What’s Going Before You?

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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 supposed 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!

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WMTM?

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We live in a culture saturated with alphabet acronyms.  Blame it on cell phones and social media if that makes you feel better.  OMG; BTW; IDK; BFF; (some others that, well, just aren’t suitable for a Follower of Jesus blog); these are just a few.  Now add one more WMTM.  What does this one mean?  Glad you asked.  It means What Matters The Most?

Last Monday it seemed that in news feeds and social media there was a lot of ranting against NFL Players disrespecting the American Flag.  (I had a few comments about that.  You can check it out at my other blog Kingdom Pastor if you haven’t already.)  But this morning’s news feed and social media is about something far more serious and even more important.  I refer to the shooting deaths and injuries in Las Vegas last evening.  News about overpaid athletes isn’t worth reading about this morning.  Hopefully the perspective of many more will change, not just today, but for the rest of their lives.

I am appalled at the decision this person reached when he chose to open fire from the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Hotel, but I am not shocked by his decision.  According to MacMillan Dictionary, to be shocked means: “very surprised and upset by something bad that happens unexpectedly“.  The key word is “unexpectedly”.  This and other acts of violence should not be unexpected.  Last Sunday there was a tragic shooting at a church in Antioch, Tennessee.  Stories like these happen way too often.  And I know somewhere that someone is going to blame this on “gun violence”.  To their credit, they are half-right.  The part they are correct in is that word “violence”.  But the cause is much deeper.

Our country is filled with so much hate and to fuel the hate, instigators rely on fake-news, misinformation, and even history to spread those flames.  Many will attempt to “fix” the problem by “fixing” the symptoms but never addressing the real issue and real disease.  The real issue is the hearts and minds of people and not some manufactured product or the dark history when human beings were inhumane to fellow human beings.  The real disease is evil, and until we address the pandemic of evil, more news like this morning’s news will continue; it should be expected.

Changing the Constitution, tearing down monuments, disrespecting all law enforcement officers because of a very few bad apples–none of that changes the real problem.  And Tenured Pew Sitters:  complaining about those haters doesn’t change anything.  It only spreads the disease of evil–being expressed through your hate.  OK, I just heard someone ask:  “OK, Rev. All-Wise-And-Know-It-All, what do YOU suggest?”  Oh, I am so glad you asked that question (even though I’m not “all-wise”, but thanks to the Holy Spirit I do have some wisdom; and though I do not know-it-all, I am intimately acquainted with the ONE who does know-it-all and then some).

Our Scripture this morning gives us the cure and solution for what ails this land.  Look again at that last verse:  “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”  What if we, who allegedly profess to follow Jesus, actually did this every day, all day long?  Now, now; I just heard someone thinking, “Just how in the world is that going to instantly change this country and put an end to all this violence?”  I didn’t say, nor did Paul infer, that doing good would instantly change the world.  But it is the only way to bring both radical and enduring transformation to a culture like ours.

Our culture will change one person at a time.  After all, didn’t all this violence begin with one brother hating another brother?  Remember Cain and Abel?  Complaining and finger-pointing adds fuel to the fire.  Taking your enemy out to lunch?  Offering your arch-rival a glass of sweet tea?  It sounds farcical and daft, I know, but it works–one life at a time.  Saul the Pharisee hated Christians and did violence against them, thinking it would preserve his religion.  But Jerusalem fell and the Temple, so sacred a place to Pharisees, was destroyed.  But Paul, an ambassador for Jesus, saw lives, families and communities transformed by God’s grace.  He saw chains fall off, demons sent back to where they came from, and people finding joy, peace, love and purpose through his decision to give His heart to Jesus, which prompted him to do good to his enemies.  Oh, and that “evil and violent empire” that put Paul (and so many others) to death?  They eventually fell into the dust and became just a footnote in history.  And the Kingdom of God continues even today.

WMTM is YOUR choice, YOUR decision to stop the hate and violence by doing good and lavishing grace upon our culture one person at a time.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but I do know it works because I’ve seen it work.  I remember several years ago an ad by an insurance company that really shows out this works.  It was known as “being responsible, and you can see one of those commercials here.  I am very proud that the congregation I serve, Sheffield First UMC, is addressing one area where hate abounds and doing so much harm to a group; this group is not afraid to address the issue of human sexuality in terms of both grace and truth.  This small group is realizing how our views and words only add hurt and hide the Truth.

