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!

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Pick And Lose

masterpiece

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

 

Face it, we are a pick-and-choose culture and unfortunately this attitude has become embedded in the church.  Think about it.  Who doesn’t love a good buffet.  Forget the menu, just let me pick what I want.  I like that idea especially when it comes to seafood and we are at the beach (which we will be in a couple of weeks).  I have noticed that in some grocery stores that they offer specials where you can pick-and-choose from a list of items.

Pick-and-choose satisfies the craving of our old nature, the nature of Adam and Eve.  It fills that base desire to be in control.  Every person has this “control freak” living in them.  Some manage to control it for the most part.  Some do not even realize it is living down deep inside them.  And others, well they just give it free rein.  Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!  We see this “style” in the church.

When we pick-and-choose what we do and how we live as a Disciple of Jesus we pick-and-lose that wonderful person God has created.  When we accept Jesus as both our Savior and our Master, we become His Masterpiece!  It takes time to complete it, but it is all there because Jesus is in you through the Holy Spirit.  After all, da Vinci did not paint “The Last Supper” in a week.  It took him 3 years to paint that masterpiece.  And it takes a lifetime for God to finish the Masterpiece called you!

The Masterpiece God is developing in you is clear:  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Good things, that’s what He calls us to do.  Is it a good thing to pick-and-choose what, where, when and how we look like Jesus?  Is it a good thing to manipulate people to get them to do what you want?  Is it a good thing to criticize your church leaders?  Is it a good thing to condemn others when they fall?  It is a good thing to whine when you do not get your way?  Is it a good thing to ignore the problems in our communities and expect others to fix it?  Is it a good thing to expect the church to meet your needs at the expense of the real mission?

Pick-and-choose what good things you want to do and you pick-and-lose the Masterpiece God wants to make of your life.  God has given us free will and does allow us many choices, good choices, in life.  But when it comes to Purpose, the purpose that God planned for us long ago, we cannot afford to pick-and-choose which parts of The Message we will embrace and which parts we will ignore.

So, what do these “good things” look like?  Oh, I am so glad you asked.  I could write about them from now until this time next year and not be finished.  But Paul managed to get it down to just 36 words:  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)  And that word “think” means more than just a thought.  It means to realize how these “things” add value to your life when you do them and thus turns you into God’s Masterpiece.

There is one word that each of us must embrace and that word is “Surrender”!  When we surrender to His Design and Plan for our life, then we can say:  “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Forgive me for the times when I pick-and-choose which Kingdom Values I put into practice with my life.  Help me surrender those “things” in my life that are not good.  I am so sorry for my choices that have messed up Your Masterpiece.  This moment, I once again surrender to You and Your Plans for my life.  Amen and Amen!

Just How Free Are You?

 

16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?  19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.  This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.  (Galatians 6:16-21, The Message; Emphasis added by me)

For many here in the good old U.S. of A., tomorrow is a special day.  It is the Fourth of July.  Quick test:  Do other countries have the Fourth of July?  Well, of course silly!  It’s on every calendar.  In other places it may not have the same meaning as it does for us “Americans”, but they, too, will see July 4 on their calendars.  But on 4 July 1776, a group gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ratified and signed what we call “The Declaration of Independence”.

So many will celebrate that on 4 July 1776 we became free.  But here’s the kicker–we were not free.  The British Military was still occupying the colonies.  King George did not say, “Oh, they signed that document?  Well, bring all our troops home.”  Nope, did not happen that way at all.  There was a war that ensued.  Some think the war for independence was won when Cornwallis surrendered at the Battle of Yorktown on 19 October 1781.  Wrong again.  Then it must have been on 3 September 1783 when the peace treaty was signed with the British Empire.  Well, technically the war continue until 1795 because many Native Americans were allies to the British Empire and were not included in the treat.  A treaty with them wasn’t signed until 1795.  So in a real sense, we were not free until the War had finally been won.  But…the journey to our political freedoms did begin 4 July 1776.  But there would be a long, hard and difficult journey before those freedoms became a reality.

OK, OK, what does all this history lesson have to do with the Monday Morning Spirit?  Thanks for asking and I will attempt to answer your question.  There’s an analogy here in these musings between political freedom and spiritual freedom.  In approximately 30 A.D. (or 33 A.D. if you are a King James Versionist) our spiritual freedom was declared when Jesus used his last breath to say, “It is finished.”  This freedom was ratified on the third day after his declaration when the Resurrection happened.  Sin’s curse and sin’s dominion was defeated.  OK, with me so far?

We no longer have to be slaves to sin nor be controlled by The Enemy.  The price was paid and the power both revealed and offered by Jesus through the Resurrection can now be the power that lives in us.  This means we should never, ever, ever be influenced nor controlled by sin.  But go back up and read this morning passage again and pay close attention to the phrases I emphasized with bold and italic print, and underlined.  Pay close attention to that first phrase emphasized:  For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit.”

Simply because a document was signed on 4 July 1776 did not mean we were actually free from the dominion of The Empire.  There was a struggle, a great struggle that had to be fought.  And there was sacrifices that needed to be made in order for this political freedom to become a reality.  So it is in the spiritual realm.  The declaration has been made and the victory guaranteed, but it doesn’t mean the struggle is over for us.  And it certainly isn’t over for our neighbors.

As sacrifices were made for this nation, so must we, the nation of Priests offer our sacrifices for the Kingdom.  This means putting others ahead of our own self and selfish interests.  Simply because you call yourself a “Christian” doesn’t mean the struggle is over.  In fact, it means it is just beginning.  Make sure you keep digging away at your own root of self-interest.  And let’s offer our living sacrifices and give our determined resolved so that everyone can be set free from the curse and dominion of sin.  And make sure you give thanks to those who sacrificed so freely, for both our political and our spiritual freedoms.

When we know the battle isn’t over and rely on Him for strength that overcomes, and when we commit our lives to the liberation of every heart, mind, soul and life, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

I thank you for those sacrifices made for my political freedoms and I will not take these freedoms for granted.  And I am most thankful for YOUR sacrifice that has won my freedom from sin’s curse and dominion over me.  Help me remember there are still many battles yet to be fought in me.  Help me to keep chopping away at that root of self-interest that causes me to forget my true purpose in life.  As sacrifices were made for me, I offer you my whole life as a living sacrifice so that others, no, so that EVERYONE can live free–free from the curse and dominion of sin.  Amen and Amen!