I have such fond memories of the small group of people that greeted us enthusiastically in the spring of 1977. We had just accepted the call from them to be the pastors of this newly formed church body called Faith Tabernacle. We arrived in Melrose, Florida as a couple of skinny kids, 25 and 28 respectively. We didn’t know a lot, we didn’t have a lot of experience, but we were young, energetic, full of hope and vision. Randy led the worship, gave the announcements, took the offering, preached the message, and handled the altar calls. I was in charge of helping people in and out the creaky little door to the little bathroom that was located in the back of the tiny office space that we rented as our ‘sanctuary.’ Those were the days, my friend…
It’s this time of year especially that I seem to spend a lot of time in reflection about what has passed and also hoping and desiring to embrace what lies ahead.
The thankfulness I revel in is always attached to specific memories. One delightful memory that reoccurs regularly as I reflect, was the joy Randy had in leading worship. It didn’t matter if it was on key or out of key it was always sung with gusto. Interestingly enough, those that were in charge of finding the ‘key’ seemed to always find it. One of the favorite songs we all sang together was the following:
… Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given
Jesus Christ, His Son
… And now let the weak say, "I am strong"
Let the poor say, "I am rich"
Because of what the Lord has done for us… Give thanks
Those of you who know this little chorus will be singing it all day as I will. This is a time to specifically set aside a time of thanksgiving. I know it should be year-round but I have no trouble recognizing a special day for the celebration of a grateful heart.
Have a blessed, reflective, Thanksgiving this year… Give thanks with a grateful heart.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. -Isaiah 58:12
Last week, Christ For The Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas held a 50 hour worship event on their campus. It was wonderful to see so many old faces and worship with so many former worship leaders and alumni. One of the themes talked about during this event, was the idea of re-digging old wells that had been dug many years ago. We can trace back so many of the blessings we walk in today to pioneers of faith in previous generations. Truly we stand on the shoulders of the faithful of bygone years. I’m so thankful for the prayers, faith, and sacrifices of previous generations of Christians. It causes me to consider my own life. How tragic it would be if I, or any of us, take for granted the blessings we walk in and fail to realize our own responsibility to not only re-dig the water wells of previous times, but dig our own wells that will be a blessing to future generations. Digging wells takes time, effort, and perseverance. Digging wells moves us from the selfishness of quick blessings here and now, to thinking generationally. God is a God of generations. Yes, His blessings are for us individually, here and now, but a truly “blessed life” is one that impacts future generations…long after we who are alive today are gone.
Secondly, I was reminded that, not only should we take care to re-dig the spiritual wells of the past, but that we should, with renewed strength and determination of heart and mind, focus on our true love…our first love…Jesus. What good does any “ministry” do if our hearts are not first and foremost focused on the One for Whom we live and breathe and have our very being in the first place? It is for Him that we live. Worship is not about singing songs, it is about spending intimate time in the Presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May we never get so caught up in doing good, that we forget our first love.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD… -Psalm 27:13
I really resent the feelings of helplessness. I am a ‘rescuer’ at heart. I would take on the bully that tried to harass my little brother. I wrote the advice column in our high school paper. I freely gave my best guidance to friends and family (asked or not), but my goal was to just help in some way. And when I had children, that instinct went into overdrive. To say I was a helicopter mom would be a mild description of my exploits…when grandchildren came…well, let’s just say my efforts of rescue and protection increased exponentially.
Watching and listening to the struggles and horrors of what has, and is, taking place in various nations of the world, as well as, right here in America, can cause an overwhelming anxiety of helplessness. We want to do something but to many of us our platform to make a difference is many times limited. What to do…what can “I do?”
You may hear someone, or may hear yourself say, “well, I guess all I can do is pray.” Oh, what an egregious mindset. All you can do? I read this statement the other day:
“If you’re overwhelmed by the fact that there’s nothing you can do except pray, then my friend, you undervalue your greatest weapon.”
Prayer is one of our greatest ways of helping to change the events in the situations we see. I am believing and waiting for some of the miraculous reports that will soon be coming out about incredible interventions in some of the most hopeless situations. And when it is reported it will be because we prayed!
“…The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16
“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD…” Psalms 27:13
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:1)
I was sitting in church Sunday morning, listening to our pastor preach about the Holy Spirit when he referenced this scripture out of Ephesians. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” I’ve either read or heard this scripture probably hundreds of times over the course of my life. But something jumped out at me during church, like it had never done before. Paul meant to put these two things together. This scripture was not just simply a command to a bunch of people who were partying too hard. What if he put these two statements back to back on purpose?
What happens when someone is under the influence of alcohol? Who you truly are begins to come out. Perhaps a person is opinionated, but keeps their opinions to themselves, because, they are well-mannered, and it would be impolite to share their opinions with the rest of the world. After a few too many drinks, this person begins to vocalize their opinions and perhaps even becomes outspokenly blunt, if not down right rude.
