and usually without much if any effort.

Slide23In This Plan Consequences Are Inconsequential.  Either by justification (coming up with an excellent excuse) or by playing the victim card, surely God won’t keep us out of heaven.  It would not be reasonable of God to keep us out of heaven when there’s so much bad stuff out there.  It is His creation.  All He has to do is make life fair.  Yet because of the evil and unfairness in this world, God will not hole us responsible.  There are no consequences, so we get in.

Slide24But there are consequences to our choices and actions.  Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death.  It doesn’t say, Unless you have a good excuse.  That’s not how it works.  Sin is sin regardless of our intentions or beliefs.  Our intentions may have been good, our beliefs may have been sincere, but sin pays the same dividend every time—death!  So, this plan doesn’t work either.  This is perhaps, the riskiest plan of all.  I say this because deep down inside us, we know there are consequences.  It’s called shame, guilt or that nagging sense of personal failure.

Well, class, that’s the last plan.  Tomorrow we will look at the Plan, the ONLY plan that will work.  It tripped up Nicodemus, but maybe it won’t trip you up.  And remember….love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY God loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him!  By the way, don’t forget there will be a final exam.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 5

Welcome back class.  We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven?  I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class:  Spiritual Navigation Course.  Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure.  By the way, you can’t drop this course.  Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master.  So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily.  Now, on to the next plan:

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God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates.  Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven.  That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:

Slide20A

Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made.  It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist.  It’s what I call “Legalism Light”.  The biggest rule to remember is #4.  Got it?  It focuses on the external parts of our lives.  Work on Rules Keeping.  Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules.  Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3.  Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions.  If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.

Slide21Well, there’s a problem.  God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.  It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom.  God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead.  And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions.  Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.

And then there’s this:  Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants.  It’s about what God really wants.  Talk is just that–Talk.  Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.

That’s it for today.  You know what I am about to say:  Keep good notes.  Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen.  And remember…Love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.

Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 4

 

Welcome back class.  We’re already half-way through this subject.  Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time.  In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.

Slide18

God is the Cosmic Santa.  The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list.  We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list.  But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents.  The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old.  It’s  what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation.  Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that  In The End, We All Get In.

Slide19

Don’t sweat it or worry about it.  Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all.  No, we don’t!  In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so.  Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven.  Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in.  In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.

Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom.  This plan says we are just waiting around.  Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter.  Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator.  This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.

That’s it for today.  Review your notes for THE Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him.  See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.

 

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 3

Welcome back class.  I hope you have reviewed your notes from yesterday.  I cannot stress it enough that there is only ONE test–the Final Exam that will be administered by the Head Master at some time in your future.  It may be years, even decades away; but He will administer the Test.  Keep those notes handy for your personal study.  Now, let’s continue.

Yesterday we looked at the Cosmic Accountant Plan–that God keeps a record of your virtuous deeds and your bad deeds.  So long as you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds, you get in.  I hope you can see and understand how this plan doesn’t work to get us into heaven, nor have a relationship with God, a relationship HE designed for us to experience.

While the Cosmic Accountant Plan seems to make a lot of sense to us, it really doesn’t work because our “bad” deeds are more than bad–they are in reality, SIN.  I may not have mentioned this yesterday, but there are not enough virtuous deeds to cover the cost of just one single sin.  God demands that our righteousness, our account of “virtuous deeds” must exceed that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  Remember that these 2 groups had a wealthy balance of “virtuous deeds”, but they were still outside the Relationship God wants.

Now, today let’s look at another plan.  This plan we can see in Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Let’s look at another of what some consider to be one of many ways to experience relationship with God, and thus get into heaven.

