How Do You Let Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surviving Your D-Day Of Divorce

Divorce Is A Sin, But It Never Disqualifies You From Serving God.

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Job 3:20-26 (NLT)

20 “Oh, why give light to those in misery, and life to those who are bitter?  21 They long for death, and it won’t come.  They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.

22 They’re filled with joy when they finally die, and rejoice when they find the grave.  23 Why is life given to those with no future, those God has surrounded with difficulties?

24 I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water.  25 What I always feared has happened to me.  What I dreaded has come true.  26 I have no peace, no quietness.  I have no rest; only trouble comes.”

Let me set up today’s message with an image from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Scarlet Letter” set in Boston in the Puritan era.  It’s the story of a woman who conceived after committing adultery.  Because of her act she was forced to wear the Scarlet letter “A” stitched on her clothes.  It was the religious community’s attempt to fill her with shame. 

There’s another Scarlet letter that many of us have worn—The Scarlet Letter D!  When we launched this series called Surviving Your D-Day Invasions, we said that each of the attacks we would discuss come as a sneak invasion from a hostile enemy.  When you look at today’s topic of Divorce, we know that to be true.  In this series, we are looking at the Old Testament story of a man named Job.  Job did not experience divorce, but these words he wrote fit those of us who have.  I also said that we would be walking through my own personal story.  Here is the one thing I ask you to remember: 

Divorce Is A Sin, But It Never Disqualifies You From Serving God.

Today we’ll be talking about the darkest time in my life.  This is the most difficult message I have ever had to prepare or deliver.  I realize this message will not apply to all of you.  But maybe you know someone with someone who has faced or is facing The Scarlet D.

The first time I did this series was 2003.  When God first started working on me about this series and today’s topic, you have no idea how I resisted.  At the time Vicky and I had been separated, a fact known by only a very few people.  Before that, we have been sleeping in separate rooms, living separate lives.  God has an amazing sense of timing.  The first time I did this message was 1 week after I announced to the congregation I served, that we filed for Divorce. 

And even now, I still have difficulty sharing these thoughts with you.  Today is deeply personal, a reflection of what I learned as I dealt with the fact of Divorce in my life.  I never said, “Let’s try this thing called marriage, and 29 years later, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get a Divorce.”  But sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, the path of our lives takes an unexpected turn.

Of all the “D’s” of the D-Day Invasions, Divorce can be overwhelmingly painful.  It sneaks up on two people who began a union deeply in love.  They had dreams and aspirations of what their marriage could be and should be.  For the most part, they thought their marriage would last forever.  That is until one day, when the D-Day Invasion of Divorce lands right in the middle of their home. 

Maybe some of you here have personally experienced the D-Day Invasion of Divorce.  Some of you may have seen the results of that invasion in your parent’s Divorce.  All of us have probably had friends, close friends, whose marriage became 1 of the unfortunate statistics of our culture. 

Many people are dealing with the pain, turmoil and rejection that come with Divorce.  Believers, non-believers, seekers—the D-Day Invasion Of Divorce cuts across all lines.  And because of deep misunderstanding, the church only adds to the pain.

Once we are faced with the Invasion of Divorce, how can we survive?  How can we discard this Scarlet D?  Many people feel hopeless, confused and rejected.  I looked at my failed marriage and I felt like a total failure.  God’s plan for marriage is for a lifetime.

But God also understands that we are human, we have feet of clay.  So, how do we move beyond the hurt, beyond the humiliation, beyond the pain, beyond the uncertainty of this D-Day InvasionAllow me to share 4 things with you that I believe work together.  Follow these steps all the way through.  Here they are:

1.  Accept Only Your Responsibility

Somewhere down the line, you’re going to have to attach some responsibility.  In all Divorce cases, one or both people were responsible.  Someone screwed up; someone made a mistake.  It may not be you but it was someone.  This once perfect thing now has division.  You cannot speak of Divorce in generalities; each case must be examined in its own situation. 

