My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians chapter 2, verse 20; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Just exactly who are you? What determines the essence of you? What is the bottom line? Fact Time: Everyone has a, call it, bottom-line identity. It is what you are known by to others. Are you identified by your roles? Dad? Mom? Lawyer? Plumber? Preacher? Son? Daughter? Sister? Brother? Accountant? OR is your bottom-line identity in what you do? Kind? Helpful? Patient? Caring? Friendly? Empathetic? Energetic? And when it comes to your spiritual life (and everyone has one of these), what is the singularity that marks your life?
Do you consider yourself a Christian? Maybe I should ask a tougher question: What makes you a Christian? Is it an identity based on things like confessing and repenting of your sins and saying the sinner’s prayer? Being baptized? That you are a member of a particular church? That you read your Bible and say your prayers? That you avoid certain vices? Or is it because you show love to others? That you volunteer at the local homeless shelter? That you support the local food bank? That you demand justice for animals? That you cry out for equality for all people? So tell me, which is it? What you say or what you do?
That it’s both? Being a Christian is more than a title or a label. It’s more than a statement about what you did. And it’s more than actions we think makes us a Christian! It begins with the recognition that it’s something we are totally powerless to become. It requires that admission that we ARE sinners. And more than admitting we ARE sinners, it’s being honest enough with self to say we are tired of being sinners! It demands a total surrender of heart, mind, and will to Jesus. Then, we trust that what Jesus did on the Cross was done purposefully by Him for us sinners. And that a whole new life is now in front of us!
And as difficult as they may seem for some, it’s only the beginning. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of personal holiness or social holiness. It’s both!!!! (Notice the extra exclamation marks!!!!) This is exactly what Paul was trying to tell the Galatian church. Following Jesus begins with faith. It continues with faith in actions. And to the Church in the United States, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise up from the death to create a Christian nation. He did all this to call us to storm the strongholds of Satan and reclaim the territory he stole for the Kingdom of God. No, actions don’t save us. But our actions do determine if we are or are not saved.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5 and 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Let’s talk about TRUST. Synonyms for trust includes words such as conviction, assurance, certainty, dependence, and hope. But before we can talk about TRUST we need to define this word. According to Dictionary.com the word TRUST means: “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.” Look carefully at those first two words: reliance and confidence. Think of these two words like book ends that hold up all the other books. Remove either end and the books tend to fall over–i.e.–lean to one side, depending on which book end you remove.
TRUST can be applied to a myriad of situations. Consumer products, services, automobiles, and human nature are just some examples. Speaking of human nature, my level of TRUST in human nature can be described this way: I look both ways before crossing a one way street. But it’s not human nature I want to talk about with you. Well, then again, perhaps it is. Who can we trust when it comes to living the life that pleases and honors God? This is called The Life Of Holiness.
For centuries people turned to The Bible. But for the past several decades, this view has been challenged by those once identified as liberals and now identifies themselves as progressives. Progressives want us to believe that the established ethos of The Bible is UNTRUSTWORTHY. In other words, The Bible cannot be TRUSTED when it comes to the life of Holiness. So, what can this all mean?
Well, for one thing, God was missing in action. He was missing in action when the words were formed. He was missing in action when those words were copied, by human hands. He was missing in action when the early church leaders were trying to figure out what was reliable and what we could have confidence in when it comes to Holiness. And He was missing in action when it was being proclaimed and taught by countless individuals as being THE BOOK and we could rely on and have confidence in when it came to discerning what God wanted of us.
So, why was God missing in action all that time? Human reasoning and logic offers us some insights. Perhaps He was apathetic, unconcerned of what was being taught. Maybe He was powerless to stop all that false and inaccurate teaching. It could be that He, the Creator, was waiting on the Created to help Him understand Himself. And if we embrace what progressive theology purports as the truth, God was just waiting. Waiting for the time when they would arrive on the scene to set thousands of years of errant teaching straight. For example, that sexuality is determined by our feelings and beliefs. And all that God wants from us is to love others by approving of their feelings and beliefs.
But tell me this, how can anyone rely on and have confidence in a “God” who has been missing in action for all this time? Or a “God” who changes His mind and delivers these changes via a select group who are enlightenedto the level of revealing those changes to the rest of us? Progressive theology declares that the missing in action “God” has finally arrived on the scene to set the record straight.
Maybe they think they canrely on and have confidence in that kind of “missing-in-action-until-now-god”. And maybe you think that you can rely on and have confidence in that kind of “god”. But I cannot! And neither should you!
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
Psalm 143, verse 10; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
This morning is one of those morning’s I don’t like! No, the coffee pot didn’t fail me, thank God! Yesterday afternoon was busy for me. I packed my bags for a trip I don’t want to make. My wife Debbie’s cousin, Michelle, is in a hospice center in Auburndale, Florida. She is dying from a rare and rapidly advancing form of cancer. We are leaving this afternoon for that 12 hour trip to be with the family. A little background here. Michelle’s Dad, Wiley, has been and is more of a Dad to Debbie than her own Dad. So Wiley’s daughters are more like sisters to her. So they are like sisters-in-law to me. We just need to be there.
We are in a very hard moment of life. And though I am “just” an in-law, some may say “outlaw”, they are my family, too. And their friends are our friends. I’m trying to process all this pain, and yes some anger, and it’s. . . well it’s just plain hard! So I’m reminding myself that sometimes life IS hard. It’s the nature of this fallen world we all live in. And even after 66+ years of living here, I still don’t like it.
And is it OK with you if I’m honest with you? Well, I’m going to be honest with you, like it or not! I am struggling right now. More than struggling, I’m in a quagmire. Now I’ve got a choice: I can wallow in this quagmire like a pig wallows in mud. Or–I can do something different. Being covered in this muck isn’t desirable for me. I’m not the brightest person in the world, but I sure ain’t the stupidest either. So, the only option is to do something different. And what would that be? I’m so glad you asked me this question.
I can do what the most prolific song writer ever did when he found himself in the mud hole of life. “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.“ I know this thing called cancer isn’t His Will. Sorry fundamentalists and Calvinists. Not everything that happens in life is God’s will. It’s OK to disagree with me on this point. But you’re still wrong. And I am going to be blunt with you: I haven’t a clue as to what God is teaching me in this hard and difficult season!
But there is something I do know. I know that God is Good! I know that He loves me. I know that He is faithful to me. He proved it to me on that Cross and a gazillion times since then. And I know that whatever it is He is teaching me, it’s good, good for me, and will bring Him honor and glory. What am I doing right now? Checking the list of things we need to pack, making sure they will get into the car, and I am saying the very same prayer David did when he was in the muck and mire of life as it happens: May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.God, I sure need some firm footing right now! And if you can spare the time, please pray for our family and that I will be a good student of Jesus–paying attention to Him and applying what He is teaching me!
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.
Acts chapter 16, verse 25; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Where do you sing? Maybe in the shower? If it’s the shower, then remember that singing leads to dancing, and you might fall in the shower. Then the paramedics will see you naked! Don’t sing in the shower! But seriously, not WHEN do you sing, but WHERE do you sing? Music and singing are necessary for a healthy mind and soul. I mean, look at WHERE Paul and Silas are singing! They are in a dungeon. Not a jail cell. It’s a dungeon. And why are they there? For doing the right thing!
Perhaps this saga describes your life. You are in a dungeon. Maybe you did what was right and you were thrown into that dungeon with mighty force. Or maybe you did what wasn’t right (it’s called SIN!). Maybe it’s the diagnosis of cancer–for you or a family member. Maybe it’s dementia. Or perhaps divorce. The utilities are about to be shut off because you don’t have the money to pay the bill. Or if you are a United Methodist, it’s dealing with the chaos. For whatever reason, you feel like you are in that dungeon; complete with chains and shackles. So, what can you do?
