Spiritual Spam

How many people are listening to and believing what they are being told about God that should be put into the Spiritual Spam Folder and deleted?

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My sister-in-law will call me out on this because she loves Spam. I’ve noticed their commercials promoting the various ways you can use Spam. My personal favorite is the commercial that says:

But that’s not the reason for this brief post. This morning I was checking out my WordPress dashboard. At least once a week I try to check out the comments labeled, you guessed it, SPAM! In the years I’ve been writing, there have only been a couple of comments that were not SPAM. Yeah for Akismet! But this morning there were 2 comments:

Dreamwalker, this drop is your next piece of information. Feel free to contact the agency at your earliest convenience. No further information until next transmission. This is broadcast #4533. Do not delete.

Dreamwalker, this code is your next bit of data. Do transceive the agency at your earliest convenience. No further information until next transmission. This is broadcast #8867. Do not delete.

Now, did these 2 morons really believe I’m going to approve their comment? Dreamwalker isn’t even my moniker. But it got me to thinking about a different kind of SPAM–Spiritual SPAM.

How many people are listening to and believing what they are being told about God that should be put into the Spiritual Spam Folder and deleted?

Akismet has an algorithm that is designed to detect spam, And there is a Spiritual Algorithm that will help us sort through what is SPAM and what is NOT SPAM. But it doesn’t work as quickly and easily as Akismet. It requires YOU to do a lot of work, study and reflection. He is called The Holy Spirit. He uses this thing called The Bible to help us sort through the mess and mush of what is being passed off as Spiritual Truth but is nothing more than Spiritual Spam, Even frying it won’t help it.

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

1 John 4:1 (The Message)

Well excuse me now. I’m waiting for the agency to send me my next transmission. Oh….Love God with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! This is broadcast #77777

Recalculating: Changing Direction

There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

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Recalculating…it’s a word that pops up on the GPS screen when we miss a turn in trying to reach a destination.  We count on those recalculations to get us to our destination.  As a unique individual, you are trying to reach a different destination.  But…you’ve missed a turn somewhere and deep down you know you’re not getting there and you need a recalculation of where your life is going.  Garmin, Waze, Google Maps—none of those will help you find the destination for which you heart longs.

The church, the Body of Christ, is trying to reach a destination.  Along the way to that destination, we are supposed to be bring others along with us in that journey.  But declining membership and attendance reveals we have missed a turn somewhere.  We need a recalculation.  Some try to recalculate by looking backwards, trying to repeat some era in our history went we were growing.  But the recalculation we need isn’t by looking backwards—it’s by looking forward.

God’s Vision for your individual life and the life of the church is what is needed most.  God has a recalculation…and His recalculation involves His Vision.  Join us for the next 4 Sundays…just in case you need a recalculation…

What was once primarily a military device is now a common device.  We have them in our cars, in our hands, and on our phones.  It’s called GPS.  We know them as Tom-Tom, Garmin, Waze, or Google Maps.  GPS helps us get to places we may have forgotten where they are; or we are uncertain of where they are; or to places we’ve never been before.  If we aren’t paying attention to it, or we simply miss a turn, they do this thing called Recalculating.  Recalculating helps us get back on track—and Recalculating Requires A Change Of Direction.

It’s not only when we travel that we may need a change of direction, but also in our life’s journey.  It’s easy to not pay attention to the tried and true directions God gives.  It’s easy to miss a turn.  And we get lost—and lose our bearings.  This is true for us as individuals and for us as the Body of Christ.

I am asking you to pray and find the answers to 3 questions: 

  1. What is God asking you to do? 
  2. What is God asking this church to do? 
  3. Are you willing to do it? 

These questions were not randomly chosen, nor are they the result of my creative mind—even I’m not that smart.  It comes from the heart of God to the heart of this congregation—to you. 

It’s About Vision—Not Seeing What Is, But Catching A Glimpse Of God’s What Will Be.  God has a What Will Be—for each person and every church.  God’s What Will Be comes out of God’s Power And AbilitiesNot Our Own.  It is easy, so very easy to be caught up and confined to what is.  What Is creates a prison where people, dreams and churches die.

These 3 questions are about the direction you are heading towards—as an individual and as a church.  And they are the questions about arriving at where God wants us to be, as individuals and as a church. They are the questions that challenge us—about our faith, commitment and fears.  There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

And this leads us to our text.  Usually, I like to read from the more modern translations because even I can understand them—but this morning, I want to read first from the KJV.  Turn to Proverbs 29:18… 

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

We’ve probably heard the first part of that passage, but did you listen to that last part?  Now, let me read this same passage from The Message…. 