When we stop blaming, stop the talking and start doing good to anyone and everyone, it will be as contagious as the measles in a kindergarten class.  Followers of Jesus, this is the greatest time perhaps since the days of Paul, to be an ambassador for Jesus.  Your portion of this world needs to see you do more than complain and blame–they need, in fact, they secretly long to see you put the love of God expressed through Jesus, to see this kind of love in your actions, attitudes and words.  What Matter The Most is YOU putting your love for God into action by fighting evil with good.

When we are convinced and overwhelmed in the power of Love and Grace being lavished on others, one person at a time, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray…

Dad, more than being sick about all this hate and violence, I am tired of the fact that I am NOT overcoming all this evil with the good You have so freely done for me.  Please take away this blindness that is making me the person who complains but does nothing, the person who, when all has been said and done, has been only talking and doing nothing.  I know there is evil out there and it is destroying so many lives, and though it may not make any sense right now, I know Your word says it is defeated by ME doing good for others, even my enemies.  So open my eyes to the many opportunities to overcome this evil with YOUR good.  And Lord, comfort those who are hurting and grieving this morning in Las Vegas.  Amen and Amen!

Don’t Miss Church!

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Here’s a great Monday morning question for anyone.  It’s a great question because it is a simple question with only 2 choices and those choices are based simply on a statement of fact.  Depending on which day you are reading this (because I assume not everyone reads this on Monday.  When someone “assumes” it makes something out of you and me, but I’ll save that for my other blog at a later date), answer me this:  Did you go to church this past Sunday?  Be honest because I will not “shame” you if your answer is No.  Have your answer?  Don’t read any further until you answer this question.  OK, allow me to share this passage with you from Ephesians 1:19-23  (italics emphasis mine)

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (NLT)

OK, the remainder of my thoughts are directed to you who answered the question with a “Yes”.  When the worship service was over, did you leave the church?  Maybe to go eat somewhere or go directly home?  Did I hear you say, “Well, yeah, I don’t live at the church.”  If you say “I go to church”, my response is, “How sad.”  What?  It’s sad to go to church?  Yep!  That’s exactly what I said.  Now before you think I’ve gone off the deep end and turned into some “all roads lead to heaven” liberal, stay with my thoughts.

That word “church” does not have the same definition as most think in today’s culture, especially in the U.S. of A.  The Greek word Paul uses is “ekklesia” and it means this:  “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly; an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating”.  It is a combination of 2 words:  ek, which means “to call out” and kaleo which means “to name”.

OK, where does the above mentioned definitions refer to a building location?  And thus the reason so many live perplexed and frustrated lives.  The church has been demoted in the hearts and minds of so many people, too many people, to a location with a physical building, doing certain things.  And THE enemy, Satan, grins with great delight.  One of the great tragedies in this horrendously wrong definition of church is that it has created multiple generations who want to be consumers of what they perceive as what the church produces rather than  contributors to the real work of the church.

Church is people who have been called out, by name, into the public places to represent the ONE who has called them.  Hanging the 10 Commandments in public displays, allowing prayer and the Bible in public schools, allowing Nativity scenes on city property and the such, will not bring any deep and lasting change to our culture.  And going to church will certainly not bring about that much-needed cultural shift.  I think I just sensed I offended someone’s sensibilities.  Oh well…do not think me callous, but if these thoughts have offended you, I will not lose any sleep over it.

To change how you see your week and your life, allow me this moment of being a radical (you know, like that rascally radical guy named Jesus).  Stop going to church.  You heard me correctly.  DO NOT GO TO CHURCH NEXT SUNDAY!  (I can just see the comments section here lighting up from the Bible Thumpers and some pastors.)  Instead of going to church next Sunday, why not BE THE CHURCH right now and in every moment of every day of every week.

Going to church makes you nothing more than a member of a private club and makes Satan laugh a deep belly laugh.  But when we choose be the church that same Satan trembles with fear and gets a queasy feeling in his stomach.  Remember these words from Paul, who knew something about what the church really means:  And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. ”  Hear God call you out, by name, to the life that cannot be contained within a physical address or limited by our personal preferences of programs.  Hear Him call you out to be the actual presence of Jesus in your neighborhood and community.  