Well, you can moan, whine, and complain. You can moan that you don’t deserve being in the dungeon. And maybe that’s true. You can whine and make yourself into the victim; and throw the biggest pity party ever seen. Or you can complain about those responsible for throwing you into that dungeon. Oh, yes! Complaing about others does seem to be the popular option; but complaining about others leads to hate–and how is that helping us in that dungeon? But there’s another option available.
This option is only for those who trust God implicitly and completely! Do what Paul and Silas did–pray and SING! Some of us are good at the praying part–asking God to get us out of that jam. But don’t overlook what else they did: They Were Singing! Not the blues, but praises to their Savior! And look what happened! NO! Not the part about their chains falling off. That first part–and the other prisoners were listening! It’s not natural to be singing in the dungeon–but It Should Be Normal! Dungeons are dark and stinky places. It’s just not natural to sing in dark and stinking places. But for the followers of Jesus–it’s the normal thing to do!
Sing like no one is listening! But they are! The hosts of Heaven’s Armies are listening. Our Triune God is listening. And even if those chains and shackles do not fall off and the door swings wide open–others in the dungeon ARE LISTENING! So sing, my friends. And don’t worry, you won’t slip and fall thus causing the paramedics to see you naked! And who knows, this may be that powerful testimony someone needs to hear so that they can take their leap of faith–and land in The Father’s arms!
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”
Ruth chapter 1 verses 16 and 17, from the New Living Translation
Have you ever thought about the story of Ruth when life throws at us the challenges that come, causing us to make difficult decisions? It’s a powerfully fitting story for us when changes happen. Job relocation. Changes in health. Death. Divorce. Changing schools. You name the explosion that happened–and Ruth has something we need to see, and to understand. Even for us United Methodists! Especially us United Methodists!
Do you think it was easy for Ruth to just pack up and leave with Naomi? Dear Lord, that was her mother-in-law! And we know how mothers-in-law can be, right? She left everything that was familiar (sound familiaryou?) to go somewhere that was completely UNfamiliar! She had never been there before. Remember this happened in the days before the Wacky World Web where we can “Google” and learn all about a new place. And though she had never been there before, she knew WHO would be there! Naomi and God! And that would be enough for Ruth!
What about you? Facing some difficult, painful, and challenging choices? Maybe you don’t even have a choice–but change is happening quickly! 3 things you need to see and understand from this part of Ruth’s story. Remember, it’s only part of her story:
Who is your Naomi? Who is it that you can count on to be bold and courageous? Who is it that shows you what it’s like to keep pushing on when, nay! Especially when life get extremely difficult? Who won’t give in to the fear of the unknown?
Who are you being a Naomi to? Who is it that needs to see faith and courage from you? Not only do we need a Naomi, but we also need to BE a Naomi to someone who may never see it except through you.
Are you willing to give up everything for a future unknown to you, but known to God? Just because we don’t know what lies ahead, doesn’t mean God doesn’t know. If you follow many of the stories in the Bible, you will find this same story–people following God into an unknown future.
Yes, changes, especially those great big ones, are on the frightening side. Ruth left behind family, friends, community, and her culture. Things that held value to her. But. . .I said BUT they were not more important to her than what God wanted from her. What are you holding onto at all costs? Let go of it and follow God! Who knows what will happen? I don’t think Ruth knew that the Messiah would be a part of her geneology–but He was!
1 I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
John chapter 15, verses 1 and 2, from the New Living Translation
We live out in the country. Now for you city-folks, it’s a rural area. We could look to the south and there are lots of trees. Look to the east, trees! Look to the west, trees! And up until this week, we could look to the north and see trees. But not now. That property has gone through what is known as “clear cutting.” With the except of a few very small trees, all of the trees are gone. We do have a view now of the next hill over–but because there are no more trees. It’s a beautiful view–but still–we miss those trees. The landscape looks much different now than last week. 17 acres of trees are gone to be repurposed for other things. And it’s our changed view that inspires today’s musings.
You are probably familiar with this morning’s passage about pruning. There’s a high probability that even though you are not a horticulturist (but then again, maybe one of you are a horticulturist), you understand the principle of purning. But like a lot of principles of the Bible that you may understand–they take on new meaning when it’s happening to you. Sure, we all understand what Jesus meant by “pruning”–but when WE are the ones being pruned–well, that’s just different; even though it’s not. Let’s get blunt right here, right now. Pruning is often painful.
We think we’re doing pretty good. We’re starting to see the fruit being produced; maybe even in great quantities. Life is moving along rather smoothly; well, at least as smoothly as it can. Then all of a sudden–BAM!!!!!! God’s pruning shears are turned in our direction. It “feels” different than when we look at it from the outside! And drastic changes happen; changes we never anticipated or saw coming. So, how do we handle the times of God’s pruning? Are YOU going through a time of God’s pruning?
We didn’t see the clear-cutting coming. And the property owner never asked us what we thought about clear-cutting his property. But it happened, baby! Now we have a choice in front of us. We can whine and reminisce about the good old days when all those trees were there. Or, we can take in our new view, a beautiful view that we couldn’t see until all those trees were harvested. We can grumble; or we can anticipate watching the new growth appear in the coming months and hopefully, years. I’m a deer hunter–and this “pruning” has really messed up the area I hunt. I probably won’t see many this upcoming season at this spot. But I understand that in a year or two, it will get much better. So, I’ve just got to be patient–and appreciate what we are now seeing. Besides, I have access to other hunting spots!
Back to pruning! Pruning isn’t about taking away–it’s all about preparing for even more than before! Remember this if and when you enter into the pruning times. And to my United Methodist friends, sisters, and brothers–this is true for us as well. As we discern God’s Future for us, there will be pruning; pruning is necessary for growth! Pruning isn’t a little snip here and a little snip there. We may lose some things we thought–ONLY thought–were important and we just need to hold on to them. But. . .if we see and gladly accept the things we might lose as God’s Pruning, then we are going to see even more and greater fruit.
Twice a year we venture down to see family and friends in central Florida. That journey takes us by orange orchards; both active and abandoned. It’s obvious to notice that some orchards have been abandoned. Their limbs haven’t been pruned. And the quality and the quantity of fruit greatly dimishes. Many of the orange trees are either dying or dead. All because they haven’t been pruned. But the active orchards–the ones being pruned–are green and alive with fruit. And what pruning does for orchards–God’s pruning does the same for us.
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.
Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 7, from the New Living Translation
All means all, doesn’t it? At least that’s the way I think; and it’s very apparent that God feels the same way. In this season where the Orthodox faith has been thrown away like last week’s leftovers, this is even more true. Within many churches here in the good old U.S. of A., they are demoting their churches to a way that looks more like the culture, rather than the Kingdom of God. How can they expect to see God’s Kingdom here when they look, think, and act like the kingdoms of this world? They say it’s because they love God and love others. But then there’s this word ALL!
In the world of Poker there’s a phrase and an act called “All-In”! The player thinks and believes that their hand is better than all the other hands, so they put everything they have on the table; nothing is held back. Not one single chip is held back. Now that’s what you would call “high-risk” living! Without sounding blasphemous or irreligious, that’s what it means to love God and to live in His Kingdom. We don’t obey God in order to love Him. We love God and thus we obey Him. So we put everything on the line–with nothing held back.
Progressives think that we can love God and love our culture. And because they love God, that changes what is wrong and what is right. Love transforms the mess into perfection. By choosing to form their values around pop culture rather than The Bible, they cannot and have not loved God with their All! One of the places Moses reminds us to love God is with All of our “soul”. But one of the meanings of that Hebrew word translated “soul” is “appetite”! When one’s appetite is being fed by feelings and yes, even lies, then they are not loving God with their All!
And even many Orthodox folks who claim to love God with their All have another appetite. It’s for the property, buildings, and bank accounts. They are looking for a way out and at the same time wanting to keep those said assests. Now, I want to talk to my sister and brother Orthodox family. Is your church property and assests absolutely essential in order to break free of this hot-mess culture and get in on what God is doing? Are you afraid to leave the UMC because you are afraid of losing a building and checking account to your Annual Conference? If so, then you are NOT loving God with your ALL!