Who is responsible?  Why did it happen?  Owning responsibility is the key to surviving the D-Day Invasion of DivorceAccepting only your responsibility is the key to giving and accepting forgiveness where it’s needed.  Responsibility has to be attached, but through a lot of prayer, discernment, and sometimes even counseling.  Last week we talked about learning from failure.  The way we are to learn from failure is to know what’s wrong, attach responsibility for our part, learn from our mistakes and move on. 

That’s what we need to do here.  Some of the most happily married people I know are people who have learned from their past mistakes.  However, we know the statistics, don’t we?  67% of people who Divorce once will Divorce again.  Most second marriages fail also.  73% of third marriages end in Divorce

There has to be something there.  Be Careful Not To Take On Someone Else’s Responsibilities.  False Guilt Will Eventually Affect All Our RelationshipsBut I caution you, don’t stop here.  Don’t hold on to the Deadly G’s:  Guilt And Grudges.  If Divorce is the only recourse, then it’s time to move beyond guilt, and give up our grudges.  The second step is:

2.  Work Toward Forgiveness

Once we understand who is responsible, we can begin to work toward forgiveness.  We understand that true healing requires forgiveness for wrongs done.  Forgiveness must be accepted and must be given.  Some people say, “That’s crazy!  There is no way I’ll forgive that person—it’s too difficult.”  You are right. 

It’s very, very hard.  You may be the only one that wants to work on forgiveness.  When we have been hurt and wronged we will never be healed until we forgiveYou don’t have to walk up to that ex-spouse and announce your forgiveness.  But you have to do it in your heart.  Forgiveness is saying, “I Refuse To Hold On To The Pain.  I Refuse To Live In The Past.  I Release Them From Holding Me Captive To Any Grudge Or Pain.”

You must also learn to forgive yourself.  As you work through the responsibility part of Divorce, you may find that some of the blame lies with you.  I know there were times when I was uncaring.  There were especially times when I was too busy. 

But I ended up taking a lot of the responsibility that wasn’t mine to take.  The result was that I could not forgive myself.  But in order to offer forgiveness and receive forgiveness, I had to forgive myself.  I do not know about you, but this was the hardest thing for me.  I ended up carrying a lot of guilt I didn’t have to carry aroundIf you have guilt, you must forgive yourself.  This was the hardest for me.  I wouldn’t do it until I remembered: We Must Accept Forgiveness From GodFor those of us who are believers, we understand this.  No matter what we’ve done, He died on the cross two thousand years ago, and in him we are forgiven AND Cleansed. 

All we have to do is accept his grace and forgiveness and the slate is wiped clean.   You must accept forgiveness for yourself, and give forgiveness to the other person.

3.  Allow Kids To Stay Relationally Connected

We need to make sure that if kids are involved in this D-Day Invasion of Divorce, that we encourage them to stay relationally connected to both parents.  Kids of all ages are the biggest victims in Divorce

Kids of Divorce go through confusion and pain when their parents got divorced.  They wondered if it was their fault.  There is no sense of closure to it.  It’s true for even adult kids.  Kids of all ages need to stay connected with both parents.  It’s the best thing for the kids.

Let Your Kids See You Living Out Forgiveness.  Teach them, by your example, about owning up to your mistakes and about receiving and giving the grace of God.  Let them see you working to live at peace with your ex-spouse.  Here is a powerful opportunity to bring something good out of something horrible. 

If you, or a family member, or close friend experiences the D-Day of Divorce, and there are children involved, even grown children, it’s important for them to see the spirit of grace, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation at work.  Don’t Take Sides, Be A Model Of God’s Grace.  Finally, in order to move beyond the pain, and experience healing and wholeness:

4.  Align Your Different Life With God’s Principles

In my nearly 44 years of working in ministry, I’ve never met a person who didn’t want their second marriage to work.  There is only one way to do it, friends. 

That is to align our different life with God’s principles.  Many of us just need to understand that we’ve tried it our way and failed, now maybe we should follow God’s plan.  If you follow God’s principles for sex, dating and marriage, you can have a very happy marriage. 

