The Light Of The World!

We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord!

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(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!

Waiting For Surgery

Truth Time: I’m good at hiding the truth about me from myself. I’m better at hiding the truth about me from others. And so are you–

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Well, this morning I’m waiting to leave to take my lovely wife, Debbie, to the surgery center for some minor surgery. You do know the difference between minor and major surgery, don’t you? Minor surgery is what someone else has–major surgery is what I have! No seriously, I do not take what is about to happen to her lightly. I’ve read those “disclaimers” about all that can go wrong. Really, no surgery is minor. But let me quickly get to the point.

Debbie has been having chronic sinusitis. And it’s not only affected her sinuses, but also fluid has built up behind her right ear drum, making it difficult to hear. Besides, everyone knows how annoying it is to have all that stuff behind an ear drum, am I right? Scans revealed a small cyst on the right side of her sinuses that is causing that sinus fluid back up, all the way to her ear. Dr. David told us that by removing that small cyst, it should allow all that fluid to drain out. Her body will function as it is designed, and hopefully this works. Otherwise, it may require the insertion of tubes to keep that nasty and annoying fluid from impairing her ability to hear.

Well, what does all that have to do with the Kingdom Life? I’m so glad you asked. The fluid behind her ear, that feeling of her ears being “stopped up”, started somewhere else. Her sister and I offered to put a vacuum cleaner up to her ear and see if we could suction that fluid out. She didn’t go for it.

You see, the problem isn’t in her ear. The source of the problem is somewhere else. Can you see a spiritual truth developing here? Until the cause is fixed, the problem persists. It’s easy to get fixated on what others are doing wrong. The chaos of my Tribe right now is being caused by this very thing. By pointing the finger at what others are doing wrong, it’s easy, so very easy to ignore what’s wrong with us. We think that the ills of our culture can be fixed if we can just get all those others “fixed”

Well, guess what. Treating symptoms will not cure the illness. Ask Debbie about this. Multiple shots and rounds of decongestants, antibiotics and multiple shots haven’t done a thing for all that fluid behind her ear drum. The problem is somewhere else–something growing where it shouldn’t be growing. So Dr. David is going to remove that “shouldn’t be there foreign object” so that her sinuses and ears can function like they are designed. Until that cyst is removed, nothing will be as it should.

Have you had your “AHA!” of where all this is going? If you haven’t, then let me draw you a picture; and explain it with a passage, actually a song written by one of the most prolific song writers ever: Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

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

Without Dr. David having ordered the CT scan, without the radiologist knowing how to interpret the results, Debbie’s only hope would be more of the same–meds and shots. But those will not solve her problem. That foreign-it-doesn’t-belong-there object needs to be removed. I wish I could take her place and let the doctor work on me–but that won’t solve her problem.

Truth Time: I’m good at hiding the truth about me from myself. I’m better at hiding the truth about me from others. And so are you–unless we follow the advice of this song: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you.”

But don’t stop there. That next line is the all important one: “and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” The truth is that for God to lead us along that path of everlasting life, sometimes there are things that get in the way of us following. There’s a technical term for those things that get in the way of following Jesus. It’s called SIN. Sin is that foreign object that gets in the way of us living the way God designed us to live.

So, today, focus on this Psalm. Ask God to point out those nasty, annoying “cysts” that’s getting in the way and causing problems, lots of problems. Then yield and submit to that Divine Surgical Procedure we called “Redemption”. Allow Him to remove that sin in your life. Oh, and be sure you go back for regular “scans”, the struggle against sin isn’t over, yet. But it will be some day–it will be!

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

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.

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

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A new series begins today 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.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

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.  All 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.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for 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.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, 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.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming:  “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.  Isn’t this also your experience?”  Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison.  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.  He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

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

Beware Of The Fall!

Falling.  Not the “trip over the rug” falling.  Not the missed the curb falling.  I’m talking about real falling–the moral and spiritual falling.  Last week I heard that a friend, colleague, and fellow pastor fell, and fell hard.  Now those of you who are close friends, please do not ask me who or where–because I will not tell you.  My friend and fellow pastor and his family are going through the unimaginable right now and such details will do nothing to bring healing and restoration, for them and that congregation.