Does God really need our buildings in order to bring people into His Kingdom? Sure, many of us have an emotional attachment to that place. But if that emotional attachment is keeping us from stepping out of this hot-mess and stepping into what God is doing, then obviously our appetite isn’t All-In for God. What I am about to suggest that we need to do is indeed frightening and daunting. But it is also exhilerating, if you think about it. We are being led by the Holy Spirit to step out of the old and into something new; IF our appetite is All-In for God!
If we lose our assests of property and banks accounts, what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s left! What’s left is the God who delivered the Hebrews out of slavery. What’s left is the God who answered Elijah’s prayer with fire! What’s left is the words of the angel to the women: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He’s not here! He’s going ahead of you, waiting for you!” What’s left is Peter’s message at that Feast of Pentecost: “This is what the prophet Joel was talking about! The Holy Spirit is here! He’s giving dreams to young and old. He’s giving His message to men and women!” If we should lose everything we associate with our local church to an Annual Conference (meaning property and money), folks, we still have The Kingdom of God and the Presence of The Holy Spirit within us! And to be a part of another Great Awakening, isn’t that more than enough? Don’t allow your “love” for emotional attachments, get in the way of loving God with your All! If we love God with our All, then He is going to provide for us what we need! Trust Him because He’s proven that He is ALWAYS Trustworthy. Get rid of that anxiousness and embrace God with your All!
Welcome to another “Saturday Fair Tale”. Once upon a time there was a kingdom, and The King that ruled it was unique. Unlike the other kingdoms ruled by kings who did not care about his subjects, This King cared deeply for his citizens. Whenever one of His citizens had problems, and they would bring them to Him, He always helped them through whatever issue they were facing. He never turned away anyone.
The King wanted the very best life for His citizens. And to ensure their best life, He wrote laws and rules that were for the benefit of His citizens. Because He is The King, He wisely never asked the citizens for their input. You see, The King was very wise–wiser than anyone and everyone else. His laws and rules were not intended to deprive His citizens of joy and life. To the contrary, they were given to enable them to live the very best life. Now, one of His rules was no one could wear a Yellow Feather in their hats. And because The King was so very good, most did not question the rule.
But one day, a citizen by the name of Gray thought about the rule of no Yellow Feathers. Gray loved Yellow Feathers. He thought that the rule was rediculous. One day he said to himself, “I bet the Yellow Feather Rule was made a long time ago, and The King didn’t understand how some of us felt about Yellow Feathers. I feel like it’s OK to wear a Yellow Feather in my hat.” So, he did. It was obvious when he walked down the street that he was violating The King’s rule against Yellow Feathers. Soon others who liked Yellow Feathers saw his courage and decided they would wear Yellow Feathers.
Other citizens, who loved The King, began to question Gray about his decision to wear Yellow Feathers. Some would say, “Don’t you know that’s against The King’s rules?” And Gray would proudly say, “Oh, it’s OK! I feel like Yellow Feathers. It is how I was born!” And they would reply, “Don’t you know that one day The King is having an Accountability Day and He is going to judge everyone?” Accountability Day! If anyone was found to be living outside His Rules were to be forever banished from His Kingdom. Yes it was coming though no one knew when. But this didn’t bother Gray. He would always say, “Yes, but The King is good and loving. I love The King and I love His citizens. So, that’s all that matters. This, and how I feel.”
And then it happened!The King’s Trumpet blew and one by one, each citizen appeared before The King. Those who lived by The King’s carefully designed Rules, were welcomed and told they were no longer citizens, but His daughters and His sons. They instantly became princesses and princes. Amazingly, they became exactly like their King. But Gray noticed as he waited his turn, that some were being banished forever from The Kingdom. They started crying loudly as they were led away.
Gray became uneasy. He thought to himself, “I know I wore Yellow Feathers because that’s how I felt and I really loved them. I loved The King and His citizens, surely He won’t banish me!” When it became his moment to face The Accountability, he noticed The King looked sad. The King said, “Gray, you know I love you. I always have. But you chose to ignore my rule about The Yellow Feather. I know how you felt about Yellow Feathers. I know what you believed about Yellow Feathers. But you would not trust Me. Gray, I am sad to tell you, that you are forever banished!”
Gray wanted to argue with The King, but suddenly he realized that he was wrong. He pleaded with The King for another chance. He wanted to use all the reasons why he broke The Yellow Feather Rule, but the words just wouldn’t come. He felt guilty. And The King sadly replied, “Gray, you always had another chance before this moment. But Accountability Day ends another chance.” And as Gray was led away from The King, he knew The King was right. And to make Gray’s heart even sadder, and hurt even more, he heard the unmistakeable sound of Great Joy coming from within The King’s Palace. And Gray’s broken heart said to him: “If only I had trusted The King!”
Finally, this series ends today. Whew! And you may be a bit, call it “relieved” that it’s ending. Let’s do a quick review.
Most Resolutions are expressions of the human heart to find Contentment.
And we can make One Resolution that will last for the rest of our lives and give us Contentment: Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel. Not the gospel of our best efforts, but The Gospel Of God’s Best Efforts For Us.
It’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Do His Best Efforts For Us By Living In And Through Us With The Power Of The Resurrection!
And He Lives In Us And Through Us With The Power Of The Resurrection When We Make 6 Conscious Choices and make them a daily and all day long habit. The first 5 are:
Live With An Undivided Heart
Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God
Find Your Unique Life Purpose. Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!
Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.
Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You In This Life And The Life To Come!
June 19, 1952 marked the beginning of a legend in television. On this date Garry Moore hosted the first episode of what would be the hit show “I’ve Got A Secret.” Contestants would appear on the show that had A Secret. It might be something unique or unusual. It might be some embarrassment or it might be something funny. The four panelists would ask questions and try to “guess” their Secret. Originally the contestant would receive $20 for each panelist who could not guess their secret and also a carton of Winston cigarettes, I guess because they were the sponsor for the show. One unusual guest they had was Samuel Seymour who appeared on the show on February 9, 1956 at the age of 96, just two months before his death. His secret was that as a young child, he was an eye witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Maybe it’s just me, but I could imagine the apostle Paul appearing on that show because he had a good secret that the world needed to know. I can hear Garry telling the panelist, “Paul has a secret that will change every person’s future by changing how they live now.” The panelists quiz Paul, “Is it some type of vaccine?” “Yes, but not in the way most people think about vaccination.” “Is it something you invented or made?” “Oh, absolutely not!”
“Oh, is it something that has always been around?” “Most definitely!” “So it’s something you found.” “Well yes, but really it found me!” “Did you find the fountain of youth?” (buzzer sound) “No, I’m afraid you’re wrong.”
Do you think that Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson would want to know Paul’s Secret? Would you like to know Paul’s Secret? Is there really something that will change our future by changing how we live now? Paul’s One Secret will. What is Paul’s secret? Here it is in Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)
11Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Now we come to the last and 6TH Conscious Choice for finding that deep, abiding Contentment and the way we can maintain this one resolution of living a life worthy of the Gospel. And This Is The One Thing You Need To Remember Today: Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus.
Live every moment Through Christ. Accept every situation Through Christ. Celebrate every joy Through Christ. Endure every heartache Through Christ. Face every battle Through Christ. Confront every struggle Through Christ! What does this mean, Through Christ?
I found some practical insights in the word Paul chose in this word “through”. The Greek word is a simple word, “en”. It means in, with, by, or through. It’s a preposition. Now for those of us who have been out of school for a long time, let’s go back to basic English and the parts of speech. Miss Stutts, Brenda Pettus and Glenda Weir would be so proud of me right now for even remembering this stuff.
A preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to another word or phrase in a sentence. Purists of proper grammar often insist that it is unacceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. Sounds exciting, huh? But there is more to both the Greek and to the meaning of preposition.
In the rules of grammar, A Preposition Indicates There’s A Relationship That Exists Between The Noun Or Pronoun And The Phrase. There is relationship happening within the sentence. Now, are you getting a hint to where I’m going? In the Greek language this simple preposition has an even deeper meaning. Not only does it mean that a relationship exists, but It’s An Established Relationship That Carries With It The Image Of A Relationship Of Rest—Not Action—But Rest.
Contentment Is Only Found In A Relationship Of Resting In Christ. Are you tired of carrying heavy burdens of Grief, Fear, Guilt, Remorse, Bitterness, Resentment, Regrets, Worry, Anxiety To Name A Few? How’s that working out for you, carrying that heavy load day in and day out? Is hauling that heavy weight around all day really working for you? Are you ready to admit that it’s not working for you? Then drop that load and take a rest in Jesus.
Now my comments about prepositions—especially that word Through. Cars have air filters, gas filters and oil filters. The water in your home is filtered and you can add an additional filter for your water. What is the purpose of filters and why are they so important? Whether it’s oil, gas, air or water, it takes out the trash and impurities from them. But the only way they work is for everything to pass through that Filter. Then the Filter can take out all that junk before it does serious damage.
This is the same principle that Paul is talking about. To find contentment, to live that life that is Worthy Of The Gospel, Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus.
I think this is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “I will give you rest.” In order to rest we must stop and let go. How many times have you said, “I didn’t sleep well last night”? It may have been because you were restless and you were restless because you didn’t let go. Jesus invites you to release and let go of all that junk you are carrying around.
It did not matter to Paul what his circumstances were—hungry or full, hot or cold, well dressed or dressed in thrift store clothes, in good times and in bad times—Paul filtered his life through the relationship he had in Jesus. Do you do the same? Or do you choose to hold on tightly to that fear, that pain, that dread? Why do we choose to carry that heavy load that is absolutely unnecessary?
We carry unnecessary loads because we have NotLearned that We Can Do Anything Through Christ Who Strengthens Us. Anxiety, fretting, worrying and all that junk comes because we are afraid to trust the relationship Jesus is offering us. But you can trust the Relationship because of these 3 reasons:
1. Whatever It Is That You Can’t Handle, Jesus Can!
He calmed the stormed, healed lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused people unable to walk to dance, sent a legion of demons scurrying like cockroaches off a bluff, transformed a corrupt tax collector into a generous servant.
He fed thousands of people with a kid’s lunch sack, stood his ground with the religious bullies of his day, gave hope to a dying criminal, raised Lazarus from the grave, and much more. Quite an impressive resume’ wouldn’t you say? Now what is it in you or happening to you that Jesus can’t handle? You can trust Jesus because He can handle everything in your life.
2. Whatever It Is That Troubles You, Jesus Cares!
He took care of the taxes for Peter and the others, He wept with Martha and Mary at the grave of Lazarus, He comforted that adulterous woman shamed in public with forgiveness, He wept over Jerusalem just days before His crucifixion,
He made a hero out of a woman who took the risk of breaking all the rules just so she could wash his feet with her tears and anoint them with extravagant perfume, He cared about little children—now what makes you think he doesn’t care about what troubles you?
You may not understand why some things happen to you, but you can count on this: Jesus Cares About You. And in the middle of all that pain and unanswered questions, Somehow He Gives Us Comfort And His Comfort Gives Us Rest.
3. Whatever It Is That’s Too Heavy For You To Carry, Jesus Will!
I know Jesus will carry your load—because He already has. He carried the cross that was meant for you. Do I need to say anything else? The nails that had been forged just for you, Jesus stepped in and said, “I’ll take those nails.”
And the guilt, pain and condemnation of every sinner? He Carried That, Too. Now, tell me, what is the weight that is crushing you that you continue to lay beneath? What is it that you are afraid to tell Jesus about? Do you honestly believe He doesn’t know about it? He handled that burden then on the Cross, and He can still handle it now with Love, Grace, and Mercy.
Why filter everything through Jesus? Because He gives us the strength—
To Overcome Temptations—
To Go Through Life’s Difficult Times—
Strength To Do What We Have To Do—
Strength To Be The Body Of Christ To Do The Things He Wants Us To Do In His Name—Teaching, Reaching, Sharing Are All Done Through His Strength.
I do not want to meddle right now; I want to get personal with you. In any audience it’s very highly probable that there is some need, some pain, some sorrow, or some shame that is weighing heavy in a heart. Or maybe you are carrying the heaviest burden of all: the emptiness that will not go away. Yours may be the heart that is longing for deep and abiding contentment but you’re restless; you’re hurting; you’re burdened. The Secret is learning to rest—to rest in Jesus by Filtering Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus.
Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:
Let go of that whatever it is that you are grasping onto tightly—fear, anger, grief, shame, whatever—and filter it through Jesus. And the One Secret will not be a secret any longer to you.
There’s a song by David Crowder that hit me hard. The title is Come As You Are. He wrote it based on an old hymn, Come, Ye Disconsolate. Disconsolate is an old word we don’t use anymore. It means to be without comfort, unhappy. You can find comfort, and you can be better than happy–you can be joyful. But it only happens as you filter your life and experiences through Jesus:
6 Conscious Choices and make them a habit.
Live With An Undivided Heart
Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God
Find Your Unique Life Purpose. Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!
Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.
Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You!
Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus
My Tuesday Thoughts on what to write this morning were running wild–wild as a trio of adolescents on a 3 day binge on candy kind of sugar rush. When my thinking gets like this, I have to really force myself to stop thinking–so that I can listen. Now I have it–it’s Psalm 139 and three words from that Psalm–YOU ARE THERE!
Who’s there? God, of course. Most of us like to consider ourselves Masters Of Camouflage. Like an Army sniper in the field, we think we can hide and no one see us–or see what’s going on inside us. But regardless of how or even where we hide, Even There God finds us. When God asked Adam and Eve, “Hey, guys! Where are y’all?”, He knew where they were.
It wasn’t a question of confusion; it was a question of trust. God was asking Adam and Eve, “Do you still trust me, trust my love and that I am still good even though you did what you did?” Smack dab in the middle of their self-imposed mess, they did trust God. And in this Psalm David seems to be reflecting on his life. He’s known up and downs. He’s been faithful to God and been a rebel against God. He’s hidden in caves from King Saul, and he’s tried hiding from the King of Kings.
And what he could do with Saul, successfully hide, he never could do with God. He found out what Adam and Eve discovered–in the middle of our messes–Even There God Is Present. And in His Presence, He is still trustworthy, He is still loving us, and most of all, He is still GOOD! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why some people think God is out looking for people just to punish them. And if this day you are trying to hide from God because you “think” He’s mad at you, or that He doesn’t want you–Think Again! In your fear, confusion or despair–Even there in that place He is present and He is still Good And Loving On You.
And it’s just not in the places where we try to run and hide from God, but it’s true also in the places where circumstances and consequences have placed us. Problems at work. A “we no longer need your services” moment. Chemo or radiation therapy. A disintegrating family. A nursing home. A funeral home. Even in church.
My beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church, is in utter chaos; or so it seems to many of us. But even there, God is Present. God Is Faithful. God Is Loving Us. God Has A Plan. And God is still GOOD! What I’m saying is this: Wherever you are–whether it’s the result of you poor choices or whether it’s the result of forces beyond your control–Even There God Is Present. Even there He is still Faithful to you. Even there He still Loves you. Even there He is still GOOD. Even there, He will lead you out and back to where you belong!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!. Hopefully last week we learned that in order
for God to use us To Change The Culture,
we have to become the weakest of the weakest.
One thing that hit me is that we often operate with
the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working
Through God. Allow me to explain
what that means: Working Through God Means
We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And
The Church is designed a different way. Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom
Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.
I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference?
It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches. It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.
Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming
qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.
Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges
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. Don’t go away until I come back and bring my
offering to you.” He answered, “I will
stay here until you return.” 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.
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. 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.