Slide16

God Is The Cosmic Observer.  He’s there just to watch how we respond to life, and to Him.  He hopes we will be in the right place at the right time to soak it all in.  Here is how The Sponge Plan works:

  • Attend church regularly.  Some consider Christmas and Easter to be regular.  However, the more dedicated followers of this plan insist that unless you are sick or on vacation, the goal is perfect attendance.  The moderates of this plan insist that it’s not about perfect attendance, but at least once a month or so.
  • Read your Bible.  In the Sponge Plan, memorization is the key.  The more verses you memorize the more likely you are to get into heaven.
  • Listen to Church music.  This is important to give others the impression that you are on the way to heaven.  It is considered bonus points if you listen to songs just about heaven and what it’s like.
  • Attend some church functions.  This means volunteer occasionally to help, but not too often.  Attending church events or programs helps you absorb more.  This is like the safety net, in case you didn’t memorize enough verses or didn’t want to go to church on Easter.

That’s pretty much it.  All you must do is be like a sponge in water—soak it all in and voilà, you get into heaven.  Well, here’s the problem with this plan—it never addresses our real problem—sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 8:7— For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Slide17

Our default setting is to be hostile to God’s ways.  It seems like I am always going back to that “sin” thing, and for good reason.  All of us, bar none, are INFECTED with this DNA from Adam and Eve.  It lies deep within us and resists everything about God.  Oh, it doesn’t always show itself, but it’s still there.  Soaking up like a sponge will not deal with the root of sin in all of us.  The Sponge Plan is like treating a tumor in our colon with Hydrocortisone on the skin.  My personal favorite response is this:  “Sitting in a church sanctuary doesn’t turn you into a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will turn you into a car.”

Well, that’s it for today class.  Tomorrow we will look at another plan.  Take good notes and review those notes BEFORE the Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Hopefully I will see you tomorrow….unless the Head Master gives you or me the Final Exam….yup, I have to take the Final Exam, too!

Heaven—You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 1

Slide1

This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see.  I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology.  But I do have a question for you.  The most important question you will ever be asked is this:  How Do You Get To Heaven?  Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.

Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question.  I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us.  OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.

Slide3

Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK?  Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs.  It’s obvious.  If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left.  HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.

When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs.  So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question.  Look at  John 3:1-12 (NLT)

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us.  Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus.  “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”  9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit?  You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching.  Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.”  But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.

Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask:  How Do We Find God?  Now here’s where it gets confusing.  Some say there are many ways to find God.  They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City.  We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City.  But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.

There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject.  It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God.  And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism.  It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there.  The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.

So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here.  I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven.  Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.

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

We Are More Than Our Feelings

emoji-chart-feelings-chart.jpg

This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

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…

 

What If Jesus Did A Draft For His Disciples?

Now, I’m not here to brag about College football, just making some Kingdom Observations.  For football fans, last night and for the next few days, there is an air of excitement.  It’s the NFL selecting which players will have an opportunity to take their skill sets to the next level.  I admit that though I’m not exactly an NFL fan, I did watch the first round last night.  Reason being is that I wanted to see how players from THE University of Alabama would fare, and how the Southeastern Conference fared.  And once again, the dominant program of the dominant Conference can celebrate success.  Out of 32 players selected, 10 came from the SEC, and of that 10, 4 came from Alabama.  Both numbers more than any other Conference or School.  I’m just sayin’…

All this got me to thinking this morning.  I know, I know.  I think differently from most folks.  Some folks think I live in my own little world, but that’s OK.  They actually like me here.  The thought I had this morning is this:  What if there was a draft when Jesus was selecting His disciples?  A little background.

Back in the day when the Creator walked in His creation as one HE created, there were a lot of Rabbis and what we might call Rabbinical Schools League.  We usually think of a Rabbi as a “teacher”.  But that word “Rabbi” means someone who is a master and in their culture, a master of the Word of God.  And Rabbis would often have “schools”, so what if there was a draft for who would get into which school.  Picture this, if you can.