Do you ever feel like you have The Scarlet D pinned to your shirt?  That you could never be normal again in God’s eyes because of this thing called Divorce?  Maybe there’s another Scarlet Letter pinned to your shirt.  Maybe yours is the Scarlet A—Addict, Adultery Abuser, Abused.  Maybe you know someone with the Scarlet L—Loser.  Maybe yours is the Scarlet S—Sinner!  I want to leave you with this last verse and encourage you to align your new life with God’s principles.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17 says:  In Christ We Are New Creations; The Old Is Gone, And New Has Come!

Grace is all about a fresh start.  Do you need a fresh start?  God has one for every person who is wearing any Scarlet Letter.  He will take that letter off of you and you will never have to wear again.

Next Steps

  1. .  If You Are Living With Shame Put On You By Family, Church, Or Even Yourself Because Of Divorce, Bring That Shame To Jesus Right Now. The shame of anyone who wears The Scarlet D was carried by Jesus so that you do not have to carry it anymore.  No sin that anyone commits ever disqualifies them from both a relationship with God and the opportunity to be called by Him to serve Him.
  2. If You Have Been Through Divorce Or Not, Read The Scriptures About Divorce WITHOUT Whatever You Have Been Taught About It.  Take 2 steps in your reading.  First, ask the Holy Spirit to be your guide and teacherSecond, read those passages within the big picture of what God is seeking to do with ALL who have sinned.  Our God is focusing on both Redemption, and Restoration, making people useful for His Kingdom.  God chose Saul the murderer to become Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.  If God can use a murderer, why can’t He use someone divorced in any role He wants?

Surviving Your D-Days Of Defeat

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

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

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

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

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

Job 2:1-7 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me ask you some questions: 

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

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

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

1.  Failure Is Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Failure Is Not An Enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Failure Is Not Final Unless You Give Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step

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

Beware Of The Fall!

Falling.  Not the “trip over the rug” falling.  Not the missed the curb falling.  I’m talking about real falling–the moral and spiritual falling.  Last week I heard that a friend, colleague, and fellow pastor fell, and fell hard.  Now those of you who are close friends, please do not ask me who or where–because I will not tell you.  My friend and fellow pastor and his family are going through the unimaginable right now and such details will do nothing to bring healing and restoration, for them and that congregation.

I remember way back, the Jimmy Swaggert event.  And I remember thinking and saying, “Well, what should you expect from someone who considers themselves a superstar in the church?”  I know, I know, that was not very gracious, merciful or kind.  Truthfully, it was very self-righteous on my part.  Add to that, the recent fall of Bill Hybels.  I’ve heard Bill in person and followed him and the Willow Creek Church closely, reading many of his books.  After the recent move, I put those books on the bottom shelf, questioning his credibility.  But I am not judging him and I’m not throwing away those books.  There’s some good stuff in them, but I wrestle with the question of credibility.  That what sin does to us; it brings questions to our credibility.

And now, another fallen preacher and this is one I know personally.  Though I will not share the who, what and where, I now understand the why.  The why is true whether the preacher is on TV, writing books, or in the trenches.  They forgot–forgot 1 Corinthians 10:12.  From the New Living Translation it looks like this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

And this morning I have a shameful confession to make.  I had forgotten that verse, too.  Up until last week I said, “I could NEVER do such a thing.”  Now I realize that I’m setting myself up for that fall.  In my local Tribe every 3 years I am required to attend “Clergy Integrity Retraining”.  Fail to attend and I would not be appointed.  Another shameful confession.  I would say about these trainings, “Well, my integrity is about to expire, so I need to get it back.”  A more shameful confession:  I signed in and really didn’t listen.  After all, I wouldn’t do such a thing!”

So what am I going to do now?  Well, in 2 years when it’s time for “Clergy Integrity Retraining”, I will listen.  But I’m going to do more right now.  I am going to guard my heart and mind.  In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon reminds us all:  Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  To think I am immune to adultery or any other sin–it simply opens the door for Satan to come in, pull up a chair, and whisper in my ear counsel that is meant to, in Jesus’ own words, kill, steal and destroy.

