ALL IN! OR ARE WE ALL IN?

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 

Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 7, from the New Living Translation

All means all, doesn’t it? At least that’s the way I think; and it’s very apparent that God feels the same way. In this season where the Orthodox faith has been thrown away like last week’s leftovers, this is even more true. Within many churches here in the good old U.S. of A., they are demoting their churches to a way that looks more like the culture, rather than the Kingdom of God. How can they expect to see God’s Kingdom here when they look, think, and act like the kingdoms of this world? They say it’s because they love God and love others. But then there’s this word ALL!

In the world of Poker there’s a phrase and an act called “All-In”! The player thinks and believes that their hand is better than all the other hands, so they put everything they have on the table; nothing is held back. Not one single chip is held back. Now that’s what you would call “high-risk” living! Without sounding blasphemous or irreligious, that’s what it means to love God and to live in His Kingdom. We don’t obey God in order to love Him. We love God and thus we obey Him. So we put everything on the line–with nothing held back.

Progressives think that we can love God and love our culture. And because they love God, that changes what is wrong and what is right. Love transforms the mess into perfection. By choosing to form their values around pop culture rather than The Bible, they cannot and have not loved God with their All! One of the places Moses reminds us to love God is with All of our “soul”. But one of the meanings of that Hebrew word translated “soul” is “appetite”! When one’s appetite is being fed by feelings and yes, even lies, then they are not loving God with their All!

And even many Orthodox folks who claim to love God with their All have another appetite. It’s for the property, buildings, and bank accounts. They are looking for a way out and at the same time wanting to keep those said assests. Now, I want to talk to my sister and brother Orthodox family. Is your church property and assests absolutely essential in order to break free of this hot-mess culture and get in on what God is doing? Are you afraid to leave the UMC because you are afraid of losing a building and checking account to your Annual Conference? If so, then you are NOT loving God with your ALL!

Does God really need our buildings in order to bring people into His Kingdom? Sure, many of us have an emotional attachment to that place. But if that emotional attachment is keeping us from stepping out of this hot-mess and stepping into what God is doing, then obviously our appetite isn’t All-In for God. What I am about to suggest that we need to do is indeed frightening and daunting. But it is also exhilerating, if you think about it. We are being led by the Holy Spirit to step out of the old and into something new; IF our appetite is All-In for God!

If we lose our assests of property and banks accounts, what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s left! What’s left is the God who delivered the Hebrews out of slavery. What’s left is the God who answered Elijah’s prayer with fire! What’s left is the words of the angel to the women: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He’s not here! He’s going ahead of you, waiting for you!” What’s left is Peter’s message at that Feast of Pentecost: “This is what the prophet Joel was talking about! The Holy Spirit is here! He’s giving dreams to young and old. He’s giving His message to men and women!” If we should lose everything we associate with our local church to an Annual Conference (meaning property and money), folks, we still have The Kingdom of God and the Presence of The Holy Spirit within us! And to be a part of another Great Awakening, isn’t that more than enough? Don’t allow your “love” for emotional attachments, get in the way of loving God with your All! If we love God with our All, then He is going to provide for us what we need! Trust Him because He’s proven that He is ALWAYS Trustworthy. Get rid of that anxiousness and embrace God with your All!

STRESS TEST

I’m nearly 24 hours into a hostage situation. I have been without coffee! But there is a very good reason; otherwise I would be sipping this morning from the fountain of life. The reason is that I am having what is called a chemical stress test. They are going to monitor my heart, then add some “stuff” into an IV and see how my heart reacts. Hopefully my heart reacts as it should and that will be that.

Why would I deny myself coffee? For 2 reasons: caffiene gets in the way of the “stuff” they give to make my heart work harder; and I have a family history of cardiac issues. Well, make that 3 reasons: I’ve had a couple of issues. So, my new cardiologist wants to see how my heart reacts now to this “stress”. But I’m not worried. The properly trained and highly experienced staff will be with me the whole time to take care of me. Now, the Kingdom Lesson for today.

Everyday life has stress; some of those days have a lot, I mean A LOT of stress. And stress has a profound effect on the heart. Both the physical heart and the spiritual heart. And that stress works hard against those hearts. And if today is one of those “a lot of stress days” for you, remember me this morning. I will be surrounded by those who know what to do if something goes wrong. And when the test is over, they know what to do to get rid of that “stuff” that caused all that “stress”. And you are surrounded by your Heavenly Father and the Heavenly Armies. He will take care of you, and will know how to get rid of that “stuff” that caused your stress.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans chapter 8, verses 38 and 39, from the New Living Translation

Saturday Stories–I Will Be Joyful Even If It Kills Me!

Last Saturday I told a story about my son, Matthew. Now, I never used my kids as examples in my sermons. . .while they were living at home. After they left the nest–they became fair game. This week’s story is about yours truly. But unlike Matthew’s story, I’m NOT the hero. It was from December of 2007. I’m calling this story:

I Will Be Joyful, Even If It Kills Me!

In December, 2007 I was forced to do something (again) that I claimed I would never do this time of year.  It is something I absolutely loathe.  Every year at this time I say I will not do it, I will not do it!  And every year I find myself forced to do it.  I find myself groaning in my heart, much like Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:15—For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  What was it so terrible I found myself forced to do?  I HAD to go to the local discount super center to pick up some things.  The items I needed were only there, and if I could have made myself get up at 2:00 am, I would have gone then—but that’s when I do my best sleeping.

Understand something. . .these are “my” people. This is the area I grew up in as a child. For the most part, these are good, solid, salt of the earth people; EXCEPT when it comes to Christmas shopping. My people turn into monsters and vile, evil hordes. Oh, there are those exceptions; but those exceptions are almost as rare as the winning lottery tickets. If Dante lived today, I’m sure he would have included an extra level of hell!

 So, with a sense of dread and angst, I entered the challenge—of finding a parking place, and then dealing with those annoying people who stop on the main aisles to converse with friends and family.  (I’ve often wondered why some families don’t just go ahead and announce that their Family Reunion will be held at the local Wal-Mart.)  Some people seem to find it a thrill to go shopping this time of year—I am not one of those. 

I suppose my dread comes from my past experiences of having worked in a retail environment during this time of year.  Not that I believe in different levels of hell and punishment (because I don’t)—but if I did believe that, working retail during Christmas would certainly be classified as one of the lower levels.

But before I left the house, I decided this time I would, no matter what, display in my face and words and actions, the spirit of joy, love and peace. On the drive there I kept reminding myself, “Self, be joyful!” The idiots and morons on the highway was challenging my resolves. And once in the parking lot, there were those asinine people just sitting there, waiting for someone to leave so they could have a close parking place. They’re too lazy to walk, but not too lazy to fight like a barbarian for those specials.

Still, when I parked, my resolve was intact, a bit battered, but intact. I began the walk smiling and being joyful.  (Yes, sometimes preachers do practice what they preach!)   I made it a point to tell everyone “Merry Christmas” with a smile and sincerity in my voice.  And, I must confess, I saw a change in people’s expressions when I am joyful toward them. (Hmm?  Could it be something to this thing of sharing joy?)

Well, to make a short story long, I finally navigated several detours (because of people conducting family reunions, don’t get me started again) and like St. Nick, checked every item off my list and entered the next challenging level of holiday shopping—finding the check-out with the fewest people.  Having conquered that level, I placed my items on the counter and thought about what a stressful day she must be having. So I started to engage the cashier in some cheerful conversation–God knows she needed it. Then she had the nerve to be cheerful to me first.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how she managed it, but she did.  When she asked me how I was doing, I thought, “Now, here’s a great opportunity to witness!”

 What happened next was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit just blind sides us with grace and love.  My reply to her (and I thought it a clever opening line), “I am blessed by the Lord.”  And without missing a beat, her reply was “And highly favored!”  The sound of joy in her voice when she said that was so uplifting to me (so much for me being a witness, in fact, I stopped witnessing and started be witnessed to).  But what she said next, spoke so powerfully to me that I need to share it with you. 

With the sound of holy laughter and joy in her voice, this lowly cashier said to me:  “Too blessed to be stressed!”  Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, my drive home was much more full of joy than my drive there, and it wasn’t because the adventure was over, but because God used an ordinary cashier to remind me what this wonderful season is all about—That We Are Too Blessed To Be Stressed!

Can you even imagine a portion of the stress that young Mary must have felt when Gabriel first announced God’s plan for her life?  But Mary’s faith was able to override her emotions (and some might say logic) and her faith enabled her to become an instrument of God’s presence and His love, as I was reminded of God’s love and presence by that cashier. 

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. Luke 2:42-45 (New Living Translation)

And in our text today, her cousin Elizabeth affirms God’s activity in Mary’s life with that power line in verse 45:  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said!  And in response, Mary burst forth in song, like in a Broadway musical.  Mary gave us the very first Christmas song as she sang praise for the presence, power and activity of God in her life.  Mary was way too blessed to be stressed!           

And so can you!  When you believe that God will do what God has said that He will do in you, for you and through you, the blessing continues.  So, as the countdown continues—more parties, more gatherings, more shopping, don’t get stressed out like I did.  Be ready and be alert because God is going to break into your ordinary and sometimes stressful days with joy and love.  For many people, they are too stressed to be blessed.  You do not have to be one of them because of God’s presence and power.  Open your eyes and hearts to see the ways God is blessing you.