One Resolution: One Purpose!

Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why! The What causes us to think about The How: How will we do it? And The Why is completely ignored.

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 1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor:  Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.  Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. 5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all.  When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Philippians 2:1-8 (The Message)

We are in the 3rd week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  Contentment.  This One Resolution is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but the Gospel of Jesus—God’s Best Effort For Us.  Because it’s all about God’s Grace, it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection! 

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  Here’s the first 2:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart—That’s the One Spirit.  Your loyalty and allegiance is to Jesus and His Work in our world.
  2. We Need To Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God—That’s the One Mind.  We focus on each other and those who are not here yet.

Now we come to that Third Key Decision in finding the life of real Contentment.  It is so obvious, yet so difficult for so many people.  And Here Is The One Thing You Need To Remember From Today’s Message:  To Live In Contentment, Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Few things make contentment more elusive than not knowing our Unique Life Purpose.  And most folks have no idea how to discover their Unique Life Purpose

And I’m about to say could make it even more frustrating.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!  The What causes us to think about The How:  How will we do it?  And The Why is completely ignored. 

Purpose, Your Unique Life Purpose comes out of The WhyWhy Did Jesus Die On The Cross For You?  Why Did He Save You?  And the Pivotal Question is this:  Why Are You Here?

There is a “flip-flop” quality to understanding today’s scripture.  It goes counter to our usual way of thinking.  America is the home of Davey Crocket who conquered the wild frontier and Wyatt Earp who tamed the Wild West.  We honor and value independence, self-sufficiency, strength and the glory of a “self-made” man or woman.  

Surrender is what we did NOT do.  With brains and brawn we became a super power in the world.  “American Ingenuity” is the brilliance that made us great.  Then Jesus comes along to say that strength and intelligence does not make the cut when it comes to Contentment.  He dares to tell us that the way to Contentment is through Him.  And then Jesus has the audacity to tell us that to live with and for Him, and for Him to live in and through us we are to live like a servant.

Then this fellow named Paul comes along and tells us to have the same attitude that Jesus had.  Jesus had no business empire; no college degree; never owned a fancy house; never wore designer clothes; never rubbed elbows with those considered the cultural elite.  How counter-cultural can you get?  We cannot fight, or think or power ourselves into the Life Of Contentment

Former Guideposts editor Arthur Gordon told the story of a kindergarten class he visited where the teacher frequently reminded misbehaving children to stop being a WAM.  The kids straightened up as soon as their teacher pointed out they were being a WAM.  He had to know: What was a WAM?  The teacher explained that WAM stands for “What About Me?”  She was training the children to be less self-centered.  She wanted them to think of others’ needs; not just their own.  

She taught them that no one liked a WAM, a self-centered person who only asks, “What About Me?”  Instead, she was teaching the children to be a WAY, or as she explained it, people who ask, “What About You?”  She was teaching those 5 year old kids about Contentment.

You and I are people of the WAY.  We ask “What About You?”  We get lost and lose our Spiritual Foothold when we become a WAM.  But the life of Contentment is for people of the WAY.  So, are you a WAM or a WAY?

Let me show you what happens when we become a WAM instead of a WAY.  In the 1800’s the train ruled the day.  Owners of railway companies prospered and were called barons.  But the automobile came along and the railroad barons forgot they were in the transportation business.  They thought they were in the train business and most of them went broke. 

The Swiss had dominated time keeping.  At one point they controlled over 50% of all revenues made in watches and clocks.  They made the most precise gears and springs in the world.  Their watches and clocks were perfect.  Then something new happened called the Quartz movement. 

Guess who invented it?  A Swiss man.  But because it had no gears or knobs or springs it was overlooked.  They failed to recognize that they were in the business of helping people tell time not making precision gears.  They lost their dominance in the industry now controlling somewhere about 15% of all revenue.  

If Sports Illustrated magazine understood it was in the sports information business, not the publishing business, we would have the Sports Illustrated Channel, not ESPN.   And folks, if we forget that our Why is to bring people to Jesus, we will also become obsolete.  If we lose our Why by getting distracted with tradition, habit, custom, ritual, or routine, we will go the way of the trains, the Swiss watch makers, and Sports Illustrated.  We must remember our Why.  We must at all costs, fulfill our Unique True Purpose—that comes out of knowing Our Why!

Every person has a Unique True Purpose that God has given to them.  Not for just the few and special; but all of us have a purpose from God that is uniquely our own.  Yours will be what God has designed you to be.  But before we can know the purpose that is uniquely ours, we must be clear about our Why in life.  Without understanding and accepting this Why in life, we will never discover our unique purpose.  And Paul lets us know that there is a Why for every one of us. 

He lets us in on God’s Why for our lives.  He states it in verse 5:  Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  

They do not teach this in high school; it’s not offered as a degree in universities; and it’s not taught in graduate school.  Yet this is exactly what God tells us is the key to finding our Unique True Purpose—that comes out of knowing Our Why!  It’s not about money, prestige or power.  It is all about relationship—with God at the very center of our lives.  Our Purpose will be found by discovering The Why.  It’s a 3 step process that Jesus followed as our example.

1.  He Emptied Himself

Jesus, who had it all in Heaven—gave it all up to become one of us!  Unlimited in space, unfettered by time, adored and worshiped by angels and saints—He chose to be one of us.  In becoming one of us He is now limited in space, and bound by time—He allowed people to talk ugly about Him—He allowed Himself to be falsely arrested—and when they couldn’t find a reason to have Him executed, He gave them one. 

Jesus allowed Himself to be publicly humiliated and finally nailed to a Cross as a common criminal to bring back His Image Bearers.  This was His Why and this is to be our Why.  And He could not have done this unless He first emptied Himself into the relationship with Abba!  Papa!  Dad!

And what are you holding on to?  What is it that you have not relinquished into God’s hands?  Is it time?  A habit?  Pride?  Fear?  Is there this one room in your heart that you’ve kept locked up in order to keep God out either because you don’t want to give it up or you’re afraid God won’t love you?  Before we can find that Unique True Purpose for which we are created, we have to let go of everything and to be completely emptied. 

