DEBITS AND CREDITS!

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Romans chapter 13 verse 8 from the New International Version

I think it was my sophomore year in high school when I signed up for “Bookkeeping”! Oh, I had no intention nor desire to become an accountant. But I needed one more class to fill my schedule–so there I was. Remember, this was back in the day of this thing called paper! I did learn, unwillingly I might add, about these books called ledgers. What I mainly remember about ledgers is two specific columns–debits and credits. Debits was the money coming in and credits was the money going out. And this morning I found myself thinking about those ledgers–and, of course–debits and credits. Oh? You need a connection between my thoughts and the Kingdom Life? OK, here goes!

We live in a time and culture where so very many people want to be entertained. They feel that life owes them something–in accounting terms that’s a debit. And they are teaching their kids the very same errant principle. I mean, look at how many kids are “playing”–if you can even call it that–with a phone or tablet. The desire to be entertained doesn’t add value to our life. On the contrary, it takes away from our life–in accounting terms that’s a credit! The desire to be entertained is everywhere–in homes, communities, at work, and yes, even at church! If we are not entertained we look somewhere else to be entertained.

But this is not the way to live–at least according to our Creator. God inspired Paul to write the aforementioned passage. Why? Because as His Creation, we are not the consumers of life–we are to be the producers of life. The attitude and demonic spirit of consumerism devalues life and takes away its worth. It treats people and blessings as our personal slaves that is owed to us because–well–because we are alive. The desire to be entertained is pure and unadulterated laziness! And it never leaves us satisfied and content. Why? Because this is simply NOT our purpose.

Our purpose is to add value to life and to people. And the way we add life is by loving people. Yes, Virginia, even those who are the most unlovable! But remember–love isn’t a feeling. Love is an action verb! Love reveals itself through the attitude of action! We cannot see feelings or emotions. I can’t see a feeling–but show me action and I understand! While “feeling” love makes the one “feeling” it feel a little bit better–it does nothing for others. And it really does nothing to add value to our life. And in steps The Kingdom Of God–not with a better way to add value to life–but the ONLY way to add value to life–both ours and all the people around us. Here’s our true purpose in life:

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.

1 John chapter 3 verses 18 and 19 from the New Living Translation

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

Why?

Why? That’s the question asked by adolescents and teenagers when they are told they can’t have or can’t do what they want. If you are the parent or guardian of one of these blessed creatures, it can be very annoying at times. We often wish they would quit asking that question so that we could quit saying “Because I told you NO!” But it’s not just kids that ask that question. In case you haven’t noticed, adults ask this question also.

This question, though annoying, can become a gateway to something far richer, and take us deeper than we could imagine. I have a very good friend and brother who doesn’t like Christmas. What? One of you just asked: “WHY?” See? What did I tell you! Adults ask that question also! The reason my brother in Christ doesn’t like Christmas is because of how he sees and understands it. He always points out that pagan festivals and rituals are the sources of Christmas. There’s nothing in the New Testament that tells us we should celebrate Christmas. And that we should have no fellowship with the things of darkness. He makes a very logical argument, humanly speaking.

And if this is WHY we celebrate Christmas, then his logical conclusion makes sense. IF you make Christmas all about what you WANT for Christmas–lavishing gifts upon each other and maxing out those credit cards, he’s right. IF you make Christmas all about the parties, and gatherings, and dinners, and decorations, and family gatherings, then again, he’s right. And if we are celebrating Christmas JUST BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WE DO, once again my friend is correct.

He even points out that December 25 wasn’t when Jesus was born–backed up by historical dating. Now, on this point, we clearly agree. Lots of folks believe, based on our current calendar system, that Jesus was born on December 25, 1 A.D. That’s a misnomer. It is more likely, based on our current calendar, that He was born around 3 or 4 B.C. What did you just say? “How can that be? B.C. means before Christ!” However, calendars are a human invention, and early on mistakes were made. Yes, Virginia, humans make mistakes! And now let’s circle back to my original question.

Why celebrate Christmas? I will answer this question by sharing why I celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Christmas because of the wildly, unimaginable truth that God, the God of Creation, the One and Only True God, the God of all Eternity, stepped in His Creation as one of those He created! He Became Flesh And Blood! In Eternity He had no limitations. As flesh and blood, He was bound by our limitations! For example–you schedule your Christmas Activities based on the reality that you can only be in one place at a time. You can’t be in 2 places at once.