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!” “It is all right,” the Lord
replied. “Do not be afraid. You will not die.” 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.
That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second
bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and
cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.
Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary,
laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice
the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the
Asherah pole you cut down.” So Gideon
took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at
night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and
the people of the town.
Early the next morning, as the people of the town
began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down
and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down. In their place a new altar had been built,
and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed. The people said to each other, “Who did this?” And after asking around and making a careful
search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash.
“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of
Joash. “He must die for destroying the
altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.” But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted
him, “Why are you defending Baal? Will
you argue his case? Whoever pleads his
case will be put to death by morning! If
Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down
his altar!” From then on Gideon was
called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down
God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change
The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for
Gideon. Now we come to Gideon’s
response. Every time we encounter God
requires a response from us. It is the
nature of the Divine Encounter. Even if
we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response. There’s no way around it. We either grow deeper into that relationship
or we go further away from that relationship.
And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.
And here is the one thing you need to remember from
today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change,
You Must Change Your Culture.
I have parable for you this morning. There are 5 frogs sitting on a log. 3 of them decide to jump. How many frogs do you have left? Is your answer 2? 5-3=2.
Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will
join? Are you ready for the answer?
The answer is 5! How did I arrive at that answer? Easy.
I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision. And here is where the church is at today: We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into
The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.
With the assurance of His presence and the promise of
His power, Gideon acts. But notice the
way he acts. He doesn’t get his sword
and round up an army. He doesn’t go
looking for a fight.
The truth is that his first response has nothing to do
with the problem of the Midianites. It
deals with His Own Personal Culture.
And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this
God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:
To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon
asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.
I can just see God in heaven. He
smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”
And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than
smile. He danced! Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are
nothing compared to when God dances.
So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for
worship. He cooks a young goat and makes
unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says. An ephah of flour is over a half a
bushel. A young goat and a loaf of bread
made from over a half a bushel of flour.
Don’t you get what’s happening?
Remember the first half of this chapter.
Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds.
They are reduced to starvation. But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a
bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.
He’s not offering God something out of his abundance.
He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all
that he has in worship. Worship Is
About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God. There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think
that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they
have worshipped God. Time spent in this
sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.
A little over a half a percent.
Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to
God? If God is going to Change The
Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an
offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy. It must be your heart every moment you are
awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere! Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence,
Power And Purposes of God.
When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the
angel says: Put the meat and bread on
the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.
Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous. Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved
over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.” But he doesn’t. He does exactly what he is told. The angel took his staff and touched the
offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all.
Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many: We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire. The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”. But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says, “Don’t Be Afraid!” And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.
2. Gideon’s Culture
Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.
He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace! Before Gideon could change the culture of his
nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture. Gideon had been afraid and blaming God. But now Gideon’s heart has been changed. Even with the fear and all the questions he
had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:
He Learns To Trust God.
In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God. We are not going to change our nation by
forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders. The Process Of Change Begins With Us. God changed TheCulture but He
started with Gideon.
God can and God will change Our Culture, but it
starts with the person you see in the mirror.
Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him. And God goes right to work using Gideon. And here is the third a final lesson today
about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:
3. Gideon Had
To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.
What’s an Asherah Pole? Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility. She was the wife of the god known as
Baal. She was the one they were thinking
could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause
their wife to produce a lot of children.
These were all signs of prosperity and strength.
The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids
one had, the more they thought they were strong. They believed their strength came from the
As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah
Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.
So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night. Why at night?
Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well,
there goes Gideon the Coward again!” But
there’s another way to look at this:
Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same. If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture.
The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites. Why? So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God. Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free.
And what about your Asherah Pole? Asherah Poles are all around us today. Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real. What is your Asherah Pole? Idols are still present today, they just look different.
Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable? Is your Asherah Pole the desire for
convenience? Is your Asherah Pole what
you consider important? Is your Asherah
Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain? Is your Asherah Pole fear? Anger?
Despair? Selfishness? Apathy?
Do what Gideon does:
Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar. God cannot use you to Change The Culture
of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole. But if you will, God will Change You, Then
Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.
Last week you were given a choice for your next
step. Join up with all the complaining;
or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next
Gideon. Here’s this week’s Next Step
1. You Can Hold
On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be. OR
2. Cut Down The
Asherah Poles In Your Life. Get rid of
those things that are holding power over you.
Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a
relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.
Today we are going to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s the one thing that was in The Boat that we haven’t focused on. Without exception, every person in The Boat had this because The Boat was full of it. I’m sure you know what it was, so let’s look again at our story for this series from Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)
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!”
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.
What would you guess would be the most common command in Scripture? It is not to be more loving. That is at the core of God’s desire for us, but that is not His most frequent command.
It is not about don’t worship other gods, even though
He wants our undivided devotion. The
single command that occurs most often is this:
Don’t Be Afraid! We are all probably familiar with FDR’s
famous quote after Dec. 7, 1941: “We have
nothing to fear but fear itself.” It was
actually a paraphrase from a much earlier quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.”
If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, it is critical that you remember this:
Fear Is The Demon That Keeps You From The Life God Is Giving To You.
Life inside the boat isn’t the normal life for a
follower of Jesus. Water-Walking isn’t
for the elite or the few. It’s the life
that God gives to every Disciple, every Follower of Jesus.
When Jesus came in human flesh, it was an all-out Declaration
Of War against the Evil One who took
control of God’s Image Bearers by deception.
And in This War,
and it is a War, God has
chosen to recruit those who will engage The Enemy. His recruits?
His Image Bearers! That’s Us!
And the way to engage in this Spiritual War is to get out of the boat. But…
Fear is the number 1 reason why people refuse to get
out of the boat. So we need this command
all the time. Lloyd Ogilvie notes there
are 366 “fear not” verses in the KJV Bible—1 for every day of the year,
including one for leap year.
Now these disciples experienced fear twice—first in
the face of the storm, and then in the face of Jesus walking on the water. Peter faced fear a third time, when he turned
his attention back on the storm.
Fear disrupts faith and becomes the biggest obstacle
to trusting and obeying God. Fear will
sink us faster than anything else, even the threat of death.
Why does God command us not to be afraid? Fear doesn’t seem like the most serious vice
in the world. It never made the list of
the 7 Deadly Sins. No one ever receives
church discipline for being afraid. So
why does God tell us to stop being afraid more often than he tells us anything
I strongly suspect that the reason isn’t that God
wants to spare us emotional discomfort.
In fact, He usually He says it when He wants people to do something that
will lead them into greater fear. I
think God says, “Don’t be afraid” so often because fear is the Number 1 reason
human beings are tempted to avoid doing what God asks them to do.
At its simplest form, fear is an internal warning cry
that danger is nearby and we had better do something about it. It motivates us to take action and remove
ourselves from whatever is threatening us.
Fear can be a good thing—it keeps us from stepping out into heavy
traffic, or touching live electrical lines.
I’m not talking about that kind of fear.
I’m talking about the fear that makes our spirit a prisoner and keeps us
from the design God has for our lives.
It is the kind of fear that hurts us by keeping us
from trusting God. Trust and fear have
been battling each other for the human heart—and your heart—for a long
time. Eventually one or the other will
Think about your life.
Where is Jesus calling you to jump to Him with reckless abandon? And at this very moment, which is winning the
battle? Where are you? In or out?
When we allow fear to win the battle, the losses are high. First of all, let’s look at what you lose
when fear wins out over trust.
1. There Is The Loss Of Worth!
Why are so many people who claim the name of Christ lack that sense of self-worth when we have every reason to have that sense of self-worth? When you face a difficult situation, do you approach it, take action, and face it head on; or do you avoid it, wimp out, and run and hide? The Enemy want us to take the easy way out.
Away Your Dignity And Without Dignity There Is No Self-Worth And When There Is
No Self-Worth There Is No Confidence In Us To Face That Fear. Living in fear
kills our inner sense of confidence.
