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!

DO YOU HAVE FAITH OR FUZZY FEELINGS?

 Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!

James chapter 5 verse 26 from the Contemporary English Version

Yesterday was an important day in Alabama. Though, based on the turn-out, most didn’t think it was important. It was the Primary Runoff election. And I was a poll worker. The particular precinct I worked had 117 votes cast in the primary election. But yesterday the number was only 61. Nearly 50% did not think it was worth their time to engage in the single most important principle of this nation–the right to vote. OK, OK! So one party’s run-off had only one office in the run-off. But when it comes to this representative republic, isn’t one office worth the effort to vote? I would say so, and so would the sacrifices and blood of those who fought and died for it. But I’m not here today to write about politics and elections. This event is a microcosm of a far more serious and deadly malady infecting so many today.

It’s called Faith Without Works! So, back to today’s title: Do You Have Faith Or Fuzzy Feelings? When it comes to this Life In Grace, it appears that many–way too many–have opted out of Faith With Works and opted in for Fuzzy Feelings! If we should learn anything from Jesus, it should be that our Faith is made for action. Faith is an action verb–things happen. There’s a dynamic occuring. Fuzzy Feelings is a noun. It describes something but doesn’t do anything. “Now wait just a doggone minute, Preacherman! Doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by faith, not works?” (Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9)

Indeed it does. And James is not contradicting Paul. Faith produces our salvation, not our works! But. . .what happens after we’re saved? After the fact of salvation by Faith alone, Faith produces a lifetime of works–or if you prefer–a lifetime of action! If all one has after they “think” they have been saved is a lot of Fuzzy Feelings then they haven’t been saved. This is what James is writing about. Read his words one more time: Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead! Are you breathing? Are you saved? Then go and act in this world that urgently needs to see Jesus in ACTION!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure that all the glory goes to Him! And if you are still breathing–go do something that honors Him!

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO THINK THAT WE NEED TO CHANGE HOW WE THINK?

“Wait,” he said, “I know your objecttion, I don’t feel like doing those things! Of course you don’t,” the president (Abraham Lincoln) continued. And that is exactly why we are talking about self-discipline! Think about what the king just said a few moments ago. He said ‘What do you want?’ Well I wanted to be happy.” Lincoln continued. “Then the king said, ‘Can you make yourself do something you don’t particularly want to do in order to get a result that you want?’ You know, when I am depressed, I can promise you that I do not want to see other people or read amusing books or listen to happy music. I just want to be happy. But I have learned that I can discipline myself to do some thing I don’t particularly want to do–smile, walk, visit a cheerful friend–to get a result I do want.”

The Traveler’s Summit by Andy Andrews

The above quote is from that book I am reading again. It’s classified as fiction but it is full of Biblical Principles and Godly Wisdom. Andy wrote this book sometime after he wrote The Travler’s Gift. I encourage you to read it first! The setting of this book is that the key character, David Ponder, has been summoned to a “summit” to answer a single question. Failure to answer that question correctly will result in the end of human civilization. But he’s not the only one at the Summit. All the other “Travelers” are also present. And the question that the archangel Gabriel posed was this: “What does humanity need to do, individually and collectly, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?” They only have 5 opportunities to answer the question–and the answer must be only 2 words.

Why all this rambling about a book and a question? Because last night this book forced yours truly to think about what I think. In these days it seems so many people are a prisoner to their own thinking–thinking that how they think is set for life and can never change. And the truth is how I am thinking at a particular moment is affecting and infecting my actions; what I do–and especially what I don’t do.

Indeed, God created us to be thinking beings because–well because HE thinks and we are made in His Image. Our actions and our reactions are the direct result of how we think. You may “think” I’m wrong–that’s OK if you want to disagree with me, and be wrong! Though thinking was one of God’s mighty and marvelous gifts to us human beings–it became polluted and corrupted with–you should have guessed it–by SIN! Listen again to President Lincoln’s thoughts in the book: ‘Can you make yourself do something you don’t particularly want to do in order to get a result that you want?’

