Recalculating: When You Don’t Change Direction!

When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings

Rate this:

Advertisements

We are looking at the process of discovering God’s vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place.  To do this, I want us to look at a couple of examples we need to learn from:  Jonah and Esther.  Today, let’s look at Jonah 1:1-5

 1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.  He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.  But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings.

When God gives us a Recalculating Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described as Becoming Peculiar People.  In other words—to stand out from everything else.  Always to be different from the world.  But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be different from the Religious Culture.

Don’t you want to be a peculiar people?  The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

In Greek, the phrase A Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost.  We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or tails of us unless you bring God into the equation.   But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.

It’s the story of Jonah.  When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith.  At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he would rather die than go.  But God showed grace in the form of this big fish.

Jonah changed his mind and would go.  The Hero, right?  Wrong.  Jonah refused God’s Recalculating Moment at first.  Eventually he followed God’s Recalculating Moment, but he did so without The Heart Of God.  Jonah shows us that it’s not enough to simply change direction.  Here’s the Lessons he teaches:

1.  Jonah Was A Prophet Who Wanted Nothing To Do With God.

Jonah—his name means dove.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his attitude.  Biblically, the dove was a sign of hope and peace.  In the Old Testament, Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness, sacrifice, peace and good news.  In the New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign from Heaven.  Jesus instructed his followers to be “harmless as doves.”  

Hope.  Renewal.  Grace.  Beauty.  Innocence.  Spirit.  Swiftness.  Sacrifice.  Good News.  Peace.  Jonah is none of this.  Jonah’s no dove!  He’s a hawk, a vulture.  Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of despair, and a herald of bad news.  He’s a scrappy, noisy, crow!  And that’s the point.  Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do with God.  He’s an evangelist who wants nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.  

He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name only—not in character, conduct, or conviction.  He is an example of what happens to many Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell.  Jonah avoids sinners.  When that’s no longer possible, he crusades against them, picketing their towns.  

He first tries to ignore their existence, then he protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether.  If I had to identify the primary question that drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this:  Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart?  And that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.

2.  Jonah Rejects God’s Word.

The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to Jonah.  But Jonah resents and resists the word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience.  It doesn’t fit into his plan.  It doesn’t meet his expectations.  It doesn’t agree with his beliefs.  But the word comes anyway.  

The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever! 

The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed:  Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of the Lord to Nineveh.   Nineveh was the capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians.  They are the enemy.  Jonah is called to go to the enemy.  But the crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.  

First of all, He sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before God and reached a tipping point in heaven.  God’s had enough; He’s going to act.  

But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city.  Her greatness is not just in sheer physical size.  The Hebrew word used in the text means more than magnitude.  It speaks of importance and weightiness.  Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if only she turned from her wickedness. 

Unless We See People, Towns, Cities, Cultures, Civilizations, Neighbors, And Strangers As God Sees Them, We Will Never Experience God’s Heart For Them.  If all we miss seeing their greatness, we’ll miss their potential, and the dreams God has for them.

3.  Jonah Runs Away From God.

Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to see her potential for greatness, so he runs away.  He is called to something too hard, so he flees.  This is where the story gets interesting.  Jonah doesn’t just flee the call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  

Jonah is more than disobedient—he’s practically an atheist!  Jonah wants to live as though God does not exist—or at least as if God has no claim on him.  Those Who Have A Jonah Heart Want God’s Blessing But Want Nothing To Do With Either God’s Purposes Or Presence.  Jonah is not a worshiper—he avoids God’s presence.  He’s not a follower—he avoids God’s call,.  Jonah is a Consumer Of Blessings.

This Jonah heart is in each of us.  We all face a constant temptation to demand God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service.  Entire church communities can have a desire to seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.  

Entire churches are tempted to be consumers but not worshipers or followers.  When that happens, everyone is impoverished. The church—which is to be the very body of Christ in the world, becomes just another country club—bored, snobbish and flabby.  The world that so desperately needs the gospel of Christ is left to stew in its own juices.  When A Church Craves God’s Blessing But Shuns His Presence And Avoids His Purpose—It Has Lost Its Heart For God.

Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero. Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far.  He books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world.  Here’s something I learned just this week about the name Tarshish.  According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or Refinery.  In biblical times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire.  He’s trying his best to get as far away as he possibly can. 

But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire.  God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.  

At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea.  Jonah is suicidal.  God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole.  Three days later, the large fish spews him up on the shore.  Jonah, duly chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty.  He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that his desire to run away.  

He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city and its people.  But something strange takes place.  The king of Nineveh hears Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart.  He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy.  The entire city turns to God, and God shows mercy.  And Jonah couldn’t be more miserable.  

Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our churches.  He is a Refuser Of Festivities.  He misses the grace of God and lets bitterness take root.  Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t live in grace.  

God is involved in an extravagant, surprising, mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else.  They stew about things taken away from them, and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without measure. 

In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair, a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ figure—if he eats girls.  Aslan responds, “I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.”  And here is an even more interesting question: Has He swallowed you? 

How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life?  With joy?  Or with the resentment of Jonah?

Your Next Steps:

  1.   Remember that to follow God’s directions, we have to change our direction.  And to change our direction, we need to bring along the right attitude.  What needs to change with your attitude?
  2.   It’s done by putting aside our fear of failing or the uncertainty of how it will happen.  Don’t wait for someone else to step up.  It’s time for you to step out.

GOD MEANT WHAT HE SAID AND HE SAID WHAT HE MEANT!

(Message from Resurrection Sunday 2019)

Mark 16:1-7 (NLT)

1 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side.  The women were shocked, 6 but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He is risen from the dead!  Look, this is where they laid his body. 7 Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

It’s devastating when people break their word, isn’t it.  It does much harm.

  • It Crushes The Spirit,
  • It Drains The Hope,
  • And It Steals The Joy Of Living Right Out Of Us. 

When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope.  Many believed in what Jesus was saying.  It seemed to ring so true in their life.  It was almost too good to be true, but they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real deal.  Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles, lucrative careers all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse. 

But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested.  Justice was thrown out the window.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—and when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. 

The women saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there.  They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet.  They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die! 

As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—For Their Hope And Peace And Joy Died Also.  Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus.  They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them.  We all need people who will keep their word.

When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience.  Some of the great historical moments have been moments where people kept their words.  In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia.  Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.”

MacArthur had a great sense of the dramatic, but it went deeper than that. When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.  Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.” they said.  But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made.  He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur, with his adjutant at his side, stepped on the beach at Leyte to keep a promise.  Keeping promises is important!

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character in Dr. Seuss has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky bird who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and never comes back.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton, when his friends tried to get him off of that nest?  He says,“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent”

Easter comes to remind us of the one thing that we need to always remember: God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent! 