Those who confidently say, “Well, I would never do such a thing!” are standing on a spiritual San Andreas fault line.  What can we do?  I want to speak especially to pastors now and church leaders, but for the rest of you, take heed because it applies to you as well.  Follow Solomon’s advice, guard that heart of your’s.  And I would add, also your minds.  This is where our Enemy sneaks in and attempts to change our logic.  Let us all become more intentional, not only in the realm of sexual sins, but in every sin–lying, cheating, gossiping, rejecting our Crosses, judging others by their appearance or their sin.  Even “small sins”, as if they actually existed, will lead us to even “bigger sins”.

How do we guard our hearts and minds?  So glad you asked that question.  Let’s read the rest of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in verse 13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  How will HE do it?  Look at this quote from D.L. Moody.

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But you need more than a printed Bible.  You need that Source of power that comes from beyond you.  That Source Of Power is the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who will guide you through that Bible to strengthen your inner being.  Fellow Pastors and Church leaders, I pray Ephesians 3:16 over you:  “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.”  I’m praying this now over you, and myself, and ask that you pray this over me.

I close with a joke, that I used to think was very funny, but now it’s very poignant.  A preacher was walking down a street and saw 4 boys with 1 puppy.  He asked them, “What are you doing?”  They replied, “Well, Preacher, we found this puppy but all of us want to take it home.  So we decided the one who could tell the biggest lie wins the puppy.”  With the eyes and voice of a preacher, he sternly told them, “Boys, when I was your age I would never do such a thing.”  The boys hung their heads down.  The one holding the puppy raised it up towards the Preacher and said, “OK, you win.”

One more time, 1 Corinthians 10:12, but this time from the New Life Version:

So watch yourself!  The person who thinks he can stand against sin had better watch that he does not fall into sin. 

Stay close to Jesus, very close with eyes and ears open to Him.  And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!  Oh, and watch yourself…

A Letter

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I’m back to a time and place where I can write again.  Wednesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. my Mother went home completely healed of her vascular dementia.  Over the past few months I watched a godly woman suffer.  In the last 2 weeks I watched her suffering intensify.  My prayers, and the prayers of many more, were for her to be released from her suffering.  On Tuesday Hospice told us it was only a matter of days.  My Dad refused to leave her side at the nursing home, so that night I stayed with him.  My wife Debbie came to relieve me Wednesday morning so I could go home a catch a nap.  She called me just a couple of hours later saying I needed to come back.

Surrounded by family, telling her it was OK to go home, her breath left her body and her soul was embraced by the One who had embraced her for nearly 90 years.  This picture was from 23 years ago at their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  They renewed their wedding vows and it was my honor and great joy to preside over that ceremony.  I had already been grieving for Mother and grieving more for Dad.  We went to his home that evening to make ready for the funeral.  I am still amazed at the great strength he has even at 92.  But then, I shouldn’t be amazed because he is a man of great faith.

Earlier in that week my daughter, Leslie Faith, called.  She and her family were about to leave on a family cruise.  They had purchased this family vacation 2 years earlier and did not purchase the “insurance” in case something like this happened.  She asked me, and Dad, her Pappaw, if we would be OK with them still going.  Of course we both said “Yes” because family time was important to Mother.  Leslie called me back and asked if it would be OK if she wrote a letter to be read at Mother’s funeral.  Being a writer myself, I was all over that and gave her my blessings.

This morning, I want to share with you what she wrote, and was read at Mother’s funeral yesterday.  I am proud of Leslie Faith’s gift of writing and would like to think maybe she got this from me.  By the way, we call her Leslie Faith because my Dad and Mother had another child named Marilyn Faith.  She would have been the oldest, had she lived.  The name “Faith” was special to Mother.  Here are words that were formed by the example and teachings of my Mother to us all:

 

In a way this is one of the easiest letters I’ve ever written and in a way it’s one of the hardest.  Finding the words to sum up the life of Helen Irene Gautney Burbank isn’t the easiest of tasks.  She was a loving and devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend.  Her love and loyalty knew no bounds.  She led what many today would consider a simplistic life, but she was fulfilled and knew a joy that eludes so many people today. 

