a gathering . . .

I’ve thought a lot about church in the last two and a half years. To be more honest I’ve thought a lot about church my whole life.  The hardest thing about church is change. More than any other organization I know the church is often the most resistant to change. We are the best at making rules and regulations out of personal preferences or tradition.

It should be no secret that the church has lost the battle in North America. (75% of the Christian church is now outside of North America)  The battle was 6281776437_d445407f10_bfor the souls of men and women outside our churches but the vast majority of churches have not seen new people in their buildings or people coming to faith in decades. Churches are closing at an alarming rate although it’s not really alarming and maybe a good thing.  The two percent of churches that are growing are very attractional in nature but in reality most (not all) of their growth is from the dying or “not so cool” churches around them without the bands, media and mega toys.

Having done church that way,  I know that about six or seven years ago I became very dissatisfied with church as it was where I was leading. Not so much with the smaller sites which is where my heart was but the “Sunday Morningpalooza” as I referred to it in my head was almost more than I could take. It was exceptionally well done. Professional in every way. Our hearts were in the right place I think but it wasn’t the place to put all of our efforts and energy unless we wanted to attract consumer driven people mostly from other churches. (For me consumer driven people are people that want to attend a church mostly for the Sunday morning experience and care little for doctrine, ministry opportunities, personal calling or outreach. It’s about getting in and out of a service and going on with their lives.) Please note that all were not consumers. It is just very hard to make disciples out of people that are committed to an hour a week of Jesus. Especially when that hour is staring at a stage or looking at the back of someone’s head in front of you.

Someone has to try another way. Someone has to venture out into the world and away from the church and blaze a new trail. Not for the trend seekers to follow or to write a new best-selling Christian book, but for the sake of lost people for whom the church might as well be non-existent. Thankfully I’ve come across a few of these people recently and they inspire me. From coffee shops to home gatherings they are making inroads into people’s lives. It is not measurable in the way that denominations love to measure but God’s record keeping is the most important anyway and from what I can tell He is sending people their way instead of to the doors of the church.

It makes me want to call together my friends that don’t attend church and offer them a weekly gathering that will truly allow them to connect with Christ and others. To cut through or even cut out the stuff we have come to accept as important or at least important to us keeping our ministry jobs.

So what would it look like? I don’t know for sure but maybe I can describe what I have been feeling and dreaming about.

It would be a place for broken people not perfect people

It would be a place where you could talk openly about your brokenness and struggles and find understanding, grace, accountability and healing.

It would be a place of prayer.

It would be a place where time would be spent praying for one another during our time together.

It would be a place where children would learn alongside their families and adults. This means that as kids grow they would have a lot of people in their corner.

It would be a place of confidentiality and safety.

It would be a place where we would bear the needs of our community both immediate and in the world community.

It would be a place where we take as much time as is needed to understand God’s word.

It would be a place where we would trust God to bring or lead us to the people that He wants to be there and that He would want us to connect with.

It would be a place of tears and laughter. We would weep with those that weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

It would be a place and a people that joined themselves to God’s story and narrative on this earth.

It would be a place where the Word would be simply taught and lived out with passion, grace, mercy and love.

Practically speaking we would gather in a room and sit or stand in a way that would not include sitting in rows.  We would have open times of prayer where you could talk and share your burdens and be received with grace and peace. We would open God’s word maybe through song and spoken word but I’m not sure it would look or feel anything like what I currently know. We would break bread together and we would pray together with great burden over the condition of our world.  We would connect with other Christians around the world so that we could share in their suffering and we would learn from them. We would love God first, each other and the world around us.

There is so much more that could be said about each one of these and maybe someday I will find the time and scriptures to support these thoughts.

For now I will dream and pray and wait . . .  I’m in no hurry and God does everything in perfect timing,

 

If I would have preached on Easter . . .

Religion 211-212 The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His ApostleIf I would have preached on Easter I would have offered this simple message based on Mary Magdalene’s desire to be near her friend and Lord.

