Radical: Spirituality! Part 2

Welcome back to Episode 2 of True Spirituality.  Remember that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  There are 3 key components to this and let’s get to the first one:

 1.  True Spirituality Is Evidenced By Love.

If you want to become spiritual, there are a number of things you must master in your personal life.

  1. We Need To Be Committed To The Goal Of Spirituality. We need to be able to say, “I’m not going to let the world, or sin, or traditions, or money, or enemies, or friends, or family stand in the way of my becoming close to God.”
  2. We Also Need To Be Disciplined. We need to be able to govern ourselves and force ourselves at times to do what we don’t necessarily feel like doing, and, at times, not do what we really feel most like doing.
  3. We Also Need To Be Consistent. We need to make a regular habit of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to God.  These things can’t be done in a half-hearted when I feel like it fashion.

As important as these habits are, Paul tells us they are not really the key to spirituality.  It’s Not Enough To Accumulate Knowledge, Or Be Disciplined, Or Be Committed.  There is something much more important than any of these.  You Must Develop A Heart Full Of Love.  Look at the latter half of verse 1:  “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”  And he follows this up later with the most famous passage of all in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13—The Love Chapter.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is the primary component of the Christian life.  This is the key to growing God’s Kingdom “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, They Want To Know How Much You Care.”  Have you ever wondered why your friends who are not Christians (hopefully you have some of these, if not, “Shame on you!”) never ask you about your faith?  Well, it may be that they sense in you that all you will talk about is WHAT you know.  Quite frankly, they do not need to know what you know.  They need the WHO, not the WHAT!  If all you talk about is The What, then it is clear that you are unclear about The WHO!

God has a primary concern about you once you decide to follow Jesus.  His primary concern for your spiritual growth is not how much you know, But How Much You Love Those Created In His Image.  When you stand before the throne on judgment day, He won’t say, “Wow! You really knew the Greek.” Or…”Wow! You could argue the authorship of Isaiah with the best of them.” Or…”Wow! You sat in the same pew every Sunday for 57 years.”  Those aren’t the things God is looking for.  He wants you to develop a heart full of love towards others and towards Him. True spirituality isn’t measured merely by how good you are, but by how good you are to others.  And this is measured by how well we love.  If you have been reading me for any time, you know what’s coming next…

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

Tomorrow we will look at the next component of True Spirituality.

Advertisements

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 2

Let’s continue on from yesterday.  I ended with the truth that God will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change. Today, we’re going to look at three of those things that our past sin doesn’t change.

 1.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Plans!

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” (Jonah 3:1-2 NLT)

God told Jonah to do the same thing in chapter three that he said in chapter 1:  Go to Nineveh and preach.  Jonah’s disobedience didn’t change God’s plan for Jonah’s life.  Nineveh still needed to hear the word of God, and Jonah was still God’s man for the job.  Once Jonah got his heart right, God was ready to put His plan back into action.  Throughout scripture we see how God was able to use people even after they committed major sins.   Abraham tried to get his wife to commit adultery, and God used Abraham.  Moses committed murder, and God used him. King David committed adultery and murder, and God used him again.

You may try to run away from God at some point in your life, but once you stop running, God’s plan for your life goes back into effect.  It doesn’t matter that you let your life take a different course!  Now is time to pick up where you left off and pursue the plan God has for you.  Your Past, Your Yesterday Doesn’t Have Authority Over You When You Come Back To God’s Grace Because Your Yesterdays Were Taken Care Of At The Cross!

2.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Power! 

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.  (Jonah 3:4-5)

Jonah went to Nineveh and did as he was supposed to do.  He proclaimed the word of God.  And the result was that revival broke out and people’s lives were changed!  Just because Jonah disobeyed God doesn’t mean God’s word lost its power.  Once he got back into the place God wanted him to be, once he began pursuing God’s plan for his life, he was able to experience God’s power.