In eternity, Jesus was in a gazillion places at once. But in our flesh and blood? Only one place at a time! Wow! Talk about experiencing limitations! Though that famous song declares “No crying He makes”–it ain’t true. One of the things all babies do is cry. Jesus, in our flesh and blood, as a baby experienced hunger. What babies don’t get hungry? In our flesh and blood, Jesus peed and pooped in his diaper. Joseph and Mary had to potty train Jesus. Jesus had to learn how to crawl. Jesus, the Eternal Word, had to learn how to talk. Jesus had to learn how to walk. Jesus, as that toddler, was told NO by Joseph and Mary when He reached out to touch that lighted lamp. As that child, Jesus experienced falls that resulted in scraped knees and bruises.

This is why I celebrate Christmas–because Jesus became flesh and blood, did all of that and more, for sinners like ME! Without the birth, there would have been no Death. Without the Death, there would have been no Resurrection. Without the Resurrection, there would be no hope for my redemption. The path for my redemption began when The Son of God left Eternity and became the fertilized egg in Mary’s womb. And when I think of this happening, I experience great joy and hope and love!

May this be your reason to celebrate Christmas–remembering that in an instant moment, Jesus left Heaven to look for us–by becoming one of us! And if you cannot see that as a reason to celebrate–then maybe you need to rethink what this Season is all about. It’s all about God setting out in search for sinners like me! So, I celebrate! Will you?

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 2

Loopholes! Admit it, we all look for them. Whether it is in a legal contract, or tax laws, and even in The Bible. Loopholes relieve us of something we should do, but don’t want to. And the best part of loopholes is that we rest easy at night thinking we are justified. And here is one of the oft used loopholes by those who self identify as Christians:

I love them but The Bible doesn’t say I have to like them!

I wonder if God looks like this when people say this? Well guess what, buttercup? That’s not in The Bible. To those who hold tightly onto this loophole, it may hurt your brain–but think about it. Now, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, as a verb the word like means “to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in; enjoy”.

Now if you don’t like someone, it means that you dislike them. And what do you suppose the word dislike means? It means “to regard with displeasure, antipathy, or aversion”. Look at that word antipathy! It means “an instinctive contradiction or opposition in feeling”. Catch it? CONTRADICTION! When you say, “I love them but I don’t like them” you are contradicting yourself. And it certainly doesn’t look like the kind of Love that Jesus modeled, and expects us to do.

Here is what The Bible says about Love: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) And please, please, please, notice that Paul said hate WHAT is wrong–not WHO IS WRONG! What is a THING and not a PERSON! If you don’t like someone, this means you have an aversion towards them. And God doesn’t have an aversion towards any person.

To say you love someone but just don’t like them and think it’s OK because The Bible doesn’t say you must like them–my response to you is: Negatory! Nope! Absolutely not! No way! Not at all! Nay! Never! And in the words of the immortal philosopher Barney Fife: Andy, you gotta nip it! Nip it in the bud!

And hear the conclusion about this loophole:

If you don’t like them, you can’t love them.

What’s An Apple Pie Without Apples?

What’s an apple pie without apples? Or a banana pudding without bananas? Or a meatloaf without meat? The answer? One could say, “It’s not the same.” This is true–but let’s dig a little deeper. The correct answer is: “They are not!” Without apples, it’s not an apple pie! Without bananas, it’s not banana pudding. Without meat, it’s not meatloaf. What’s my point this morning, other than making you crave these and other foods?

Love without the corresponding actions is an apple pie without apples. BUT…when we love in ways that touch another human heart with kindness, care, and concern–it puts the apples back into the pie; the bananas back into the banana pudding; and puts the meat back into meatloaf. John had something to say about this: “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. “ (1 John 3:18 The Message)

This week I have been reminded in powerful ways the value of love when others (as The Message puts it:) Practice Real Love! This morning we are packing our bags to go back to my childhood home as we prepare for my sister’s visitation and funeral–and to help share the burden of my Dad–who shared my burdens when I was hurting.

And I am once again overwhelmed with the love of others. Your prayers, comments, messages and phone calls–are powerful means of God’s grace in my life in a season when I am needing them most. There are a few who haven’t reached out to me that I thought would–and it only adds to my pain. But to you who are reaching out, who are practicing real love–are helping ease that pain and hurt as well. And until that day we are all in The Eternal Kingdom–you will never know how much YOU are helping me in this season.