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: If you don’t know the Vision of what God wants of you and this place, then our goose is cooked, we’re a dead duck, our jig is up, our ship is sinking, the light is on but nobody’s home.

This morning I have Good News, Bad News, and Hard News:

  1. Good NewsThe Best Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes accessible to a hurting world through the People of God.  In our simple acts of compassion and servanthood, in our worship and ministry of the Word, through our breaking of bread, we make the invisible God visible.  John wrote in I John 4:12—No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. The church stands as a powerful testimony of a God who will not let us go until He blesses us.  There is not one period in history you can point to and say, “The church offered the world nothing.  It had no light at all!”    We’ve always given something to the world, even at our worst moments.
  2. Bad NewsThe Worst Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes more remote to a cynical world because of the church.  In our foolish acts of self-righteousness and self-indulgent attitudes, in our judgment and smugness, through our breaking of trust and lack of actions, we obscure God.  John goes on to say in Vs. 20-21—If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And He has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  Even when we’re at our best, the church is still marred by hypocrisy, apathy, and false piety.  There is not a single period in history you can point to and say, “Yes! There it is! The church in all its fullness, exactly as God intended it.”  We’ve always fallen short.
  3. The Hard News: The Only Real Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Put aside all philosophical defenses and church doctrine.  Philosophies and doctrines can convince the mind, but only the church, walking in the light, can win the heart.  God does not have a Plan B.  He does not have a backup strategy for making himself known among the nations.  It’s the church or bust.  We’ve always been all there is.

The church lives between the splendor of God’s intent and the debacle of our own shortcomings.  Paul speaks of God’s intent for the church in Ephesians 3:10–11…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s intent is for all His rich and varied wisdom to be clearly seen. The church’s life is meant to be a heart-stopping drama staged on a cosmic scale—a grand expression, that astonishes our world.  God wants us to wow the whole creation.  Too often, though, the reality is we’re the laughingstock.  The church is not always a powerful saga; it’s often mixture of tragedy and comedy. 

But don’t you want to live out God’s intentions for you?  Isn’t there a part of you that wants to have all God wants to give—no matter what it costs or where it leads?  Don’t you want to be able to say, “I’m what He had in mind when he made me and called me.  I’m exactly what God wants to reveal His Glory!”

I believe that this church today doesn’t lack for vision—but like many congregations, we are lacking God’s Vision.  I read of someone who compiled over 40 Killer Phrases—Phrases that will kill the Vision God has for a local church.  Let me share with you to Top 10 Killer Phrases

10] It’s Right In Theory, But It Won’t Work Here

9]   It Will Be More Trouble Than It’s Worth;

8]   It’s Not In The Budget;  

7]   You’ve Got To Be Kidding; 

6]   It’s Too Far Ahead Of Our Time; 

5]   We’ve Tried That Before; 

4]   It May Offend Some Of Our Members; 

3]   We Don’t Have Enough People To Do It;

2]   Let’s Appoint A Committee To Look Into It And Report Back;

1]   But We’ve Never Done It That Way Before!

Now, a vision from God will have 3 key elements, always.  Now with these 3 elements, the vision for here will be powerful and life changing.  I know it works because all 3 elements have been tried and tested—and happening now in our culture.

1.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Purpose!

There is a reason why this place exists today, a purpose for us being here.  That purpose will define our mission and ministry.  The problem is that we have allowed our mission and ministry to define our purpose; and that’s backward—it’s putting the cart in front of the horse.  

The purposes of God will be much bigger than our individual selves and even bigger than all of us combined.  If you can do it with your own effort and strength, then it’s not likely that it’s God’s purposes you are following. 

God’s Purpose Transcends Beyond Our Selves In Order That We May Be Transformed By God’s Power.  Church does not exist for Sunday morning service, and to meet just your needs.  And that purpose will go beyond the physical confines of this community.  This answers your 1st Question.

2.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Preparation!

God doesn’t just throw the vision out there and then say, “Just do it.”  He prepares us.  He’s Been Preparing You Your Entire Life For His Vision.  What Are You Doing To Allow God To Prepare You For His Vision?  Do you spend a lot of time in prayer?  Do you read, meditate and study His Word?  Each day, are you reading Christian writers, listening to Christian music?  Are you giving yourself to Sunday School, Bible Study, and creating small groups? 

You must believe that you are here because God has been preparing your whole life for such a time as this.  If you are not prepared for God’s Vision, then it’s not because God has tried to prepare you, it’s because you haven’t made yourself available to God.  This answers your 2nd Question.

