ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR THE STRUGGLES?

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 18; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Well, I didn’t muse and write yesterday because we were packing up and cleaning up from our recent spiritual retreat on the beach at Pensacola. Then the drive home. A few stops for food, gas, and shopping–then unpacking when we arrived home. And though I usually take Saturday as a Sabbath from writing, this morning is different. As the Spirit and I were talking (for the uninformed it’s also known as prayer) He gave me this thought: Are You Thankful For The Struggles?

So many are in some type of struggle–myself included. Shocker Alert: We all have struggles! For some of you, I didn’t have to say that. Maybe you are struggling with some type of addiction (and surely you know there are more types of addictions than chemical addictions, don’t you?) Maybe it’s a rebellious child at home. Perhaps it’s you are living out the story of The Prodigal Son. Maybe it’s your marriage. A friendship. Your health. The health of a loved one. Perhaps even finding a new job or career. As Forrest Gump said in the movie: “It happens.” Or maybe your struggle is in and with the United Methodist (Alleged) Church.

The struggle, whatever it may be, is literally eating you alive. You’ve tried a gazillion things to end the struggle. Perhaps you’ve resigned to burying you hand in the sand, hoping it will go away–but even Ostriches know that doesn’t work. So, what now? Maybe now is the time to follow Paul’s advice to the church at Thessalonica–Be Thankful! Did you or someone else just think: “What tha’………….?” Yes, I said Be Thankful for our struggles! And I just heard a reader say out loud, “You’re crazy Preacherman! There’s nothing to help me by being thankful! I’m not reading any more of your insane gibberish!”

Hold on, pardner! Try to stay in the saddle just a couple of more minutes. Struggles are ripe moments to grow in both grace and wisdom. Lord knows we need a lot more wisdom in these days. We can be thankful for our struggles when we do 3 simple, yet deeply profound things–and here they are:

Lean Into The Spirit!

Choose in this moment of struggle to get closer to The Holy Spirit. Struggles are loud–VERY loud. And without leaning into The Spirit we will not be able to hear Him.

Lean on the spirit!

Let’s get real! In every struggle we are leaning on something! No exceptions! Either ourselves, another person, our chemical of choice–remember, no exceptions. Instead, lean ON The Spirit. Rely on The Holy Spirit to help you and even carry you when you are totally overwhelmed.

count on the spirit

When struggles seem impossible to overcome, it’s because we have empowered the struggle to be more powerful than anything else. Put your confidence in the work, power, and purposes of The Holy Spirit! ALL of your confidence. It may well be that His Plan isn’t in alignment with YOUR plan. Still, Count On The Holy Spirit to bring Victory over our struggles. The Spirit will never abandon you! So, count on The Spirit in the struggles.

As we do these 3 simple yet profound things, something amazing, maybe even unexpected by us, happens. We become thankful–thankful that God’s plans are so much better, so much more powerful than anything we can ever imagine. For then we live fully confident in God. And when we are living fully confident that God has us AND our struggles, those struggles lose its power over us and we become Victors! Even in this season of pondering disaffiliation!

NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

Today is New Year’s Eve 2021. If you look at calendars, there are only two days with that designation of “Eve”–Christmas and New Year. There is no Thanksgiving Eve, Valentine’s Day Eve, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, Mother’s Day Eve, Father’s Day Eve–nope it’s not on the calendar. Never has been, and probably never will be. But today is one of two days designated as “Eve”. Look at the picture above and definition number two: the period preceding or leading up to any event. Let’s take a deep dive into the idea of an Eve.

Are you excited that this is New Year’s Eve? This morning I was thinking about other New Year’s Days. Specifically 2019–I mean who could have imagined what 2020 was going to bring? Church sanctuaries were closed. Businesses considered non-essential were closed. Stores had limited capacities. Us preachers unfamiliar with live-stream learned how to use Facebook Live (and I still use it). We had to purchase equipment to enable us to do drive-in church. People who were in the hospitals and nursing homes were denied visitors. And so much more. Then New Year’s Day 2021 shows up–and while some of the restrictions have been lifted–this ain’t been a glorious year for most.

But we’re talking about 2022. Are you excited about 2022? Today I am truly excited for several reasons. I don’t have to worry about a ruptured appendix, that happened in 2020. I am excited that today THE University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) will be playing in the Semi-Final for another National Championship (Roll Tide)! Yes, I get excited over certain things. Don’t you think Jesus was excited at the home of Zacchaeus when He said, “Salvation has arrived in this home!” Personally, I think Jesus was shouting at the top of His lungs! If your image of Jesus saying that is one of a solemn face and monotone voice–you need a different Jesus.

Every morning is an Eve–leading up to some event! And I believe this event is the Eve of God pouring out the fires of Revival across our nation and around the world! Why would I believe such a thing with the ways things are? Because I’m not looking at the way things are–I’m seeing them the way that God wants them to be. Each morning is The Eve Of God Doing Great Things In Hearts And Lives! See, there are more than 2 eves–every morning has both the potential and very real possibility to be a life-transforming day for us and everyone else. It’s there–we just need to recognize it.

When we get excited about the movement of The Holy Spirit–before we ever see it–we call that Faith! Faith isn’t about WHAT we see–but WHO we see! Today is the Eve of God doing what Paul said God does in 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 Verse 17 from The Message–Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Did you see that word anyone? Anyone means anyone. Isn’t it exciting to see new life emerge? In just a very few weeks a new life will emerge in our family–our first great-grandchild! He’s going through a process, as is his Mommy. It’s not always been pleasant–and the delivery won’t be easy. But all of us will be so very excited about this precious wonderful new life! Will you get excited each morning knowing that this moment is the EVE of God bringing another Great Awakening? I’m excited! If you’re not, then you’ve got a serious problem. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got some exciting things to do before Kickoff! And Roll Tide! Oh, here’s a song to help your mindset in the right place on this and every following Eve!

Step Up To The Plate

Welcome back to my musings from the Book of Acts. In case this is the first one you’ve read, or if you have forgotten, this is a different kind of journey as I read the Book of Acts. This is NOT a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegesis. I am reading this powerful book about The Holy Spirit looking for either those things I have forgotten, or for those truths that I’ve been missing these past 45 years since I first welcomed Jesus into my heart. Honestly, I not looking for the obvious, but for those nuances that I’ve been overlooking since I started this journey of faith.

And today, it is Acts 2:14–

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles …

OK, it’s 2 words….make that 3 words…rather 4 words….wait a minute….it’s all 9 words. So let’s begin….oh, what do you say….we start at the first word: Then. This word tells us something had just happened. That Promise of Jesus, that The Holy Spirit was a comin’….was no longer a promise, but the reality of Peter’s life. Peter doesn’t do anything other than wait and pray until the Then. When that Then happened, Peter stopped praying and waiting. He moved with that Spirit now living in him and every believer.

Next it’s the 3 words: Peter Stepped Forward. Why? Because of the Then. Up until Then, Peter was known as the one who would speak up without thinking. Come to think of it, I know some people like that. Oh, OK, I do that sometimes, too. He was rash and impetuous. He had the tendency for his mouth to overload his abilities. But….Then happened. With the indwelling and abiding of the Holy Spirit Peter Stepped Forward.

And why not? He had both the Power and the Message that could change his culture and world. This isn’t Impetuous Peter. This is Deliberate Peter. He saw what they did to Jesus. And he saw what Jesus did with what they did. And he paid attention to Jesus–WAIT UNTIL. Wait until…Then. Peter now has the Passion and the Focus. And he steps forward.

But today….so many….too many who profess to be a Christian….who are supposed to have the Power and the Message to change OUR culture….are either too timid….or unwilling to Step Forward. It seems to me that many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters would rather stay isolated and insulted from the world and then complain about the condition of the world. Yet….if they have had their own “Then Moment” they have both the Power and the Message to transform their culture.

It happens through the Holy Spirit. And today? People seem to get the heebie jeebies when it comes to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They don’t want to look “weird” or like one of “those” kind of Christians. The result is out culture continues to spiral downward.

Oh, there are those who step forward–step forward with words of anger, judgment and condemnation; whose only concern seems to be that they have the appearance of being better than others. An unholy sanctimonious attired that is repulsive to the outsider. And then, they have the gall to wonder why their culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Peter wasn’t going to live with that kind of attitude. Peter Stepped Forward.

Which leads to that last part: with the eleven other apostles…. This wasn’t a solo act, a duet, or even a quartet. It was all of them. And here’s what speaks to me that I had not recognized: The Holy Spirit Provides The Means, The Message And The Power needed to transform our Time, Place and Culture. The time has come, urgently arrived, to stop trying to compromise or allow others to dictate The Message in order to make life more comfortable and convenient.