PS: I will be taking a couple of days off from blogging. And in the immortal words of General Douglas McArthur, “I shall return!” And it’s because of those who practice real love.

Afraid Of What Is, Or Afraid Of What Might Happen?

Image from BBC Science Focus Magazine

You may find it hard to believe what I am about to say; but Fear Is Rampant In Our Culture! Democrats are afraid of what the Republicans might do. Republicans are afraid of what the Democrats might do. Libertarians are afraid of both. Seriously though, just look around and it is easy, so easy, TOO easy to find things that have the capacity to make us afraid.

And here’s the irony of it all: it doesn’t have to be true, or possible, or even probable to make people Afraid! Imaginary fears are just as potent as my very real fear of snakes in order to harm us. For many, fear is more than an every day battle; it is a moment by moment ongoing battle. This battle happens whether one admits it or denies it. Fear paralyzes us into the wrong action or indecision. Just ask the squirrel pancakes you see on the roads.

So what can a person do? The answer is rather easy. But the solution isn’t simplistic. What gets makes fear run like the wind in fear? It isn’t faith–it’s Love! But not just any love–the fields of life are strewn with the casualties of embracing and pursuing the wrong kind of Love. John gave us the answer long ago in his letter we call 1 John, Chapter 4, verses 17-18:

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

(The Message)

John said that God is love. So, if we live in God, and God lives in us, we give love, as The Message puts it, the run of the hose, becomes at home and mature in us. Remember I said getting rid of Fear is simple, but it’s not simplistic. It requires us to surrender and submit to God–not just once–but over and over again–moment by moment. God’s love assures us we do not have to be afraid of Judgment–provided we live in Him and allow Him to live in us. And if we do not have to be afraid of Judgment–then there is nothing else to fear. His Love will always take care of us–He may not take away the problem that is trying to scare the living daylights out of us–but He will stand with us! And when God stands with us–it’s like this song: Fear Is A Liar!

Making For A Better View

Well, our last full day at this cabin. As I was sitting on the back porch, my eyes were not drawn to the beautiful mountain peaks, but to something unexpected. It wasn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it was in great contrast to those Smoky Mountain peaks we have enjoyed this past week. Would you like to see what I noticed? It’s nothing like the pictures I have posted, so a disclaimer is in order: Not for immature audiences due to it’s starkness:

Blue Mountain View Cabin

One might wonder why in the world would someone, anyone cut down those beautiful trees? I’m not a ultra-extreme tree hugger, so it did not take me long to figure it out. They were cut down so we, and others who stay here, could see those majestic peaks. See?

Blue Mountain View Cabin

There are other benefits to the removal of those trees. One is that the undergrowth is given a better opportunity to grow, thus reducing the amount of erosion. The tree trunks and limbs begin decaying, adding back to the soil, making it richer and better. Then there’s that view. None of these would happen without the chainsaw cutting down those trees. There’s a spiritual lesson for us right here. Tree huggers may not see it, but it’s here.

Remember the benefits of controlled cutting: undergrowth can thrive reducing erosion, decaying limbs and tree trunks add nutrients to the soil for plants to grow better, insects collect around the cuttings for birds to have food, and one can see the view for which we came. Sometimes things in our life can grow so tall that we cannot see our God’s desired destination for us–which is to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes there are things in our heart and especially our mind that must be cut down. We call this “God’s pruning”. He cuts off the dead parts of our life because they are a threat to the living parts. Now get this, He even cuts off productive parts of our lives as well. Why would he do that? Glad you asked. The answer is found in John 15, verses 1 and 2:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

New Living Translation (emphasis mine)

Speaking from personal experience, pruning is neither easy nor pleasant. Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning. What is cut away in my life is like those limbs and tree trunks–it’s enriching the soil of my life. My “mess” becomes His “Message”; not a bad trade if you ask me. Furthermore, the pruning of my productive part will decrease my production for a short time, but the long-term result is an even greater production for my Father. Again, however you look at it, this is a really great deal. It’s like trading in an old clunker car for a brand new car–without paying for the difference between the two.

So, if it feels like God has had His chainsaw out–it’s for our good. And when the pruning shears come out–get excited! There is a greater harvest coming for Our Father!

GOD MEANT WHAT HE SAID AND HE SAID WHAT HE MEANT!