3.  And In God’s Vision, There Will Be A Plan!

There was a time when the “Field of Dreams” worked—You remember the Kevin Costner movie—the voice telling him “If you build it they will come”—and they did come.  But that style will not work any longer.  It didn’t work that way for the 1st Century Church.  There’s an old saying, but it is so true—God Will Not Lead Us Where His Grace Will Not Sustain Us!  And like the purpose, the plan is much bigger than we are. 

Those plans are not only for this community, but they will reach out beyond the confines of this place and out into the world.  I’ve heard some church people say, “I don’t think we need to get involved with world missions because we have enough to do right here.  But God’s plan is bigger than this community.  It’s not local projects or outside missions—it’s BOTH local projects and outside missions.  That plan includes the involvement of each and every one of you.  And this And this is where you answer your 3rd Question.

Think about Jesus and This Process We Are Beginning Today.

  1. God Had A Purpose!  In creation, God, out of His love, made us in His image for the purpose of sharing a relationship of love with Him and to join with Him in the care of His marvelous creation.  But sin alienates us from His relationship of love.
  2. God Was Prepared For Our Sin.  Before He created one thing, redemption was in God’s heart—so He was prepared to send His Son to atone for sin and redeem us back to Himself.  1 Peter 1:18-20— For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.
  3. God Had A Plan!  His Son, would become one of us, live among us, but without sin.  He would then offer His life in the place of punishment, the place we rightly deserve.  Then He would call those who accept the Gift of Grace, to share the Message of grace.

Next Steps

  1. What is God asking you to do?  It will reflect Jesus and help the church.  It will be with the people you know—teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, where you eat, at the library, at the bank, at the grocery store, where you work, where you hang out, your next door neighbors.  And it WILL BE with people you see but don’t know and people who haven’t met yet.
  2. What is God asking this church to do?  It will be something that shows we care about people and places.  Think about things that will improve the places that involves the people you know and see.  Schools, libraries, community events, police department, fire department, nursing homes, places for those with physical, emotional or mental health issues.  God seeks to redeem people, and He longs to redeem places where people live, work, play and struggle.
  3. Are you willing to do it?  Without exceptions or compromising the Vision.  It may require giving up some things.  It will definitely require expansion—expansion of possibilities—expansion of what you see as your capabilities—expansion of your relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Re-Examining the Divorce Controversy

I had my say about the view on divorce, click here to read it: https://kingdompastor.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/cultural-bias-the-bible-and-divorced-pastors/

This one comes from a Baptist culture, and is well worth the read….

The Recovering Legalist

The following subject comes up periodically, requiring me to give a biblical explanation.  Therefore, for those who may not have done much study on it, let us consider the question of divorce and the pastorate.

My Story

I will never forget the phone call I got from a church in Rome, GA over 20 years ago. Someone on the other end of the line was part of a search committee looking for a new pastor.  They had gotten my resume and were impressed enough to give me a call.  Everything was going well until they asked a very pointed question, “Bro. Anthony, does your wife have a spouse that is still living?”  With an undeniable tone of frustration, I replied, “Yes, ME.”  

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time something like that happened.

What I encountered on the telephone that day was not unusual…

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Did You Really Ask That Question?

We all deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took that well-deserved punishment upon Himself as He hung on that cross.

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Well, things are really shaking and moving in California; and not in a good way. My heart goes out to all those impacted by this disaster. I’ve read a lot about “experts” saying this may well be the prelude to “The Big One.” Excuse me, now I’ve only experienced a few minor tremors (yes, in Alabama we do have earthquakes, small ones, but it was still an earthquake), but what could be bigger than a 7.1? Gee whiz, geologists, thanks for adding to their fear.

But those comments are not the cause of me writing this morning. It was a question posed by someone in a Facebook group of which I am a member. This person asked the group, “Do you think this earthquake is the result of God’s judgement against the people of California?” This picture must have been the expression on my face when I read it.

Being a Disaster Response Coordinator for my local Tribe, this and similar statements irk me on the scale of a 10.7. When a person goes through a natural disaster, they don’t need The Disaster of Poor Theology. Statements like:

  • “God needed them more than we did.”
  • “It was just things.”
  • “We have to accept it as God’s will even if we don’t understand or like it.”
  • “You’re young, you can always find someone else.”
  • “God just wanted your attention.”
  • “If y’all don’t repent, something worse is going to happen.”
  • I could go on, but I won’t….