Let’s look at another example from scripture. While Jesus was facing death on the cross, Peter denied Jesus 3 times and abandoned him and left him to die all alone.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Some follower of Christ he was.  He ran from Jesus at a time Jesus needed him most.  How could he expect to have any credibility as a leader ever again?  How could he expect to experience God’s power ever again?  But on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and over 3,000 people were saved.

Not long after that, he and John healed the man who was crippled.  Peter’s sin didn’t change God’s power.  When Peter got back on track, he was again able to experience God’s power in his life.  It was the same with Jonah, and it is the same with you.  Just because you have failed God in some area of your life doesn’t mean you have forever lost the ability to experience God’s power.  God’s grace is greater than your sin.

3  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promises! 

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

Nineveh was sin city long before there was Las Vegas, and God was ready to destroy it.  He was willing, however, to give them another chance.  He sent Jonah to Nineveh to make them a promise:   If you repent, your city won’t be destroyed.  The people of Nineveh repented, and God had compassion on them and saved the city.  God’s promise is:  If You Repent, You Will Be Saved.  Nothing can change that.  His promise is as good as gold.  In fact, it’s better than gold.  Amazingly, this made Jonah angry.  He wanted to see Nineveh burn, from outside the city limits.  Instead, it turned into a revival meeting.  Jonah didn’t think it was fair.

Jonah Got Mad At God For Showing The Same Grace To Nineveh That He Had Shown To Jonah Just A Little Bit Earlier.  (Do you understand what I just said??)  Jonah Didn’t Argue With God When He Was Forgiven, But He Didn’t Like It When Nineveh Got Off The Hook.  That’s because Jonah had become self-righteous again.  There are some of us who think other people’s sins are worse than our own—that we deserve to be forgiven but other people don’t.  That’s self-righteousness.

In spite of Jonah’s sin, God’s promise remains the same:  If You Repent, You Will Be Forgiven.  This Applies To Everyone The Same.  There may be times in your life when you are beaten down by your own failure and you think, “I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”  Yet, God’s promise is just as true for you as it is for everyone else:  If you repent, you will be forgiven.  Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promise.  It’s as true today as it ever was.

If you run from God—and I hope you never have and never will—but even if you do, that doesn’t mean God is finished with you.  When you’re ready to stop running, God will help you pick up where you left off.  God’s Grace Isn’t Based On What You Deserve To Receive; It’s Based On What God Is Willing To Give.  That’s why it’s called Radical Grace.  When we repent, our sins are forgiven, and those sins become part of the past and those past sins cannot prevent us from pursuing God’s plan for our life; past sins cannot prevent us from experiencing God’s power in our life; past sins cannot prevent us from receiving the benefits of God’s promises in our life.

If you are running from God—that includes running from a relationship with Him, running from His plans and purposes—listen closely to me today.  The word of God is coming to you a second time.  Please, hear it today, and respond with your heart.  Now this, my friends, is radical!

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

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 1

Well, there is more, much more to the Radical Message of the Kingdom of God.  When I think about this Radical Message I think about God’s Grace.  And when I think about God’s Grace, I think about Jonah.  Let me back up.  When I think about God’s Grace in its entirety, of course I think about the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  But today I’m thinking about God’s Grace at work in the human arena of life as it actually happens to each of us.  That is why I connect the dots, from Jonah to God’s Grace.

There are a number of things we do in life in which we have only one chance to get it right.  For example, if you borrow money from the bank or from a friend and don’t pay it back, you probably won’t get another chance to borrow.  If a job promotion is tied to a certain project that you are doing at work, and you muddle the project, you probably won’t get another chance to do the job right, and you’ll miss out on the promotion.

Or, if you invited all your friends to your house for a big party, and then when everyone showed up you said, “I decided I didn’t feel like having a party tonight, why don’t you come back another time?”  I doubt if any of your friends would come to another one of your parties.  In any of these cases, if the appeal was made, “I’ll do better next time,” more than likely the appeal would be ignored and the second chance would be denied.