(Message from Resurrection Sunday 2019)

Mark 16:1-7 (NLT)

1 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side.  The women were shocked, 6 but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He is risen from the dead!  Look, this is where they laid his body. 7 Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

It’s devastating when people break their word, isn’t it.  It does much harm.

  • It Crushes The Spirit,
  • It Drains The Hope,
  • And It Steals The Joy Of Living Right Out Of Us. 

When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope.  Many believed in what Jesus was saying.  It seemed to ring so true in their life.  It was almost too good to be true, but they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real deal.  Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles, lucrative careers all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse. 

But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested.  Justice was thrown out the window.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—and when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. 

The women saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there.  They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet.  They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die! 

As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—For Their Hope And Peace And Joy Died Also.  Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus.  They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them.  We all need people who will keep their word.

When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience.  Some of the great historical moments have been moments where people kept their words.  In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia.  Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.”

MacArthur had a great sense of the dramatic, but it went deeper than that. When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.  Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.” they said.  But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made.  He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur, with his adjutant at his side, stepped on the beach at Leyte to keep a promise.  Keeping promises is important!

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character in Dr. Seuss has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky bird who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and never comes back.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton, when his friends tried to get him off of that nest?  He says,“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent”

Easter comes to remind us of the one thing that we need to always remember: God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent! 

  • He Promised Abraham That All Nations Would Be Blessed Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Isaac That The Promise Would Live Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Jacob That The Promise Would Live Through His Descendants.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised David That The Messiah Would Come Through His Family.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Joseph And Mary Their Son Would Save The World From Their Sins.  And He Kept That Promise.

What a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us.  Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts.  Easter Is About Jesus—The One Who Keeps His Word To Us.  The angel says to the women, “He is alive.”  Notice, that Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  The one they had put their hope in.

There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ the angel is talking about.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  He has conquered death.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, As He Said He Would.“Do you remember what he told you?  It’s all true.”  

That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word. I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise.  God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent

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

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

  • Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You More Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross. 
  • And Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You Less Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:15 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  His love is not an emotional, mushy feeling.  His love is that radical transforming love that changes us back into His Image.  His love never fails, never gives up on that Goal! 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

2.  God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

In Luke 23:34 we read, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Remember where Jesus said this!  He wasn’t writing a book when He said it.  He wasn’t leading a motivational seminar when He said it!  It wasn’t on the Mount of Transfiguration when He said it.  It’s wasn’t during Triumphal Entry a week earlier when He said it.

  • On That Cross, That’s Where He Said It. 
  • In The Middle Of That Pain, He Said It. 
  • While People Were Mocking Him, He Said It. 
  • While Soldiers Were Gambling For His Clothes, He Said It.
  • And Whatever Sin Has Not Been Confessed And Repented Of Today In Your Life, Jesus Says It To You“Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing.”  “Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.” 

Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to everyone who had a part in that Horrible AND Glorious Day.  Forgiveness did not end on that day.  Forgiveness continues to be extended to all people in all times in all places.  Not just to those around that Cross, but to us as well. 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

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

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  The Tomb was empty then because He was alive.  There are all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Several spots claim to be the tomb of Jesus. Some say, “It’s here.” Some say, “No, it’s over here.” Others say, “No, it over there.” But do you know know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

  • Stalin is still in a burial vault. 
  • Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.
  • Abraham Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois 
  • Sigmund Freud’s remains are in London.
  • Princess Diana’s tomb is in Althrop, England
  • Who’s in Grant’s Tomb?  I don’t know and I don’t care!
  • And I Don’t Care About Which Place Jesus Was Buried. 

Truth is, He’s alive.  Tomb’s don’t matter for Jesus!  He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him.  Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

Spend a moment now, thinking about that.  Stop and think about God’s faithfulness. On Resurrection Sunday, There Is Only 1 Next Step For All of Us.

Walk Towards Jesus!  Think about this:  What would it look like in your life if you spend the rest of your life walking with Jesus?

  • How Would You Spend Your Time? 
  • What Would You Be Doing With Your Life? 
  • How Would You Make This Community Better?
  • How Would You Treat Other People? 
  • How Would You React When Life Becomes Difficult?

Don’t Walk Away From Jesus, Surrender Your Life To Him.  Can you really walk away this morning of all mornings, when we remember that

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent!

Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus?  How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

An Open Letter To United Methodist Progressives And Centrists

My dear Sister and Brother Centrists and Progressives in the United Methodist Church,

I do not know if you will read this or not. But sometimes…sometimes the heart must speak. I will be honest with you upfront: I am first and foremost, a servant in the Kingdom of God. This submission to the Rule of God is absolute and unconditional; though at times I am rebellious and disobedient. I am secondly, an Orthodox Methodist, a label that has been put upon me, yet I wear it with humility and honor. Knowing this about me, you are now free to stop reading and make up your mind about me, without ever knowing what I will say. Based upon past behavior, I will not be surprised if some of you do just that; but for you who are still reading, please allow me the grace you say you so deeply believe in, be given to me as well.

I have a question ONLY for Centrists and Progressives.

“Why should I remain in the United Methodist Church, a church I have loved, supported and serve in the name of God’s Kingdom, when so many of you hate me?”

 I am sincere in this question. I acknowledge, with much shame as a follower of Jesus, that some who say they follow Jesus have said and continue to say hurtful and hateful things at the LBGTQIA community. And to my United Methodist sisters and brothers who have said those things, please, go join the Westboro Baptist Church. If you live too far away, start a local chapter. I’m sure they would be glad to become a multi-campus church.

Allow me to also say to my Sisters and Brothers who are Centrists and Progressives in the United Methodist Church, what I am about to say is not a blanket, “one-size-fits-all” comments. Some of you share the love and grace professed to even those who do not agree with you theologically. And to you who practice what you preach, please accept my gratitude for your consistency.

Alas, not all show the love and grace they profess. Rev. Tom Berlin has compared me, and my sisters and brothers in Christ, to a virus. More specifically, an Ebola Virus. Furthermore Rev. Berlin, under the banner of love and grace, you said that unless the UMC credentials the LBGTQIA members, then my credentials should be removed. You see, Rev. Berlin, I have been divorced…and remarried. Sir, you are right, myself and the gay community do share something in common. We are sinners. My sin isn’t any worse than any other sin. Sinners are equal at the foot of the cross.

Rev. Berlin, I have confessed my sin of divorce (along with several other sins). This means I agree with God, that it is sin in my life. I have also repented. I have turned away from ever divorcing again. And I turned to the only place I knew I would find grace–at the feet of Jesus. He forgave me. I even went through a process with my annual conference who held me accountable to confession and repentance. And now, Rev. Berlin, though I have confessed, repented and turned back to follow God with all my heart, you say I am unfit (after all, that’s what taking away my credentials because of divorce means) even though I’ve gone through God’s process for sinners, and the church’s process to continue in ministry. Though I and my LBGTQIA sisters and brothers share the bond of sin, I have admitted my sin, while the LBGTQIA refuse such an acknowledgement. See, Rev. Berlin, though we are the same–we are different in how we choose to deal with whatever that sin may be. Because I choose to admit it, I’m mean and unloving? Really?

And to Rev. Adam Hamilton, you choose to belittle me and those like me. You consistently espoused hate at us in St. Louis. And afterwards, your accusations continue to flow. You say I am homophobic (though I have friends who are gay). You say I treat them like second-class citizens (though I cried with someone who lost their partner, because we are friends).

You say I am refusing them grace (though I have served them Holy Communion and will continue to do so). You insist that I am full of hate because I choose to believe the Truth about marriage. That I am hateful because I cannot embrace a theory that isn’t even accepted in the behavioral science community. I am accused of not caring, all because I believe and am convinced that the Bible clearly defines marriage as a man and a woman. Rev. Hamilton, you say that I am not open to the Holy Spirit because I believe in the Biblical teachings on sexual ethics. I did not realize that God had given up the right to judge of my heart and given it to you.

I did not watch all of the 2019 General Conference, but I did watch a lot of it. I’ve also read the blogs, read the Tweets, and listened to the videos. After it all, I am left with only one conclusion: I am hated by the majority of United Methodists in my own country; this according to Rev. Hamilton. Even my former Bishop, Will Willimon, says that I am the problem–because I am over 40 years old.

So, my Centrist and Progressive Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I will ask you again:

“Why should I remain in the United Methodist Church, a church I have loved, supported and serve in the name of God’s Kingdom, when so many of you hate me?”

Is It Ego, Or Is It Self-Esteem?

esteem vs ego

In midst of all the chaos of recent weeks, I found myself thinking about self esteem and ego.  Perhaps it came out of my grieving the loss of my Mother and my deep concern for my Dad.  Perhaps it’s the reality that in about a week and a half we will be moving into a new home, serving 2 churches while leaving behind what I feel is unfinished work–but also leaving behind great friends and encouragers.  Whatever the cause, I know God wants me to write.  Turn of all electronic devices, return your trays and seats to the upright position and buckle your seat belts for take-off.