Rabbis from around the region gather in Jerusalem in a room.  They are busy reading scouting reports about potential students.  They cast lots (because that’s just a thing they did) and an order of drafting is established.  What qualities are they looking for in a future student/disciple?  Probably they are looking for the cream of the crop.  The best educated and most honorable men available.  They would look for people from the largest towns.  Men who were well-groomed and noble.  After all, no Rabbi worth his weight in salt would want anything less.  Fast forward now.

The Disciple Draft is over and the experts are giving their analysis on how the Rabbis did and who did the best.  “This year’s Draft is now over, and we have a new School in the League:  The School of Rabbi Jesus.  Now here are the 12 students that this Nazarene Rabbi Jesus selected in this year’s draft and how they are seen by the rest of us.:

  1. Simon Peter.  He is a fisherman from Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee.  Not exactly a thriving metropolis.  And education?  How much education is needed to throw a net and pull it back in, again and again and again?
  2. Andrew.  He seems to have no identity of his own.  His identity seems to always be the brother of Simon Peter.  He was also a known student of that wild man, John the Baptist.  Seems to have trouble settling down with just one Rabbi.
  3. James.  Like Andrew, he seems to have no identity on his own; always known as the brother of John.  Like Simon and Andrew, he is also from Bethsaida and a known fisherman.  Also has another nickname, “Son of Thunder”, for his father Zebedee.  It would appear that this family has a reputation for being quite loud.
  4. John.  Just another fisherman from the same little village.  Rumor has it he is very much like his father, Zebedee.  A chip off the old “Son of Thunder” block.  It is also reported he has issues with people who reject him or his friends.
  5. Philip.  Another one from Bethsaida.  This is the most any Rabbi has ever taken in the draft from this insignificant fishing village.  Not much is known about him at this point.  However, rumor has it he can run really fast.  Perhaps that is good, IF the Schools of Rabbis League ever has a field and track event.  This selection just seems to add more head scratching to why Rabbi Jesus is selecting these men.
  6. Thaddeus.  He is also known as Jude, which makes one wonder what he has to hide.  Another unknown selected by Rabbi Jesus.  He appears to be much older than the others selected.  Not exactly what is needed for this new Rabbi’s School.  You would think He would focus on someone much younger.
  7. Bartholomew, A.K.A., Nathaniel.  Much, so much, is unknown about him as well.  However he is known to be a bit of a snob, even questioning the area Rabbi Jesus came from.  Reportedly he Tweeted, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  But this just seems to be another in a long line of questionable draft choices.
  8. Thomas.  This man is totally unknown.  He only thing we may assume about him is that he has a twin somewhere.  How does that qualify him for being a disciple of any Rabbi?
  9. James The Less.  Unlike Rabbi Jesus’ selection of the much older Bartholomew, James the Less is the exact opposite.  He’s younger and reportedly shorter than the others.  But he certainly fits in with all the others drafted–“The Less”.  Maybe Jesus should have stuck to carpentry.
  10. Matthew.  Perhaps the most questionable draft selection by Rabbi Jesus.  Though certainly educated, this man is not even permitted to enter any synagogue, and certainly not The Temple.  He is a Tax Collector, and this makes him a collaborator with the occupying Romans.  No one in the community likes him, except the local sinners.  What is this Rabbi thinking with?
  11. Simon the Zealot.  This selection is perhaps the second worst behind Matthew.  He is a known member of a radical group that has been listed by Rome as a Terrorist Organization.  This certainly puts this new Rabbi under the microscope of Caesar, which is not a good place to be.
  12.  Judas Iscariot.  This is the most reasonable draft selection by Jesus in this whole class.  Judas is from the Tribe of Judah, a well-known and solid family in Israel.  Of this year’s class, Judas is a great choice on the surface.  Unique to him is that he and Jesus are from the same Tribe, Judah.  One would think Jesus would have selected more from his own Tribe, but no other Judeans were selected; only Jesus and Judas have this honor..  It is a wonder that the other Rabbis did not select Judas, so it is really lucky that Rabbi Jesus was able to snatch this man.  The only strike against Judas are the rumors that he is a member of the Scarii, another known terrorist organization characterized by their use of long daggers to assassinate those they consider a danger to Israel.