And in that process of emptying ourselves, we also have to let go any and all sense of being self-sufficient.  We have to be absolutely vulnerable before God and in that moment of total vulnerability we have to trust 2 things:  God is always good; and God is pure, complete and unconditional love.

2.  He Accepted His Place

You won’t hear Jesus saying, “Oh, Dad, do I have to become one of them?”  Instead: He took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process.  Jesus reached out and took on being human because the Father chose it for Him.  It was the Father’s plan to show us that He is not a referee, dictator or stern judge.  God wants us to know that His character is not in the rules and regulations that we think about when it comes to His Kingdom.  God wants us to know that His absolute, all the time, for all eternity character, is Love. 

We do not tell God what is our Unique True Purpose; God tells us!  We don’t inform Him of our Why:  we allow Him to tell us Our Why.  His Purpose for your life will be about what HE can do.  God wants to move us beyond ritual and rules, beyond history and traditions and step into His very character.  This Is Your Why!  Accept that place God has for you where you must rely on His strength and not your own. 

3.  He Surrendered To God’s Plan

Jesus did not just die—He died on the Cross.  The Greek word for Obedient means To Give An Ear To—in other words, Jesus was listening to the Father.  God had the plan and Jesus listened to that plan and surrendered to that plan. 

And that plan was to become the one and only sacrifice that would atone for everyone’s sins so that anyone who wanted could have a deep and intimate relationship with God.  Jesus surrendered so that we can have the relationship that God yearns for us to have with Him, the Father, Abba, Papa, Dad!  The Cross is about bringing people into a relationship with God!

The Why for your life is all about letting this world—your world know that God loves them and yearns to bring them into relationship with Him.  And Here Is Where You Find Unique True Purpose!  The only way our world can know God’s love is when they see us sharing our love for God with others.    Jesus Died So The World Could Know God’s Love—we should live the same way—To Live So That The World Will Know God’s Love For Them!

Your exact Life Purpose is as unique as you are—but each of our Unique Purposes is designed for one thing:  To Help Bring Others Into A Relationship With God, Who Is Always Good And Always Full Of Love.  As much as we are to yearn for God, understand this:  That God Yearns Infinitely More For You And Everyone! 

OK, you know what’s next.  Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Find a way to do something for another person to know that God loves them.  Get personally involved with another life in a way that reveals your Why—To let them know that God wants a relationship with them.  Or is your Why for some other reason?  Give up your Why For The Why That Always Gives You Contentment!

Going Out Of Business

Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?

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He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. (Mark 6:1-3, The Message)

Going Out Of Business Sale!  We see such signs so often that we don’t pay much attention to them (until it says “75-90% Off!”).  But in an obscure dot on the map town like Nazareth, it was probably very noticeable.  There on the corner of Jezreel Street and Cedars of Lebanon Lane was the Carpenter Shop.  They always thought it would be there.  His father ran it before him, as did his father. All assumed he would eventually get married (if Mary was any kind of a mother, he would) and his son would continue the family business.  Need a new platter for Passover this year?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Chair broken because Uncle Jethro has a tendency to eat way too much charoset?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Need a new dining room suite?  Well, you get the idea.

But then there is that sign:  Going Out Of Business Sale!  They wonder what could be more important than being a carpenter?  But He knows!  He knows his purpose is not to make oxen yokes, but to show humanity that His yoke is easy and his burden light.  He knows his purpose is not to repair plow handles, but to show the world you don’t need to look back, but look forward to be a part of God’s Kingdom.  He knew His purpose wasn’t to make dining room tables, but to build a table where all kinds of people are made to feel welcome, especially broken people; it is broken people who need the broken bread. 

His purpose was not to make another platter for the roasted lamb at Passover, but to become the Passover Lamb and in one single act for all time and eternity to pay the penalty for our sin and folly.  His purpose wasn’t found in the wood pile at the Carpenter’s Shop in Nazareth, but on two rough beams of wood on a hillside outside Jerusalem!  He knew His purpose!  And when he went to His home synagogue and those with whom He had lived with for nearly 30 years rejected His “new” vocation, He refused to give up.            

And what about us?  Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?  Any vocation becomes a holy vocation when we do it with only one objective in mind:  To make the love of Jesus known!  Whether we are a cashier or construction worker, sales associate or security guard, a C.E.O. or a PTA Mom—each of us has the wonderful opportunity to make our vocations holy.  It happens when we live our ordinary daily lives with the sense that God is with us and that He wants to use our ordinary life to express His love and grace in extraordinary ways.  Go about your Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and…) not with a sense of dread (Oh Lord, it’s Monday) but with the sense of power that comes from purpose. 

Now go and love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Really, What Is All This About?

Our Reason for following Jesus must be the same Reason He came into His creation as one of His creations

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Something got me to thinking this morning. Remember my last post, that where I’m from there are only 2 seasons: Hunting and Football. Well, it’s the Football Season that has filled my mind with so many random thoughts. But one thought screamed out louder than all the other. At this time lift up your trays, put away all electronic devices, and place your bags in the overhead compartment or in front of your feet. We are about to take-off.

Saturday the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers face-off on the gridiron battlefield in pursuit of that illusive National Championship at the capital of National Champions, Bryant-Denny Stadium. Neither team has experienced the agony of defeat thus far this season. But comes Saturday evening, one of them will. Players, coaches and staffs have worked hard for this moment. Both teams had a bye-week coming into this epic confrontation. Coaches and staff have been teaching. Players have been learning.

This is great stuff! Talent against talent. Desire against desire. This is THE opportunity for one of these teams to get closer to their goal of an SEC Championship and potentially another National Championship. The attention should be on those who, through sweat, tears and blood, have the opportunity to seek the rewards.

Ticket prices were already way above face-value because of the nature of this epic battle. And now, those prices are orbiting Mars. Why the spike in prices? Because President Trump will be in attendance at the game. THIS IS NOT A RANT AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT! Simply an observation from a football fan, and a Crimson Tide Fan. For many, it seems that the focus is off of the Teams and players and onto a single person. Granted, the last time President Trump watched the Crimson Tide play they brought home a Championship Trophy. But even the sports news outlets are focusing on “The Visit”. And that, my friends, is what screamed at me this morning.