  • He Promised Abraham That All Nations Would Be Blessed Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Isaac That The Promise Would Live Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Jacob That The Promise Would Live Through His Descendants.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised David That The Messiah Would Come Through His Family.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Joseph And Mary Their Son Would Save The World From Their Sins.  And He Kept That Promise.

What a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us.  Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts.  Easter Is About Jesus—The One Who Keeps His Word To Us.  The angel says to the women, “He is alive.”  Notice, that Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  The one they had put their hope in.

There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ the angel is talking about.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  He has conquered death.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, As He Said He Would.“Do you remember what he told you?  It’s all true.”  

That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word. I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise.  God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent

1.  He Loved Us Then, He Loves Us Now, And He Will Always Love Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

Before the Cross, Jesus said in John 15:12-13, This is my commandment:  Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The fact of the Cross is nearly 2000 years old.  If He loved us while He hung on that Cross—and He did love us—do you really think at any point now he will stop loving us?

  • Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You More Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross. 
  • And Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You Less Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:15 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  His love is not an emotional, mushy feeling.  His love is that radical transforming love that changes us back into His Image.  His love never fails, never gives up on that Goal! 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

2.  God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

In Luke 23:34 we read, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Remember where Jesus said this!  He wasn’t writing a book when He said it.  He wasn’t leading a motivational seminar when He said it!  It wasn’t on the Mount of Transfiguration when He said it.  It’s wasn’t during Triumphal Entry a week earlier when He said it.

  • On That Cross, That’s Where He Said It. 
  • In The Middle Of That Pain, He Said It. 
  • While People Were Mocking Him, He Said It. 
  • While Soldiers Were Gambling For His Clothes, He Said It.
  • And Whatever Sin Has Not Been Confessed And Repented Of Today In Your Life, Jesus Says It To You“Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing.”  “Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.” 

Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to everyone who had a part in that Horrible AND Glorious Day.  Forgiveness did not end on that day.  Forgiveness continues to be extended to all people in all times in all places.  Not just to those around that Cross, but to us as well. 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

3.  Finally, God Will Stay With Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  The Tomb was empty then because He was alive.  There are all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Several spots claim to be the tomb of Jesus. Some say, “It’s here.” Some say, “No, it’s over here.” Others say, “No, it over there.” But do you know know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

  • Stalin is still in a burial vault. 
  • Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.
  • Abraham Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois 
  • Sigmund Freud’s remains are in London.
  • Princess Diana’s tomb is in Althrop, England
  • Who’s in Grant’s Tomb?  I don’t know and I don’t care!
  • And I Don’t Care About Which Place Jesus Was Buried. 

Truth is, He’s alive.  Tomb’s don’t matter for Jesus!  He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him.  Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

Spend a moment now, thinking about that.  Stop and think about God’s faithfulness. On Resurrection Sunday, There Is Only 1 Next Step For All of Us.

Walk Towards Jesus!  Think about this:  What would it look like in your life if you spend the rest of your life walking with Jesus?

  • How Would You Spend Your Time? 
  • What Would You Be Doing With Your Life? 
  • How Would You Make This Community Better?
  • How Would You Treat Other People? 
  • How Would You React When Life Becomes Difficult?

Don’t Walk Away From Jesus, Surrender Your Life To Him.  Can you really walk away this morning of all mornings, when we remember that

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent!

Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus?  How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD!

He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.

Rate this:

Part 5 of my current series “The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

“I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.  A hired man is not a real shepherd.  The sheep mean nothing to him.  He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf.  He’s only in it for the money.  The sheep don’t matter to him.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.  I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen.  I need to gather and bring them, too.  They’ll also recognize my voice.  Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

This kind of talk caused another split in the Jewish ranks. A lot of them were saying, “He’s crazy, a maniac—out of his head completely.  Why bother listening to him?”  But others weren’t so sure:  “These aren’t the words of a crazy man. Can a ‘maniac’ open blind eyes?” John 10:11-21 (The Message)

You have probably heard this story, but it’s worth sharing again. Two men were called on in a large classroom to recite the Twenty-third Psalm.  One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama.  He repeated the psalm in a powerful way.  When he finished the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. 

Then the other man, who was much older repeated the same words—“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  But when he finished no sound came from the large class.  Instead people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.  Then the orator stood to his feet and said, “I have a confession to make.  The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend and what you heard from me is this:  I know the Psalm my friend knows the Shepherd.”  I wish I could say something as deep and profound as this little story.  One could call for the invitation hymn and the benediction and go home.  But I’m not going to let you off that easy.

Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.  To Navigate This Life Successfully, And Reach That Ultimate Prize Of Unending Life, You Need The Good Shepherd.  Deny this; disagree with me on this; argue with me about this—truth is, we cannot navigate this life on our own nor with any other guide.  Do not forget, that as Jesus is speaking, He is using the Eternal Name of God, that Name to be remembered for all generations when He said:  YAHWEH the Good Shepherd!  If you miss this then you have missed the whole point that Jesus is trying to make, and the word He has for us today.  I need you to see this with the same impact as when Jesus spoke these words.

Unfortunately, for many of us, we have the tendency to, what I call, “Americanize” the Bible.  We allow our cultural images to often influence how we see a passage.  The mental image of shepherds, or what the American version calls sheepherders, is not the same today as it was then.  Most of us have been influenced by all those old and great western movies.  Sheepherders were often portrayed as weak and defenseless people who were harassed and abused by the cattle barons.  It often took a hero in a white hat to save the day for them.  But that is not the shepherd of those times.  Shepherds were strong and rugged men.  They were more like cowboys because they had to be.

  • They were often in the wilderness for weeks, even months at a time. 
  • They had to protect the flock from wild animals and thieves.
  • They had to be self-reliant and self-sufficient during those times.
  • They were on the move looking for pasture and water in a desert region, so they needed endurance. 
  • They needed an understanding and knowledge of the sheep’s behavior.

Shepherds were not what we call “entry level” jobs.  It took above average knowledge, above average courage, above average strength, and an above average commitment for the task.

There are some things about sheep you need to know.  They are not the smartest animal, the sharpest tool in the shed, or the brightest light in the box.  Don’t get mad and report me to PETA or the Humane Society, because it’s a fact.  Did you ever see a trained sheep act at a circus?  Have you ever seen a sign that read:  “Beware!  Guard Sheep On Duty!”  You have seen the law enforcement vehicles which were labeled “K-9 Unit”, but have you ever seen one that said, “Sheep Unit”?  Have you seen TSA officers walking around airports with sheep trained to sniff for drugs or explosives?