“In the view of this reporter, the success or failure of this Rabbi clearly hinges on his  selections in subsequent drafts, because there is nothing here to indicate this Rabbi will make any impact in the nation now.  If future drafts look like this one, do not expect Rabbinical School of Jesus to hang around very long.  I would say after just 3 years, you won’t hear anything about Rabbi Jesus and His School.  Without a defined location, simply moving from place to place, we do not expect this Rabbi’s School to draw in many students.  He’s making it too hard for anyone to follow Him.  Look for Judas to jump ship to another School.  He’s too good not to!”

Last night it was all about the best of the best, those who had already proven themselves and their skill sets.  None of those selected by Jesus were among the very best.  The above analysis would have been true, based on what they knew about these 12 draftees.  There is more here than meets the eye.  And there is more to others, more to you, than what meets the eye of so-called experts.

It is this group of The Least Likely  that literally turned the world right-side-up back then.  It seems that Jesus has a knack for bringing things out of people that others don’t see in them, and that they don’t see in themselves.  And it is still the way Jesus works today.  So, if you feel like you are the least talented, least gifted–if you see your past track record as a complete failure–then get ready for Jesus to call your name in “The Draft”.  Two thousand years later, the technique of Rabbi Jesus has a proven track record.  Trust Jesus with what He wants to do with your life.  He does know what He is doing–even if the world calls Him crazy!

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

 

 

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

Cultural Bias And “The Church”

 

 

In this my personal journey (which I am sharing through this series of blogs) about the influences of what I am calling “cultural bias”, I have already discovered many things that have caused me to question much of what I have been taught, and what I have taught over the decades.  I am already questioning the term “christian” as the dominant term to describe people who believe Jesus is the Savior of all (see: Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?).  Where else has cultural bias, even “Christian Cultural Bias” influenced us, and maybe even changed our true identity and real purpose?  So now I address another issue where I see an over-abundance of cultural biases.  (Here is the conversation going on in my head…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not be be confused with “new believers” may not be able to comprehend these thoughts.)

Me:  What does the Bible really say and teach about “the church”?  Well, let’s look at what the One whom we are supposed to reveal said about “the church”.  Jesus only mentions the word “church” twice.  Well, truthfully He never said the word “church”.

Mr. Churchian:  “You idiot!  You need to be tarred and feathered and run of town!  Blasphemer!”  (He’s looking for either a torch or a pitchfork….not sure)

Me:  Well, as I am fond of saying, “The truth will stand even when the world is on fire.”

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Now you know the word ‘church’ IS in the Bible.  So, Mr. Smartypants, what word did Jesus use if it wasn’t church?”

Me:  Oh my, did you ever ask the wrong question.  In the Greek…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Wait a minute, we’re not talking about the Greek.  We’re talking about English, you know, the language Jesus used.”

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the Greek manuscripts use the word ekklēsia.  Ekklēsia has been translated as “church” in the Gospels.

Mr. Churchian:  “Aha!  Proves my point!”

Me:  Not so fast, bucko!  According to James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, ekklēsia means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”.  Joseph Henry Thayer, primary editor of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it means an “assembly, company, congregation, multitude”.  It is used to describe secular, Jewish and Christian settings.  In other words, it can accurately be translated “synagogue” as well, public arena, stadium, or town square would all work in place of the word CHURCH.  More than likely, the preferred language of Jesus was Hebrew, the common language, and the Hebrew equivalent is the word qahal, which means assembly or congregation.  This is the most likely word Jesus would have used.  Remember that the audience of Jesus isn’t 21st Century Americans.  His audience is 1st Century Jews.

Mr. Churchian & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Sitting silently.  Their faces are still angry red, but there’s a look of confusion now, finally they break the silence, in unison, of course) Huh?