Even as I’m writing, I remember something very dumb I said back in the early 80’s when I was in seminary. The Aids crisis was growing and I asked a fellow pastor, whom I looked up to because he was conservative like me, “Don’t you think this Aids epidemic is God’s punishment?” Even now, I’m hanging my head in shame for even allowing that thought to remain in my head. His response caught me off guard. “NO! All our punishments were put on Jesus while He was on the cross!” He then gently addressed my Poor Theology; and I’ve never forgotten it. Come to think of it, his facial expression was just like that picture above.

To say this latest earthquake is God punishing California, qualifies you for membership in that Wacko Westboro Baptist Cult. Look, maybe you or someone you know is going through a difficult time–a disaster if you will. Maybe you are thinking, “God is punishing me and I deserve it.” Well, you are half right.

We all deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took that well-deserved punishment upon Himself as He hung on that cross. The prophet Isaiah foretold this truth:

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NLT)

The next time you see someone going through a disaster–be it a natural disaster, man-made disaster, a spiritual disaster that resulted from poor choices in their life–don’t look at them and think, “Well, they got what they deserved.” And don’t you dare say it! Instead, be broken and cry for them. Then get up and do something to help rebuild their lives.

Yes, God disciplines–He disciplines those whom He loves and who loves Him. But disasters are not acts of discipline. They are reflections of our current reality–that we and our natural world are infected, affected and broken by sin. Not just Adam and Eve’s sin, but our sin as well. If you think God is punishing California, get your emergency kits out because He is about to punish you, too.

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

SURVIVING YOUR D-DAY INVASION OF DEATH

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

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Job 19:23-27 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Believe In God’s Way!  

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled…”

John 14:1a (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Trust Your Life To Jesus! 

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

John 14 Vs. 1b-2 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 14:26 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

Statistical Christianity

Statistical Christianity is defining what it means to be a Christian by the numbers, rather than the truth.

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Well, it’s the day after the Fourth of July, and I’m on a rant. Go figure. Maybe it’s seeing on Facebook all those who allege they are Christians going all patriotic, ranting against Kap and Nike. singing God Bless America. Some seem to “up their game” when it comes to achieving the status of being a “Patriotic Christian”. Patriotic Christian? Really? But that’s a rant for another day.

Today I’m ranting against “Statistical Christianity”. I’m not talking about Barna or Pew Research. I’m talking about those who use statistics as proof of their beliefs–why they are right and I am wrong. Maybe I should give you my definition of Statistical Christianity:

Statistical Christianity is defining what it means to be a Christian by the numbers, rather than the truth.

Randy Burbank

Statistical Christianity has two branches. One branch is occupied by the Tenured Pew Sitters. They look at the past and try to build the future based on what they used to do. They look at the numbers back then, and in an act of ultimate futility, insist that it can be that way again IF we just replicate what we did then. For this branch, it’s all about 3 things: the building; their personal preferences dressed up in the clothes of tradition; and the most important part of all: DEMOCRACY! Every decision should be made based on the vote of the majority–and they make sure that their governing boards are stacked with people who think like they do. It’s about the numbers!

The second branch is occupied by “The Allegedly Enlightened”. The Allegedly Enlightened Branch looks to the culture to define what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life based on assumptions, presumptions, feelings, and sincere personal beliefs. Oh, and don’t forget THE NUMBERS. Mark Holland is proud to point this out in his blog 76% of US Annual Conferences Reject Traditional Plan. Mark bears witness to something I learned way back in college days when taking Statistical Math: 92.5874685% of all statistics are made up on the spot with a 99.99 percent margin of error.

The Allegedly Enlightened have the Numbers on the assumptions, presumptions, feelings and sincere personal beliefs to back up their claims. This Branch of Statistical Christianity wants us to allow the views, feelings, and emotions of culture define the Body of Christ. Public Opinion, be it a majority or minority, trumps anything else provided our personal experiences and feelings bear them out as truth.

And so we see it: The Tenured Pew Sitters Branch and the Allegedly Enlightened Branch stand across from each other shouting derogatory remarks at each other, while the rest of the world (statistically speaking they are the true majority) shakes its head and says, “If this is what being a Christian is about, thanks but NO THANKS!”

I close with this:

Excuse me for a moment. Statistically speaking, I need another cup of coffee…..

Glorifying Temptation?

I am taking a detour from my reflections to address a cultural event in the realm of Reality TV. Reality TV? Now here’s an oxymoron, antimone, contrariety, asymmetrical absurdity ever known to humankind. The latest edition of this circus, that I’m aware of, is the USA Network’s “Temptation Island”, a far cry from the Fantasy Island back in the day.