Oh, and on Sundays?  Come together as the church to first and foremost worship God. He is worthy to be worshiped every day and worthy to be worshiped by the church, the assembled people. Then learn more about Jesus; after all, we are called out to represent Him.  How can we Him if we don’t really know Him?  Don’t just know about Him; know His heart, mind and character.  And then develop deep relationships and connections with those other folks that God has called out by name.  Then leave that place and BE THE CHURCH.  The church is to be located wherever you happen to be at any given moment ALL the time.

When we stop going to church and start being the church, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Forgive me for thinking and believing that I GO to church.  I repent of this attitude, and there’s a good probability that I may start that kind of twisting thinking again.  So help me hear you call me out by name.  Open my eyes to the many opportunities that will present themselves TO me for me to BE the church, the presence of Jesus in a hurting and broken world.  Convict me when I allow Satan to influence me when I say, “I’m going to church this Sunday.”  Holy Spirit, help me to say instead, “I am the church today and I will show others the real Jesus.  Amen and Amen

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The Pity Party Posture

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”  (1 Kings 19:3-5 N.L.T.)

Be honest, how many of you absolutely love someone calling you, complaining,  (well I better leave that second word out, you know it), and moaning?  When someone sends you an invitation to a Pity Party do you quickly get ready, rush out to buy a present (what gift do you bring to a Pity Party?  Maybe some cheese to go with the whine?) and get their early because you don’t want to miss a moment?  Unless you want to gloat over another person’s misery (and there are personalities like that, I’ve met more than a few), no one want a Pity Party Invitation.

That’s where we are in this morning’s passage.  Elijah is throwing a Pity Party.  And fortunately for his servant, he leaves him behind.  I’m sure that servant counts that moment of being excluded from The Pity Party as a great blessing from God.  Most Pity Parties are the result of someone feeling mistreated, disappointed and the overall unfairness of life.  But in all fairness to Elijah, that is not what prompted this particular Pity Party.  His Pity Party was born out of personal and spiritual failure.

Before reserving the Broom Tree for his Pity Party, Elijah had led a quite successful life as God’s prophet.  He witnessed the fire from Heaven and saw the people do away with the false prophets of Jezebel and the drought ending.  Life was good for him at that moment.  Have you ever been there, those rare moments when you experience that exuberance of great joy?  But then Jezebel’s press agent sends out a release:  “Kill Elijah!”

So Elijah runs in fear.  And somewhere in that running, it hits him hard.  “Wait!  Why am I running?  I’m just a failure.  Plain, simple and useless failure!”  In his moment of realizing personal failure Elijah has a choice:  either turn to God with that confession and ask for grace and mercy or, you guessed it, have a Pity Party.  Elijah chooses the latter.  And this is where he is; alone and wishing to die.  He felt like God could not use someone like him.  Elijah’s choice was The Pity Party.  But what is God’s response?  What choice does God make with Elijah?  Read on to verses 5 and 6:

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.

God provides exactly what Elijah is needing in the moment:  food, water and His Presence.  Elijah takes in the first two, but seems to ignore the third, The Presence.  He lays back down and goes to sleep.  Well, what does God do now?  Does God say, “Hey, I tried but he just ignored me.  Let him die!”  Read some more in verses 7 and 8:

Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.

And it was at Mt. Sinai God let Elijah know that his personal failure wasn’t the last word.  At first Elijah tries to keep the Pity Party going by moaning about his personal failure.  And like a good parent that ignores the whining of a child about the unfairness of life, God ignores Elijah’s attitude and points him to another mission.

In fairness to Elijah, I understand how it feels when we are disappointed with ourselves.  I have spent time, too much time, under that same Broom Tree.  And here is what I have discovered:  God faithfully sends a messenger to me with just what I need.  And then He sends me on the way with yet another mission.  Do not let your personal failures cause you to rush online and overnight those Pity Party Invitations.  Bring yourself and your honest feelings to the one who is preparing a party for you.  Not a Pity Party, but that great Heavenly Wedding Feast.

