THE GOOD SHEPHERD!

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

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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. 

Not All Good Things Must Come To An End

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moving Journal-Day 9

Well, yesterday didn’t end like I had planned it.  I even forgot to publish Day 8 until this morning.  Everything was supposed to be finished with just our dirty clothes, bedding and toiletries to pack.  This morning was supposed to be a “chilling-out” day.  Well, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Oh, and good old Murphy!  How I despise that guy–you know–Murphy’s Law.  If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible moment.  I know he’s not on that moving truck because he’s still around here.  I hope we don’t pack him in our vehicles.  But I suspect he will find a way to get to Fayette.  He always seems to know where I am.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t go back to sleep because all those best laid plans of mine went awry.  An hour or so later, I finally managed to go back to sleep.  The turning point in my mind was when I said, “Jesus, you’ve got to help me!”

So this morning, it was back to the plan that wasn’t completed.  Now it is.  Had a representative from the church inspect the parsonage–it was in great order.  After the last thing, I cleaned up, and spent some time with my Dad.  He was obviously sad, but at the same time, encouraging.  That’s what he does–I know a lot of people who need to learn that lesson.  Stopped by my very good friend Dennis’s home for just some good conversation between friends.  Now, I am home–ready for some sleep.

So, what did I learn today?  I love it when y’all ask that question.  Here goes:

Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!

My plans didn’t work out the way I wanted.  But God’s plans always works out.  Sometimes people get in the way.  Sometimes WE get in the way.  But neither situation will stop God’s plans.  He just chooses another route to accomplish His purposes.  I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!

Elizabeth:

Good night, John Boy.

John-Boy:
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.

John:
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen:
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.

Olivia:
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.

Jim Bob:
Good night, Mama. Good night, Erin.

Erin:
Good night, Jim Bob. Good night, Ben.

Ben:
Good night, Erin. Good night, everybody.

Moving Journal–Day 2

Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move.  Today I preached my final message at this church.  It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness.  Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back.  Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future.  Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine.  This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.

This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman.  I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull.  I challenged them with this question:  “What do you do with broken people?”  The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman.  Maybe I will post that message here some day.

At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness.  I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life.  So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.

And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today.  And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him.  It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother.  It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me.  Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.

So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2?  So glad you asked me:

  • Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life.  At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service.  And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette.  In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
  • I learned that God moves in different ways at different times.  He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message.  Instead, He had a timely and timeless message.  I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time.  God loves to surprise us.
  • And I learned today the value of friendships.  It is our friends that are holding us up at this time.  It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy.  And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles:  “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat.  The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night.  I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread.  But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.

Cultural Bias: Does God Expect Us To Be A Christian Nation?

Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?  Before I am tarred and feathered for my reflections on this topic, know that I am a Dad and a Father-In-Law to active duty combat veterans.  I support them and the fellow soldiers in all their duties for our nation and around the world.  I admired theirs and so many like them, who pledge to defend and support the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.  Furthermore, I believe this U.S. to be the second most important document ever penned by human hands.  The most important document ever penned by human hands is the Bible.

This edition is directed towards the United States church and how the culture of nationalism bias has infiltrated, even polluted the Mission of the Church.  By insisting that we, the good old U.S. of A. MUST be a Christian nation misses the mark of who God is calling us Followers of Jesus to be in this fallen creation.  Does righteousness exalt a nation?  Absolutely!  Does abandoning the truths of God destroy a nation?  You bet!  But in an attempt to be righteous and avoid being evil, many Christian Americans have mistaken our calling as being that of creating a “Christian” United States of America.

Many of those who hold this view, point out that God formed the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to be a Godly Nation.  This quote from Exodus 19:6 is often their rationale:

And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

But remember, that the Bible wasn’t written in English.  The Old Testament language was Hebrew and that word Nation is gowy and it means “a massing of people, a foreign nation”.  God set up Israel as a “foreign” nation, one that is counter-cultural to this fallen creation.  But notice 1 phrase and 1 key word; one is about ownership and the other is about purpose.  The phrase is “My Kingdom”.  This speaks about ownership and in order to be a citizen of a “kingdom” one must submit to the Rule of The King.  This is not a democracy, though often some vainly imagine this is what God wants.