Here is something else about the nature of sheep.  They can and sometimes will eat themselves to death.  David wrote in Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Sheep must stop eating to digest what they have eaten.  If they are standing up, they can eat until they die from over-eating.  But they will not eat if they are lying down.  As the expression goes, “They have to chew their cud.”  They will not drink from a stream of water that is moving fast. And they tend to NOT pay attention, so they wander off.  So in addition to being strong and courageous, shepherds also needed to be patient.

So when Jesus says I AM The Good Shepherd, they understood this image as was someone rugged, fierce, patient and kind.  Like I said, these are the cowboys of their day.  And this image of The Good Shepherd tells us more about God’s Eternal Name.  There are some lessons here that we need to learn, and principles we must abide within if we are going to find the life our hearts hunger for.

1.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Knows Us

He knows our limitations and our capacities.  He knows and understands the natural tendency of our wills and our spirits is to sin. We tend to get off track and off balance.  Isaiah leaves no doubt about this when he said in Isaiah 53:6—“All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” 

He is the Good Shepherd because He’s the one who goes looking for us to bring us back.  He knows that sometimes we don’t know our limitations and, like sheep that overeat, we overload ourselves.  But the Good Shepherd invites us to rest.  David didn’t say “He suggests I lie down” but “He makes me like down.”  I don’t mean that God strikes us down, but that He keeps urging us to rest, rest in Him.  The rest we need is found only in Him.  He knows that we can’t fight off the Enemy, so He equips us for the battle, giving us His strength, and fighting for us with a passion like none other.

He not only knows our limitations, but He knows our capacity to do far more than we can even imagine.  Remember that saying:  He Doesn’t Call The Qualified, But Qualifies The Called.  He is the Good Shepherd and the emphasis on that name needs to be on GOOD!

Whatever it is He wants you to do, Remember That He Is GOOD!  The tasks and missions He calls us into are those that He knows we can accomplish with His help.  At times He calls us into tasks and places that quite frankly, can scare the living daylights out of us.  I know from my own experiences He knows what I am capable of. 

After my divorce, I was really struggling with that beast called Recovery.  There were many times I felt like I just couldn’t handle it.  There were moments I wanted to give up.  There were dark times when I felt like I wasn’t worth the effort.  But He reminded me again and again, that He IS Good.  He knows our capabilities, so…

  • Count on what He is doing,
  • Count on what He is providing
  • Count on His strength and most of all,
  • Count on His wisdom.

Because He is the Good Shepherd He knows what we can do when we rely completely on Him.

2.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Cares About Us

He cares about our hopes and dreams, shaping them into a drive and passion in our life.  He gives us opportunities every day to experience His love for us through so many ways. 

When we are hungry for Him, He’s right there.  When we are thirsty, thirsty for the assurance of His love, He freely gives us that living water.  He is the Good Shepherd because He genuinely cares about us even if it feels like He doesn’t.  When it feels like He doesn’t care or has forgotten us, remember that this is coming from the enemy. 

His care isn’t an emotion or sentimental feeling.  His care is an active and progressive care.  His care is seen through all He provides. 

  • He provides grace when we need forgiveness;
  • Mercy when we are beating ourselves up for our failures;
  • Comfort when we are grieving;
  • Living Hope when the world caves in around us;
  • Joy through all the good things that come our way;
  • Strength and Power when the road is rough and steep;
  • And Peace that covers us when chaos is all around us.

His care is tender and filled with His desire to see us become everything He longs for us to be.  He never forgets us.  He is the Good Shepherd because He knows our name.  Our names have been engraved in those nail scarred hands.  He promises that we are always in His thoughts and best of all, in His heart.

3.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Protects Us

In your deepest and hardest struggles, He is the Good Shepherd who is right there to help you

  • When Satan tries to steal you away, He Won’t Let Go Of You.
  • When Satan tries to crush you with fears and doubts, He Will Deliver You From All Of Them.  
  • When Satan tries to devour you with innuendoes and threats, Jesus Won’t Back Down
  • When Satan is tempting you so much that you can’t handle it anymore, Jesus Steps In To Fight In Your Place.  He’s right there at your side.  And when the Good Shepherd is there, He Fights And When He Fights, Satan Runs

One of the things about shepherds is how they protect the flock at night.  There would be areas, man-made or made by nature, that provided a pen for the sheep at night.  There was only a single opening into that pen.  There was no wood gate because they wouldn’t last. 

Just an opening, but the Good Shepherd, after He has led the flock into the sheep pen, counted every one of them, would then make His own bed right there in that opening.  If someone tried to sneak in, He knew it.  If one of the sheep tried to slip away, He was right there to keep it safe.  You are safe with the Good Shepherd.  Everything you dream and hope for may or may not come true. 

But when our plans fail to work out, He is right there to protect us from the destruction and damage that comes from the pain.  And because He is the Good Shepherd, He longs for us to know Him.

Notice what Jesus said:  I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  How do sheep know their shepherd?  It’s not by their outward appearance, but by the Voice. 

A man was visiting the Holy Land when he noticed several shepherds in one area.  He asked them, “How can you tell which sheep belong to whom?”  One of them replied, “They know our voice.  Each sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd.”  Somewhat doubting it, he asked them to do an experiment and one of them agreed. 

The man swapped clothes with one of the shepherds.  He had one shepherd first call his sheep.  Some of the sheep followed that man’s voice.  Dressed in the clothes of the other shepherd, he began to call out to the sheep.  He knew the native language and he used it, calling out “Menah” the Arabic for “Follow me”.  And do you know what happened?  None of the remaining sheep moved.  Then, wearing the clothes of the tourist, the real shepherd called out “Menah” and the sheep began to follow him.  The real shepherd said, “Sheep will only follow another voice when they are sick.”

This is why Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep, and He knows that His sheep recognize His voice.  Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd?  You can know His voice the same way those sheep knew the voice of their shepherd.  You Know His Voice By Trusting Him.  You can trust Jesus because He has given His life as the sacrifice and atonement for every sin in every life, even your life.  You can trust Jesus, because He and He alone is the Good Shepherd!

Your Next Steps

  1. Is There A Place In Your Life Where You Are Not Following God?  It is either a place where you won’t give up control.  Or, it is a place where you feel uncomfortable and you do not fully trust that God is good.  Shepherds lead, sheep follow—but you can’t follow when you resist.
  2. Are You Willing To Follow God, Who Is Leading Us Into A New Way Of Being The Body Of Christ?  Without knowing what it looks like, or what it will require of you, to Follow The Good Shepherd means you make up your heart and mind now, to Follow Where He Leads. 

The With Us God: The God Of Peace!

God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.

Rate this:

(This is the final installment of my current message series, The With Us God)

Here are the names we have looked at thus far.  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” a famous line:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.”  His point was that a name did not change the essence of a thing or a person.  There is nothing significant about a name.  And to a degree he is right, but not always.  Change the name of the skunk to honeysuckle and he will still stink.  It doesn’t change its nature.