I remember way back, the Jimmy Swaggert event.  And I remember thinking and saying, “Well, what should you expect from someone who considers themselves a superstar in the church?”  I know, I know, that was not very gracious, merciful or kind.  Truthfully, it was very self-righteous on my part.  Add to that, the recent fall of Bill Hybels.  I’ve heard Bill in person and followed him and the Willow Creek Church closely, reading many of his books.  After the recent move, I put those books on the bottom shelf, questioning his credibility.  But I am not judging him and I’m not throwing away those books.  There’s some good stuff in them, but I wrestle with the question of credibility.  That what sin does to us; it brings questions to our credibility.

And now, another fallen preacher and this is one I know personally.  Though I will not share the who, what and where, I now understand the why.  The why is true whether the preacher is on TV, writing books, or in the trenches.  They forgot–forgot 1 Corinthians 10:12.  From the New Living Translation it looks like this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

And this morning I have a shameful confession to make.  I had forgotten that verse, too.  Up until last week I said, “I could NEVER do such a thing.”  Now I realize that I’m setting myself up for that fall.  In my local Tribe every 3 years I am required to attend “Clergy Integrity Retraining”.  Fail to attend and I would not be appointed.  Another shameful confession.  I would say about these trainings, “Well, my integrity is about to expire, so I need to get it back.”  A more shameful confession:  I signed in and really didn’t listen.  After all, I wouldn’t do such a thing!”

So what am I going to do now?  Well, in 2 years when it’s time for “Clergy Integrity Retraining”, I will listen.  But I’m going to do more right now.  I am going to guard my heart and mind.  In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon reminds us all:  Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  To think I am immune to adultery or any other sin–it simply opens the door for Satan to come in, pull up a chair, and whisper in my ear counsel that is meant to, in Jesus’ own words, kill, steal and destroy.

Those who confidently say, “Well, I would never do such a thing!” are standing on a spiritual San Andreas fault line.  What can we do?  I want to speak especially to pastors now and church leaders, but for the rest of you, take heed because it applies to you as well.  Follow Solomon’s advice, guard that heart of your’s.  And I would add, also your minds.  This is where our Enemy sneaks in and attempts to change our logic.  Let us all become more intentional, not only in the realm of sexual sins, but in every sin–lying, cheating, gossiping, rejecting our Crosses, judging others by their appearance or their sin.  Even “small sins”, as if they actually existed, will lead us to even “bigger sins”.

How do we guard our hearts and minds?  So glad you asked that question.  Let’s read the rest of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in verse 13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  How will HE do it?  Look at this quote from D.L. Moody.

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But you need more than a printed Bible.  You need that Source of power that comes from beyond you.  That Source Of Power is the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who will guide you through that Bible to strengthen your inner being.  Fellow Pastors and Church leaders, I pray Ephesians 3:16 over you:  “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.”  I’m praying this now over you, and myself, and ask that you pray this over me.

I close with a joke, that I used to think was very funny, but now it’s very poignant.  A preacher was walking down a street and saw 4 boys with 1 puppy.  He asked them, “What are you doing?”  They replied, “Well, Preacher, we found this puppy but all of us want to take it home.  So we decided the one who could tell the biggest lie wins the puppy.”  With the eyes and voice of a preacher, he sternly told them, “Boys, when I was your age I would never do such a thing.”  The boys hung their heads down.  The one holding the puppy raised it up towards the Preacher and said, “OK, you win.”

One more time, 1 Corinthians 10:12, but this time from the New Life Version:

So watch yourself!  The person who thinks he can stand against sin had better watch that he does not fall into sin. 

Stay close to Jesus, very close with eyes and ears open to Him.  And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!  Oh, and watch yourself…

I Found The Wayside!

(I must insert this disclaimer at the beginning of this blog that by no means do I consider the people in this community to be fallen, forgotten or obsolete.  It’s only an illustration of my point.)

Wayside.  Are you familiar with that word?  Usually it’s connected with 2 statements:

  1. Gone by the Wayside
  2. Fell by the Wayside

I’ve wondered where in the world is Wayside?  Well, I found it.  I noticed it the very first time we traveled down to see our new pastoral appointment.  I’ve been meaning to do this post, but wouldn’t until I stopped and got my proof.  Well, Saturday on my motorcycle pilgrimage, I stopped and got these pictures as proof I know where the Wayside is located.  Think about the previous 2 statements concerning the Wayside.

