Examining Lent

There are some who question the Season of Lent. Some say that Protestantism do so to maintain a connection to Catholicism; even being under its influence rather than God’s. The thing is that there are historical documents that precede the formation of the Roman Catholic Church that indicate early Followers of Jesus engaged in this discipline. There is even a connection to it at the Council of Nicaea, which produced the original Nicene Creed in 325. Though Roman Catholicism says it began with Peter, most historians agree it began after the Council of Nicaea where Constantine was trying to unite the Roman Empire through Christianity.

Some say that it isn’t commanded for Christians to do in the Bible; only Baptism and Communion. Well, didn’t Jesus say something about Foot Washing? Besides, there is nothing commanded about stain glass windows, pipe organs, projectors, Sunday School literature, or padded pews and seats.

Some say that it’s origins come from pagan religions in Babylon and Egypt; as such, it is idolatry and blasphemy. What about when God instructed Moses to make that bronze serpent to heal all those who were bitten by the snakes? The Asp was a sacred idol in Egypt who was supposed to protect the Pharaoh. The Asp was included on the Pharaoh’s crown for people to see. Was God ignorant of that? Did He promote idolatry? For those who say Lent promotes idolatry, then so did God.

Others say that it’s simply not needed to be a Christian. Well, on this point I must say that I wholeheartedly agree. To BE a Christian rests solely on the atoning work of Jesus and our faith in that work. We need to change one word in that statement: the words TO BE. Change it to AS; so that it reads: “I need Lent AS a Christian!” I need this time to give up something important to me so that I can focus more on my relationship with Jesus.

I admit that I am not yet exactly like Jesus. To become like Jesus I must change even more things in my life, my heart, and my mind. It’s backed up in the Bible. Moses fasted 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai while God gave him The Law (Exodus 34); he did it again on the behalf of the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 9). Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights on his way to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19). And Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before He began His public mission (Matthew 4).

In paganism it was the god or goddess who needed its worshippers to fast. It was a demand from them because the god or goddess required it from them to remain a god or goddess–i.e.–it gave the god or goddess power. But in one of my favorite liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, says: “God does not need Lent. But we do.”

Now, if you want to make Lent about paganism and Roman Catholicism and idolatry and being unnecessary–well you are within your rights and free will to do so. As for me? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself thought it important to spend a time away from things in order to focus on God. So, I will embrace it as important in my growth as a Disciple and Follower of Jesus. The Discipline of Lent isn’t about giving up something only to pick it back up later. It is about reflecting on ALL that Jesus gave up for us. Whatever we give up, we spend that time remembering how it came to be that we have been made right with The Father. This season I’m giving up sweets–and those moments I long for something sweet, I will remember what Jesus gave up for me.

And Today The Blame Falls On____–Monday Musings 3 March 2020

Who would deny that the current state of the church, politics and society as a whole is in a state of unabridged and unequivocal chaos. Even the most self-deluded would have to admit this is our current reality. And when it comes to placing the blame…its not any better. On any given day and all day long, the long finger of blame is pointing somewhere. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune or Price is Right–there are lots of options on where to place the blame.

Conservatives are to blame. Progressives are to blame. The Democrats are to blame. The Republicans are to blame. Guns are to blame. Wussy-minded folks are to blame. Millenials are to blame. Baby Boomers are to blame. Professors are to blame. Parents to blame. Spin the wheel and find who to blame. Oy, oy, oy! It’s giving me a headache and makes me want to puke. It’s all Mishigas and Shmegegge. (I love Yiddish!)

But what would happen if we would do what David tells us to do? What would happen if we stopped spinning the Wheel Of Blame and took a long, hard and serious look at our own life?

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

Are you willing to allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s wrong in your own life? The Wheel Of Blame isn’t helping; so why not give this a full-on try. If we want things to change, then remember President Harry Truman’s personal mantra–THE BUCK STOPS HERE! Start and end each day with this Psalm. Allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s going on with you. Don’t just do it to fill your heart and mind with guilt–but do it so that the last line in this Psalm becomes true in you: And Lead Me Along The Paths Of Everlasting Life. Just in case you’re so dense you haven’t figured out the Monday Musing Theme, allow me to put it succinctly–Focus on what God wants for your life, then allow HIM to lead you along The Path!

The Not-At-All-Patience Of Job!

OK, I’m ready for the blast from the fundamentalists, churchians, tenured pew sitters and all those others who “think they know the Bible but only know what they’ve been told”. Have you ever believed something to be true, but it’s not really true? Case in point: Have you heard about The Patience Of Job? Many say, “Job teaches us HOW to be patient.”

Granted, chapters 1 and 2 can be seen as Job being patient, but as the late Paul Harvey would say, “Now, for the rest of the story.” To keep this from being extra long, I’ll just give you some examples:

  • Chapter 3–He wishes he had been a stillborn infant, better yet, not even born.
  • Chapter 6–It’s all God’s fault!
  • Chapter 7–He has a death wish, and after he dies, God won’t know where he is, in essence, God will soon forget about him.
  • Chapter 9–God doesn’t care if I’m guilty or innocent
  • Chapter 10–God made me and now He wants to crush me.
  • There’s more–read it for yourself!

I honestly can’t see how anyone can tell me, “You need to have the patience of Job!” My response will always be:

Now if all you fundamentalists, churchians, tenured pew sitters and all those others who “think they know the Bible but only know what they’ve been told” are fuming at me but still reading–maybe you will like this next part: Job Doesn’t Teach Us About Patience, But He Teaches Us Much About Faithfulness. Hear me out please!

Job is depressed, discouraged, and angry at God. Yet with all that depression, discouragement and anger at God–He cries out TO and FOR God. I mean, if you thought someone intentionally hurt you, would you turn to them to help heal those wounds? I didn’t think you would. Yet Job turns to the ONE He thought caused all of his suffering. So. . .what’s the great lesson Job does teach us?

Glad you asked that last question. Job teaches us the value and power of faithfulness. In Philip Yancey’s book Where Is God When It Hurts? gives the best definition of faithfulness I’ve ever heard. Faithfulness is crying out to God when everything inside you tells you to let go! Job had every logical reason possible to just let go and walk away from God. But he didn’t! Why? I think it was because somehow, Job still trusted God. He didn’t understand what was happening to him; he just thought he saw God was the cause behind it all. Yet Job somehow knew that if he was ever to be made whole again, it would happen in the presence of God.

Oh, one other thing. Job wanted to face God in a One-On-One Challenge. And when finally did show up–it was a challenge Job found out he didn’t really want. The one question God posed to Job that changed his song was this: “Are you God?” Job had some issues, but he brought every one of them to God. And though Job’s thinking was stinking, God healed and restored Job.

Job teaches me (and hopefully you, too) that I can be really honest in how I feel with God. If Job hadn’t brought his honest feelings to God, he would have continued to believe those feelings were truth, even though they weren’t. Don’t be patient like Job–Be Faithful Like Job!

Then you can love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And then all the glory will go to HIM!

Seeing The Wrong Question

Well, the Holy Spirit did it again. He did a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap the back of the head moment with me. It came from J.D. Walt in The Seedbed Daily Text, a daily reading I do. (You can click here to find it) Truthfully, I have been a bit lax in reading it, so I’m behind a bit. But I am catching up.

This morning I was reading it and the text was Luke 10:25-27. You may have heard it referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve read it and preached it many times over the years. But this morning…like I said, it was that Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head moment. Let’s review the passage one more time.

An “expert” came to Jesus to test him. Imagine that, an expert “testing” the Son of God. The story has 5 questions:

  1. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (The “Expert”)
  2. “What is written in the Law?”  (Jesus)
  3. “How do you read it?” (Jesus)
  4. “And who is my neighbor?” (The “Expert”)
  5. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (The “Expert”)

It’s questions 4 and 5 that got me that slap on the back of my head. Truthfully, it felt more like a baseball bat on the back of my head. I’ve read it, preached it, heard it taught, heard it preached with the emphasis on question 4: And who is my neighbor? And so we walk away thinking that the point of the story is that we need to be looking for and helping that poor person beat up and left on the side of the road for dead. Then taking responsibility for their most immediate needs. Sounds like a good theological perspective to me.

But J.D. Walt pointed out something I had overlooked–and thus–a lesson I had not learned,,,until this morning. It’s Question 5: Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Did you see what Jesus just did? In case you missed it, and since I can’t reach out and slap you on the back of the head, I underlined it for you. Can you see it now?

Good grief folks! It’s as clear as the baseball that hit me on the back of the head. Jesus changed the question! The original question was “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus asked, “Who WAS a neighbor?” Thanks J.D., for helping me see that I’ve been asking the wrong question! Perhaps what we, who claim to follow Jesus, needs to ask ourselves the question J.D. posed to me: What kind of neighbor do I want to be?

Spend the rest of your day…and the rest of your life, asking yourself the question that Jesus posed to this alleged expert. But don’t just ask the question–find the answer. The right answer will be to become the kind of neighbor who reflects this magnanimous and extravagant grace of God.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM! Oh, and unless you want to be slapped on the back of your head by the Holy Spirit, remember to ask the right question!

The Light Of The World!

(This is the third in my Lent Series: YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM)

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made when He Claimed To Be The Great I Am.  Our focus verse is Exodus 3:15 “Say this to the people of Israel:  Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”  It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  Though it was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name and He backs up that claim in another moment when He uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 8:12-20 (NLT)

12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

13 The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself!  Such testimony is not valid.”

14 Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself.  For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. 15 You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. 16 And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. 

17 Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. 18 I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked.  Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is.  If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” 20 Jesus made these statements while he was teaching in the section of the Temple known as the Treasury.  But he was not arrested, because his time had not yet come.

Jesus is now making His move toward the ONE reason He came:  The Cross.  Jesus is making the calculated steps toward His Purpose.  And in today’s passage, Jesus lets us in on yet another dimension of His Eternal Name:  Light.  Have you ever given serious time thinking about “light”?  Light tends to be one of those things we typically do not think about, until—until we find ourselves in the dark. 

Let’s review where Jesus used that Name.  Jesus has dramatically called people to come to Him.  To the Samaritan woman thirsty for God’s presence, He explicitly called Himself YAHWEH—the eternal name for all generations who provides us Living Water. 

Last week by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus clearly called Himself YAHWEH—The Bread Of Life.  They asked for a sign like the manna in the wilderness.  Jesus contrasts the Life He offers to the life they were wanting.  Unlike Manna that never lasts and never inspires us to the Great Adventures with God, He calls us to a relationship that satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts.  And now He refers to himself in a most startling way, saying, I Am The Light Of The World.  If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord!  This claim to be the Light Of The World, like the claim to be the Living Bread, has a setting.  This is it!

It’s the Feast of Tabernacles, where they remember how God led their ancestors by the pillar of cloud in the day and the pillar of fire at night to the Promised Land.  In this feast there was a lamp-lighting ceremony that took place in the temple every evening of the Feast.  Large lamps were set up in the Court of Women and lit.

Then, lamps filled every courtyard in the city. In the light of these lamps there was great singing and dancing all evening in celebration of God’s salvation, especially His deliverance at the Exodus as He led his people with his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  They were never in the dark when it came to God’s presence and when it came to following God.

In the sight of these great lamps in the Temple and throughout Jerusalem, Jesus proclaims himself to be The Light Of The World.  Light, pure light, is composed of all the colors of the spectrum.  Filter one of those colors out and the light changes in appearance—the hue becomes different. 

When Jesus said, I Am The Light Of The World, He was saying that He alone is all of God, and to follow that Light means we accept Jesus as He is.  When we reshape Jesus to someone easier for us to follow by resisting and refusing to do what He wants, we change the light that we follow. 

We take out a little here, and a little there, and soon we have shaped a formed a Jesus that is easier to follow; but he’s not the real Jesus.  If you take away all the colors of the spectrum and do you know what you have?  Absolute Total Darkness.  For the Pharisees, that Pillar of Fire, God’s Holy Presence, had been replaced by the Law.  Everything For Them Was About A List Of Things To Do And An Even Longer List Of Things NOT To Do.  They pursued and followed what they thought was the light with every fiber of their being.  They Were Religious For Sure

That’s why they didn’t have the time to even care about people who did not fit their description of being religious.  They wrongly believed that following the Law would be the light that would lead them into the very presence of God.  But it didn’t!  All it did was make them feel more important and better than most folks.  And rather than leading them into the Promise of God, it brought the darkness into their life. 

And there they were in the middle of the Holy Days, days that were to remind them that just as their ancestors followed the Light of God in the wilderness, so were they to follow the Light of God in their day to day life.  It must have been a spectacular sight at night…but:

Surrounded By All Those Lamps, Illuminating The Temple Courts, Lights Shining Out Into The Streets Of The City, They Didn’t Have A Clue Of What It Meant To Follow God.

A lot of people today are clueless just like those Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.  They think they’ve got it all figured out—following everything from power and money, to rules and traditions.  And they think in their hearts, “Eureka!  I’ve found the light, I’ve found the light!”  But all around them is darkness—without a clue they follow and follow and follow and then they wonder, “Why is my life so empty?  Where’s the purpose?  What’s the meaning?”

And then Jesus makes the bold statement:  “If You Want Light—If You Want To Know What It Means To Follow God—If You Want To Know That Your Life Is Meaningful And Has A Holy Purpose—Then Follow Me!  I AM—YAHWEH—The Light.”  And let me share with you why Jesus is The Light!

1.  First, His Light Is Revealing

He Is The Light That Reveals The Secrets We Hide In Our Hearts.  We can all be masters of deception when it comes to what goes on inside our hearts.  Any of a number of us could have an Academy Award sitting on a shelf in our living rooms—if others just knew what we were hiding. 

When I think about Jesus as The Light, I must be honest; there are times when thinking about The Light that I shudder.  I tremble because Jesus sees those times that I am living a lie, those things that make me feel ashamed.  Every corner, every dark cave where we try to push down those things we don’t want anyone to see, Jesus sees because He shines The Light in there.  When He shines The Light and reveals the true me, I feel the shame and regret.  But He isn’t disgusted with what the Light shows. His light makes us deal with some dark stuff that resides in our heart.  And here’s why:

His Light Reveals The Solution, The Cure For What Is Ailing Our Hearts And Spirits.  He isn’t content to leave us in the dark because He loves us too much to leave us there.  He wants to lead us out of the dark places of our heart with the Light of His Love, His Grace, His Mercy.  It’s the Light that shines and shows us what we need the most. 

And what we need the most is to kneel, kneel at the foot of the Cross that is soaked with His blood.  If you feel like everything has gone dark in your life, Look!  Look at Jesus because His Light shows us our shame, and His Light shows us the way out of the darkness.

2.  Second, His Light Is Restoring

Jesus Came Because God Wanted To Restore His Image Bearers Who Are Held Captive By Sin.  He came to set back right everything that was wrong.  He came to put things back right—to put us back right with our Creator!  What Sin Takes Away, What Sin Destroys Is Our Birthright To Be The Daughters And Sons Of God.  Jesus Is All About Restoring Everyone Who Is Broken In Their Heart—Alienated From The Father

Don’t overlook what happened just before this revelation from Jesus.  Earlier that day, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had dragged a woman into the presence of Jesus.  They publicly shamed her.  They publicly declared this woman was worthless.  She was wasting space and oxygen.  They did that when they said, “Rabbi, this woman is guilty of adultery.  The Law says she should be stoned to death.  What do you say?”  But Jesus ignored the question and quietly started writing something in the dirt.  They push Jesus for an answer and it never ends well when anyone tries to push Jesus

So He does, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one who is without sin.  Then the rest of you can join in.”  Then he goes back to writing.  Do you ever wonder what Jesus was writing?

I do.  Maybe it was from Numbers 14:18—“The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.”  Maybe it was Psalm 107:1—“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”  Whatever it was, it must have been powerful because one by one the rocks hit the ground and they drifted away until it was only Jesus and her.  And what does Jesus do? 

He restored her by forgiving her and releasing her from her shame and guilt—restored her back into fellowship with God.  He came in the flesh, died on the Cross, Rose from the grave to Restore us to the relationship we were created for—with God our Father.

3.  Third, His Light Is Renewing

There Are No Chains, No Fears, No Prison That Can Stand Against The Light.  When the way gets hard and difficult; when the pressures and stresses of life puts the squeeze on us; when it feels like the last drop of energy is about to leave us—The Light comes to put everything back in us, and more. 

In Those Times When The Life In Grace Feels More Like A Routine Than A Relationship—

  • The Light breaks the shackles that have imprisoned us.
  • The Light cleans and heals those wound caused by the shackles.
  • The Light rekindles the Fire of the Holy Spirit in us. 
  • The Light places the song back into our heart. 
  • The Light puts the step back into our dance. 

His Light Lifts Up Our Hearts With Joy, Hope And Purpose. The Light IS the Life.  It’s all about the relationship. 

It’s not just a dim light, but the Light that literally shatters the darkness.  He is the Light of the World!  The word John used from the Greek was “kosmos”.  It means more than just the globe we call earth.  It means literally everything around us—what we see and what we can’t see—what we understand and what we don’t understand!  It’s the realms of both time and eternity.

And He Wants To be The Light in us, but He wants something more from us.  He wants to be The Light that shines through us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16—“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” 

Motel 6 had a very popular slogan:  We’ll Leave The Light On For You.  God has left the light on for you first.  Will you allow Jesus to be the Light that will guide you to the very throne of your Heavenly Father?

Next Steps

It’s the same as last week.  Our world needs the Light of Jesus.  It’s our responsibility to get it out there.

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect With Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

Elevator Truth

It took going to the funeral of a friend which lead to a dear friend reminding me to write, and the phone call of a close friend telling us she was dying, to kick me in the butt to get back to writing. So here I am, more resolved to not set His gift aside; rather to use it even more.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written, allow me to explain the purpose of these, call them insights. I’m reading the Book of Acts every morning. As I read, I’m looking and listening to The Spirit for those things I’ve overlooked over the years. Today I want to share something else I’ve missed all these years. It’s Acts 2:32-33

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.  Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.”

I call this Elevator Truth. Think about an elevator. I find here a microcosm of life, and a spiritual truth. What do you see and hear? Of course, Elevator Music! Music that rarely if ever moves the heart and stirs the soul. My hypothesis is that they use that kind of music so that you will quickly get off so the elevator can go to its next assignment.

Face it, sometimes life is as boring as Elevator Music. But that’s not the truth I want to share. It’s those 2 buttons outside the elevator door: Up or Down. Unless, of course, you are on the bottom floor (or the top floor). Elevators will take you up–elevate you–or they will de-elevate you–take you down.

In life, you have the choice to elevate your life or de-elevate your life. The News of the Kingdom of God is countercultural and revolutionary. Our world thinks that to elevate your life you need to push the up button (thus, my elevator analogy). But here in Peter’s sermon, elevation comes through the example of Jesus.

Before His Resurrection, Jesus pushed the down button, twice! First, when He left Heaven to enter Mary’s womb. And then as He died on the Cross and was placed in that tomb. Because Jesus was willing to push that down button, and because He did it out of love for the Father and love for us, The Father then elevated Him. And what an elevation it is! The world changed then, and it continues to change now, all because God elevated Jesus.

And remember WHEN that elevation occurred–after Jesus died! If you want your life elevated–lifted above the muck and mire of this culture–then you need to do what Jesus did: DIE!

  • Die to guilt
  • Die to fear
  • Die to sin
  • Die to self promotions
  • Die to your agendas
  • Die to self-importance
  • Die to who others say you are
  • Die to ________________ (you fill in the blank)

In order to be elevated, then you need to surrender–anything and everything–in your life. The good, the bad, the ugly–ALL OF IT! In an age of self-promotion this is radical and revolutionary–but it works. It worked for Jesus. It will work for you.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! And the next time you stand outside an elevator and see those 2 buttons, remember which button Jesus pushed, TWICE!

Everybody Has A Present!

(This is Part of my current 3 Part Sermon Series I’m calling Everybody!  Next week I’ll share the third, and final installment.  Click Everybody Has A Past to read the first.)

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Everybody Has A Present!  Joshua 24:14-15 (N.L.T.)

We’re in Week 2 of 3 of the series that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The Holy Spirit is inspiring this series because we live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.

Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.  This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  Remember that it’s not always been like this.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.   In the beginning, God designed life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  But this “Everybody That Was Together” was shattered when Adam and Eve made their tragic decision to be their own god.

But God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.  The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.

Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still EverybodyEverybody has 3 conditions in common.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:

Your Present Will Either Echo Your Fears Or Express Your Hope.

The Scripture this morning is all about echoing fears or expressing hope.  It comes from Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly.  Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt.  Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.  Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates?  Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

This particular passage has been applied to the thought that God wants us to have Christian families.  All kinds of pictures and wall plaques have been manufactured and sold.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  God does want Christian Families.  Christian families are the most important battle formation in God’s fight to reclaim what Satan took away from Him in the Garden.

But, if you would indulge me, I would like to give you a lesson in good, solid biblical exegesis.  Oh, that big word like Mahogany—exegesis.  Exegesis means to study in ways that helps understand a passage so that we can find ways to apply it to our lives.

Now, you certainly can apply these words of Joshua to you home, family, kids, grandkids and so on.  BUT. . .before you can do that, you need to understand the original setting.  Joshua has been leading them in the conquest of The Promised Land.  They’ve occupied most of the territory, but there’s still work to be done.  And Joshua is getting old.  This is his retirement announcement.

He’s not going to be around much longer—so they need to decide what they are going to do now.  Keeping walking with God in the present moment, or go back to some point in their past.  It’s about choice.  This is a defining moment for them.

In this moment, this defining moment, what are they going to do?  Joshua has made his own decision.  Joshua understands the importance of the Present.  He’s made his decision.  Now they have to decide—make their own decision.

I realize not everyone has had equal opportunities.  Not everyone has had a wonderful family background—not everyone has had a good past.  Bad choices were made.  Unfair situations happened to them.  But. . .we can allow the past to make us its captive—or—we can use it as a classroom where we learn to mold a new future.  And that New Future begins with The Present!

As with Joshua, our Present is all about The Covenant With God and What He Is Doing.  Just as at the foot of the Cross, we are all equal, so it is with The Present.  Everyone of us has The Present—it contains 60 seconds in a minute—60 minutes in an hour—and 24 hours in a day.  It’s the same for everyone.  How you choose to spend this time—what you choose for The Present—is your own decision.

Everybody needs The Present.  The Present is for everybody because some need a fresh start, all of us need to adjust our course and we all need to live out our true purpose.  Let’s look at each of these reasons.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need A Fresh Start

Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives a remodel won’t do the trick.  Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives an upgrade won’t do the trick.  A fresh coat of paint won’t work.

There are times in our life when no amount of tweaking will be enough.  It may be bad choices, lots of bad choices.  It may be that we’ve been hurt so deeply that the grudges have caused bitterness to take root and grow like kudzu.  There are lots of reasons why some of us need a Fresh Start.  And the Grace for that Fresh Start is available now—in the Present.  Now, I’m not saying that there may not be grace for you in the future—because grace is always there for us.  But. . .but there’s no guarantee that you will have that future.  Grace works in the Present—it’s made for the here and now.

And when you look at others—remember!  Remember that their past is not so horrendous that God doesn’t have a fresh start for them.  God’s grace is all about a fresh start for anyone and everyone.  Grace isn’t reserved for the brightest and best.  It’s for the least, the last and the lost.  Here in the present, we remember that it is never too late for God’s grace for anyone.  We need to stop judging people by their politics, their addictions, or anything with their outward appearances.  God can use anyone and everyone.

He used a dishonest tax collector to write a Gospel.  He used an unstable fisherman to be a leader in the very first churches.  He used a murderer and hater of Gentiles to be the one HE sent to the Gentiles.  Look at the genealogy of Jesus.  He used a prostitute to be the great-great grandmother of Jesus.  He used Jonah to show grace to the Ninevites, even though Jonah didn’t want to go, and even hated that God showed mercy and grace to the Ninevites.  That person you look down own, has a Present—This moment for God to give them a fresh start.  Stop judging others on their past.  Know that God has a Fresh Start—with their name on it.  And who knows, there may come a day when in your life, YOU need a fresh start.  The Present is for those who need a Fresh Start.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need To Adjust Their Course

I remember reading this years ago from Chuck Swindol—I don’t remember which book—but I remember what he wrote:  “Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  Thinking that we are hitting the mark, we can miss it by a mile.”  While else would David write in Psalm 139:23-24—23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Can I be honest with you?  This is about me.  I have learned more about God, about this relationship with Him, and about His design for my life in the last 15 years than I learned in the first 47 years of my life combined.  I now know it all started in that moment when I was broken.  And I know I still need some more course adjustments.

David points out 3 things in Psalm 139:23-24—

  1. We don’t know everything about our hearts. If so why did David invite God to dive deep into his heart?  Test me.  Know what makes me anxious.  Like when we’re taking a trip and there’s a blocked road or detour—the GPS does this thing called “recalculating”.  We need that for our hearts as well.
  2. We all have blind spots. David asked God to point out anything that was offensive to God.  Why?  Blind spots.  Sin has this sneaky characteristic of slowly changing our thoughts—changing them to beliefs and attitudes that are not those of God.  We need that course correction when we become blind to our own sinful ways.  They are called Blind Spots for a reason:  We can’t see them, but HE can.
  3. We don’t know it all. David asked God to lead him along the path of everlasting life.  David knew he couldn’t get there by himself.  He needed a Guide.  The Holy Spirit is with us to help us get to where God wants us to be.

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:14— For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  The leader is out front, making those adjustments in the course so that we can reach the goal of holiness in this life in Grace.  And the last thing:

  1. We All Need The Present To Live Out Our True Purpose.

What I am about to say, may upset someone–but just hang with me and listen to the whole thought:

Jesus didn’t die on the Cross just to get you into Heaven.  He saved us to get Heaven into us and into this world right now. 

Right now, in The Present, is where we live out our true purpose.  And true purpose is  live and love in ways that makes God real to each other—and to the world.

You can’t put off the work of the Kingdom of God.  It’s for here and now.  God has a plan, a purpose and the Power for your life.  You can’t put off doing what God wants done now.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10—For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  It means we begin now, in the present moment.

We all have the Present.  Your present will either echo your fears or express your hope.  Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now, In The Present—YOUR Present!

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Everybody Has A Choice With What To Do Right Now. You can follow Jesus, get closer to Jesus, or not. . .
  2. Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now. If you know anything about Jesus, if you’ve given Him your heart and life, you already have enough to make a difference now.  And by doing it now, you can make a bigger difference down the road.

DEFINING OUR FUTURE, which we are going to talk about next week, begins with The Present.  The Future isn’t what you wait for—it’s what you develop and work towards in The Present.  You Have The Present To Change Your Future!  The Present Is For Those Who Want To Have A Future Of Hope.

Cleansers!

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Well, time for my daily class assignment:  What did you learn yesterday?  As the day began I was looking forward to it.  But now?  I admit that it is a bit more difficult than I imagined.  Has that ever happened to you?  Something you thought you could do, easily do, but out of nowhere it became difficult.  Truthfully….I don’t like difficult.  Thinking about what to write was as blank as this graphic.  So what does one do when preparing for test time?  You review your notes.

Set up the beach canopy–check!  Cooler with drinks–check!  Beach towels–check!  Beach chairs set up–check!  Bag with snacks–check!  Reading materials–check!  Sunscreen and applied–check and check!  Feet buried in the sand–check.  What next?  Sitting in the shade of the canopy, looking at the scene graciously provided for us by The Creator.  Listening to the sounds of waves and birds.  When we were a bit warm, going into the Gulf to cool off, floating on the gentle waves.  Then a southerly breeze came in helping to keep us cool.  A couple of naps between finishing that book.

Where’s the lesson?  WHAT’S the lesson?  What am I forgetting?  And it finally hit me.  There was that moment I realized my mind was totally blank. (Please, no comments from the monkey gallery!)  And there were other moments when my mind was blank….cleansed from everything.  No thoughts about writing, the churches, my Dad, my own grief from Mother’s recent death.  My mind has been cleansed.  Think of it as a computer reset.  Cleansers–that’s the lesson.

There are cleansers for the face, microwaves, ovens, bathtubs, commodes, even this thing called a colon cleanse (now try to get that image out of your mind!).  My Father knew what I needed on that day–for my mind to be completely cleansed–to set aside all my thoughts–just to be me in the presence of my King and Creator!

The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts, but what can cleanse our minds?  The mind is more complicated and delicate matter.  A few sentences back I mentioned “colon cleanse”–how many of you still have that image in your mind?  If we try to get some thought out of our mind, say a certain song or a colon cleanse, it only seems to linger and grow roots.  And should we cleanse our minds of all thoughts, what will we replace them with?

I’m thinking about a story Jesus once told found in Matthew 12.  A man seemed to have rid his mind and heart of a demon.  The demon went looking for another home.  Failing to find one, he returned to that man.  Found the home of his heart and mind cleaned but unoccupied.  So he goes and gets 7 buddies and moves right back in.  And the point is???  Once your mind is cleansed, make very sure that it is immediately occupied with God’s presence.

When I had my mind cleanse, I did it intentionally in His Presence.  The result was that He rearranged some thoughts and replaced others.  Along with that process, He provided me with balance, perspective and wisdom.  And I urgently needed that to happen.  So when your thoughts overwhelm you, when you mind resembles that junk closet, take the time to be in His presence.  No agenda, no asking, no searching for answers–just alone with Him.  As you as prepare for this cleansing, and before you begin, make the decision to ask Him to sort it all out.  Add this “cleansing” process to your regular spiritual disciplines.  Allow it to be a part of your spiritual disciplines.  Balance, perspective and wisdom–all are gifts found only in His presence.

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

Excuse me now, I hear the bell for the next class to begin.  And I am ready for it, more than when this week began because I now have His balance, perspective and wisdom.

A Moving Journal-Day 7

Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack.  And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped.  Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving.  I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed.  OK, I WAS overwhelmed.  But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.

The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed.  The food pantry hadn’t been touched.  So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away.  The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes.  This to pack.  This to move out of the way.  Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load.  The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded.  My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck.  Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday.  I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.

Now it is early evening.  My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore.  Honestly?  I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor.  At the age of 17, that was my plan–until….  So what other lessons did I learn today?

  • There is still much to be done.  The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work.  It is an ongoing work inside of me.  And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
  • We can do more than we think.  Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
  • Stay focused on the main thing.  Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time.  As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 4

 

Welcome back class.  We’re already half-way through this subject.  Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time.  In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.

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God is the Cosmic Santa.  The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list.  We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list.  But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents.  The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old.  It’s  what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation.  Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that  In The End, We All Get In.

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Don’t sweat it or worry about it.  Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all.  No, we don’t!  In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so.  Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven.  Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in.  In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.

Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom.  This plan says we are just waiting around.  Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter.  Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator.  This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.

That’s it for today.  Review your notes for THE Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him.  See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.

 

Heaven, You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 2

Good Morning Class, or whatever time of the day it is you are reading this.  I’m so glad you decided to return.  Remember there will be a Final Exam on this class of How Do You Get To Heaven?  I cannot tell you when it will be because, well I don’t know.  This test will be administered at some point, not by me, but by the Head Master.  So pay close attention to this lesson.

As you remember from our last session this question about getting into heaven is really about this question:  How Do I Have A Relationship With God?  Remember from our text book, John 3 that it is this guy named Nicodemus who posed this question to Jesus.  So let’s proceed with today’s lesson with one of the ways some people think they can get into heaven.  Each of these “ways” has a name, that I cleverly came up with; well, truthfully, it was the Holy Spirit that gave me these names.  Here is the first plan:

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This one is really easy to understand.  Raise your hands if you have a checking account or savings account.  OK, you’ve got this plan.  God keeps a set of books with debits and credits—good things we do and bad things we do.  God is the Cosmic Accountant keeping tabs on us.  At the end of each business day, The Cosmic Account runs a tally of your life.  And if we do more good things than bad things, we get into heaven.  The good things we do help cover the costs of the bad things we do.

Now this is very appealing to many folks.  It’s relatively simple.  Some days you make a lot of deposits because you are kind and helpful.  That’s good because some days, well some days you are not so good.  So the Cosmic Accountant subtracts from your good things.  You just have to make sure you have more “good things” deposited to your account that “bad things” that are taken away from your account.

But Sin is more than just a “bad” thing—Sin is rebellion against God, against our Creator, against His design and purposes.  And then there’s what Jesus said God demands from us.  Matthew 5:20—But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  Now these teachers of the law and Pharisees, man they had a lot of deposits.  Don’t misunderstand me–they had their “withdrawals” as well.  But they certainly had more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.  But–you don’t get into Heaven because you think you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.

God is MORE than the Cosmic Accountant.  He IS the Righteous God who expects nothing less from us that Righteousness.  He IS the Holy God who demands nothings less from us that holiness.  Were this so, then it was a waste of time for Jesus to become our flesh.  If it were so, then the death of Jesus on that Cross was a tragedy.  But His life AND death were neither a waste of time, nor was it a tragedy.

Well, that’s it for today class.  I hope you took good notes because there will be a test at the time determined for you by the Head Master.  Until tomorrow…..remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Heaven—You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 1

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This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see.  I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology.  But I do have a question for you.  The most important question you will ever be asked is this:  How Do You Get To Heaven?  Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.

Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question.  I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us.  OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.

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Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK?  Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs.  It’s obvious.  If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left.  HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.

When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs.  So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question.  Look at  John 3:1-12 (NLT)

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us.  Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus.  “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”  9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit?  You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching.  Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.”  But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.

Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask:  How Do We Find God?  Now here’s where it gets confusing.  Some say there are many ways to find God.  They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City.  We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City.  But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.

There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject.  It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God.  And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism.  It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there.  The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.

So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here.  I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven.  Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.

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

We Are More Than Our Feelings

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This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion-Part 2

Well, this is the sixth in my series about how cultural biases may have, probably have influenced our understanding of the Bible, especially in the U.S. churches.  I had intended to do only one blog per issue, but the Spirit has prompted, well actually SHOVED me, dragged me screaming, into going deeper because there exists a deep misunderstanding about Holy Communion by some who occupy the pews.  The issue is about “who”–WHO can receive these sacred symbols?

Let’s begin with the 2 camps known as The Closed Camp and The Open Camp.  The Close Camp Rule state that only members of their Tribe are allowed to receive the sacred symbols.  No ifs, ands, buts or maybes–you have to be a full member of Their Tribe.  The Open Camp Rule state that church membership is not a requirement.  And now things become a little more complicated.  Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to make the grace of God more complicated?  Or is that just me?

Within The Open Camp there are 2 Sub-Camps.  Both agree that church membership is not a requirement, both Camps agree that this is that powerful reminder of God’s Grace.  There are some other points they agree on, but here is where it becomes a bit more complicated.  First there is The Open Camp But You Have To Be Worthy.  This Camp says, “Stay away from this Table until you are worthy of it.”  Those who hold this view have hitched their wagon to 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 (NLT)

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.  27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

At the ripe old age of 21, I had an older member who refused to celebrate Holy Communion all because her father had drilled it into her head, “Don’t receive it until you feel you are worthy.”  The position of This Camp is that this Table, HIS Table, is a Reserved Table.  Your reservations for His Table are made through your performance.  They may not agree with my conclusion, but as I often say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.”  Though the Table is not a “Members Only Club”, it is demeaned and devalued into “The Table For Only Those Who Perform Very Well.”

The other is The Open Camp For Those Who Need Grace.  This Camp says, “If you are hungry for God’s grace, then there’s a chair for you at this Table.”  The Communion Table becomes more of a doctor’s office for the sick, than a “Heisman Award” for the really good folks.  This Camp sees Holy Communion as a Means of Grace, a way to connect with God’s Grace.  And I am proud to say that I have a lifetime membership in this Camp.

I understand that some will say, “Look, the issue is much more in-depth (which is just another way of saying ‘complicated’) than you have presented it.”  But when I take my cultural eyeglasses off and simply read the Bible, here is what I see and understand; and it’s not all that complicated.

For those who must insist that we become worthy BEFORE we receive the Sacred Signs, and base it on 1 Corinthians 11:26-27, you’re not applying this verse in its context.  See what some of the Corinthians were doing.  They were having a private party for their own kind.  Kinda like those who say Holy Communion is only for ‘their’ kind of folks.  So you think you’re “worthy”?  You better check out verses 28. 39 and 30.

It is called The Lord’s Table for a reason, and a purpose.  The Reason it is The Lord’s Table is because He alone has set the table and provided the meal, so HE  gets to decide who receives the invitation.  Luke 14 describes the invitation sent to those on the little dusty trails, in other words, those on the fringes.  Mark 2 describes that He is looking and calling for the sick, not the allegedly healthy.  And who can forget John 3:16 and THAT powerful word WHOSOEVER.  Everyone is a WHOSOEVER.

I don’t think anyone should come to The Lord’s Table casually or out of habit.  It is a sacred moment where we can both SEE and TASTE that The Lord, He is Good!  And I certainly do not believe that it’s a performance based reward.  This, The Lord’s Tableis for anyone who needs to be reminded of these 2 eternal truths:

  1. We need God’s grace every moment of every day
  2. God freely gives us the grace we admit to needing because of the death of Jesus.

Holy Communion has this Message:  “For anyone who needs and wants My Grace, pull up a chair at My Table, and have a Feast!  Don’t worry about the cost.  I’ve taken care of that, too!”  And that, my friends, is something to celebrate!

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

The High Price Of Following Jesus!

Slide2

DisclaimerThis I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means.  Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand.  The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved.  Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:

  1. Is It Possible?
  2. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations.  It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)— Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him.  So, the answer to both questions is YES.  This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.

Slide10 I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free.  It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin.  And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life.  This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.

And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven.  Don’t you agree?  Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a  seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home.  But it’s not; there is much more.  Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals.  The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.

And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more.  This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful!  No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals.  So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift.  And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.

Slide11

Think about this:  What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus?  A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany:  DISCIPLESHIP.  This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

 

Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.”  Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life.  Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly.  Here is why it’s Costly:

1]  It Costs Personal Comfort

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Vs. 57-58)

Here’s a man like us.  He wants to follow Jesus.  Promising idea, right?  And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live:  At the level of comfort.  You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable.  And many want to be comfortable following Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.

I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem.  David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight.  After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan.  But there’s a problem:  David hasn’t consulted God about it.  God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation.  As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God.  The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free.  But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.

You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure.  Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding.  Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus.  Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones.  Before she retired she was a computer programmer.  Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable.  But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship.  You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.

2]  It Requires Immediate Commitment!

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”   (Vs. 59-60)

The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet.  So, it’s just an excuse to postpone.  “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.”  This makes Jesus sound less harsh.  But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated:  “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.”  The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying.  And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah.  In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral.  But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd.  Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.”  Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.

John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story.  He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England.  His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin.  He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand.  But hear John’s reply:  “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look.  I have you.  You go and preach the Gospel to those people.  Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.”  There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!

3]  It Involves Unlimited Commitment

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”   Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Vs. 61-62)

Jesus wants you to make up your mind.  There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”.  A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:

Slide18

It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation.  People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven.  Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.

Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct.  Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?

First Let Me.

In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me?  What is your “First Let Me”?  Your excuse?

Slide19

 

Are You Settling Or Moving Forward?

going-not-knowing_wide_t_nv

(We have all heard about the “faith of Abraham”, right?  Read Hebrews 11:8-10 in case you need a refresher course.  What follows next is an excerpt from today’s message.  I realize that it’s a bit different, but I’m OK with that.  Looking forward to your comments.  Happy New Year!)

I need to make a confession to all of you this morning.  As many times as I have read and studied, taught and preached from the story of Abraham, there’s a part of his story that I have missed.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave Haran and head out to the Land of God’s Promise.  The part I have been missing is from Genesis 11, verses 31-32.  It is connected to the Story of God’s Promise to Redeem and Restore His fallen Image Bearers.  It is a connection I never made until this past Tuesday. And don’t blame it on the flu.  Here are the verses:

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.

I have no idea why the editors of the first official Bible put those 2 verses in chapter 11.  These 2 verses go with the story in Chapter 12—the Promise of God to redeem and restore the fallen Image Bearers.  God gave The Vision to Terah and Terah set out following that Vision.

There’s a tragedy in the life of Terah that’s so very clear when our eyes, mind and heart are open to it.  “He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”  Terah was heading into God’s future, to The Promised Land but Terah stopped at Haran and settled there.  I don’t know why—maybe it was simply easier to settle in Haran rather than to keep on that journey.  Maybe he changed his mind and decided it was too risky.  Or maybe Terah simply wanted to be comfortable.

What have you settled for instead of God’s Promise?  As tragic as it was for Terah to settle for Haran instead of The Promise, the worst tragedy for Terah is Verse 32:  “Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.”  If Terah had died while headed towards The Promise, there would be no tragedy.  The tragedy was he died while still in Haran, the place he substituted for The Promise.

The Bible tells us that Terah lived for 205 years—more than enough time to settle in The Promised Land.  If Terah had not settled for Haran, then we would have read this morning about the Faith of Terah instead of the Faith of Abraham.  Terah settled in Haran and died there instead of moving into God’s Promised Land.  Let this thought sink in:  He Died Where He Settled.  Terah settled for some second best.

But God doesn’t give up on His Promise to Redeem And Restore His Image Bearers.  When Terah settled on Haran, God chose another for the Promise—Abraham.  The Vision was now given to someone else.  And I believe God still works this way.  If we refuse to follow God’s Vision by settling down at our Haran, then God is going to take the vision away from those have settled for some Haran, to those who are willing to trust God, who will live out the Going Without Knowing Faith in God.

The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us.  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting.  The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith.

When I read this passage from Hebrews, there are 3 questions that challenge me, and should challenge you:

 1. “Will I Give Up Everything To Follow Jesus?”

Slide21Everything means, well, everything—nothing held back, all in. But when we say, “I trust you God, but I’m not doing that; I trust you God but I’m not giving up this; I trust you God but I’m not going there; I trust you God but I’m not changing what’s important to me”, it’s no longer a trust relationship and it’s not faith.  It becomes a negotiation; and God is not a negotiator.  You cannot know the depths of this relationship until you stop negotiating with God and begin trusting Him.  And beside this, you do not want to negotiate with God.  You will lose every time!

2. “Will I Give Up What Makes Me Feel Comfortable And Secure?”

Slide22All of us have things that make us feel comfortable.  That’s why it’s called “Comfort Zones”.  There is little risk and no challenges, in our Comfort Zones—and neither is Jesus.  What things are in your Comfort Zones?  Better yet, when it comes to the direction God is calling us into, what makes you uncomfortable?  Jesus does provide us Comfort—but it’s never meant to make us Comfortable.

 

 

Think for a moment about Jesus in the Upper Room on that night when He would be arrested. Jesus was calm—He held it all together—but I think He was in great discomfort.  Did Jesus find Comfort?  Absolutely, He’s deeply connected to The Father.  Was Jesus uncomfortable with the task in front of Him?  Absolutely!  Look at what happens after they leave that Upper Room and that Olive Press became His altar.  All those “uncomfortable feelings” poured out of Him.  Do you think He was “comfortable” facing the Cross?  Was the cross “comfortable” as He hung on it?

What I am trying to say is this: It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, even uneasy, when following Jesus because Faith is never found in our Comfort Zones.  If we wait until it feels safe or we feel like we can succeed, then it’s NOT faith NOT trust, NOT love.  It’s just another one of our projects.  Jesus isn’t interested in our projects—only our absolute surrender.

3. “Will I Choose Today To Go Deeper With Jesus?”

Slide23Trust is like a swimming pool.  I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m the only one who could come up with that analogy.  If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense—and it’s the truth.  Most swimming pools have 2 ends—shallow and deep:

First, there’s the shallow end. It’s the end where our feet touch that solid bottom and our head is above the water.  It takes no effort on our part to keep our heads above the water.  Unfortunately, this is where many seem to want to live their faith—where it takes no effort to keep their heads above the water.  It’s safe on the shallow end, but here’s the truth:  Jesus is not found on the shallow end.

Then there’s the deep end. The deep end is where trouble may happen.  It takes an effort to keep our heads above the water.  It’s not always safe on the deep end.  Things may happen, and we go under.  But here’s the other Truth:  Jesus is always found on the deep end.  And Jesus isn’t interested in helping us just keep our heads above the water.  He wants us to walk on top of that water—like that night when Jesus called Peter out of the boat.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I could walk on the water at the shallow Slide24end of the pool, too.” You could, but you won’t—because you know your feet will touch bottom and your head will stay above the water.  God called Abraham to the deep end, where he would drown unless he held on tightly to God.  Faith is Trust, and Trust only happens in the deep end.

 

Which end of the pool will you live in starting today?

 

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!

 

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

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

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The Value Of Time Well Spent

Ecclesiastes 3-1 To Everything There Is A Season Under Heaven red

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…A time to be quiet and a time to speak.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 7 N.L.T.)

I’ve been in this time of blog silence.  For the past 2 months, with a couple of exceptions, I have avoided this blog and even reading a lot of the blogs I follow.  To my blogging friends please do not be offended.  God has been leading me in what Solomon calls “a season”.  It started out as a season for me to focus on God’s vision for the church I serve.  But God added another purpose–it was a season for me to focus on ME.  Please do not think I am self-serving and narcissistic.  Over these many years I have encouraged caregivers to take time to care for themselves.  Self-care is not a sin; it is essential.  Well, I have attempted to take my own advice.  The demands of church, community and family have been especially pressing in this season.  So it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything.  Yet, it the middle of all the pressing life-issues, I have managed to spend more time ALONE with Papa, and that is always a good thing, and a great use of our limited time.

d52a631a337f182e54842dc709c51079--adult-adhd-adult-humorThis time to be quiet has been a learning time.  One thing I’ve learned is that I need to be silent and still before God.  But here’s the thing:  I’m not good at being silent, and even worse at being still.  I do admit that I could probably be diagnosed as adult ADHD, oh look!  A squirrel!  And I keep repeating to myself David’s insight from Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honored throughout the world.”

And what I have learned in this season is that when I’m not still, my spirit doesn’t grow and when my spirit doesn’t grow I get distracted from the life that honors God.  The struggle continues to be still and quiet but I am becoming more disciplined in it.  And in this time to be quiet, God has been affirming and confirming my role at this stage of my life, which is to completely become a Kingdom Pastor and not a hospice pastor.  Maybe I need to explain that statement.

A hospice pastor is very much like a hospice chaplain.  A hospice chaplain provides comfort to a patient, their family and friends as they near the end of this life.  A hospice pastor does the same thing, except it is offering comfort and ministry to a group of people known as the church, a dying church, but a church nonetheless.  And after decades of service in the Kingdom, they need to be affirmed for their history and given gentle care as they slowly pass away.  And they need someone to help them grieve.  This is a hospice pastor.

A Kingdom Pastor is one who is called to be God’s instrument of transformation into a new paradigm which is actually an old paradigm, a couple of thousand years old paradigm:  bringing the Body of Christ back to our roots of being involved in the story of The Kingdom of God and not the history of a local congregation.  At times I admit I am overwhelmed by the risks involved.  There are already those who think it’s time for me to leave.  I admit I get a bit uneasy, OK, SCARED, at this journey.  But I keep remembering (actually it’s the Holy Spirit that keeps reminding me) that those first disciples of Jesus took great risks.  And here’s another thought, from The Spirit of course: the greatest risk of all was taken by Jesus when He died for me and then called me to be this pastor and preacher.  With all the uncertainty that still remains in my mind, I am now ready to take the greatest risks ever in my life for the ONE who took the Greatest Risk of all eternity FOR my life.

Face it, change not only can be frightening, it IS frightening.  The urge to be like the Hebrew children who were so close to God’s Promise but wanted to go back to Egypt, is the urge we all must fight.  But remember Caleb–we do not fight this battle alone, but with the ONE who is Faithful to keep The Promise!  And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure, very sure, that all the glory goes to HIM!

Radical: Spirituality! Part 2

Welcome back to Episode 2 of True Spirituality.  Remember that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  There are 3 key components to this and let’s get to the first one:

 1.  True Spirituality Is Evidenced By Love.

If you want to become spiritual, there are a number of things you must master in your personal life.

  1. We Need To Be Committed To The Goal Of Spirituality. We need to be able to say, “I’m not going to let the world, or sin, or traditions, or money, or enemies, or friends, or family stand in the way of my becoming close to God.”
  2. We Also Need To Be Disciplined. We need to be able to govern ourselves and force ourselves at times to do what we don’t necessarily feel like doing, and, at times, not do what we really feel most like doing.
  3. We Also Need To Be Consistent. We need to make a regular habit of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to God.  These things can’t be done in a half-hearted when I feel like it fashion.

As important as these habits are, Paul tells us they are not really the key to spirituality.  It’s Not Enough To Accumulate Knowledge, Or Be Disciplined, Or Be Committed.  There is something much more important than any of these.  You Must Develop A Heart Full Of Love.  Look at the latter half of verse 1:  “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”  And he follows this up later with the most famous passage of all in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13—The Love Chapter.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is the primary component of the Christian life.  This is the key to growing God’s Kingdom “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, They Want To Know How Much You Care.”  Have you ever wondered why your friends who are not Christians (hopefully you have some of these, if not, “Shame on you!”) never ask you about your faith?  Well, it may be that they sense in you that all you will talk about is WHAT you know.  Quite frankly, they do not need to know what you know.  They need the WHO, not the WHAT!  If all you talk about is The What, then it is clear that you are unclear about The WHO!

God has a primary concern about you once you decide to follow Jesus.  His primary concern for your spiritual growth is not how much you know, But How Much You Love Those Created In His Image.  When you stand before the throne on judgment day, He won’t say, “Wow! You really knew the Greek.” Or…”Wow! You could argue the authorship of Isaiah with the best of them.” Or…”Wow! You sat in the same pew every Sunday for 57 years.”  Those aren’t the things God is looking for.  He wants you to develop a heart full of love towards others and towards Him. True spirituality isn’t measured merely by how good you are, but by how good you are to others.  And this is measured by how well we love.  If you have been reading me for any time, you know what’s coming next…

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

Tomorrow we will look at the next component of True Spirituality.

Radical: Spirituality! Part 1

Have you ever known people who acted so deeply spiritual that you really admired them and wished you had their kind of spirituality, only to discover another side of them?  I’m talking about the kind of person who acts spiritual and pious at church, in a class or any other religious setting.  But get them out of that setting, and they become irritable, moody, and unkind to those around them.  Put them in a religious environment and they shine like the sun.  Put them in the real world with real people and their whole appearance changes.

I don’t want to sound like I’m judging these kinds of people.  Jesus did say we could be arborists; in fact, He insisted we be arborists, you know, being able to identify a fruit tree by the kind of fruit it produces.  The fact is I get confused.  They talk so much about true spirituality and the deep things of God, yet something is obviously missing.  Maybe I view the world too simplistic, but I always thought being close to God would bring out the best in people.  Take, for example, the life of Jesus.  Sure, there were times he was stern—when the situation called for it—but the words describing his life and ministry are words such as compassionate, forgiving, and merciful.

Peter summed up Jesus’ life by saying:  God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)   As I study the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul, I discover that True Spirituality Is Not Determined By How You Act In Church, But By How You Treat Other People.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul addresses the subject of true spirituality.  In those days there was a big debate about whether or not it was all right for a Christian to eat certain types of meat.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NLT)

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols.  Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue.  But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.  Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.

So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols?  Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.  There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords.  But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.  And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

However, not all believers know this.  Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.  It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat.  We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?  So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.

And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.  So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion have misused this passage.  They have moved away from being arborists to being Judge Judy’s.  They see this passage as justification for them to point out where others are missing the mark.  Which just goes to show that Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Protectors Of Religion really do not understand the Bible they falsely claim to follow.  They prove what my homiletics professor, the late Dr. Thompson, always told us:  “A text without a context is just a pretext, and usually a false one at that.”  Let’s go deeper than the surface pretexts and see the context.

The Corinthians lived in a pagan society filled with pagan temples.  People would take meat to the temple and sacrifice it to the pagan gods; afterwards, the meat could be purchased in the temple food court for a good price.  Some Christians said, “It’s a sin to eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan god.”  Other Christians said, “That’s superstitious.  We have freedom in Christ and we can eat sacrificed meat if we want to.”  This was Paul’s opinion on the matter.  He said, in effect, It is not a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but before you do, you have to consider how your actions and attitudes affect other believers.

In our society, eating meat sacrificed to idols is no longer an issue.  But the principles Paul teaches in this passage are as relevant as ever.  1 Corinthians 8 is not about eating food sacrificed to idols as much as it is about discovering the characteristics of true spirituality.  Paul had a radical approach to spirituality.  He insisted that true spirituality is not determined by whether or not you eat certain types of meat; it’s determined by your attitude in the process.

Simply put, Paul Teaches That True Spirituality Is Defined Not By How Good You Are In Church, But How Good You Are To Others.  Now we are going to look at three evidences of true spirituality.  Hope you come back tomorrow.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus 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.

Monitor Your Heart!

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I have some wonderful DNA in me, both the physical kind and that of the spiritual nature.  But due to the nature of this fallen creation, I do have some “not-so-wonderful” DNA.  On both sides of my DNA is a history of cardiovascular issues.  My Dad has been on hypertension medications since he was in his late 30’s.  About two and a half years ago, at 1189the age of 58 I began taking hypertension medications.  At the age of 88 he had triple bypass surgery and since 2008 I have had 2 arteriograms due to severe chest pains.  The first time I found out it was my gall bladder and the last time, my heart doc call it unspecified angina due to stress.  A pastor experiencing stress, who ever heard of such a thing!  Inconceivable!

Recently I have been experiencing something different.  I truly hate to sound like a hypochondriac, but due to the aforementioned DNA, my wife insists I go see our cardiologist.  It felt like my heart was racing away and I have a few episodes where it felt like my heart was bouncing against my sternum.  I checked my heart rate and it was 180 beats per minute.  Don’t think that was in the normal range.  The pain wasn’t sharp, but a real sense of pressure; and after the heart rate returned to normal, exhaustion.  So I went to see my Heart Doc.  He knows about my DNA (he’s also my Dad’s Heart Doc) so he put a 24 hour heart monitor on me to record every heart beat and my heart rate for that 24 hours.

When I went back for the results, he wasn’t pleased with the report.  He asked me if I wanted to go to Huntsville, Nashville or Birmingham.  Our area does not have the specialist I needed.  It seems he thinks I have this thing called Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia.  I have had heart rates as high at 184 beats per minute.  My local heart doc does not do what needs to be done.  He said he is a cardiac plumber but I need to see a cardiac electrician, someone who is known as a cardiac electrophysiologist.

Well, last week I had my first appointment with the cardiac electrician, Dr. Paul Tabereaux.  He confirmed that my heart has some electrical issues and sat down with me to explain my options (I like options!).  I could take some medication to control it but it would leave me feeling like I felt after an episode, but it would be all the time.  I don’t like that option.  The other option would be to have a procedure called an ablation which should solve the problem.  Oh well, so much for options because I do not want to take more medicine.

This, call it “life-event”, has brought to mind Psalm 139:23 (NLT)

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Dr. Tabereaux described this procedure to me and Debbie in detail.  Entering through a femoral vein, he would insert a catheter, actually several.  Once inside my heart he would create a 3-D map of the inside of my heart.  Then he will send electrical impulses into my heart in order to identify the problem.  Oh, the problem!  Well it seems that these things called nodes have created an electrical loop causing my heart to beat very fast, too fast.  Once the loop is located he will proceed to “burn” part of that loop, thus interrupting that loop by scaring a part of my heart muscle.

Now some, may wonder how creating this “scar” will help my heart.  He assured us that it would do the trick and set my heart back into normal rhythm and thus ending these palpitations.  Not only do I have Dr. Tabereaux’s assurance, but I know some people who have had the same procedure by the same doctor and they are doing well and living their lives.  So that gives us a calmness because the idea of poking around inside, I said INSIDE my heart, well that is a bit disconcerting.  And then burning part of my heart?  He says it will work and I have the personal testimony of others who said it works.

And it hit me, this describes what the Psalmist is talking about in today’s passage.  He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”, similar to what this cardiac electrician knows about my physical heart.  Then he writes, test me and know my anxious thoughts.”  Similar to what this cardiac electrician will do to my physical heart.

Sometimes, the things we put into our hearts, or that we have allowed to stay in our hearts, creates a loop where we never move forward, never move beyond.  And at our invitation, God will come and help identify those “anxious loops” that keep us from going further, growing deeper, and trusting God even more.  The Monday morning attitude is fueled by those “loops”.  Maybe your loop is fear, control, guilt, anger, lust, or shame, just to name a very few.

One of the worst things that can create this “loop” that keeps us from the normal rhythm of Kingdom Life is living outside God’s design for you.  A word that best describes this “loop” that many do not like to use or hear is sin.  We can blame others, or accept the lie that says, “Well, I was just born this way.  It’s who I am and it’s not my fault.”  We need to trust God’s grace to repair these loops.  And the only way He can repair these loops is to let Him into our hearts.  Give Him access to every room, every “chamber” of our heart.  Trust that He knows what He is doing, and listen to the testimony of others who have allowed The Eternal Cardiologist to work on their heart.   Their testimony will be about what He “fixed” in them, not what He needs to “fix” in you. The truth is that God doesn’t “work” on our heart; He does something much better.  He gives us a new heart!

And now I am waiting for Dr. Tabereaux’s office to call me as to when all this will happen.  But in the meanwhile, I am allowing God to “burn off” some things that are keeping my spiritual heart in a loop, rather than following Him to become all He sees in me, all that He made me to be here in His creation.

When we allow God to look inside our hearts and give Him permission to go to work by removing anything that is contrary to His Intended Design for us, then we can say:  “Good!  Lord, it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

I don’t know any better way to ask it, but the way the Psalmist puts it:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  I give you permission to look at everything and repair those “loops” that are keeping me away from the healthy rhythms of Kingdom Life.  Oh, and help me remember I need to have follow-ups with you to make sure another “loop” doesn’t develop.  Amen and Amen!

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 2 of 2

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Welcome back!  For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post.  I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things.  Here are those 3 things:

That We Are

God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children.  God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him.  In The Word we discover that God knows us.  He knows where we are.  He knows what we feel.  When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting.  When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid.  When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.

When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair.  When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts.  Are you afraid that God will turn away from you?  Don’t be!  In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains.  This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.

That We Are Important

God values you and deems you important to Him.  Your family may tell you you’re worthless.  People you know may tell you that you’re worthless.  Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless.  Your world may tell you you’re worthless.  Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless.  But you will never hear God call you worthless.

In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say:  The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned.  But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you.  In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Those hands are nail scarred hands.  To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!

That We Are Important To His Purposes

In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan.  God has a place for you.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God sees you as His Masterpiece.  As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece.  A simple glance at The Word is not enough.  We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word.  He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.

But it takes time, and often, a lot of time.  God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece.  In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God.  You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do.  He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan.  And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.

In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  And you are important to Him.  How important is He to you?  Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.  The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.  The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)

Each of us is found somewhere in this story.

  1. Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word.  Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God.  Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life.  I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
  2. Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment.  They want to give the appearance that they love God.
  3. Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
  4. Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.

The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept.  His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.

 

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

Hot, Cold, Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

In law enforcement terminology there’s this thing called “Hot Pursuit”.  It means going chasing after someone with everything they have.  God is always in Hot Pursuit of us, but what about us?  When it comes to the relationship God offers, are we in Hot Pursuit?  Cold Pursuit?  Or Lukewarm Pursuit?

Now those progressives out there that want us to throw away the Old Testament because there’s too much judgment and rules, well just take a look at this:  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The Message)

“Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only!  Love God, your God, with your whole heart:  love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!” 

While we can be masters of deception and hide what is really in our heart, eventually, it comes out.  What you say is the result of what is in your heart.  Now sometimes when a person reveals their heart towards us, those words are ugly and wound.  The result is, we don’t want to be friends with them.  We turn our back on them.  But when it comes to God, well, it is quite a bit different.

The heart is like a warehouse that stores things.  It can be good, evil, or both at the same time.  There comes a time when we need to see what is really in our heart.  I will confess to you there are times when I have a crisis of faith, experience brokenness, grief, disappointments—well to put it plainly and to the point—sometimes my heart is messy.  And in those messy times I need to know where I can go, where I can turn, where I know my feelings won’t be ignored, or made to feel small, or like a failure.

We all need somewhere to turn when life gets tough and things don’t turn out like we want.  We need a place that will bind up our wounds and heal them, even if we believe that the wounds are too deep.  And it needs to be a place we can count on to always be there for us.  I have looked for that place and would like to tell you that I found it, but I would be lying.  I didn’t find that place; The Place Found Me.  The Place I’m talking about is the heart of God.

I have had a Job experience—with all my pain and disappointment, I still want God.  I do not always know how to get out of those places, but I know God does, and He will show me and help me and heal me.  And if God still wants my heart in the shape that it was and sometimes still gets in, then I know I need to get in hot pursuit of God’s heart.  Here is how I see giving our heart to God.

Step 1:  Give God Your Whole Heart!

 You can’t give God bits and pieces of your heart a little at the time.  You can’t give God the majority of your heart.  Give Him your whole heart.  You have to take the risk that it’s really true:  That He Loves You With His Whole Heart All The Time.  He’s given you his whole heart in the Son who died on the Cross for me and you.

And giving Him your whole heart isn’t a one-time decision.  It’s not even a once a week or once a day decision you make.  It Has To Be A Conscious And Intentional Moment By Moment Decision For The Rest Of Your Life.  If you don’t give Him your whole heart, You Will NEVER Know That He Can Be Trusted To Love You.

Step 2:  Trust God With All That’s In Your Heart!

Whatever abilities, passions, dreams, goals and gifts you have, hand them over to God.  God can take the simplest ability, the smallest gift, and do great things in your life.  Your relationships—give them over to God.  Trust God to help you find and build those relationships HE wants you to have.  Your time—make God the only priority in your life all the time.  Don’t give God a token Sunday.

Every waking and breathing moment, give it to God and live it in Him and allow Him to work through you.  And when you find your heart is filled with darkness, when in those moments when everything is  messy, trust God with your pain, your doubts, your fears, your discouragement.  God does not want only the good things in your heart.  He will take the tough stuff, too.  Trust that God will deliver you.  Trust that God will transform you.  Trust That When You Just Don’t See How, God Can See How.

Step 3:  Serve God With All Your Strength!

Sometimes you will feel strong in Him.  Serve Him will all that abundant strength.  Whenever you think that your contribution to God isn’t much, serve Him with all of that, too.  When you think someone could do it better than you, go ahead and serve God with all you are.

But sometimes, you may find yourself like I have found myself from time to time—not so strong, feeling broken and hurt.  Whatever strength you have, be it ever so little, serve God.  Serving God isn’t all about being a 5 star athlete.

It’s about taking just one day at a time and whatever is in you that day, the good, the bad, and the ugly; giving it to God.

God Loves You And Even When Your Heart Is Messy Or Broken, He Will Restore Your Heart And Restore You To The Only Relationship That Matters The Most—The Relationship With Him!

Does God have ALL of your heart?  I’m not asking are you perfect.  Breaking News Story:  YOU’RE NOT PERFECT!  NEVER HAVE BEEN!  What I am asking is this:  When Was The Last Time You Surrendered All Of Your Heart—The Good, Bad And Ugly—To The Only One Who Has Given You His Whole Heart?

So, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him–who longs to call you His Son, His Daughter!

You’ve Got Personality! But…

Way back in 1959 there was this popular song written by Lloyd Price and Harold Logan, and recorded by Price, titled “Personality“.  The chorus  says, “Cause you got personality.  Walk, with personality.  Talk, with personality.  Smile, with personality.  Charm, with personality.  Love, with personality.”  I don’t know why I remembered that song, but I did, and that chorus kept going over and over and over in this brain of mine.  And it has inspired me to get back to what I should have been doing, but have been on a hiatus–writing!

I am not a song writer by any stretch of the imagination, but I could add a few more lines to that chorus.  It goes like this:

  • ‘Cause you annoy, with personality
  • Alienate, with personality
  • Hate, with personality
  • Bully, with personality
  • Whine, with personality
  • Complain, with personality
  • Wound, with personality

Remember my personal context from which I write.  I am a pastor and in the last 3 years, have embraced my calling to be more than just a pastor, but to be a Kingdom Pastor.  And here is where I’m going with all this.  I have noticed that sometimes the Devil gets the credit for something he didn’t do, and God gets the blame for things He had no part of.  Be patient and I will explain.

David wrote in Psalm 136:14 (NIV), “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”   God created each of us, not in a cookie cutter kind of way, but unique and not all the same.  In addition to certain abilities, God does give us a personality.  But…how much of what we call personality isn’t really personality, but the result of choices and mind-sets (meaning how we see things, people and life) that have produced habits?

I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard people say, “Well, preacher, that’s just my personality that God gave me.”  They treat it as if it were a gift from God and we should appreciate it, or at least overlook it if it is annoying or even hurtful.  But not all personalities are God-given, especially when they annoy, alienate and/or wound others, even unintentionally.  Perhaps I should have said, “Especially when it is unintentional.”

Do not blame God for your personality that is persistently and consistently abrasive to the point of doing harm.  If I had just a nickel for each time over my 61 years I heard someone say, “Well, that’s just the way God made me” I would have enough to buy that 2017 Indian Chief Motorcycle I drool over.  Not all personalities are given to us by God.  Allow me to share a few personality traits that are not gifts from our Creator:

  • The Guilt Tripper.  This is the person who attempts to make you feel guilty if you do not go along with them.
  • The Sweet Whiner.  This person has a sweet, syrupy sound in their voice, even feigning piety.  They try to talk with the love of God but….you know what I’m talking about.
  • The Let The Chips Fall Where They May.  This person thinks that truth is more important than a person’s feelings.  When it comes to the truth, confrontation is always the answer.  They speak the truth with their love but do not consider the consequences of their words.  Straight forward is always the best option.
  • The I Know What’s Always Best.  This is the person who is the expert on all things important, and nearly always the expert on things that are not important.
  • The Let’s Just Get Along.  Unlike the The Let The Chips Fall Where They May person who thinks confrontation is always a good thing, they work hard to avoid confrontation.  Some have developed this personality trait into an art form.
  • The I Have Had More Life Experiences Than You So You Just Need To Follow My Advice.  This is the person who jumps at the opportunity for a spitting contest.  They have always had it harder and their wounds are always more severe.
  • The Complainer.  Unlike  The Sweet Whiner, this person simply loves to complain.  Enough said.

This isn’t the complete list.  I think you get the idea.  Often what is given the name “personality” is not innate to us, but the product of our own perspectives as well, our environment and even our culture.  When I was in school I was way more introverted than extroverted.  I had self-esteem issues.  And now, if you asked someone who really knows me, “Is Randy an introvert?”  After their uncontrollable fit of laughter, they would reply, “That’s a joke, right?”

But things that we call personality that are not personality can be so ingrained into us, that it is difficult to find and reclaim our true God-given personality.  While every personality is unique, God-given personalities share the same traits.  Paul lets us in on those traits in Philippians 4:8 (NLT), and it looks like this:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is

  • true, (interesting thing about this Greek word–it comes from 2 Greek words.  One means “Not” and the other is “Ignorant”.  Ignorance comes from the lack of knowledge.)
  • and honorable, (comes from the word that means “to revere” and to revere someone is to treat them with courtesy, kindness and respect)
  • and right, (comes from the word meaning “following the commands of God”, and we know that God is pure, unconditional love)
  • and pure, (means “pure from every fault”)
  • and lovely, (means “with regard to” or “to move towards”)
  • and admirable.  (means “sounding well” or “sounds good”)
  • Think about things that are excellent (means “any particular moral excellence”)
  • and worthy of praise.  (means “to sing praises in honour to God”)

If people find you consistently abrasive, if you notice people avoiding you, or if you’ve experienced people finding a quick excuse to get out of being in your presence, then these are very good indications that your personality is just that:  YOUR personality.  And so as to be very clear at this point, it is NOT the personality God has given you.

I admit that I try to avoid certain personalities as much as possible because they are toxic.  I mean, would you want to swim in a pool filled with nothing but toxic chemicals?  Just because we say, “Oh, it’s just the way I’m made” or “Well, it’s just one of my many gifts” doesn’t make it so.  Years of living in the wrong personality does not just go away–but it can and it will if you take the hand of Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit and accept the power God alone gives, then your personality can change–change into the one HE  created, not the one you have settled for.

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