2. There Is The Loss Of Destiny!
If you live in fear, you will never experience the
potential that God has placed in you.
Remember, Growth Always Involves Risk, And Risk Always Involves
If you are waiting for some ironclad guarantee that everything will work
out perfectly, if you are waiting for all the risk to be removed, you will stay
where you are—and stagnate.
of failure holds us like a prison. You
have a Divine Destiny; a potential
God has in you. But it’s your choice on
what to do with it
If fear holds you captive, you will lose that Divine
Destiny—and that is a price that is
too high to pay.
3. There Is Also A Loss of Joy!
Have You Ever Met A Deeply Joyful, Chronically Worried
Person? Fear destroys joy! Live in fear, and you will know the pain of constant,
chronic anxiety. Giving in to fear is a
joy-killer. It will make your
imagination run toward the negative:
“What if bad things happen? What
if I’m misunderstood? What if I don’t
succeed? What if I preach a bad sermon?”
When You Live
With A Fear-Perspective, You Give Those Things The Power To Rob You Of Joy
Right Now. You and you alone give fear its power. When you live in fear, the power of “what-if”
becomes overwhelming., and you go through life without joy. And finally,
4. There Is A Loss Of The Sense Of God’s
Fear whispers to us that God is not going to take care
of us. It tells us we are not really
safe in his hands. Simply put, Fear Says
That God Isn’t Available FOR You. He’s too busy or you’re too weak, too
worthless for God to take an interest in you.
When you believe that God isn’t available to you—you will not draw from
His presence the strength and power you need.
Fear causes us to distort the way we think about God, and makes us
unavailable to God. Fear makes us live
as though we serve a semi-competent god.
Fear dominates our need for security, and herein lies
the problem. Fear Cannot, By Its Very Nature, Will
Ever Give Us A Single Shred Of Security. Fear holds us tighter than any rope or
chains. It will flood your heart and
mind with doubts and anxieties. There
will never be any peace in your life, and no real security, until you hear the
voice of Jesus say: “Come on!” and then,
get your feet wet.
So, how do we overcome this demon of fear? Let me share with you 3 things you can do so that God can defeat your demons of fear:
1. Rehearse God’s Presence Every Day
This is something you do BEFORE you find yourself in the boat in a storm. Rehearsal is what you do before the start. This is what you do at the beginning of your day. And do it more often if you need it:
Acknowledge Who He Is! Revelation 1:8
Remember That God Is Always With You!
Remember The Moments Full Of His Love, Grace And Mercy. Psalm 77:11
Affirm Who You Are! Romans 8:16
Ask God To Search Your Heart! Psalm 139:23-24
2. Renew Your Mind All Day Through The Holy Spirit
Focus on your thinking. Your thinking influences how you see your circumstances, your culture and people you encounter. That’s why Paul said in Romans 12:2—“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Changing your thinking is an intentional and continual decision on your part. Here are some things that can help:
Read or listen to the Bible throughout the day.
Listen to or sing in your heart some of your favorite music about God’s faithfulness, grace, mercy and love.
Read or listen to writers who inspire and challenge you.
Before you made a choice, act or speak, ask God to help you see the moment the way HE sees it.
Have Conversations With God all day long—we call it prayer.
3. Re-Focus Your Heart In That Moment
If you haven’t been doing the previous 2 things, this will likely be impossible for you. Now, look at Peter’s third encounter with fear—he saw the waves and felt the wind. That became his new focus. But…but when he realized what was happening because of that new focus—he calls out to Jesus. He was afraid in the boat—but he overcame that fear by calling out to Jesus. And the fear from the storm?
He Overcame That Fear By Calling Out To Jesus.
Later on Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:18—So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
So, Here Are
Your Next Steps:
Frightens You The Most.
Ask Jesus To
Take It Away—He Will, You Know.
Thing You Would Try To Do For God’s Kingdom If Fear Wasn’t An Issue—Because
Remember, you will never be totally free from fearful
thoughts, but you do not have to give that fear any power—God will always be
with you. Even if you sink, the Original
Water-Walker will be there to lift you up in love and without condemnation.
Thursday, we marked the 75th Anniversary of
the D-Day Invasion, the day that marked the beginning of the end of WW 2. Nonetheless, it was a horrible day. German casualties on D-Day have been
estimated between 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with
4,414 confirmed dead on just that first day.
Stories of those from that day were stories about survival—just to get
through those initial first hours—and the days that followed.
Today we’re beginning a new series called “Surviving Your Personal D-Day Invasion.” This series addresses some of the tough
issues that many of us have to face from time to time. These
Invasions Are Designed To Enslave You. There
Are No Vaccinations Against These D-Day Invasions, And No One Has Natural
Immunity From Them.
We’ll journey together through God’s word as we talk
about these D-Day Invasions.
I want you to know something about this series.
I’m not teaching theory here—I’m teaching from the scars of my
experiences. I’ve learned that
everything Jesus promises is absolutely true.
The invasion may be happening right now, but it is not
a battle that you have to lose. In this
series, we’re going to learn that surviving our Personal D-Day Invasion will take complete trust—and it
will take complete hope—in God alone. I
want you to discover that through Christ we have overwhelming victory—no matter
what we face. This morning our passage
is found in one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. Job 1:13-21 (NLT)
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest
brother’s house, 14 a messenger arrived at Job’s home with
“Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding
beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the
farmhands. I am the only one who escaped
to tell you.”
16 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and
burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
17 While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen
your camels and killed your servants. I
am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
18 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in
their oldest brother’s home. 19 Suddenly, a powerful wind swept
in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are
dead. I am the only one who escaped to
stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then
he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He
“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be
naked when I leave. The Lord gave
me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
Today’s topic is Disillusionment. I’m
not talking about disappointment
or discouragement. These emotions are painful, but
disillusionment is much, much deeper—and so much darker.
Disillusionment comes when what we thought was going to happen seems
to be impossible. It is losing the
ability to dream and vision about your future.
Disillusionment is what causes us to feel despair—the feeling that we
will not survive.
Disillusionment is what makes
us cynical—and cynicism always makes us bitter.
We say, “Oh, I’ll never become disillusioned!” So we turn to motivational speakers and
posters. But they don’t really
help. In fact there is a website called http://www.despair.com
operated by a company called Demotivators.
Here’s their mission statement on their website:
No industry has inflicted more suffering than the
Motivational Industry. Motivational
books, speakers and posters have made billions of dollars selling shortcuts to
success and tools for unleashing our unlimited potential. At Despair, we know such products only raise
hopes to dash them. That’s why our
products go straight to the dashing.
The fact is that there will come a day when you will
experience the D-Day Invasion Of Disillusionment. When things start crumbling around you, you
will need something to hold onto, something that’s steady and constant. And what you may have thought you could count
on—evaporates before your very eyes.
So here’s the one thing you need to remember: The Only
Way You’ll Be Able To Survive Is If You Have Learned To Put Your Trust And Hope
In God Alone. True survival
for now and for eternity comes when you know God personally in a deeply
intimate and personal way.
There is classic story in the Old Testament—nearly
everyone is familiar with Job. It’s the
story of a man who suffered much during his Personal
Invasion, yet he was able to survive. We’ll look at his story and others during the
course of this series and learn how they did it and how you can do it,
You need to understand that it wasn’t easy for Job nor
did his victory come instantly. Job was
a man who loved God deeply and had life going his way. Then comes Satan, who accuses that Job only
loves God because of his blessings. The
eternal conflict between good and evil is revealed once again.
Are you experiencing disillusionment in your life
today? The disillusionment of being in a
dead-end life? Of struggling
financially? Of a crumbling health? Of rebellious children? Of broken dreams? What’s disillusioning you? Job faced his Personal D-Day Invasion.
Let’s take a look at three survival tactics Job used to survive—these
same tactics worked for me and they will work for you. Here are 3 things that Job did that you need
to do in the face of Disillusionment.