Me:  The Bible was originally translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the “official” language of the Roman CHURCH.  A few had attempted to translate some of the Bible from Latin into English…

Mr. Churchian:  Look, I showed up to argue with you and prove you wrong, not to hear a history lesson.

Me:  I’m getting there, be patient.  Now, as I was about to say before I was rudely interrupted, the Bible was not translated into English until John Wycliffe led a group of scholars who rendered the Latin texts into English…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:    (frustrated) Get to your point!  Enough of this nonsense!

Me:  I’m trying but y’all keep interrupting me.  As I was about to say, the Bible appeared in the English language, much to the consternation of the Roman CHURCH, around 1382.  In fact, after his death, Roman CHURCH authorities exhumed his body and burned it to ashes.  That will definitely teach Rev. Wycliffe a lesson, won’t it!  Patience please, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, stop rolling your eyes at me.  I’m getting to my point.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well it’s about time!

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, again, it was the Wycliffe Bible translation that first used the word “church”.  Wycliffe wanted fellow Catholics to be able to hear and read the Bible in their own language.  His concern was not necessarily about rendering the best meaning of those original words; just getting them into the language of ordinary women and men was the goal.

Mr. Churchian:  Now are you ready to repent, you blasphemous sinner?  The word is CHURCH!  Hey, anybody seen my torch?  Get my pitchfork while you’re at it!

Me:  (Sigh…….)  Well, overlooking that last interruption, Wycliffe and his crew chose the English word “church” when translating the original word ekklēsia.  However this is a translation from Latin to English, not from Greek into English.  John Hus promoted this idea of the “common” language to the point, and he was burned at the stake by the Roman CHURCH.  An interesting side-note: they used a copy of the Wycliffe Bible to start that fire.  Surely by now Wycliffe has learned his lesson.  But in 1526, William Tyndale and his team published the first New Testament that was taken entirely from the Greek texts.  And…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Angrily) Get to the point!  I need to be dusting the covers on all my King James Version Bibles!

Me:  (Now I’m rolling my eyes AND sighing) And for the Greek word…

Mr. Churchian:  I still don’t know what the Greek has to do with it (while shaking his head in disgust)!  It’s all Greek to me!

Me:  And for the Greek word ekklēsia, Tyndale and his crew translated it congregation.  Truthfully, the word they used was congregacion, which was the way they spelled “congregation” back then.  The word “congregation” fits both the Greek word AND the Hebrew word.  When the Roman CHURCH set out to put the Bible together, they selected Latin as their OFFICIAL language.  No problem there–but…there isn’t a Latin word for ekklēsia so they opted for the word circulous which is translated either “circle” or “circus”.  It was chosen because in their culture, gatherings or congregating, happened in, you guessed it–CIRCLES!  Circle or circus (which the latter is a better fit for many congregations today in the U.S.) became the English word CHURCH.

Me: (Amazed I haven’t been interrupted again)  NOW my first major point:  The Latin word circulous and the Greek word ekklēsia, have 2 diametrical meanings.  Excuse me and forgive me Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, I was so caught up in this moment I may have used a word that you may not understand–diametrical.  It means one thing is completely different from another thing.

Me (continuing without interruption, PTL!):  Circulous refers to the actions and activities of people.  Ekklēsia refers to the action and activities of the One who does the calling out.  Circulous/Circus/Church focuses on the people–they are the “star” attraction (sorry, I couldn’t let that one slip by me–the circus reference about the church).  The Ekklēsia focuses on God who calls us out from the world to be visible assembly of–you guessed it–Jesus Christ.

(This conversation will continue in the next edition.  And remember–Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!)

Just Like He Said He Would

Mark 16:1-7 (The Message)

1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character Dr. Seuss ever came up with has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky duck mother who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and hits the road.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton?  He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent.”

