It’s Hard To Live In Exile And Harder To Do What God Says About Your Place Of Exile

God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God.

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Do your circumstances feel like you are living in exile? You work at a job that under-appreciates your work, and under-pays you for overworking you. You have been terminated from work and the pile of bills is now a mountain of bills. Your spouse has left you for more excitement that you were able to provide. You wish your spouse WOULD leave because all they do is belittle you and tell you all that you do wrong. You look in the mirror with great disgust at the person looking back at you because you hate what you see. The doctor prescribes a series of chemo and radiation treatments because of your cancer. The church you attend is embroiled in political and in-house bickering and fighting. Your parents lament on a daily basis on how you could have done better. The air conditioner, refrigerator, and hot water heater all died the same day. The Sheriff’s Department just posted an eviction notice on your door.

Now, add to all of that the cultural and political wars going on in the good old U.S. of A. The news channels blaring away at all the upheaval, and the violence that is happening every day, all day long. I don’t know about you, but there have been many moments where I felt like I was in exile.

Feelings of exile have a long history. In many cases, it was more than a feeling, it was a national reality. Jeremiah lived in such a time–a literal time of exile. And Jeremiah has something to tell them–something God wanted them to know.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:2-7 (NLT)

They are living in a foreign land, under foreign rule, with foreign customs and a pagan culture. Pagan Culture–does that resonant with you? It resonates with me as a Kingdom Citizen. And I hear a lot of voices that seem to echo the same sentiments. Face it, as Followers of Jesus our culture neither likes nor embraces Kingdom Truth. This time has been appropriately called “The Post Christian Era”. Values of the Kingdom of God are considered outdated. And add to this, that many who professed to be Followers of Jesus looked nothing at all like Jesus. In fighting and self righteousness turned many away from becoming Followers of Jesus.

So, how do we live in a time and place that feels like exile? It seems to me, that the words of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies spoken to Jeremiah still apply today. Look carefully again at what God instructs those exiles to do:

Build homes, and plan to stay

Establish your allegiance and loyalty to Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Be that city on a hill, that candle on the candlestand.

Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 

Be a producer of the positive wherever you are. Do not lower yourself to engage in the bitter fighting that is so entrenched in this culture. Bring good things into your part of this dysfunctional culture.

Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

Reproduce Kingdom Values within your family, your circle of close friends, at work–wherever you happen to be. Be the example and encourage others to be that example. You reproduce those Kingdom Values as you teach others–and they see them verified in your daily life.

So far so good, right? Challenging, yes–but doable. But there’s more–and it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.

Did you just see that? Work for the peace and prosperity of those people who make us feel like we are in exile. It’s simple, really simple. If you are on the left–help and pray that the right would be at peace and experience prosperity. For you on the right–help and pray that the left would be at peace and experience peace. If you are a centrist, then do the same for both the left and the right.

It doesn’t seem fair or just that God would tell us to do that. But…don’t miss that next line from the passage: “the city where I sent you into exile.” God sent Judah into exile because of their disobedience. And for us today? God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God. Their reason for exile was disobedience–and our reason is Obedience–obedience to God’s call to wage spiritual warfare against Satan.

Oh, and that last line: “Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” OK, do you want to see our culture transformed? The pray for their Shalom. That is the Hebrew word used. It means, among many things, peace. Pray for the opposite side from you to do well, be strong and have inner peace. If you don’t, well, God said what the outcome will be: You will NOT be strong or be well or have peace.

Your welfare rests upon what you want for others, even those on the opposite side. Followers of Jesus, we are in exile–but we are in exile for a purpose and a reason–to bring The Kingdom Of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” If you want some practical advice on how to accomplish this, well…listen to Paul in Romans 12:21

As long as you are agitated and mad at your culture, nothing will change and you will be miserable. It’s not easy to do–it’s not meant to be easy. It’s meant to cause you to turn to God, seek His Holy Spirit and rely on The Spirit. It doesn’t make sense to do it this way. But…it does work!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him…and it does when you pray for the peace of your enemies.

SURVIVING YOUR D-DAY INVASION OF DEATH

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

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Job 19:23-27 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Believe In God’s Way!  