1. Be Open And Honest About Your
Job didn’t try to hide the pain in his life—he grieved openly and admitted his
suffering. In order to get beyond pain and experience healing in our
lives, we have to grieve.
Too often, we try to mask our pain through denial,
through superficial spirituality, through a drink or pill, or some other thrill. Job doesn’t do this. And he doesn’t resort to clichés, “Hallelujah;
I’m just going to let go and let God. I’m
just going to claim my victory.” Instead, Job Grieved. He tore his clothes, he put on sackcloth,
covered himself with ashes, and he began to mourn.
This is how grief was expressed in his time and
culture. And in doing this he was
telling everyone there that he was grieving—he was being open
and honest about his suffering. It’s normal to grieve.
In fact, it’s abnormal not to grieve. Through grief we can express our feelings about the situation.
This is what Job did—He expressed all his feelings about the situation. Through grief, we are able to gripe and express
our desire for the circumstances not to be true.
Job was brutally honest with God, and when we go
through struggles, we can be brutally honest with God about what is going on in
our lives. Grieving helps us to express the effects that
we’ve experienced from the impact of The
Invasion. We can begin to
tell God and even other people how we really feel.
Grieving has a purpose.
It Forces Us To Become
Honest With Ourselves So That We Can Begin Making The Necessary Changes In Our
Lives. Grieving gives a
chance to ask the hard questions that we need to ask—“Why did this happen? Is it God’s will? Did God do this? Is it my fault?” As we ask the questions, we can then begin to
discover the source of our disillusionment.
Like Job, sometimes it’s the result of evil, like
planes flying into buildings. Sometimes,
it’s the result of wrong choices on our part.
Through either situation, there are lessons to be learned, and we can’t
learn them until we Grieve,
until we ask the tough questions. That’s
the first tactic to handling disillusionment.
The second is:
2. Choose To Put Your Complete
Trust In God.
We don’t know how long Job grieved, but we do know
there was a day when he stopped. He grieves,
but he doesn’t stay in grief.
Did you notice verse 21?—“Then Job fell to the ground and worshipped
God!” Real trust comes only
through a personal relationship with God.
I want to make sure you understand this.
We can do a lot of different things to feel good once
in a while—but true faith, true trust comes only through a personal
relationship with God. When we trust or
value anything more than God, guess what happens? We’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.
You can’t trust in your money; money can be lost. You can’t trust in your skills; there are
some things your skills can’t get you through.
You can’t trust in your relationships; relationships can unravel. Where do you put your trust and hope? If you put it anywhere else than God for here
now and for eternity later, you will become a disillusioned
I Have Learned That I Can
Trust In God Because He Loves
Me Unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’m
doing, or what I will do. God loves me
unconditionally and I cling to this truth.
And so can you! I discovered that I can cling to this truth and I
can trust God because He’s always in control.
In your D-Day Invasion, you need to know who’s in control. God is—and you can trust in God.
Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but God is still in
control. I can trust God because He loves me unconditionally. He is in total control. He knows what’s going to happen. Most importantly—He promises to never leave
me and to always be there. Here’s a
third tactic to help you through the invasion of disillusionment:
3. Restate Your Eternal Hope In
We all need to believe in dreams—to believe that we
have a purpose and can achieve great things.
We should desire to be effective and successful. We should want to be the best that we can be
and drive hard towards it. However, when
these positive thinking traits are not balanced with the real world and real
life and the sovereignty of God, we can become Disillusioned.
When we develop unrealistic expectations, we’re
setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.
There’s a hard truth we have to face—The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You And It Doesn’t
Revolve Around Me. Sometimes
we have a hard time believing that, but it’s true.
Believing that the world revolves around you is a
sword that cuts you down. We have these
expectations that we should shoot for but when we don’t balance it with reality
we become Disillusioned. It’s great to dream,
and we need to work toward those dreams.
Jesus said that life would be hard sometimes. But he also promised to help us
overcome. We can walk around angry and disillusioned and wish things could
be different, or We Could Stop
And Take Responsibility For Our Own Stuff.
We Can Stop And Re-Evaluate Our Priorities—And Focus On What’s Really Important.
Really, what’s more important to you—to have a big
house and a new car, or to play catch with a child? It’s your choice. It’s perspective, isn’t it? This sword
cuts us down when we’re not honest with ourselves about our passions, our
purpose in life, and about our time constraints. Re-Evaluate
Your Expectations. Prioritize Your
Life. Set Your Face, Values And
Priorities With God And Continue To Move Forward.
The economy can crash, relationships fall apart,
health declines, but God is always the same.
Our hope is in Jesus. It’s the
confident expectation that God is willing and able to fulfill the promises that
He has made. Christian hope is based on Who He Is And What He Can Do, not on
you and me. It’s not based on our
With Christ, we are able to rise above our
circumstance no matter what they are because of who God is. Do you need that kind of hope? That firm foundation of trust? Are you wondering where your hope can be
It can only be found in the one who knows your past
and loves you anyway. He Promises To Hold Your Hand In The Present
And Has Your Eternal Security In His Heart And It’s Secure In Him. Hope and trust in God alone is the backbone
of this whole series. It’s how we can
survive and even learn to thrive in our D-Day invasions.
If You Are Hiding Your True
Feelings, Be Honest With God. You need not be afraid of telling God how you
really feel. He already knows and He’s
so full of grace and love for you, He can handle whatever it is you are
When Your Life Is Invaded By
Disillusionment, Talk It Out! I am always available to you. But find someone who will listen as you grieve, and at the right moment,
offer you hope. Make it someone who
won’t say “Let go and let God” or some other cute phrase. Make it someone who will listen to you, AND
the Holy Spirit.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
He is the Good Shepherd He knows what we can do when we rely
completely on Him.
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.
care isn’t an emotion or sentimental feeling.
His care is an active and progressive care. His care is seen through all He
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Fights And When He Fights, Satan Runs!
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
Good night, John Boy.
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.
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.
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 ethnosand 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!
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!
(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 6:8-17The Message
8 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.
And 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.
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
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.
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!
(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?”
Everything 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?”
All 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?”
Trust 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 end 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?
This 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.
“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 radical—he 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 Him—God’s got this!
2. He Had A Different Purpose
Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of God—His 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 working—Redeeming, 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 knew—that God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him. He knew that wherever he went, God was with him—and 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 out—how 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 branches—branches 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 out—because 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!
Jesus is a Radical and He calls us to follow His pattern for being the ultimate Radical. I’ve been writing about Radical Grace, and we can’t talk about Radical Grace without also talking about Radical Mercy. The radical nature of God’s mercy is that it is NOT a feeling or an emotion. God’s mercy goes much deeper. Often the view of mercy is like a cartoon I once saw.
2 boys were walking away from a church building and one said to the other: “I think I got it. Grace is getting from God what we don’t deserve and mercy is NOT getting from God what we do deserve. I like grace, but I really love mercy.” And that’s not necessarily a bad way to distinguish the difference from Grace and Mercy. But Mercy is more, so much more than NOT getting what we actually deserve. It’s more than an emotion; it is rooted in the heart and actions of God. It’s more than what God DOESN’T DO to us—it’s more about what God wants to do for us—and here’s the really radical thing—What God Longs To Do THROUGH us.
Think about the story in Matthew 9:9-13. Jesus had been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee where He put a beat-down on some demons who had possessed 2 men. Now He’s back in His other “town” of Capernaum. I know He’s from Nazareth, but think of Capernaum as His lake home. He had performed 2 miracles on 1 man. First He forgave the man of his sins and that got the local Self-Righteous Police up in arms. And to back up His claim to be able to forgive sins, He healed the man of his paralysis. That second miracle made the crowd go wild for Jesus, and this infuriated the Self-Righteous Police even madder.