Mammaw would be the first to say she was far from perfect.  She was an avid collector of things (yes that’s the nice way of saying she was somewhat of a hoarder) and she worried about everyone else so they didn’t have to.  She kept things that most people wouldn’t – be it a drawing on a bulletin from one of the grandkids or some trinket present one of the kids gave her for Christmas when they were little.  They may have been knickknacks or even junk to someone else, but they were treasures to her.  And for reasons that pass all understanding, she could not smile in a picture, although she smiled all the time in real life. 

Although Randy and Jacque might try to disagree for reasons unknown to the rest of us, she spoiled her children.  The grandchildren know we were spoiled.  She encouraged our imagination – who knew that old medicine bottles, wooden swords and capes made from old fabrics could create hundreds of countless hours of fun?  She taught me how to play Rummy and Dominoes.  She tried to teach me how to crochet – if only I had her patience.  She made us clothes when we were little.  She introduced me to Madame Alexander Dolls and the yearly Christmas bears.  There were our Christmas stockings every year.  And what did we want in them?  The latest toys or money?  Nope!  We wanted the oldest jar of pickles she had.  We wanted the homemade hot sauce.  We wanted the butter beans.  The chicken stew.  We wanted what she and Pawpaw made and had made with love.

She was firm in her faith and she loved the Lord her God.  She loved her family.  Unconditionally.  Without fail.  She always looked for the good in people and she refused to see anything but the best in those around her.  If one of us made a mistake, she was the first one to say, “Well, that’s alright!  I know you’ll do better next time!” And she honestly believed that we were capable of doing better and we would do better.  She never let the disappointment she might have felt in any of us overshadow her love for us.  Love, loyalty and faith weren’t just words to Helen Irene.  They were a way of life.  The only way to live life.  She didn’t let the loss of her first child define her or break her.  Yes she was heartbroken about losing Marilyn, even when she talked about it all these years later.  But she continued to make a life for her family.  And she made sure we all knew about Marilyn – that Marilyn lived on through the rest of us.  And just as I am sure about her love for her family, I am sure that she is now rejoicing to be reunited with Marilyn and Mamma Gautney and so many of her loved ones that have been waiting on her. 

The selfish part of me is sad that she’s gone from this earth.  The selfish part of me misses her already.  I miss the meals we had together (especially her mashed potatoes) because no one could cook like her.  It’s something about a homemade meal made with love that you just can’t duplicate no matter how hard you try.  I miss her phone calls.  I miss her laugh.  I miss her calling me “Tinker Bug” or “Mammaw’s Little Angel”.  I miss her.  But that’s the selfish part of me.  The rest of me know she’s so much better off.  That she more than earned the reward that awaited on the other side of Heaven’s gate. 

I have struggled with the possibility of not being there for her funeral.  She was always there for me – made time for me no matter what.  She never once told me she was too busy and to come back later.  But then I think about what she always told me about family.  About how family is there for you no matter what and that you should always take the opportunity to make memories with them.  I have 37 years of great memories with my Mammaw Burbank.  I pray I am making memories with my family now – memories she would be proud to share with me.  I pray I am doing what she would want me to do – what she would do in my shoes.  I pray that I am honoring her memory in a way that she would want.  I pray that as I grow I become more like her.  That I have her faith and her ability to see the good in people.  That I give more second chances and forgiveness.  That I create loving and happy memories with those closest to me.  That I always put God and family first. 