In the Body of Christ, I see much, way too much emphasis put on things other than our Reason. Styles of worship, religious doctrine, personal feelings, superstar preachers (of which I’m NOT), appearance of facilities (exempli gratia–color of the carpet; I’ve seen a church nearly split on this issue), dress code in the ‘sanctuary’, is it ‘A-men’ or ‘Ah-men’ (again, I’ve heard this issue), who should be allowed in, who should NOT be allowed in, the use of robes (again, been there-done that-got the T shirt [wanna see my scars?] to prove it), denominational labels, pipe organs, drum sets, temperature in the sanctuary, pews versus chairs; and the list goes on ad nauseam.

Is this really what “church” is all about? A lot of folks think so–and it has become such a pungently odoriferous aroma that my spirit crawls with angst when I even hear the word “church”. The focus has become all those “other” things to the point that 6 things have happened (you can probably think of more, so add them to the comment section below):

  1. Those who long to serve Jesus have become disgusted and walked away; many after long years of service. They have been labeled “the dones”.
  2. Those who are hurting, broken, or disgusted with their life refuse to turn to the church because they see it as a place with more dysfunction than their own life. They have been labeled “the nones”.
  3. Those who sit in the pews believe that they should be the consumers of what the church provides, rather than the producers of the Mission. I call them “the selfish”.
  4. The Church that once influenced the culture for the better, is now influenced BY the culture. I call this “heart-breaking”.
  5. There is a lack of Biblical Wisdom and Knowledge that has led to people defining the Bible to fit their life rather than allowing the Word of God define their life. I call this “sad”.
  6. And people are being ignored and going into eternity without a relationship with Jesus. I call this “exponential tragedy”.

What is all this about? This life that Jesus came to provide through His suffering, death and Resurrection? It’s certainly none of the things I’ve described that blinds people to the real Reason for following Jesus. Our Reason for following Jesus must be the same Reason He came into His creation as one of His creations:

1When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Luke 4:16-21 (NLT)

If you consider, or ‘call’ yourself a Christian, how much of you day looks like what Jesus said here in Luke? This is the Reason to be a Real Follower Of Jesus:

  • To live by the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • To bring Good News, the BEST News of all to all who are spiritually poor, even bankrupt
  • To set captives free
  • To help the spiritually blind see The Father who loves them so very much
  • To bring freedom to those who are being oppressed by The Enemy (that’s Satan, just in case you forgot or didn’t know)
  • And that we can all be delivered from the Old Life and given the New Life–that everything in a person’s past is covered by the blood of Jesus and removed from them forever!

I just have to ask: If you go to church somewhere, is this the Reason your church is there? If not, don’t you think it’s time for this to become THE REASON? I do, and I’m seeing signs of this happening now. Make sure you know that you have the right Reason for your life.

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

How Is Your Aim?

Make it your aim to live a quiet life

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(Disclaimer: Some may find my analogy offensive, especially those who think hunting is barbaric. If I offend you, then get over it and move on.)

Where I live, there are only 2 seasons: Football and Deer Hunting. Any event has to be planned around these 2 seasons. When Debbie and I were setting our wedding date, I chose November 13 because The Crimson Tide had a bye week and the Deer Season for hunting with guns had not yet begun.

Well, around here Deer Season (hunting with guns) begins November 23 and I am getting ready for it. Food plot planted. Mineral spots established. Game camera in place. Supplies gathered. Hunting clothes and gear are out and ready to be worn and used. But I’m still not ready for November.

What’s left in my preparations? Glad you asked. I haven’t taken my rifles out to see if I need to make any adjustments to the scope. The only way I can do that is to put up a target, load the rifle, take aim and shoot. The mark on the target will tell me if I need to make adjustments.

Without knowing this important information, I may miss that deer; or even worse, I may only wound it and it runs off only to die somewhere else. What’s the spiritual lesson in this? Well. . . you asked for it.

Look carefully at Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

11 Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. 12 In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (GNT)

So, how is your aim? Do you possess a calm inner spirit revealed in an even calmer outward demeanor? Do you aim to make your life more like Jesus rather than quickly and harshly telling others what they are doing wrong? Do you apply yourself to becoming the best you possible by being productive and adding value to yourself and the people around you?

To answer these (and many other questions) you need to look at the mark your life is leaving on others. And remember: Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

What’s That?

How you respond to the “what” questions of life depends on your perspective.

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(image from http://www.publish0x.com)

I was thinking this morning about one of our grandson’s Ethan. He was nearly 3 years old. We were in the garage. Like most garages it had a lot of. . . stuff in it. Well, Ethan started at one corner and asked, “What’s that, Grandpa?” I told him and then he proceeded to journey around that garage with the same question: “What’s that Grandpa?” When we arrived at the starting point I expected the journey to end. Nope! He started it all over again: “What’s that Grandpa? What’s that Grandpa?”

This continued until I had to leave. But Ethan wasn’t through; he took Debbie by the hand and asked, “What’s that Grandma? What’s that Grandma?” I think they made a couple more trips around that garage with that question. So what does this little story have to do with Kingdom Life? Glad you asked. . .

  • What do you see as you go through this day?
  • What’s that in front of you?
  • What do you see?
  • What’s waiting just around the corner?
  • What’s that down the road?
  • What is that which is about to become the moment of a new journey for you?
  • What caused that obstacle?
  • What is going on in your coworker?
  • What is that person dealing with in front of you at the check-out line?
  • What did that person mean when they said something to you or another person?
  • What will you do with the news you just received?

And, perhaps the most important “what” for you today:

What will you do?

Is today just another day? Or is today another adventure? Lots of questions, but I’m not going to give you any answers. Only you can answer these and similar questions. How you respond to the “what” questions of life depends on your perspective.

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

Stop Feeling Your Age!

How we feel is the direct result of how we think, the relationships we become a part of, how we act, and the condition of our heart.

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This morning, while it was still dark, as I was walking about our yard, after my first cup of blessing (some call it coffee), something hit me. Actually it was the Holy Spirit because my walking about the yard is all about a spiritual discipline I have been doing–and that is connecting with the Holy Spirit. And here is what hit me: Stop Feeling Your Age. Here’s the backdrop.

Yesterday when we arrived back at home after a weekend wedding of our first granddaughter, the first one who called me Grampa (I spell it like she said it the first time and every time since) of which I was blessed and honored to preside over, I went to my hunting spot and planted a green field. Though it has been drier than a sermon on predestination, I operated out of faith. Needless to say I was exhausted and this morning, and I was reminded that 63 is different than 23.

And as I was walking about and tuning in to the Spirit, this thought hit me about not feeling my age. For a moment I thought that the Holy Spirit got it wrong–it should be Start Acting My Age; that I should not do things too hard for someone of my age. But you see, I don’t like being put in a box–and I was putting myself in a box. I hate boxes.

The Spirit reminded me, again, of the value and power of choices. Feeling my age isn’t something that just goes away. I must discipline my life through my choices in order to see a different me. And, as I have so often wrote and preached, life is much more than feelings. If I am not going to “feel” like a 63 year old man, I need to make the choices that go along with this quest.

God created us in a most incredible way. He didn’t create us like the animals and plants. We are created a most complex way. We have a body, which for people of my age thinks defines us. We are more than a body.

God created us with a mind that is only limited by us. We are able to experience and process life as it happens around us. Then, through the Gift of Free Will, decide what we will do and how we will respond. We human beings are created to be Thinking Beings. Unfortunately a lot of people in our culture are infected and infatuated with Stinking Thinking. My gift of snarky is saying right now, “Obviously there are a lot of people who have put their minds in neutral and have left their minds in some dusty corner of the utility room.” Nonetheless, in spite of so many who have chosen NOT to think for themselves, we remain a Thinking Being.

God also created us with the desire for community. I’m not talking about counties, parishes, or city limits. And I’m not talking about gated communities. God created us to experience life Together. We are Social Beings. Our true nature longs to experience life with other people. Some of those connections with other people are short, brief even. Others are a little longer. And yet others are lifetime connections. Since it was quite a distance between us and where our granddaughter lives, we chose to reserve a hotel room for 2 nights. While there, we met another person and her family, who were also there for a wedding (not the same one). We had many good conversations with her and her family.

God also created us with Emotions. Emotions are an essential part of who we are. Emotions become the expression of our choices in how we process life and life’s experiences. Some people, too many people, allow emotions to rule their life. What a sad and pathetic lot they are; but just because they misuse their emotions does not diminish the importance that we are created to be Emotional Beings.

God also created us with a physical part. We are Physical Beings. This is the part I’m having trouble with. Now, I’m not going all fundamentalist again smoking and drinking. What I am saying is that we have a choice of keeping our bodies in the best shape possible. Alas, here is where I have been lax. Since our Physical Being is a part of who we are, need to do the things that help us be in the best physical shape.

God also created us with a spiritual part; this is the most important part. We are Spiritual Beings. This is the part that we call the Heart. This is the part of us that longs for more than we can think, feel or see. Unfortunately, a lot of folks think the Spiritual Being is the result of how we feel, think and act–or sadly–that it doesn’t exist at all.

I’ve said all this to say this: How we feel is the direct result of how we think, the relationships we become a part of, how we act, and the condition of our heart. Back to my choice; here is how I framed my choice: Today I my choice is to Stop Feeling My Age By Making Decisions And The Follow-Up Actions To End This Feeling. To accomplish this I need to do some things, a lot of things, that I understand will change my Feeling about 63 years old.

I have to become more physically active. I have to bring friends in close who will hold be accountable. I have to read and study to keep the mind sharp. I must keep my focus on Jesus and live how HE says to live. I have to align my emotions with my goal. Through an active and aggressive series of choices, I am confident I will stop feeling 63 years old. Perhaps I fell victim to the thought that crushes the ways we are created: That I MUST act my age. To heck with that saying; I’m going to act the way I’ve been created. So, excuse me while I go to apply some “pain” ointment to my joints–and then choose to do it again today.

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

Recalculating: Changing Direction

There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

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Recalculating…it’s a word that pops up on the GPS screen when we miss a turn in trying to reach a destination.  We count on those recalculations to get us to our destination.  As a unique individual, you are trying to reach a different destination.  But…you’ve missed a turn somewhere and deep down you know you’re not getting there and you need a recalculation of where your life is going.  Garmin, Waze, Google Maps—none of those will help you find the destination for which you heart longs.

The church, the Body of Christ, is trying to reach a destination.  Along the way to that destination, we are supposed to be bring others along with us in that journey.  But declining membership and attendance reveals we have missed a turn somewhere.  We need a recalculation.  Some try to recalculate by looking backwards, trying to repeat some era in our history went we were growing.  But the recalculation we need isn’t by looking backwards—it’s by looking forward.

God’s Vision for your individual life and the life of the church is what is needed most.  God has a recalculation…and His recalculation involves His Vision.  Join us for the next 4 Sundays…just in case you need a recalculation…

What was once primarily a military device is now a common device.  We have them in our cars, in our hands, and on our phones.  It’s called GPS.  We know them as Tom-Tom, Garmin, Waze, or Google Maps.  GPS helps us get to places we may have forgotten where they are; or we are uncertain of where they are; or to places we’ve never been before.  If we aren’t paying attention to it, or we simply miss a turn, they do this thing called Recalculating.  Recalculating helps us get back on track—and Recalculating Requires A Change Of Direction.

It’s not only when we travel that we may need a change of direction, but also in our life’s journey.  It’s easy to not pay attention to the tried and true directions God gives.  It’s easy to miss a turn.  And we get lost—and lose our bearings.  This is true for us as individuals and for us as the Body of Christ.

I am asking you to pray and find the answers to 3 questions: 

  1. What is God asking you to do? 
  2. What is God asking this church to do? 
  3. Are you willing to do it? 

These questions were not randomly chosen, nor are they the result of my creative mind—even I’m not that smart.  It comes from the heart of God to the heart of this congregation—to you. 