Another example:  Each Sunday I have one chance to deliver the message that God has laid on my heart that week.  What if, after I finished preaching one of those mornings, I was to say, “Folks, I think I can do better.  Why don’t we all stay an extra 30 minutes after the service, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more the second time around?”  How well do you think that idea would go over?  How many would stay?  I doubt even Debbie would stay.  She would say, “Listen, I hear it twice every Sunday.  I’m going home.”  That’s because everyone pretty much expects me to get it right the first time.  And, of course, I don’t blame them.

There are many situations in life in which we have only one chance, and even if you need a second chance, it’s just not available.  You had one shot, you blew it, and that’s all there is to it.  This is the way it is in many areas of life, and there’s nothing you can do.  The good news is that with God, it works differently.  With him, we get a second chance.  We don’t deserve a second chance, but we get one.

Enter the story of a Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach the word.  Instead, Jonah got on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is basically in the other direction.  Once the boat was in the middle of the sea, a storm came along and the boat started to sink.  When the sailors found out that they had a backslidden preacher in their midst, they tossed him overboard.

Believe it or not, getting tossed out was Jonah’s own idea.  Apparently he decided he would rather die than repent.  So he allowed himself to be hurled into the sea.  I’m sure everyone thought that was the end of Jonah, but God had other plans.  A great big fish came along and swallowed Jonah.

Then, the Bible says three days later, 2:10— Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.  The very next verse is one of the most encouraging verses in all of scripture. (3:1) Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time.  Jonah got a second chance from God.  He didn’t deserve it, but he got it.  This is God’s grace at work; this is what He does. Even if we blow it the first time, God gives us a chance to try again.  This is good news, because without exception, from time to time we all need a second chance from God.

There’s only one way to interpret Jonah’s behavior.  He sinned.  God said, “Go to Nineveh” and Jonah said, “No.”  In Jonah’s story we learn an important truth:  God Could Have Given Up On Jonah—Some May Even Say God Should Have Given Up On Jonah—But God Was Gracious To Jonah—He Gave Him A Second Chance.  The story of Jonah teaches us that God’s grace is greater than our sin, and there are simply some things our sin cannot change.

It is God’s nature to give a second chance.  Nothing can change that.  He forgives and lets you try again and again and as often as you need it.  Your boss, your coach, your teacher, your spouse may not give you a second chance, but God will—He Is The God Of The Second Chance.  His grace is greater than our sin.  We tend to think in human terms.  But God is not human nor does He think and react the way we humans tend to think and react.

We make the mistake of thinking that once we have blown it, we can never get back on track—God can never use us again.  The story of Jonah shows us this simply isn’t true.  If you have been running from God or even God’s plan and purpose, and you are now ready to come back, God is willing to pick up where you left off.  If you have blown it, it doesn’t mean you’ve blown it forever.  He will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change.

And in the next post we will look at some of the things our past sin doesn’t change.  And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Do You Have A Compass?

3331437207_86c053b95a.jpg

Have you ever been lost?  I’m not talking about forgetting where you parked the car at the shopping center.  I’m talking about being by yourself, no one around and unable to find your way back kind of lost.  I was back in 1987.  I was living in Winston County not far from the Bankhead National Forest.  One day I decided to go deer hunting.  After not seeing anything I decided to do a little scouting and go back to my truck a different way.  I did not have a compass because I thought I didn’t need one.  After 6 hours I finally walked upon the house of a friend, some 12 miles from where I had parked.  I understand how easy it is for people to panic.  I had to fight it every step of the way.  It’s unnerving and panic can unravel us at the seams.  After that I made sure I had a compass in my hunting gear.

The fear of being lost is about being disconnected; cut off from home, friends, and community.  This fear is not limited to Forests, and for some, it goes much deeper.  Every day can be a battle.  We all need a way to keep our heart focused on the God who loves us perfectly.  How do we keep our focus?  I think this passage is Luke 7:36-50 (The Message) has the answer.