Mammaw always said that she led a blessed life, but I think she underestimated how much of a blessing she was to the rest of us. I know that I was deeply loved by Helen Irene Burbank and I know that she knew I deeply loved her.  She always saw the best in me, so maybe that’s why I always saw the best in her.  I may never be the “collector” she was or the cook that she was (although I do think I’ve got Jacque beaten by a country mile), I do hope and pray that I love my family like she loved hers.  That I am the example to my family like she was to me.  That I have her ability to forgive, to see goodness in people and to not be hardened by the trials of this world.  I hope I can follow the example she set.  I hope that my Pawpaw can look at me and see just a little bit of her in me.  I hope as we can all look at ourselves and see just a little bit of Helen Irene and realize how better off we all are because of it. 

LESLIE FAITH BURBANK SPENCER

Deepest Grief!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

Ultracrepidarianism Is Killing The Local Church!

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Do you know what an expert is?  Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words.  The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was.  The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure.  Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure.  So know that I am not an expert.  But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.

As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation.  I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories.  I am sure you might could think of other categories.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.

First there are the “Noobs“.  It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance.  I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.

The other group is the “Kabitzers“.  Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada!  They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky.  They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right.  So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.

Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay!  Entrenched, Nay!  Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye!  Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose.  Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!

I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location.  We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design.  What is that original design?  Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.

It is to be a Kingdom of Servants.  Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture:  The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago.  It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator.  And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people:  Life As God Intends!  That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:

I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

(and my personal favorite)  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions.  He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of.  Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other.  To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant.  Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires.  And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them.  It begins when we accept them unconditionally.  Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them.  Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King.  And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life.  The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.

If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read.  If they are hungry, we feed them.  If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment.  If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them.  If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.

And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us.  When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move.  But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card.  But if they do not, then we need to persist.  We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants.  And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him.  Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!

Happy? Really?

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I’m taking a break from this Radical series because I have some issues.  Not the ones those who know me may think I have, but I have a real issue with a phrase that is most inappropriate to me.  And if you want to think, “Well that’s your problem”, go  right ahead, if it makes you feel better about yourself.  I am not changing my feelings right now.  It’s about the phrase “Happy Memorial Day”!

 When I looked up that word on dictionary.com it only adds to my issues about this phrase.  According to the website it means:  “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing”.  Can you now feel a sense of my righteous indignation?  I mean, businesses have flood the advertising world with big banners over their sale prices, “Happy Memorial Day”!  Happy New Year, Happy Birthday, Happy Mothers Day, Happy Fathers Day, Happy Fourth of July, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Christmas (I won’t say the word ‘holidays) are all appropriate.  Not so with this day, Memorial Day.

Instead of using the word “Happy”, use the definition and it sounds like this:  “Delighted, Pleased, or Glad You Lost A Family Member, Friend Or Fellow Soldier In Combat.”  Someone reading this just thought, “Wait a minute Radical Kingdom Pastor, that’s not what I mean when I say Happy Memorial Day!”  BUT, if words having meanings, and they do, then this is exactly what you are saying.  Because words DO have meaning, this is why I refuse to say, I can’t even write it down any more.  It makes me nauseated.

Part of my nausea from hearing that phrase comes from some of my life experiences.  I am the very proud Father and Father-In-Law of 2 combat veterans.  Each time they were deployed (one time they were both deployed in Iraq at the same time) I lived with the fear that a car would pull up in my driveway and a fine dressed soldier would step out of it and walk to our front door.  I still remember to this day that Saturday morning when my phone rang.  It was my son calling from Iraq and his first words were “Dad, I’m OK.”  I immediately knew something was wrong.  His Humvee had been hit by an IED, but he was OK.  But for many other families, friends, and fellow soldiers, everything was NOT OK.  What was my fear, is now their daily reality.

And if someone who is reading these words has lost a family member, friend or fellow soldier-in-arms, please know that even though I do not know your pain, my heart does ache for you.  And on this MEMORIAL DAY, and every day, I live with gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy because of their sacrifice.  And even more so on this day, I pray for your comfort and for God to continue to give you the strength to get through another day.  You will never get over your loss, but with God’s grace, you will get through those tough moments when you miss them so very much.