Appeasement is defined as “the action or process of appeasing”. And the word “appease” means: “pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands. I looked up synonyms for placate and here are the words I found: “lull, tranquilize, calm, mollify.” Mollify? Had to look up that word and here’s what mollify means: “Make more temperate, acceptable, or suitable by adding something else; moderate.” Since 1974, I’ve been told by my leaders (well, except one, he IS a mighty warrior for God) that I need to make sure to appease the congregations I had been appointed to. I needed to pacify them so they wouldn’t complain. In other words, let them have it their way. Having it their way may have been a great advertising slogan for Burger King years ago, but it is a pitiful way to operate the Body of Christ.

And for Peter, he couldn’t make the Message more acceptable by adding something else to it. Why? Because of that single word: “Then”–the Holy Spirit had a hold of him and he had a hold on the Spirit. And the reason for Peter’s powerful message was two-fold:

  • The Power of the Holy Spirit
  • And the willingness of the other 11 to stand with him

It’s time for us to run with those who want to run with the Holy Spirit–His Power and The Message. It’s time to leave the paths of placation that does nothing but tranquilize people and lull them into a false sense of peace and security. Appeasement is the desire of Satan. Transformation is the Great Desire of God–and it happens only with HIS Power through The Message of The Kingdom of God–and not the petty preferences of those who have neither the Power nor the Message.

It’s time for us to Step Forward because if we don’t…..well Yogi Berra puts it like this:

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

The God Who Fights For Us!

The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

Great Anticipation!

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

(Anticipation lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Who remembers that song by Carly Simon?  Guess I’m revealing my age; actually I don’t have to reveal my age–it shows naturally.  But early this morning, I’m awake and filled with great anticipation, like a child on the way to Disney World.  What is the cause of my great anticipation?  I am leaving for Brentwood, Tennessee for another New Room Conference.  This will be my third consecutive time.  I don’t know how long this event has been happening.  If I did, I’d probably kick myself in the butt for missing the earlier ones.

What is it?  I’m so glad you asked me that question.  It’s a time of inspired worship, spirit-filled preaching and teaching, and a time for Spiritual Renewal.  Not all “conferences” I have attended over these past 44 years have filled me with anticipation.  OK, OK, it’s closer to 99% of those conferences never filled me with anticipation.  But this is different.  I looked up synonyms for “anticipation” and there was a single word that leaped out at me from that list.  It’s a word you seldom hear used unless you’re singing that great old hymn, Blessed Assurance, FORETASTE!

We don’t use that old word much anymore, but maybe we should.  It means “a slight and partial experience, knowledge, or taste of something to come in the future”.  You get that small taste, and you know, “Wow!  This is just a sample, I can’t wait to get the full course!”  This foretaste has been given a name at New Room–AWAKENING!  I confess that my hope for the church in the U.S. before New Room was at an all time low; I mean the bottom of the cellar, ocean bottom low.  But here….I was Elisha’s servant who had his eyes opened to the presence of Heaven’s Army!

We worship together, learn together and we have these things called “breakout sessions”.  From a list of subjects we choose where we want to go.  Last year was an especially powerful Epiphany for me.  I can’t even remember which breakout session I had signed up for, but something (actually someONE) drew me into a different one on Travailing Prayer.  I was like a puppy being drawn towards that treat.

I was taking notes right and left.  At the end, now there was another Epiphany.  The speaker asked that anyone who needed prayer to come and offer themselves to God.  This preacher never hesitated.  I went forward and stretched myself out on the floor.  As I was praying I became aware of another presence.  Someone was standing over me, and he was praying for me.  He was praying in tongues FOR me (a new experience for me), but I wasn’t freaked out by it.  In fact, I felt a calmness come over me.  From time to time, he touched my shoulder as he prayed in tongues and I felt the most amazing coolness where he touched me and a profound calmness in my heart.  Somehow, I sensed it was a prayer for preparation for what was ahead for me.

In the time that followed, I tried to figure out what God was trying to prepare me for.  There were some moments that I thought I figured it out–but I was wrong.  And now?  I am still assured it was and IS a prayer for preparation–not just where I thought it would me.  Through a tumultuous April, a time when I allowed hurt to consume me, I have finally learned that this prayer of preparation was for where I am right now.

I still don’t know all the details of what God is preparing me for here–but I know He’s Got This, and I am OK with that.  Actually, better than OK.  I am filled with anticipation!  Unlike the anticipation of Carly Simon that was keeping her waiting–this anticipation is keeping me moving forward.   I don’t know where it’s leading me, but I DO know that HE is both with me, and waiting for me as He reveals more and more of what He has for someone like me.  Now here’s a testimony of grace and mercy.

Truthfully, I never anticipated that at 62 years old that God would have so much more for me–but HE anticipated it.  And that moment of being prayed for in a language I could not understand has given me more confidence in God than I ever had before.  Well, excuse me but my “foretaste” is beckoning me.  Need to pack up and head out to God knows where–and I’m perfectly good with that.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  OH, and don’t miss the “foretaste” He has for you….

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 5

Welcome back class.  We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven?  I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class:  Spiritual Navigation Course.  Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure.  By the way, you can’t drop this course.  Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master.  So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily.  Now, on to the next plan:

Slide20.JPG

God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates.  Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven.  That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:

Slide20A

Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made.  It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist.  It’s what I call “Legalism Light”.  The biggest rule to remember is #4.  Got it?  It focuses on the external parts of our lives.  Work on Rules Keeping.  Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules.  Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3.  Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions.  If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.

Slide21Well, there’s a problem.  God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.  It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom.  God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead.  And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions.  Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.

And then there’s this:  Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants.  It’s about what God really wants.  Talk is just that–Talk.  Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.

That’s it for today.  You know what I am about to say:  Keep good notes.  Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen.  And remember…Love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.

Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.

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.

What’s Going Before You?

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You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

Psalm 139:13-16 (New Living Translation)

“Well, what are your plans for the New Year?”  It’s a question often passed around every late December and early January.  It makes for good conversation around the break room at work, or in the foyer at church before or after worship, or while we’re waiting around between Sunday School and “church”.  We all like to make plans.  Whether it’s about that vacation we will take this year, or that perfect vacation we would like to have; plans for that “perfect” house we would like to build someday; plans about our careers or seeking a new career; plans for retirement.  It is good to make plans, to dream for something better.  But what about God’s plans?  Did you notice some very important phrases from our Scripture this morning?  “You made….You watched……You saw…..(clearly implied) YOU recorded….”  Sounds to me that our God is a very busy God.

Now, don’t misinterpret that last statement to mean that God is too busy for you.  The spiritual reality is that God’s “busyness” has to do with us and our daily lives.  God desires to be involved with our lives; every day and every moment of that day.  So, this week’s word is PREVENIENT GRACE.  Now, there’s a word that sounds really big and important—prevenient.  Let me tell you a story about this word.

It was in late March of 2004 when I received a call from another pastor, Lyle Holland.  Now, Lyle and I did not travel in the same circles; in fact, our only connection was that many years ago we were both in the former Florence District.  Other that time, I can’t remember that we served in the same district.  Now, we would see each other at Conference events and speak to each other, but that was the extent of our friendship, until March of 2004.  Lyle was the Spiritual Director for Alabama Walk 269 that would be held May 13-16.  He had been praying and seeking for one more Assistant Spiritual Director and he thought about me.  Allow me to give you a backdrop to that phone call.

I had just been informed that I would be moving to another appointment in June against my wishes and most of the congregation I was serving.  To say the least, it was a time of great anxiety.  The second fact that stands out in my memory was that it was less than a year since I had been on my walk.  As we conversed on the phone, I told Kyle that the date really didn’t look good to me since I would be in the middle of packing up for the move that would happen less than a month after the Walk.  I was concerned about my inexperience and the fact I was in the middle of a tough season in my life.  And just about the time I was going to tell Kyle no, in the middle of my sentence, I lost all common sense and told him I would be glad and honored to serve. (What in the world have I just done????)  Then Kyle told me all the clergy talks had been assigned but one, Prevenient Grace; and that would be my talk.

Prevenient Grace?  I remember something about that from my studies, it was a Wesleyan term, so I should know something about it, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what I was suppose to remember about prevenient grace.  So, I did what most people do when they find themselves in over their head—-I prayed!  I prayed about what to say and how to say it, and for God to help me remember where I heard that word before—prevenient.

I was so relieved to find I had a basic outline to go by.  So I sat down at my computer and began my research and started to write.  The first word I typed was, of course, Prevenient!  My word processor immediately flagged that word as being incorrectly spelled and offered many suggestions, none of which was the word “prevenient”.  I looked at my outline again—this is the way the Upper Room folks said it was spelled, so it must be right.  But the computer failed to recognize it as a correctly spelled word.  And then it hit me (actually the Holy Spirit hit me, real hard); many times we fail to recognize the activity of God’s grace we call prevenient grace.