It’s About Vision—Not Seeing What Is, But Catching A Glimpse Of God’s What Will Be.  God has a What Will Be—for each person and every church.  God’s What Will Be comes out of God’s Power And AbilitiesNot Our Own.  It is easy, so very easy to be caught up and confined to what is.  What Is creates a prison where people, dreams and churches die.

These 3 questions are about the direction you are heading towards—as an individual and as a church.  And they are the questions about arriving at where God wants us to be, as individuals and as a church. They are the questions that challenge us—about our faith, commitment and fears.  There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

And this leads us to our text.  Usually, I like to read from the more modern translations because even I can understand them—but this morning, I want to read first from the KJV.  Turn to Proverbs 29:18… 

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

We’ve probably heard the first part of that passage, but did you listen to that last part?  Now, let me read this same passage from The Message…. 

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: If you don’t know the Vision of what God wants of you and this place, then our goose is cooked, we’re a dead duck, our jig is up, our ship is sinking, the light is on but nobody’s home.

This morning I have Good News, Bad News, and Hard News:

  1. Good NewsThe Best Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes accessible to a hurting world through the People of God.  In our simple acts of compassion and servanthood, in our worship and ministry of the Word, through our breaking of bread, we make the invisible God visible.  John wrote in I John 4:12—No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. The church stands as a powerful testimony of a God who will not let us go until He blesses us.  There is not one period in history you can point to and say, “The church offered the world nothing.  It had no light at all!”    We’ve always given something to the world, even at our worst moments.
  2. Bad NewsThe Worst Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes more remote to a cynical world because of the church.  In our foolish acts of self-righteousness and self-indulgent attitudes, in our judgment and smugness, through our breaking of trust and lack of actions, we obscure God.  John goes on to say in Vs. 20-21—If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And He has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  Even when we’re at our best, the church is still marred by hypocrisy, apathy, and false piety.  There is not a single period in history you can point to and say, “Yes! There it is! The church in all its fullness, exactly as God intended it.”  We’ve always fallen short.
  3. The Hard News: The Only Real Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Put aside all philosophical defenses and church doctrine.  Philosophies and doctrines can convince the mind, but only the church, walking in the light, can win the heart.  God does not have a Plan B.  He does not have a backup strategy for making himself known among the nations.  It’s the church or bust.  We’ve always been all there is.

The church lives between the splendor of God’s intent and the debacle of our own shortcomings.  Paul speaks of God’s intent for the church in Ephesians 3:10–11…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s intent is for all His rich and varied wisdom to be clearly seen. The church’s life is meant to be a heart-stopping drama staged on a cosmic scale—a grand expression, that astonishes our world.  God wants us to wow the whole creation.  Too often, though, the reality is we’re the laughingstock.  The church is not always a powerful saga; it’s often mixture of tragedy and comedy. 

But don’t you want to live out God’s intentions for you?  Isn’t there a part of you that wants to have all God wants to give—no matter what it costs or where it leads?  Don’t you want to be able to say, “I’m what He had in mind when he made me and called me.  I’m exactly what God wants to reveal His Glory!”

I believe that this church today doesn’t lack for vision—but like many congregations, we are lacking God’s Vision.  I read of someone who compiled over 40 Killer Phrases—Phrases that will kill the Vision God has for a local church.  Let me share with you to Top 10 Killer Phrases

10] It’s Right In Theory, But It Won’t Work Here

9]   It Will Be More Trouble Than It’s Worth;

8]   It’s Not In The Budget;  

7]   You’ve Got To Be Kidding; 

6]   It’s Too Far Ahead Of Our Time; 

5]   We’ve Tried That Before; 

4]   It May Offend Some Of Our Members; 

3]   We Don’t Have Enough People To Do It;

2]   Let’s Appoint A Committee To Look Into It And Report Back;

1]   But We’ve Never Done It That Way Before!

Now, a vision from God will have 3 key elements, always.  Now with these 3 elements, the vision for here will be powerful and life changing.  I know it works because all 3 elements have been tried and tested—and happening now in our culture.

1.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Purpose!

There is a reason why this place exists today, a purpose for us being here.  That purpose will define our mission and ministry.  The problem is that we have allowed our mission and ministry to define our purpose; and that’s backward—it’s putting the cart in front of the horse.  

The purposes of God will be much bigger than our individual selves and even bigger than all of us combined.  If you can do it with your own effort and strength, then it’s not likely that it’s God’s purposes you are following. 

God’s Purpose Transcends Beyond Our Selves In Order That We May Be Transformed By God’s Power.  Church does not exist for Sunday morning service, and to meet just your needs.  And that purpose will go beyond the physical confines of this community.  This answers your 1st Question.

2.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Preparation!

God doesn’t just throw the vision out there and then say, “Just do it.”  He prepares us.  He’s Been Preparing You Your Entire Life For His Vision.  What Are You Doing To Allow God To Prepare You For His Vision?  Do you spend a lot of time in prayer?  Do you read, meditate and study His Word?  Each day, are you reading Christian writers, listening to Christian music?  Are you giving yourself to Sunday School, Bible Study, and creating small groups? 

You must believe that you are here because God has been preparing your whole life for such a time as this.  If you are not prepared for God’s Vision, then it’s not because God has tried to prepare you, it’s because you haven’t made yourself available to God.  This answers your 2nd Question.

3.  And In God’s Vision, There Will Be A Plan!

There was a time when the “Field of Dreams” worked—You remember the Kevin Costner movie—the voice telling him “If you build it they will come”—and they did come.  But that style will not work any longer.  It didn’t work that way for the 1st Century Church.  There’s an old saying, but it is so true—God Will Not Lead Us Where His Grace Will Not Sustain Us!  And like the purpose, the plan is much bigger than we are. 

Those plans are not only for this community, but they will reach out beyond the confines of this place and out into the world.  I’ve heard some church people say, “I don’t think we need to get involved with world missions because we have enough to do right here.  But God’s plan is bigger than this community.  It’s not local projects or outside missions—it’s BOTH local projects and outside missions.  That plan includes the involvement of each and every one of you.  And this And this is where you answer your 3rd Question.

Think about Jesus and This Process We Are Beginning Today.