I do have a wish, I call it a High Hope, that Democrats and Republicans would take this day to remember that this nation is much more than your egos and personal ideologies.  Remember that your comfort has been made possible only, I said ONLY because of the sacrifices of those we are called to remember this day.  And to all the news media people, YOU are not the protectors of liberty, but are protected by the blood of those who gave it all, and to all who gave some.  News people, just get over yourselves and know your place in all this we call the U.S. of A.

And to all you Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion–YOU need to remember that your spiritual freedom also came with a price and that price included blood.  Not just any blood, but the blood of Jesus, who became human just like us.  Remember that for HIM to become one of us, He freely  GAVE UP His divine nature.  And you want to complain about YOUR stuff?  Wanting things YOUR way?  You really want to whine that things are not like they were in 1960 or 1970 when there are so many who need what only the Good News of the Kingdom can deliver?  Shame on you, shame on you, SHAME ON YOU!

This day should remind us that to live a life that is both meaningful and worthwhile we need to live the way these heroes died and the way Jesus died!  Stop being so selfish and petty.  For heaven’s sake get over yourselves.  Today is Memorial Day–remember and live with deeper purpose and gratitude.  I invite to you view this link to a video titled “Signs And Numbers”.  It’s a few years old and the numbers are even larger, but the message remains the same.

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

#3 The Loss Of Passion

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(This is Number 8 in a series.  I encourage you to read in order, Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude#6. Self Reliance#5 Fear Of Change and #4 Form Rather Than Substance.  The ninth one should come tomorrow!)

OK, OK, OK; so I did not follow my original plan of writing of writing in consecutive days.  Give me the 40 lashes minus one with the wet noodle.  I do have a good excuse (don’t we all?).  Actually I have a reason; in addition to my usual activities as pastor, I was helping in a new tutoring program started by our school system called STIC–Students Tutoring In Churches.  Sometimes one just needs to do the work of the Kingdom of God rather than write about it.  After an hour and a half with second graders I reaffirmed my support and thankfulness for teachers, and that I am not one of them.  Yesterday I had to change hats from pastor to being our Tribe’s Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.  No, there were no disasters, but a lot of paperwork that needed my attention; a full week’s worth in one day.  And yes, sometimes the work of the Kingdom of God requires attention to the details.  Now that I’ve justified my failure (sound familiar to anyone?), let’s get to the task at hand.

In churches I hear and see a lot of questions about understanding John’s last book “The Revelation”.  Please notice that there is no “s” in that word Revelation.  Their fascination and their questions center around chapters 4 through 22.  I’ve seen teachers and “prophecy experts” design elaborate flow charts carefully detailing every event in chapters 4 through 22.  Many even have designed a timeline for when these events will happen.  (Wow!  Didn’t Jesus say no one would know the time or the hour but the Father?)  It can get complicated and confusing.  Your bonus feature in today’s blog (at no extra charge to you) is that I am giving you the full meaning of chapters 4 through 22 and all that you need to know in 2 words.  Here it is:

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Now that we’ve got all that out-of-the-way, let’s move forward in understanding what else is killing the church in the U.S.A.  The most important lessons in Revelation (without the “s”) are found in chapters 2 and 3.  It is one of the churches mentioned in chapter 2 that has landed this as firmly planted at Reason #3.  It is the problem at the church in Ephesus.  Look at Revelation 2:1-5 from The Message:

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church.  The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.  I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders.  I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.”

4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why?  What’s going on with you, anyway?  Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?  A Lucifer fall!  Turn back!  Recover your dear early love.  No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

Little wonder most folks who are fascinated with The Revelation (again, no “s”) overlook chapters 2 and 3; unless it is to criticize some other Tribe and then it becomes useful ammunition.  I had an Epiphany Moment writing this edition that began with this question:  “Why did He start with Ephesus?”  He could have started anywhere, but why Ephesus?  I mean, there were some churches who were worse off than Ephesus.  And here is my light-bulb moment and why Ephesus is mentioned first:  It Is Easy To Lose The Passion And The Loss Of That Fire And Passion And Fire Opens The Door For Even Worse Things.  In fact, it leads not to opening doors, but closing the doors of local congregations.