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled…”

John 14:1a (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Trust Your Life To Jesus! 

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

John 14 Vs. 1b-2 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 14:26 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

God’s Doorway!

(Part 4 of my current series “The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

Here we are in week 4 of looking at the Boldest Statements Jesus ever made—those places and moments where He categorically identified Himself as Yahweh—The Great I Am.

When I am working on a message, I usually look at several different translations, and usually find one that fits the bill for what God is leading me to share.  Our text is John 10:1-10.  My favorite is to read from the NLT.  As I was looking at the different translations, I found that the NLT and more recent translations uses the word “gate” and the KJV and the New King James Version uses the word “door”.  There’s something about the image of a door that pushes me deeper into today’s passage.  Let’s look at it together and I will be reading it from the NKJV:

1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the Doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when He brings out his Own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.  7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am The Door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.9I Am The Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

There are all kinds of doors.  There are hollow core doors, solid core doors, wood doors, metal doors, folding doors, pocket doors, sliding doors garage doors, cellar doors, screen doors, storm doors, front doors and back doors. Doors can be inviting entrances to relationship and fellowship.  Doors that are inviting lead us into joys and experiences we otherwise will not have.  These doors can open up a whole new world for us.  These are the kind of doors we want to see.  But there’s another side to the image of doors.

Doors can also be intimidating.  They can deliver the message to keep out and stay away.  They become barriers that keep us out and away from potential hope, and even a future.  Some doors may even seem scary because we are unsure about what lies behind them.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that doors can be entrances to a much deeper and better life, or they can keep us locked out—locked out from the life that God truly wants every person to live and experience.  Such is the case in today’s passage.  Just before this Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath.

How dare Jesus do something actually good on the Sabbath Day.  Who in the world would ever do something good on a day like the Sabbath?  It’s supposed to be a solemn day, a quiet day.  There’s a time and a place for everything, and a way to get things done because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  Then this Jesus comes along and does something that has never been done that way before. 

Well, all this makes for is chaos and confusion.  We can’t have someone claiming to be the Messiah making mud packs for the blind and then telling them to wash it off so they can see.  Things like this are not supposed to happen that way.  He could have healed him on one of the other six days.  If that man couldn’t get healed then, well, he just didn’t need healing to begin with. And the Pharisees go on the attack against Jesus, again.  They question—His Ways, His Methods, His Teachings, And His Authority.  Jesus isn’t playing nice with the Pharisees and they don’t like it one little bit.  Sabbath days were designed by God to remind us of that all-important connection with God.

Among the Jews there was one day every week that was Sabbath—a way to remind them of their need for God.  Then they had Seven Feasts that were also called Sabbath days—to remember God’s faithful presence and His everlasting promises.  God designed the Sabbath to be a time for the people to remember their connection to Him.  Sabbath was to be the open door into the presence of God.

But what was designed as a door to enter God’s presence became a barrier.  The Pharisees had devised 39 different categories of activities that were prohibited on any Sabbath.  Any activity which changed the appearance or nature of anything or anyone was prohibited.  If it required 2 or more items to make—prohibited!

And just look at what Jesus had done.  He had made a mud pack—prohibited!  Told the man to wash it off—prohibited!  Then Jesus changed the nature of that man by giving him his sight—that really was prohibitedAll these rules and regulations were standing between God and the people He loved.  So Jesus didn’t care about their rules and regulations.  This Man Needed To Know That God Knew Him, Cared About Him, And Loved Him Enough To Change His Nature—even on a Sabbath.

So Jesus boldly proclaims:  Yahweh!  I Am The Door!  Their laws were a door that became the barrier to God’s presence.  Jesus wanted to open that Door into God’s presence.  And He did, and He still does today—He’s not the barrier to God, but the entrance into God’s presence.  Let’s look at a few ways that Jesus is the Door To God:

1.  He’s The Door To Forgiveness

People get some crazy ideas about forgiveness.  Some think that before they dare ask God for forgiveness, they need to clean their act up more.  It’s like they feel that their life is such a mess right now, that there is no way God could forgive them.  So they work on trying to be better and do better.  I mean, no one wants to go out to eat at a fancy restaurant wearing dirty work clothes.  You want to look your best.  We think that God is like that 5 star restaurant where He won’t let us in unless we have on a coat and tie. 