36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Oh? Tell me.”  41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”  “That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”  49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”  50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Think about this woman.  Her morals were a far cry from God’s standard.  Her reputation in the community was well-known.  Everyone looked down on her, especially the Religious Police.  And her own self-image?  The community didn’t have to heap shame on her, she already felt it.  She was told that her heart was unworthy of God and that God wouldn’t accept her heart.  She lived with this mind-set day after day after day.

But one day, she must have heard Jesus speaking about the real God of real love.  Perhaps she’s in the crowd listening.  She’s not too close to Jesus because people wouldn’t allow her around them.  She is on the edges.  But even on the fringe, she hears enough that something stirs in her heart that she believed died so long ago:  Hope!  And this hope that God plants in her heart refuses to go away.  God’s Prevenient Grace keeps going before her until that moment she finally surrenders her heart, such as it is, dirty as it is, unworthy as it is,—she surrenders it to God.

What she had heard would never happen, did happen!  God accepted her heart, cleansing her and releasing her from all her guilt and shame.  Can you imagine the relief she felt?  The weight of it all had been lifted from her.  So what can she do for the One who set her free?  Does she volunteer at the local homeless shelter?  Does she become a street preacher to other women who have been living like she has?  Does she try to read and memorize the Torah?  The answer to all of these questions is NO!  Let’s learn something important from this shameful woman; this woman who had been deemed unworthy and unlovable.  Let’s follow her steps:

She Is Determined To Seek Jesus First.

Maybe she looks at that place where she first heard His voice.  Up one street and down another.  She hasn’t found Him, but she doesn’t give up.  Maybe she goes to the local synagogue, but He’s not there.  Maybe she knows where some sick people live.  So she goes there but He’s not there.  So she starts asking people, “Do you know where Jesus is?”  Some in the community ignored her because that’s what smug self-righteous people do with “sinners”.  Those that do speak say “I haven’t seen Him.”  No one seems to have an answer for her.  She persists until finally someone says, “Oh, he’s having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.”

And what about you?  Do you have the tenacity of this woman to seek the presence of Jesus?  Before the act of worship occurs, there must be The Desire For Jesus.  Some people come to church because they are determined to fulfill their duty.  Others come to worship seeking to hear a good sermon or good music.  But real worshippers, people whose heart is for worship, Come For No Other Reason Than To Seek Jesus.  Look at what she does next.

She Overcomes The Obstacles In Order To Worship.

What she overcomes isn’t written in these pages, but deeply embedded in her culture.  First, she has to find a way into the Pharisee’s house.  She’s not on the guest list.  Not only is she not invited, She Is Unwanted!  No self-respecting Pharisee would invite someone of her morals into their home.  But somehow she manages to get into the courtyard of the home, but Jesus is inside.

If she knocks on the front door she will be turned away.  Another obstacle!  But somehow she gets inside the house.  But Jesus is in the one place NO woman was ever allowed.  The dinner table!  Another obstacle.  But that doesn’t stop her.  She finally works her way to Jesus.  She’s behind him.  There He is!  She kneels at the feet of Jesus.  Now what?  She probably hasn’t thought it through this far, So She Does What Her Heart Tells Her To Do.  Her tears start to flow; tears of release and joy!  They drop on the feet of Jesus.  Now everyone sees her and what she is doing!  Her emotions are taboo!  Respectable people don’t show their emotions in worship!  And then she lets down her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus!  Oh, no!  Women who follow the rules don’t do that either.  But she does!

And what are your obstacles to true worship?  Is it Pride?  Guilt?  Fear?  To worship God we have to overcome our obstacles—whether those obstacles are self-imposed or pushed on us by our culture.  Worship is not about the style or songs or preacher.  It is about overcoming any obstacle just to be in the presence of the only One who can set you free.  Look at what she does next:

She Pours Her Whole Heart Into Her Worship.