However, when it comes to Immanuel, the With Us God, the name is uniquely special in both meaning and power.  These names of God from the Old Testament say something about God.  And even more important, these names say something about relationship—our relationship with God.  “What’s in a name?”  Relationship is in these names!  And on this Sunday before Christmas, we see this name:  Yahweh-Shalom—God Is Peace!  It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24 (NLT).

11] Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12] The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  

13] “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  14] Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

15] “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  16The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17] Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18] Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”

19] Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree. 20] The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. 21] Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared.

22] When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23] “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.” 24] And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

Let’s get the 1 thing you need to remember this morning:  God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.  The story of Gideon is the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Midianites.  And, It is the story of countless lives that live under emotional and spiritual oppression.  Gideon is living a life of fear.  Hiding from the Midianites, smallest member of the smallest clan, Gideon is found fearful, feeling weak and convinced he’s useless. 

Then out of nowhere, this angel appears and says, “Mighty hero!”  Not exactly what we would call a Mighty Hero.  No skin-tight costume with a cape; no special clothes loaded with weapons and devices, and no unique ability that sets him apart from the rest of his world.  Nope, not exactly our image of a hero.  For heaven’s sake, he’s hiding from the enemies.

Now, if this is not bad enough, the angel says “The Lord is with you.”  And listen to his response in verse 13: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?”  Maybe you know someone like Gideon, or maybe you understand Gideon because YOU are fearful, weak and convinced you’re useless.

And maybe, just maybe, some of you this morning are wondering the very same thing Gideon wondered.  These words of Gideon are still being said today.  If you aren’t hearing these cries, then you’re spiritually deaf.  If the Lord is with me why does my spouse have Alzheimer’s?  If the Lord is with me why did my child die?  If the Lord is with me why did I lose my job?  If the Lord is with me why is my teenager so rebellious?  If the Lord is with me why do I have cancer?  If the Lord is with me why does all this stuff keep happening to me?  

When you find that life is just too much to bear, you wonder:  If the Lord is with me, why?  It’s a legitimate question and one that must be asked, otherwise we keep it inside us and it festers and we become cynical at best, or disillusioned at worst.  The answer God gave Gideon is the answer he gave us 2000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem.  Immanuel!  With Us God!

When we are in pain, when we are afraid, when we are confused, Life forces the question:  “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? And where are all the miracles I’ve heard others talk about?”  There are 3 possible answers to this tough question: 

1.  He’s Not Here Because Doesn’t Care About Me.

The oppression of the Midianites made Gideon think God didn’t care.  We think this, and much too often we believe this because we see God as Santa Claus—if we just believe hard enough then all of this stuff will just go away.  And when it doesn’t, we either blame ourselves for NOT having enough faith, or we blame God for not caring for us.

When the weight of fear and worry crushes us, the Enemy whispers, “See, He doesn’t care about you.”  Given enough heartache, given enough pain, any of us is subject to hearing that sinister whisper—more than hearing that whisper, we will entertain that thought—“He Really doesn’t care about me.”  And given enough time, not only do we hear it, we believe it!

This just isn’t true.  In the Garden of Gethsemane God was with Jesus.  When He was beaten and whipped, God was with Him.  When the spikes were driven into his hands, God was with Him.  When the soldiers raised that cross up and the weight of His body rested on those nails and that pain wracked His body, God was there.  Jesus never doubted this truth until…until the penalty of every sin was paid.  Only at that point does Jesus say, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Not in the Garden, not at the trial, not during the scourging, not when the cross was placed on His shoulders, not when the nails were driven, not when He was raised on the Cross—but when the Penalty was paid—for the only moment in all eternity, God turned away from His Son.  And Jesus cried out:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  Don’t you think it broke the heart of The Father and The Holy Spirit to turn away from that part of them that had always been there? Of course it it–but they suffered that in order that we would not have to face that moment–IF we put our trust in Him and walk with Him for the rest of our lives.

But God came back to Him because He accepted the only sacrifice that once and for all times atones, covers over, and wipes away ever sin.  Another answer to why all this stuff happens is this:

2.  He’s Not Here Because He Isn’t With Me

Because they were beaten back and beaten down, Gideon thought it was because God wasn’t there.  Maybe he realized that they had sinned against God, so God turned away from them.  Maybe he thought that God simply forgot about His promises.  I mean, it’s got to be a tough and time consuming job being God.  Maybe He was so busy, He simply forgot about them and left them alone.

When We Place The Reality Of Circumstances Over The Truth Of The Kingdom, We Can Believe That, Too.  The emphasis is on the Circumstances.  When circumstances are good then it’s because God is with us.  When circumstances are bad, God isn’t with us.

For decades, the “Name It And Claim It” group has been around.  They believe and teach that with enough faith, your circumstances will always be good.  And that simply isn’t true.  Look at the story of Job.  This is what God said about Job (Burbank Paraphrase)—“Have you seen my good buddy, Job?  Man, there’s no one like Him.  He’s always walking with me.”  But Satan said, “Well, change his circumstances and he will change.”  At first it didn’t work.  Job maintained his integrity.  But when his 3 Name It And Claim It friends showed up, it was then that Job got angry. Job isn’t patient, but He is faithful–He still longs to see God.

If your confidence that God is with you only when the circumstances are good, then your faith is shallow and insincere.  Our Confidence In God Must Be Rooted In The Character Of God, not in what God will do for you.  This is seeing God as the Cosmic Vending Machine and all you need is the right amount of coins.

A contemporary song done by Natalie Grant, More Than Anything has this chorus:  “Help me want the Healer more than the healing.  Help me want the Savior more than the saving.  Help me want the Giver more than the giving.  Oh Help me want you Jesus more than anything.”  The message is clear—it’s about wanting God over anything that God can do.  There is one more answer to these tough questions. It comes from the name:  Yahweh Shalom.

3.  He Is With Us Because This Is Where We Learn To Trust And Rest

In All This Painful Stuff, God Has A Plan And A Purpose That We Can Trust.  This means we do not focus on the pain, but on the Presence.  Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27—I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

Peace in the worldly sense is the elimination of all the threats, and the absence of conflict.  The worldly view of peace is that it happens when we get all we want, and then some more.  Having more than enough treasures, more than enough food, more than enough shelter, more than enough stuff.  The problem is, there is never enough.  So God gives us something better: peace of mind and peace of heart.

1.  Peace Because He Has A Plan—that plan is always about bring out your best—to reveal His Image in you.

2.  Peace Because He Has A Purpose—to bring honor and glory to Him, not you.

3.  Peace Because He Has Youalways has you in His heart.

It is the inner peace that can only be found in a relationship with God, and on God’s terms.  God’s terms are simple:  Surrender.  Surrender your pride, your will, and your desires.  Surrender your inadequacies.  Surrender your guilt and condemnation.  Surrender you time, energy, abilities and resources.  Surrender to grace.

