Recalculating: Changing Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8]   It’s Not In The Budget;  

7]   You’ve Got To Be Kidding; 

6]   It’s Too Far Ahead Of Our Time; 

5]   We’ve Tried That Before; 

4]   It May Offend Some Of Our Members; 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about Jesus and This Process We Are Beginning Today.

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

Next Steps

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

The Missing Word Today

What would happen here in the good old U.S. of A. if WE, who profess to be followers of Jesus, gave up agendas and made an all out commitment to being TOGETHER?

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Well, after a season of computer problems (it died, had the blue screen) and getting caught up, I’m back to my insights from the Book of Acts (Of The Holy Spirit In Surrendered People). If you missed the first one, then click here, because it is, call it our Magnetic North in this journey. As I was reading in the first chapter, there’s another insight that I’ve overlooked for all my life. It is one word, and that word is TOGETHER.  It’s from Acts 1:14

They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.

That word, “together” is one that has been, call it haunting me. I use the word “haunting” because it is M.I.A. in many, many established congregations. Between congregations and within congregations, little exists that would even slightly hint that we are together. And here, in the good old U.S. of A., people sit around McDonald’s, in church committee meetings, around the water coolers lamenting that this culture is so far from God. They blame Hollywood, Trump, Democrats, Republicans, Educators, Video Games and various News Networks. As I read this part, I am left wondering, “Is it really ‘their’ fault? Or is it the fault of the Body of Christ forgetting our humble beginnings? Of being together–in life, in helping others and in Christ?

Between congregations there is much competition. To have the best preacher. The best musicians. The most campuses. Rather than moving in and claiming the territory of The Enemy, they encroach on each other trying to draw away members. Together? Hardly!

And don’t get me started on within congregations. They meet in the same building, but are not really together. Each part moves, speaks and acts out of an agenda, their agenda. Those who have been in power do not want to give up their power. They operate on a seniority system–whoever has been there the longest (including previous family generations) are the only ones who should have power. And should a congregation actually decide that the Kingdom of God is the Pearl of greatest value, it becomes a matter of navigating the rapids. The Art of Compromise becomes the guide, and those who recognize that Pearl, either find another congregation, or simply give up. 

But it wasn’t that way then. They were Together. Men and women. Young and old. Educated and uneducated. Poor and the not so poor. They were in this TOGETHER. This means that they supported each other. Encouraged each other. Listened to each other. At this point, now get this: They were of one mind. They were in this for Jesus, not themselves. Jesus said stay together and they did. Jesus said wait, so they waited. Jesus said don’t begin until you receive the Holy Spirit, and so they waited–TOGETHER.

Think about this, they didn’t really know a lot about the Holy Spirit, other than what they saw of Him in Jesus. After the Resurrection, they were smart enough to know that they would be foolish to do this Kingdom Thing without The Holy Spirit. And to that goal, look at what else they did TOGETHER:

and were constantly united in prayer

Because they were TOGETHER, it wasn’t about selfish prayer. It was about being TOGETHER in what Jesus wanted. I strongly suspect, no, I strongly believe that they were so intimidated by the task in front of them that they knew they NEEDED each other. They needed each person to be committed to Jesus; to be completely surrendered, completely passionate about this Kingdom. Folks, they were UNITED in prayer. They were praying FOR each other, not against each other. Wow!

Recently I was reading through one of my personal study times. It’s from a group called SEEDBED (website is here). J.D. Walt is one of the writers and one of my teachers. He wrote that there are only 2 stories being told in our world: 1 is the story of the world, and the other is the story of The Kingdom of God. J.D. said that we will live out our lives on one or the other storyline. Then he said this (and I quote):

“Until Jesus becomes the center of our devotion, He’s just another distraction.”

And thus, that word, TOGETHER. I want to speak now only to my American readers. What would happen here in the good old U.S. of A. if WE, who profess to be followers of Jesus, gave up our agendas and made an all out commitment to being TOGETHER?

Feel free to answer this question in the comments section. I would love to hear what you believe would happen IF we were really TOGETHER. And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

The God Who Fights For Us!

God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.

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The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

Great Anticipation!

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

(Anticipation lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Who remembers that song by Carly Simon?  Guess I’m revealing my age; actually I don’t have to reveal my age–it shows naturally.  But early this morning, I’m awake and filled with great anticipation, like a child on the way to Disney World.  What is the cause of my great anticipation?  I am leaving for Brentwood, Tennessee for another New Room Conference.  This will be my third consecutive time.  I don’t know how long this event has been happening.  If I did, I’d probably kick myself in the butt for missing the earlier ones.

What is it?  I’m so glad you asked me that question.  It’s a time of inspired worship, spirit-filled preaching and teaching, and a time for Spiritual Renewal.  Not all “conferences” I have attended over these past 44 years have filled me with anticipation.  OK, OK, it’s closer to 99% of those conferences never filled me with anticipation.  But this is different.  I looked up synonyms for “anticipation” and there was a single word that leaped out at me from that list.  It’s a word you seldom hear used unless you’re singing that great old hymn, Blessed Assurance, FORETASTE!