The key word is “Priests”.  This is the purpose of God’s people.  It is to serve Him and the people He loves.  And who are the people He loves?  Everyone!  And He wants His Kingdom of Priests planted right in the middle of the Kingdom of the Enemy who is ruining His Creation.  I believe it is wrong to interpret this passage as a call for nationalism.  But it has in so many corners of the U.S.

And one of the, perhaps unintended results is that well-meaning Christians are looking to the political process for our country’s redemption.  Much of our chaos has been produced through this political process.  God is not looking for a defined geographical space to be “His” nation.  God is looking around this globe for “pockets of priests” who will serve Him first, then serve the people He is reaching out to reclaim and restore.

I want you to look at this passage from the New Testament and see it in perhaps a different way.  It is 1 Peter 2:9.

For you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

And though some may jump on that word “nation” as their proof, here is the Greek word for “nation”.  It is ethnos and according to Thayer’s Greek lexicon is means a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together; a company, troop, swarm.”  And, get this, in Strong’s lexicon it means ” a tribe; specially, a foreign one.”  And do not overlook that key phrase from Peter:  Royal Priests.  Royal means we serve under a King, THE King.  

Our Mission, as chosen, called and Royal Priests is to live together like a swarm invading the territory of the Enemy, the territory that Satan stole from God.  It’s not geography or politics folks.  It is The Kingdom of God whom we have been chosen and called to serve.  Not a political identity.  So Church, let’s be the swarm!

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Just Like He Said He Would

Mark 16:1-7 (The Message)

1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character Dr. Seuss ever came up with has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky duck mother who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and hits the road.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton?  He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent.”

It’s devastating when people break their word.  It can feel like betrayal.  It crushes the spirit, drains the hope and often the joy of living right out of us.  This is where those first disciples were on that Sunday…

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.  Incredible as it seemed, somehow they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real stuff.

Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles and followed Jesus full-time; a few even gave up very lucrative careers, all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse.  But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested—fairness was nowhere to be seen.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—Justice was thrown out the window.  And when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.

They 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 greatest 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 flair for 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. They said, “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.”  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 stepped on the beach to keep a promise.

What you need to remember this Easter and for the rest of your life is this:  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 Moses that He would deliver the people from slavery.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joshua that He would fight for them.  And He kept that promise.

He promised David that he would be king.  And He kept that promise.  He promised through the Prophets that the Messiah would come.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joseph that Mary’s child was the Messiah.  And He kept that promise.

Easter is 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.  There’s not a single promise that God makes to you that He doesn’t keep.

The angel says to the women, “He’s alive.”  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ that 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.  And He kept that promise.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, as he said He would.

Everything that Jesus had told them—it’s all true!  Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”  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!  This Easter and for the rest of your life, you need to remember:

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

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 will make God love you more than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  And nothing you can do will make God love you less than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  His love is given to you without any conditions.  His love never has any small print.  There are no exclusionary clauses.

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:16 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent.—Just like He said He would.

God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said.

On that Cross 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.  While those who were closest to him were doubting and giving up hope, He said it!  What did He say? Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  And if there is sin that has not been confessed and if there are sins you haven’t repented of, 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 all those who were inflicting that pain and mocking his Mission.  His forgiveness is not just to those around that Cross.  This to us as well.  It’s this Word that Jesus still speaks today.  He speaks it into every broken heart—every filthy-sin-stained heart every moment of every day.  And if there is anyone here today who thinks that they have gone too far to be forgiven, remember—God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent. —Just like He said He would.

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

Tombs are memorials and markers to what used to be; monuments to the past.  They are designed to remember what was is not forgotten.  But The Tomb on that first Easter was empty then because He was alive.  There’s all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Some say it’s The Church of The Holy Sepulcher, and others day it’s The Garden Tomb.  Several spots claim to be that place, but know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Stalin is buried in Moscow.  Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.  But I don’t care about which place Jesus was buried.  Truth is, He’s alive.  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.

Can you really walk away this morning, of all mornings, when you 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?  How can you pass this off as just another holiday and go back to life as usual knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  He was faithful to those first Followers, and He will be faithful to YOU 100 percent.