  1. God Had A Purpose!  In creation, God, out of His love, made us in His image for the purpose of sharing a relationship of love with Him and to join with Him in the care of His marvelous creation.  But sin alienates us from His relationship of love.
  2. God Was Prepared For Our Sin.  Before He created one thing, redemption was in God’s heart—so He was prepared to send His Son to atone for sin and redeem us back to Himself.  1 Peter 1:18-20— For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.
  3. God Had A Plan!  His Son, would become one of us, live among us, but without sin.  He would then offer His life in the place of punishment, the place we rightly deserve.  Then He would call those who accept the Gift of Grace, to share the Message of grace.

Next Steps

  1. What is God asking you to do?  It will reflect Jesus and help the church.  It will be with the people you know—teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, where you eat, at the library, at the bank, at the grocery store, where you work, where you hang out, your next door neighbors.  And it WILL BE with people you see but don’t know and people who haven’t met yet.
  2. What is God asking this church to do?  It will be something that shows we care about people and places.  Think about things that will improve the places that involves the people you know and see.  Schools, libraries, community events, police department, fire department, nursing homes, places for those with physical, emotional or mental health issues.  God seeks to redeem people, and He longs to redeem places where people live, work, play and struggle.
  3. Are you willing to do it?  Without exceptions or compromising the Vision.  It may require giving up some things.  It will definitely require expansion—expansion of possibilities—expansion of what you see as your capabilities—expansion of your relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Glorifying Temptation?

I am taking a detour from my reflections to address a cultural event in the realm of Reality TV. Reality TV? Now here’s an oxymoron, antimone, contrariety, asymmetrical absurdity ever known to humankind. The latest edition of this circus, that I’m aware of, is the USA Network’s “Temptation Island”, a far cry from the Fantasy Island back in the day.

It this alleged “reality” show, 4 dating couples agree to “live the single life” with those who’s purpose is to lead the individual “astray” from their relationship. In this incoherent journey, these 4 couples put themselves in the arena of temptation to see if they have what it takes to build a lasting relationship. At least to me, this seems like a variation on that old game of Russian Roulette.

Our culture has become fascinated, captivated, and enamored with the lowest common denominator of the human psyche–that of personal failure. There was a moment in time when people did everything they could to avoid temptation. And now? People run with abandon INTO temptation. We live in a society that…that…. . You fill in the blank, because this wordsmith cannot find a way to say what I feel without being painfully sarcastic, even rude and ugly.

Right now, I just heard some Tenured Pew Sitter way, “It all started when Hollywood allowed Clark Gable to say damn in ‘Gone With The Wind’. That’s when it started!” Au Contraire, Tenured Pew Sitter. You don’t know that Bible you worship and use to beat people over the head as well as you think. It goes back to Adam and Eve, when faced with the choice to trust God or trust themselves.

Shows, such as this, cause those who sit in churches, who should proclaim loudly in the power of God to transform human lives, choose to declare that things are hopeless, and that it’s all just more confirmation that Jesus is coming back at any moment. Truth is, they really want Jesus to come back. And why? They say it’s because the world is so corrupt that it’s beyond redemption. My thoughts? They long for Jesus to return in order to absolve themselves of their responsibilities as followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that this current batch of disciples think that being a follower of Jesus is meant to be lived in a safe and pleasant environment. There is much about following Jesus that is neither safe nor pleasant. If you want Jesus to come back right now so you can be liberated from this “vile and wicked” world–well, you do not have the heart and mind of Jesus.

Jesus insisted on going to people and places where temptation was glorified. And did you notice that Jesus never went in those places breathing fire and brimstone telling them they were an abomination to God? Don’t think so. The only places I ever saw Jesus get righteously rude was when He dealt with those religious folks who thought they knew God and what He wanted. I see the images of Jesus calling them low-down snakes, taking a whip and disrupting their comfortable religion.

And now in my own reflections, I can hear Jesus saying, “You know, I need to go to Temptation Island.” My response to Jesus? “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? Jesus have you lost your mind? Why in the name of Jesus Christ would YOU want to go there?” Oops. I think I just said the wrong thing. He’s smiling at me and saying, “Because that’s where people who need me are at. Randy, don’t you remember that night in the Garden? I call it Temptation Garden. If you can remember, I won in Temptation Garden, and so did you. You ask me why would I go there? Well….I did come looking for you.”

And now I realize…we live in the right place and time to be a Follower of Jesus. Jesus seeks out the darkest places because that’s where people, made in His image, are living. He sought out the Cross and The Grave. He knew His Light would shatter the darkness…and it did. Come on, Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who are feeling safe, smug and comfortable in your stain glass sanctuaries. There’s a boat taking people to Temptation Island. You need to be on that boat and that Island. You don’t need to be there to call them all wicked sinners. You need to be there as a faithful example of what real life looks like when you love God more than printed Bibles, more than buildings called churches, more than….yourself.

I want to say something way off the wall for some. Instead of you complaining about how evil and horrible our culture is becoming, realize that this is the perfect place and time to share God’s redeeming love. Instead of longing for Jesus to take YOU out of this miserable, sinful world, YOU take Jesus INTO the miserable, sinful world. After all, someone brought Jesus to you when you were identified with this miserable, sinful world.

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

Surviving Your D-Day Of Divorce

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

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Job 3:20-26 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Accept Only Your Responsibility

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

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

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

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

2.  Work Toward Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Allow Kids To Stay Relationally Connected

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

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

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

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

4.  Align Your Different Life With God’s Principles

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

God Chooses You!

God speaks of his relationship with you in permanent, irrevocable terms of adoption, ransom and guarantee. God chooses you, and that will never change.

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(Sermon for June 2, 2019)

I remember playground games.  Whether it was softball, kick-ball, football or dodge ball, we would divide into teams.  Sometimes the teacher would select captains, sometimes 2 would just volunteer.  But one thing I remember most, is that in the process of selecting teams, no one wanted to be the last person picked.  It meant people didn’t see much in you, that you lacked the skill necessary to be a vital part of the team.  Being picked last was often humiliating.  As we celebrate Communion, I want you to know that in God’s eyes you are never the last person picked for God’s team!  Let’s look at today’s passage from Ephesians 1:3-14 found in The Message

3-6 How blessed is God!  And what a blessing He is!  He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him.  Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.  Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!)  He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either.  Abundantly free!  

