BLUEPRINT FOR A NEW YOU: DEVELOP YOUR PERCEPTION!

Only God Can Give Us The Vision To See A Future Filled With Promise, Hope And A Real Purpose.

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Last week we talked about the importance of having a transformed mind because only the mind transformed into the mind of Christ can discover, accept and live in God’s will.  But God also wants us to see our world the way He sees it.  And it’s different from the human view.  To be able to see a person or situation in a different way requires paying close attention to all the details, even the minute details.  It’s easy to overlook the most obvious things, and sometimes it’s not easy to see the smaller details.

At times it even requires that we look at more than just what lies at the surface.  We need to see beneath the surface at what you can’t see, and most of the time, that’s real difficult.  I Mean, How Do You See What You Can’t See

But with persistence, careful analysis, and sometimes even with the help of a friend, we can scratch beneath that surface and discover more, much more than we thought.  Seeing requires more than just physical eyes.  It takes the right perspective.

Take a moment and think about something you had misplaced; maybe car keys or a tool.  You look everywhere and it just seems to have vanished.  We blame the kids, the spouse, or even a gremlin.  But then you start all over looking again and like a miracle, there it is.  It was there when we looked the first time.  We want to think that somebody put it there AFTER we looked, but the truth is—it was there all along.  We simply didn’t see it.  Our perception is it wasn’t there.  The reality is it was there!

It is tragic for anyone who is physically blind.  But there are so many who have been able to compensate for their loss of sight in so many other ways. 

Think about Helen Keller and her accomplishments.  Think about the contributions to music made by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, and Ray Charles.  But, as tragic as it is to be without sight, there is a greater tragedy when We Live Our Lives Without Perception

Let’s step back a moment and define perception.  Here is my definition of perception:  Perception Is The Ability, Skill And Gift Of Recognizing What Is Happening To Us, Around Us, And Within Us. 

  • When I say it’s an ability I mean that God has given every one of us a way to recognize all that makes up our world.
  • When I say it is a skill what I mean is that this given ability needs to be sharpened and refined through use. 
  • When I say it is a gift by that I mean only God can bring all our ability and skill to the depth that we need in order to live life the way it has always meant to be.

We all have blind spots, and not just in our cars.  We have emotional, psychological and spiritual blind spots where we fail to recognize what is happening around and even within us.  And in this Blue Print For A New You, you need to Develop Your Perception.  Let’s look at the story of a man who needed his physical eyes opened and see if there’s something in this that can help us in our perception of God and our world.  It is found Mark 10:46-52 and I want to share it with you from The Message:

They spent some time in Jericho.  As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. 

When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus!  Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David!  Mercy, have mercy on me!”

 Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.”  They called him.  “It’s your lucky day!  Get up!  He’s calling you to come!”  Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.  Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”  The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  “On your way,” said Jesus.  “Your faith has saved and healed you.”  In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

Now, try to put yourself in the shoes of this beggar named Bartimaeus.  Think about his world and his life.  Ask a resident around Jericho, “Who is this fellow Bartimaeus?”  Anyone who knew would probably answer, “Oh, he’s just a poor, blind beggar, that’s all.”  Nothing more, nothing less—a poor, blind beggar.  What does it mean to be blind?  Normally, most people think about total darkness, and for sure, some who are blind live in a totally dark world.  But not all blindness is total darkness. 

If you forget everything else I say today, then remember this:  Only God Can Give Us The Vision To See A Future Filled With Promise, Hope And A Real Purpose.   

I was blessed with the friendship and teaching of a saint by the name of Dr. David Naglee.  For years he wore glasses that looked almost like prisms.  Later on he needed the help of a magnifying glass to read.  And finally he had to give up teaching anywhere but near his home at LaGrange College because with the strongest lenses and the strongest magnifying glass, his world turned blurry. But Dr. Naglee never lost sight of God’s Promise, Hope and Purpose for his life.  He lived with a laser-sharp perspective.

So many today are living an out of focus life.  Day after day after day many are living in blindness that they don’t want to live in.  And sadly, many have resigned to that kind of life.  Maybe that’s where Bartimaeus was.  Every day was the same for him.  He would go to a spot, sit there and beg.  He never woke up with the excitement of anticipation that something exciting would happen.

All he could pray for was that generous people would pass his way.  And on that ordinary day, just another-day-of-begging, he went to that place.  He was hoping for enough to just barely get by.  But suddenly he senses a large crowd and there’s a lot of commotion and talking.  He can’t see what’s happening but he has a feeling something big is happening.  He just doesn’t know how big a happening it will be.

He asks, “What’s going on?”  And someone tells him, “It’s Jesus, the traveling Rabbi from Nazareth.”  Bartimaeus Is Blind, But He’s Not Deaf.  He’s heard people talking about Jesus and all the miracles He had been doing.  And he found in his heart a small ember of hope.  If Jesus could heal others diseases, just maybe He could open his eyes.

But he has to act; no time for delaying or pondering.  So with the loudest voice he had, he began crying out, “Son of David, Jesus!  Mercy, have mercy on me!”  The people around him tried to hush him up, but he only got louder.  Let’s leave Bartimaeus in his place of begging to ask you 3 crucial questions:

1.  What Is It That Blinds You?

There are lots of things that blind us to the real world around us.