I pulled out my notebook from my own walk (Alabama 253) and there it was—the perfect definition of prevenient grace:  Prevenient Grace is the grace that goes before us, calling us and leading us into a relationship of love with our Heavenly Father.  And more than that, it is the nature of God’s grace that is always going before—calling to us by name, leading us, guiding us and helping us through the tough times of life and faith.  I have come to understand that as God’s grace goes before me, He is leading me and preparing me for whatever may lie ahead.  Grace doesn’t stop being prevenient just because we have finally said our own “Yes!” to Christ.

He is still going before us.  But, I wonder, like my computer’s word processor would not recognize the word “prevenient”, how many times are we guilty of not recognizing God’s grace that is always before us?  I found a way to stop my computer from telling me that the word “prevenient” was a misspelled word—I added the word to the dictionary.  From that point forward, it always recognizes the word prevenient as a real word, not a misspelled word.

When we add the word “prevenient” to our vocabulary—when we make the intentional and conscious decision to recognize the many ways God’s grace is at work in us and around us—it changes everything in us and for us.  The Psalm for this week reminds us that God is busy—busy showing us that He cares about us, and best of all, He takes care of us.  After working Walk 269, to be completely honest, I still didn’t want to move, I still didn’t like my Superintendent, and there were still of couple of folks at church I didn’t like.  But I didn’t blame them any more and I was able to accept these changes because I KNEW that God’s grace was going before me and that with His grace, I could and would face any challenge.

When we live with sense that God’s grace is always going before us, then we will be able to say:  “Good, Lord!  It’s Monday!  What shall we do together this week?”

Let us pray:  Lord, I have to confess, many times I’m like that computer—I simply cannot recognize that your grace is going before me.  But Lord, I know I need that grace.  I need that grace to help me to continue to live in this wonderful relationship based on love, not rules.  Remind me that you are very busy showing me your love and offering me your power.  Help me to add to my mental vocabulary and to my spiritual vocabulary this strange word, Prevenient!  Then, may I remember that you really are going before me, and like those disciples on the way back to the village of Emmaus, open my eyes to the ways your grace is working in my life!  Amen and Amen!

The Through AND With Prayer!

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Probably my shortest blog, but a message that is unfinished in me and I long for the day when this prayer has perfected the work in me.  It came to me, and I know it is from The Holy Spirit, as I was doing my morning stroll around the yard and praying.  I want to share this prayer with you this morning and invite you to pray this prayer as well.  Who knows, perhaps this will begin the transformation that my nation and culture most urgently needs:

Holy Spirit, I need You to walk WITH me because I need your presence to guide me and encourage me.  Holy Spirit, I need You to walk THROUGH me because my church, community and culture urgently needs Your presence.

Holy Spirit, I need you to talk WITH me because only You have the Words that will give me the life that the Father longs to give me.  Holy Spirit, I need you to talk THROUGH me because I know my words can sometimes be critical, false and unhealthy.  But my church, community and culture needs to hear the Life-Giving Words only You provide.

Holy Spirit, I need you to work WITH me because the mirror of my daily life doesn’t always reflect Jesus and I want it to be so in me.  Holy Spirit, I need you to work THROUGH me because there is a spiritual war happening all around me, YOUR church, my community and my culture and I do not have the strength, courage nor weapons to successfully defeat The Enemy, but YOU do!

And I now thank you Jesus, that your life, death and resurrection has opened the way for me to boldly come with this, the desire of my heart, the heart that YOU have given me.  Amen and Amen!

Seeds Live Truthfully!

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Here lately I’ve gone back to some of the great classics when it comes to a solid understanding about the nature of God’s Kingdom.  And one of those great teachers from the past is A.W. Tozer.  Yesterday this one really grabbed me and I thought, “Wow!  So simple but even more powerfully true!  Why can’t Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters see this and stop their effete and enervated attitudes? They are the brummagem purveyors of the attitude that is devouring so many local congregations.

In all that is false, bogus and spurious, in our culture and being propagated by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, it is seeds that know the truth!  Hey!  Didn’t Jesus say something about knowing a tree by what it produces?  They must have missed that part of the Bible.  But seeds know the truth.  I mean, does the seed from Kudzu really think, “Hey, I believe that I am going to produce grapes, grapes that will produce the finest wines (or Welch’s Grape Juice for my more fundamentalist and hyper-evangelical friends) that has ever been produced!”  As Steve Harvey might say, “Oh, Heck Nawl!” (again, for my hyper friends, I chose a tamer word).

Kudzu seeds knows all it will produce is more Kudzu.  And here is another thing about Kudzu:  though they only produce limited seeds, it’s their root system that makes them so invasive.  Their “crown roots” can go as deep as 12 feet and can outlast other vegetation in a drought.  And here’s the analogy for the American Church.  Once your understanding of God and the Gospel gets polluted, you will taint the next generation and they will dilute and pollute the truth a little bit more, and so will the next and the next and the next and the next and the…get the point, yet?

Many churches, well-meaning churches, have created a hybrid gospel that is not gospel at all.  As Reggie McNeal (not the football player) points out in his book Kingdom Come we have started producing and telling a story centered around the local church rather than the Kingdom of God.  In simpler terms, our story is too small.  What is needed is a new batch of seeds.  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters do not need to be reformed, but TRANSFORMED!  And transformation will only happen when we do these two things:

  1. Admit the problem and throw away all these “bad seeds” that are weakening (much to the delight of our Enemy) local congregations.  In Biblical terminology (again for my hyper friends) CONFESS AND REPENT!  It won’t hurt you to cry some at this point.  Be sad, you spreaders of bad seeds!
  2. Surrender to God so that He can radically transform the heart and mind.  Only God can do this.  We can’t produce the True Seeds of the Kingdom by slowly turning away from the bad.  That is like an alcoholic saying, “I’m going to kick this addiction by reducing my consumption of alcohol by 1 or 2 drinks a week until I’ve stopped drinking all together.”  I have never known an alcoholic kick their habit that way.  But I do know a lot of alcoholics who broke free from their addiction by the grace of God, and they will tell you that.  Oh, and another thing about alcoholics, they know that 1 drink will send them back into that downward spiral.  So those who are spreading the bad seeds, stay on your guard that you don’t do it again by hanging on to God and His power at work in you.

Seeds live truthfully.  They only produce what they are capable of producing.  That part comes from their nature.  Make sure YOUR nature is the right one; the one that is the result of God’s transforming and radical grace.  You can’t scatter crabgrass seeds and hope to have a Zoysia lawn.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him; by getting rid of those old seeds and becoming the new seeds of the Kingdom of God.

Our Warrior God! Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I hopefully left you wanting to know a secret about this Warrior God.  So here it is:  WE Need To Know That Our God Is Our Warrior God!  When we face our personal battles, we need The Warrior God.  When we are facing the mountains we need The Warrior God.   When we are facing the giants, we need The Warrior God.  When we are hemmed in by confusion, chaos, or fear, we need The Warrior God.  When Satan attacks us and his blows hurt, we need The Warrior God.  When the weight put on our shoulders is about to crush us, we need The Warrior God.  And when we make up our mind that we are going to be followers of Jesus and become the Body of Christ, we need The Warrior God.

We gather as the Body of Christ in worship, in study, and in fellowship because there is a war going on out there.  We need our wounds healed.  We need our minds encouraged.  We need our spirits renewed.  We do all this because we need to get out there in the battle against sin and against Satan.  Think about God as the Warrior who does powerfully amazing things like…

God Is The Warrior Who Fights For The Heart, Mind And Soul

God’s love is pure and unconditional.  At His heart is this unconditional love.  Love is His identity.  But God’s love isn’t an emotional sentimental kind of love.  Our God’s Love Is Fierce And Intense.  Our God’s love is unstoppable.  His love is strong, durable and resilient.  He never stops His pursuit for any of us.  He goes the distance with a determination that cannot be matched or exceeded by anything or anyone else.

God’s love, yes, is kind and gentle, compassionate and merciful; But His Love Is Also Fierce And Intense.  You and I are so important to the Father; more important than we could ever imagine.  But Satan doesn’t want us to know this!  Satan lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t love us, can’t love us.  And when we believe his lie, he owns us.

Once he owns us, he controls and dominates us, and we are powerless to stop him.  And he doesn’t want to let go of us.  So God fights for our heart, mind and soul.  Jesus fought for us in the wilderness.  He fought for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He fought for us on that Cross.  He fought for us in death.  And He still fights for us, to give Him our heart, mind and soul.  He fights for us to discover, accept and live in the only life we are made for.  If you have never accepted God’s gift of a new heart and a new life, right now He is fighting for you to see your emptiness, to see your brokenness, and see that He will set you free.  He will never stop fighting for you.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—Against Darkness, Fear, And Sin

If we will accept The Gift of New Life, God doesn’t stop fighting.  The Warrior God doesn’t fight against ideas or groups or ideologies.  He fights against the powers that seek to enslave us again.  He fights against the darkness that seeks to rob us of our joy.  When we are living in joy, Satan wants to steal it away.  He tries to put us in a fog so that we can’t see our way out.  When the darkness tries to creep over you, when Satan is trying to cause you to give up, The Warrior God is there fighting for you and for me.  He fights the darkness with the Light that is His love.