If personal failure disqualifies me or you from further service and earned us the right for a Pity Party, what about Abraham and Sarah doubting God’s promise of a son with their scheme that produced Ishmael?  Or what about King David after his personal failure (2 of his many) of adultery and murder?  What about Peter who starting sinking AFTER walking on top of the water?  Or Saul from Tarsus?  What about C.S. Lewis, an avowed atheist?  There are so many more such stories.  So tell me, what makes you think that God is through with you?  Do not reserve the Broom Tree Pity Party Room.  Do the Hebrews 10:19 thing–“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.”  The blood of Jesus excludes no one, not even you, not even me.  And isn’t the Throne Room of God a much better place than a Broom Tree?

When we bring our personal, moral and spiritual failures to God and trust His Grace and Mercy, and allow Him to take care of the menu, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Lord, when I fail, when I let you down, help me remember Elijah.  And if I make it all the way to the broom tree, I know that you will be there, too.  Amen and Amen!

Fear!

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When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.  I was afraid because I was naked.”

“Welcome this morning to the newest game show that is sure to captivate you.  We call it:  NAME THAT PHOBIA!  Each week contestants will see how many phobias they have and can name!  Contestants from our live audience will be randomly selected and the one with the most phobias will win a life long excursion to a life of dread and misery.  Come one audience, who wants to be our first contestant?”

Well, what about you?  Want to win?  As you may have surmised, today’s issue that feeds the Monday Morning Attitude is FEAR.  This passage from Genesis 3 spoke to me this morning with yet another random thought.  I am severely afflicted with them.  And the random thought is this:  “This moment was the very first time Adam and Eve experienced fear.”  I know that the previous passages do not say directly that they never feared until then, but think about it.  What was there TO fear?

They lived in the midst of perfect creation.  God walked with them and they with God.  He invited them to join in His creation by taking care of it and exploring all He made.  Each morning and all day long was an exciting adventure of exploring what the infinite mind of God could create.  They were selfless towards each other, taking delight in God’s gift of each to the other.  Everything was, say it with me:  “Perfect!”

Until…Eve decided to listen to the Enemy and Adam, present during this conversation, was silent and did nothing.  As with every choice we make, there are consequences.  The consequences of her choice and his failure to act were far-ranging for them, and to us.  At the heart of this dialogue and their choices was this thought:  “God is holding out on us, so He can’t be trusted.  He’s withholding something good from us.”  They believed the deception and when they did FEAR entered their world.

Fear has also entered our world.  Adam and Eve were afraid of God so they tried to hide from God.  Can you imagine anything so ridiculous?  Trying to hide from God who sees and knows everything?  It simply cannot be done.  It’s amazing to me how many people try to hide their true feelings from God.  If they never acknowledge it God will never know they are mad at Him, or disappointed in Him or doubt Him, or___________ (fill in your own emotion here).

And today?  Well, folks have tried to be clever by coming up with excuses and unproven theories as to why they are the way they are.  But deep down, there is fear–afraid because we are living outside of our created design.  But we are so good at giving excuses as if your excuse will somehow justify the root that grew our fear.  And the root that grew our fear is sin.  Even Adam and Eve had good excuses.  Adam blamed God, “It was this woman that YOU have me.”  As if now it’s God’s fault.  And Eve?  Well, she was honest enough to admit that she was deceived by the Enemy.  But nonetheless, fear became their emotion.

Are you plagued by fear?  Think about Adam and Eve’s response to fear.  They made themselves clothing out of fig leaves.  And how did that work out for them?  When they became aware of God’s presence, knew they were IN the presence of God, the fear came back and overwhelmed them.  And our excuses?  Same result!

So what can we do with our fear?  Live in it or take it to the only One who can remove that fear from us.  Listen again, or maybe listen for the first time in your life, to 1 John 4: 16-18

16 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. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.

All our excuses and attempts at justification can never undo the cause of our fear, which is sin.  Only the One who loves us enough to die for us, to die because of us, who died as the perfect substitute, can do away with the root of sin that is now a part of our DNA.  Faith doesn’t overcome fear.  Works do not overcome fear.  And our excuses will never overcome that fear that will most certainly overwhelm us in the moment when we will stand before God, our Righteous Judge.