  • Prejudice blinds us because we make up our minds before we know all the facts, and so it blinds us to the worth and value that God sees in people. 
  • Oh, then there’s Fear.  It gets us all knotted up inside to where we can’t think clearly.  It makes problems and especially potential problems more powerful than they really are and causes us to doubt God’s presence, promises and provisions. 
  • Resentment and its twin Bitterness can blind us to the power of grace.  Resentment and Bitterness are like kudzu; it grows wildly and covers everything up in its path.  They are like corrosive acid, destroying everything it touches so that on the inside, we become hollow and empty people.  It Takes Away Hope, Joy And Peace. 
  • Feeling Forgotten can blind us to the truth that God loves us.  The feeling of being ignored, that no one cares, can shut down the heart and spirit.  It will blind us to the truth that God does love us. 
  • When we feel unloved, unwanted by others, makes it easy to think that God doesn’t love or want us.  Perhaps this is where we find Nicodemus.  Being crushed by the belief no one cares crushes us.  A lot of people are in this place still today.

There are lots of other things that blind us.  This makes it crucial that we regularly evaluate our heart and mind to see if something is blinding us to the real world and to the presence of God.  Question 2:

2.  What Does NOT Seeing Cost Us?

We don’t know if Bartimaeus was born blind or if some accident or disease claimed his eyesight.  The price of losing one’s sight is to miss, miss the experiences that happen every day.  When we are spiritually blind, we pay the same price, too. 

  • We miss seeing the beauty that is always around us.  We can miss the beauty of a smile, the beauty of a child exploring their world. 
  • We miss friendships that are waiting to be made by someone who has so much to give as a friend. 
  • We miss experiencing love from another person.  Our hearts could be changed if we knew we are unconditionally loved.  But if we are blinded spiritually, we can’t see those people.  We miss feeling the sigh of relief that comes from a friend who simply offers their presence and nothing more.  It not only costs us.
  • The price is extracted from others who miss out on the ministry that only you can give.  The biggest price of our self-imposed blindness is that others are denied what God longs to pour into them, through us!  NOT seeing costs us the opportunities to become the presence of Jesus through the use of our hands, our words, our actions and our hearts.  It strips us of the very purpose we were created for.  Perhaps this describes Bartimaeus.  Always on the receiving end, never on the giving end.  We know deep down, that we are made for giving, for helping others.  Loss of perspective robbed him and robs us of that deeper purpose in life!

But there’s one more question that begs to be asked, and maybe someone here today needs to confront this question:

3.  What Can Happen To Us, If We Make The Same Request As Bartimaeus?

Bartimaeus is sitting by that dusty road begging when he hears that Jesus is there.  His heart knows what needs to be said—What Must Be Said.  For much of his life he had been treated as second class, but he cries out anyway. 

People try to silence him because, after all, What Could Jesus Possibly Want With A Poor, Dirty, Blind Beggar?  Would Jesus really have anything to do with someone who is a poor, blind beggar?  You Better Believe He Would.  And Jesus tells those trying to keep Bartimaeus silent, keep him away from Jesus, “Hey!  Stop treating him that way.  I want to see Him.”    And so they bring this blind beggar to Jesus. 

Why does Jesus want him there, near Him?  To ask the only question that God has for those who are poor, blind, and broken inside.  “What Can I Do For You?”  This is the question Jesus desires and longs to ask everyone, each of us. No beating around the bush for Jesus.  No long theological discussions or committee meetings.  Now Bartimaeus has a decision to make.  Should he dare make the bold request?  Does he fear that Jesus would deny his request?  I see no hesitation from Bartimaeus when he says:  “Rabbi, I want to see.” 

And in this very moment, right now in this place, listen—listen because Jesus has never stopped asking that question, “What Can I Do For You?”  And if right now you feel just like a poor, blind beggar, that your life is out of focus and blurred, that darkness, a darkness no one knows but you and Jesus, has blinded your eyes to a future filled with Promise, Hope And A Real Purpose, He is asking you, “What Can I Do For You?” 

Will you trust Him enough to repeat those same words to Jesus?  Lord, Savior, Master—I want to see!  And what will Jesus do? The same thing he did for Bartimaeus:  “Your Faith Has Saved And Healed You.”  Make your request, and then do what it says that Bartimaeus did:  In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.  And that, my friends is how Jesus works: To Give Us Eyes That Are OpenAnd Then For Us To Follow Jesus Down The Road.

Your Next Steps

Your next steps are simple—but they may be difficult. 

What Do You Want Jesus To Do For You?

What is it that is keeping you a prisoner—a captive?  What is it that has robbed you of any hope of a better you—a better future?  What is keeping you from seeing your world—your situations—this church—your life—the way HE sees it? In order to see all this as God sees it, then you have to confront whatever it is that is blinding you to what God sees.  Things like Pride, Fear, Prejudice, Bitterness, Resentment, Overwhelming Grief, A Sense Of Worthlessness….and the list goes on.  Only Jesus can help you see—and the Good News today is this:

He Will Open Your Eyes When You Admit You Are Blind.Only then can you have the perspective to see yourself, your circumstances, and the world as God sees it.

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

Step Up To The Plate

Welcome back to my musings from the Book of Acts. In case this is the first one you’ve read, or if you have forgotten, this is a different kind of journey as I read the Book of Acts. This is NOT a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegesis. I am reading this powerful book about The Holy Spirit looking for either those things I have forgotten, or for those truths that I’ve been missing these past 45 years since I first welcomed Jesus into my heart. Honestly, I not looking for the obvious, but for those nuances that I’ve been overlooking since I started this journey of faith.

