A Moving Journal-Day 10

Well, the day has arrived.  Usually I’m sharing this at the end of the day–but at the end of this day….well, I might be a bit too tired to write.  But already this morning I have learned “another” lesson.  What is it?  Glad you asked!

Sometimes, many times, it’s not that we need God to teach us something new–but to remind us of what He has already taught us.  

The lesson I learned Saturday night and Sunday.  And it’s this:  Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!  That lesson taught me that He has control, even though I don’t have control.  So for the rest of this day, and hopefully for the rest of my life, I will remember this lesson:  I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!  The Lessons We Learn At The Feet Of Jesus Are Timeless And Timely!

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Give Up Going Through The Motions!

  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (The Message)

23-26 Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important.  I received my instructions from the Master Himself and passed them on to you.

The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.  Do this to remember Me.”  After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:  “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.  Each time you drink this cup, remember me.”

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master.  You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

The definition of familiarity is: “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something or someone; or to a feeling of comfort and closeness with someone or something.”  Familiarity can lead to know someone or something so well and in such a way as to cause you to lose your admiration, respect and sense of awe.  That is unhealthy familiarity.  One of the synonyms of unhealthy familiarity is presumption.

And we end up simply Going Through The Motions.  And this is something we need to give up for good.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from tonight’s message, this is it:

We Need Healing From The Spirit Of Familiarity With God If We Are To See The Power Of God In Our Lives.

This was what was happening in Corinth.  And it can just as easily happen to us as it did the Corinthians.  We cannot treat God as nothing and at the same time expect Him to do something for us.

But when we honor His name, honor Him for who He is and reverence His name, He will do greater and mightier things in our lives than ever before.  When we honor His name He honor’s us with His presence and power.  Honoring God’s name also means to honor the Body of Christ—the Church.

The problem is that we have turned the church into our dwelling place instead of His dwelling place.  Our voice, opinion, will and desires are bigger than God’s.  We worship self more than we worship Him and yet we desire Him to do something big in our lives.

Tonight we remember the Sacrifice Jesus made for each of us and everyone else.  And it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do you want to get God’s attention and to have Him look deeply into our lives?
  • Do you want to walk in the power of The Holy Spirit?
  • Do you want God to come through in our lives, and nation?
  • And do you want to see the Real Fire of Revival burning in your life, in your communities and nation?

If your answer is yes, then you must avoid growing too familiar with who God is in our lives.  This means we change our attitude towards God and honor His name above everything else.  The Church today is not experiencing a tangible presence and power of God simply because of  the “spirit of familiarity” that is sweeping through the hearts of men and women in Churches around this nation and especially in our own Tribe.

There are some obvious dangers of going through the motions—of allowing that vile spirit of familiarity control our minds and hearts.  There are 5 dangers when we simply go through the motions:

  1. Familiarity Causes Us To Look At What Worked In The Past To Copy And Then Recreate It. This is a deadly way in regard to the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is always advancing into the new thing. {Isaiah 43:18-19} “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Holy Communion is not just about looking backwards—it’s all about looking forward to the future!
  2. Familiarity with God causes us to lose the respect and fear for the Lord. Fear of the Lord isn’t terror—it is living in awe of Him—His Glory, Power and Wisdom.  Awe and Reverence is what creates our hunger for God’s Wisdom {Proverbs 1:7} “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.   When we lose that respect and fear, we close the door to learning from God.  Like concrete, we get set in our way.  When we get set in our ways, then we do not respect His ways.
  3. Familiarity with God, causes us to lose respect and honor for the Body of Christ. We disrespect and dishonor the Body of Christ when we make it more about us and less about Him. {Mark 11:17}.  “And then he taught them, quoting this text:  My house was designated a house of prayer for the nations; You’ve turned it into a hangout for thieves.”   Jesus rebuked the people who had turned the house of God into a market place because of their familiarity with God.  Familiarity reduces the church to an institution and museum rather than a living movement of God’s power.
  4. Familiarity with God prevents the Holy Spirit from working effectively in us and in the church. Inevitably familiarity creates presumption, and presumption leads to assumptions, which is a slippery slope when it comes to the ways of God.  It will lead to the most terrible place for anyone who considers themselves a Christian—The Place of Taking For Granted.  {2 Timothy 3:5 NLT} “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  This was what was happening at Corinth.  They were using this Sacred Meal as a party for just themselves.  And God was left out.

 How we can stop going through the motions?