Only His love can set us free to be restored to what God intended before Adam and Eve ushered in fear because of sin.  Allow God to wash over your fears with His love and then set out on a new journey, an excursion and adventure where God and God alone redeems us and begins transforming us into who we really are–who God intended us to be long before sin infected His creation.  And right now, my heart is breaking for those who believe the lie that God created them to be something other than His Intended Design.  Talk with God about your fears, and see that His love will guide you through to a life that is exciting, and a life that is fulfilling because you made the choice to live out His intended design for you.

When you quit hiding, quit your excuses, and let His perfect love embrace you and change your heart, then you can say:  “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray.

I bring you my fears right now.  I am sorry I doubted you.  I reject the lies that have been told me and I trust You in this moment.  Take my fears away by taking away my heart that leans to sin.  I accept Your love and ask you to help me love You and others the way You love me.  Amen and Amen!

 

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE!

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For any of my readers from across the pond or on the other side of the world, I am not sure if I should explain this title or not.  Growing up in the South, I have heard this expression all my life and I am uncertain if this idiom is used elsewhere.  So, I will ere to the side of caution and explain its meaning.  I have heard this phrase used most often when a person or group is seeking to place the blame on the wrong person or wrong cause of what went wrong.  In simplest terms it means to be focused on the wrong thing.

I am what some may call “an observer of people”.  When I go shopping with my wife Debbie usually I am watching people in their actions and reactions, and sometimes I am able to listen to their words.  No, I’m not an eavesdropper but some people talk a little too loud especially on certain subjects and matters.  And in my observations last week I observed several situations where people were barking up the wrong tree.  And, of course, that got me to thinking and my thoughts almost immediately went to this passage in Numbers 11:26-30 (NLT)

26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!”30 Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel.

Here is the setting:  the people had been whining about God’s provisions of manna.  Can you imagine that?  People of God whining about what God provides?  Aren’t you glad it doesn’t happen today!  Yes, I am exercising my gift of sarcasm.  Anyway, Moses takes their complaint to God and God promises they will have meat.  But before He provides it He wants Moses to select 70 leaders from the tribes and God will put His Spirit in them to help Moses by spreading out this burden of leading this people.

God does send The Spirit on those 70 and they begin to prophesy.  Everything is good, right?  Well hold on to your horses.  There were 2 men, Eldad and Medad who were not at this ordination service that also started prophesying because the Spirit had come upon them.  Now good Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians know that you can’t have people prophesying who haven’t been properly ordained.  A tattle-tale comes running to Moses with this news.  And before Moses can say anything, Joshua speaks up, “Make them stop!”  In other words, “That’s not the way it’s done.  That’s not how any of this is done!”

Now, here is the good stuff.  Look at Moses’ response through what he said and then in what he did.  First, he said,  “I wish all of God’s people had the Spirit and would prophesy.”  Then he returned to the camp.  In other words, he knew Joshua was barking up the wrong tree.  His focus was in the wrong place and on the wrong thing.  Moses simply ignores Joshua’s request and moves on as if nothing had happened.  What does this have to do with the Monday Spirit?  Glad you asked…

As real life human beings we have a tendency to major on the minor and minor on the major.  We have the tendency to put the emphasis in the wrong place and on the wrong issue.  Actually it’s not a tendency, it’s falling into one of Satan’s traps.  Satan knows that when he gets God’s people off of the issue of following Jesus into the Kingdom of God by “barking” at things that have nothing to do with our primary mission, he wins another battle.  By the way, Satan knows he will lose the war (Read Revelation 21 and 22) but he takes great delight in winning some battles in your mind.

Barking up the wrong tree, focusing on issues that have nothing to do with God’s purpose for our lives, is the distraction that is keeping us from more than you can imagine joy and peace.  It will turn you into a small, petty-minded person who loves misery and wants to share misery by making others miserable.  Our focus as God’s people is rather simple:  To introduce others to Jesus through loving them in ways that meets their needs and in ways that God uses to redeem and restore them to this loving relationship He longs to have with everyone.