And today, it is Acts 2:14–

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles …

OK, it’s 2 words….make that 3 words…rather 4 words….wait a minute….it’s all 9 words. So let’s begin….oh, what do you say….we start at the first word: Then. This word tells us something had just happened. That Promise of Jesus, that The Holy Spirit was a comin’….was no longer a promise, but the reality of Peter’s life. Peter doesn’t do anything other than wait and pray until the Then. When that Then happened, Peter stopped praying and waiting. He moved with that Spirit now living in him and every believer.

Next it’s the 3 words: Peter Stepped Forward. Why? Because of the Then. Up until Then, Peter was known as the one who would speak up without thinking. Come to think of it, I know some people like that. Oh, OK, I do that sometimes, too. He was rash and impetuous. He had the tendency for his mouth to overload his abilities. But….Then happened. With the indwelling and abiding of the Holy Spirit Peter Stepped Forward.

And why not? He had both the Power and the Message that could change his culture and world. This isn’t Impetuous Peter. This is Deliberate Peter. He saw what they did to Jesus. And he saw what Jesus did with what they did. And he paid attention to Jesus–WAIT UNTIL. Wait until…Then. Peter now has the Passion and the Focus. And he steps forward.

But today….so many….too many who profess to be a Christian….who are supposed to have the Power and the Message to change OUR culture….are either too timid….or unwilling to Step Forward. It seems to me that many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters would rather stay isolated and insulted from the world and then complain about the condition of the world. Yet….if they have had their own “Then Moment” they have both the Power and the Message to transform their culture.

It happens through the Holy Spirit. And today? People seem to get the heebie jeebies when it comes to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They don’t want to look “weird” or like one of “those” kind of Christians. The result is out culture continues to spiral downward.

Oh, there are those who step forward–step forward with words of anger, judgment and condemnation; whose only concern seems to be that they have the appearance of being better than others. An unholy sanctimonious attired that is repulsive to the outsider. And then, they have the gall to wonder why their culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Peter wasn’t going to live with that kind of attitude. Peter Stepped Forward.

Which leads to that last part: with the eleven other apostles…. This wasn’t a solo act, a duet, or even a quartet. It was all of them. And here’s what speaks to me that I had not recognized: The Holy Spirit Provides The Means, The Message And The Power needed to transform our Time, Place and Culture. The time has come, urgently arrived, to stop trying to compromise or allow others to dictate The Message in order to make life more comfortable and convenient.

Appeasement is defined as “the action or process of appeasing”. And the word “appease” means: “pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands. I looked up synonyms for placate and here are the words I found: “lull, tranquilize, calm, mollify.” Mollify? Had to look up that word and here’s what mollify means: “Make more temperate, acceptable, or suitable by adding something else; moderate.” Since 1974, I’ve been told by my leaders (well, except one, he IS a mighty warrior for God) that I need to make sure to appease the congregations I had been appointed to. I needed to pacify them so they wouldn’t complain. In other words, let them have it their way. Having it their way may have been a great advertising slogan for Burger King years ago, but it is a pitiful way to operate the Body of Christ.

And for Peter, he couldn’t make the Message more acceptable by adding something else to it. Why? Because of that single word: “Then”–the Holy Spirit had a hold of him and he had a hold on the Spirit. And the reason for Peter’s powerful message was two-fold:

  • The Power of the Holy Spirit
  • And the willingness of the other 11 to stand with him

It’s time for us to run with those who want to run with the Holy Spirit–His Power and The Message. It’s time to leave the paths of placation that does nothing but tranquilize people and lull them into a false sense of peace and security. Appeasement is the desire of Satan. Transformation is the Great Desire of God–and it happens only with HIS Power through The Message of The Kingdom of God–and not the petty preferences of those who have neither the Power nor the Message.

It’s time for us to Step Forward because if we don’t…..well Yogi Berra puts it like this:

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

Things to Do In 2019: Avoid Whining and Complaining

A great read from my friend, Anthony. Here’s a line that ought to make you rush right over and read the whole blog: “How can we be “lights in the world” if all we do is gripe about the darkness?” Get ready to have your toes stomped on if this description fits you….

The Recovering Legalist

I used to hear it said that the world hates a complainer. However, is the world not full of whiners and complainers these days?

The average SJW (social justice warrior) is nothing more than a pale-skinned, black-clothed, fit pitcher with unnaturally-colored hair and absolutely drunk on whine (see what I did there?).

Turn on practically any news station and all you will hear is complaining about something Trump did or didn’t do.

Say the wrong thing to the wrong people and off they’ll trot to the nearest complaint-filing station and whine and complain about how their feelings were hurt.

And, sadly, many Christians are no different; they live like the world in the world and then gripe and complain when the world around them treats them with contempt.

Aren’t we supposed to be different?

Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons…

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BUILDING A BRAND NEW YOU! Part 1

This Transformed Mind Is Where We Discover, Accept And Live In God’s Intended Design.

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This is part 1 of the new message series “Building A Brand New You”.