If your current way of thinking is making you miserable, unhappy, and unfullfilled–insisting that others think the way you think will not take that away. No, what we need is to change how WE think and then act according to those different thoughts. It’s not easy–sin is a bully after all–but it is possible. We can’t do it alone, but we can do it with the right help. And the right help is none other than Jesus. Think about what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 28 verse 20: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Some think that the only application for this Promise is in the realm of evangelism. That’s a narrow way of thinking. Always means–well–ALWAYS!!! Not just those times when we are sharing the Good News of The Kingdom. ALWAYS means that in every moment without regard to what one is doing. Look above, not within, for the help we all need in taming that wild stallion known as “thinking”. Whatever it is you think about yourself, your situation, others, and even the culture–measure your thinking by God’s Word–and the only place God’s Word is found is in The Bible. And for heaven’s sake–don’t think about what you read based solely on what you think. Ask the Holy Spirit for His help. He loves to help us because–well, that’s how He thinks and thus it is how He acts!

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

The Word In Our Feet: In The Wilderness!

What we need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless. 

And here is the One Thing you need to remember this morning:  Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  So, for the next two Sundays we’re going to focus on Getting The Word In Our Feet.  It’s about learning to take action.  We are going to look at two stories: one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. 

This week it is from Numbers 13.  This is a time when the Hebrew children thought they were lost—feeling unsure and uncertain about the future.  They were wandering in the wilderness, looking for a better land which God had promised them.  But somehow, just like our world, they feel lost, unsure of the future.  I would encourage you this week to read chapters 13 and 14, but for now let’s look at a few verses:

Vs. 1-2“The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.”  

As you may know, this is the story of the 12 spies.

Vs. 17-20“Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land:  “Go north through the Negev into the hill country.  See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many.  See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad?  Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps?  Is the soil fertile or poor?  Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)  

The 12 spies go out and Moses tells them what to look for. They spend some time there, and then we find in vs. 25-28

After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran.  They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land.  This was their report to Moses:  “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey.  Here is the kind of fruit it produces.  But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!”

Now, that word doesn’t mean much to us, but to that crowd of Hebrews it struck terror in their hearts.   Now the people are not only uncertain, but now they’re terrified and angry!  “What in the world are we going to do?” 

Vs. 30-33—“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses.  “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said.  “We can certainly conquer it!”  But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed.  “We can’t go up against them!  They are stronger than we are!”  So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak.  Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”  

These 12 spies go out, spend 40 days checking everything out, trying to decide if this is where they would like to live—And Forgot What God Said—and they come back with a majority report and a minority report.  The vote is 10-2.

All 12 agree that the land is good, that it’s fruitful, and that it would be a great place to live.  All 12 agree that the cities are strong and well fortified and that the people who live there were like giants.  But 10 Of The Spies Drew A Conclusion That Wasn’t Theirs To Draw—they went beyond what God wanted them to do. 

They said, “We’re whipped!  We can’t do it! We can’t go forward!  They’ll do us in!”  But Joshua and Caleb presents the minority report and says: “Oh yes we can! Let’s go forward. We can occupy this land because God said so!”  So, how do you think the crowd voted?  

With the majority and Number 14 opens that way.  I won’t read on, I’ll just tell you what happens in case you forgot.  God gets disgusted with the whole crowd and decided that a people who have so little faith don’t deserve what He’s giving to them.  

So God says he’s going to let them have it—just give up on them and start with a different people.  Well, this upsets Moses, so he goes into his tent and prays all night, telling God that He is a gracious, loving and generous God.  He also has a little private prayer I call a Public Relations Prayer.  Moses says to God, “If you destroy this people and start all over, others will hear about it and they’re not going to think much of you.”  Then Moses prays for God to forgive them, and God does forgive them.

Then God does something very interesting.  He sets up the first generation gap in the Bible.  God declared, “Everyone over 20, except Joshua and Caleb, I condemn to wondering in this desert for 40 years, there to die.  Everyone under 20, along with Joshua and Caleb, may inherit this land after those 40 years.”  Let’s learn something about Getting The Word In Our Feet When We Are In The Wilderness:

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Minority Report!

The Minority Report can teach us some obvious lessons for the church today and for you here this morning.  

Lesson 1:  The People Of God Are Supposed To Live By Faith!  It doesn’t matter if they are in the wilderness or the Promised Land.  It doesn’t matter whether everything is going well and growing, or whether we find ourselves in adversity and hard times.  Whatever the environment may be that surrounds us, WE are to live by faith.