When Gideon realized he had seen face to face an angel of God, he thought he was doomed.  But when Gideon came face to face with God’s grace—and under that enormous tree, he named that place, Yahweh-Shalom—The Lord Is Peace.  He named the place BEFORE the Midianites were defeated.  Have you accepted the gift of God’s peace?  We do not earn it and we can never deserve it.  So it comes to us as a gift—bought and paid for on the Cross. 

Next Steps

  • Do you have a relationship, or do you just know about Him?  It’s not about how much knowledge you have about the Bible.  You can know all the Books of the Bible in order.  Heck, I don’t know that.  But I do know the person of Jesus.  Do you?
  •   Renew You Commitment To The Relationship As Being More Important Than Anything Else. Jesus longs to be closer to us.  It’s easy to drift, easy to take for granted, to assume.  It’s not about us doing our best for Him, but allowing Him to do His best work IN us.

Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel—God is with us.  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.  In the O.T. names of God we find insights into what it means to have God with us.  Week 1 we looked at the name Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides. Last week we looked at another name for God:  Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.  Let’s review for a moment what these names mean:

  1. Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.
    1. Release from guilt and condemnation.
    1. Relief when life becomes too difficult to handle on our own.
    1. The Reason for your life—something that you can do only with His strength.
  2. Yahweh-Nissi—The God Who Fights For Us.
    1. Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.
    1. Equipping You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.
    1. Staying In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory

This is the kind of With Us God who wants us to surrender to Him in Relationship.  And today we look at another Old Testament Name:  Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  This comes from Ezekiel 48:30-45  (The Message)

“These are the gates of the city. On the north side, which is 2,250 yards long (the gates of the city are named after the tribes of Israel), three gates: the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, the gate of Levi.“On the east side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, the gate of Dan.

 “On the south side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, the gate of Zebulun.

 “On the west side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, the gate of Naphtali.

 “The four sides of the city measure to a total of nearly six miles.  “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah:  “God-Is-There.”

This passage is about the power of hope.  When you know the background of this passage you can literally see the power of hope drenched in these words.  The people of Israel had been led into exile to Babylon.  The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and that magnificent Temple erected by Solomon now lay in ruins. 

God sends Ezekiel to them with the word they needed most:  Hope!  God promises them that they will go home and that God will restore them.  And beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel shares with them the hope that only God can give when one is living their life in exile.  Many of them left Jerusalem with this image permanently etched on their memories:  the walls were destroyed, homes and businesses burned, and the Temple looted and broken in pieces.  That image was burned into their memories.  Try as they might, they could never get rid of that mental picture. 

That mental picture of Jerusalem became their conviction that their life would never be more than broken, burned, looted, destroyed.  Hope was lost and they could not see how things would ever be better.  And in that moment, God delivers the message of His hope. 

And nearly 600 years later, that message of hope, Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There—came in the form of a child.

Let me ask you, have you ever felt like these Israelites, that your life is broken, burned, looted and in ruins?  Have you ever faced a moment when it seems to be a struggle to hope?  The loss of hope for restoration, renewal, a better day, or just the loss of hope in general, just to survive another day, is debilitating and God understands this. And the message of Ezekiel to those exiles is the same message to those of us who are living in exile.

One Thanksgiving evening we baby sat 2 of our grandchildren, Ethan and Caroline, so that my daughter Leslie and her husband Michael could go see the movie “The Blind Side.”  When they came in, Debbie and I knew we had to go see it, too.  So we did.  It’s the story of Michael Oher.  Michael came from the poorest side of Memphis.  He had little education, and even less encouragement, until the Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy took him in literally off the street one evening and brought him into their home. And an adventure into hope began to take place.  In one scene, Leigh Ann Touhy took him back to the projects.  Picture this white upper class woman driving a BMW in the projects.  But Michael told her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”  With help and encouragement, Michael graduates from a private Christian school, and is given a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss.  Instead of a criminal record, he achieved a long list of honors.  He had a very lucrative 7 year career in the NFL until injuries took their toll. 

And it is all because one family decided not to turn their back on a kid literally living on the streets and gave him the one thing he never, ever had before:  more than a room of his own and more than his very first bed to sleep in—they gave him hope.  It began to change how Michael saw life.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  Hope Changes How We See Life.  And When We Change How We See Life, It Changes How We Live Life.  If all we see is what we don’t have as individuals and a church, then that dictates how we will live as individuals and as a church.  All we will see is what’s wrong, what’s missing, and there’s no hope for the future. 

Advent comes to us every year with not just the promise of hope, but the reality and truth of hope because God doesn’t send us an idea or a principle or nice warm fuzzy feelings.  God has sent us His One and only Son.  The Message of Christmas is more than, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The message of Christmas is Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There!

As Michael promised Leigh Ann Touhy that he had her back covered, and as Michael Oher protected the blind side of quarterbacks, God has us covered.  He protects us by giving us a never ending provision of hope.  Hope is what keeps us going when we would rather give in and give up. 

Are you living in a spiritual exile?  What kind of image has been burned into your mind about your life?  Is it that image of failure?  You try and try to honor God but there is this sin, maybe 2 or 3, that keeps tripping you up and you just can get a handle on it.  Is it relationships that never seem to work out?  So, Failure is the image that is burned into your mind, and hope fades quickly. 

Is it that image of Fear?  When facing situations, you always manage to see the worst possible outcome, and you allow that focus to rob you of joy and you honestly believe there is nothing is going to change and you can do about it.  Coward is the image that is burned into you mind and you resign any hope that life could be different. 

Or is it that image of Despair?  You look around and honesty see very little that is good.  You cannot see how things can change and so you surrender that there is no future for you, your family or your church.  So, Defeat is the image that is burned into you mind and you give up hope that anything will change.  3 things about the Hope that God provides us. 

1.  You Have God Living In You. 

Gal. 2:20—Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is why the Christian calendar begins with Advent—The With Us God!  It doesn’t help if we journey through Lent, remember Good Friday, celebrate Easter, commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or talk about the Kingdom of God if we are not living with the overwhelming assurance and conviction that God is more than with us, but actually living in us. 

God Came To Be With Us Because He Wants To Live IN Us.  Nurture this thought, embrace this thought, cling tightly to this thought, and say this thought out loud every day and all day:  Christ Lives In Me!  Life is not always easy and there will be times when life is too much for us to handle.  That’s why we need more than God with us; we need God In Us

Hope does not come from what WE can imagine or do.  Hope Comes From Knowing That God Is IN You and that He will always give us the strength and courage to face every obstacle in our life.