And the beauty and wonder of all of this, is that He doesn’t expect you to understand 100% how He will transform your life back into the glory of His Image.  Because He is faithful 100%, He doesn’t give up on His plans when you try to make changes to that plan.  And because He is faithful 100%, He will not stop loving, forgiving or transforming you when you mess up or want to give up.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent!

Give Up That Too Small God!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

 

 

2 Kings 6:8-17 The Message

One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel:  “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.”  10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him.  This kind of thing happened all the time.

 11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel?  Who is the spy in our ranks?”  12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king.  It’s not any of us.  It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel.  He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.”  The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.”  14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force.  They came by night and surrounded the city.

15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out.  Surprise!  Horses and chariots surrounding the city!  The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw.  A wonder!  The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

How Big Is Your God?  This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today.  I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me:  “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?  That’s the wrong question to ask!”  Then He gave me the right question:

Is Your God Too Small?  What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small.  It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book.  J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”.  By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe.  What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953.  And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.

Slide15And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small.  God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be.  The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small.  And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.

Putting it this way:

  • If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.

Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small.  Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes.  Here’s the story.  The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.

If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think?  “There’s a spy among us!”  Logical, right?  And you know what happens to spies.  But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha.  When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him.  He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.

That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded.  He did not know what to do.  In his mind, the situation was hopeless.  But God has something else in mind.  When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind.  But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you.  In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:

1]  Elisha Remembered The Mantle.

What’s the Mantle?  Glad you asked.  The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah.  It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths:  Authority and Power.  Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.

Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request:  to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah.  Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him.  And Elisha was there.  As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice:  give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.

Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!

We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone.  Young and old, men and women.

Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone.  Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion.  You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.

2]  Elisha Kept The Vision

He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven.  He knew the plans and purposes of God.  He knew what the King of Aram was doing.  He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.  Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.

Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”.  He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire.  It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius.  He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies.  The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.

God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.

When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small.   Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength.  In other words, small gods give you projects to complete.  It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.

3]  Elisha Lived In Confidence

Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more.  He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies!  He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army.  He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!

Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.

He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God.   This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others.  And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these.  The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!

Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you.  Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith.  Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.

There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.

Today I have my conception of God.  That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago.  And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years.  My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him.  When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small.  So, I keep growing…

And now you must choose:  Have you given your heart to a god that is too small?  Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined.  Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple.  For Lent, give up your small god.

The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion.  And that is a choice that only you can make.

Give It Up: Fear

(Part 2 of my Lent Series “Give It Up’)

Matthew 14:22-33 (N.L.T.)

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

In case you missed last week, our Lent Series is about this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  We are looking at things that we need to give up for more than 40 days.  Most things that we give up for 40 days are shallow when we know we can pick them back up again at Easter.  And we should know that God is never pleased with shallow sacrifices.  We should always be looking for those places in our lives that God wants to cut away, to prune.  Truth is, we don’t; so, Lent is a great time to refocus and maybe, just maybe we can engage in this Spiritual Discipline every day, not just at Lent.  Today’s “thing” we need to give up is Fear.

I’m not talking about those healthy fears—like being afraid of poisonous snakes, walking across busy highways and dangerous animals.  Certain fears can protect us from harm.  I’m talking about those fears that imprison us and deny us the ability to enjoy life.  There’s a technical term for those kinds of fear:  Phobias

Slide11

Have you ever wondered when the emotion of fear first entered God’s creation?  When was the first time Adam or Eve knew what it felt like to be afraid?  Well, I know the answer:  After They Had Sinned!  We read in Genesis 3:10—He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”  We never find prior to that moment, Adam or Eve ever being afraid; not once!  To know why they were afraid, you need to remember the temptation they faced:  To become their own god.  That was the promise and the lie from Satan.  “Eat this and you will be just like God.  That’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it.  He doesn’t want the competition.”  Take a moment to think about what scares you.  I’m not talking about flying in a plane or snakes or bugs.  Think about some of the more serious issues of life.