It this alleged “reality” show, 4 dating couples agree to “live the single life” with those who’s purpose is to lead the individual “astray” from their relationship. In this incoherent journey, these 4 couples put themselves in the arena of temptation to see if they have what it takes to build a lasting relationship. At least to me, this seems like a variation on that old game of Russian Roulette.

Our culture has become fascinated, captivated, and enamored with the lowest common denominator of the human psyche–that of personal failure. There was a moment in time when people did everything they could to avoid temptation. And now? People run with abandon INTO temptation. We live in a society that…that…. . You fill in the blank, because this wordsmith cannot find a way to say what I feel without being painfully sarcastic, even rude and ugly.

Right now, I just heard some Tenured Pew Sitter way, “It all started when Hollywood allowed Clark Gable to say damn in ‘Gone With The Wind’. That’s when it started!” Au Contraire, Tenured Pew Sitter. You don’t know that Bible you worship and use to beat people over the head as well as you think. It goes back to Adam and Eve, when faced with the choice to trust God or trust themselves.

Shows, such as this, cause those who sit in churches, who should proclaim loudly in the power of God to transform human lives, choose to declare that things are hopeless, and that it’s all just more confirmation that Jesus is coming back at any moment. Truth is, they really want Jesus to come back. And why? They say it’s because the world is so corrupt that it’s beyond redemption. My thoughts? They long for Jesus to return in order to absolve themselves of their responsibilities as followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that this current batch of disciples think that being a follower of Jesus is meant to be lived in a safe and pleasant environment. There is much about following Jesus that is neither safe nor pleasant. If you want Jesus to come back right now so you can be liberated from this “vile and wicked” world–well, you do not have the heart and mind of Jesus.

Jesus insisted on going to people and places where temptation was glorified. And did you notice that Jesus never went in those places breathing fire and brimstone telling them they were an abomination to God? Don’t think so. The only places I ever saw Jesus get righteously rude was when He dealt with those religious folks who thought they knew God and what He wanted. I see the images of Jesus calling them low-down snakes, taking a whip and disrupting their comfortable religion.

And now in my own reflections, I can hear Jesus saying, “You know, I need to go to Temptation Island.” My response to Jesus? “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? Jesus have you lost your mind? Why in the name of Jesus Christ would YOU want to go there?” Oops. I think I just said the wrong thing. He’s smiling at me and saying, “Because that’s where people who need me are at. Randy, don’t you remember that night in the Garden? I call it Temptation Garden. If you can remember, I won in Temptation Garden, and so did you. You ask me why would I go there? Well….I did come looking for you.”

And now I realize…we live in the right place and time to be a Follower of Jesus. Jesus seeks out the darkest places because that’s where people, made in His image, are living. He sought out the Cross and The Grave. He knew His Light would shatter the darkness…and it did. Come on, Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who are feeling safe, smug and comfortable in your stain glass sanctuaries. There’s a boat taking people to Temptation Island. You need to be on that boat and that Island. You don’t need to be there to call them all wicked sinners. You need to be there as a faithful example of what real life looks like when you love God more than printed Bibles, more than buildings called churches, more than….yourself.

I want to say something way off the wall for some. Instead of you complaining about how evil and horrible our culture is becoming, realize that this is the perfect place and time to share God’s redeeming love. Instead of longing for Jesus to take YOU out of this miserable, sinful world, YOU take Jesus INTO the miserable, sinful world. After all, someone brought Jesus to you when you were identified with this miserable, sinful world.

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

Surviving Your D-Day Invasion Of Depression

Depression Can Happen To Anyone, And Everyone Can Find Hope In Jesus.

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I said that this would be a series about real life issues.  I told you that I would be doing some teaching on the basis of my journey over the last 47 years of this 63 year journey.  Before the divorce, when people would ask me about depression, I didn’t really understand it. 

I personally didn’t understand what it would feel like until then.  When we first separated, and then finally realized that divorce was going to be a part of my life, some of these depressing thoughts hit my head and I began to experience some emotions that I had only heard and read about before. 

It was literally a roller coaster ride; but I learned some things.  What I discovered and learned was this:  Some Things I Believed In Were True, And Some Things Were Not True.  All of the sudden I had to start living what I had taught.  It was in that season that the Holy Spirit helped me sort through a lot of things.

It was like cleaning out a closet, or a storage room.  Some of it was useful…but some of it needed to the thrown away.  I had to believe and understand and do some things so that this normal depression wouldn’t become something unhealthy.  It was a time of both demolition and reconstruction—in my heart, my mind, and my faith.