She has an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  This isn’t Dior J’adore where you can spray just a little bit.  The jar is sealed and has to be broken.  It’s a one-time use jar.  Maybe it was being saved for her wedding day, but that dream has probably long died.  Maybe it was being saved for her burial; after all, no one would spend that kind of money on someone like her.  She takes all that she has, and offers it in worship.  She broke so many rules just to be to this moment, and she doesn’t hold anything back, so she breaks that jar.  And the aroma of her perfume, The Fragrance Of Her Worship Fills That Room.  And everyone around that table looks at her with contempt—everyone except Jesus.  He accepts her act of worship by looking into her eyes and into her heart.

Worship is not about the items we associate with worship:  Announcements, Prayers, Hymns, Anthems, Scripture, Sermon, and what many consider the best part of all, the Benediction.  It is about pouring out all that is in your heart as the only acceptable response to God’s unconditional love.  Worship Is Not About The Acts That You Do, But The Total Surrender Of Your Heart, Such As It Is, To God.

You Never Truly Worship God Until You Break Your Alabaster Jar And Empty All The Contents While You Are At The Feet Of Jesus.

Worship is the compass that helps us find our way back to God.  When we get disconnected from life, worship points us to the one who will rescue us from our fears and despair.  Worship is about realizing that we have been invited into His presence.  True worship reminds us of the Infinite Love, Unparalleled Grace, And Unending Mercy God Has For Us And That Keeps Us From Getting Lost All Over Again.

Worship, true worship strengthens us and helps us become more like Jesus.  And as much as we may mess up during any given week, it is our worship that keeps us From Messing Up Even More And Even Becoming Totally Disconnected From The Life We Long For And The Life We Were Made For.  Have you poured out your whole heart in worship today?  If you haven’t, it’s not too late.

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

Hot, Cold, Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

In law enforcement terminology there’s this thing called “Hot Pursuit”.  It means going chasing after someone with everything they have.  God is always in Hot Pursuit of us, but what about us?  When it comes to the relationship God offers, are we in Hot Pursuit?  Cold Pursuit?  Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

Now those progressives out there that want us to throw away the Old Testament because there’s too much judgment and rules, well just take a look at this:  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The Message)

“Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only!  Love God, your God, with your whole heart:  love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!” 

While we can be masters of deception and hide what is really in our heart, eventually, it comes out.  What you say is the result of what is in your heart.  Now sometimes when a person reveals their heart towards us, those words are ugly and wound.  The result is, we don’t want to be friends with them.  We turn our back on them.  But when it comes to God, well, it is quite a bit different.

The heart is like a warehouse that stores things.  It can be good, evil, or both at the same time.  There comes a time when we need to see what is really in our heart.  I will confess to you there are times when I have a crisis of faith, experience brokenness, grief, disappointments—well to put it plainly and to the point—sometimes my heart is messy.  And in those messy times I need to know where I can go, where I can turn, where I know my feelings won’t be ignored, or made to feel small, or like a failure.

We all need somewhere to turn when life gets tough and things don’t turn out like we want.  We need a place that will bind up our wounds and heal them, even if we believe that the wounds are too deep.  And it needs to be a place we can count on to always be there for us.  I have looked for that place and would like to tell you that I found it, but I would be lying.  I didn’t find that place; The Place Found Me.  The Place I’m talking about is the heart of God.

I have had a Job experience—with all my pain and disappointment, I still want God.  I do not always know how to get out of those places, but I know God does, and He will show me and help me and heal me.  And if God still wants my heart in the shape that it was and sometimes still gets in, then I know I need to get in hot pursuit of God’s heart.  Here is how I see giving our heart to God.

Step 1:  Give God Your Whole Heart!

 You can’t give God bits and pieces of your heart a little at the time.  You can’t give God the majority of your heart.  Give Him your whole heart.  You have to take the risk that it’s really true:  That He Loves You With His Whole Heart All The Time.  He’s given you his whole heart in the Son who died on the Cross for me and you.