Art Linkletter built a humorous legacy from his interviews with children.  One such conversation with a five-year-old girl produced the following thoughts on Easter. She was asked, “Do you know what Easter is?” She replied, “Oh yes. Easter is when Jesus died and they put him in a tomb with a big rock and then three days later they rolled back the rock and Jesus walked out and he didn’t see his shadow.”

Well, she had it partly right. Jesus did walk out of the tomb. He casts a shadow of hope that you can still see today.

Picture yourself for a moment in a historical story. . . For about three years you have followed a man by the name of Jesus Christ. You have watched Him do incredible miracles and you have also witnessed the incredible change He made in your own life.

For the last few days you have watched Him be tortured publicly, lied about, sentenced to die and then you watched Him die. Inhumanely He dies hanging on a cross between two common criminals. It is more than you can take. Your heart is breaking. You feel like dying yourself. You really don’t want to go on living.

Her name was Mary and she discovered early in the darkness of the morning following Jesus burial that He was not in the tomb. It was an incredible moment and she shared it with two of the disciples who were also on their way to the grave site. The others observed the empty tomb and the Bible says they simply went “to their own homes.” But Mary stayed.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!” “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.” John 20:11

Circumstances, situations and things happen that cause us to reel in pain. Life can be harsh, cruel, painful and devastating. You may feel as though life itself has been sucked or drained out of you. If you feel nothing, if you feel dead or you feel like life is not worth living, then I have some really good news. You can be alive again!

The caterpillar crawls into the cocoon and there are no signs of life, no production, no creeping and crawling or whatever else caterpillars do. There is just nothing that you can see. But then there is an emerging. A coming from a death like state to life. The cocoon breaks open, the caterpillar emerges and you have a new creature. Wings, life, freedom.

For a few minutes I want to ask you to think of your life. Think of what you carry around with you on a daily basis. The things that drag you down and hold you back. Now I want to show you what happened in Mary’s life that brought her to a place of being alive again.

1. We all will endure seasons of weeping.

Everyone will weep at some time in their life. Recently I have watched people weep for things that range from the serious to the silly when you compare them. Watching the anguish of a Father in Florida shedding tears over the horrific death of his daughter seems legitimate in comparison with college basketball players weeping over the loss of a game during the so called March Madness.

Life is full of disappointments. They can come in all kinds of ways: job, relationships, marriage, children, parents, money, poverty, riches, or a host of other things can bring on times of weeping.

Whether you know it or not everyone weeps at some time in their life. The question is how are you holding up? How are you enduring the long night of your soul?

You may say, “I don’t feel any better knowing that everyone else has wept. I am concerned about me and what is going on right now.”

I understand that. Mary was so focused on her own loss that while others left to go home she stayed in the cemetery by herself.

“Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

You may feel that you have lost something precious to you and you are lost with out it. In fact you are dead without it or that person or circumstance. There is a verse of scripture buried deep within the Psalms I want to pry open the first glimpse of life for some of you today.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

There is something else that happened to Mary. “She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!”

2. We must embrace our soul-need to worship.

Every human being on the face of the earth has a built in internal drive to worship. People worship the craziest things. sports figures, rock bands and the people in them, Weird religious gurus, money, things or possessions, relationships, power, control, titles, sex and pornography, drugs, parents, children, cars and a whole lot of other crazy things.

According to the dictionary worship means: n 1: the activity of worshiping 2: a feeling of profound love and admiration [syn: adoration] v 1: love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; “Many teenagers idolized the Beatles” [syn: idolize,  hero-worship, revere]  The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.

What are you worshiping today? What have you invested your devotion and profound love in?

To experience our own personal resurrection we must embrace our soul-need to worship and the only thing we believe that merits or is ultimately satisfying is to worship Jesus Christ. That is what Mary did. The object of her affection was none other than Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.