Gone by the Wayside.  This means that something has become obsolete, like those heavy “brick” looking cell phones, which by the way, was my very first cell phone.  Fell by the Wayside.  This means to fail to continue or to drop out.  Obsolete.  Dropping out.  These images are used to describe some values and people.  I’ve always wondered where they went, and now I know.

When people “fall by” the Wayside, often they are either treated with great disdain or completely forgotten.  People shake their head with a degree of sadness and leave them there, by the Wayside.  And when long-standing Christian-Judeo values are considered “gone by” the Wayside, people shrug their shoulders, forgetting those values and declare they are now more enlightened than their superstitious ancestors.  So, the Wayside becomes the place of the forgotten.

I know where the Wayside is, but does Jesus know?  Absolutely He knows!  The fact is He does far better and far more work in the Wayside than in many sterilized and sanitized sanctuaries.  Jesus leaves no one behind.  He came back for Peter after His Crucifixion, though Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus.  Remember the Angel’s message to the women that first Easter morning?  Mark 16:7 (NLT) records:  “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”  He would have come back for Judas, if Judas had not given up too soon.

The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is for people who have fallen by the Wayside.  Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)–“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.”  Look again at the bottom of this sign welcoming people to Wayside:

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“A Little Bit Of Heaven”.  If you feel like you have fallen by the Wayside, hold on to that last line.  Wayside is a little bit of heaven because it’s a place filled with God’s grace that will forgive, redeem and restore anyone and everyone who has fallen.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to go by the Wayside because it’s filled with those for whom Jesus insisted on dying for.  And where should the church be today?  Well, I think that other sign says it all:

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What if we all became the Church for The Wayside?  It would probably be a bit messy, but it would also be a bit of heaven.  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Postscript:  Don’t consider yourself obsolete if you embrace and try to live by the values of the Kingdom of God.  And don’t consider His Values obsolete.

Getting What We Ask For–But Didn’t Realize It Would Be THAT!

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PSALM 106:6-15 (NLT)

Like our ancestors, we have sinned.
    We have done wrong! We have acted wickedly!
Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.

It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.  Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.  This passage is just one of many that backs up this jewel of wisdom.  In this one Psalm, we have the history of God’s ancient people, and God’s current people.

Here’s the flow:  God’s people, the Hebrews, called out to God for deliverance.  They were slaves, helpless at the hands of their oppressors.  God called Moses to lead this movement.  Pharoah refused; God spoke; Pharoah still refused; pattern repeats.  Until Pharoah finally agrees to let them go.  Then he changes his mind and sets out in pursuit of them.  THEY are at the Red Sea and no bridges or boats around.  They are scared they are about to die.  They whine at Moses, but God intervenes and gives a promise:  “You will get to the Promised Land, and you will never see these Egyptian soldiers again.”  God parts the water, they cross over.  The Egyptians follow and God closes the Sea and dead soldiers everywhere.

They head towards The Promise and God does 3 things:

  1. He provides for their physical needs
  2. He leads them all the way
  3. He assures them He is with them through the Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night

These 3 things occur 24/7.  And how do they respond?  Here’s the Cliff Notes Version:

  1. They whine about fresh food from heaven that costs nothing and which they did nothing to produce it
  2. They can’t wait for Moses to return from consulting with God, so they make an idol they can see.
  3. They whine some more, a lot more
  4. They face some enemies threatening them but God promises Victory and it happens
  5. They get to the edge of the Promised Land, God still providing, leading, and assuring them of His Presence, and they give up without even trusting.
  6. They want a new leader and go back to Egypt–to slavery–but at least they would have garlic and onions–slavery for sure–but oh, those good old onions!

So what does God do?  God gives them what they asked for:  denying them entrance into The Promise.  They all die (except Joshua and Caleb)–in the wilderness.  They never tasted those wonderful onions in Egypt–the land of slavery and oppression.  But they got what they asked for–to turn away from The Promise.

Don’t be hard on those Hebrew children.  It’s happening in our culture today.  God offers us The Promise–The Promise of Life–Life that is full and meaningful–Life that happens through dying to self and self-interests.  Instead people choose to go back in the direction of slavery and oppression all to satisfy their selfish desires.