When Satan comes against us with fear it can unnerve us.  We can allow fear to control us—fear of being alone, fear of being sick, fear of losing our job, fear of what might happen.  And if we are not careful, we will let fear control us.  But we have The Warrior God who fights against fear by giving us His peace that nothing can take away.  He will remind us of His peace because He is fighting against our fears.  And He fights against sin—sin in the world, and the temptations we face.  It’s easy to be overtaken with sin.  But our God is The Warrior who will always be in the world fighting sin in whatever form it takes.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—With Us

Now, here is where we need to be every day of our life.  Our God, The Warrior Who Fights For Our Heart And Against Everything That Tries To Destroy Us, Want Us To Join In The Battle.  Being a real disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport.  It is not enough to show up and be counted on Sunday morning.  God wants us to fight, to join in the battle.  But He doesn’t want us to go with just our strength, or with the strength of a few friends.  First, He fights FOR us, But Then He Wants Us To Fight With Him.  He wants us to fight for the hearts, minds and souls of those around us.

The Way He Wants Us To Fight For Them Is To Do What He Does—To Fiercely Love Them.  He wants us to put our time, energy and efforts into making more disciples for Jesus.  To fight means we make the commitment to do whatever we can to show them God’s love.

To fight means that we need to become restless, to feel the burden God feels for those who do not know Him.  He wants us to fight against the darkness, the fear, and the sin that is in our world.  He wants us to fight by feeding the hungry, clothing those in poverty, caring for the least, the last and the lost.  And We Can Make A Difference In Our World When We Remember—Remember That God Is The Warrior Who Fights With Us.

Our God Is The Warrior God, and He waits for us to remember—remember that He is calling us to join in the battle.  The great tragedy of many churches is that they have either forgotten we are in a war, or worse, they have given up.  We are called to become engaged in the most significant battle of all time and eternity.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12-13—“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”

And remember, that we do not go into this battle alone.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and follow Jesus.  Many want to think of Jesus as being gentle and mild.  Jesus is gentle for sure, but He definitely isn’t mild.  He is The Warrior, and He fights for you.  Will you accept His offer for a relationship with Him?  And if you have, will you step onto the battlefield with Him?

There’s movie called “We Were Soldiers.”  It was based on what happened to the Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.  Before they were deployed, Col. Moore said, “I will be the first to step onto the field of battle, and I will be the last to leave.”  He’s not the only one who said that.  Jesus said it long ago and He is still on the battlefield.  This is MY God—The Warrior!  Is He your God?

Remember these words from that same Psalm, Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)

32-35 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth.  Sing praises to the Lord.  Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky.  Tell everyone about God’s power.  His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens.  God is awesome in his sanctuary.  The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Praise be to God!

 

 

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

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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Curb Shopping

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Another one of my moments of random thinking this morning, and it seems I’m being afflicted with this more often than usual.  The thought?  Curb Shopping!  Now if you are not familiar with Curb Shopping, I will warn you that it may become addictive.  Simply put, Curb Shopping is watching for what people put out on the curb to be picked up and taken to the landfill and quickly thinking if it is something you can clean up and re-purpose.  Then stopping and picking it up and take it home.  It is giving what is being thrown away a new life.

I admit and confess that I am a Curb Shopper.  I never knew the joy of it until a few years 0119170519_hdrago.  My wonderful wife Debbie and I had taken a trip down to Winter Haven Florida to spend time with some of her family and to have a sabbath rest.  Whenever we are down there, we count on seeing some of her cousins she grew up with; one of them is Janie.  That particular year Janie was telling wonderful and humorous stories of her adventures Curb Shopping.  And that got me started.  Every day going to the office, hospitals or visits, I watch the curbs for some hidden jewel, even scrap pieces of lumber.  I also watched businesses for discarded pallets to re-purpose.  The crosses and firewood rack are just a few things I’ve done.  (Notice the Folger coffee cans, that’s where I keep the tender for starting fires in our fireplace, that is, when it is cold enough for a fire.  I do live in Alabama where we defy Mother Nature by having all 4 seasons in the span of a week.)

Point is, I find Curb Shopping expands my thinking and moves me from the realm of “what is” into the wide open spaces of “what could be”.  And this morning’s random thought was more than about “junk” and thrown away pallets.  I realized that Janie had opened my eyes to yet another facet of God.  God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver.  A perfect case study to prove my assertion that God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver, is found in Luke 7:36-50 (The Message)

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.”

Here was a woman who had been pushed to the curb as trash to be disposed.  Others had seen her and thought, “Well, the curb is exactly where she belongs!”  But Jesus was a great Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver for He could see beyond “what is” to “what can be”.  Here’s my two thoughts on this random thought:

First, God does not see you as curb trash or dumpster material.  He sees more clearly than even yourself “what is” your current condition, and regardless your current condition He can see “what you can become”.  He can and will re-purpose your life and keep you from the landfill of despair.

Second, I have a question for you:  How do you see people who have been pushed to the curb?  Who are people pushed to the curb?  Of course we think about the homeless, but there are many others.  It is anyone who has been pushed aside because someone decided that they no longer had any value or purpose.  Do you join in their assessment or can you see that with a little work, they can be re-purposed to a better life, a higher life?

Re-purposing takes some imagination, often a lot of work, and even more patience.  And our God has plenty of both–in fact–more than enough for anyone, everyone, even you.  One more not so random thought and for some it may be my spiritual gift of annoyance that hits you:  What are you going to do with the next person you see that has been pushed to the curb?  Use your imagination and time to invest in someone who has been deemed too broken or no longer needed, and ask God to show you “what can be” for them.  Then stop at that curb, pick them up and watch what happens when we don’t give up on someone.

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

#3 The Loss Of Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mediocrity

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

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

#4 Form Rather Than Substance

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(This is the seventh in a 10 part series.  Item Number 3 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude;   #6. Self Reliance; and finally read #5 Fear Of Change before reading this one)

In this exploration of those things that are among the most vile things that are destroying the western church, particularly in the U.S.A., I hope you have seen a common thread.  In each item there is a corresponding Scripture.  The passage is either an indictment against that attitude or it is a passage that shows the exact opposite and how the church needs to embody that positive trait in order to be faithful in and to the Kingdom of God. Any single one will diminish the impact a local congregation has on a community.

Coming in at a very strong #4 is one that has plagued the church since her inception.  It has rightly earned its place on this list.  It is Choosing Form Over Substance.  Look carefully at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 from the New Living Translation:

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Hone in on verse 5:  “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  The King James Version puts it like this:  “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power .”  Unlike the other symptoms of a dying congregation, this particular one manifests itself in 2 diametrically opposed systems, and we need to look at both of them.

First, there is the form of traditionalism.  Now, do you go spouting off your mouth and revealing your ignorance by saying that I do not like traditions.  I know we live in a free country where you are free to act and speak as stupid as you so please, but don’t abuse this freedom.  I love rich traditions both in family and in the family of faith.  But I did not use the word “traditions”; I used the word traditionalism.

Traditionalism does not value the rich traditions because they elevate them to the status of idols by making them simply a means to create a faux self that they think looks good on the outside.  And they believe they can produce this themselves.  It is all about human effort.  You can look through that litany of things Paul writes about to Timothy and one thing becomes evidently clear.  They are promoters of Self.  Everything is about the external and nothing is about the internal.  They are more concern with their outward appearance than they are about their true inward being.  Seems like I recall Jesus having some tough and harsh things to say to, who were those really religious folks?  Oh, Pharisees!  I seem to recall something about them being low down snakes and something about looking like a cemetery on Decoration Sunday; really pretty on top but below they were nothing but dead bones.

Traditionalism is all about keeping up the appearance and it becomes a cheap substitute, much like when King Rehoboam replaced the gold shields that had been stolen with brass shields.  It keeps a person from dealing with the truth because many Tenured Pew Sitters simply cannot handle the truth.  Rather than looking for where God is at work and pursuing those things with Him, they are more concerned with going through the motions rather than being swept up by this fresh wind of the Holy Spirit.  This is one extreme.

The other extreme of this is where brokenness that comes from sinfulness is celebrated and worn as a badge of honor.  It’s like, the more brokenness you reveal and share, suddenly the more holy and Christ-like you become.  This idea of celebrating brokenness has gotten a bit out of control.  Yes God loves us where we are and as we are.  But God wants to do more.  He wants to bring about a complete transformation.  But instead, some seem to take pride in their brokenness by calling it, “the way God created me”.

There is a movement afoot that promotes that God is such pure love that just about anything is permissible, within their definition of reason of course.  In this group no one wants to embark on the journey to become who God created them to be.  But it seems that some want to celebrate how they feel rather than how God’s grace makes us whole and brings us back to our true self–the self HE created us to be.  They insist that it is God’s love and His love alone, without anything else happening, that makes them whole.