For some of you that may be tough to believe. How could what happened so long ago have any effect on me? All I know to tell you today is that the testimonies of millions of people ring true. The true testimony of a real genuine Christ follower is simply, “I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.” Find a genuine Christ follower and you will hear the story of a worshiper. One who worships the Christ who is worthy to be worshiped. Ask yourself this question, “Is what I have given my life to going to mean anything to me when I come to the end of my life?”

The only thing I know that will mean anything to anyone when the face eternity will be Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:38 Jesus challenged his followers with these words, “Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul? If a person is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in the glory of my Father with the holy angels.”

Nancy Cheatham writes: “My sister bought a new car that was loaded with high-tech options. The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead a message flashed across the dash: “Drive car in 360 degrees.” She had no idea what that meant, and so when she got home she read the car manual.

She learned that while trying to turn on the windshield wipers she had inadvertently turned off the internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset.Each time we gather to worship, we are resetting our internal compass. We establish “true north” in our soul, remembering who God is and what his truth proclaims.

3. We emerge to share a witness!

Just like a butterfly that emerges from a cocoon to fly into open and free air we to emerge from an encounter with Jesus Christ to tell a story of freedom and life!

Mary was so overwhelmed she couldn’t keep it to herself. We read these words, “Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.”

This message is not just for people who don’t know anything about Christ or Easter. Let me address the rest of us for a moment. How excited are you about what Christ has done in your life? How connected are you to Him? You see what can happen too often is while we serve Him and live for Him and show up at church every Sunday there is more to Jesus Christ than that. He longs for us to have a relationship with Him. He wants us to pray, to sing to Him, to worship Him with our lives and actions every day of the week.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! sunbursts of light!” Isaiah 9:2

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

When you see the light and walk in the light you will have your own resurrection. You will be alive again. The question is what are you doing with this incredible gift that comes to us in the form of Jesus Christ?

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. “Bill’ and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house.

He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill home again. As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him.

He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

As I thought about this story, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didn’t understand it, or they didn’t believe that it was possible.

The truth of the matter is, the world is full of empty promises. We watch TV, and the advertisements tell us that we can be happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long before we have been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness. But, God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, he gave us emptiness that is full of promise.

I would love to remember the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty. An empty cross, and empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It is the very fact that each of these is empty that assures us that God’s promises are real. Because they couldn’t hold Jesus, because he couldn’t be contained by the cross, the tomb, or even his burial clothes, we can be sure of the fullness of God’s promises in our lives.

I believe that it is John Maxwell who tells a story about a blazer that he bought from Nordstrom. “About a year and a half ago, I bought a new navy blazer at Nordstrom. It was one of those cases you may have gone through where you buy an item of clothing and the more you wear it, the more you realize you don’t like it. My blazer wasn’t the right color, and to make matters worse, it attracted lint like it was going out of style. After wearing it pretty regularly for six months or so, I stuck it in my closet and didn’t wear it for a long time. Tucked away in the back of my mind all the while was that famous Nordstrom unconditional-return policy. I thought, I’ve had this thing for a year and a half. I’ve worn it lots of times, and there’s just no way they’re going to take it back. About two weeks ago I decided I had nothing to lose. I pulled the blazer out, threw a lot of lint on it to make it look bad, and took it down to Nordstrom’s men’s department. I walked in, and immediately I felt nervous. I felt like I was about to pull a scam of some sort, but I played it straight. I walked right up to the first salesman I saw and gave this little prepared speech. I said, “I am about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a blazer. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. I don’t like it. It’s the wrong color, and it attracts lint like it’s going out of style. But I want to return this blazer for another blazer that I like.” Then I stood there.

I couldn’t believe it. This guy with a big handlebar mustache just looked at me and shook his head. He said, “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long? Let’s go find you a blazer.” Ten minutes later I walked out with another blazer that was marked seventy-five dollars more than I paid for the one that I brought in. It was perfect for me. Didn’t cost me a penny. In a small way, the Nordstrom Department Store is a lot like God. They are willing to back up their promises.”