I know that a lot of those flow charts and timeline teachers would say that Ephesus lost love, not passion.  But what is love without that passion and excitement of being loved by The Father and loving Him back through loving others?  The issue for many is that they see love as an emotion.  Love is more and deeper than an emotion.  It is the drive, energy and excitement that propels us into the very thing Jesus came to bring:  The Kingdom of God.  Jesus never said “The church is at hand.”  But He did frequently speak about The Kingdom of God and it being at hand.

I am the advocate for mandating that every church have cameras in their sanctuaries/worship centers.  And those cameras should be panning the congregation and those images projected on screens.  I mean, if you could just see what pastors, choirs and music leaders see many Sundays in congregations that are declining.  And then there is the passion, rather lack of passion for the Kingdom of God that manifests itself for the rest of the week.  There is passion out there, but it is not focused on The Kingdom of God.

Every person has a passion, a fire burning deep down inside themselves.  You see it in sports, especially college sports (I see a lot of it because I live in the heart of the SEC).  And the past few months we have seen a lot of passion and continue to see even more passion in the realm of politics.  Perhaps I should define passion in the context of which I am writing.  Here goes:

Passion is the force and desire that forms our attitudes, shapes our words, and guides our actions.

Everyone is passionate about something.  Even the person who says they are miserable has a passion.  Their passion, that burning desire, The Force and The Desire that is forming their attitudes, shaping their actions and creating their actions is misery.  To recognize and name YOUR passion answer these 3 questions:

  1. What do you think about most of the time?  Pay attention to your thoughts because your thoughts extend into and impact everything else in your life, and in your day.
  2. What do you talk about the most?  Words are the mp3 of your mind and heart.  Words are powerful because they repeat what is in the mind and heart.
  3. What are you doing most of the time?  What you consistently do in moments and situations reveals your true self.  Your actions and reactions are telling you something about your passions.  Occasionally you can do something good, but look at the consistent action and reaction.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.

Think about that time in human history when Jesus was human like us.  When I look at some of the art that has Jesus as its subject, I can easily see why some see Jesus as dispassionate about life.  I really did not have a taste for so-called “Christian” art until I discovered Stephen Sawyer.  You can find his story-his Passion- and his work at Art4God.  I see a bright smile on Jesus’ face when He invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus.  I see this burning love in His eyes as that “sinful” woman washes His feet with her tears.  I hear a joyful laugh as He watches Peter and the others trying to pull all those fish in their nets into their boat.  I feel the heat from His anger as He drives the money changers from the Temple.  I sense the depth of His compassion as He hangs on that cross.  And there is an indescribable emotion as He tells death to step aside and walks out of that tomb.

The loss of passion that I am talking about that is literally draining the life from declining congregations is that lost passion for what God is doing.  Some say it is the lost passion for the things of God.  I disagree because have seen many people passionate about the things of God, but not about the work of God.  The passion is around the budget, committees, pastors, programs, hierarchy, and institutions–but NOT God and what HE is doing in HIS world.  The result of losing that passion for God and what He is doing creates many things but I would like to sum up that result in one word:

mediocrity

The loss of Passion for God and what He is doing results in the passion for mediocrity.  To be and do “just enough” seems to suffice in those congregations that have plateaued or have already begun to decline.  If your congregation is experiencing mediocrity, meaning decline in attendance, membership and impact on your community, the message, the FIRST message of God in Revelation (without the “s”) to the church is COME BACK!  Come back to that first passion you had when you knew God loved you, that the blood of Jesus forgave your sins, and that God now lived in you through the Holy Spirit.  Remember!

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Right now picture in your mind the actor Samuel Jackson and try to image his voice saying “What’s your passion?”  Will the rest of your life be average or memorable?  Remember that first love!