When I was on staff for The North Alabama Conference Center, I had this sign on the door to my office:  “A Lack Of Planning On Your Part Does NOT Mean We Have A Crisis.  It Means YOU Have A Problem!”  The meaning is pretty obvious:  When you are in the panic mode because you failed to make and follow a plan, do not expect me to join you in your panic.  Planning is important.  To borrow a term from Coach Nick Saban, there is a Process to follow. 

We plan lots of things like careers, work, families, and retirement.  And we would never build a home without first having a plan.  But what about the development of our spiritual life?  If planning work, families, retirements, and homes are important, why do so many spend so little time planning the development of their spiritual life?  Have you heard this saying?   When You Fail To Plan, You Plan To Fail

Today I want us to look at developing a plan, a blueprint of sorts for Building A Brand New You.  I believe that God is on the move in our culture for yet another Great Awakening, much like what God promised Israel through Isaiah in Isaiah 43:19

For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.  I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

When God promised this, they were in exile and things seemed hopeless.  If we are honest, we feel the same way about our culture—that things seem hopeless.  But I am convinced otherwise.  I see the signs in Africa, Southeast Asia and in Central and South America—and I am seeing and sensing the same in our time and place.  God is doing a new thing in our time, and we need to position ourselves to see it.  We need a new blueprint for a new you.  Every blueprint has a beginning point, so I began thinking about where to start.  I kept thinking and thinking and thinking, but I just couldn’t figure out where to start this blue print. 

I was thinking about a lot of different things as the first part of this blueprint—transformation of the heart, the importance of living out God’s word, faith, but the more I thought about it, nothing seem to fit.  I did my usual walking and pacing as I was thinking.  Now, I don’t know how other preachers arrive at their messages, but me, I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say it just feels right.  I was doing all this thinking, and nothing felt right.    

Finally, I said, “OK, God, what are you thinking?”  And I thought I almost heard Him say, “Exactly!”  Excuse me?  What do you mean by “Exactly”?  Then it hit me, the Blueprint For A New You begins with A New Way Of Thinking!  And our passage for today comes from Romans 12:1-2.  Last week I shared it with you from The Message, but this week I want you to hear it from The Passion Translation:

1] Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies?  I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices.  And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart.  For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.

2] Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.  This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.

How we think is more important than many may realize.  It influences our perceptions and our reactions—both positively and negatively.  And our thinking greatly shapes our daily actions.  How many times after we did something that defied common sense did we say, “What was I thinking?”  Anyone here other than me who has ever said that?  When Debbie and I got married, I wanted to use that country song as we walked the aisle.  She wouldn’t let me. 

Usually our own answer to that question is:  “I Wasn’t Thinking!”  Most of the time, this is probably true.  But open your minds to another possible answer.  Maybe, just sometimes the answer is:  “I was thinking the wrong way.”

Case in point is found in Mark 6 when Jesus had been teaching most of the day. This was supposed to be a day for just the Disciples and Jesus. But then the crowd showed up, ruining their plans.  This crowd had been there at least all afternoon long.  I don’t think the disciples had a table set up with snacks, coffee and water, so they had been there most of the day without eating.  The disciples know this, so in order to get their own time with Jesus, they tell Jesus, “The day is almost over.  These people need to eat.  Stop preaching and send them home.”  But their little ploy to keep Jesus to themselves quickly unravels.

Jesus tells them, “OK, they do need to eat, so YOU give them something to eat.”  Maybe Jesus doesn’t fully understand this situation.  Almost immediately they reached a rare consensus:  “It would take 8 months of our wages to buy that much bread.  You want us to do that?”  At first their thinking was:  “Send them home”, and their second thinking was, “It would take 8 months of wages to buy that much bread.”   The meaning of that statement is:  “We don’t have enough money to feed them.  So, let’s go back to our first statement:  Send them home!” 

But Jesus the Teacher is persistent, so He asks another question:  “Well, how many loaves do you have?”  There must have been a look of shock on their faces because Jesus added, “Well, go on and see!”  It seemed like Jesus wasn’t listening to them.  But they do what He says just to prove THEY are right.

They take a very quick inventory.  John’s Gospel says they found a young boy with a sack lunch.  They come back with their report:  “We have 5 loaves and 2 small fish.”  Obviously this is not enough, so they are probably back to their first way of thinking:  “OK Jesus, send them away.”  But Jesus Doesn’t See This Situation The Way They See It.  He tells them, “OK, everybody, I mean everybody have a seat.  We are going to have a picnic. Sit in groups of 50 or 100. Oh, and save the leftovers.”  Try to imagine, if you can, the look on the faces of the disciples.  5 loaves of bread?  2 small fish?  A picnic? 

Anyone with common sense would know this can’t feed all those people; 5000 men plus women and children.  I can just imagine Matthew, who knew how to work with numbers, thinking:  “Well this won’t take long.” 

But look at what happens.  Everyone eats until they are full, and then there are 12 baskets full of leftovers.  Their way of thinking said, “This isn’t enough.”  But Jesus’ way of thinking said, “Everyone sit down, the servers will bring your meal to you as quickly as they can.  And save all the leftovers!”

A New Way Of Thinking Begins When We See People And Situations The Way Jesus Sees Them.  And this will never happen in us until we have our minds transformed by God’s grace into the same mind of Jesus who told those disciples, “You give them something to eat.”  It happens when we allow Him to make us something altogether different.    It happens inside us when His Holy Spirit, is more than with us; But Living IN Us.  It’s all an inside job.  We can’t make it happen, but we can choose to allow it to happen by surrendering to God’s grace. 

Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  This Transformed Mind Is Where We Discover, Accept And Live In God’s Intended Design.  God has an Intended Design for your life.  It’s Called His Will.  That Will brings about His Purpose which is bringing people into a relationship with Him. 

The natural mind cannot see it no more that the natural minds of the disciples could see how to feed all those people.  But Jesus did feed them, and Jesus will use us when our minds have been transformed by the Jesus who wants to live in us.  Only with the transformed mind can we discover and live in God’s will. 

It’s that transformed mind that understands why we need His Intended Design.  It’s the renewed mind that understands 3 Unshakeable Truths that keep us Thinking In A New Way.

1.  God’s Will Is Good

God’s will is good because it is honorable.  Thinking A New Way understands that our everyday life can also be honorable.  We can show integrity and compassion in any situation.  It works from the desk of a CEO all the way to a simple ditch digger. 

Wherever you are, Thinking A New Way Means We Look For Ways To Express The Holiness And Majesty Of God; His Grace, Mercy, And His Unlimited Love To A World That Desperately Needs To See Him.  To say His Intended Design is good means that whatever it is He wants from us is the right thing.  This adds value, purpose, and the beauty to life.

2.  His Will Is Life As It Is Meant To Be.

Thinking A New Way means that we Look For Ways To Bring Our Daily Life Back Into Agreement With God’s Intended Design For Our Life.  Thinking A New Way Shows Us How To Live This Life In Such A Way That We Find A Passion Living God’s Way

It is pleasing to us, because it is the very life we have been created for—a life in deep intimate relationship with Him.  And it is pleasing to Him—who created us and who loves us enough to allow His Only Son to die on that Cross, just for us so that this horrible and destructive power of sin that was Defeated ON That Cross could be Defeated IN Our Life.

3.  This Life Moves Us Towards Perfection

God’s Intended Design is perfect because ultimately, it will make us perfect.  We’re not perfect yet, but Thinking A New Way means we know that Every Choice, Every Carefully Chosen Word, And Every Deliberate Act Can Take Us Closer To Or Further Away From That Total Perfection.  It all depends on YOUR chosen priority.  Thinking A New Way means We Live Our Life With A Clearly Defined Purpose—To Allow All The Life That Is Jesus, To Be Seen In Us And Through Us

God’s Great Desire is to finish the process of transformation that begins when we invite Jesus into our heart as Savior and as Lord.  Then we begin this journey to Become The Person Who God Intended For Us To Be All Along. Thinking A New Way can only happen when we offer Jesus both our heart and our mind.  Does this process of surrendering the mind really work?

Fast forward to Acts 3.  John and Peter are about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem.  A beggar stops them, asking for money.  They don’t have any money.  What will they do?  Do they start shouting, “Hey, this man needs money.  Will someone please step up and help this poor man out?”  That, my friends, would have been their old way of thinking. 

But now, thanks to the Holy Spirit, they have a new way of thinking.  Listen to verse 6:  Then Peter said, “I don’t have money, but I’ll give you this—by the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”  A new way of thinking is all about knowing that Jesus isn’t just with you, but that He wants to be and can be IN you.

Here’s Your Next Step

Do Something This Week That Will Cause 2 Things In Your Life:

  1. Find a way to look and think a little more like Jesus each day. Maybe read the Bible more, pray more, start reading a book by a solid Christian writer–whatever works for you.
  2. Ask God to use you to show someone else that God loves and cares about them.

What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

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(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

More About The Kingdom Than The Church

Well, here we are, my first entry from my journal as I read the Book of Acts. As a little more background to this adventure, I’m reading with critical eyes. Hold on now! I didn’t say “criticizing” eyes–I said “critical eyes”. I’m looking for things I may not have noticed before, those “nuances” that are not often pondered. Here in Chapter 1, I’ve found a few of them.

Acts 1 is primarily taught with the emphasis on the Ascension and the waiting in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. And as I was reading, I was captured and convicted by Verse 3 (emphasis mine):

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Here is why this verse captured and convicted me. I was taught, trained, and expected to grow “the church”. The problem today is that “church” doesn’t mean what it meant by then. Besides, the Greek word used wasn’t “church”. (Sniff, sniff…I smell smoke and the heating of tar….as in being tarred and feathered). Hey, I’m just sharing what The Book says.

One would think that since Jesus knows He is shortly to be ascending back to Heaven, that He would teach and train them about the “church” and His expectation that they were to grow the church. Now, if this Book of Acts is truly more about the Apostles than the Holy Spirit, that’s what we would read.

But if Jesus is anything, He is CONSISTENT! Jesus taught about The Kingdom, not the church. OK, OK, He did mention “the church” in Peter’s declaration of His true identity. But Jesus didn’t speak English. I know, shock, shock. (Or for some, “Blasphemer! Blasphemer!”) The Greek word used was ekklēsia, and it means a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.

Jesus focused on the instrument of God’s Power and Authority–and that’s the Kingdom of God. And I’m wondering, “What if we stopped teaching and training people for the church and followed Jesus’ own example and taught and trained people in The Kingdom?” The Kingdom is important to Jesus, because it’s important to God. And it should be important to us.

But us “Americanized” Christians would rather have the church than the Kingdom for only 1 reason. It gives us the illusion of control. But Kingdom, on the other hand, presents us with the hard truth that there is an Absolute Ruler, and it ain’t us!