2.  You Have A World Needing You. 

James 1:27—Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs of our world.  It is easier to believe that since we don’t have enough to help everyone, we can’t help anyone.  If all you do as disciples of Jesus is sit here on Sun. morning then it’s no wonder that your reserve of hope is gone. 

The unique and wonderful characteristic about Hope is that it grows in us when we share it with others.  Just like love, when we selfishly cling on to it and refuse to release it, hope dies.  Hope Builds And Grows In Us As We Bring Hope To Others.  Did you see how James formed his words?  It’s not about the homeless and loveless coming to you.  It’s about YOU reaching out to those whose well of hope has gone dry.  Pour the water from your well into theirs. 

Don’t worry about your water running out.  For all the hope you pour into the lives of others, God replaces every drop, and then some.  In the movie “The Blind Side”, when the Touhy’s gave Michael hope, the Touhy’s admit that they received much more.  And this is what hope does—it multiplies over and over again.  In one scene, one of Leigh Ann Touhy’s friends remarks, “You are really changing that boy’s life.”  And her reply was, “No, he is changing our life.”  That’s how hope works!

3.  You Have A Home Waiting For You In Heaven. 

Col. 1:28—The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

  • When we worship, it’s the practice field for when we get into the real game of Worship in heaven. 
  • When we choose to honor Christ by helping others with food, shelter, clothes, water and most of all friendship, it’s the conditioning work-out when we get to heaven and raise all honor to the Lamb that was slain! 
  • When we reach out with love and compassion to be a friend to the least, the last, and the lost, it’s prepping us for that day when together we will all sit around the heavenly banquet table that God has prepared for us. 

Everything In This Life Is A Dress Rehearsal For What Awaits Us In Heaven.  If you don’t learn it here, you will not have the opportunity to learn it up there.  Paul wrote in Col. 3:23-24—Do your best.  Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.  Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.

When hope seems gone, there is a word for you:  Yawheh-Shammah—God is there!  He will be found in that place your heart is thirty for, that place you are created for—to live in that relationship with God, and to live out that relationship in your world.  God does not want you living in exile.  Christmas reminds us that God is here and yearns to be in you, restoring you, reviving you, and encouraging you.  Christmas is the time for hope—for you and for your world.  Hope is not about waiting for the sweet by and by.  Hope is about empowering you for living today to the max!

Here’s Your Next Steps:

  1. If you have been whining about your life, about other people. or the conditions in the world—Stop It!  Know that there is hope for you; the same hope is for others; and the same hope is for our culture.
  2. Find someone this week who needs Hope, and find a way to give it to them.  The only way you can know how to put Hope back into their life is to listen to their Story and get to know them.

The God Who Fights For Us!

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

Rate this:

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.

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

Slide19

 

STOP WASTING TIME!

Slide2

(This is the last of the series about the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Thanks for all the comments and likes!)

 Disclaimer

We do not have the time to get into all the Hard Sayings Of Jesus, so this will be our last in this series.  I hope by now you have the tools and the courage to tackle on your own the hard, even harsh things Jesus had to say.  Simply because we don’t like them or do not want to deal with them doesn’t mean we have the luxury of simply ignoring them.  Frankly, I do not want to face Him on the day of judgment and have Him ask me why I chose to ignore them.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 10:5-15 (NIV)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 

13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What exactly is Jesus saying here?  There is a principle and a Truth that is guiding all the other messages we see and hear.  And it is in Verses 14-15—If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  2 things about this image:

  1. It was a sign of an unclean place. It’s what devout Jews would do if they ever had to go into a Gentile city or home.
  2. It was a sign that you were finished with that person or place, and you were not responsible for their decisions and actions. It was a sign of letting them know that God’s judgment was now upon them—no more excuses.

It seems that Jesus is saying that when people reject Him and His Kingdom, His disciples are to shake the dust off their shoes and move on, and that Sodom and Gomorrah will do better at judgment than them.  But Where is the Grace and Mercy and patience of God?  Well, let’s apply the process of the 2 questions:

  1. Is It Possible?

Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and in Mark 3:6 we read—“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Obviously Jesus moved on.  Now look at the second question:

  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian where the people began listening to them.  But the religious leaders stirred up trouble and expelled them.  And we read in Verse 51—So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

So the answer to both questions is clearly yes.  If you can remember only 1 thing from Slide15this message, this is it:  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.  I am not more important than The Mission.  You are not more important than The Mission.  Our families are not more important than The Mission.  This nation and its politics are not more important than The Mission.  Your wants and wishes are not more important than The Mission.    The church is not more important than The Mission.  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.

So, how do we apply this authoritative word?  Does it mean that we go up to someone and ask them, “Do you want to be a Christian?” and if they say “No”, we forget about them and ask the next person and the next and the next?  Absolutely not.  Putting this hard saying of Jesus into the right context is the key to the application of His Truth.  This is The Pattern for how The Kingdom works and moves:  Jesus SENDS!  Jesus sends the First 12 Disciples, and He continues to send His Disciples.

This isn’t an Apostolic Age thing.  The word apostle means one who is sent.  Everyone is sent somewhere for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It may not be to a pulpit or foreign country, but you are sent nonetheless.  Jesus is sending Disciples.  They aren’t apostles (lowercase a) until they are sent.  And notice where He sends them:  Not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans—but to those He calls “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Why?

Because The Kingdom Of God Should Begin Here!  Before we can take the Kingdom of God into the world, it must be firmly rooted in our hearts.  God has a Mission for Real Disciples.  Those who attended the Small Group Training learned that it’s wrong to say Slide16the church has a mission.  Truth is that God’s Mission has a church.  We call it Missio Dei—the sending of God.  God’s mission needs a church that will embrace and follow His Mission.  I see at least 3, let’s call them Kingdom Principles, that Jesus demands from us if we are going to be more than Christian in name, but in heart and life.

1] The Mission Needs To Be Focused.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

God sends Disciples to the places that needs what only God provides.  This passage, these words of Jesus, is where we need to focus.  First focus on ourselves, then on others.  Here’s where the focus needs to be rather than on all the external trimmings that we think give us our identity:

  • Heal the sickthe word “heal”, means to serve. The word “sick” means those who are weak, powerless, without the strength to change their life
  • Raise the dead—it means to wake up and cause people to stand in life, not the death that sin produces in us. The Walking Dead TV series isn’t original.  There are the Walking Dead all around us.  Not zombies, but broken and lifeless people.
  • Cleanse those with leprosy—that word leprosy includes the disease of leprosy but was also applied to a variety of skin diseases. Spiritually it’s about those who are carrying around external labels that crush and destroy the human heart.
  • Drive out demons—the devil is having a heyday and causing mayhem because the church has stopped fighting them and starting fighting people. The phrase here means with force and strength.  This is the warfare that God calls us into.

Freely have you received, freely give—It’s about sharing the extravagant grace and mercy that God has shown you with others.

2] We Need To Give A Clear Message.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The church can be really good at sending mixed messages.  For example:  Jesus can set you free—but to be with us, there are certain ways you need to act and a certain way of doing things.  Here’s another:  God has an unlimited supply of grace for you—but don’t be surprised if my supply of grace is limited.  Oh, this is a good one:  Christ makes all things new—just like they were 40 years ago.

The Greek word for “at hand” is eggizō (en-gē’-zō).  It means: to join one thing to another.  The Message of the Kingdom is to connect people to the Kingdom of God!  The gospel message is not difficult. The Message Is Clear:

  • Let’s be clear that brokenness persists in all of us. We are all broken somewhere. We are sinners in need of the Savior.
  • Let’s be clear that Only by faith in Jesus can we be forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion over us.
  • Let’s be clear that when we are forgiven we join in with what God is doing in the world.

Some people place the stained glass windows of tradition and liturgy in front of Christ and hide Him. Some are destroying the Good News of the Kingdom by replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of how we feel and what WE want to believe.  The apostles were to “go and preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It’s about the Kingdom, not the local church.  We are to keep the message of God clear—it’s all about Jesus and His Authority to rule us.

3] Do The Mission With Urgency.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (vs. 14-15)

What I see missing in so many lives is The Passion for the Mission.  Until we see and know how Urgent the Mission is, we will never have the Passion.  Urgency Creates Passion.  And that Passion motivates us to become apostles—people who are sent!

Slide22

The Greek word for apostle is apostolos and it means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō—to order one to go to a place appointed.  Real Christians Are Sent People.  You Have Stopped Being A Sent People When You Become A Settled People.  Me?  I’m not going to be a settled person.  I’m moving with God and with those moving with God and I’m shaking the dust off my shoes for those who have settled.

Without that sense of Urgency with Passion, then there is coming a time when those who are supposed to know—know the Truth and Live it in Urgency and with Passion—but have ignored and rejected The Kingdom—that God is going to shake the dust and judgement is going to be upon those people and churches.  The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah will not be as severe as those people and churches that reject God’s Kingdom for their own Kingdom.

Until you know how urgent the message and mission of the Kingdom is, you will never be a real Disciple of Jesus.  People are hurting deeply all around us.  Every day people are going into eternity without Jesus.  Every day people are being deceived and believing the lies.  Our work is urgent.  Join in now before someone shakes the dust off the shoes towards you.

The Apostolic Age? Really?

 

 

 

OK, I’m not doing this to start a theological debate, doctrinal fight, nor a “Roman Catholic” versus “Protestant” argument.  It really is just a question:  “Where did the concept of the ‘Apostolic Age’ come from?”  I’ve had the mandatory seminary classes on church history, and I know the traditional thought about this alleged Apostolic Age.  But when and where did this concept of an alleged The Apostolic Age originate?  And I know that the consensus is it ended with the death of John.

Many teach and many more believe that it was limited to those Original 12, well, excluding Judas.  But according to Matthew 10:2-4, Judas is listed as one of the 12, you guessed it, “Apostles”.  but were there just those 12, including Judas?  Well, maybe including Paul there were 13 “Apostles”.  Perhaps we could add Barnabas to make an even 14.  Maybe we could add Silas for 15.  Some might have a good argument to include Timothy as an “Apostle”, making the number an even 16 “Apostles”.

Could it be this “Apostolic Age” is the result of the interpretation of History?  I know, I know, most want history to be just the facts.  Yet most of written history includes the result of human interpretation.  And herein lies my contention:  Is the concept of this alleged “Apostolic Age” the result of human interpretation?  Now please understand, I’m not asking you to agree with my hypothesis, theory and conclusion.  I am asking that you simply think for yourself, and then draw your own conclusion.  I have a “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” gut feeling some of the comments may disagree with me, or some might stop following this blog.  I’m OK with this, as long as you are thinking and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Me?  I’m a KISS kind of man–Keep It Simple Stupid!  With this as my backdrop, let me frame these words as best I can.

  • My Hypothesis:   Our God is a “Sending God”.  It is His nature and His deepest desire to send out His heart and message to redeem and restore fallen humanity; the ones who alone bear His image.
  • My Theory:  He sends others that He has redeemed and restored to Himself for the purpose of redeeming and restoring others.  Don’t try to sell me on the benefits of a Ford if you are only driving Chevrolets.  If you want to reach deep into me, tell me what (or whom) is deep inside you.
  • My Conclusion:  Because God is still reaching out to His Fallen Image Bearers through those whom HE sends, this thing called The Apostolic Age as defined by historians, hasn’t really ended.  Furthermore, I assert this concept of an “apostolic age” to be anathema and has robbed the Body of Christ of it’s most basic identity–that of being a sent people.  The result of no longer living with that sense of being “sent”, most, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, are living with a sense of being settled.  And that, my blogging friends, is one of the worst tragedies; for a people who were redeemed and restored in order to be sent, to accept being settled.

What started this train of thought (some may say this train never left the station, or has derailed by the end of these thoughts) was my work on this week’s sermon.  This work included the passage from Matthew 10 when Jesus “sends out” those 12 “apostles”.  I looked up that Greek word we have translated “Apostle” (*NOTE the typical use of the Capital “A” as in THE Apostles and THE Apostolic Age, which “capital” letter is not found in the Greek texts) is apostolos.  An apostolos is a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō— which means “to order one to go to a place appointed.”

So, why isn’t an apostle (lowercase “a”) simply someone sent as a messenger to go to an appointed place with The Message?  If my hypothesis is true, that God is the Sending God, doesn’t this mean He is still sending today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next month?  Now this left-handed, right-brained preacher is about to put it into overdrive.  What if we forgot about this “historical” image of an alleged long gone “Apostolic Age” and began living our lives right now as apostles (note the lowercase “a”)?  Live as people who are sent to a certain place with a certain message?  Can you imagine the transformation that could happen?

I now see myself as an apostle–but not with the delusions of grandeur.  I see myself as one who is being sent with a Message to specific places and people.  And you do not have to be a pastor, preacher, evangelist or missionary to be “sent” somewhere.  God is looking for people to send to specific places.  Those places are where there are human hearts and lives, made in God’s image, that need to be redeemed and restored to the Father’s Glory.  God is looking to send someone across your street.  God is looking to send someone across the aisle, across the hall, across town, across county lines, and who knows, maybe across the state or across the world.