Barking up the wrong tree fills the mind first and then destroys the heart and mars the imagine of the Creator that resides in each of us.  How do we fight the temptation to major on the minor and minor on the major?  I believe Paul’s words to the church at Philippi gives us the answer.  Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

These attributes are just a small portion of what resides in God’s heart.  When we need our circumstances to change we begin with our own mind and heart, not others.  Don’t bark up the wrong tree; be a good dog and sit, sit at the feet of Jesus.  Look into His eyes.  Listen to His words.  And then follow Him, doing the things He is doing.  Now excuse me, but it’s time for my day to begin and I wonder how many people I will see this week barking up the wrong tree?  Oh Lord, give me the attitude of Moses, to just ignore them and go on about Your work.

When we refuse to be distracted by the wrong things and focus on the heart and mind of God, then we can say:  “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

First, help me see when I am barking up the wrong tree.  Forgive me when I major on the minor and minor on the major.  And when I hear those yapping and barking up the wrong tree, help me be like Moses.  Ignore them and set an example for them by staying focused on you.  Amen and Amen!

Wrong Cause, Wrong Battle, Wrong War!

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It has been a while in coming to recognize, for me that is, that I had taken the wrong turn somewhere in this particular blog.  It’s something that God has been trying to get me to see and to be truthful, I had not been listening to Him.  But finally He was able to get through this thick head of mine (I’m sure none of you are thick-headed when it comes to the things God wants you to do) and so I’ve been trying to figure out why this particular blog was, well, headed in the wrong direction.

To get back on track, I back-tracked all the way to the beginning before I started blogging.  It was a weekly devotion about the different expressions of that “Monday Spirit” that gets in the way of faithfully following God.  So here I am at the beginning, wondering to myself, “What is one of those Monday Attitudes that gets in the way of being a real and faithful follower of Jesus?”  I remembered that God would usually reveal this through something that happened that week or a memory of something that happened once upon a time.  And this morning it happened again.

This Monday’s Musings come out of Ephesians 6:12 in the New Living Translation (NLT)

 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Have you ever heard the expression “You can’t get there from here”?  Typically it is said when people are looking for a remote, off-the-beaten-path place that the voice inside the GPS replies, “Huh????”  It means you have to start somewhere else and if you start somewhere else, then you can find it.  What does this have to do with the Monday Spirit that can get us off-track?  So glad you asked.

As serious followers of Jesus we recognize that we are indeed in a war.  Those who fail to recognize that we are in a war have chosen the path of Easy rather than the Way of Jesus.  Jesus never promised an easy or convenient Way.  Truth is, Jesus promised the exact opposite.  And to this left-handed, right-brain pastor it seems that when the crowds around Jesus became large He would intentionally say things that would thin-the-herd because He knew His purpose wasn’t to build up a following of nice and neat people, but to muster an army for the most serious war ever.

Alas, many have chosen to fight the wrong cause, thus entering the wrong battles, and ultimately fighting the wrong war.  Their attention has been on corporations, politics and people.  Remember all those emails about Pepsi putting the pledge of allegiance on their cans but leaving out the words “under God”?  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters fought Pepsi by calling for a boycott of all their products.  Before the days of email, I remember church members periodically bringing a petition for everyone to sign because the logo of Proctor & Gamble had the number 666 cleverly disguised in the arrangement of those stars because they were supporters of the Satanic Church and calling for a boycott of their products.

And still today, Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters lash out at individuals for a variety of reasons.  Tattoos, drinking beer, long hair, political affiliations, body piercings, and anyone who disagrees with their views are just some of the personal attacks I have witnessed.  And the most ridiculous war I have ever witnessed in churches is the “Worship War”.  The Worship War is all about the styles of worship.  And in the place where there should be room for all, harsh and ugly words are spoken against people who simply long to worship God in a way that comes from deep within their heart.  Unbelievable!

When we live out our week fighting the wrong battles it only adds to the frustrations and the emptiness that can be the vacuum pump that drains the joy and purpose that Jesus suffered, even died to provide for us.  The real War Jesus calls us to fight is for the hearts, minds, lives and souls of those captured by the real Enemy, Satan.  But instead of fighting Satan, we turn and fight each other.  Unbelievable!

This Monday’s passage reminds us that our true Enemy rules from the spiritual realm and that to fight him, we must focus beyond what our physical eyes can see.  I love watching those shows about the development of fighter jets and pilots.  I guess it is because my Bucket List includes being in one of those jets while being launched off an aircraft carrier.  (If anyone reading this can help me, let me know!).  Dogfights, as they are called, have changed over the decades.  At one time you had to literally see your enemy in order to engage him.