There must be a new language spoken in the ekklēsia. It’s the language of The Kingdom of God. Our terminology, mindset and focus must go back to what Jesus thought was most important. That was, and continues to be the focus of Jesus. If last words are important, and they are, then let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches about The Kingdom of God. If our emphasis was on the Rule and Authority of God, rather than our own, I strongly suspect we would see the same results found in the Book of Acts.

Let me leave you with this final thought, and it’s not an original one from me:

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

Acts Of WHO???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel—God is with us.  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  In the O.T. names of God we find insights into what it means to have God with us.  Week 1 we looked at the name Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides. Last week we looked at another name for God:  Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.  Let’s review for a moment what these names mean:

  1. Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.
    1. Release from guilt and condemnation.
    1. Relief when life becomes too difficult to handle on our own.
    1. The Reason for your life—something that you can do only with His strength.
  2. Yahweh-Nissi—The God Who Fights For Us.
    1. Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.
    1. Equipping You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.
    1. Staying In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory

This is the kind of With Us God who wants us to surrender to Him in Relationship.  And today we look at another Old Testament Name:  Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  This comes from Ezekiel 48:30-45  (The Message)

“These are the gates of the city. On the north side, which is 2,250 yards long (the gates of the city are named after the tribes of Israel), three gates: the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, the gate of Levi.“On the east side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, the gate of Dan.

 “On the south side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, the gate of Zebulun.

 “On the west side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, the gate of Naphtali.

 “The four sides of the city measure to a total of nearly six miles.  “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah:  “God-Is-There.”

This passage is about the power of hope.  When you know the background of this passage you can literally see the power of hope drenched in these words.  The people of Israel had been led into exile to Babylon.  The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and that magnificent Temple erected by Solomon now lay in ruins. 

God sends Ezekiel to them with the word they needed most:  Hope!  God promises them that they will go home and that God will restore them.  And beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel shares with them the hope that only God can give when one is living their life in exile.  Many of them left Jerusalem with this image permanently etched on their memories:  the walls were destroyed, homes and businesses burned, and the Temple looted and broken in pieces.  That image was burned into their memories.  Try as they might, they could never get rid of that mental picture. 

That mental picture of Jerusalem became their conviction that their life would never be more than broken, burned, looted, destroyed.  Hope was lost and they could not see how things would ever be better.  And in that moment, God delivers the message of His hope. 

And nearly 600 years later, that message of hope, Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There—came in the form of a child.

Let me ask you, have you ever felt like these Israelites, that your life is broken, burned, looted and in ruins?  Have you ever faced a moment when it seems to be a struggle to hope?  The loss of hope for restoration, renewal, a better day, or just the loss of hope in general, just to survive another day, is debilitating and God understands this. And the message of Ezekiel to those exiles is the same message to those of us who are living in exile.

One Thanksgiving evening we baby sat 2 of our grandchildren, Ethan and Caroline, so that my daughter Leslie and her husband Michael could go see the movie “The Blind Side.”  When they came in, Debbie and I knew we had to go see it, too.  So we did.  It’s the story of Michael Oher.  Michael came from the poorest side of Memphis.  He had little education, and even less encouragement, until the Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy took him in literally off the street one evening and brought him into their home. And an adventure into hope began to take place.  In one scene, Leigh Ann Touhy took him back to the projects.  Picture this white upper class woman driving a BMW in the projects.  But Michael told her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”  With help and encouragement, Michael graduates from a private Christian school, and is given a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss.  Instead of a criminal record, he achieved a long list of honors.  He had a very lucrative 7 year career in the NFL until injuries took their toll. 

And it is all because one family decided not to turn their back on a kid literally living on the streets and gave him the one thing he never, ever had before:  more than a room of his own and more than his very first bed to sleep in—they gave him hope.  It began to change how Michael saw life.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  Hope Changes How We See Life.  And When We Change How We See Life, It Changes How We Live Life.  If all we see is what we don’t have as individuals and a church, then that dictates how we will live as individuals and as a church.  All we will see is what’s wrong, what’s missing, and there’s no hope for the future. 

Advent comes to us every year with not just the promise of hope, but the reality and truth of hope because God doesn’t send us an idea or a principle or nice warm fuzzy feelings.  God has sent us His One and only Son.  The Message of Christmas is more than, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The message of Christmas is Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There!

As Michael promised Leigh Ann Touhy that he had her back covered, and as Michael Oher protected the blind side of quarterbacks, God has us covered.  He protects us by giving us a never ending provision of hope.  Hope is what keeps us going when we would rather give in and give up. 

Are you living in a spiritual exile?  What kind of image has been burned into your mind about your life?  Is it that image of failure?  You try and try to honor God but there is this sin, maybe 2 or 3, that keeps tripping you up and you just can get a handle on it.  Is it relationships that never seem to work out?  So, Failure is the image that is burned into your mind, and hope fades quickly. 

Is it that image of Fear?  When facing situations, you always manage to see the worst possible outcome, and you allow that focus to rob you of joy and you honestly believe there is nothing is going to change and you can do about it.  Coward is the image that is burned into you mind and you resign any hope that life could be different. 

Or is it that image of Despair?  You look around and honesty see very little that is good.  You cannot see how things can change and so you surrender that there is no future for you, your family or your church.  So, Defeat is the image that is burned into you mind and you give up hope that anything will change.  3 things about the Hope that God provides us. 