Contrary to a few would say, I don’t have that big of an ego–but I regularly battle my own self-esteem.  It is not as bad as it was when I was growing up.  But even after my first marriage, I still struggled with self-esteem.  I could say it was because of how some treated me–but that’s a cop-out.  I refuse to play the victim card.  And it wasn’t until I was 47, when my self-esteem completely crashed and burned, that God took me on a journey to see myself differently–than others saw me or how I even saw myself.

Since that time I find myself recognizing low self-esteem in others–and a new clarity about those with an ego problem.  In church you see both, but rarely, if ever, is it acknowledged.  Well, here is the epiphany I had about self-esteem versus ego.

Ego is all about self-importance.  Self-Esteem is all about value and worth!

Ego is that over-inflated sense of how important a person thinks they are.  Right now I have a couple of pictures in my mind of people I’ve encountered while here.  That sense of Importance focuses on the container–not the source.  They see themselves are being more important than others–and in the church–more important than the work of the Kingdom of God.  They push themselves into other conversations and run over anyone who dares to challenge them.  Ego equals Importance.

On the other hand, Self-Esteem is the recognition of your value and worth, to the One who created you.  HE has deemed and declared your worth, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.  Jesus deemed and declared your worth by giving up the glory of heaven for a dirty diaper; and ultimately by His willingness, and insistence, to die on that Cross.  It is about recognizing your value as you live your life in Christ.  Those with the EGO accuse those of us who recognize our worth in Christ as being arrogant.  Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.

Ego is about seeing yourself as important.  Healthy Self-Esteem is seeing the worth that God sees in you–and accepting that His value of you comes fully alive in you as you become fully alive in Jesus.  Nothing is wrong with having Self-Esteem–don’t let the enemy make you feel guilty.  When you say you have no value or worth you are calling God a liar–and that, my friends, is NOT a good thing to do.  God’s image is in you–even if buried under years and mountains of bad choices (that means SIN).  Only the Creator, our FATHER, knows how to restore His image.  After all, He made you and knows you better than others know you–or you even know yourself.

Let me end this with Romans 12:3, from a new translation I recently came across.  It is known as The Passion Translation and it goes like this:

God has given me grace to speak a warning about pride. I would ask each of you to be emptied of self-promotion and not create a false image of your importance. Instead, honestly assess your worth by using your God-given faith as the standard of measurement, and then you will see your true value with an appropriate self-esteem.

God gives you value–He says, long before that commercial ever said it–because YOU are worth it!

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Like He Said He Would

Mark 16:1-7 (The Message)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

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GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix.  We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.

I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX!  What’s in this box will fix anything and everything.  If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed.  And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX?  For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out.  But there’s more.  I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92.  But wait, there’s more.  For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one.  Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95.  Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords.  Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!

Sometimes quick fixes work.  It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville.  A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival.  It was Friday, the last day.  I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line.  I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them.  Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering.  The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out.  I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit.  They didn’t.  But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.

I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying.  Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer.  Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.

I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus.  And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it:  Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.

The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable.  Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry?  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not.  While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.

In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation.  The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional:  use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual:  Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness.  Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.

Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God.  Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption.  The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place.  Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.

And as Paul says, this is great joy for us!  I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan.  I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK?  But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart.  But…but what about all those moments afterwards?

What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy.  Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either.  Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless.  Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact.  Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.

When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix.  The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible.  But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.

So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us?  Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place.  Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you.  Here’s step 1:

Endurance Development

Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance.  Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass.  Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane.  Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise.  As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly.  Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs.  Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine.  He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue.  10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down.  His head was only 12 inches from the runway.  Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries.  Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder.  That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up.  Here are some guides to help develop endurance.

  • Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise.  Think about a pearl.  Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand.  The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
  • Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change.  Think of it like this story.  A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer.  One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.”  He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.”  He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.”  Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn.  Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
  • Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.”  Abiding is living in your connection to God.  You’re not alone in those difficult moments.  Learn to lean and rest on The Father.  He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
  • Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God!  No matter how much pressure is on you.  The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.