God backs up His promises. Today He is sitting at the right hand of the Father praying for us. Interceding for us. He knows about you. He cares about you. He longs to be in a relationship with you. He is preparing a place for us so that we will never be separated again from those we love.

Tell His story because His story is your story. And He is alive and walking with you today. I am so thankful for the hope of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Because He lives I can face tomorrow. I can face today. I can face the past. I rest on His unchanging grace. I am unworthy but filled with the passion love that Mary felt on that day. He is my Lord. He is alive.

Past, Present and Future . . .

ThinkstockPhotos-466742774I think a lot about my life. These days any successes of the past are often overshadowed by the detour, the failures, the disappointments, and the brokenness. There are days when I wonder about my past, present and future. I struggle to find and grasp the hope that is written about in God’s word. It’s the only hope I desire because I am smart enough and enlightened enough to know that it is the only hope that matters.

Recently while driving to work, I was wondering about how to have a deeper and more personal relationship with Christ. Wondering how to push past what happened yesterday and embrace today and His grace. I’m not sure how I got to past, present and future but I am constantly thinking with a shepherds heart (Translation: pastor’s heart) and so I went in my mind to how to communicate this journey and simplify it in a way that people could and would grasp it. If your desire is to know Jesus and really have a relationship with Him I think that there are three things or time periods that matter the most.

Think for a few moments about these three time periods in your life:

The past

The present

The future

The Past: Most of our pasts are checkered with both good and bad. What’s done is done and you cannot change it. It’s part of  your history. As someone quipped, “You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube.” If you are desiring to know Christ and to walk with Him daily you must surrender your past.  All of it. No matter how tainted it is or how hard you have fallen in the past, from this day forward you must look with faith to the work of  Christ who died that the sins of our past could be erased. We struggle with this because often we don’t find that forgiveness very easily from some people in our life. Many times it is those who are representative of His body on this earth and that can be really distracting. Press ahead. Be humble and sorrowful with godly repentance but move forward. Accept what Christ offers. Believe it. Embrace it. Let the mercy, grace, peace and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ pour over you.

The Present: Life on this earth is so short. It is such a minuscule amount of time in comparison with the eternity that is to follow. The older you get the more you realize that time moves quickly and you wonder where it’s gone. What matters the most is and what will matter the most when we stand before God someday and that is what we have done with the present.  The only way you and I can live and love like Jesus is to know Him and the only way to know Him is to spend time with Him. To read from the word and come to love it. To know Him in prayer and intentional quiet times where the noise of this life is shut out. It’s about spiritual intimacy with Him. You shut the door to distractions and daily you communicate with Him. Out of our closeness with Him comes clarity.

Clarity of position: You come to know how much you are a child of God and that Jesus is your brother and friend. You wouldn’t think of not talking with Him every day and even all day long.

Clarity of purpose: What does He want you to do with your time here and now? Who does Jesus want you to touch with your life? How does He want to use your gifts and strengths?

Clarity of passion: Do whatever you have to do to put God first. Live in such a way that when you come down to draw your last breath and you reflect on your life there will be no regrets. I’m not talking about regrets from “the past” because those are forgiven and are not to be remembered anymore, but regrets about the present and how you lived your life. What did you give yourself to? Who did you invest in to make a eternal difference in their life? The stuff we surround our lives with often only serves to distract us from what really matters.  People matter. Our families matter. Our neighbors matter. Even our money will all stay here when we die so why not find ways to give that make a true difference in other’s lives. Find a not for profit that is truly ministering on behalf of Christ and invest in the Kingdom.

The Future: Eternity matters! Someone said if you take a tape measure that has a beginning and no end that the first inch would represent our time being alive on this earth. The rest of the tape measure with no ending represents eternity. When we live our lives centered around Christ and trust Him with our failures, our faith, and our finish we have no worries about eternity. In fact, the hope of heaven becomes sweeter and sweeter the more we detach from this world.