1.  You Have God Living In You. 

Gal. 2:20—Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is why the Christian calendar begins with Advent—The With Us God!  It doesn’t help if we journey through Lent, remember Good Friday, celebrate Easter, commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or talk about the Kingdom of God if we are not living with the overwhelming assurance and conviction that God is more than with us, but actually living in us. 

God Came To Be With Us Because He Wants To Live IN Us.  Nurture this thought, embrace this thought, cling tightly to this thought, and say this thought out loud every day and all day:  Christ Lives In Me!  Life is not always easy and there will be times when life is too much for us to handle.  That’s why we need more than God with us; we need God In Us

Hope does not come from what WE can imagine or do.  Hope Comes From Knowing That God Is IN You and that He will always give us the strength and courage to face every obstacle in our life.

2.  You Have A World Needing You. 

James 1:27—Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs of our world.  It is easier to believe that since we don’t have enough to help everyone, we can’t help anyone.  If all you do as disciples of Jesus is sit here on Sun. morning then it’s no wonder that your reserve of hope is gone. 

The unique and wonderful characteristic about Hope is that it grows in us when we share it with others.  Just like love, when we selfishly cling on to it and refuse to release it, hope dies.  Hope Builds And Grows In Us As We Bring Hope To Others.  Did you see how James formed his words?  It’s not about the homeless and loveless coming to you.  It’s about YOU reaching out to those whose well of hope has gone dry.  Pour the water from your well into theirs. 

Don’t worry about your water running out.  For all the hope you pour into the lives of others, God replaces every drop, and then some.  In the movie “The Blind Side”, when the Touhy’s gave Michael hope, the Touhy’s admit that they received much more.  And this is what hope does—it multiplies over and over again.  In one scene, one of Leigh Ann Touhy’s friends remarks, “You are really changing that boy’s life.”  And her reply was, “No, he is changing our life.”  That’s how hope works!

3.  You Have A Home Waiting For You In Heaven. 

Col. 1:28—The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

  • When we worship, it’s the practice field for when we get into the real game of Worship in heaven. 
  • When we choose to honor Christ by helping others with food, shelter, clothes, water and most of all friendship, it’s the conditioning work-out when we get to heaven and raise all honor to the Lamb that was slain! 
  • When we reach out with love and compassion to be a friend to the least, the last, and the lost, it’s prepping us for that day when together we will all sit around the heavenly banquet table that God has prepared for us. 

Everything In This Life Is A Dress Rehearsal For What Awaits Us In Heaven.  If you don’t learn it here, you will not have the opportunity to learn it up there.  Paul wrote in Col. 3:23-24—Do your best.  Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.  Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.

When hope seems gone, there is a word for you:  Yawheh-Shammah—God is there!  He will be found in that place your heart is thirty for, that place you are created for—to live in that relationship with God, and to live out that relationship in your world.  God does not want you living in exile.  Christmas reminds us that God is here and yearns to be in you, restoring you, reviving you, and encouraging you.  Christmas is the time for hope—for you and for your world.  Hope is not about waiting for the sweet by and by.  Hope is about empowering you for living today to the max!

Here’s Your Next Steps:

  1. If you have been whining about your life, about other people. or the conditions in the world—Stop It!  Know that there is hope for you; the same hope is for others; and the same hope is for our culture.
  2. Find someone this week who needs Hope, and find a way to give it to them.  The only way you can know how to put Hope back into their life is to listen to their Story and get to know them.

Armor of God

Here’s a great read about spiritual warfare, identifying the true enemy (and it’s not other people) and how we fight this war–In a Deep Relationship With Jesus!

TLP

Ephesians 6:10-20

Ah yes, the famous passage on the armor of God, a passage many know by heart, a favorite sermon passage and a favorite devotional passage rich with metaphor and meaning; a wonderful passage. I thought that I’d approach it a little differently this time. Accordingly, I’ll not really comment on the metaphoric aspect, but focus on the underlying strategic circumstances that all of us face every day.

The whole armor metaphor is a way of communicating an important issue that for most of us is not easy to understand, the issue of spiritual warfare. Over the centuries, people have understood this in various ways and many legends and ballads have been the result, both in literature and other art forms. There have been times when people in superstitious cultures have gone to bizarre lengths, burning witches, so called heretics and almost anyone who incurred disfavor in high councils…

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The God Who Fights For Us!

God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.

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The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

Did You Know Someone Touched You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The With Us God–The God Who Provides

(This is the first of my Advent Sermon Series:  The With Us God)

The With Us God: The God Who Provides!  Gen. 22:1-14 NLT)

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel.  We know what this name means thanks to Matthew 1:23—“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son,  and they will call him Immanuel,which means ‘God is with us.’”  In the Hebrew, this name comes from two words: ‘Immanuw’ which means “with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.   

Each week we are going to look at one of the many names used in Scripture to describe God.  The first name we are going to look at is:  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.  It comes from today’s scripture in Genesis 22:1-14 (NLT) 

1 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.  “Yes,”he replied.  “Here I am.” 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah.  Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering onone of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early.  He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.  Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,”Abraham told the servants.  “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them walked on together, 

7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.  “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it.  Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!” 12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God.  You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day,people still use that name as a proverb:  “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

This is one of those passages that the more I read it, the more I am amazed at God’s plans and purposes.  And even more amazed that I am a part of those plans and purposes of God. Knowing this, the more overwhelmed I am at God’s love, grace and mercy. 