What are the places that God is looking to send people to?  The places where people need to be redeemed and restored.  God’s best work is always done through ordinary people.  Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV),

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Sent people are never settled people.  They are ready and willing to go into every human situation with the Message of The Good News, this Kingdom News that redemption and restoration are now available to anyone and everyone.  First these 12 were disciples before they were apostles (lowercase “a”, please).  They learned from Jesus and then they went.  How I pray for more people to live first as disciples, then go as apostles–people sent on a Mission from God!  If you live with that sense of being sent, then the Apostolic Age isn’t over.  How sad it must be to think God has stopped sending ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Nothing is more miraculous nor extraordinary than when another heart has been redeemed and restored by The Maker, our God who sends!

I may not have convinced a single person that this alleged “Apostolic Age” thing is a human concept.  But if there is just one of you who are now thinking, “Could God be sending me somewhere?”, then it has been worth it!  It is both overwhleming and liberating to know that we can be “sent”.  And it is a prison all it’s own, to be simply settled where you are.  Still think that the Apostolic Age is over???

Whoa+buddy+where+did+that+come+from+_ac52e5aa1a3afada376dc770b298ee8d

The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

3 The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

DisclaimerI don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year.  And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series.  And I am OK with this.  Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?  34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

OK, did that last verse sink in?  Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy.  Does He really do that?  Wow!  Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins.  But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?”  Well let’s put our 2 questions up:

  1. 1. Is It Possible? NO!
  • Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?

So, this is obviously hyperbole.  Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us.  To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?

A question is asked by one of the disciples:  Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”  In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness?  What’s His standard?

  1. What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?

Jesus moved on.  In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more.  You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason.  The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.

  1. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?

Let’s go back to the question that started all of this:  “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?”  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone.  And here is the 1 thing you need to remember:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!

It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others.  Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point.  It’s like this little poem I found:

to dwell

Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus.  We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it.  But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy.  We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”

Look again at the story.  Peter asked a question:  “How often should I forgive the same person?  What about 7 times?”  Why did Peter use the number 7?  Was it because “7” is the number of perfection?  I do not think Peter was into numerology.  The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them.  Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees.  The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question.   The question should have been:  “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”

God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy.  Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships.  That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.

We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question.  As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us.  For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.

Listen again to the story.  A King calls in all debts.  One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold.  1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds.  So that’s 1.3  million pounds.  At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars.  The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it.  He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it.  Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness.  Got it?

Now this servant is having a great day.  He wanted an extension but received a pardon.  Life is oh, so good.  Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii.  The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.

This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work.  6,500 compared to 353.6 million.  The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment.  The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full.  When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.

The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom.  He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled.  You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?”  Answer is simple.  He’s a King and He makes the rules.  Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus.  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”

Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!  Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts

First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God.  Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation.  Truth is, it has only just started.  There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ.  When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.

Second, it creates chaos in the community.  What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy.  When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God.  It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts

How does it distort whom God has made us to be?   First, it is hypocritical.  You demand from others what you think is right.   The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other.  It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.

Second, it puts you back under judgment.  If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13).  When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.

First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness.  You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount.  Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.

Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others.  Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!”  And it crushes their heart and spirit.

Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus.  When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”

So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you?  Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you.  It begins with God.  That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.  It was not about him.  It’s about God.  You do not choose to offer grace and mercy.  You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you.  You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.

Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you.  It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded.  We need space and time to process it.  Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:

  1. First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified.  So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
  2. Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.

On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us.  If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you.  Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.

Next Steps

A New Definition Of Hate

1

OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I don’t keep up with all the current events.  The past 7 days, though, I have a good, a very good excuse.  But then, don’t we all?  Well, I feel like mine has some merit.  Last Wednesday I had a heart ablation from which I am recovering very well.  Then there’s this thing called HARVEY.  As our tribe’s (some call them denominations) Disaster Response & Recovery Coordinator there is much work I have to do in this role as a Bond Servant of Jesus.

This morning I checked my Twitter feed and was seeing all this stuff about The Nashville Statement.  It was a diatribe of hate, so I decided to read it for myself rather than read what others said about.  I know, how dumb can I be!  Wanting to read it for myself rather than trust all those progressive voices telling me what it means.  I saw some tweets comparing the writers and signers as supporters of the American Nazi movement.  Well, I read it and was left scratching my head wondering, “Where is the hate?  Did Google lead me to the wrong site?”

So I went back to those Tweets.  Aren’t they always reliable and truthful?  I found this link to an article written by John Pavlovitz titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation).  Well I thought, “OK!  I love plain language translations.  Here I can get to the heart of the real NASHVILLE STATEMENT, not the wrong one Google gave me.”  Well, there I go thinking again.  And thus why I am writing this morning.

His alleged “plain language translation” was simply a rehash of all the hate speech I had seen on Twitter.  After careful review and reflection of John’s comments and other similar reviews, I have reached an assessment, call it conclusion, not only about many progressives, but our culture in general.  And here it is:  “If you do not agree with me and my views then you automatically hate me and others like me.”

Really, John, et.al.?  I realize that in the arena of discussion about human sexuality that there is some hate speech going on, especially in the name of the Body of Christ.  And to those who express hate speech and identify yourself as (an alleged) Christian, I say to you, “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU!  REPENT IMMEDIATELY AND TURN TO GOD!”

I realize a lot of morons, excuse me, “well-meaning people” have taken biblical texts out of context to justify their position and made the Bible say things it doesn’t say.  But if one will take the time to see the whole picture of the Bible, there are only 2 stories.  The first story is God’s creation and His Intended Design.  It was perfect in every way.  And in the realm of sexuality it is very clear:  God created them biologically male and female, both equally revealing His image.  And marriage was defined as 1 husband (a man) and 1 wife (a woman).  Together they were to live in perfect relationship with God and together explore God’s creation.  Story #1!

The second story begins with the Fall, which introduces into God’s Creation a totally different purpose.  The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to restore fallen humanity back in His Original Intent and Design and away from this “Fallen” purpose.  Now anyone like me, who believes that God is busy setting back right all that we humans have messed up, is simply filled with hate, well John, you are all wrong about that!

Our culture has gone into a moral and spiritual wasteland when anyone with a different view or belief, is labeled HATEFUL!  Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it!  But then I remember those words of Jesus:  (Matthew 5:44 NLT) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  I hear a lot of people like John, who label themselves as progressives, pray AGAINST their perceived enemy and all the while calling for love above all.  Is it just me that sees the hypocracy of progressives?  They rant, rail and pray against their “enemy” while insisting that love should rule the day.

Yes, we are called to love but not at the sacrifice of the Truth.  I’ve heard the argument, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Nothing, so we shouldn’t.”  Well, He didn’t say anything against using meth or cheating on your tax return, or keeping that extra change that the cashier gave you, or a lot of other every day “stuff”.  But Peter made the connection in 1 Peter 1:15-16–“15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  And Holy is to be who and what God designed us to be.  If that is hate, then maybe you need a new definition of hate.

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