But notice that last line of Paul  They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  The Gospel Jesus came to share and the Kingdom that His Gospel points to is the one that yes, loves us just as we are, but goes much further and even deeper.  It is about trusting His power to change the brokenness that truly exists in all of us into that intended design God has for us.  He wants to make us holy and this image of holy is to become exactly like Him.  It is not about self polishing or throwing away old ideas of what sin is and does to us.  It is about radical transformation that comes from His power working on the inside of us.

One of the founders of my Tribe was a fellow by the name of John Wesley.  He once wrote:

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I am seeing Wesley’s troubling concern coming true in my Tribe.  But not only in my Tribe, but in other Tribes as well.  We can be just as beautiful as a cemetery on Decoration Sunday but without the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and without His presence and power to help us overcome our sin, we will remain sinners–sinners that are lost without the Savior.  We become a form that has no substance.  Oh Lord, save us from ourselves!

#5 Fear Of Change

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(This is the sixth in a 10 part series.  Reason Number 4 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude;  and finally read #6. Self Reliance before reading this one)

There are a lot of reasons why western congregations are declining in membership, attendance and impact.  This list is by no stretch of even my active imagination, not an indictment against all local churches.  I have not engaged in Barna-like  research polls; nor have I started a consultant business going about to different congregations across the nation analyzing what is ailing them.  No, this is what I said it would be at the very beginning:  simply observations that I have drawn by reading and listening very carefully.  And I do not expect everyone to agree with my conclusions and I am sure there are other reasons that could make it on a Top 10 List such as this.

But after a season of prayer, these are the ones that I see as significant “Destroyers Of The Church”.  The Enemy does not have to get a local church to embrace all 10 of these, or 9 or 8 or 7 or 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 or even 2 in order to effectively make a local congregation ineffective.  I realize I did not have to do the entire countdown for most of you.  But I have met people who need the whole shebang to understand; they are not creative thinkers; heck, they aren’t thinkers at all; but I digress, so forgive me.  Any local congregation that is guilty of even 1 of these has greatly reduced their impact for the Kingdom of God.  This is why self-evaluation should always be an ongoing and unfinished project; not just people, but for the entire congregation, especially its leadership.

Now we have finished the bottom tier of this list, it’s time to move on to our Top 5.  This part of The List was the most difficult because of so many other things could have fit here as well.  But coming in at Number 5 is Fear Of Change.  But it is the unique beginning of Change that qualifies it to be in solidly at Number 5.  To show how this has been a persistent problem, let’s look at a story about change from Numbers 14:1-4 (The Message)

1-3 The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”

Soon they were all saying it to one another: “Let’s pick a new leader; let’s head back to Egypt.”

Unless one is a pastor or member of the military, two callings that require adaptability to change because change is a constant, change creates a lot of anxiety in many people, especially long-term members of a local church.  This does not seem to be a problem with new Christians because they typically have not developed their hierarchy of importance.  The excitement of new birth and new life, well, all they want to do is serve Jesus.  Everything is new and everything is changing for the newborn Disciple of Jesus.  But for the church members with long-standing tenure, it is usually viewed with more than just suspicion, but downright hated and anger.

But it is that first great Change mentioned in the Bible that takes fear of change into that realm of being an oxymoron.  You see, prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, everything was moving forward.  The only constant that had never changed in the Garden and in their lives was that God was in charge.  Then comes Satan on the scene with an offer to, you guessed it, CHANGE!  He came at them proposing that things needed to change:  “Why should HE be in charge?  You could do just as good, probably better.  In fact, He knows you could do better, that’s why He doesn’t want you eating from this tree.”

So in the beginning, humans were not afraid of change.  And today, many tenured pew sitters are terrified of change and see any change as spawns of Satan, himself.  But there was a time when humans were not afraid of change.  Oops, I just heard a tenured pew sitter saying, “See!  That’s why we need to be afraid of change!  Look at what it got us back then!”  Well Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, had things not changed back then, we would not even be having this discussion now.  But because of the fallen nature that exists in each of us, even Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, change is needed.

Our world has been in a constant state of change.  Growing up, education was based upon books and pencils and paper.  Today it’s about I-Pads and Google Books.  Where I learned through the sense of hearing, kids today are more visual learners.  When I was growing up, single parents were a minority.  In some school systems, the majority of students come from a single parent family.  I could go on and on with the changes that happen in our culture.  Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, you know I’m right on this.

In the midst of all these changes, the church does have something that never changes–and it’s not our traditions.  It is the truth of God’s Word.  We call it the Bible.  And within this Bible, God reveals more than truth, He reveals Kingdom Truth about how life is without Him and how it can be with Him.  But how we present and share the Kingdom Truth, that does go through changes.  Think about the dinosaur.  What happened to the dinosaur?  It’s culture changed; it didn’t; it died.  Remember the 7 words of a dying church (or any organization) “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Hear this consistently and know that death is imminent.

Look back at the passage from Numbers.  For a long season everything was predictable for the most part.  Now they were about to be challenged to trust God even deeper as the conquest of the Promised Land was at hand.  Big changes are coming!  And what was their response to entering the Promised Land, a Land that God said He guaranteed they would occupy and would fight for them?  “Let’s get us a new leader/pastor (I just had to throw that in) who can lead us back to Egypt!”  Now, what was it they had in Egypt?  Slavery!  go back to chapter 11 and you see even then they were wanting to go back for free onions AND SLAVERY!  Why did they want to go back to slavery?  Why do Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter fight so fiercely to maintain the status quo?  I know the answer!  I know the answer!

Once the Enemy got Adam and Eve to believe that his idea of change was good, he then gave humanity a new lie.  He gave them, and so many still today, the idea that predictability is the preferred status over some unknown future.  Predictability is believed to produce peace and stability.  It gives neither.  Predictability always, always, always produces complacency.  When complacency happens, one becomes both deaf and blind to the movement of the Holy Spirit and oblivious to what and where God is moving.  The Enemy knows that if he can keep Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter as Guardians Of The “We’ve Always Done It This Way” dogma, he knows that local church will never ever be a threat to him.

I’m not suggesting that all change is good and I do not believe in change simply for the sake of change or to follow the latest fad.  I am doing more than suggesting, I’m outright telling you, that to defend the status quo simply because it is the status quo has deadly consequences.  Congregations who stubbornly resist any change need to be ready to plan their last Sunday Service, because it will not be long until they can no longer sustain their facility.

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#6. Self Reliance

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(This is the fifth in a 10 part series.  Number 5 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War;  #8: Wrong priorities; and finally read 7: Cookie Cutter Attitude before reading this one)

Self Reliance, now that doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?  Isn’t it a good thing to be Self-Reliant?  Look at the definition:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  You’re not a burden on anyone or a drain on any system.  Shouldn’t that be a good thing?  Yes, in one real sense, Self Reliance is a good thing.  In farming Self Reliance means that you figure out how to be profitable year in and year out.  For a corporation it can mean sustainability.  All of these can be good things in the right situation and environment.

But like all good things, they can be abused.  I am not suggesting that anyone needs to become dependent on the government as the only means to have the basics of food, shelter and clothing.  But I’m not writing about economic self-reliance.  The context is looking at the Top 10 things that are killing the church.  Self-Reliance has definitely deserved its spot at #6.  Hang with me just a little bit longer.  Let’s look at Proverbs 3:5-12 and from The Message it goes like this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.      Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction.  

It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.

The NIV puts it this way:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  After nearly 2,000 years of history, suddenly there are those in the church who think they have this thing called “church” and “Christianity” all figured out and no longer need those ancient and outdated things of the past.  Here is how I see Self Reliance being played out to the harm and even death of the local church.  I will start at the top with the most damning and damaging and work my way down the list.

First, there is a lack of Biblical Authority.   The tried and proven true values of the Bible are being traded in for a new set of values that, well, just makes more sense for today’s times than those of the Bible.  There’s this group that promotes this within the church.  They call themselves “Progressives”.  They insist that their views are more in line with God’s standards.  In fact, they proclaim, that thanks to Jesus, things once considered wrong and sinful, well those definitions of sin are just outdated biases and prejudices of a long gone generation.  People are free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible best fits them and the parts that don’t fit–just ignore them as cultural bias and a lack of understanding of the real world.  Without true Biblical Authority in us and over us, we end up choosing our own way and they simply leads to chaos.  Wasn’t that the real temptation in the Garden of Eden put before Adam and Eve?  I realize that some people misread the Bible because they bring their personal biases into it.  But that does not negate that the Bible still has authority over us in matters of personal holiness, individual integrity and how we are to live as God’s people in this fallen world.