He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

 11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.  Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

Today is the most important day in your life.  Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week or next year.  This leads me to the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  God speaks of his relationship with you in permanent, irrevocable terms of adoption, ransom and guarantee.  God chooses you, and that will never change.

If you’ve ever felt unsure about your usefulness in God’s plans or if you are acceptable to God, then I want you to pay close attention for the next few minutes, because these few verses tell you three important things about You in God’s eyes.  Embrace these 3 truths into your life, you will experience a greater sense of self-worth and more spiritual confidence than you have ever known. 

1.  You’ve Been On God’s Mind From The Beginning.

Go back to my image of standing on the playground.  At first, you were just part of a crowd, but now selections have been made and now you are standing alone, and the captain who has the last pick, says “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to take them.”  I think all of us can relate to this feeling; we all know what it is like to be the last chosen—the least talented in at least some area—academically, athletically, musically, and so on.  But there is an area where you never need feel that way: Your Relationship With God

Probably all of us have wondered, at one time or another, “If they had it to do all over again, would they choose me?  Would they hire me?  Would she marry me?”  Maybe some of you have even thought, “If Jesus had to do it over, would He die for me again?”  Some of you may believe that you have been such a disappointment to God that you would have been better off not to have been born.  The message from God is the exact opposite. 

The message from the heart of God is that you are accepted not because He had to, but because He wanted to.  You are part of His plan.  From The Beginning, He Has Wanted You To Be A Member Of His Family.  Whether or not you think it’s possible, the Bible makes it clear that God Believes It Is Possible.  Whether or not you believe in your potential, God Believes In Your Potential.  You are part of His plan.  

God knew that you would be where you are today in all areas of your life.  He knew you would be here at this moment and for some, it may have been a rough ride.  There may have been mistakes and disappointments along the way and you may have wanted to give up many times.  Even though your past may be littered with failures, it doesn’t change the fact that God Loves You, He Chooses You, And He Believes In You.  You have been, are now and will always be on His mind and in His heart.  This is RANSOM!

2.  You Belong To God, And That Will Never Change.

This passage defines your relationship with God in permanent terms.  It says, first of all, that we have been adopted.  The citizens of Ephesus understood the significance of adoption, because it was common in their society. Adoption wasn’t just a case of parents choosing to provide a home for a parentless child. 

Adoptions also frequently occurred for business or political reasons—for one grown man to adopt another grown man to ensure that his wealth and power were passed on in the way that he intended it to be.  The Most Important Thing To Remember Is That Adoptions Were Irrevocable.  A man could disown his birth son, but could not disown his adopted son.  It was a permanent relationship. 

Paul said, “You’ve been Adopted into the family of God.  Get comfortable because He’s not going to give up on you.”

3.  Everything You Need, You Can Have.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to abandon you now.  God is generous.  He doesn’t withhold His kindness, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His compassion, or His blessings from you.  He showers you with kindness.  He will lavish His generosity on you, If You Are Willing To Receive It

It’s not just about your physical needs; he is referring to your spiritual and emotional needs as well.  God will give you All The Joy You Need—All The Love You Need, All The Faith You Need, All The Mercy You Need, And Much More

You may have spent most of your life thinking that you had to manufacture these things on your own, and that most of the time God is ticked off that you don’t do a better job at it.  You may have spent most of your life thinking that God doles out blessings only with great resistance, and only to the most deserving. 

The truth is, He Wants To Shower His Kindness On You.  Everything you need, He wants to provide.

See your relationship with God in a new way—in a non-adversarial way.  God isn’t mad at you.  He isn’t sorry that He chose you.  And if He had to do it over, He Would Die For You Again.  Why?  Before you were born, you were on His mind and IN His heart.  He chooses You to be His very own.  You belong with Him, and that will never change.  And He will be with you every step of the way, blessing you with what you need each and every moment.

How do I know this?  Even more important, how can YOU know this?  You and I can know this without a doubt because the Holy Spirit is given as our guarantee.  “Guarantee” Is A Term That Means The Assurance That Another’s Obligation Will Be Fulfilled

It comes from a Hebrew word that means “a pledge”—God has made a pledge to fully restore you back to His Intended Design—To be the you He created you to be.  Until that work is finished He gives us the Holy Spirit, as His Personal Pledge

The presence of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God’s commitment to you will not stop until the final result—We become exactly like our Intended Design—The Perfect In Every Detail Reflection Of God.  We come to the table, the ONLY Table where it all starts, where we are called to live, and one day where it will be completed—the Table of Grace…

Next Step

This week it’s rather simple:  Find where God is at work and join with Him.  After all, He has chosen you to work with Him!  Or, find a place where you know God wants to work, and get started.  After all, He wants you to work with Him!

The Look!

It’s THE LOOK that we’ve lost. THE LOOK that says there’s more to living than DESPERATION! THE LOOK that opens eyes to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God!

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(Another reflection from the Book of Acts)

Well, it’s still chapter 3 and there’s something else that has caught my attention…and my heart. It’s verses 4 and 5. I want to share it with you from 3 different translations:

  • Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!”  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. (New Living Translation)
  • Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Look here.” He looked up, expecting to get something from them. (The Message)
  • Peter and John, looking straight into the eyes of the crippled man, said, “Look at us!”  Expecting a gift, he readily gave them his attention. (The Passion Translation)
  • Peter and John stared at him. “Look at us!” Peter said.  So the man watched them closely. He expected to receive something from them. (God’s Word Translation)

The phrases that the Spirit highlights for me in all these translations is the response of that man who was unable to walk since his birth. In each translation there is that word (or a form of it) EXPECTATION! And what caused that sense of expectation in this man who never expected to walk? This man who had begged his whole life and who had no hope of anything else but a lifetime of begging had more than likely looked at some people and knew, “Well, they aren’t going to give me anything.” Why EXPECTATION and why now?