Jesus takes on our past and provides new birth and a new life, He helps shape our present and is praying for us daily at the right hand of God the Father, and according to the sacred writings of the Bible He has gone to prepare a place for us where there will be no more tears, separations, heartbreak, sickness or death.

Give Him your past. Let Him have your present and start today preparing for the future. It will be worth it.

The Sabbath . . . rambling thoughts

Since October of 2014 I have been mostly unattached to the church. There is one church that698446b3b58a06291e416ad39b46c41e we have attended more than anywhere else and it has been a place of grace, mercy and peace for which we are very thankful. For most of my entire life I never missed church. The thought of a Sunday off was not in my stream of thought. Let me list some disclaimers in reference to what I am about to write:

I believe in the importance of belonging to a group of people that view themselves as the church.

I believe that we need each other and a place to practice our gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.

I believe in the Sabbath although church has little to do with true Sabbath observance

I believe that it is hard to maintain one’s faith alone. We need to be connected to other followers.

So with that being said after years of never missing church I need to process my thinking and what I have experienced the last couple of years. For the most part Christians do not observe the Sabbath. It is not a day of rest. It is not a day dedicated to God all day long or a day for allowing our bodies and souls to catch up as we rest. The typical Sunday morning is a rush to get out the door. (Sounds like every other day of the week)  We worry about how we look and what others are going to think of how we look. We worry about “the experience.”  Is it going to be worthwhile? Are we going to walk away with anything beneficial? Will the music be good or great? What will our kids do during church?  If you are involved in ministry at church you get there early and stay late. Where will we eat afterward? Will we eat at home? Who’s going to fix all that food and clean up the mess? And then the rest of the day most Christians spend running here or there. We shop, we mow our yards; we play; we work and get lots of things done. We run and run some more.

An honest view of what the Sabbath was supposed to be, would cause us to stop and rethink what we have turned it into. I’ll let you think that through for yourself.

On a recent Sunday morning I moved to the couch about 5:30 in the morning after letting the dog out. I watched and listened to the woods outside come alive with the typical sounds that accompany this daily event. I felt my body resting. I thought more about God and my relationship with Him then I typically do in church. I have a hard time focusing on God in church. I prayed. I slept. I recovered. I relaxed. And . . . . I didn’t feel guilty. I felt refreshed. For once this day felt different than every other day of the week where I rush out the door and go from morning till night.

I’m not advocating staying home from church. 

I am always advocating for church to reinvent itself and respond to finding better ways to lead people to connect with God and others. I am a huge advocate for simple church or gathering together to pray and open the Word. I long to be part of a living organism and not just another organization that only gets more demanding in its ability to function. This is an age old problem and serving has always been part of the church dynamic. Twenty percent generally serve the eighty percent that consume. That makes church work as well.

This is what I believe the Sabbath should be:

A Day of Rest

A Day for Reflection

A Day for Renewal      (If you want the whole sermon go to  http://www.sermonhunt.com  2/13/05)

sabbathI won’t always stay home on the couch on Sunday but it awakened a yearning inside me to stop the rat race for one day a week. I am thinking about it. I am going to figure it out. There has to be an answer. This blog is just pondering out loud. It’s just me rambling.  Maybe it only applies to me and if so you can pray that I find a way to “sabbath” correctly. I want to find a way to make the day holy again. It was not laziness but it was a morning of rest, reflection and renewal. It felt right and it felt holy like I was really honoring God. Maybe Saturday evening church is the answer and then Sunday could be a true Sabbath.

Fear . . . or faith?

fearThere are moments in my life when I can become consumed with fear. Sometimes this is more severe than others. When I allow myself to remember and reflect I realize this battle with fear is as old as I am.

I was afraid a lot as a child. I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid to go upstairs alone at night. I was afraid to go next door to the church on a Sunday night when my dad would remember that he left something in his office and would ask or tell me to go get it. I would do it but I also remember the gripping fear of walking in that church building alone. I would switch on every light in the breaker box just to the left of the front doors of the buildling. That was still creepy but the ten feet between the breaker box and the front door after switching them all off was the worst.

I feared hell. The preaching in the 60’s and 70’s left little doubt in my mind that I would ever graduate from high school let alone get married or live an adult life. The Lord was coming back any moment based on the sinfulness of our society. Can’t imagine what those same preachers would say today in this society and with the condition of much of the church in North America. I was terrified when I would get separated from my mother at the store which seemed to happen a lot. Frantically I would search aisle by aisle looking for her. Often I would conclude that Jesus had returned and that I had been “left behind.” Total panic would set in until finally I would spot her.

As I grew up the fears changed. In my teen years I certainly became less afraid of the dark but fear was a constant companion. Some of it was just normal teen angst. Afraid to not fit in. Afraid of pimples coming out on my face. Afraid that the gentler sex might not find me attractive. And then there was the fear of not being “right with God.” I took care of that one between my junior and senior year of high school.

Moving into young adulthood produced other fears. Fears of failing in marriage, (meaning never measuring up) Fears of failing as a parent, having no clue what to do or how to truly parent. I feared for my kids and bringing them into this world. Looking back I did fail in so many areas as a dad. Thankfully they somehow turned out pretty amazing.

Life took over and for thirty plus years life happened. Good things, great things some things not so good. Life is hard and you have to work at it. There came a point in my last few years that I was overcome with the fear of being alone. I’ve addressed that whole “alone” thing in an earlier blog but suffice it to say that to this day I still fear being alone. The last three years especially I have feared this. Much of it was brought on by the changes in relationships and friendships that I thought were rock solid. I have since learned they are not. I guess it is not accurate to say that I fear being alone as much as it is to say I don’t like it or desire it.

I know I am loved daily by my wife and family. That is a source of great comfort. I want to finish out this life with healthy relationships based on love and even unconditional love. Of course only God really loves unconditionally (and maybe the dog) but I have felt that from a few friends as well. My actions did not drive them away. The disappointments I caused were not friendship breakers. When I needed them the most they didn’t walk away . . . they stayed.  They kept talking to me even when I am sure it was difficult.

I still have fears. I still don’t like being alone or the feeling that I could wind up alone one day. I fear my retirement years. Church (Nazarene in particular) retirement is notoriously horrible and so as I listen to the people I now work with talk about their state retirements and what they will make I am beyond fearful. I honestly don’t know what I will do. I guess pray for good health and just keep on working. I don’t fear hard work but I pray that I will always be healthy and able to work a long time. Retirement is not on my horizon. I can’t even allow myself to think about it.

I don’t fear my relationship with God. While I am sure there are some that might doubt that relationship I have never been surer in my life. In my failures He came and found me and rescued me when I least deserved it. I don’t fear the truth because in spite of the innuendos, gossip and speculations some day all will be revealed and the truth will be told but I will leave that to God.

I am not paralyzed by fear but it is a reality that we all live with at times. That’s why God often said or expressed these words through others in the Bible;

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:7

“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

“Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” Deuteronomy 3:22

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor 1b5de06010a0a4f9525039b921372e1blife, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39

I am learning to give Him my fears day by day. None of us are sure of anything but God.

When I was a boy I grew up hearing two godly men play their guitar and mandolin and sing a song about the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den and other biblical characters that were in a place of fear. After telling the story in the verse they would belt out these words in the chorus: “Whatever comes, whatever goes; Just let it come from friend or foe. with the victory just sing this song. we won’t be in here long.” I will not be afraid.

 

Our Father’s Love . . .

If it is true that our view of God is sometimes skewed by our earthy fathers actions then 1468201729673many of us are in need of an accurate theology of God the Father. Maybe theology  is too strong of a word, but an accurate view is critical if we are to understand who God is.

This past Sunday while sharing breakfast with my wife, we talked about this. In fact it was part of our personal worship time together. It is incredibly hard to view or accept the perfection of God our Father when  that view is shaped by fathers with human errors and flaws.

For instance if your earthly father was not an active part of your life you are going to have real issues believing how much God wants to be in your life or how much He wants to know the details of your life. If your earthly father was critical, judgmental and non-approving of you it will be hard to accept the unconditional love of God.

If your earthly father was absent, distant, authoritarian, passive or even abusive you will have issues figuring out who God is. As we sat at breakfast we talked about the father in the story of the Prodigal Son story told by Jesus. I love that story for many reasons and have blogged about it before. The father in the story represents God and should be a constant reminder of who God is. What we are sharing here is not in any way a comprehensive study but just some simple thoughts. This is what we came up with, based on this story,  as a guide to think correctly about our Heavenly Father:

The Prodigal Son’s father:

  • He waited patiently for his son
  • He watched purposefully for his son
  • He wanted the presence of his son
  • He never wavered in his passion for his son

He waits for us to come to our senses and return if we wander off in our own direction. He watches for us and never gives up even when others around us may. He longs for us to be in His presence. It’s a daily thing with God and He misses us when we ignore Him and let even a day go by without talking to Him. His love is passionate and never fails or wavers. No matter what He still loves, redeems and forgives.

The hardest things for most of us to accept is God’s perfect love. People will assign conditions to it or they may even misrepresent it but if you focus on God and His story you will know that He loves you and that He is the ultimate Father. Here are some other supportive scriptures:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  –Matthew 6:26

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.  –Matthew 18:12-14

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  –Luke 6:35-36

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  –Luke 12:32

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”  –John 14:1-2

No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  — John 16:27

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  — Romans 8:15-16

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  — Matthew 7:9-11

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  –1 John 3:1

“When he came to his senses, he said…I will set out and go back to my father”  –Luke 15:17

968px-Rembrandt_Harmensz-779x824Today make sure you “call” your Father. He longs to hear from you no matter where you are calling from. Run to Him. Don’t hold back. Don’t be timid. Listen to Him. Look at Him as He comes running toward you. Feel His embrace and His hands. He knows your name. He knows your secrets. He know you . . .and He loves you!          — Wes and Fran

What would you say to Judas?

fullsizerender-4-copyThis post is dedicated to the men and women who know what it is to fail and let others down. You are the same person you always were yet you are looked at very differently and for some people that you were close to apparently a continued relationship will be too much. I don’t pretend to understand all of the dynamics others may feel that cause them to react in certain ways but I offer these thoughts

Jesus was in the house of Simon one evening when a woman came in unannounced and poured a bottle of very expensive perfume over his head. The disciples were indignant and suggested that the money to purchase it should have been given to the poor. There is no evidence in scripture that the original disciples cared all that much about the poor but much like many church folks today they were thought it would be spiritual to complain about the expenditure.  Apparently it really got to Judas. After all he was in charge of the finances for this rag tag group of disciples.

For whatever reason we find out that Judas went to the leading priests and offered to tell them where Jesus was. I really think it was just bitterness and discontent that made him do this and that he had no idea it would lead to Jesus death. When it dawned on him that Jesus was going to trial and about to die we find these words in Matthew 27:

Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. Matthew 27:1-5 NLT

I have read this over and over and contemplated for quite awhile what I’m about to write. I offer these thoughts as a challenge to all of us as we practice redemption and grace to those that may fall or fail around us. I remarked to one of my sisters recently that moral failure within the church leaves you with very few options. One of them is to kill yourself . . .literally kill yourself and remove yourself from the hate that you will feel. (Pastors in America are being tracked for the high rate of suicide. It is everywhere online if you want to read more.)  Another is to disappear and hope that you never cross paths with the people you thought you were close to as ministry partners. Apparently they take it the hardest. Recently on a Sunday, I encountered a mother that used to attend where I pastored last. Her kids were with her and I said hi but felt pretty gun shy about it. She was open, friendly, happy and even thanked me later for engaging her kids. What a contrast to a few parents who’s children I was closest to that have made sure they or their children never cross my path.