Second, there is a lack of understanding the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to bring us the power we need become more like Jesus and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current world.  I still believe we need spiritual power.  I still believe we need spiritual gifts.  And I still believe we need that fruit which only the Holy Spirit can produce.  But so many today, too many today want to lean on their abilities, human knowledge and human training.  Fewer and fewer people live with that sense that God is actually living in them THROUGH the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are like those disciples who tried to cast out that demon but failed.  To their credit they did ask Jesus why they failed.  And Jesus replied to them that they needed more prayer and fast.  In other words, put themselves in those positions where we become more keenly aware of the Holy Spirit and rely on Him with His power and abilities over our powers and abilities.

And third, there is the desire by some in the church to be in control of what happens in or through the church.  They have either been self-appointed authorities or they inherited that position because their family has always been in control.  Self Reliance says that WE determine the who, what, where, when and the how of the Mission of the Church.  The Mission of the church is defined by those places where God is already at work.  But too many want to be in control of the Mission, not messy people, places and organizations.  Self Reliance says we are smart enough to figure out on our own what should or should not be done.  Focus in inward and we have already seen what happens when churches turn inward.  The focus is on survival of the church rather than the transformation of the world through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Self Reliance means that WE get to be in charge and that is exactly why many churches continue to experience decline.

Look again at that definition of Self Reliance:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  Throw the Bible out.  We are wise.  Keep the Holy Spirit outside because we are smart enough and strong enough to take care of ourselves.  And we are quite capable doing this “church” thing, we so God, just take care of others things  We’ve got this!

No, we don’t; it’s got us.  Got us in a mess.  Got us confused.  Got us bewildered.  Got us lying–lying that we are much happier and stronger through Self Reliance.  Until we learn to let go and trust God to guide us through this thing called life, until we quite thinking we are strong enough to handle it–we will never seen the transformation of the world, and the Kingdom of God will not be seen, at least in the areas around the western local churches.

self-reliance Faith in ourselves just leads to more disappointment and more emptiness for us.  Until we align our lives to the authority of Scriptures, until we are filled with the power and gifts of the Spirit, and until we stop trying to be in charge and control–we will never make a lasting impact on the world.

God is calling us to become involved in something much bigger than any of us, even all of us, could ever imagine.  But as long as we leaning on self, we will continue to miss it every day and all day long.  Growth happens when God is given complete and total control of our hearts, minds and lives.  Jesus never promoted self-reliance.  To the control, He INSISTED on Surrender and Self-Denial.  We can’t grow the church; heck we can’t even sustain it.  But God can and God will.  Give up that you can make everything better.  Let Him make everything better by first making you new.

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

7: Cookie Cutter Attitude

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(This is the fourth in a 10 part series.  Number 6 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War; and finally read #8: Wrong priorities before reading this one)

First of all, this has nothing to do with this edition of Kingdom Pastor but I stand amazed and in awe of the bloggers I follow who post something every day, sometimes 2 or 3 things a day.  I applaud your strength and resolve and am the richer for it.  Me?  I usually do a couple a week, so needless to say, this is challenging to me.  Fortunately, I have many great examples around me in Blog Sphere who let me know I can do this for 10 consecutive days.  Maybe it will even inspire me to finish my book.  Oh well, enough rambling, on to today’s topic of what is killing the church.  Coming in at Number 7 on my list is The Cookie Cutter Attitude.

Normally, I wait a few paragraphs before I introduce the passage that the Spirit has led me to; but today, let’s get right to it.  Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

Now before some purist takes me to task for using this passage out of context, let me explain.  I know Paul wrote this to challenge the church at Rome not to be like the world around it, or as The Message puts it–“your culture”.  Not only does “the world” have a culture, but so does the local church.  A fellow blogger, InsanityBytes,  absolutely inspires and challenges me through her blog See, There’s This Thing Called Biology and she taught me a new word:  churchian.  To me “churchian” is a perfect word to describe the culture of a local church that is declining in influence, and thus declining in membership and attendance.

Somehow, some local churches seem to think that in order to be effective, then everyone needs to see, think, dress and act alike.  Cookie Cutters!  Where does a local church get the idea that God wants us to look just alike, think just alike, speak just alike, and act just alike?  Wait, I know the answer to my own question:  it’s the Enemy!  The Enemy knows he is no match for the body of Christ when each member is faithfully using their uniqueness in the Kingdom and for the glory of God.  No way he can stand up against us.  So to help himself (because he certainly does not care about helping us) and his cause, he has convinced some local churches that UNITY can only occur through UNIFORMITY.  This is why it has earned a solid spot at #7 on our list of Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.

Think about the early churches, particularly the church at Corinth.  Every time I hear someone say, “We need to get back to being like the earliest churches!”, I want to gently cup my hands around their face, look them square in the eyes and shout, “Are you kidding me?  Have you ever read 1 Corinthians?”  Right out of the chute, Paul chastises them for their divisions; some saying they were followers of Apollos or Peter or Paul, as if that made them better than the rest.  It was like saying, “You’re not a real church member unless you are like us!”  Cookie Cutters!  (Oh, and don’t get me on how they were acting during Holy Communion.  Come on, you want the church today to be like that?  Really?)

And that’s not all, some were promoting the ridiculous idea that God wanted everyone to have the same spiritual gift.  If you did not have that particular spiritual gift, well you just weren’t being a part of the true church.  Cookie Cutters!  But Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:4-6 (The Message)

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all.  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.

Then Paul gives a small partial litany of those spirit gifts, gifts designed by God for us in order to bring out the UNIQUENESS that HE put in us, not to make us the product of Cookie Cutters.  Then Paul does one of the things Paul does well–he makes an analogy with the human body.  Same chapter 12, listen to verse 12-13  from The Message:

12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body.  Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.  It’s exactly the same with Christ.  By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.  (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.)  Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.  The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful.  We need something larger, more comprehensive. (emphasis mine)

Paul goes on to ask them to imagine the human body if it was just one thing, say for example, an eye.  If we think it would look ridiculous if the human body was just an eye (like a scene out of those 1950 Sci-Fi B movies), how dare anyone think that the church looks best when we see, think, dress and act alike.  I have heard those in the churchian culture comment about someone who just gave their life to Jesus and was all excited say, “Oh, give them a couple of months, and we will make them just like us.”  Every time a churchian says that, the Enemy gives out a belly laugh because he knows he has his instruments in place to keep that church from becoming another one of those churches that he absolutely fears.  Cutter Cutters!

One reason that the “Not Yet In Church” crowd (others call them the Nones and Dones; I prefer the term “Not Yet In Church”) give for not becoming a part of a local church is that they do not want to lose their individuality.  They see the church as the place of conformity, not the place for transformation.  I have personally seen and heard of church after church after church after church after church believe that UNIFORMITY is the key to UNITY.  Uniformity will never cause unity because our God is not a Cookie Cutter.  He seeks for ways to express a piece HIS UNIQUENESS within the only part of creation that was deemed by Him to bear His Image.

Those “Not Yet In Church” will never come to a church it they see that a church’s mission is to conform them into the “correct” image.  Cookie Cutter!  Local congregations that stifle individuality and have difficulty accepting others as they are–others who see, think, dress and act differently–then that congregation will continue to fail at impacting their community and thus continue their decline in membership and attendance.  Without their own radical transformation, those local churches will die.  Cookie Cutters Kill Churches.  I dare you to say that 12 times real fast.  Better yet, if you are one of those who think Cookie Cutters create unity, then say it slowly, over and over until you know that it is the truth.

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The way to reverse this inevitable conclusion is really rather simple.  Go back to Romans 12:2 and again from The Message:

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Allow God to define you and most of all, allow God to define others.  After all, HE knows you and them better than you know yourself, and much better than you know them.  Cookie Cutters!  Leave them in the kitchen and NEVER bring them to church.

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#8: Wrong priorities

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(This is the third in a 10 part series.  Number 7 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship  and #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War before reading this one)

A careful examination of the focus and operations of many struggling churches reveal that one of the significant causes of their declining membership, attendance and impact on community is that they simply have endorsed and embraced the wrong priorities.  And what breaks my heart the most is that those churches sincerely think they have the right priorities.  Churches with the wrong priorities are not deliberately attempting to kill their church.  The sad fact is they believe, believe with all their heart, that by their strict adherence to these wrong priorities, somehow there will be a turnaround in membership, attendance, and impact on their community.  They are looking for leaders who will have the skill sets to gladly and proudly march them backwards to the 1950’s, when membership, attendance and community impact were at the highest.

There is only ONE priority that any church really needs to change the current downward spiral.  Do you know what it is?  I think I just heard someone say, “Put God first!”  In congregations that have plateaued or declining if asked they would say that they are putting God first but continue to decline.  I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now, suffice it to say that the #1 Priority for the church should be The Kingdom of God.  Some of you just said, “But isn’t that what I said when I said the one priority the church needs is to put God first?”  Maybe I’m just being my Annoying Self when I put this out there for your consideration.  Who knows, maybe I’m turning into a heretic in my old age.  But what did Jesus have to said about what should be our ONE priority?  Let’s look at Matthew 6:24-34 from the New Living Translation:

24 “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

25 That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 And why worry about your clothing?  Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The cause of the decline of the Western Church, again this is how I interpret what I see, is that first word, rather the lack of seeing that first word–seek!  According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used was zēteō.  It has several usages and the one that caught my eye is this one:  “to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after”.  In these latter years I have this deep sense from God that we are missing so much, too much, by overlooking that phrase, “The Kingdom of God”.  A Kingdom requires a King but here in the good old U.S.A., we fought a war so that we would be free from a King.  And so, we have this problem of declining membership, attendance and influence and the reason I see is that we tend to operate the local church more like a democracy and less like the Kingdom.