Picture this: He’s walking down the streets of Capernaum and there it is: The Evil Tax Collector’s Office! Those Pharisees, those Holier-Than-Thou, Better-Than-You, The Protectors-Of-Religion, would probably never walk on that side of the street. They would have gone out of their way to avoid him. He’s a traitor! He’s Made The Bad Choices! He’s gotten rich off the backs of hardworking, honest folks. They would have seen him as disgusting—absolutely disgusting.
You know, like so many do to the homeless. They look at them believing they had made bad choices. That if they just tried harder, had refused the booze and the drugs, they wouldn’t be out there bumming on OUR streets. So they look away in disgust, just like those Protectors-Of-Religion. Have you ever done that to a homeless person? Have you looked away as if they didn’t exist? Did you ever feel disgust, like it was their own fault they were homeless? I know I have and I am totally ashamed of myself. When I do that, I’m not acting like Jesus—I’m not doing what Jesus would do. There’s no Radical Mercy in me! And I hate it!
And this tax collector has a name. He’s called Matthew, but he has another name—probably the name his parents gave him. It’s Levi! Now there’s a name with a lot of potential—it’s a priestly name—the name of the tribe God selected to serve HIM in the Tabernacle. I wouldn’t doubt that those Protectors-Of-Religion had even more disgust because this man was such a failure. He doesn’t deserve the time of day—and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in the synagogue nor the Temple.
Yet, Jesus does none of those things they would have done. He walks right up to his booth, and gets right in front of his desk. Here’s how I would imagine it happened. Matthew knew he was a Rabbi and probably thought, “Oh, good Lord, another sermon aimed at me.” But Jesus didn’t do that—I can see Jesus looking Matthew square in the eyes and then Jesus smiles—extends His hand and makes an offer that radically changes the life of this despised and hated man. The fact Jesus approached him without judgment or condemnation, smiles, and extends His hand in friendship changed the course of Matthew’s life. And it started with just 6 words—6 words mind you—“Follow me and be my disciple.”
I bet you a dollar to a donut that Matthew didn’t see that coming. And what does Matthew do? With just an approach without judgment, then extending of a hand and an offer—look at what Matthew does: So Matthew got up and followed him. And to mark this change of direction in life, Matthew does what Matthew knows to do—He throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honor. But what’s a party without people? The only friends he has are fellow sinners, so he invites them. And what does Jesus do? He goes to the party! And if the Protectors-Of-Religion weren’t mad enough, this infuriates them. But notice, they don’t dare approach Jesus about the matter.
So they turn on the other disciples with the question: “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” You know my imagination; I would bet those other disciples were scared spit less. After all, how can you answer such a question? Everyone knows you’re not supposed to associate with that kind of people. If you did, next thing you know they would be in church with us! And the Protectors-Of-Religion knows you can’t have people like that in church.
But Jesus doesn’t know you’re not supposed to do that. He hears them talking to His disciples and Jesus Steps Up And Steps In with a quote from the prophet Hosea in 6:6—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
He states it in a challenge: “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” Mercy isn’t the withholding of what is due. Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling. Mercy is a verb. In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings that we will look at tomorrow.
And remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
I have some wonderful DNA in me, both the physical kind and that of the spiritual nature. But due to the nature of this fallen creation, I do have some “not-so-wonderful” DNA. On both sides of my DNA is a history of cardiovascular issues. My Dad has been on hypertension medications since he was in his late 30’s. About two and a half years ago, at the age of 58 I began taking hypertension medications. At the age of 88 he had triple bypass surgery and since 2008 I have had 2 arteriograms due to severe chest pains. The first time I found out it was my gall bladder and the last time, my heart doc call it unspecified angina due to stress. A pastor experiencing stress, who ever heard of such a thing! Inconceivable!
Recently I have been experiencing something different. I truly hate to sound like a hypochondriac, but due to the aforementioned DNA, my wife insists I go see our cardiologist. It felt like my heart was racing away and I have a few episodes where it felt like my heart was bouncing against my sternum. I checked my heart rate and it was 180 beats per minute. Don’t think that was in the normal range. The pain wasn’t sharp, but a real sense of pressure; and after the heart rate returned to normal, exhaustion. So I went to see my Heart Doc. He knows about my DNA (he’s also my Dad’s Heart Doc) so he put a 24 hour heart monitor on me to record every heart beat and my heart rate for that 24 hours.
When I went back for the results, he wasn’t pleased with the report. He asked me if I wanted to go to Huntsville, Nashville or Birmingham. Our area does not have the specialist I needed. It seems he thinks I have this thing called Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. I have had heart rates as high at 184 beats per minute. My local heart doc does not do what needs to be done. He said he is a cardiac plumber but I need to see a cardiac electrician, someone who is known as a cardiac electrophysiologist.
Well, last week I had my first appointment with the cardiac electrician, Dr. Paul Tabereaux. He confirmed that my heart has some electrical issues and sat down with me to explain my options (I like options!). I could take some medication to control it but it would leave me feeling like I felt after an episode, but it would be all the time. I don’t like that option. The other option would be to have a procedure called an ablation which should solve the problem. Oh well, so much for options because I do not want to take more medicine.
This, call it “life-event”, has brought to mind Psalm 139:23 (NLT)
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Dr. Tabereaux described this procedure to me and Debbie in detail. Entering through a femoral vein, he would insert a catheter, actually several. Once inside my heart he would create a 3-D map of the inside of my heart. Then he will send electrical impulses into my heart in order to identify the problem. Oh, the problem! Well it seems that these things called nodes have created an electrical loop causing my heart to beat very fast, too fast. Once the loop is located he will proceed to “burn” part of that loop, thus interrupting that loop by scaring a part of my heart muscle.
Now some, may wonder how creating this “scar” will help my heart. He assured us that it would do the trick and set my heart back into normal rhythm and thus ending these palpitations. Not only do I have Dr. Tabereaux’s assurance, but I know some people who have had the same procedure by the same doctor and they are doing well and living their lives. So that gives us a calmness because the idea of poking around inside, I said INSIDE my heart, well that is a bit disconcerting. And then burning part of my heart? He says it will work and I have the personal testimony of others who said it works.
And it hit me, this describes what the Psalmist is talking about in today’s passage. He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”, similar to what this cardiac electrician knows about my physical heart. Then he writes, “test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Similar to what this cardiac electrician will do to my physical heart.
Sometimes, the things we put into our hearts, or that we have allowed to stay in our hearts, creates a loop where we never move forward, never move beyond. And at our invitation, God will come and help identify those “anxious loops” that keep us from going further, growing deeper, and trusting God even more. The Monday morning attitude is fueled by those “loops”. Maybe your loop is fear, control, guilt, anger, lust, or shame, just to name a very few.
One of the worst things that can create this “loop” that keeps us from the normal rhythm of Kingdom Life is living outside God’s design for you. A word that best describes this “loop” that many do not like to use or hear is sin. We can blame others, or accept the lie that says, “Well, I was just born this way. It’s who I am and it’s not my fault.” We need to trust God’s grace to repair these loops. And the only way He can repair these loops is to let Him into our hearts. Give Him access to every room, every “chamber” of our heart. Trust that He knows what He is doing, and listen to the testimony of others who have allowed The Eternal Cardiologist to work on their heart. Their testimony will be about what He “fixed” in them, not what He needs to “fix” in you. The truth is that God doesn’t “work” on our heart; He does something much better. He gives us a new heart!
And now I am waiting for Dr. Tabereaux’s office to call me as to when all this will happen. But in the meanwhile, I am allowing God to “burn off” some things that are keeping my spiritual heart in a loop, rather than following Him to become all He sees in me, all that He made me to be here in His creation.
When we allow God to look inside our hearts and give Him permission to go to work by removing anything that is contrary to His Intended Design for us, then we can say: “Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?” Let’s pray:
I don’t know any better way to ask it, but the way the Psalmist puts it: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. I give you permission to look at everything and repair those “loops” that are keeping me away from the healthy rhythms of Kingdom Life. Oh, and help me remember I need to have follow-ups with you to make sure another “loop” doesn’t develop. Amen and Amen!