And giving Him your whole heart isn’t a one-time decision.  It’s not even a once a week or once a day decision you make.  It Has To Be A Conscious And Intentional Moment By Moment Decision For The Rest Of Your Life.  If you don’t give Him your whole heart, You Will NEVER Know That He Can Be Trusted To Love You.

Step 2:  Trust God With All That’s In Your Heart!

Whatever abilities, passions, dreams, goals and gifts you have, hand them over to God.  God can take the simplest ability, the smallest gift, and do great things in your life.  Your relationships—give them over to God.  Trust God to help you find and build those relationships HE wants you to have.  Your time—make God the only priority in your life all the time.  Don’t give God a token Sunday.

Every waking and breathing moment, give it to God and live it in Him and allow Him to work through you.  And when you find your heart is filled with darkness, when in those moments when everything is  messy, trust God with your pain, your doubts, your fears, your discouragement.  God does not want only the good things in your heart.  He will take the tough stuff, too.  Trust that God will deliver you.  Trust that God will transform you.  Trust That When You Just Don’t See How, God Can See How.

Step 3:  Serve God With All Your Strength!

Sometimes you will feel strong in Him.  Serve Him will all that abundant strength.  Whenever you think that your contribution to God isn’t much, serve Him with all of that, too.  When you think someone could do it better than you, go ahead and serve God with all you are.

But sometimes, you may find yourself like I have found myself from time to time—not so strong, feeling broken and hurt.  Whatever strength you have, be it ever so little, serve God.  Serving God isn’t all about being a 5 star athlete.

It’s about taking just one day at a time and whatever is in you that day, the good, the bad, and the ugly; giving it to God.

God Loves You And Even When Your Heart Is Messy Or Broken, He Will Restore Your Heart And Restore You To The Only Relationship That Matters The Most—The Relationship With Him!

Does God have ALL of your heart?  I’m not asking are you perfect.  Breaking News Story:  YOU’RE NOT PERFECT!  NEVER HAVE BEEN!  What I am asking is this:  When Was The Last Time You Surrendered All Of Your Heart—The Good, Bad And Ugly—To The Only One Who Has Given You His Whole Heart?

So, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him–who longs to call you His Son, His Daughter!

Everything you need to know in ten minutes

Here’s another “Wild” blog that inspires and challenges me. How would you, how DO YOU, share the story of Jesus with others? With legalism and its rules? If you have chosen the rules and rituals to tell the story of Jesus, haven’t you ever wondered why we in the good old U.S.A. are living in this Post-Christian Culture and why mainline, established tribes (i.e. denominations) are in decline? Come on folks, get your act together! Let’s change our core, our heart, from centuries of traditions back to what it should be: The Love Of God Perfectly Expressed In Jesus! And remember, love God with all your heart, love others the way HE loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

In My Father's House

beach_birdsWhat if you only had ten minutes to show a group of people on a remote island everything they needed to know in order to grow into a vibrant Christian community, and you could only give them four Bible verses (they have no Bibles)? What would you share with them?  To keep it simple, we’ll assume these islanders have heard about Jesus and a few popular Bible stories.

View original post 783 more words

Could It Be The Greatest Tragedy?

fwa63

17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”  18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”  20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Mark 10:17-22 (The Message)

I do not want this edition to become a battle arena of which experience of tragedy is the worst.  All tragedies are painful and that pain is real and must never be minimized.  We are not in a spitting contest folks.  I am not even suggesting that your individual tragedies are unimportant, because they are.  I have wrestled and struggled over this post more than any other.  But could it be that the greatest tragedy is to love Jesus, but on our terms?