Some people think that they are simply too sick for God to accept them.  So they need to find another way to get feeling better.  Let me ask you a question.  When do you go see a doctor?  When you’re sick or do you wait until you feel better?  If you wait until you’re feeling better you won’t go.

And that’s what happens when we try to fix ourselves.  If we actually do manage to look better on the outside by being nicer to others and developing some good habits, then we start feeling like, “Well, I’m not so bad now.  I don’t need for God to forgive me anymore.”  That kind of thinking is wrong on so many levels. 

God’s Doesn’t Turn Anyone Away Because They Are Dirty Or Sick.  If anything, He welcomes them because He’s been waiting for them.  Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for nice people.  He died for sick and broken people like me!  You bring it all, all the junk and the sin and the dirt and the filth, and lay it all out before Him.  And do you know what?  God will not turn away from that disgusting sight.  Do you want to know why He won’t turn away from your pile of sins?  Because He has already seen it—seen it when they were put on Jesus as He hung on that Cross.  God won’t turn away from YOU, because He turned away from Jesus as He paid that awful price for us.

2.  He’s The Door To Peace

When life gets unsettled, well more than unsettledIt’s Hard To Relax When We Can’t See Our Way Through.  When the pressures and demands of everyday life tries to stress us out; when we see our plans unraveling at the seams; or when we can’t even get our plans together and we are more than ready to panic—but we are in full panic mode, we need that deep abiding peace

We need more than for someone to say to us, “Oh, it will eventually be OK.  You can’t control everything, so just relax.”  It’s hard to feel like everything is hunky dory when things just aren’t working out like we planned. 

There have been times when my life has felt like I’ve been in the spin cycle of a washing machine that’s been turbo-charged and running on jet fuel.  Doing the ordinary things, then extra stuff needed my attention.  I remember February 2012. I had been pulled into the Disaster Recovery efforts after the 2011 tornadoes had ravaged our district. I wanted to honor God with this work. I had received a call from a group in Arkansas that wanted to frame and “get in the dry” 2 homes for 2 families of my choice. All I had to do was to get the foundations ready–they would do the rest. Oh, and they were to arrive in the middle of March. It seemed that after I got started on that project, everything was going wrong. Things were not falling into place on either home. Then my Mother was admitted to the hospital. I was stressed out, and I got mad at God and told Him, “Look, I’m trying to do this to honor You. Why is everything going wrong?” 

Me and God had a serious talk, actually, several of them.  But I finally heard God say to me, “I am still in control.  And Randy, I am going to honor the desire of your heart for me.”  Not everything is fixed instantly.  And when I want to panic, I remember, I remember God’s promise to me.  God keeps His promises. 

He doesn’t always work things out in our time schedule, but He does work things out.  Jesus Is The Doorway To Peace Because He Stays With Us Through Thick And Thin.  In good times and bad times—He will never abandon us.  I confess I haven’t always remembered this, but when I do remember it, the peace always comes back to me.  Do I ever get a bit stressed even now?  Oh yes, but I’m not worried any more.  God is going to take care of me and because of His love expressed in Jesus, and He is going to take care of you.  That’s our peace.  Peace is not the absence of any conflict or problems—but it is the unending presence of Jesus.

3.  He’s The Door To Liberty

Jesus gives us two kinds of liberty.  First, He Gives Us Liberty From The Power Of Temptation And Sin.  Jesus took on the worst that Satan could throw at Him every time and every time Jesus was the Victor. 

This same Jesus wants to live in us with every bit as much power as He did when He walked this earth in our flesh.  If we fight temptation on our own, then we lose.  But the Jesus who faced Satan in the wilderness, the Jesus who faced Satan through His enemies, and even at times through His closest friends lives in us. 

The Jesus who faced Satan in Gethsemane, the Jesus who faced Satan on the Cross, the Jesus who faced Satan in the tomb—and who won every one of those battles, resides in the heart of every believer who trusts Jesus and only Jesus.

Then His Liberty Also Gives Us The Strength, Courage And Wisdom To Live A Life That Brings Him Honor And Us Immeasurable Joy.  He sets us free to live out our relationship in ways that makes changes in the world, makes changes in people’s lives.  He gives us the liberty to become who we are created to be. We don’t have to be bound by people’s labels or our own fear of failure.  We can dare to do great things for God because Jesus—who gave sight to that blind man—will take up residency in our hearts with every bit as much power as it took to open that man’s eyes!

4.  And That Makes Him The Doorway To Real Life

Life Is What God Wants Us To Experience.  All the laws, rules and traditions of the Pharisees took the life right out of the people.  Jesus is The Door—the ONLY Door that takes us from the deadness and emptiness that comes from living with the wrong purpose. 

He is The Door to the life you have been created for.  This life is more than you can see, think or imagine.  It’s the life where God gets all, I mean ALL the glory.  It’s The Life Where He Shines In Us And Through Us.

Are you loaded down with guilt?  Is chaos and fear running a marathon in your mind and heart?  Do you feel imprisoned by demands and unrealistic expectations?  Does your heart ache for a real life? 

And Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  Life Is Lived In And Through Jesus, Or It’s Not Lived At All! Because of God’s great love for you, The Door has been opened.  Come to Jesus.

Next Steps

  1. Is There Some Guilt You Have Been Carrying, That’s Been Weighing You Down?Your next Step is to step towards  Jesus.  We are not made to carry guilt.  The Door is always open for those who need forgiveness.
  2.   Are You Overwhelmed?  Your next step is to give all your fears, worries and anxieties over to Him.  He is The Door to inner peace.
  3. Does Your Ordinary Days Feel Like A Prison Sentence? Your next step is to reclaim the Joy of Living.  He’s The Door to Liberty—that fills your life with Great Joy.  God wants you to live with an uninhibited, open Joy in your life.
  4.  Does Your Life Feel At Best Ordinary Or At Worst A Drag? Your next step is to begin living our His purpose for your life.  One of two of the things that keeps people from their purpose is fear—fear of the unknown—or fear of failure.  God walks with you in your God-Given Purpose and opens The Door that gives you the freedom to truly live—to live life the way He designed it.

The With Us God: The God Of Peace!

God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.

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(This is the final installment of my current message series, The With Us God)

Here are the names we have looked at thus far.  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” a famous line:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.”  His point was that a name did not change the essence of a thing or a person.  There is nothing significant about a name.  And to a degree he is right, but not always.  Change the name of the skunk to honeysuckle and he will still stink.  It doesn’t change its nature.

However, when it comes to Immanuel, the With Us God, the name is uniquely special in both meaning and power.  These names of God from the Old Testament say something about God.  And even more important, these names say something about relationship—our relationship with God.  “What’s in a name?”  Relationship is in these names!  And on this Sunday before Christmas, we see this name:  Yahweh-Shalom—God Is Peace!  It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24 (NLT).

11] Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12] The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  

13] “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  14] Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

15] “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  16The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17] Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18] Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”

19] Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree. 20] The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. 21] Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared.

22] When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23] “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.” 24] And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

Let’s get the 1 thing you need to remember this morning:  God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.  The story of Gideon is the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Midianites.  And, It is the story of countless lives that live under emotional and spiritual oppression.  Gideon is living a life of fear.  Hiding from the Midianites, smallest member of the smallest clan, Gideon is found fearful, feeling weak and convinced he’s useless. 

Then out of nowhere, this angel appears and says, “Mighty hero!”  Not exactly what we would call a Mighty Hero.  No skin-tight costume with a cape; no special clothes loaded with weapons and devices, and no unique ability that sets him apart from the rest of his world.  Nope, not exactly our image of a hero.  For heaven’s sake, he’s hiding from the enemies.

Now, if this is not bad enough, the angel says “The Lord is with you.”  And listen to his response in verse 13: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?”  Maybe you know someone like Gideon, or maybe you understand Gideon because YOU are fearful, weak and convinced you’re useless.