So, today, as we talk about depression, I want to continue to share some Biblical insights, some principles.  These are some things that I have implanted in my life.  We can have some issues in our lives that could lead to unhealthy depression and we want to make sure we understand and deal with these things.  That’s what we’ll be talking about today.  Let’s look at Job 6:1-11 (NLT).  Job lived in the Dark Night Of The Soul. Listen to him as he describes it.

1 Then Job spoke again:  “If my misery could be weighed  and my troubles be put on the scales,  they would outweigh all the sands of the sea.  That is why I spoke impulsively.

For the Almighty has struck me down with his arrows.  Their poison infects my spirit.  God’s terrors are lined up against me.

Don’t I have a right to complain?  Don’t wild donkeys bray when they find no grass, and oxen bellow when they have no food?

Don’t people complain about unsalted food?  Does anyone want the tasteless white of an egg?  My appetite disappears when I look at it; I gag at the thought of eating it! 

Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant my desire.  I wish he would crush me.  I wish he would reach out his hand and kill me. 

10 At least I can take comfort in this:  Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One.   11 But I don’t have the strength to endure. I have nothing to live for.

What do people mean when they say the Bible doesn’t speak about what we go through today?  Have you ever felt like Job did here?  Have you wondered what is inside of the mind of a depressed person?  When depression reaches its fullest point of complete despair, all of the sudden we have this loss of clarity.  And that Dark Night Of The Soul covers us in a deep sadness.

Our minds become confused and we don’t know what it true, right or good.  Our mind begins to think the wrong thoughts; we become confused in our heart and mind.  When we slip from normal depression, to below the radar kind of depression, our heart becomes hopeless.  We begin to feel trapped—and our soul is on the brink of despair.  

If you forget everything else I say, remember this:  Depression Can Happen To Anyone, And Everyone Can Find Hope In Jesus. Depression Comes From Feelings Of Helplessness, Hopelessness And Feeling Alone.

If a person gets too deep into depression, they may attempt something at the darkest mode of depression, which is suicide.  I don’t know where you are.  Maybe you have attempted suicide or you know someone who has attempted it but didn’t succeed or maybe you know someone who did succeed.  I don’t know where you are.   

I do know Suicide is the darkest moment of depression.  Today we’re going to talk about how to not get to that point or if you are already there, how to get back.  But first, let’s get our minds in the right place.  Some of you think that you have it all figured out—you don’t think we could ever get to that low point. 

Job got there and so did I.  It has been said that Suicide Is A Permanent Solution To A Temporary Problem.  Some of you may be wondering why I’m talking about suicide on a Sunday morning.  But this is a real issue for our culture, and who knows, maybe it is for some of you.  Every issue we face—good and bad—has a Biblical response, and it’s my responsibility and duty to share that with you, regardless of how uncomfortable the subject makes you feel personally.

There are 2 causes of Depression; One Has Biological Causes.  There is a chemical imbalance in the brain and there are many wonderful treatments that are effective in helping people move forward.  This is not the kind of depression I’m talking about. Remember, this kind of depression is biological, though insurance companies do not treat is that way.  We treat these people differently than those who have cancer or some other physical disease. And honestly, we shouldn’t!

We should not treat them differently than a person having any other disease.  But there is another cause of depression that is not biological in origin.  It Comes Out Of Our Experiences Of Discouragement And Disappointment.  This is the form of depression we are looking at today.  Allow me to sum it up like this.  Depression Is A Negative Emotional State Of Feeling Sad, Discouraged And Dejected. 

This emotional state can lead to a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and abandonment; a sense that you can’t get away from and can’t get out of.  I believe that are two types of depression:  healthy and unhealthy. 

Healthy depression is when you have feelings of deep, inner pain.  It is when you have actual feelings of pain, sadness and disappointment from a negative life experience.  These feelings are normal and act as a warning sign in your life.  A person in this state can still function as they normally would; just not as well. 

Unhealthy depression is when emotional state leaves the person with an inability to function in the basic areas of life.  One sign is the reduced ability to concentrate.  I don’t know how many times that I would be working at the computer trying to work on a message and I couldn’t think clearly.  It felt like I was in a fog.  Another sign is to lose interest in most or all fun activities.  Add to this, uncontrollable crying—sometimes outwardly crying, most times inwardly crying.

Not dealing with depression can fill us with feelings of hopelessness.  We feel trapped.  I can tell you that in my journey of life I had this sense of hopelessness that my life was over.  I think there are some reasons that are not always cut and dry.  Experiencing a major disappointment.  Traumatic experiences that increase stress levels.  The Bible goes on to talk about other important causes. 