We don’t use that old word much anymore, but maybe we should.  It means “a slight and partial experience, knowledge, or taste of something to come in the future”.  You get that small taste, and you know, “Wow!  This is just a sample, I can’t wait to get the full course!”  This foretaste has been given a name at New Room–AWAKENING!  I confess that my hope for the church in the U.S. before New Room was at an all time low; I mean the bottom of the cellar, ocean bottom low.  But here….I was Elisha’s servant who had his eyes opened to the presence of Heaven’s Army!

We worship together, learn together and we have these things called “breakout sessions”.  From a list of subjects we choose where we want to go.  Last year was an especially powerful Epiphany for me.  I can’t even remember which breakout session I had signed up for, but something (actually someONE) drew me into a different one on Travailing Prayer.  I was like a puppy being drawn towards that treat.

I was taking notes right and left.  At the end, now there was another Epiphany.  The speaker asked that anyone who needed prayer to come and offer themselves to God.  This preacher never hesitated.  I went forward and stretched myself out on the floor.  As I was praying I became aware of another presence.  Someone was standing over me, and he was praying for me.  He was praying in tongues FOR me (a new experience for me), but I wasn’t freaked out by it.  In fact, I felt a calmness come over me.  From time to time, he touched my shoulder as he prayed in tongues and I felt the most amazing coolness where he touched me and a profound calmness in my heart.  Somehow, I sensed it was a prayer for preparation for what was ahead for me.

In the time that followed, I tried to figure out what God was trying to prepare me for.  There were some moments that I thought I figured it out–but I was wrong.  And now?  I am still assured it was and IS a prayer for preparation–not just where I thought it would me.  Through a tumultuous April, a time when I allowed hurt to consume me, I have finally learned that this prayer of preparation was for where I am right now.

I still don’t know all the details of what God is preparing me for here–but I know He’s Got This, and I am OK with that.  Actually, better than OK.  I am filled with anticipation!  Unlike the anticipation of Carly Simon that was keeping her waiting–this anticipation is keeping me moving forward.   I don’t know where it’s leading me, but I DO know that HE is both with me, and waiting for me as He reveals more and more of what He has for someone like me.  Now here’s a testimony of grace and mercy.

Truthfully, I never anticipated that at 62 years old that God would have so much more for me–but HE anticipated it.  And that moment of being prayed for in a language I could not understand has given me more confidence in God than I ever had before.  Well, excuse me but my “foretaste” is beckoning me.  Need to pack up and head out to God knows where–and I’m perfectly good with that.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  OH, and don’t miss the “foretaste” He has for you….

Not All Good Things Must Come To An End

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Well, it’s time to pack up and leave.  I wouldn’t call it graduation day from this special classroom, but then again, maybe it is.  Graduation means that one has learned the required curriculum and is now ready to apply the lessons.

Well, everything that we brought is packed up, leaving nothing behind that we didn’t bring.  Well, minus the foods we consumed.  We packed nothing that was here.  Well, except some sand.  It seems that no matter how much you shake, some of that pesky sand will stay with you.  And here is the final exam, which I passed.

The lessons I discovered here at the beach, are still true in Fayette, Alabama.  What I soaked into my mind and heart about the Truth of God on the beach, is still the Truth in Fayette.  And the faithful God who revealed His Heart to me on the beach, still longs to reveal that Heart to me wherever I am.  I do not have to be in some special place to hear God’s heart.  Every moment of every day contains something to see about God–His Heart and His Desires for each of us.

So, I carry this with me–some sand and the truth that to see and hear God, I only need to be ready–to open my eyes, my heart, and my mind.  This doesn’t mean I can give up our vacations, excuse me, our spiritual retreats.  For like Jesus modeled, we need times apart from the ordinary routines in order to find that time of cleansing and refreshing.  I prepare to go home–but like those Wise Men who found the Christ-Child, I go home a different way–because I am a different person.  I am a different person because I made the decision to seek and listen to The Master Teacher.

Classes aren’t really over.  It’s just the location of the classroom has changed.  And thought the classroom changes, the Teacher remains.  If I ever doubt this, I’m sure I will find a grain of beach sand somewhere in the car, in my home–and I will remember that God still has much to teach me.

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

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.

Learning From The Tide

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So far this has been a great Spiritual Summer Retreat.  Some may call it a vacation, but for me, it’s been a time of refocusing on God in my life.  Some of the things that have happened to me this year have been, well, challenging.  Truthfully, I let some of those things get the best of me.  My life has been off-kilter.  So God is using this time for me to get my “kilter” back.

This morning got me to thinking about The Tide.  No, not the greatest College Football Dynasty ever, but the “other” Tide.  No!  Not the laundry detergent either!  The ocean tide is a lesson I’ve been rediscovering in this time of retreat.  I am not certain John Wesley would agree with me, but the beach is a means of grace for me.