But now they have radar that alerts the pilot of a “bogey” long before they can be seen.  But what if a pilot, who received that radar warning of  bogey ahead said, “I don’t see any threat.  Something must be wrong with the weapon system.  Think I’ll just ignore it.”  What do you suppose would happen to that pilot if the only the things he or she could see would be considered a threat?  My guess is that they would either be pulling that ejection lever (which is NOT on my Bucket List, although I do want to skydive at least once) or worse.

Let’s stop attacking people and focus on the real Enemy.  Take Paul’s words to heart and fight Satan, first in our own life by capturing back our mind so that Jesus can transform this degenerate and degenerating mind into His mind.  Let’s show grace, kindness and mercy to the people we meet each day, especially if they are different from us.  Let’s fight evil with good.  Instead of pointing out what we think Jesus was against, let’s live out every day what Jesus is for, such as treating people the way we want to be treated.  When we identify the wrong cause, engage in the wrong battle and fight the wrong war, Satan laughs because he knows we are doing more harm to the Kingdom of God than he ever could.

When we know that the battlefield begins in our own mind, and we fight the war for the hearts, minds and lives of those held captive by Satan by directing our assault on Satan, not people, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Lord, forgive me for seeing people as my enemy.  I want You to take away all the stuff that is between You and me so that I can get closer to You.  Help me see beyond what my eyes can see, to see with my heart and mind the real battlefield.  Today and for the rest of my days remind me that the first battle is for my mind.  Transform my own mind before I ask you to change anyone else’s mind.  Holy Spirit, be my radar system to warn me where and when Satan is attacking.  And help me fight him, and not the people around me.  I offer You my service in the fight for the hearts, minds and lives of the people around me who are being held captive by Satan.  Help me fight with the weapons of goodness, love, kindness, grace and mercy.  Amen and Amen!

Where Do I Turn?

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I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lordwho made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:1-2

The other day I was driving to a particular address and the thing was, I had never been there before.  To be very honest, I do not always trust GPS, Mapquest nor Google Maps.  Why?  Because in my realm of experiences, they are not always accurate.  In fact, I have experienced some times where they were miles off the mark.  But I did check out a couple of maps and I did know the general vicinity of the address.  Understand that thanks to our friend Lindy, “general vicinity” is a term that can cover an area of several square miles.  So off I went.

As I was driving down the street that was in the “general vicinity” I was looking at street stop-sign-with-blue-skysigns and for the one that would let me know without a doubt, “Here is where you turn.”  I was as focused as a golfer making an approach shot for the green.  I was so focused on reading street signs that I almost missed that STOP sign.  Notice I said “almost”.  With my luck if I had failed to stop, one of our “finest in blue” would have been in the very near vicinity and I’m sure would have promptly written me a ticket, as he should have.  Now what does my story have to do with the Monday Morning Spirit?  So very glad you asked.

Life has the propensity to put us in “new” places we have never been before.  These new places, call them experiences, can weigh us down with uncertainty, confusion, and even fear.  These new places require that we safely navigate through them to reach our intended destination.  But since we have never been there before we need to know where to turn in order to get through them.  GPS, Mapquest, Google Maps, and often friends, cannot be relied upon to give us accurate directions.  So where do we turn?

May I suggest we do what the Psalmist says?  Look to the One who knows each turn that will safely navigate us through such times.  He created the heavens and the earth so He knows where each turn will take us.  And remember that HIS perspective is far above this plane we call life on earth.  He knows where the pot holes are worse and He knows which path leads to a dead-end.  So when you are looking for peace, hope, joy and so much more, look to the only ONE who knows how to get us there.  After all, He is more than “in the vicinity” of our human circumstance, He is right here beside us.

When we stop looking at the mountains and look to Jesus for guidance and directions, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Lord, I need the directions to get through this week, this day, heck, even this moment.  I know I cannot trust anyone but You!  Help me trust You and in trusting you, I know that you will safely guide me through.  I do not know where to turn, but You do, so I turn to YOU!  Amen and Amen!