I need to say that the vast majority of  people I/we have dealt with have been very kind, compassionate and full of grace. I appreciate that more than you can know unless you have walked this road. Having said that I must be honest and say that the quietness of the few has been painful, disconcerting and felt more like hate then love. The avoidance, the shunning, the “passing by on the other side” is reminiscent of nothing I read in scripture. With all that in mind let me take you back to Judas’s story.

He woke up the day after his failure and betrayal and realized he had made a terrible mistake. He never dreamed that his actions would bring about the death of Jesus. The scripture above says that he was filled with remorse and so he made his way back to the “church” or high priest. He admitted that he had sinned and made a mistake. He begged to be able to fix it. The answer he received makes my blood run cold. It causes me to feel sick to my stomach.

The one place he could of and should of have found hope was the last place he would receive it. There was no grace. There was no mercy. There was no compassion. This is what he received:

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

And so it is. Not much has changed I’m afraid. Yes, I know this was the Jewish faith and not Christianity but it makes very little difference. Our roots are in the same God and even Jesus was a Jew as were all the disciples. This was the religion of the day. This was the place of faith and hope. This was the only place of refuge for forgiveness at that moment in Judas’s life. If he could have just waited a few more days before choosing to end his life he might have discovered the resurrected Jesus.

The church didn’t offer it but based on Jesus and who He was and based on my own story I can assure you He would have found him and restored him. When you fail you can’t undo some things. Judas could not undo or take it back but he would have been forgiven and Jesus would have not held it against him for days, months or years or the rest of His life.

It was Jesus that told the story of leaving the 99 sheep to find the one lost lamb. It was Jesus who said “that everyone that believes in Him will receive eternal life.” It was Jesus that forgave his executioners. It was Jesus that came to seek and save those that were lost.

To those who fail in the future . . . and I so hope you do not, be aware that Jesus is your only hope. He will not fail you. He will not run away from you. He will not avoid you or ignore you. He will not hate you or speak meanly to you. He will not hope you fail at things you try to do with the rest of your life. He will not wish you dead.

Jesus would have loved Judas and welcomed him back just like He did with the disciple Peter who also denied Him but in a different way.  Yes the standard of authentic faith is high. I have always believed that and tried to live it.  I did live it . . . until I faltered and failed. That’s when I was faced with the decision: Live or die? Give up or keep going? Move forward or sit sidetracked for the rest of my life? I still have moments . . . not suicide moments but moments of wondering what it would be like to have received help from the people I thought I was close to. By God’s grace, I have moved on. I do not wait for their phone calls anymore, and someday I will probably quit wishing I still had a relationship with them.

Many times in the last two years I’ve heard the voice of Jesus whisper in my spirit:

“I do care.” and “This is not your problem alone.”

Thank you to friends both old and new that have stayed a part of our lives. You helped save me and I am grateful for that. Thanks to new friends in ministry that have wept at my losses and failures but held out the hope and grace of our loving God. They have extended His mercy as real ambassadors of Christ

What would you say to Judas? My fear is that most of us apart from God’s mercy at work in us would say these words:  “What do we care, that’s your problem.”

Thank you Jesus for loving me. When I have my moments of doubt about your love I understand why Judas ended it all. Life without you is not worth living. But in the words of a song I grew up singing . . . “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds my future, and life is worth the living, just because HE lives. I will press on. In a few weeks we will celebrate the resurrection but for some of us it will begin with Ash Wednesday and we will fast something and add something to remember our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness place .He didn’t fail or fall but he declared that He came to seek and save those who were lost. He came to bind up the broken hearted. He loves you more then you can imagine. He never walks away. He never quits or gives up on you. Life is worth living.