I realize that some of my fellow pastors can act like a ruthless dictator, but the fact remains that God has called us into HIS Kingdom, not our democracies.  What does all this have to do with the wrong priorities?  Glad you asked, and I will gladly give you an answer.  Churches that are losing in membership, attendance and influence are 99% of the time churches that have forgotten the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And the purpose of this Kingdom is defined by Jesus when He declared in John 10:10

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

If we follow the example of Jesus, giving life happens when we come to know their deepest needs and then offering what we have to meet those needs.  If they are hungry, give them food.  If they are homeless, give them shelter.  If they have trouble reading or can’t read, we teach them how to read.  If they are lonely, we build relationships with them.  Everything about the Kingdom is externally focused on others, those outside the Kingdom, those outside the church.  And herein lies the problem.

The wrong priorities seen in declining churches is that its members see themselves as the consumers of what the church offers.  I dare say that you, the reader, have heard someone say, “Well I quit that church because they just weren’t meeting my needs.”  The pastor, the programs, the staff, the music, the ANYTHING–it’s all about them consuming what is produced in the church buildings.  They do not seem themselves as the “providers” of mission, but the consumer of services.

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Every program, every ministry, every mission, every activity is to be focused on them, the members.  When the pastor and/or staff fails to serve them, it is time to get rid of them and find someone who will.  Consumption, consumption, consumption!  All this consumption has led to the decline in membership, worship attendance, and most of all, community impact.  Programs are not to serve the members.  Staff does not have the responsibility of serving the members.  And the Mission does not exist to meet the needs of the members.  When the focus is inward, it is leading to the eventual death of a local congregation.

But there is good news:  When the focus is outward, when the local congregation readies itself to meet and welcome those who are not in church YET, the decline is reversed.  We are called to serve the Mission of the Kingdom of God, not be served by the Mission.  We are called to become the providers of Mission and not the consumers of ministries.  To become once again people who impact communities with the power of the Kingdom of God we have to change the focus–from self to others.  When our focus is outward and outside the walls of the local congregation and on those who are among the least, the last and the lost, the local church will grow in membership, attendance and best of all, grow great in impacting their community with the Gospel.  Of this I am confident, absolutely confident, because our King said so:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship

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(This is the first of 10 blogs about The Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.  Number 9 will publish tomorrow)

As I read about the Church, I am seeing two opposing experiences.  In places other than the United States the Church is growing and flourishing, but here in the good old U.S.A. it appears to have fallen on hard times.  While there are pockets of places where the church is growing by making new disciples and those disciples serving their communities with the Good News, the overall condition of the mainline churches, even those classified as “evangelical”, is that it is about to approach life support status.  I do not say this to be cruel or mean; but to be honest because I love the church.

There are a myriad of reasons why this is happening but for this series of blogs, I am focusing on what I perceive as the Top 10 Reasons.  This is my conclusion and opinion and am not expecting anyone to agree with me.  But I am hopeful that it will cause each reader to reflect and see if there is something that needs tweaking in their life.  We will do a countdown of sorts and today we are looking at #10:  Choosing Religion Over Relationship.  My mind and heart goes back to a passage found in Matthew 15:1-2 and let me share it from 2 different translations:

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him,  “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” (NLT)

After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?” (The Message)

For the Pharisees it was all about the age-old traditional rules.  For these folks to be a part of God’s people it was all about keeping the Rules.  These Rules had been around long enough for most people to be aware of them.  In other words, it was all about the external appearances and nothing about the mind and heart.  Rules were not just “important”, they were the ONLY thing considered “important” by the Pharisees.

Think about it.  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were picking grain on the sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2).  The Pharisees complained to His disciples that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and other various sinners (Mark 2:16).  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were making too much noise praising Him (Luke 19:36).  Do you see a common pattern and a common word describing the Pharisees attitude?  Complaining!

Over the past 42 years, I have been the object of someone complaining.  At one appointment, someone complained that at the end of my prayers, I pronounced the word “ah-men” rather than “A-men”.  At another appointment someone complained that I was the reason why someone was leading an aerobic’s class, thus I was allowing those “non-members” to use the church facilities.  At another appointment someone complained that my motorcycle helmet (known in slang as a “shorty”, which is the type motorcycle police officers wear) looked like the Nazi helmets from World War 2 and that I needed to quit wearing it.  Once I heard the complaint that I was wearing my clergy robe.  Another time I heard the complaint that I was NOT wearing my clergy robe.

Religion loves to complain.  And in the United States the church is losing credibility because we put more emphasis on the “religion”, meaning the rules and traditions, than the relationship God offers.  Here are the dangers I see in religion.

1. Right Opinions matter more than righteousness

Religion is built around a set of doctrines which are mandatory if one wants to be a part of that religion.  One time I attended a church in the community and at the front was a list of “things” one had to believe in order to be a Christian and a member of that church.  I think there were 21 items on that list, and it was a list where one had to embrace all of them.  There is no room for other ideas, opinions or even disagreement.  Religion fears anything that resembles even vaguely something new.  Essential to religion is the strict adherence to a set of beliefs, most of the time without understanding why one believes it or if it is even essential.  Religion demands submission to right opinions, beliefs and doctrine.  Religion is best identified by its desire for the status quo.

 

2.  It identifies you as to what you are not

You are not Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Scientologist, therefore you must be Christian.  It’s like going through a buffet line of ideas and selecting the one that makes sure you aren’t “one of those others”.  Relationship is about what you could become.  Religion is about who you are not.

 

 3.  Rules matter more than people

Conformity in appearance and beliefs is essential in religion.  Conformity is developed through the rules, both written “laws” and unwritten traditions.  It stifles the creativity and uniqueness that God puts in every person.  Since rules matter the most, people who do not conform to the rules are pushed aside.  This creates a judgmental attitude like that of the Pharisees and we all know how Jesus felt about the Pharisees.

 

4.  It’s the safest place to hide from God

Now I want you the reader to know that I did not come up with this line.  It was first penned by Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.  Father Rohr is correct.  It is the safest place to hide from God because religion gives us the veneer of respectability.  Respectability is a powerful way to ease one’s conscience and keep the awareness of one’s guilt of sin from getting too close to the mind and heart.  If religion is guiding you, may I suggest you read and reflect on Matthew 25:42-46.  If this doesn’t scare the religion right out of you, then you are firmly entrenched in religion.

 

5.  It makes one impotent for the true work of the Kingdom of God

God is all about building relationship and through this relationship with Him, He takes us on a journey to be our true self, the one He created and the one He knows we can become with His presence, guidance, and power; and to help us overcome the dominion of sin in our life.  Religion takes us captive and robs us of the Divine Spark and power that will bring the Kingdom back onto this His Creation.  Religion makes us powerless by making us its captive.  Maintaining the status quo strips us of the power needed to be involved in the things God is doing.

 

6.  It makes the Enemy laugh at us, though he knows deep down that he fears us

The Enemy, YOUR Enemy, knows exactly what you can become through the relationship God offers, and it makes him pee in his pants when he sees you becoming that person God created.  To take away his fear of you, he convinces you that religion is what it’s all about.  He knows he can control a religious person, so he deceives us into some second best; and that is religion.  Nothing makes the Enemy laugh more than when he sees people following and protecting religion.  And nothing makes him more afraid than seeing someone who is committed to the relationship with Jesus.

Religion is a genuine imitation pearl.  New it looks great, but over time, the beauty is gone and so is the joy.  Religion is all about the appearance and nothing about the heart and power of this relationship with God  There are a significant number of churches in our culture that are more interested in protecting their territory than they are about knowing where God is working, joining in where God is moving,  and building relationships with the people He is trying to reach.  Religion strips one of their promised glory; and you do have a promised glory in this Relationship.

If the church in the U.S. is going to reverse our current downward trends, it begins when we throw away religion and run to the One who is offering us a Relationship.  Religion doesn’t need the cross, but we do.  Religion doesn’t need the resurrection, but we do.  When we surrender at the foot of the Cross and allow the power of the resurrection to work in us right here and right now, well, the Enemy is going to have to change his underwear because I know what he just did in them.  #9 comes tomorrow.

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

Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!