Step 2:

Character Development

Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character

God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort.  He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness.  He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions.  God is getting you ready for your inheritance.  Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on.  And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen!  There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:

  • Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action.  1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
  • Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity.  Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”   Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
  • Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom.  Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
  • Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind.  You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
  • Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.

Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits.  Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5.  This is the Character God wants from His people.  Step 3:

Expectation Development

Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Expand Your Expectations!  The word expand means to enlarge or spread out.  The word expectation means eager anticipation.  When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.

The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments.  Expand your expectations of yourself.  Expand your expectations of this church.  Expand your expectations of who God can use.  Expand your expectations of the ways God will move.  Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think.  Step 4.

Love Development

Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you.  1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”  It’s not God loving the good and lovable people.  It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me!  The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us.  You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good.  Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.

The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.

Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living.  Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.

The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him.  And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.

Give It Up: Fear

(Part 2 of my Lent Series “Give It Up’)

Matthew 14:22-33 (N.L.T.)

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

In case you missed last week, our Lent Series is about this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  We are looking at things that we need to give up for more than 40 days.  Most things that we give up for 40 days are shallow when we know we can pick them back up again at Easter.  And we should know that God is never pleased with shallow sacrifices.  We should always be looking for those places in our lives that God wants to cut away, to prune.  Truth is, we don’t; so, Lent is a great time to refocus and maybe, just maybe we can engage in this Spiritual Discipline every day, not just at Lent.  Today’s “thing” we need to give up is Fear.

I’m not talking about those healthy fears—like being afraid of poisonous snakes, walking across busy highways and dangerous animals.  Certain fears can protect us from harm.  I’m talking about those fears that imprison us and deny us the ability to enjoy life.  There’s a technical term for those kinds of fear:  Phobias

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Have you ever wondered when the emotion of fear first entered God’s creation?  When was the first time Adam or Eve knew what it felt like to be afraid?  Well, I know the answer:  After They Had Sinned!  We read in Genesis 3:10—He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”  We never find prior to that moment, Adam or Eve ever being afraid; not once!  To know why they were afraid, you need to remember the temptation they faced:  To become their own god.  That was the promise and the lie from Satan.  “Eat this and you will be just like God.  That’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it.  He doesn’t want the competition.”  Take a moment to think about what scares you.  I’m not talking about flying in a plane or snakes or bugs.  Think about some of the more serious issues of life.

  • Fear Of Failure. Fear of failure is the thought that failure defines us. Some think it is for the rest of their life; but it doesn’t have to. They take no risks and cower down in their comfort zones.
  • Fear Of Rejection. Fear of rejection creates the desire to win the approval of others. You focus more on pleasing others than God, and usually end up either pleasing neither one and become miserable.
  • Fear Of Being Alone. Fear of being alone causes you to engage in dangerous behavior and take on toxic relationships. Those living by the fear of being alone are swallowed up by wrong choices and people.
  • Fear Of Being Discovered. Fear of being discovered creates a fake self. It’s the fear others will stop loving you if they knew the truth about you.  It manifests itself with that judgmental attitude of pointing out the faults of others.
  • Fear Of Change. The fear of change is rooted in the need to be in control. That desire to be in control comes out the very same reason Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit—to replace God with self. Change may, and probably will involve you giving up control of the issues you feel like you must control.

Think about those disciples in that boat in that storm.  We’re not talking Carnival Cruise Lines.  There was barely enough room for those 12 men.  Now there are fierce winds and big waves.  They are literally stuck in that storm.  It’s not unreasonable that they are afraid.  There’s a good probability that Peter had friends who went out one night to fish but were never seen again.  It is a frightening situation and getting worse.  It’s not abnormal when we face the storms to be afraid. It’s what we do with…

If you can remember only one thing, remember this:  The More Energy That You Put Into Trying To Stop Fear, The More Energy Fear Has To Use Against You.  Living in fear makes you guilty of idolatry.  Fear that controls us becomes the idol that you serve.  Remember last’s week’s 1 thing:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life .

Whatever you promote with your thoughts, attitudes, words and actions is the expression of your idol.  Your Fear will become your idol.  What can we do when faced with those unsettling and scary moments that come against us?  You can’t tell someone, “Oh, grow up!  Stop being afraid!”  Telling someone to NOT be afraid is like telling a cat, “Stop acting like a cat.”  It just won’t happen.  Instead do these 3 things to control your fears:

1.   When Afraid, Stop

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t want a little bit of our attention—it wants it all!  Fear pushes us to do something, anything to try to calm it.  As we do something, the fear grows stronger, so we do more.  It’s a never-ending and vicious cycle.  But no amount of activity or actions we take will ever calm that fear.  Here’s the fine print that fear doesn’t want you to see:  Fear Disappears As We Rest In God.