We are new creations in Christ Jesus. The old man is dead. We are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. That's who you truly are if you are a Christian. What if we began to live daily under the influence of The Holy Spirit? I used to think getting “drunk in the Spirit” meant participating in a lively church service where people are laughing or speaking in tongues or any other number of things. There is a place for that, but what if the kind of “drunk in the Spirit” Paul means for us isn’t just those outward manifestations at all? What if it’s a way of life?
If we are truly living under the influence of the Spirit…if we are filled with the Spirit…if we are drunk in the Spirit, then we have no reason to be inhibited by all the trappings that so quickly hold us back from praying for others, or sharing the Gospel with others. We don’t have to be angry or lustful or unforgiving anymore. We are under the influence. We are behaving differently than we used to.
We must continually seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day. In the natural, the influence of wine only lasts a short time…so too, we cannot rely on just one experience with the Holy Spirit…We must daily be filled. Let us purpose in our hearts to be always under the influence… His influence! Who knows how God will use us when we surrender our mind, our will, and our very selves to Him?
I can’t remember who said it, but many years ago I heard a speaker say that, “you can’t stop a bird from pooping on your head, but you can stop it from making a nest.” I admit, it sounds a bit gross or weird, but if you think about it for a second, it makes a lot of sense. Think about it in regard to your thought life. We all have experienced thoughts that seemingly come from nowhere. You were scrolling through Instagram or Twitter, minding your own business, and all of a sudden you come across an inappropriate picture. Thoughts you didn’t ask for come rushing in...you can’t stop a bird from pooping on your head, but you can stop it from making a nest. Or maybe you’re driving down the road and someone cuts you off. Immediately, your skin begins to turn green and you feel rage coursing through your veins as if you were the Hulk himself. You can’t stop a bird from pooping on your head, but you can stop it from making a nest. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to, “...take every thought captive to obey Christ…”
We live in the world. We can’t avoid life. We will undoubtedly encounter situations that will tempt us. Lust, anger, envy...whatever flavor of sin is most enticing to you, will come knocking. If not today, just wait awhile. But it is what we do in those initial moments of temptation that make the difference between sin and obedience. Temptation is not sin. Everyone has crazy thoughts. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve walked with God, temptation will come.
Take every thought captive. Trust in God. And don’t let a bird make a nest in your mind or heart. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Here are a few perspectives and principles that I have learned the last 50 years. I learned them the hard way.
1) Who you are as a believer is more important than what you do.
If we are not in tune…We can build an alternative reality of success instead of wholeness, but it is a fantasy. Get with God and gut this stuff out now, while there are those around you to help.
T. Kempis, a 14th century Monk in writing words of encouragement and correction to young monks entering the monastery said “…if I am outwardly admonished and not interiorly set on fire I may die and find that my life was without fruit, and at the moment of judgment I may be condemned for hearing the word but not fulfilling it, knowing it but not loving it, for believing it but not living it.”
Who you are as a believer is more important than what you do.
2) Self-sufficiency is a trap.
Dependence on ‘self’ leads to prayerlessness. You will find, and it will be a good day when you find it, that having confidence in your flesh is just an illusion. Crisis will drive you to your knees and ultimately flat on your face. And when you cry out and mean it when you say, “Oh God, I can’t do it”…He’ll be there. When you can no longer hold on, He’ll hold on to you. Again, to quote Kempis: “If you are looking for knowledge and learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown…”
Self-sufficiency is a trap.
3) Don’t fear the crucible event that is coming.
The word crucible means: a situation of severe trial. At some point in your life you will experience, if you haven’t already, an event that changes you. Don’t be afraid…what you do with that life-altering event will reveal who you really are. And it’s good to know who you are and it’s good to find out that you are really stronger than you think you are.
To quote Kempis one more time, “…you must not become dejected nor give into despair… Remember, after winter comes the summer, after night comes the morning, and after the storm comes the great calm.”
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)
Have you ever bought a new car, and the moment you drive it off the lot you start to see your same car everywhere you look? You go to the grocery store, the same one you’ve been going to for years, and suddenly everyone else has your same exact car! This experience is called the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.” Once you have focused on something specific, you begin to see that something everywhere.