  • Live each day by the word of God. {Psalm 119:105 NLT} “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Life gets complicated. The world offers the wrong advice.  Even our own minds trick us.  But God’s Word is dependable.  Whatever we face—His Word will guide us.
  • Spend time with God in prayer. {Psalm 42:1-2 NLT} “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I go and stand before him?”  Prayer is that glass of cool water for our thirsty heart.  Prayer is all about taking in the Holy Presence of God.  Too many treat prayer like it’s the Divine Vending Machine—insert money, make your selection of what you want.  Receive item.  Prayer is intentionally focusing your attention first and foremost on God Himself, not what we want or need.  And God will always amaze us with His presence because He is always showing Himself in fresh, new ways.
  • Come to Church with an expectant heart. {Numbers 14:9} “Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!” This is from that moment after God promised them the Land in front of them.  But they wanted to go back to slavery.  They didn’t expect God to move.  Every Sunday people walk into churches expecting nothing powerful to happen—and it usually doesn’t.  When we walk into this place expecting God to show up, He does.  And now we can walk out there expecting God to show up and He will.
  • Give Yourself to the Mission of God. {Matthew 28:19 NLT} “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Our identity and purpose is found only in the Mission of God.  God gave Adam and Eve a Mission in the beginning.  He gave Noah a Mission.  He gave Abraham a Mission.  He gave Samuel a Mission.  He gave Elijah a Mission.  He gave The Prophets a Mission.  He gives us the most important mission of all—helping people see Jesus.
  • Desire God above everything else. {Matthew 6:33 NLT} “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” There is nothing physical in this building that you must have for life. There is absolutely nothing physical out there that you must have to experience real life.    What we need cannot be seen with the natural eye.  It is only found through the heart.

These symbols of bread and wine, are nothing—mean nothing—until we stop going through the motions of doing.  This is our moment to proclaim the greatest event in all of human history—God becoming human—dying for us—so that we can be made right with Him!

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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!

I Just Don’t Feel Like It Today or “It’s The Best I Can Do Right Now.”

For decades now, in my teaching and preaching I advocate that we should go to worship God even if we don’t feel like it.  “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Yep, that’s what this preacher said.  Well, to be honest, this morning I did not want to worship God in my private time of worship because, well, I just didn’t feel like it.  And to be even brutally honest, I don’t know that I feel like it right now.

I could blame this feeling right now on the fact I had just stacked 2 large stacks of firewood that had fallen over.  But the reasons go much deeper, and I am not going to bore you with all the details of what is going on inside me in this time.  If I did, I would sound like a whiner, and whiners are a pitiful and pathetic lot.  So I’m just not going there and be like “them”.  (I think I just heard some of you readers breathe a sigh of relief!)

To give you a view of my early morning disciplined habit, go back to a previous blog called Assumptions.  This morning I filled up my coffee cup (Praise God who inspired that native so long ago who roasted, grounded, and poured hot water through those beans!), put in my earbuds, looked at my Spotify app, and honestly, I just didn’t want to start it.  But then I remembered that crazy preacher who said, “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Oh, well; time to practice what I preach.  If I don’t, I am just another Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter.  If I ever become one of them, I hope someone still loves me enough to give me a good ol’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head.

Now, did my mind and attitude change instantly?  Absolutely.  NOT!  But I pushed through it, keeping my focus on God.  Now, was this the best way to worship God?  Absolutely NOT!  Jesus said it’s about worshiping in Spirit and in Truth.  I was worshiping truthfully.  I just didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway.  Somehow I think that God is pleased with my worship this morning, though it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, my best offering.  But, it reflects where I am, much like David reflected in Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Had God forgotten David?  Had God been looking the other way, His face turned away from David?  Has God forgotten Randy?  Is God looking the other way, His face turned away from Randy?  The answer to all 4 questions is…..NO!  NO!  NO!  NO! no-no But it sure does feel like it, and David must have felt it to.  Otherwise, why did he write such a worship song?  And for you who may also be struggling with mine and David’s feelings, the answer for you is EMPHATICALLY, NO!  He hasn’t forgotten us and He hasn’t turned away from us.

Somehow this morning, a morning I am really struggling, that perhaps God is more pleased with this act of reluctant worship than any other act of worship I have offered since I began this spiritual discipline.  HE certainly deserves better, but I now believe that God is pleased with my “It’s the best I can do right now” worship.  What?  Oh, I just heard some Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters say, “You’re wrong, wrong, wrong!  Give me a Bible verse to back up your blasphemous claim.”  OK Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, remember that you asked for it.

In Luke 18:9-14 you will find the story Jesus told of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector who went to encounter God in the Temple.  The Pharisee was full of himself and his perceived goodness and made the point he wasn’t like that Tax Collector.  The Pharisee was NOT honest.  On the other hand, the Tax Collector was brutally honest.  He presented himself to God in worship as he really was–a sinner!  Gee whiz, he didn’t even worship in the right position.  His head was down when it should have been up.  And in response to these 2 acts of worship (one correct in form but not in substance; the other wrong in form but correct in substance), Jesus says this:  “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Verse 14)

And in this act painfully honest worship, this is what The Holy Spirit taught me and said to me:  “Sing it until you believe it!”  Here is the song that was coming through my earbuds in this epiphany:  10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  So, I am going to keep on singing it until I believe it!

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

 

Happy? Really?

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I’m taking a break from this Radical series because I have some issues.  Not the ones those who know me may think I have, but I have a real issue with a phrase that is most inappropriate to me.  And if you want to think, “Well that’s your problem”, go  right ahead, if it makes you feel better about yourself.  I am not changing my feelings right now.  It’s about the phrase “Happy Memorial Day”!

 When I looked up that word on dictionary.com it only adds to my issues about this phrase.  According to the website it means:  “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing”.  Can you now feel a sense of my righteous indignation?  I mean, businesses have flood the advertising world with big banners over their sale prices, “Happy Memorial Day”!  Happy New Year, Happy Birthday, Happy Mothers Day, Happy Fathers Day, Happy Fourth of July, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Christmas (I won’t say the word ‘holidays) are all appropriate.  Not so with this day, Memorial Day.

Instead of using the word “Happy”, use the definition and it sounds like this:  “Delighted, Pleased, or Glad You Lost A Family Member, Friend Or Fellow Soldier In Combat.”  Someone reading this just thought, “Wait a minute Radical Kingdom Pastor, that’s not what I mean when I say Happy Memorial Day!”  BUT, if words having meanings, and they do, then this is exactly what you are saying.  Because words DO have meaning, this is why I refuse to say, I can’t even write it down any more.  It makes me nauseated.

Part of my nausea from hearing that phrase comes from some of my life experiences.  I am the very proud Father and Father-In-Law of 2 combat veterans.  Each time they were deployed (one time they were both deployed in Iraq at the same time) I lived with the fear that a car would pull up in my driveway and a fine dressed soldier would step out of it and walk to our front door.  I still remember to this day that Saturday morning when my phone rang.  It was my son calling from Iraq and his first words were “Dad, I’m OK.”  I immediately knew something was wrong.  His Humvee had been hit by an IED, but he was OK.  But for many other families, friends, and fellow soldiers, everything was NOT OK.  What was my fear, is now their daily reality.

And if someone who is reading these words has lost a family member, friend or fellow soldier-in-arms, please know that even though I do not know your pain, my heart does ache for you.  And on this MEMORIAL DAY, and every day, I live with gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy because of their sacrifice.  And even more so on this day, I pray for your comfort and for God to continue to give you the strength to get through another day.  You will never get over your loss, but with God’s grace, you will get through those tough moments when you miss them so very much.

I do have a wish, I call it a High Hope, that Democrats and Republicans would take this day to remember that this nation is much more than your egos and personal ideologies.  Remember that your comfort has been made possible only, I said ONLY because of the sacrifices of those we are called to remember this day.  And to all the news media people, YOU are not the protectors of liberty, but are protected by the blood of those who gave it all, and to all who gave some.  News people, just get over yourselves and know your place in all this we call the U.S. of A.

And to all you Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion–YOU need to remember that your spiritual freedom also came with a price and that price included blood.  Not just any blood, but the blood of Jesus, who became human just like us.  Remember that for HIM to become one of us, He freely  GAVE UP His divine nature.  And you want to complain about YOUR stuff?  Wanting things YOUR way?  You really want to whine that things are not like they were in 1960 or 1970 when there are so many who need what only the Good News of the Kingdom can deliver?  Shame on you, shame on you, SHAME ON YOU!

This day should remind us that to live a life that is both meaningful and worthwhile we need to live the way these heroes died and the way Jesus died!  Stop being so selfish and petty.  For heaven’s sake get over yourselves.  Today is Memorial Day–remember and live with deeper purpose and gratitude.  I invite to you view this link to a video titled “Signs And Numbers”.  It’s a few years old and the numbers are even larger, but the message remains the same.

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