Lesson 2: The People Of God, Those Who Live By Faith, Somehow Manage To Win In The End, Even If It Takes A Miracle!  God’s people will always manage to win!  Why?  Because the Lord is with them!  No matter how tough the problem, if we will follow God’s directions and trust God’s plan and timing, we can’t help but win!

Lesson 3: We Can Expect To Find Some Disagreements, Even Among The People Of God.  It shouldn’t surprise us that there is a majority report and a minority report. This is quite often the way the people of God operate. We respond differently to the situations life brings us.  But I really like what is said in Chapter 14:24

“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored.  His descendants will possess their full share of that land.”  

What Marks The Difference In The People Of God Is Not What Life Brings And Puts In Their Hands, But What We Bring To Life In Our Spirit And Attitude.

You’ve seen it.  2 people go through similar tragedies, one comes through victorious, the other bitter and defeated.  People Of Faith are to bring into those difficult situations courage, commitment, joy, hope, confidence, trust and love. Indeed, this is a different spirit and that different spirit enables us to go forward against all odds.

2.  Next, Let’s Look At The Spirit Of The Majority Report.

The spirit of the people in the Majority Report is both simple and sad: “Oh, No!  We Can’t Make It!  It’s Better If We Go Back To Egypt!”  The way this type of attitude is expressed today is usually when someone says: “That’s not the way we did it back then!”  Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  

There are 2 ways to learn Great Lessons:  Experience And Observation.  Allow me to share nearly 46 years of Experience And Observation as a pastor:  Most local churches have a Back To Egypt Committee.  It may be a large committee or a committee of one.  They may be vocal, or they may sit silently waiting for the right moment to pounce.  

But whenever there is a proposal to go forward in ministry, forward in outreach, inevitably the Back To Egypt Committee stands up and says “Oh, no!  We can’t do that!”  

But you can look forward to the future with confidence and say with Joshua and Caleb, “Because The Lord Is With Us, We CAN Go Forward.” And I thank God, and thank Him often, for those of you who will rise up even as a minority report and say, “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”   

Our issues today are rather clear.  Let’s talk first about the Elephant In The Room, General Conference 2020.  Many wonder what’s going to happen.  Some wonder if anything will happen.  What will we look like after May 2020?  But there are more issues and they are just as important.

One issue is our resources, to use our resources to move forward toward God’s Promised Land.  What are our resources?  We have the Gospel and all its power, and that’s a lot.  We have our physical resources of money, talents, and building.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have each other.  Your faith, commitment, leadership, spiritual service and prayers are resources for this church and should be talked about more than our physical resources.

Another issue is strategy—making decisions on how we will use our resources.  Will we recognize their value or will we go out and bury them?  Once we recognize their value, how and where will we use them for God’s kingdom and His glory?  At this point, this is usually where we disagree.  Now, I believe it’s OK to disagree with each other at this point IF we agree that we are all God’s people and that if we trust God and follow Him, we can overcome any obstacle, and that our main purpose as a church is to make more disciples for Jesus!

For these Hebrews their Canaan, their land of promise, was physical land.  Our Canaan, our land of promise, is Spiritual.  Our Canaan is relating people to Jesus Christ.  What are we doing to bring people into that relationship?  

So what do we do?  Do we listen to the Back To Egypt Committee and give up?  Or do we listen to the Joshua and Caleb Committee and say, “God Is With Us, So Let’s Go Forward!”?  The real issue we are facing is not survival but Mission!  Think about this:  If we focus on survival, we won’t survive.  The Majority Report was about Survival.  The Minority Report was about Mission!  Which Report worked?

Is the Word in your feet?  Getting the word in your feet is a matter of deciding that the Lord is with us and because the Lord is with us, we can more forward, even in the face of giants, because God is the ultimate Giant Killer! 

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here is your Next Step:  Make Up Your Mind If You Want To Go Back To Egypt, Or Move Forward Into The Promised Land.

If you long for the good old days when it was simpler, then you are Heading Back To Egypt.  But, even if it scares the living daylights out you, if your desire is to see The Kingdom On Earth, then make up your mind with Joshua and Caleb:  “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”  Then the word is in your feet!