This may sting a little bit, but just walk with me.  Some of the causes of this Dark Night Of The Soul are

  • —lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance
  • —Unrealistic expectations
  • —Unforgiveness towards others and yourself
  • —Unresolved guilt and shame
  • —Physical fatigue
  • —Substance abuse
  • —Physical abuse
  • —Health problems. 

So, is there any hope for the hurting?  Okay, now that we’re all depressed—Here are some things I want to share with you.  First Truth:

1.  Depression Is A Normal Response To What Is Occurring In Your Life.

This is where Job is at. Look at what David said in Psalms chapter 6:2-6

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in anguish.  How long, O Lord, how long?  Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  No one remembers you when he is dead.  Who praises you from the grave?  I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.

David understood that this was a normal thing. It could affect anyone at any time.  Even the Bible hunks—Moses, Elijah, Jonah, King David, the Apostle Paul and even Jesus.  They all had these stories where they understood these lowly thoughts of depression. 

You mean Jesus had sad thoughts—times when he didn’t like what was going on?  Listen to his words in Matthew 26:38 as he is waiting to go to the cross.  My soul is very sad and deeply grieved so that I am almost dying of sorrow.  That’s Jesus.  It’s a normal thing.  It’s not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  Some of you need to hear that.   But, if left unchecked it can distort our view of life.  We see ourselves differently. 

We see our life differently.  We see God differently.  Perception is reality in the eyes of the beholder, isn’t it? Second Truth:

2.  Depression Is Not A Sin.  It Is A Symptom.

I’ll say it again.  Depression is not a sin.  It’s a symptom.  It wasn’t a sin for Job.  It wasn’t a sin for me.  Depression is a  gauge like looking at your car gauges when your oil light comes on or how fast am I going or if the engine is overheating! 

Healthy depression is a great gauge to say, “There are things in my life that I need to understand.”  Sometimes it will point to sin that I committed or that was committed against me, unforgiveness or abuse, things you are doing to cause the problem.  It points to the problem. 

This depression is not a sin; it’s a symptom that leads you to the problem so that you can deal with it.  And sometimes, those problems are both biological and physical in nature.  There are times when this body goes haywire.  Whether the problem is spiritual or physical—depression is a symptom, not a sin. Third Truth:

3.  Depression Is Something You Go Through.  It Is Not A Destination!

Some of you have been living as a depressed person for years and years and I want to share with today that there is hope, grace, love and a way out of it.  Depression is not dead end road; there is a way through it.  Depression feels like a dead end road with no room to turn around. 

God did not design life to be a prison sentence.  But depression will make us echo the words of Job:  But I don’t have the strength to endure. I have nothing to live for. 

But depression can become a destination, a prison, it we cannot find the way to overcome it.  You can continue to move on.  You can overcome depression.  And it is here in:

Your Next Steps

1.  Get The Right Perspective.  In our life something happens to us—A D-Day invasion—and it’s OK to say, “Why me?”  But when we stay there, even when justified, it compounds the problem.  The “Right Perspective” means the Biblical world view of life.  The whole world does not revolve around you. 

And God never promised that your life will be healthy, wealthy and wise.  We live in a world that has problems; in a world that has difficulties.  We have to get the right perspective of this world we live in and get the right perspective of who we are.  Life will not always be easy but understanding who you are will help you to continue to move on. 

2.  Lean Completely On God.  Let the truth of God completely change your mind.  Let the completeness of God hold you.  Rest in His truth.  When the darkness creeps in around you say, “I can lean on God because I can trust Him completely.”  When a D-Day invasion takes your legs out from under you, God is not some crutch that only helps you to hobble along. 

God wants to make you whole through and through.  It may be that God will send you to a doctor or therapist.  It may be that medication is ordered.  Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if He does.  I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I take an antidepressant.  Our complete trust and hope comes from leaning on God.  That is only way we are going to make it through.  When something negative happens, you can say, “You are in control, God. You are in control and I lean completely on you.”

3.  Love Yourself.  Do you know people who are always focusing on their weaknesses and on the mistakes they have made in the past?  In my own experiences, low self-esteem and low self-acceptance kills us from the inside out.  God loves you unconditionally and He created you special just the way you are. 

So put your shoulders back and say, “I am special.  I was created and I am loved by my Creator.  I can love myself not because of who I am but because of who God created me to be in Jesus.”  Yes you can love yourself and you are supposed to.  This way, you can have a healthy self-esteem and you’ll accept yourself for who you are in Jesus.