The focus of this blog, and the reason the Spirit prompted (more like pushed me kicking and screaming) is to take our focus off of what we think it means to be a real Christian by making the story of our life bigger than the story of our local churches by entering the narrative of the Story of The Kingdom of God.  And today’s edition is about asking the question:  Do we love Jesus, but on our terms?  How you and I answer this question determines how big, or how small, the story of our life becomes.  Does the narrative of our life tell a story as big as the Kingdom of God, or is our story as small as the small amount of real estate our life covers?

Look again at this passage we call “The Story of The Rich Young Ruler”.  He is called rich, meaning he has experienced financial success in life.  But his wealth is not mentioned until the end of this encounter with Jesus.  Look at his initial encounter with Jesus.  The Message says he shows “great reverence” and other translations says he “kneels” or “bows”.  It is obvious, at least to me, this young man recognizes at the very least that Jesus is someone special because he senses that Jesus holds the answer to the deepest need of his heart:  “How can I find unending life?”

I know the translations say eternal life but the Greek word used here is interesting.  There are two particular Greek words translated as “life”, bioswhich means physical life; we get our word “biology” from this word; and zoe—which means life that is full with purpose and meaning.  What I am trying to say is that this man is not asking “How do I get into heaven?”  He is asking Jesus, “How do I find life that has lasting purpose and meaning that begins right now?  I don’t wait to wait until I get to heaven.  I need it NOW!”

Others had been around Jesus but no one asked the question that He loves to hear:  “How do I find unending life that has purpose and meaning starting right now?”  And when this young man came to Jesus with that question pay close attention to how Jesus responds:  “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him!”  Can’t you see the great big smile on the face of Jesus?  Finally, someone asks the question that is at the core of why Jesus became one of us.  Jesus came as one of us so that any of us, all of us could experience zoe life to the max.

Obviously this successful young man loved Jesus because he brought the question of his heart to Him.  But when Jesus gave him the answer, it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.  In that instant this young man realized by while he loved Jesus, it was on his terms.  And when Jesus upped the ante and raised the bar, this young man knew he was unwilling to let go of his bios life in order to take hold of the zoe life.  Look at how he leaves the presence of Jesus, the presence that once offered him hope:  “This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”

This is the epitome of the greatest tragedy.  This passage from Mark’s Gospel has led me to believe and become convinced that the greatest tragedy in life is to love God but on our terms.  And here is why:

1.  He turned away from the only Hope!

Everything points to his quest.  He knew the life he was pursuing would not get him to where he needed to be.  There is only one hope to find this life.  He choose to walk away from that Hope for life that could be rich with purpose and meaning.

2.  He rejected the only Cure!

The Message puts this man’s spiritual condition with very clear words:  “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”  He could not “fix” what was wrong with his heart, but Jesus could.  Yet he chose to reject the cure for his pain and emptiness.

3.  He walked away from the only Life!

He accepted a life that he wasn’t was designed for, a life that did not meet his created purpose.  His created purpose, and our created purpose, is to join in with all that our Heavenly Father is doing.

Any experience that meets the definition of “tragedy” is awful and painful.  But I see that the greatest tragedy for any human heart is to love Jesus but on our terms.  Why do I call it the greatest tragedy?  Because Jesus will not accept us on our terms and this means only one thing.  We do what this rich young man did:  we walk away from Jesus.  To walk away from Jesus is to walk away from the only One who loves us enough to die for us.  And that, my friends, is the greatest tragedy—to be so close to the zoe life, one word from zoe life but walk away from it.  Jesus will never accept love on our terms.  He is too good, too holy, too majestic for such a love.  Such a love, a love on our terms, is unworthy of The Eternal One!

We cannot experience the life for which we are created by loving Jesus on our own terms.  Those who know me know that I love to ask questions, even to the point of being annoying.  But I must ask you, the reader, as I often ask myself:  Do you love Jesus, but on your own terms?

Love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

bg_img1

#3 The Loss Of Passion

number-3

(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:

we-wln-logo

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!

e7f8e50587d7c8adc1e999a7415d8ef1.jpg

mediocrity-1

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!

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: