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.

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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:

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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?