To fully understand this passage, we need to know all that happened leading up to this pivotal moment in Abraham’s journey of faith.  One day Abraham heard God’s call to leave behind everything he knew and embark on a journey to an unknown, yet to be revealed place.  Abraham had no idea where he would end up,but he followed God’s direction.  God promised him a great nation would come from his descendants when Abraham and Sarah had no children. 

When he finally arrived at that place, he lived there as an immigrant, not a citizen.  As he and Sarah grew older, they still had no children.  So they did the same thing we usually do when God seems to delay His promise. They took matters into their own hands and produced a child through Hagar, Sarah’s servant.

But that was not God’s plan and God waits until it seems that it will be impossible for them to have a child, and God does the impossible.  He tells them they will have a son and they are to name that son Isaac—which means“he laughs.”  That is exactly what Abraham did.  He laughed at the audacity of God. 

But the next year, Sarah gave birth to God’s promise and Abraham named him Isaac—He laughs. And from that day forward, I think every time Abraham looked at Isaac,he remembered the day he laughed at the audacity of God and knew he would never again laugh at God’s boldness.  God had provided him that son. 

Then comes that day he never saw coming.  God tells Abraham that he is to sacrifice Isaac—that Son Of The Promise. Abraham knows not to laugh at or question God’s boldness.  So they set out to the place God is leading them.  When they arrive, listen again to what Abraham says in Verse 5:  We will worship there, and then we will come right back.  These are words of faith—WE will worship—WE will return. 

The sacrifice Abraham was to make meant taking the life of Isaac and then burning his body to ashes.  But Abraham still said—WE will return.  And at that moment of total surrender to God—that moment of total trust in God—God stops Abraham from doing the unthinkable.  And there was provided a substitute for Isaac. 

And not at the place of promise—you will have a son—and not at the place of birth—where Isaac was born—but at the place of sacrifice, Abraham names it Yahweh Yireh—The Lord Will Provide.  End of this story, right?  Wrong! On that same piece of ground Jerusalem will be built and a temple erected.  And in that same area, a new name will emerge:  Golgotha!  And on that same piece of ground, this With Us God provided the only sacrifice that could ever set us free and change our hearts.

At a pivotal moment in his journey of faith, Abraham’s actions and God’s response looks over 2000 years into the future when God provided the ultimate substitute sacrifice in the person of His Son.  What God Would Not Allow Abraham To Do—Sacrifice His Only Son—God Actually Did!  And God continues to provide out of his love,through His indescribable grace, exactly what we need to become who we were created to be:  The Child of God.

I love the Advent Season,and I especially love to receive Communion in this season.  I love it because the single symbol you will find in every church every day of the year is not the manger—but the Cross.  In this holy moment of Communion, we take our place with Abraham to rediscover or make a new discovery, that this God, our God,provides exactly what we need.  These signs, these symbols, above all other signs and symbols, tells us that this With Us God is Yahweh Yireh.  In this holy moment, God provides the 3 things we all need most of all:

1.  He Provides Release

Romans 8:1—So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  His sacrifice, His death satisfies the penalty of our own sins and releases us from the guilt and condemnation of those sins.  We come and confess—be of the same mind as God about our sins—and because God provided the Substitute, we are unconditionally released. Not only are we released from the penalty of our sins, but we are released from the power those sins hold over us—when this With Us God is the King of our Heart & Desires.

2.  He Provides Relief

John 14:18—I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  When life becomes too difficult to handle on our own, He comes to us to help us.  When the ache and pain is beyond words, He shares with us in those pains.  He takes care of birds and creates beautiful flowers and He takes care of you.  The relief Abraham found was in the ram that God provided.  He comes to us to sustain us by giving us His very self.  You are never alone in your struggles because you have the With Us God inside you.  And He is With You in a promise:  I will not abandon you as orphans.  This With Us God provides relief for us as He did for Abraham—at the place of sacrifice!

3.  He Provides The Reason

We see reminders that Jesus truly is the Reason For The Season.  But there is a reason not only FOR the season, but a reason for you.  Abraham and Isaac’s reason was to begin a great nation through which one day, ALL nations would be blessed because of their faithfulness to God’s purpose.  1 Corinthians 11:26— For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 

We must follow Abraham’s example and surrender our life to His Reason for our life.  Our Reason is to share what God has done for us and then show others God’s love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned. We are to become that living sacrifice for others—To Continue The Promise God Made To Abraham!

We all face pivotal moment sin our own journey of faith.  This Holy Sacrament is always one of those pivotal moments in our faith journey.  Moments when our journey takes us deeper into God’s breathtaking and astounding grace where we discover in new ways, or for the very first time, the heart God has for our life, and His perfect plan for our life. 

His grace and plans will take us to a place we never thought possible—the place of complete release and a peace that is beyond words.  This is your pivotal moment of faith—The Moment Your Breath Is Taken Away By The With Us God Who Provides The Unlimited Resources Of Grace. 

I call this a pivotal moment because right now you are making the most important decision of your life:  Will you choose to be closer to the With Us God, or will you choose to walk away.  This is YOUR moment to come face to face with Yahweh Yireh.  When you surrender to The With Us God, every place you go and every situation you face, becomes Yahweh Yireh.