The Tide happens every day because the water is being influenced by outside forces.  Technically, it’s being influenced by a single source, gravity.  And the gravity that affects the Tide comes from 2 sources.  Do you know that they are?  Did you guess the moon?  Very good class.  Now, what’s the other source of gravity?  Did you say the sun?  Correctamundo!

The Tide in a particular area is determined by its position in relation to both the moon and the sun.  This gravitational pull determines whether the Tide is high or low.  And these gravitational forces come from outside our planet.  It is a force that is unseen, yet it produces a noticeable effect.  And here’s the lesson that this Tide is teaching me.

We are under the gravitational pull of another influence; whether we realize or not.  This force impacts how we think, what we say, what we do, and even why we do it.  They change the shape and direction of our life.  Either for good–and unfortunately–for bad.  Think back to the effect of the ocean Tide.  The ocean tides have a positive impact on marine life.  It also determines the best time for fishermen to catch fish.  And who doesn’t love a good seafood dinner?

But unlike the oceans that have no choice but to be affected by gravity, we do have a choice.  Remember that the ocean Tide is influenced at one time by the sun, and at a different time by the moon–it all depends on their location.  We choose which gravitational pull influences us–in any and all situations of life.  We all face situations which we did not cause–but our response to that situation–it is influenced by which outside source of power we live under.

Allow your life to be under the “gravitational pull” of the Holy Spirit.  Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 (NLT)

Those who are dominated (think about the tide) by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled (think about the gravitational forces on the oceans) by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.

More than thinking about the things that please the Spirit, it is about the impact of those thoughts and how they change the ways we think, speak, act, and why we do what we do.  That’s called MOTIVE.  Like the oceans are being influenced by the power of gravity from either the sun or the moon (and never both at the same moment), you are being influenced by some power that determines your journey.  Unlike the oceans that have no choice, you do have a choice.  And remember that line from the climatic scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”–“Choose wisely!”

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

Now excuse me, but the classroom beckons me.  I wonder what the Tide is doing?

The Times, They Be A Changing

Well, good morning y’all.  Hey, I’m from the south.  Arnold was truthful when he said:

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Our new home is set up, well, sorta set up.  Nearly a month into this new journey, and I’m finally able to sit down and do what I enjoy and is my personal therapy:  writing!  Truth is, I’ve been putting it off for a few days because, well, because I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about.  I guess I could say I had writer’s block–but Papa would probably say I’m just being a Blockhead!

Life is full of lessons–lessons worth sharing.  Change is a part of life–and there are lessons to be learned.  In reflecting on the lessons that I am learning, there is one big lesson that The Spirit is trying (notice, I said ‘trying’) to teach me and I want to share with you.

New people and places are different but the Good News of the Kingdom is the same.

Because people and places are different, it requires different ways to connect those places with the Good News of The Kingdom–and most of all–different ways to connect those places and people in a relationship with the King of that Kingdom.  This doesn’t happen overnight–nor is it easy.  I’m discovering that it requires the same approach that He uses on me:  Building A Relationship That Will Lead To THE Relationship.

Jesus was the Master at this approach–finding ways to connect with people where they were BEFORE He connected them with where they COULD be in Him.  The way you connect with people where they are is to BE where they are.  So, I’m taking the time to learn people and about life as it happens in Fayette and Lamar Counties.

So many, too many churches are failing to reach new and different people because they want to make them like they are BEFORE they get to know them.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  So, I’m learning about different people and places because that’s the way to find a different way to help them grow into the person God’s designed them to be.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to Jack’s in Vernon and then McDonald’s in Fayette.  Those are 2 of the local watering holes–sometimes known as “The Liars Table”.  It’s fun, interesting, but most of all, it’s real–real life!  And remember….

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

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.

A Moving Journal-Day 6

Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive.  Well, no more trips to the curb.  This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare.  Timing is everything as they say.  Packed some more.  The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst.  While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes.  I still have some more to pack up.  While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations.  Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.

While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years:  “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”.  What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think.  He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend.  In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons.  Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch.  With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.  Amen.”

Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms.  Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart.  Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart.  Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled.  Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them.  They will be going with me, not the movers.

Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more.  So what lessons did I learn today?

  • I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”.  By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work.  And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart.  We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up.  I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
  • I learned that self-care is necessary.  The trip to the dentist was long overdue.  I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself.  I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
  • You can’t prevent the inevitable.  Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning.  Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome.  Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow.  Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences.  Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us.  However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them.  Fighting is a losing battle.
  • Vision needs to be handled care.  The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me.  If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting.  So I take care of them.  And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care.  If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
  • Memories are a part of life.  This was the big one for me today.  When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me.  In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones.  Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter.  But there are situations and people who create bad memories.  And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones.  I choose to focus on the good one.  The bad memories will just eat you alive.  And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.

Well, it’s time to wind down the day.  Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7.  Say, “Good night, John Boy”.  Good night John Boy.

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A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

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Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!