Instead of thinking about it or trying to stop it, remember what David wrote in Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God!”  For most of us, being still is the hardest thing to do in the face of fear.  It goes against our grain and the logic of the world.  But when you stop and are still before the presence of the Great I Am, you’re draining the strength that fear has over you.  Fretting and anxiety just doesn’t work in the presence of God.  The longer you are still before God the less control fear has over you.

Think about the time when the Israelites were in that frightening moment of the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  What did Moses tell them?  Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.”  Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote in Psalm 37:7—“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”  It’s not always easy, but train yourself to stop when fear presents itself.  Wait for God’s timing.  God’s timing is just right because God loves you.  This leads to the second thing you need to try:

2.  When Afraid, Love

When you give fear power and control over you, it elevates YOU to the top of  the importance ladder.  When life is all about you, it’s impossible to love God or any others.  Fear tells you one thing only:  “God doesn’t love you.  He’s holding out on you!”  Every time you allow fear control, you are echoing fear’s lie:  “God doesn’t love me!”  But He does, and your fear doesn’t change this truth.  Fear knows that if you doubt God’s love for you, then it has you in its grip.

But try this instead:  Remember How Much God Loves You.  Fear will say, “Well not very much.  Just look at you.”  But you tell fear, “Jesus left the glory of heaven for a smelly stable.  He faced temptations and endured being misunderstood.  He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans.  He died on that Cross for me!  He rose from the grave for ME!  And He is coming back for ME!”  God never stops loving you even when you don’t love Him.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9—You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.  Even your punishment was put on Jesus, that’s how much God loves you.  Fear is disabled when we start caring more about others than ourselves.  When we love others with our actions, fear loses its control over us.  And one more thing to try:

3.  When Afraid, Trust

Let’s get back to our passage today.  It’s been a scary time for them, and it appears to them that Jesus has forgotten all about them.  They are afraid and more than the boat sinking, they are spiritually sinking.  But someone looks out and they have a tough time believing what they are seeing.  Someone is walking on the stormy waters.  It must be a ghost!  But listen to Jesus’ first words to them.  He didn’t chastise them for their lack of faith.  He said:  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”  The Greek can also be translated, Don’t be afraid.  ‘I Am’ is here!  The Greek word for “I am” is the equivalent word for the Hebrew word “Yahweh”– the name God revealed to Moses!

Take control of that fear because you trust in His presence to make the difference in your life.  And now Peter wants to be sure it’s really Jesus.  So, he says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Notice what Peter doesn’t say.  “Lord, calm the waters and then invite me to come to you.”  He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  So Jesus invites Peter to walk on that stormy sea.

Now what’s Peter going to do?  The waves are high, the wind is strong, and everyone knows you can’t walk on water.  What do you think the other 11 were thinking about Peter?  Probably, “Well that is about the dumbest thing Peter has ever said!  This is not going to end well for Pete!”  That’s what fear says. But Peter steps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus.

He trusted Jesus, and it worked.  And when Peter started listening to fear again and started to sink, what does he do?  Does he call out to fear to save him?  Does he call out to the guys still in the boat?  NO!  He calls out to the only who he knows will be there for him, especially when he fails!  He Calls Out To Jesus Because He Can Trust Jesus To Reach Out And Take Him By The Hand.  And Jesus saves him.

And what Peter learned, you need to remember:  Trust Him Because He’s Trustworthy.  He’s Proven That There’s Nothing, Absolutely Nothing He Will Not Do For You.  His promise rings true from Matthew 28:20—“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He’s true to His word.  The Greek word “always” means “for each individual”—none are excluded!

And how is it with you?  Is fear controlling you?  Then you’re holding on to an idol and not to Jesus.  Jesus will not share you with anything else.  He gives His all for you and will not accept anything less than your all for Him.  To anyone and everyone who is afraid, Jesus has something to say:  “Don’t be afraid, ‘I Am’ is here!”  Will you be still, love and trust the only One who loves you enough to die for you?  If you are living in fear, only Jesus can break those chains.  It’s your choice; intimidated by fear or living in Christ.

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.

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?

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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.

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Could It Be The Greatest Tragedy?

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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!

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#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!