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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THE LOVE OF MEDIOCRITY

“I can guarantee this truth:  Those who believe in me will do the things that I am doing.  They will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12 (God’s Word Translation)

There has been this, oh call it a nagging thought, that has been haunting me for some time now.  It centers around this statement from Jesus in that Upper Room hours before the events that would lead to His death will roll into motion.  Never forget that Jesus knows exactly when and how He will die.  It was a death He freely chose for Himself.  And He was determined to make it happen.  And this morning I will share with you my nagging thought:  “Where are the greater things today?”

Jesus said, “Hey guys, all this stuff you’ve been watching me do, I guarantee that you are going to do them, too and guess what?  You are going to do even great things!”  And what are the things that Jesus did?  Well, giving sight to the blind, healing incurable diseases, causing those who couldn’t walk to dance, giving those who couldn’t talk the ability to sing, causing those who were told they were unlovable to know they were loved by God, raising the dead, feeding thousands with a kid’s meal, put the fear of God into demons, and the list goes on.  So, where are these things nowadays?

Last week I was blessed to be at the New Room Conference 2017 in Franklin, Tennessee.  It’s a gathering of people from a broad spectrum of ages, places and Tribes (otherwise called by many human minds, “denominations”) for praying, worship, fellowship and learning in order that collectively we would see another “Great Awakening” for our churches and communities.  I guess you could call us “Revival Seekers” and personally, I’m OK with that moniker.  It’s one of only a handful of “Christian Conferences” that I actually look forward to attending.

On Thursday, we were given the opportunity to choose from 5 break-out sessions to attend.  Originally I had signed up for a session about learning about John Wesley’s concept of “Bands”–not musical bands but small groups of followers of Jesus designed to be a way to hold each other accountable to the cause of The Kingdom.  But something, well, actually it was Someone kept pulling on me all morning long to attend another session that was about the work and power of the Holy Spirit.  I was looking for something to help me serve this congregation, but The Holy Spirit was saying, “Look, Randy, YOU need this for YOU!”  Can you guess which break-out session I attended?  And now?  The Holy Spirit has only intensified that question:  “Where are the greater things today?”

Here’s the truthful answer to that nagging question:  “For the most part, the greater things are missing.”  Around the world in other places the Greater Things are happening.  But here in the good old U.S. of A., we’re suffering from Spiritual Anemia.  And on this Monday Morning, I believe the Holy Spirit has helped me understand why.  The Spirit knows me, all too well, so He gave me a one word answer for the why:  MEDIOCRITY!  Mediocrity means “the state of being mediocre; so-so; nothing remarkable”.    The best way to understand the meaning of mediocrity is to look at words which are the exact opposite (we call them “antonyms”):  “excellence; superior in quality and value”.

Mediocrity has become the new standard of “excellence” in the church.  Now I just heard someone thinking, “Oh, that passage was just for those guys.  It wasn’t meant for today’s times.”  Oh, really??????  What twisted logic did you use to arrive at such an incongruous and wacky conclusion?  Did you walk under a coconut tree and a coconut fall on your head?  That kind of thinking reveals some serious brain damage from somewhere.  And do you really think that being safe and smug in a church building, avoiding the controversies of life, and feeling that you’re good enough to get into heaven qualifies as “the greater things”?  Wow!  4 or 5 coconuts must have hit you in the head.

Jesus said, Those who believe in me and not “Just you guys”.  I know, I know, it’s an overwhelming thought to think, “I can do greater things than Jesus?”  Well, for most because there are some who think they are smarter and greater than Jesus.  Doing greater things than Jesus, well that really can’t be done, IF we do not recognize The HOW we can do greater things.  Jesus gives us The HOW:  They will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.

I just heard someone say, “HUH?”  Quit scratching your head wondering about The HOW.  Keep on reading and you will discover that Jesus is talking about The Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will not come upon and within us until 3 things happen:  1) Jesus Dies; 2) Jesus Rises from the dead; and 3) Jesus ascends back to Heaven.  Those 3 events have happened, and now the Holy Spirit comes to us, to live in us and through us with great power–power so great that it will cause Believers to do exactly what Jesus did, and MORE!

But mediocrity keeps us grounded.  Me?  I’m sick and tired of scratching the ground looking for grubs.  I want to soar with the eagles.  I’m tired of average, I hunger for excellence.  And here’s the take-away truth on this Monday:  The Holy Spirit that lived in Jesus as He walked this earth in human form and empowered Him to do great things, can live in your heart so that you can do the great things Jesus did, and even greater things.  But it is not automatic.  To break free of mediocrity here’s what you must do:

  1.   You must acknowledge the Person and Power of the Holy Spirit.  Too many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters haven’t a clue about The Holy Spirit;
  2.   Invite HIM (not “it”) into your heart.  Yes, Jesus said He would live in our heart, but He does so through the Person of The Holy Spirit;
  3.   Hunger for HIS power.  Stop doing it with your understanding and through your best intentions.  You know which road is paved with good intentions and where it leads;
  4.   Listen to HIS guidance.  God still speaks today into our hearts and minds.  We must give up human logic and human reasoning when it comes to living;
  5.   Trust all, I mean ALL, that Jesus said about HIM.  Stop wanting to be spoon fed the Truth and give up the fallacy of “Microwave” maturity.  It takes time, time you spend reading the Scriptures about The Holy Spirit.  Forget what others teach about the Holy Spirit.  It’s all there in The Book!  After all, faith isn’t always about us understanding, but us TRUSTING what God said.

When we forsake the paths of mediocrity for the Walk WITH The Holy Spirit, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

I am sick and tired of average.  I confess that I’ve said I trust YOU, Jesus, but I haven’t trusted what YOU said about The Holy Spirit.  Deliver me from myself.  I invite YOU, Holy Spirit, into my heart.  I know I need to be hungry for YOU, Holy Spirit.  So I repent of me doing my best for YOU, and am now allowing YOU, Holy Spirit, to do YOUR Best in me.  Help me starve that mediocre spirit in me to death by hungering for YOU!  I don’t fully understand how it will work out, but I believe that YOU will cause me to do the things that Jesus did, and even greater things.  And if I don’t see them happen immediately, I’m not giving up until I do see!  Amen and Amen!