Isn’t that how it is in our spiritual lives? We hear a sermon on Sunday about kindness, or giving, and the next week we do a great job showing kindness or maybe we even buy somebody’s lunch. But as the days go by, and we lose our focus, we don’t see opportunities to show kindness or give like we did that first week. We can see this pattern over and over again in our lives. If you’ve ever bought a new house and you’re anything like me, you binge watch shows on HGTV for design ideas. Our thinking becomes a snowball of what we feed ourselves. If we’re not careful, days turn into weeks, turn into years, and we realize we have been filling our hearts and minds with earthly things. And if our minds and hearts are filled only with earthly things, there is no room left for spiritual things.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with cars or HGTV. In fact, that’s the sinister nature of the whole thing. We can easily deceive ourselves with these “good” things because they are not inherently sinful like pornography or something like that. But any time our hearts become consumed with anything other than the Lord, it can quickly become sin. Let us renew our minds, and renew our focus so that we may walk in all the blessings the Lord has prepared for us.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. -1 Corinthians 11:1
I was talking to my brother the other day on the phone, as I often do, and he told me that someone was at his house shadowing he and his wife during their work day to see what they do. This got me thinking, “what would happen if someone followed me all day?” Would they be encouraged? Would they be inspired to be more like Jesus? Would they want to be a better husband and father?
That’s kind of a weighty thought isn’t it? We post the highlights of our lives on Facebook and Instagram and get plenty of likes and loves, but what would happen if we were followed 24/7, 365? Could we say boldly as Paul did, to “follow [our] example, as [we] follow Christ?” Does my life look like Christ’s? I thank God sanctification is a process. I have not arrived, but I’m better than I used to be.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel like you quite measure up. We all have highs and lows. We all have days we wish we could do over or erase all together. The point is, are we progressing? Are we growing? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus every day?
My daughter was watching one of those old Hanna-Barbera Bible cartoons this morning. They were showing the crucifixion of Jesus. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to be a parent, so maybe showing my 3 year old Jesus being crucified isn’t exactly age appropriate, but nevertheless there it was. She turned to me and said, “daddy, why is Jesus in timeout?” I made a feeble attempt to explain to my daughter that He was going through that because of our disobedience. I’m sure the concept didn’t land. However, it was a good reminder for me today. Jesus went through far worse than “timeout” so that I could stand before the Father one day, sinless, spotless, without blemish…He did that so that I could be like him.
Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
So, for all of you who are in Christ, the next time you get discouraged, the next time you feel like a failure, remember that you have been crucified with Christ. Your old man is dead. You have been raised to new life in Christ… “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” -Philippians 2:13
"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
God’s timing…have you noticed? It’s different than our timing!
I’m sure we all probably went on ‘road trips’ when we were kids. If you were like my kids the most frequently asked questions were: “How much further?” or “Are we there yet?”
I have vivid memories, as a child, of traveling with my family from Illinois where we lived to N.D. where my parents were from. Mom and dad would load us up in our 58 Edsel and head north. Of course, back then no stopping at hotels or restaurants…a loaf of bread and a pound of baloney and we were good to go! The nagging question always was, “Are we there yet?”
It seems so difficult to wait for anything…in the natural but how about when we are ‘waiting’ for God to speak or move in situations or issues of life? Listen, waiting on God is the rule not the exception. We’ve all offered God some really good plans but when He doesn’t take us up on ‘our’ plans we try to help open the door. When it seems there are no open doors, we many times try to force the lock; ‘our’ wisdom and strategy then kicks in and we attempt to compensate for our lack of trust! Not until history has run its course will we understand how “all things work together for good.” None of us learn this lesson quickly…The Psalmist in Psalm 13:1 cries out, How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? The Message translation puts it this way…Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
We don’t like not being able to control things. We hate the feeling of utter helplessness. We despair when things happen that we cannot manage. We always look for ways to ‘nudge’ the arm of providence. If it seems that you are stuck in some dungeon or that you have been put on a shelf, it could be God saying; hold steady, I am going to be the One to exalt you and lift you out of this prison experience in My way and in My timing. God comes along and works in such a manner that the only thing you can say is “God moves in mysterious ways…His wonders to perform.” Don’t fret, God knows where you are!!! ‘You’ may not know where you are but be assured, He ‘knows’ where you are!
…Since before time began no one has ever imagined, No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him. -Isaiah 64:4
"…the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us…” -C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity"
This is the Gospel, is it not? That God has rescued us from ourselves. That we can never be good enough. We can never hope to be blameless in the eyes of the Almighty Righteous One. We were dead in our trespasses and sin, but God has made those of us who believe, alive. This is the good news we preach. We are on a mission and our “missions” work must include humanitarian aide, feeding the homeless, clothing the naked, and all the rest of the activities we would call “missions.” But it can’t just be that. It must include going to our neighbors as well as people in the far reaches of the earth who have never heard. This Gospel, this “Good News,” is just that. God doesn’t love us because we are good, He promises to make us good because He loves us. This is the Good News we bring to the world.
Sometimes our world seems dark and hopeless…it is, but we have hope! His name is Jesus. This message never gets old. So many churches try to be relevant by adding a coffee bar here or doing some new song and dance there. The Gospel is relevant. No machinations of men can add to its efficacy. It doesn’t need to be tweaked. The Gospel is relevant. It always has been. It always will be. Let us not grow weary in telling the world there is hope and that hope is Jesus. Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”