The Promise of God is that through giving we receive.  Through helping we are helped.  Through listening we are heard.  Through humility we are lifted up.  Through dying we begin to live, really live.  Instead, this Post-Christian culture has opted-in for selfishness, entitlement, fear, hate, blame, hate, and thousands of other destructive mindsets–all in the name of finding life.

The rejection of God’s Truth, as revealed in the Bible, has given people just what they’ve asked for–the politics of hate and fear, and settling for lifestyles that are nothing but onions in the land of oppression.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love a good onion and garlic seasoning.  But here’s what I’m learning:  When we human beings decide what is good and not good, right and wrong, people are led back to oppression and bondage.

Why is our nation in the mess its in?  Simple, the majority are wanting onions and garlic rather than The Promise of God–a life that is rich in meaning and profoundly filled with purpose.  I just remembered an old Burger King® advertising campaign from years ago:  “Have it your way.”  From thinking they are entitled to whatever they want to sexual identities to ethics to morality and even to the definition of “right and wrong”, when we have it “our way” the result is…..well just watch the news…..onions, leeks, garlic for everyone–but also bondage and oppression….

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

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 3

Welcome back class.  I hope you have reviewed your notes from yesterday.  I cannot stress it enough that there is only ONE test–the Final Exam that will be administered by the Head Master at some time in your future.  It may be years, even decades away; but He will administer the Test.  Keep those notes handy for your personal study.  Now, let’s continue.

Yesterday we looked at the Cosmic Accountant Plan–that God keeps a record of your virtuous deeds and your bad deeds.  So long as you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds, you get in.  I hope you can see and understand how this plan doesn’t work to get us into heaven, nor have a relationship with God, a relationship HE designed for us to experience.

While the Cosmic Accountant Plan seems to make a lot of sense to us, it really doesn’t work because our “bad” deeds are more than bad–they are in reality, SIN.  I may not have mentioned this yesterday, but there are not enough virtuous deeds to cover the cost of just one single sin.  God demands that our righteousness, our account of “virtuous deeds” must exceed that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  Remember that these 2 groups had a wealthy balance of “virtuous deeds”, but they were still outside the Relationship God wants.

Now, today let’s look at another plan.  This plan we can see in Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Let’s look at another of what some consider to be one of many ways to experience relationship with God, and thus get into heaven.

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God Is The Cosmic Observer.  He’s there just to watch how we respond to life, and to Him.  He hopes we will be in the right place at the right time to soak it all in.  Here is how The Sponge Plan works:

  • Attend church regularly.  Some consider Christmas and Easter to be regular.  However, the more dedicated followers of this plan insist that unless you are sick or on vacation, the goal is perfect attendance.  The moderates of this plan insist that it’s not about perfect attendance, but at least once a month or so.
  • Read your Bible.  In the Sponge Plan, memorization is the key.  The more verses you memorize the more likely you are to get into heaven.
  • Listen to Church music.  This is important to give others the impression that you are on the way to heaven.  It is considered bonus points if you listen to songs just about heaven and what it’s like.
  • Attend some church functions.  This means volunteer occasionally to help, but not too often.  Attending church events or programs helps you absorb more.  This is like the safety net, in case you didn’t memorize enough verses or didn’t want to go to church on Easter.

That’s pretty much it.  All you must do is be like a sponge in water—soak it all in and voilà, you get into heaven.  Well, here’s the problem with this plan—it never addresses our real problem—sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 8:7— For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

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Our default setting is to be hostile to God’s ways.  It seems like I am always going back to that “sin” thing, and for good reason.  All of us, bar none, are INFECTED with this DNA from Adam and Eve.  It lies deep within us and resists everything about God.  Oh, it doesn’t always show itself, but it’s still there.  Soaking up like a sponge will not deal with the root of sin in all of us.  The Sponge Plan is like treating a tumor in our colon with Hydrocortisone on the skin.  My personal favorite response is this:  “Sitting in a church sanctuary doesn’t turn you into a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will turn you into a car.”

Well, that’s it for today class.  Tomorrow we will look at another plan.  Take good notes and review those notes BEFORE 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!  Hopefully I will see you tomorrow….unless the Head Master gives you or me the Final Exam….yup, I have to take the Final Exam, too!

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!

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

We Are More Than Our Feelings

emoji-chart-feelings-chart.jpg

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.