It must have been THE LOOK! Not his looking at them, but THE LOOK that was in the faces of Peter and John. He must have sensed that these men had something for him, something he desperately needed. THE LOOK on their face stirred up something in the man unable to walk, and that something was EXPECTATION! Granted, he didn’t have a clue about what he was going to receive–nonetheless, he knew something was coming. And it was coming.

He could have not looked at them. Or he could have looked at them and missed THE LOOK. But he didn’t because he could not afford NOT to look. Some people live a life of hidden and quiet desperation but not this man. Desperation was written all over him. There was that billboard behind him that everyone could see. And his desperation led to his EXPECTATION when he saw THE LOOK!

And this had led me to today’s musings–actually it’s more like a deep sadness in my heart. It comes from that question that the Holy Spirit has put in my heart. Here is that question:

WHAT HAPPENED TO ‘THE LOOK’?

The western church, meaning in Europe and the U.S.A., continues to be in a state of decline in mainline protestant churches. All around us are people living in desperation just like that man unable to walk. They are LOOKING for answers to calm their deep-seated desperation. They long for EXPECTATION beyond their DESPERATION. So they LOOK anywhere and everywhere…except to the church.

Church, we are living in the perfect time–lives sinking in DESPERATION looking for EXPECTATION of something better. Local churches should be overflowing; instead they are struggling to survive. In a couple of weeks I will be attending another “conference” for my Tribe and there will be reports for disposal of congregations who have closed their doors since last year. What went so DESPERATELY wrong, Church?

It’s THE LOOK that we’ve lost. THE LOOK that says there’s more to living than DESPERATION! THE LOOK that opens eyes to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God! THAT, my friends, is what Peter and John had. Oh, we have A look, but it’s not’s what Peter and John had.

Church, we have a history of a different look. Our culture has seen a different look–

  • the look of contempt for our culture
  • the look of judgment and condemnation
  • the look of disapproval
  • the look of “I’m much better than you”
  • the look of “You don’t belong with us”

And so, the lives of DESPERATION look away from us. And who would blame them. I once served a church that had beautiful, I mean beautiful stained glass windows. To protect them they had installed Plexiglas protectors on the outside. But over the years they were no longer clear, only a dingy yellow. It prevented those on the outside from seeing the beauty of those windows. The only way to see them was from inside. And that was the message that church was sending. “If you want to see these windows, you need to be an insider, someone like us.” I don’t know if they ever replaced them. So I’m guessing outsiders still can’t appreciate the beauty that has been hidden from them.

Church, we need to give up our look for THE LOOK! THE LOOK that says, “I’ve been where you are, and truth is, I still struggle at times. But I have found The Way out and I’m working on my journey out of DESPERATION. Tell you what, let’s walk out together!” THE LOOK is one of–

  • compassion
  • hope
  • joy
  • peace
  • confidence
  • humility
  • and so much more

In fact, THE LOOK is looking just like Jesus! The sick and sinful were drawn in to Jesus because of THE LOOK and they will be drawn in today when we have THE LOOK rather than our own look. Is your church declining? Then I would highly encourage you to find a mirror, and LOOK at yourself. If you don’t see a face that is broken, a face that is crying for all those people living in desperation, you need a face transplant–you need The Face of Jesus!

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

The Great Contrast

(Another insight from my journey through the Book of Acts)

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.

Acts 3:1-2 (LT)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this part of chapter 3, or the number of messages I have preached based on this passage. Probably not enough. But as I was reading this, out of nowhere, it hit me. Well, actually it came from somewhere–actually some ONE. What hit me? Glad you asked. It’s the Contrast! A gate that was named “Beautiful” and a beggar who has never been able to walk.

If ever there was a “great contrast”, then this is it. First, there were those going to worship God. They were careful to observe all the rules so that they would not be disqualified. In short, these were good moral people. Then, there is that man born unable to walk. In their culture they would have considered him cursed by God. After all, good people would never be born unable to walk. Bad things never happen to good people. Good, moral people going to church. A man outside who was viewed as cursed and unfit to be inside. Truth Time: He was NOT allowed inside. His birth defect disqualified him from admission. Contrast.

Here’s another contrast. People we going in expecting to receive a blessing from God. They were looking for the God of Abundance. After all, they are good, moral people. And that man? Begging to barely survive. Outside the Temple–so close to the abundance of God–but he wasn’t allowed in. So close…but so far away.

Person after person walks by. Maybe a few toss a mite or 2 in his beggar’s basket. Each person not looking at him–or looking at him as cursed by God. That is…until Peter and John come upon this “Great Contrast”. They looked at him…they could have tossed a few coins his way. But what would that do for him on the next day? And the next? And the next? He would still need to beg.

What that man born unable to walk needed…was TO WALK! Peter and John didn’t preach to him about being saved. They didn’t give him a discourse on the Roman’s Road-map To Heaven. They spoke hope into despair. Power into weakness. They spoke into his greatest human need–to WALK!

And you know what? HE WALKED! OK, they had to jerk him up and show him he would walk–but he walked. Then he started leaping–that’s dancing for those uninformed. Those on the inside couldn’t see that as a possibility for him–but Peter and John did…because Jesus saw it. So what’s the take-home lesson from this “Great Contrast”?

The church needs to stand with and by the outcasts–those deemed unfit, unworthy, cursed of God. We find those first disciples of Jesus going towards the disenfranchised, not away from them. What should mark us as disciples of Jesus is not what we do on Sunday…going with our best outfits, looking like good, moral people.

Our measurement of being a disciple of Jesus is how we speak to thee broken and hurting people all around the rest of the week. We need to speak hope and power into those hearts and lives, and let them know how God meets their deepest needs.

Oh, and that part about Sunday…inside the sanctuary should be a reflection of the community around it. Pristine chapels do not speak of God’s power, but our arrogance and self righteousness. The church is called to stand along that “Great Contrast”–not like those worshipers going into that Temple–but exactly like Peter and John. Reach out to anyone and everyone who feels the despair and hopeless of that man born unable to walk. Do those people feel welcome in your church building, or do they feel excluded, like that make born unable to walk?

The ugliest in the world, in YOUR community, should find the beauty and power of God’s grace and mercy–inside your sanctuaries and by you on the streets and roads, any day…every day…

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