4.  Serve Others.  We will never find inner peace more than when we are helping other people.  You should try it sometime.  That’s a Biblical concept, friends!  Serve other people.  It’s really true, that when you lose yourself for another for the cause of Christ, you really find yourself.

The breeding grounds for depression are those feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and abandonment.   And here in this moment, God reminds us that we are NOT helpless, NOT hopeless, and NOT abandoned. He is right here, right now with us.

When Did THAT Happen?

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” Genesis 3:4-5, The Message

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Though I haven’t been actively writing much lately, I have been actively thinking… more like…reflecting on the current state of affairs. I have been engaged in active observation of our culture… of the church… and though it’s given me a headache, frustrations, aggravations, agitations, and a variety of discombobulations, it has not filled me with despair nor desperation. Maybe a Goody’s Headache powder or a little 15 year old single malt–but I’m not anywhere near throwing in the towel and giving up. But I have reached a moment. It happened this evening as I was taking a shower. This moment is NOT an epiphany–but a question? Here it is:

In the book of Acts, those who committed to be Disciples of Jesus were committed to the Good News of The Kingdom of God. Their life was called Koinonia, a shared life together. Others were always more important than themselves. Sharing was natural. Caring was deeper. They hungered for more understanding of this Kingdom. This Kingdom came first. Koinonia Community marked by being TOGETHER in the Ekklesia (that’s the Greek word mistranslated as church). Ekklesia is a Greek word that means “the called out ones”. They were passionate about The Gospel of The Kingdom of God, telling that powerful story. And church today? Tenured Pew Sitters have stopped being producers for the Kingdom and started being the Consumers. As consumers, they want to church to do and be what best suits them. They want to be in control. It’s no longer about Koinonia Life, but what suits them.

Another thing, it seems there are those who think that with the passing of centuries, suddenly WE know more about what God means than the ancient writers who shared their stories. I know the saying , “With age comes wisdom.” LIE! LIE! LIE! I’ve seen way too many examples of age coming all by itself; wiðutan–that’s an old English word that means ”  a word expressing lack or want of something”. They called themselves “Progressives”, thinking that their thinking is making progress for humanity. They insist that there are parts of the Biblical Ethos that is, for a lack of a better word from me, WRONG! Progressives insist that our minds, our reasoning processes (a process that is polluted by sin in ALL of us) are better suited to guide us in life on earth. Pardon me, but isn’t that what Satan told Eve and Adam? It’s not longer about seeking, praying and listening to the Holy Spirit.

Yet another thing, unique to the U.S., is that politics will solve all our problems. Voting becomes a matter of religious preferences. It’s about which political party sits in the Oval Office, which party controls the Senate, which party controls the House of Representatives. We are about to enter a new election cycle and there will be all kinds of ads of candidates holding Bibles, talking about Biblical values, while standing in front of an American flag. Since when did Jesus give up His purpose of being The Messiah to a political party? I’m wondering if there are other responsibilities Jesus is giving up and where do I apply for it? People get all worked up over politics and say our nation is doomed because of this party, that party, that politician. Whatever happened to making our culture better through personal actions that reflect the heart, mind and glory of God? Somehow, I don’t think God is neither Democrat nor Republican. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that both parties causes God to have many a face palm moment!

Oh, I’m just getting started. Entitlement! In the words of Madea, “Oh, Lort!” Whatever happened to personal effort and goals worth WORKING toward? In an earlier blog I place much of the blame on participation trophies (Click here for that blog) People simply think that (and I call it a ‘philosophy’) I exist therefore I am owed! Look, folks, you are not owed anything simply because you breathe oxygen. It takes drive and determination to achieve success. You want us to reward mediocrity as if it were a virtue.

And then there’s “feelings”….feelings, nothing more than feelings….Got that song stuck in your head? Good. People are being lied to that you are who you feel like you are. In other words, your feelings override everything–biology, truth, reality. And to inflict as much damage and harm humanly possible, there are some who insist that God, the Creator, made you that way and that the Cross sanctifies your feelings. Well, I feel like a Billionaire, and you need to provide me with everything that would make me a billionaire. Whether I have the cash or not, give me what a Billionaire would want–a jet, huge mansion, multiple cars, you name it! After all, my feelings are that I’m a Billionaire, that’s what matters the most. Living by feelings does not liberate you–it makes you its prisoner. We are all more, much more, than our feelings!

Well, I could go on….but I’ll stop here. I’ll end with this:

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5, The Message