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This morning I had another one of my moments of random thoughts.  It is a condition I am afflicted with regularly and I am learning to use it in ways that would be both inspiring and challenging.  This morning’s random thought came out of a conversation I had in 2016 with someone at church.  Our conversation emerged from that Sunday’s message that was about the question of human sexuality.  If you are a member of or are following the news in our Tribe, it is a hot topic button.  My point was that God calls us to love and care about others and that homosexuality is not the worst sin, and we needed to stop treating it that way.  We need to bear witness to the truth of Jesus through our lives and give the Spirit the opportunity to change whatever needs to be changed in our life.

This member told me a little later how much she appreciated my conversation on this delicate subject and asked me what I thought was the “worst” sin.  This random thought continues to flow through my gray matter.  I want to say up front and to be consistent with last Sunday’s sermon, that all sin is equally hideous and ugly.  At the foot of the Cross we are all equals, from the person in church to the criminal in a maximum security prison.  All sin demands a terrible price which Jesus gladly paid on the Cross out of His favor, kindness and mercy.  But…

But there are, call them “things” or “attitudes” or “beliefs” that are absolutely killing the western church.  As I reflected on what is killing our efforts to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, what is killing our desire that His will be done here as it is in heaven, I have come up with what I’m calling a “Top 10 List”.  This list is not, by any stretch of even my imagination, the only things that are killing the church’s effectiveness today.  I would say this Top 10 list is among the deadliest for any congregation.

So, for the next 10 days I will be addressing each of them.  Today all you are going to get from this blog is The List.  I would invite you to comment on other things you see that are killing the church today.  Now, this is not meant to condemn the church or any particular congregation.  It is not meant to tear down anyone or any church.  Think about this series like you would a visit to your doctor when you know something is wrong.  Would you want your doctor to simply say that you are OK, or would you rather she or he be truthful about what might be physically wrong with you?  To let you see where my heart is in all this, let me share my motivation and my heart with you.  It comes from Ephesians 4:15 and in God’s Word Translation is goes like this:

Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head.

I write and speak out of love for Jesus first, and also for you.  So here is my Top 10 List of things we need to stop doing.

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10.  Choosing religion over relationship

9.  Ignoring that we are in a war

8.  Wrong priorities

7.  Cookie Cutter attitude

6.  Self Reliance

5.  Fear of change

4.  Form rather than substance

3.  Loss of passion

2.  False humility

 1.  The worst one of all

I am not expecting everyone to agree with my conclusions.  Reality is, I expect some to be offended at me.  I strongly suspect that when Jesus walked this earth He deliberately said some things just to offend some in the crowd.  Well, here goes to 10 straight days of blogging.  Usually I do one per week here, and one on my other blog.  I ask for your prayers as I step into what I believe, are thoughts put in my heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.  And remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Pray as you will…

Pastor Randy

And We Are Keeping This Because?

Holding On To Spiritual Clutter

cluttered-garage

Something amazing happened yesterday that absolutely surprised me and filled me with indescribable joy.  Some of the Worship Team came to remove the Chrismons from the tree in the sanctuary and to take down and put up all the decorations from the Advent Season.  Down the hallway from the sanctuary is a series of storage closets with those louvered bi-fold doors.  I had looked in them before and they were filled with a lot of stuff, I mean a LOT of STUFF.  Now here is what surprised me and created a sense of euphoric joy.

The Worship Team leader asked me if they could clean up those closets, remove what we did not need and then organize it.  Do you know what I did?  I made the sign of the Cross over them, ordained them to the task (if I had a bottle of anointing oil I would have anointed them with oil) and blessed them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost!  And they went to work sorting and determining what we actually use.  Among the many items was an old metal box that we determined that at one time was the heart of the church phone system.  There were a few coffee pots, some “made in China” bud vases covered in about 15 years of holy dust (it is a church you know), assorted sizes of nearly used-up candles, and a variety of items too numerous to list.

Some items were moved to a new storage location we call the dumpster.  Other items were moved to the stage in the fellowship hall, neatly arranged.  An announcement will be made for the next two Sundays inviting the folks to browse through those items to take home with them if they have any value to them, after which those items will be re-purposed at the local thrift store.  Then they organized and stored the items we actually need and use.  It was a beautiful sight to behold.  As a pastor, it was one of those moments when God affirms to you that your work in the Lord is not in vain.  But this morning it caused me to think.

How much spiritual clutter do we carry around with us that is either unnecessary or is no longer needed in our spiritual journey?  Right now I am thinking about my Old Testament professor at Birmingham Southern College, Dr. Wells, God rest his soul.  On top of his office desk were piles and piles of paper and in front of those piles was a sign I have never forgotten.  It said:  “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what’s the sign of an empty desk?”  I admit that most of the time my desk top is, well I won’t say cluttered, but I will say it’s “organized chaos”.  I do know where to look when I need something, well, some of the time.  And I am also realizing more frequently, that my “organized clutter desk top” is a sign that I am keeping spiritual clutter that needs to be gone.

Paul understood the tendency to hold on to things that were once thought to be important but no longer serve a useful purpose.  Look carefully at Philippians 3:2:-14  from The Message

2-6 Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’srighteousness.

10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Our life in Christ is a forward moving life.  I love the way The Message renders verse 14: I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  But sometimes the Enemy tries to get us to hold on to some things that keep us from the onward movement with Jesus.  For some it is old guilt; for others it is old fears; and for many it is old failures.  The Enemy entraps them with all that “used to be” and lies to them by saying “that’s all there will be and it will always be that way.”

All of the trash and junk of sin was nailed to the Cross and onto Jesus.  He bore all of that guilt, fear and failures.  And because He carried it all the way to His grave God offers to set us free from all of it, I mean ALL of it.  He makes this offer as a pure gift, absolute grace: You no longer have to carry it around!  I am setting you free!”  God liberates us and then declares us righteous, right with Him by giving to us all of the righteousness that is Jesus.  It’s like trading in an old clunker of a car for a brand new car, a new car that has no payments to make because the price was paid in full for us.  Just accept God’s gift, plain a simple.

But then there’s that “other” clutter we carry around sometimes.  It’s like all that stuff stored in those closets.  At one time they were useful and beneficial, but they have served their purpose.  Something new and better has arrived on the scene.  But sometimes we long for the comfort of the old and familiar rather than the fresh and new of the Holy Spirit.  So like that old PBX system, we hold on to it just in case that new PBX system fails us.  What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the Enemy wants us to be more religious than righteous.  And to be religious means we hold onto the old ways simply because they are the old ways.  It can become like Paul warned young Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:5,

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Please do not misunderstand me and say things about me that simply are not true.  I am not against the rich traditions of the Church.  They are priceless reminders of the faithfulness of God and God’s promises to guide us into a new future with Him.  But these rich traditions become spiritual clutter when they are no longer used as reminders of God’s faithful presence and His promises of a new future.  When Jesus was talking about the New Covenant and true Kingdom of God He compares it with new wine.  He summed up the New Covenant this way in Luke 5:38-39 and The Voice© puts it like this:

New demands new—new wine for new wineskins.  Anyway, those who’ve never tasted the new wine won’t know what they’re missing; they’ll always say, “The old wine is good enough for me!”

“The old is good enough for me and it should be good enough for you!”  Such are the words of those who have traded in their relationship with God for a religious attitude.  It is easy to hold on to the past as if it will be enough.  So we store it away and it collects dust.  Dust collectors serve no useful purpose.  I’m sure if there had been a committee there to decide what items were kept and what items were disposed by the Worship Team, some, if not most of those items would have been kept simply because “some day we might need them” or “we use to use them so keep them”.  I read somewhere that if you haven’t worn an item of clothing in 2 years you need to get rid of it because if it’s been 2 years since you wore it why do you think anything will change?

Have you ever watched one of those shows about “hoarders”?  It is both sickening and heartbreaking to see people surrounded by stuff that is stifling the life right out of them.  It is even sadder when people who have been touched and transformed by the grace of God hold on to the old stuff rather than embrace the new movement of the Holy Spirit.  I believe with all my heart that traditional means of worship is a powerful way to experience the presence and promises of God.  But if we do it just because we’ve always done it that way, well it is simply stored clutter.

clutter2

Not long after I had met our local Superintendent of Education he was sharing with me his dreams and vision for our local schools.  It was bold and daring, and much-needed.  He briefly lamented the fact that some were not seeing the vision.  It was at that point the Spirit prompted me to share with him this enduring truth.  I said, “Keith, do you know the 7 words of a dying church?  These 7 words will also fit into any organization, even schools.”  He asked me, “What are they?”  I replied:

“We’ve never done it that way before!”

The clutter simply is a way to hide from the movement of God through the Holy Spirit.  Is there spiritual clutter in your heart?  In your mind?  Things that are not helping you connect to the Presence and Promises of God?  If we cannot connect to the Presence and the Promises, then we will never connect to the Power.  Without the power we are just another religion, and Jesus did not die for another religion.

Love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Let’s pray:

Lord, I pray with all my heart Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”  If I am a spiritual hoarder, help me see the clutter and especially help me allow YOU to take out whatever offends you.  Amen and Amen!