  • Fear Of Failure. Fear of failure is the thought that failure defines us. Some think it is for the rest of their life; but it doesn’t have to. They take no risks and cower down in their comfort zones.
  • Fear Of Rejection. Fear of rejection creates the desire to win the approval of others. You focus more on pleasing others than God, and usually end up either pleasing neither one and become miserable.
  • Fear Of Being Alone. Fear of being alone causes you to engage in dangerous behavior and take on toxic relationships. Those living by the fear of being alone are swallowed up by wrong choices and people.
  • Fear Of Being Discovered. Fear of being discovered creates a fake self. It’s the fear others will stop loving you if they knew the truth about you.  It manifests itself with that judgmental attitude of pointing out the faults of others.
  • Fear Of Change. The fear of change is rooted in the need to be in control. That desire to be in control comes out the very same reason Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit—to replace God with self. Change may, and probably will involve you giving up control of the issues you feel like you must control.

Think about those disciples in that boat in that storm.  We’re not talking Carnival Cruise Lines.  There was barely enough room for those 12 men.  Now there are fierce winds and big waves.  They are literally stuck in that storm.  It’s not unreasonable that they are afraid.  There’s a good probability that Peter had friends who went out one night to fish but were never seen again.  It is a frightening situation and getting worse.  It’s not abnormal when we face the storms to be afraid. It’s what we do with…

If you can remember only one thing, remember this:  The More Energy That You Put Into Trying To Stop Fear, The More Energy Fear Has To Use Against You.  Living in fear makes you guilty of idolatry.  Fear that controls us becomes the idol that you serve.  Remember last’s week’s 1 thing:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life .

Whatever you promote with your thoughts, attitudes, words and actions is the expression of your idol.  Your Fear will become your idol.  What can we do when faced with those unsettling and scary moments that come against us?  You can’t tell someone, “Oh, grow up!  Stop being afraid!”  Telling someone to NOT be afraid is like telling a cat, “Stop acting like a cat.”  It just won’t happen.  Instead do these 3 things to control your fears:

1.   When Afraid, Stop

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t want a little bit of our attention—it wants it all!  Fear pushes us to do something, anything to try to calm it.  As we do something, the fear grows stronger, so we do more.  It’s a never-ending and vicious cycle.  But no amount of activity or actions we take will ever calm that fear.  Here’s the fine print that fear doesn’t want you to see:  Fear Disappears As We Rest In God.

Instead of thinking about it or trying to stop it, remember what David wrote in Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God!”  For most of us, being still is the hardest thing to do in the face of fear.  It goes against our grain and the logic of the world.  But when you stop and are still before the presence of the Great I Am, you’re draining the strength that fear has over you.  Fretting and anxiety just doesn’t work in the presence of God.  The longer you are still before God the less control fear has over you.

Think about the time when the Israelites were in that frightening moment of the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  What did Moses tell them?  Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.”  Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote in Psalm 37:7—“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”  It’s not always easy, but train yourself to stop when fear presents itself.  Wait for God’s timing.  God’s timing is just right because God loves you.  This leads to the second thing you need to try:

2.  When Afraid, Love

When you give fear power and control over you, it elevates YOU to the top of  the importance ladder.  When life is all about you, it’s impossible to love God or any others.  Fear tells you one thing only:  “God doesn’t love you.  He’s holding out on you!”  Every time you allow fear control, you are echoing fear’s lie:  “God doesn’t love me!”  But He does, and your fear doesn’t change this truth.  Fear knows that if you doubt God’s love for you, then it has you in its grip.

But try this instead:  Remember How Much God Loves You.  Fear will say, “Well not very much.  Just look at you.”  But you tell fear, “Jesus left the glory of heaven for a smelly stable.  He faced temptations and endured being misunderstood.  He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans.  He died on that Cross for me!  He rose from the grave for ME!  And He is coming back for ME!”  God never stops loving you even when you don’t love Him.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9—You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.  Even your punishment was put on Jesus, that’s how much God loves you.  Fear is disabled when we start caring more about others than ourselves.  When we love others with our actions, fear loses its control over us.  And one more thing to try:

3.  When Afraid, Trust

Let’s get back to our passage today.  It’s been a scary time for them, and it appears to them that Jesus has forgotten all about them.  They are afraid and more than the boat sinking, they are spiritually sinking.  But someone looks out and they have a tough time believing what they are seeing.  Someone is walking on the stormy waters.  It must be a ghost!  But listen to Jesus’ first words to them.  He didn’t chastise them for their lack of faith.  He said:  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”  The Greek can also be translated, Don’t be afraid.  ‘I Am’ is here!  The Greek word for “I am” is the equivalent word for the Hebrew word “Yahweh”– the name God revealed to Moses!

Take control of that fear because you trust in His presence to make the difference in your life.  And now Peter wants to be sure it’s really Jesus.  So, he says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Notice what Peter doesn’t say.  “Lord, calm the waters and then invite me to come to you.”  He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  So Jesus invites Peter to walk on that stormy sea.

Now what’s Peter going to do?  The waves are high, the wind is strong, and everyone knows you can’t walk on water.  What do you think the other 11 were thinking about Peter?  Probably, “Well that is about the dumbest thing Peter has ever said!  This is not going to end well for Pete!”  That’s what fear says. But Peter steps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus.

He trusted Jesus, and it worked.  And when Peter started listening to fear again and started to sink, what does he do?  Does he call out to fear to save him?  Does he call out to the guys still in the boat?  NO!  He calls out to the only who he knows will be there for him, especially when he fails!  He Calls Out To Jesus Because He Can Trust Jesus To Reach Out And Take Him By The Hand.  And Jesus saves him.

And what Peter learned, you need to remember:  Trust Him Because He’s Trustworthy.  He’s Proven That There’s Nothing, Absolutely Nothing He Will Not Do For You.  His promise rings true from Matthew 28:20—“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He’s true to His word.  The Greek word “always” means “for each individual”—none are excluded!

And how is it with you?  Is fear controlling you?  Then you’re holding on to an idol and not to Jesus.  Jesus will not share you with anything else.  He gives His all for you and will not accept anything less than your all for Him.  To anyone and everyone who is afraid, Jesus has something to say:  “Don’t be afraid, ‘I Am’ is here!”  Will you be still, love and trust the only One who loves you enough to die for you?  If you are living in fear, only Jesus can break those chains.  It’s your choice; intimidated by fear or living in Christ.

What’s Going Before You?

5-7-17-Prevenient0055-300x169

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

Psalm 139:13-16 (New Living Translation)

“Well, what are your plans for the New Year?”  It’s a question often passed around every late December and early January.  It makes for good conversation around the break room at work, or in the foyer at church before or after worship, or while we’re waiting around between Sunday School and “church”.  We all like to make plans.  Whether it’s about that vacation we will take this year, or that perfect vacation we would like to have; plans for that “perfect” house we would like to build someday; plans about our careers or seeking a new career; plans for retirement.  It is good to make plans, to dream for something better.  But what about God’s plans?  Did you notice some very important phrases from our Scripture this morning?  “You made….You watched……You saw…..(clearly implied) YOU recorded….”  Sounds to me that our God is a very busy God.

Now, don’t misinterpret that last statement to mean that God is too busy for you.  The spiritual reality is that God’s “busyness” has to do with us and our daily lives.  God desires to be involved with our lives; every day and every moment of that day.  So, this week’s word is PREVENIENT GRACE.  Now, there’s a word that sounds really big and important—prevenient.  Let me tell you a story about this word.

It was in late March of 2004 when I received a call from another pastor, Lyle Holland.  Now, Lyle and I did not travel in the same circles; in fact, our only connection was that many years ago we were both in the former Florence District.  Other that time, I can’t remember that we served in the same district.  Now, we would see each other at Conference events and speak to each other, but that was the extent of our friendship, until March of 2004.  Lyle was the Spiritual Director for Alabama Walk 269 that would be held May 13-16.  He had been praying and seeking for one more Assistant Spiritual Director and he thought about me.  Allow me to give you a backdrop to that phone call.

I had just been informed that I would be moving to another appointment in June against my wishes and most of the congregation I was serving.  To say the least, it was a time of great anxiety.  The second fact that stands out in my memory was that it was less than a year since I had been on my walk.  As we conversed on the phone, I told Kyle that the date really didn’t look good to me since I would be in the middle of packing up for the move that would happen less than a month after the Walk.  I was concerned about my inexperience and the fact I was in the middle of a tough season in my life.  And just about the time I was going to tell Kyle no, in the middle of my sentence, I lost all common sense and told him I would be glad and honored to serve. (What in the world have I just done????)  Then Kyle told me all the clergy talks had been assigned but one, Prevenient Grace; and that would be my talk.

Prevenient Grace?  I remember something about that from my studies, it was a Wesleyan term, so I should know something about it, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what I was suppose to remember about prevenient grace.  So, I did what most people do when they find themselves in over their head—-I prayed!  I prayed about what to say and how to say it, and for God to help me remember where I heard that word before—prevenient.

I was so relieved to find I had a basic outline to go by.  So I sat down at my computer and began my research and started to write.  The first word I typed was, of course, Prevenient!  My word processor immediately flagged that word as being incorrectly spelled and offered many suggestions, none of which was the word “prevenient”.  I looked at my outline again—this is the way the Upper Room folks said it was spelled, so it must be right.  But the computer failed to recognize it as a correctly spelled word.  And then it hit me (actually the Holy Spirit hit me, real hard); many times we fail to recognize the activity of God’s grace we call prevenient grace.

I pulled out my notebook from my own walk (Alabama 253) and there it was—the perfect definition of prevenient grace:  Prevenient Grace is the grace that goes before us, calling us and leading us into a relationship of love with our Heavenly Father.  And more than that, it is the nature of God’s grace that is always going before—calling to us by name, leading us, guiding us and helping us through the tough times of life and faith.  I have come to understand that as God’s grace goes before me, He is leading me and preparing me for whatever may lie ahead.  Grace doesn’t stop being prevenient just because we have finally said our own “Yes!” to Christ.

He is still going before us.  But, I wonder, like my computer’s word processor would not recognize the word “prevenient”, how many times are we guilty of not recognizing God’s grace that is always before us?  I found a way to stop my computer from telling me that the word “prevenient” was a misspelled word—I added the word to the dictionary.  From that point forward, it always recognizes the word prevenient as a real word, not a misspelled word.

When we add the word “prevenient” to our vocabulary—when we make the intentional and conscious decision to recognize the many ways God’s grace is at work in us and around us—it changes everything in us and for us.  The Psalm for this week reminds us that God is busy—busy showing us that He cares about us, and best of all, He takes care of us.  After working Walk 269, to be completely honest, I still didn’t want to move, I still didn’t like my Superintendent, and there were still of couple of folks at church I didn’t like.  But I didn’t blame them any more and I was able to accept these changes because I KNEW that God’s grace was going before me and that with His grace, I could and would face any challenge.

When we live with sense that God’s grace is always going before us, then we will be able to say:  “Good, Lord!  It’s Monday!  What shall we do together this week?”

Let us pray:  Lord, I have to confess, many times I’m like that computer—I simply cannot recognize that your grace is going before me.  But Lord, I know I need that grace.  I need that grace to help me to continue to live in this wonderful relationship based on love, not rules.  Remind me that you are very busy showing me your love and offering me your power.  Help me to add to my mental vocabulary and to my spiritual vocabulary this strange word, Prevenient!  Then, may I remember that you really are going before me, and like those disciples on the way back to the village of Emmaus, open my eyes to the ways your grace is working in my life!  Amen and Amen!

Are You Settling Or Moving Forward?

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(We have all heard about the “faith of Abraham”, right?  Read Hebrews 11:8-10 in case you need a refresher course.  What follows next is an excerpt from today’s message.  I realize that it’s a bit different, but I’m OK with that.  Looking forward to your comments.  Happy New Year!)

I need to make a confession to all of you this morning.  As many times as I have read and studied, taught and preached from the story of Abraham, there’s a part of his story that I have missed.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave Haran and head out to the Land of God’s Promise.  The part I have been missing is from Genesis 11, verses 31-32.  It is connected to the Story of God’s Promise to Redeem and Restore His fallen Image Bearers.  It is a connection I never made until this past Tuesday. And don’t blame it on the flu.  Here are the verses:

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.

I have no idea why the editors of the first official Bible put those 2 verses in chapter 11.  These 2 verses go with the story in Chapter 12—the Promise of God to redeem and restore the fallen Image Bearers.  God gave The Vision to Terah and Terah set out following that Vision.

There’s a tragedy in the life of Terah that’s so very clear when our eyes, mind and heart are open to it.  “He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”  Terah was heading into God’s future, to The Promised Land but Terah stopped at Haran and settled there.  I don’t know why—maybe it was simply easier to settle in Haran rather than to keep on that journey.  Maybe he changed his mind and decided it was too risky.  Or maybe Terah simply wanted to be comfortable.

What have you settled for instead of God’s Promise?  As tragic as it was for Terah to settle for Haran instead of The Promise, the worst tragedy for Terah is Verse 32:  “Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.”  If Terah had died while headed towards The Promise, there would be no tragedy.  The tragedy was he died while still in Haran, the place he substituted for The Promise.

The Bible tells us that Terah lived for 205 years—more than enough time to settle in The Promised Land.  If Terah had not settled for Haran, then we would have read this morning about the Faith of Terah instead of the Faith of Abraham.  Terah settled in Haran and died there instead of moving into God’s Promised Land.  Let this thought sink in:  He Died Where He Settled.  Terah settled for some second best.

But God doesn’t give up on His Promise to Redeem And Restore His Image Bearers.  When Terah settled on Haran, God chose another for the Promise—Abraham.  The Vision was now given to someone else.  And I believe God still works this way.  If we refuse to follow God’s Vision by settling down at our Haran, then God is going to take the vision away from those have settled for some Haran, to those who are willing to trust God, who will live out the Going Without Knowing Faith in God.

The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us.  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting.  The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith.

When I read this passage from Hebrews, there are 3 questions that challenge me, and should challenge you:

 1. “Will I Give Up Everything To Follow Jesus?”

Slide21Everything means, well, everything—nothing held back, all in. But when we say, “I trust you God, but I’m not doing that; I trust you God but I’m not giving up this; I trust you God but I’m not going there; I trust you God but I’m not changing what’s important to me”, it’s no longer a trust relationship and it’s not faith.  It becomes a negotiation; and God is not a negotiator.  You cannot know the depths of this relationship until you stop negotiating with God and begin trusting Him.  And beside this, you do not want to negotiate with God.  You will lose every time!

2. “Will I Give Up What Makes Me Feel Comfortable And Secure?”

Slide22All of us have things that make us feel comfortable.  That’s why it’s called “Comfort Zones”.  There is little risk and no challenges, in our Comfort Zones—and neither is Jesus.  What things are in your Comfort Zones?  Better yet, when it comes to the direction God is calling us into, what makes you uncomfortable?  Jesus does provide us Comfort—but it’s never meant to make us Comfortable.

 

 

Think for a moment about Jesus in the Upper Room on that night when He would be arrested. Jesus was calm—He held it all together—but I think He was in great discomfort.  Did Jesus find Comfort?  Absolutely, He’s deeply connected to The Father.  Was Jesus uncomfortable with the task in front of Him?  Absolutely!  Look at what happens after they leave that Upper Room and that Olive Press became His altar.  All those “uncomfortable feelings” poured out of Him.  Do you think He was “comfortable” facing the Cross?  Was the cross “comfortable” as He hung on it?

What I am trying to say is this: It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, even uneasy, when following Jesus because Faith is never found in our Comfort Zones.  If we wait until it feels safe or we feel like we can succeed, then it’s NOT faith NOT trust, NOT love.  It’s just another one of our projects.  Jesus isn’t interested in our projects—only our absolute surrender.

3. “Will I Choose Today To Go Deeper With Jesus?”

Slide23Trust is like a swimming pool.  I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m the only one who could come up with that analogy.  If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense—and it’s the truth.  Most swimming pools have 2 ends—shallow and deep:

First, there’s the shallow end. It’s the end where our feet touch that solid bottom and our head is above the water.  It takes no effort on our part to keep our heads above the water.  Unfortunately, this is where many seem to want to live their faith—where it takes no effort to keep their heads above the water.  It’s safe on the shallow end, but here’s the truth:  Jesus is not found on the shallow end.

Then there’s the deep end. The deep end is where trouble may happen.  It takes an effort to keep our heads above the water.  It’s not always safe on the deep end.  Things may happen, and we go under.  But here’s the other Truth:  Jesus is always found on the deep end.  And Jesus isn’t interested in helping us just keep our heads above the water.  He wants us to walk on top of that water—like that night when Jesus called Peter out of the boat.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I could walk on the water at the shallow Slide24end of the pool, too.” You could, but you won’t—because you know your feet will touch bottom and your head will stay above the water.  God called Abraham to the deep end, where he would drown unless he held on tightly to God.  Faith is Trust, and Trust only happens in the deep end.

 

Which end of the pool will you live in starting today?

 

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

Live In A Different Story!

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“But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.” (Numbers 14:24 The Message)

I absolutely love the Story of Caleb.  Read Numbers 13 and 14 and how can anyone NOT love Caleb?  I love this man so much I just finished a sermon series about him.  There are so many things about this guy and I could preach a year or more just on him, if The Spirit would allow me.  I am blown away by how The Message translates God’s opinion of Caleb.  (You do know that God has an opinion about you, don’t you?)  “But my servant Caleb—this is a different story.”

How was his story different?  God sent 12 spies, leaders actually, into the Promised Land with very specific orders.  But it was never in their directive to determine if they could succeed at occupying and conquering the land.  But 10 of these alleged leaders exceeded their directives and made a decision that wasn’t theirs to make.  “We can’t do it!  We’re whipped!  Lets get a new lead pastor and go back to Egypt where we can eat all the onions and garlic we want!”  OK?  So, you want bad breath instead of God’s Promise?  Ain’t it amazing what good church folks will give up for bad breath!

It would now seem, if they are going to be a good old American democracy, that God’s Promise would never happen, at least by the story of the Halitosis Ten.  But there is another Story being told and written.  Caleb, along with Joshua, has a Different Story to write and tell.  Allow me, if you will, to share just a little bit about That Different Story.  It’s a Story of living in The Promise, not The Halitosis.  There is much to be said, but I will share 4 of the Key Qualities of Caleb.

1.  He Had A Different Mindset

Caleb isn’t being naive.  He saw the well fortified cities.  He saw that the land produced NFL Linemen sized people.  He saw every obstacle in front of them.  But Caleb saw more.  He saw God’s Presence through The Promise.   He saw the challenges in front of him through the faithfulness of God.  He had the mindset of looking at The Problem Solver, not the problem; of looking at the Giant Slayer, not the giant.  Caleb was really radicalhe trusted God.  I am amazed (probably more like disgusted) at those who say they are a Christian while insisting that as a church we have to play it safe.  Where’s the faith in that?  And where did Jesus ever say that following Him was safe?  See your situations as an individual and a church the same way Caleb saw what was in front of HimGod’s got this!

2.  He Had A Different Purpose

Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of GodHis heart and His purposes.  Caleb was willing to give up his Story to become a part of a much bigger Story, the Story of God’s purposes.  Ever since Adam and Eve messed it all up and ever since we perpetuate The Fall with our sinfulness, God has been at work and His work is very clear.  He wants to Redeem The Sinner, bring Recovery For The Broken, and to Restore His Image Bearers.  All of us have a Life Purpose, good, bad or indifferent, you have a Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose will be based and built upon the information you believe is true.  Caleb believed God’s Promise is greater than any obstacle, so he chose as the Purpose of his life, to work where God is workingRedeeming, Recovering and Restoring.

3.  He Had A Different Courage

Caleb’s courage came from his Trust in God.  Caleb saw God as Trustworthy.  He didn’t stutter, blink or hesitate.  “Come on, gang!  God is Trustworthy!  You say you Trust in God?  Well, let’s put some action in that trust!”  Caleb’s roots grew deep in God.  Caleb understood that “roots” are not what holds us down to the ground, but enables to grow up and out.  This courage came out of something Caleb did not fully understand, but somehow knewthat God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him.  He knew that wherever he went, God was with himand that was enough.

4.  He Had A Different Plan

His plan was to stay close enough to God so that he could see how God would work it out.  He didn’t trust himself to figure it outhow it would happen.  He knew that God had a plan and all he needed to do was to be available for the ways that God wanted to use him.  Translated to 2017, the work of God is a Spiritual Work that requires Spiritual Tools (known as the Gifts of the Spirit), A Spiritual Heart (which is the heart of a servant), and A Spiritual Attitude (known as HE is the vine and we are the branchesbranches designed to bear much fruit).

Goodness gracious!  Where have all the Calebs gone today?  You can find the next Caleb by looking the mirror.  He’s longing to get outbecause there is a Caleb in you but you need to make the choice between The Promise and The Halitosis.  Which do you really want?

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