And maybe, just maybe, some of you this morning are wondering the very same thing Gideon wondered.  These words of Gideon are still being said today.  If you aren’t hearing these cries, then you’re spiritually deaf.  If the Lord is with me why does my spouse have Alzheimer’s?  If the Lord is with me why did my child die?  If the Lord is with me why did I lose my job?  If the Lord is with me why is my teenager so rebellious?  If the Lord is with me why do I have cancer?  If the Lord is with me why does all this stuff keep happening to me?  

When you find that life is just too much to bear, you wonder:  If the Lord is with me, why?  It’s a legitimate question and one that must be asked, otherwise we keep it inside us and it festers and we become cynical at best, or disillusioned at worst.  The answer God gave Gideon is the answer he gave us 2000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem.  Immanuel!  With Us God!

When we are in pain, when we are afraid, when we are confused, Life forces the question:  “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? And where are all the miracles I’ve heard others talk about?”  There are 3 possible answers to this tough question: 

1.  He’s Not Here Because Doesn’t Care About Me.

The oppression of the Midianites made Gideon think God didn’t care.  We think this, and much too often we believe this because we see God as Santa Claus—if we just believe hard enough then all of this stuff will just go away.  And when it doesn’t, we either blame ourselves for NOT having enough faith, or we blame God for not caring for us.

When the weight of fear and worry crushes us, the Enemy whispers, “See, He doesn’t care about you.”  Given enough heartache, given enough pain, any of us is subject to hearing that sinister whisper—more than hearing that whisper, we will entertain that thought—“He Really doesn’t care about me.”  And given enough time, not only do we hear it, we believe it!

This just isn’t true.  In the Garden of Gethsemane God was with Jesus.  When He was beaten and whipped, God was with Him.  When the spikes were driven into his hands, God was with Him.  When the soldiers raised that cross up and the weight of His body rested on those nails and that pain wracked His body, God was there.  Jesus never doubted this truth until…until the penalty of every sin was paid.  Only at that point does Jesus say, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Not in the Garden, not at the trial, not during the scourging, not when the cross was placed on His shoulders, not when the nails were driven, not when He was raised on the Cross—but when the Penalty was paid—for the only moment in all eternity, God turned away from His Son.  And Jesus cried out:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  Don’t you think it broke the heart of The Father and The Holy Spirit to turn away from that part of them that had always been there? Of course it it–but they suffered that in order that we would not have to face that moment–IF we put our trust in Him and walk with Him for the rest of our lives.

But God came back to Him because He accepted the only sacrifice that once and for all times atones, covers over, and wipes away ever sin.  Another answer to why all this stuff happens is this:

2.  He’s Not Here Because He Isn’t With Me

Because they were beaten back and beaten down, Gideon thought it was because God wasn’t there.  Maybe he realized that they had sinned against God, so God turned away from them.  Maybe he thought that God simply forgot about His promises.  I mean, it’s got to be a tough and time consuming job being God.  Maybe He was so busy, He simply forgot about them and left them alone.

When We Place The Reality Of Circumstances Over The Truth Of The Kingdom, We Can Believe That, Too.  The emphasis is on the Circumstances.  When circumstances are good then it’s because God is with us.  When circumstances are bad, God isn’t with us.

For decades, the “Name It And Claim It” group has been around.  They believe and teach that with enough faith, your circumstances will always be good.  And that simply isn’t true.  Look at the story of Job.  This is what God said about Job (Burbank Paraphrase)—“Have you seen my good buddy, Job?  Man, there’s no one like Him.  He’s always walking with me.”  But Satan said, “Well, change his circumstances and he will change.”  At first it didn’t work.  Job maintained his integrity.  But when his 3 Name It And Claim It friends showed up, it was then that Job got angry. Job isn’t patient, but He is faithful–He still longs to see God.

If your confidence that God is with you only when the circumstances are good, then your faith is shallow and insincere.  Our Confidence In God Must Be Rooted In The Character Of God, not in what God will do for you.  This is seeing God as the Cosmic Vending Machine and all you need is the right amount of coins.

A contemporary song done by Natalie Grant, More Than Anything has this chorus:  “Help me want the Healer more than the healing.  Help me want the Savior more than the saving.  Help me want the Giver more than the giving.  Oh Help me want you Jesus more than anything.”  The message is clear—it’s about wanting God over anything that God can do.  There is one more answer to these tough questions. It comes from the name:  Yahweh Shalom.

3.  He Is With Us Because This Is Where We Learn To Trust And Rest

In All This Painful Stuff, God Has A Plan And A Purpose That We Can Trust.  This means we do not focus on the pain, but on the Presence.  Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27—I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

Peace in the worldly sense is the elimination of all the threats, and the absence of conflict.  The worldly view of peace is that it happens when we get all we want, and then some more.  Having more than enough treasures, more than enough food, more than enough shelter, more than enough stuff.  The problem is, there is never enough.  So God gives us something better: peace of mind and peace of heart.

1.  Peace Because He Has A Plan—that plan is always about bring out your best—to reveal His Image in you.

2.  Peace Because He Has A Purpose—to bring honor and glory to Him, not you.

3.  Peace Because He Has Youalways has you in His heart.

It is the inner peace that can only be found in a relationship with God, and on God’s terms.  God’s terms are simple:  Surrender.  Surrender your pride, your will, and your desires.  Surrender your inadequacies.  Surrender your guilt and condemnation.  Surrender you time, energy, abilities and resources.  Surrender to grace.

When Gideon realized he had seen face to face an angel of God, he thought he was doomed.  But when Gideon came face to face with God’s grace—and under that enormous tree, he named that place, Yahweh-Shalom—The Lord Is Peace.  He named the place BEFORE the Midianites were defeated.  Have you accepted the gift of God’s peace?  We do not earn it and we can never deserve it.  So it comes to us as a gift—bought and paid for on the Cross. 

Next Steps

  • Do you have a relationship, or do you just know about Him?  It’s not about how much knowledge you have about the Bible.  You can know all the Books of the Bible in order.  Heck, I don’t know that.  But I do know the person of Jesus.  Do you?
  •   Renew You Commitment To The Relationship As Being More Important Than Anything Else. Jesus longs to be closer to us.  It’s easy to drift, easy to take for granted, to assume.  It’s not about us doing our best for Him, but allowing Him to do His best work IN us.

The Times, They Be A Changing

Well, good morning y’all.  Hey, I’m from the south.  Arnold was truthful when he said:

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Our new home is set up, well, sorta set up.  Nearly a month into this new journey, and I’m finally able to sit down and do what I enjoy and is my personal therapy:  writing!  Truth is, I’ve been putting it off for a few days because, well, because I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about.  I guess I could say I had writer’s block–but Papa would probably say I’m just being a Blockhead!

Life is full of lessons–lessons worth sharing.  Change is a part of life–and there are lessons to be learned.  In reflecting on the lessons that I am learning, there is one big lesson that The Spirit is trying (notice, I said ‘trying’) to teach me and I want to share with you.

New people and places are different but the Good News of the Kingdom is the same.

Because people and places are different, it requires different ways to connect those places with the Good News of The Kingdom–and most of all–different ways to connect those places and people in a relationship with the King of that Kingdom.  This doesn’t happen overnight–nor is it easy.  I’m discovering that it requires the same approach that He uses on me:  Building A Relationship That Will Lead To THE Relationship.

Jesus was the Master at this approach–finding ways to connect with people where they were BEFORE He connected them with where they COULD be in Him.  The way you connect with people where they are is to BE where they are.  So, I’m taking the time to learn people and about life as it happens in Fayette and Lamar Counties.

So many, too many churches are failing to reach new and different people because they want to make them like they are BEFORE they get to know them.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  So, I’m learning about different people and places because that’s the way to find a different way to help them grow into the person God’s designed them to be.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to Jack’s in Vernon and then McDonald’s in Fayette.  Those are 2 of the local watering holes–sometimes known as “The Liars Table”.  It’s fun, interesting, but most of all, it’s real–real life!  And remember….

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

Deepest Grief!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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