It’s devastating when people break their word.  It can feel like betrayal.  It crushes the spirit, drains the hope and often the joy of living right out of us.  This is where those first disciples were on that Sunday…

When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope.  Many believed in what Jesus was saying.  It seemed to ring so true in their life.  Incredible as it seemed, somehow they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real stuff.

Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles and followed Jesus full-time; a few even gave up very lucrative careers, all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse.  But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested—fairness was nowhere to be seen.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—Justice was thrown out the window.  And when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.

They saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there.  They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet.  They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die!  As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—for their hope and peace and joy died also.  Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus.  They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them.  We all need people who will keep their word.

When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience.  Some of the greatest historical moments have been moments where people kept their words.  In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia.  Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.”  MacArthur had a flair for the dramatic.  But it went deeper than that.  When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.

Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. They said, “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.”  But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made. He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur stepped on the beach to keep a promise.

What you need to remember this Easter and for the rest of your life is this:  God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent!  He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Moses that He would deliver the people from slavery.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joshua that He would fight for them.  And He kept that promise.

He promised David that he would be king.  And He kept that promise.  He promised through the Prophets that the Messiah would come.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joseph that Mary’s child was the Messiah.  And He kept that promise.

Easter is a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us.  Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts.  Easter is about Jesus—The One who keeps His word to us.  There’s not a single promise that God makes to you that He doesn’t keep.

The angel says to the women, “He’s alive.”  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ that the angel is talking about.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  He has conquered death.  And He kept that promise.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, as he said He would.

Everything that Jesus had told them—it’s all true!  Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”  That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word.

I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise.  God meant what He said, and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent!  This Easter and for the rest of your life, you need to remember:

He Loved Us Then, He Loves Us Now, And He Will Always Love Us—Just Like He Said.

Before the Cross, Jesus said in John 15:12-13, This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The fact of the Cross is nearly 2000 years old.  If He loved us while He hung on that Cross—and He did love us—do you really think at any point now he will stop loving us?

Nothing you can do will make God love you more than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  And nothing you can do will make God love you less than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  His love is given to you without any conditions.  His love never has any small print.  There are no exclusionary clauses.

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:16 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent.—Just like He said He would.

God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said.

On that Cross He said it.  In the middle of that pain, He said it.  While people were mocking Him, He said it.  While soldiers were gambling for His clothes, He said it.  While those who were closest to him were doubting and giving up hope, He said it!  What did He say? Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  And if there is sin that has not been confessed and if there are sins you haven’t repented of, Jesus says it to you:  “Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing.  Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.”

Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to all those who were inflicting that pain and mocking his Mission.  His forgiveness is not just to those around that Cross.  This to us as well.  It’s this Word that Jesus still speaks today.  He speaks it into every broken heart—every filthy-sin-stained heart every moment of every day.  And if there is anyone here today who thinks that they have gone too far to be forgiven, remember—God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent. —Just like He said He would.

Finally, God Will Stay With Us—Just Like He Said.

Tombs are memorials and markers to what used to be; monuments to the past.  They are designed to remember what was is not forgotten.  But The Tomb on that first Easter was empty then because He was alive.  There’s all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Some say it’s The Church of The Holy Sepulcher, and others day it’s The Garden Tomb.  Several spots claim to be that place, but know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Stalin is buried in Moscow.  Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.  But I don’t care about which place Jesus was buried.  Truth is, He’s alive.  He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him.  Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent.

Can you really walk away this morning, of all mornings, when you remember that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus?  How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  How can you pass this off as just another holiday and go back to life as usual knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  He was faithful to those first Followers, and He will be faithful to YOU 100 percent.

And the beauty and wonder of all of this, is that He doesn’t expect you to understand 100% how He will transform your life back into the glory of His Image.  Because He is faithful 100%, He doesn’t give up on His plans when you try to make changes to that plan.  And because He is faithful 100%, He will not stop loving, forgiving or transforming you when you mess up or want to give up.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent!