Monday, December 28, 2015

Now is the time...

2016 is upon us.  Are you making New Year’s Resolutions?

Some do and some don’t but all should meditate and pray upon how to be God’s love in action in the year ahead.  We have many opportunities that come at specific dates and times.

Easter Egg Hunt – Invading the godless world with good news by luring in kids and parents with candy then telling them how much God loves them.
Chewy Tuesdays – Delivering love in a paper sack.  Well, there is a little more to it than that, but do it once and you are hooked on loving these kids that God has placed in our paths.
Vacation Bible School – It is always great.  We always have a bunch of help.  We always need more help to make it the best VBS ever.
Trunk or Treat – It’s another ambush by candy with God’s love ready to permeate the most ghoulish of costumes.
Food baskets and angel Gifts – We just finished this and yet it is really just around the corner.
There are so many events when you can make a difference.

There are also ongoing opportunities to be God’s love in action.

F4 ranks right up there for difference making.  Be a table parent, a teacher, someone to help clean up, or just a utility infielder who is ready to play any position.  This is perhaps our biggest ongoing mission that makes the biggest difference in the lives of so many children.
Connect the disconnected.  No, this was not just a passing fad or a last year’s trend.  It is an ongoing mission.  Most people that you encounter already claim Jesus as their Savior.  Most also don’t really know him as Lord.  They are missing out on the discipleship that comes from living and serving in the body of Christ.  Help them get connected.
Using your Spiritual Gifts—that’s right, Tom or the session doesn’t have to come up with every idea.  You don’t have to have a committee to get something started.  If you have the gift of evangelism, then evangelize.  If you have the gift of service (many here have that gift) then find places to serve.  If you don’t know what your gifts are, then just start getting involved and see what God brings out in you.  Some have the gift of intercession and will pray for every person on our pray list by name every week or every day.  Some have musical gifts that can flourish.  Ask God to reveal your gifts to you and then put them to use to produce fruit for your Lord and for the body of Christ.

There are also committees where you may help plan, organize, and execute many of the works of this church body.
The missions committee is by far the most active and always needs people ready to be God’s love in action.
The worship committee needs to be resurrected.  We need people who will study the scriptures for the week ahead, plan music, make sure the sanctuary is prepared for worship, read devotions, and find new ways to worship the Lord.
The building and grounds committee comes and goes and has not been intact for a decade.  Being a handyman or handywomen is great, but committee work is also about organizing groups and workdays to take care of things than are more than a one person job.
The fellowship committee has atrophied to nothing, not because of lack of interest but because fellowship is second nature to most.  The fellowship committee is organized on an ongoing adhoc basis every month in meals and showers and other fellowship events.  There is a fellowship team list that makes sure our fellowship meals go smoothly.  If you are not on that list, then please join soonest.
If you have a knack for reviewing curriculum, then the education committee might be a good fit for you.

In any case, there are many opportunities to serve God as a part of a committee.  We also have committees that are vital parts of our presbytery.  Check out the Red River Presbytery website to see what we do at this level.

Not everything that you do as a vital member of the body of Christ must have a name or be an established ministry.  The kid across the street that you hug and feed and tell him or her that God loves you is just as important as something that we have done for a decade and has a name.  The light that you bring to this dark world is a big part of following Jesus.  Being the God seasoning of the planet—the salt of the earth—is just as important as Pop Tarts and Peanut Butter or Ash Wednesday.

But now is the time for preparation and meditation and prayer as to what God is leading us to do in 2016.  Perhaps you should put a few Gospels of John in your vehicle.  Maybe you should check on the family across the street to see if they have enough food.  Maybe you have many empty rooms in your house and would like to make them available to stranded travelers.  Maybe there is something that God is placing on your heart than only you know what it is.

Now is the time to seek God’s revelations to you.

Now is the time to seek God’s revelations to you.

Now is the time…

Friday, December 25, 2015

No other gospel

Going forward…

We are going to be spending some time with the Apostle formerly known as Saul.  He is responsible for writing most of the New Testament.  He is responsible for much of our church age theology.  Paul is perhaps the only Apostle with a resume.

Certified Jewish Heritage.  Tribe of Benjamin.  Circumcised the 8th day.

Pharisee, and a good one.  That means that not only did he know most of the scriptures by heart, he had also produced commentaries on them—a midrash is you will.      

Ambitious.  Was on what he thought was a mission from God by trying to wipe out these blasphemous followers of Jesus until his road to Damascus experience where he met the resurrected Jesus and received his real mission from God.

Roman citizen.  That would come in handy.

And handy enough that he could earn a living making tents.

Paul would later say that he became all things to all men so that some might be saved.  In the weeks ahead of us, we are going to spend some time reading letters that Paul wrote to specific churches and groups of churches.  To begin, you will need to remember these words:  Go Eat PopCorn.

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Collosians.

To apply what we will study to our lives today we need to put one thing into perspective:  circumcision.  It was a big issue at the time and pervaded much of Paul’s verbiage, but we need to understand it was not the issue at all.

That’s good news for us.  Circumcision is not a big deal for us in this 21st Century.  Of all the things that people come to me to talk about or seek counsel or just have someone to whom they can vent, circumcision has never come up.
Money, sex, drugs, music, kids, alcohol, pity parties, loss of loved ones, anger, hatred, forgiveness or the inability to forgive, guilt, shame, prison, tattoos, homosexuality, faith, prayer, hope, love, marriage, shacking up, and even homework have come up many times, but nobody comes to see me to discuss circumcision despite how much Paul talks about it in some of his letters.

And that’s just fine because what Paul is talking about really is not about a ritual procedure but  protecting the freedom that we know in grace.  Procted it from what?  Protect it from slavery to the law.  Why?  So that we may use our freedom to fulfill the law.  The law of love—that we love one another—is our fulfillment.

We understand something of freedom or liberty as Americans.  It was gained at quite a price.  It has been retained at a very high price.  We hope and pray that we will retain the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but our posterity.

We understand that our salvation came at a price.  We did not pay it.  It was and is a gift.  God’s grace is a gift but we must fight to hold on to the freedom that we know in this gift.

 To proceed, understand that the law divides and the Spirit unites.  The law would divide Jew and Gentile but the Sprit brings all of God’s children together.  The law given by God and fulfilled in Jesus becomes a burden and a master of its own when made a condition of salvation.

But living fully by grace and walking with God’s Spirit, the law places no yoke upon us and becomes the guide to good living that God originally gave his people.

Only living fully by grace can we be certain in our relationship with God and certain in our relationship with the law.

So we come to this letter to the Galatians, and they did not quite understand any of this.  They were off to a good start but were not sure enough of their foundation and became susceptible to one of the main infiltrators of early Christianity—Judaism.

As we look west in Paul’s journeys, he must contend with such things as idols and meat sacrifices to idols and other issues of the gentile world.  But here in Asia Minor, it was the Jews that had claimed to accept Jesus as Lord and as the Messiah, who thought that grace alone was not enough.

The good news was too good for them.  It needed some rules and regulations.

These infiltrators came along and convinced these new Christians that the good news is too good to be true, and some restrictions apply.

Paul’s reply, and if you have not read Paul’s letters much, you might note that this letter is something of an admonishment, his reply is that there is one gospel and no other.  He gave it to them.  It is from God and not man or man’s understanding.

There is no other gospel.  The way to life is Christ alone.

You remember the proverb, Trust in the Lord with all of your heart but apply your own understanding when it takes you out of your comfort zone.


That’s not the proverb but that was what was happening.

C’mon guys.  This Jesus stuff is good.  I am a believer too, but there have to be some rules.  There at least has to be a sign in the flesh.

Paul tells these Galatians who seem to be giving up on the uniqueness of the gospel that there is no other gospel.  The gospel is not one commentary among many.

Pharisees wrote commentaries.  Some were surely better than others but generally all seemed acceptable to their contemporaries.  Rabbi’s had some flavor in how they taught the law, each with his own uniqueness, but the gospel is stand alone unique.

It is a one and only.

It is not deficient.  It is not man made.  It is not subject to modification.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He died and took away our sins.  He atoned for our sins.  He paid the price in full.  Once we accept this gift we must also accept that we need do nothing else to obtain our salvation.

Now how we live is our response to this gift.  That is our discipleship but for this moment we need to be of one mind that our salvation is a gift from God.

Paul is telling this church and all others who would one day read this letter that there is one gospel and that gospel is that life comes from Christ alone.

It is not Christ plus circumcision.
It is not Christ plus a Saturday Sabbath.
It is not Christ plus never making a mistake again.
It is not Christ plus enough good works.
It is not Christ plus speaking in tongues.
It is not Christ plus your voter registration.
It is not Christ plus wearing a coat and tie.
It is not Christ plus anything else.

The gospel—the good news—is Christ.  He has come and has redeemed us.

And we need to stick to our guns on that.  We don’t need to be susceptible to persuasion on this matter.  Are there disputable matters in the Bible?

Absolutely!  We will hear what Paul says about disputable matters a few weeks down the road, but we must make sure that we repel all attempts to corrupt the gospel.

There is no other name by which we may be saved.  It is Jesus and all Jesus.

Let’s revisit something we covered early on.  We must protect the freedom that we know in grace from slavery to the law or any other condition that anyone, including ourselves, places upon our salvation.

The gift is 100% from God and we need to be 100% certain and accepting of this point.  Jesus paid it all but it is my responsibility to protect the freedom that I know in grace.

I must not let anyone—again I include our own thoughts and understanding—invade and corrupt the freedom that we know in this gift.

If you ever made an offering out of guilt or participated in a ministry because you thought your salvation was at stake, then you let someone invade and corrupt the gospel you were given.  That person was probably you, but sometimes others can be convincing as well.

Jesus paid it all.  His sacrifice and your acceptance of this incredible gift took care of your salvation.
If you were to analyze the close to 1000 sermons that I have preached in the last decade, you would find that I spend very little time on salvation when I am preaching.  Witnessing and counseling and general interaction with the world is a somewhat different story, but when I am speaking to the saints, most of what I talk about is discipleship.


The foundation has been laid with you.  I don’t need to build another foundation each week.  Most of what I proclaim from the pulpit has to do with discipleship.

But Paul was writing to a church that was listening to people tell them that their foundation was cracked.  Paul said it just isn’t so.  There is one gospel.  You heard it.  You received it.  There is no other.

The question for 2016 is, are we ready to go forward sure of our foundation?

The world is not going to make more sense in the year to come.  It will go from crazy to bizarre and probably beyond by this time next year.

Your faith will be challenged by the world.  Have you received the one and only foundation that will withstand whatever storms the world sends your way?

We not only want to weather the storms of the world; we want to put the words of Jesus into practice in the middle of the storm.  To do that, our foundation must be certain.

There is only one gospel.  It is good news of life in Christ, but we must do a better job that the Galatians did of protecting our freedom that we know in this grace for only then will we be free to fulfill the law.  Only when we are certain in the gospel will we truly be able to live the law of love and love one another.

I challenge each of you to affirm that you have no other gospel that that of Christ alone.  I challenge you to fight off any attempt to corrupt this gospel, modify this gospel, or compromise this gospel.

Let us go into 2016 certain of our salvation in the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus so that we can truly live the lives we were made to live.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Good News of Great Joy!

Read Luke 1-2

What a year—2015 is almost in the books.  It is time for Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Those words seem to offend some folks these days.  I have surely offended people all year long with my language.

God loves you.  Love one another.
God is love.
Jesus is Lord!
Come home.  Ye who are weary come home, as well as those who are lazy or just disconnected.  Come home!

I tried to push the boundaries of offending some for the sake of the gospel.  Remember, the yellow side goes out on the DISCONNECT NOTICE.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever would believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

This is the epitome of love.  This is love poured out full strength from God’s heart.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

We are told as we get near the end of the age that the love of many will grow cold.  People will gather around them only those who will speak things that they want to hear.

I am wondering if we have not arrived at this point in time.  It seems that we cannot have a simple conversation without someone being offended.  If you want to really offend them, bring up God and Jesus.

OMG!  OMG!  OMG!  I think I have offended someone.
Are they OK?
What do you mean?
Did they grow a third arm or do they have a sucking chest wound because you offended them?
Well no.  They’re just offended.
Then get on with your life!

We don’t need to go around looking for reasons to offend people, but on the other hand we should not be such worry warts about what we say offending somebody—especially if it happens to be good news.

We love the liberty of living in a nation that values free speech and yet we get bent all out of sorts when something that somebody says offends us in some way.  I think if you are easily offended, then you might want to get a visa to a country where there is no free speech for your own personal safety.

What does all of this have to do with Christmas?

We have good news of great joy.  We don’t need to be keeping that to ourselves.  And we don’t need a three page legal brief to precede our Merry Christmas that we post online.  We need to be happy in who we are.

We are people who belong to Christ.  He is our Master.  He is our Lord.  We are his.  If you want, you can call us Christians.  We belong to the Christ.  We follow the Christ.

Oh by the way, we are not required by law or regulation or some verse in Leviticus to beat up on people who say, Happy Holidays.   They may not know it, but they are just saying the modern day equivalent of Happy Holy Days.

Besides, it lets us include the often overlooked Boxing Day, which does celebrate Christmas.  This is now on the 26th of December, but once upon a time was just the first weekday after Christmas Day in which a box of sundries was given to those who served us during the year—the mailman, delivery boys, servants, and the like.  What a cool holiday, or holy day, or just a day to show a little love to those who serve.

I wonder if anyone in Canada gets offended if you say, Happy Boxing Day?

Two thousand years ago events were set in motion that caused men who lived under the rule of the Roman Empire to return to their hometown to be registered.  It was a census if you will.  Caesar Augustus was going to make sure he got all the tax that he thought he was due.  Good ole Caesar formerly known as Octavian Augustus was acting like a one man IRS.

Nobody was going to fly under the radar.  Everyone was to be registered.  So Joseph and very pregnant Mary headed off to the City of David.  We know it as Bethlehem.

When you think of this story, we all probably wonder the same thing.  What about those people who were born at sea?  Where did they go to register?  It surely wouldn’t have been very many.  Today, we would also have to account for those who have been born in airborne transit.
If I lived in the Roman world 2000 years ago and my wife had a baby at sea, we would have named that child Taxus Exemptus.

We would not be talking about many people, and it doesn’t have any bearing on the story, but inquiring minds want to know.

You know the story.  There was no room at the inn.  So the young couple found themselves in a stable, maybe it was a cave with some protection.  It was surely the next best thing that the innkeeper could offer them.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus Christ was born.

The story jumps to some shepherds who were tending their flocks.  It was night.  Yes, they had to work Christmas Eve and Christmas.  The truth be known, they probably had to work on Boxing Day as well.

The angel appears and they are afraid.  The angel tells them not to be afraid for they have come with good news.

The angel describes a baby wrapped up to keep warm and then a host of angels comes and sings.

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
This was surely not your regular night out with the flock.

Some of the shepherds went to see for themselves.  Things were just as described.  Mary treasured all of what had transpired in her heart.

The shepherds departed singing praises to God.
And that’s the Christmas story, short and sweet; except, I glossed over one part too quickly.

Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

The angel brought good news of great joy.
Good news and great joy—are these still a part of our Christmas? 

Do the words, For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, bring us joy—even great joy?

This much much more important than whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

Do the words, For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, bring us joy—even great joy?

Does Christmas bring us great joy?

Or does it bring us stress and frustration and credit card debt?

The time set aside that we call Advent is for us to get ready for Christmas.  Getting ready is not so much snagging the best Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal possible.  It is about anticipating the joy that was sent to us.  It is about preparing our hearts for this wonderful celebration.

It is about God revealing his divine heart in a babe born in a manger.

It is about what Billy Graham described as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Does this story bring us joy?

Do we understand the words that we have been saying all month long?

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

God is making everything alright, better than alright.  God is pouring our his love in this baby born in Bethlehem and our response should be joy.

We sing Joy to the World:  

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Do we who know Jesus as our Lord and as our King have joy?  Do you remember the second verse in this song?  It talks about the entire creation repeating the sounding joy.

Repeat the sounding Joy.  Repeat the sounding Joy.  Repeat, Repeat the sounding joy!

Does Christmas bring us joy or do we just try to get through it?

More than anything we say, the joy that exudes from us will say Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Days, even more than our careful lexicon selections.

The angel said, I bring good news of great joy.
It’s still good news and it should bring us great joy.

If the world or your circumstances or the crisis of the day is robbing you of your joy well then Bah Humbug on the joy robbing.

Sometimes picking up your cross and following Jesus seems pretty tough, but celebrating Christmas should be a time of joy.

The angels delivered wonderful news.  The shepherds knew to rejoice and sing praises to God.

We know it too.  So let us go into the world celebrating Christmas with great joy for we have received the good news.

We have received the good news of great joy!


Friday, December 11, 2015

Fruit worthy of repentance

 Read Luke 3:87-18

I repented.  I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back, no turning back.

So why do we always have to talk about repentance during Advent?

Have I not already repented?

We have turned away from the ways of the world and accepted the way of the Lord.  This whole turning away thing is repentance plain and simple, and yes we have accomplished this.  Then again, life gets in the way.

The world is constantly tugging at us.  The old self wants his old job back.  The world is pulling at us to do things its way as if it were using gravity itself to bring us back to old ways.

There are a variety of studies that indicate that our tendency is to walk in circles.  Your legs don’t even have to be of significantly different sizes.  Absent a compass or GPS or other significant landmark, we have a tendency to walk in circles.

Dead reckoning is hard.  Staying the course is tough stuff.  

While we are out calling to the lost and disconnected to come home, the world is beckoning us with the same words.  Something always seems to be pulling us off course.

There is always something tugging at us to pull us off course.

We might say, “Well, I would never go back to the way I was.  I will never turn away from following Jesus.”

We might not make a 180 degree turn around back to our old ways, but what if we just veered a little?

A degree of variance at a hundred yards is only a few feet and just short of a hundred feet after a mile.  That’s noticeable, but not too bad.  If I was going from Burns Flat, Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas and was off by only a degree, I would miss the target by about 5 miles.  Of course, Dallas is still so big, you might not know.

If I was flying coast to coast and was off by a degree, I would miss my target by about 40 miles.  If I am in an airplane, I would like to be closer than 40 miles from my runway.

Staying the course is just plain tough.

For land navigation and even orienteering, I often teach individuals and teams to veer a little one way or the other.

Either plan to miss your target a little to the left or to the right so when you get in the target area, you will know that it is to your right or left.

If I veer a little to my left, I know when I have gone the distance required, my target should be to my right.
All of this sounds interesting but what does it have to do with repentance?

Try as we may, we do get off course.  The longer we go before making a correction, the farther from the intended path we are. 

Sometimes, we need to make a very deliberate effort to get back on course.  We may not be 180 degrees out of whack, but we need to get back to this course that we know as following Jesus.

Businesses, programs, and projects often have to re-baseline if they continue long enough.  Modifications, changes, setbacks, rebounds, restarts, and the memorandum of the day often leave people wondering, “Now what is it that we are trying to accomplish?”

It is a healthy thing to set aside a deliberate time for repentance.  We need to turn away from the world, even if the world has only taken us off course a degree or two or ten.  We sing, I have decided to follow Jesus; perhaps making sure we are on the right path is not a bad thing.

The Pharisees were certain that they were doing exactly what God wanted them to be doing.  Many Jews felt that because Abraham was their father, they were automatically on the right track.  They did not realize how far off course they had come.  They were specialists on rules and procedures, manners and mannerisms, times and timing.  They were doing everything right but hardly doing the right things.

They had missed the mark by a long shot and it would hurt a whole bunch to repent.  We don’t get to see what happened in this encounter with the Pharisees, but the people were eager to know what they should do.

John admonished the Pharisees to produce fruit worthy of repentance and the people wanted to know what that meant.
What do we need to do?

There was no complicated formula.  There was no book of doctrine.  There were no procedures or hoops through which to jump.

It was simple stuff.  If you are well off and somebody else is hurting, then help them.

If your job gives you the ability to gouge people on fees or prices, don’t do it.  Take what is fair for yourself and no more.

If you have authority and can compel others to comply with what you want, don’t abuse your authority, and surely don’t use your authority to extort others.

What was the result?

People were wondering if John might be the long promised Messiah.  Are you kidding me? What had he said or done to garner such esteem?

He is preaching a baptism of repentance and when people asked what they need to do, he says, “Do what you already know to do.  Play fair.  Be honest.  Help those who are hurting.”

These are not profound revelations!  Do the right things.

Remember, these people were not worshiping Baal or some other man-made god.  They were trying to play by the rules.  Sometimes the rule makers had made the rules tougher than they needed to be, but the people were trying to live good lives.

John said turn away from the things that you know not to do.  He was nowhere near the revolutionary thinking of Jesus—this whole love your enemy stuff.

John was just saying do the right things.

Two or three times a year, we need a little John the Baptist counsel in our lives.  Let’s check ourselves against the baseline.  Are we on the right path?

Have you ever made a budget?  For those who have budgeted all of their lives, this may sound strange.  Many people have never made a budget.  Many more have made a budget and then put it in a drawer and never looked at it again, hoping it would take care of itself.

Others may obsess over their budget and check it every 10 minutes.  Netiher obsessing nor ignoring makes a budget functional, but what the family does with its finances must be checked periodically against the budget to make sure the plan is on track.

When that monthly or quarterly audit reveals that we are spending too much on dining out, then corrective action needs to be taken.  Could be time to buy another case of Ramen.  We get back on course.  Likewise, if at the end of the month there is always a couple thousand extra just sitting in the checking account, that money needs to be told where to go—savings, college fund, gifts beyond the tithe.  Corrections need to be made.

We have set upon a course to follow Jesus.  Are we staying the course?  Are we on track?

We need to honestly look at our own lives and see if we need to make any course corrections.  Where to start?  Is there a model for this audit?

How about we consider the things that we confessed the most.  We are not pagans.  We are not starting from ground zero, so it’s not like we are talking orgies and axe murders or other ill advised but alliterative deeds.

During the past several months what have I been confessing to God.  If there is a pattern, then  maybe we need to repent until we produce the fruit—the change that God desires.

Maybe you have a case of Foam Finger.  What?  You know those big foam fingers that everyone takes to the football games that say we’re #1.  Sometimes we wear them home thinking that we are first in everything.  Sometimes, we take them to work or school or just keep them in our cars in case we need to point them at someone in judgment.

Have we been judgmental?

Maybe we just need to talk less in class and study more.
Maybe we need to set aside our fear and live fully for Christ.
Maybe we need to get serious about retiring from the gossip world.

Maybe we husbands need to get serious about loving our wives unconditionally.

Maybe the wives need to get serious about respecting their husbands unconditionally.

Maybe we have some course corrections to make and we need to show some real progress—some fruit—in making them.

Maybe we have some course corrections to make.  I doubt that any are real 180 degree turn arounds, but most of us have some adjusting to do.

But unlike the people two millennia ago, we are not looking to avoid wrath.  Punishment and wrath are not our motivating factors.

We want to hold true to the course out of love for our Master.  We want to follow Jesus as closely as possible because we want to respond to his great love that he showed us with love of our own.

Where might we be off course the most?

Sharing the gospel.

Well if it comes up in conversation, then I will share Jesus.

We will bring up the game between OU and Clemson, but we will wait until the time is right to share the gospel.

We will barge into the conversation shouting he Cowboys are headed to the Sugar Bowl, but not be nearly as bold with the gospel.

We don’t want to infringe on anyone’s personal space with gospel unless we know that they are ready, but bringing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton into the conversation doesn’t come with the same safeguards.

If you find yourself saying, I’m not ashamed of the gospel, but…

If the word but shows up anywhere in the sentence:  repent.  Stop whatever you are doing and repent.

We talk about political correctness and how we don’t play that game.  If you hesitate to share the gospel, then you play that game.


Do we really want to follow Jesus or just be within a degree or two of the path he has set?

This repentance stuff upsets comfort zones, and it is supposed to .  If we are comfortable with the standards of the world, then we are likely off the course set by Jesus by a degree or two or ten.

The question is comfort or Christ?  Which comes first in our lives:  Comfort or Christ?


Comfort or Christ?

If he says that next Sunday we are wearing sackcloth and covering ourselves with ashes, then he might be preaching to an empty sanctuary, and he can vacuum up his own ashes.

There will be no sackcloth and ashes Sunday on the schedule for the rest of the year, but if you want to really follow Jesus, consider the things that you have confessed over the past months, and see if something needs to be done.

Then consider those things that we have not been ready to confess because we don’t feel ready to produce fruit worthy of repentance.  We don’t seem ready to fix these things.

At the end of Psalm 39, David concluded by asking God to look away from him so he could enjoy life again.  David had some things that he was not ready to confess.  He knew that his sin was messing up his life but he wasn’t ready to deal with it.

This is pre-Bathsheba.  This is still a man after God’s own heart; yet he has issues that he isn’t ready to put before God.

We are people who are supposed to be free from shame and guilt and sin and death; yet, some things may still be keeping us off course.

Some things may be keeping us from the abundance that God wants us to know in Christ Jesus.

We may have some areas in our lives where we don’t seem ready to trust God.

Do you know why airplanes that fly cross country don’t miss their runways by 40 miles?  They have computers that make hundreds if not thousands of corrections a second.  The flight computer is always recomputing.

We would go crazy if we tried to do this.  But we do need some time to just stop and make sure that we are on course.
Don’t stop for too long.  We are running a race of faith, but do take time at least twice a year—Advent and Lent work just fine—to see if we need to produce fruit worthy of repentance.

We need to take time to make real changes in our lives.  This is fruit worth of repentance.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let's do some new things!

God is great, yet he loves the least of us.
God is good, yet he spilled his own blood for the ungodly.
God is just, yet he prefers mercy and forgiveness.
God is in the highest heaven, yet he walks beside us and lives within us.
God is eternal, yet he teaches us to cherish the moment, the minute, the day.
God is love, he yet loves the unlovable.
God has judged humankind guilty and condemned us to death; yet has taken our punishment upon himself so we can live.
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, yet he is doing new things.

We see the day and the night, yet God made evening then morning for each day.
We see rich and poor, haves and have nots; yet God looked at all he had created and said it was very good.
God prepared his people to enter the land that he had promised them telling them that there should be no poor among you as you will be richly blessed.  Jesus walked the earth almost sixteen hundred years later and said you will always have the poor among you.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what the future has in store for us.  Sometimes it is hard to tell which way is up much less which way we are headed.
Thomas J. Watson was the CEO of IBM in 1943 when he was either quoted or misquoted as saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  He may have been correct, but he missed the demand for these now ubiquitous items by a few billion.
People make and lose fortunes in the stock market guessing what will or will not happen next.
For over 200 years, the Swiss were not rivaled in the watch-making business. Then in the latter half of the last century, electronic and digital watches flooded the market and the Swiss didn’t want to play in this arena.  In fact they didn’t even consider the new items to be watches, and as a result they lost their prominence for a few decades.  They are playing catch up now.
Anyone remember Borders Books?  Go online and try to order a book from Borders.  You will be redirected to Barnes and Noble.  Borders didn’t want to play in the online world.  Now they are not playing in the book world.
We know that God is constant.  He is our Rock.  We know his love never fails.  We know that his faithfulness continues through all generations.  What we don’t know is what tomorrow is going to look like.
In the 1990’s I was at a conference where Norm Augustine was speaking.  He was the CEO of Lockheed Martin at the time.  He was discussing how he was being challenged to produce combat aircraft that weighed less and less each decade.  The price went up considerably with each reduction in weight.
He said if he lived long enough, one day the government would contract him to build something that weighed nothing but cost everything—something that weighted nothing but cost a fortune.
He noted with a wry grin that he had lived long enough and that product was very much in demand.  It was called software.  It weighed nothing and cost a fortune.
It is amazing how things change.  Take the church for example:
1950’s:  Build it and they will come.
1990’s:  Add a Coffee Bar and they might stop in
21st Century:  Put it on big screens and they might catch a sermon here and there in places far and near.
How much more convenient can we make this whole church thing?
The whole church building—the brick and mortar stuff was pretty much standard back in the day, but it takes a lot to maintain a building, and if you build it they will come doesn’t work much anymore.
As attendance began to decline the church needed to be more inviting.  Instead of the 200 gallon coffee pot and miniature Styrofoam cups, why not the bistro approach?  Get a latte and catch a sermon, and maybe even a song or two.
Next, of course, the regular preachers weren’t entertaining enough.  Everyone had already read their old jokes on the internet a dozen times before they came out of the pulpit.  So the big screens went up and one person could spend 40 hours a week polishing a prime time worshiptainment video that could be broadcast in multiple locations.  It saved on staff and the jokes were always fresh.
There was an extra enticement in this new setup.  You could come to church and not have to get to know anyone.  You could come in a group like you would go to the movies, sit together, laugh together, and leave together.  You didn’t have to make connections with anyone.
Maybe the next iteration of church will be experienced entirely on your mobile device.  If you still have a flip phone, then your experience may be lessened somewhat.
I don’t want you to think that brick and mortar buildings are bad.  They are not.  It is wonderful to have a meeting place that is not a tent.
And coffee by any other name would not smell as sweet.  Coffee is good.  Good coffee is gooder.  For anyone considering entering the ministry, one of the perks is that you can abuse the syntax and grammar of your native language in the name of homileticss and generally get away with it.
As for big screens, I say the bigger the better.  If it is worth putting on a screen, make it big enough for everyone to see.
Buildings, coffee, and big screens are not bad, but they sort of miss the point of what the church is.  So let’s talk about what the church is.
The church is those people that God has called out of the world, and set apart from the world, to be sent back into the world.
We are called out of the world.
We are set apart from the world—made holy if you will.
For the purpose of being sent back into the world, not just to endure until Jesus comes to get us.  We are sent with purpose.
We are on a MISSION FROM GOD.  We will look at 3 areas that make those of us known as the church unique in our mission.
We are commissioned.
We have taken the yoke of our Master.
We are called to continue to gather together.  We are counseled, admonished even, to continue to meet together.
#1  We are commissioned to make disciples, baptize, and teach others what Jesus taught us.  This requires more than gathering together.  It beckons us to walk together.  We have conditioned ourselves to think that discipleship training fits into an hour on Sunday morning, sometimes with a Wednesday evening thrown in here and there.
Discipling is in everything.  It is not confined to a classroom or a time slot.  We walk with God’s Spirit and we walk with one another learning how to follow Jesus in this world that we have been called out of and are now sent back into.
We must walk with, coach and be coached, counsel and be counseled, mentor and be mentored by the body of Christ for the rest of our days on this planet.
Baptizing—that’s the easy part; yet, so many put it off.  It is a sign of obedience to our Master.  How effective are we going to be as disciples, if we can get this simple part right?
Well, err, I’m following Jesus, but I’m not so sure on this baptizing part.  I need more time to think about it.  Before we can really get into discipling and training we need the obedience of baptism.  In the early church it came naturally.  Today, such an upfront commitment in a relationship runs counter to the culture.  But if you are part of the church, then you must be baptized to be effective as a disciple.
Teach what he has commanded us.  We may not all have the gift of teacher but we can all teach and lead by example in the greatest command that Jesus ever gave—that you love one another.
#2  And then we come to the yoke of the Master.  Some interpret this as simply the teachings of Jesus—the yoke of your Rabbi, but even that very dynamic interpretation goes back to the most basic meaning of yoke which is a means of burdening.  Sometimes the word yoke meant severe burden as in the yoke of slavery that the Hebrew people may have known in Egypt.
But Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  John would restate this saying that our love for God is shown in taking on his commands and they are not a burden.
Jesus said that his burden is light.  We are expected to follow but we will not be strained by what he requires of us.  Jesus accepts us as we are but it is not acceptable to remain unchanged.
That would be to say that the blood of Jesus was incidental—that we were on the right track all along and just needed to pick up some Jesus mojo to keep us going.
We now have a Master.  He is the Lord Jesus Christ.  What he commands is not only important to us, it is who we are.  We belong to him.  We are his to command.
His command is simple:  That we love each other as much as he loved us.
# 3  And then we come to this part about gathering together—a part that some people have forsaken in the current age.  I have been told countless times by people proclaiming themselves to be quite knowledable about the Bible, that the Bible doesn’t say anything about going to church.
I love these conversations.  It lets me indulge my ornery side.
Of course it doesn’t say you have to go to church.  That would be idiotic.  You are the church, but it does say do not forsake the gathering together.  In the context of encouraging one another and urging us on to continue our mission, we are admonished not to stop meeting together.
So there is a snapshot of the church.
Called out of the world, set apart from the world, and sent back into the world—with a mission, a purpose.
Commissioned—task and authority—to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, baptizing, teaching, and discipling along the way.
Yoked to our Master—obedient to his commands that do not come as burdens.
A continuous gathering of the body of Christ for worship, encouragement, and spurring on each other to continue our mission.
So does the modern church have a coffee bar or not?
Does it have big screen televisions?
Can you just catch the sermon on a download on Monday and put your tithe on automatic withdrawal?
The church is sort of like a football team.  It huddles, then it breaks the huddle and runs a play, then it huddles again.  Those who are very young, may not know what a huddle is as it pertains to football, especially in the Big 12.  Back in the day, eleven men gathered in a circle, talked over the play they would run, and then dispersed to their positions.  The team would repeat this process time and time again, except near the end of the game if time was running out.  Then they might call 2 or 3 plays in the huddle to save time.
Now teams seldom huddle.  The just go from play to play to play, perhaps changing the play two or three times before the ball is snapped.
Which one of these resembles the modern church?  They both do.  We have been sent into a world that does not stop.  Believe it or not, there was a time when Walmart actually closed late at night and opened the next morning.  Television channels used to go off the air for several hours each night.  If you stayed up to the end, you might get to hear someone read the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

"Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

Wow!  The world sure has changed.
God is constant.  He is eternal.  He does not change, but he loves new things.  Remember the words from Isaiah:
Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
See, I am doing a new thing!
On any given Sunday, this small congregation has about 60-70% of its members in attendance at worship.  We have some visitors that come and go.  Some come and stay and become connected to this family.  We have some two-timers as well—the Easter and Christmas drop-ins.  We could become a little depressed when the numbers on the board say 85 or 86 for weeks in a row when we know they could say 110 or 120 without anyone new joining the church body.
On any given Sunday morning, somebody is somewhere else.  Some miles or states away and yes some just sleeping in.  It really feels good when we hit 125 or 150 at Easter, but that is the exception.  We are on the go and seldom all present for Sunday morning worship.
But Sunday morning worship is not the church.  It is a critical part of the church life, but the church is those 150 people that we know as our congregation going into the world.  The church is not something that exists for 3 hours on Sunday morning and a couple hours Wednesday evenings.
The church exists 168 hours each week.  In fact most of the work of the church takes place during those 160 hours when we are not in this building.
It is good that we huddle from time to time, but I have never seen a team gain a single yard while in the huddle.  Okay, maybe the referee marks off a penalty while the team is huddled, but nobody ever scored a touchdown or kick a field goal while in the huddle.
We need to continue to come together and encourage each other, worship the Lord, make offerings, enjoy meals with each other, have times and places for education, collect and sort food, have a place where we can put some food baskets, have a place with a piano or some sort of musical arrangements, and just have a place to plug in the copy machine, and much more; but the gathering place is not the church.  But you do need a place to plug in the copy machine.
The church of 2016—yes it is almost here—doesn’t look like the church of 1916.  It doesn’t even look like the church of 1966, just fifty years ago.
We worship the same God, follow the same Jesus, and are filled with the same Holy Spirit as our ancestors; yet our church looks different.
The pastor doesn’t stand on the street corner preaching but you might find most of his sermons linked to Facebook.
A third of the younger people that we have connected with, we only see on Wednesday night, so we worship more often on Wednesday night.
Egg hunts, candy, and bonfires seem to be the things that attract many, but when they come, they listen.  They hear words of truth and life and we show them the way.
Three or four members get together and visit someone in the hospital.  Someone is always taking food to hungry people.  We send shoeboxes to the other side of the planet and have saturated this neck of the woods with the Gospel of John.
Show me a house that doesn’t have at least two Life Books in it and I will show you a house available to rent.  If I know the realtor, we might put a set of 4 gospels in the house for whomever rents it next.
We have taken on the yoke of our Master.  We follow him where he leads.  We obey him.  The tasks that he gives us may take a little work but they are not burdens.
We put together a dinner for the family of someone who passed away and did not have a church home.  We challenge people to turn away from the world that is consuming them and know the God who will fill them with love and life and life eternal.
But we seldom have all the players in the huddle at the same time.
On any given day in this building, there is a door left unlocked and a light or two left on, and a couple toilets that needed to be flushed.  Why?
The church building has become something of a crossroads for the church.  And oh by the way, we are working on that last one.  Aim and flush should be a New Year’s resolution for anyone who uses the building.
We faithfully worship and follow Jesus.  We are so thankful to have a loving heavenly Father.  We have become quite conversant with God’s own Spirit who abides within us; but on any given day this thing called the church could look like 100 well dressed individuals singing Holy, Holy, Holy, and a few hours later could be a dozen people in jeans and tee shrits slinging beans and cornbread to help raise money for someone who needs an operation.
The church might look like a ten year-old boy leading the congregation in Psalm 100 or some eighty something folks lighting the candles.  It could be a hot day in July when 8 people are delivering hotdogs and bananas in paper sacks that say God Loves You all over them.
What did God say through his prophet?  Don’t dwell on the past.
I am not a big Troy Aikman fan, but I love his beer commercial where a fan wearing number 8 catches Troy at the counter and starts recounting his glory days.  Aikman, feigning modesty, says, “I don’t dwell in the past.”  Then Aikman’s phone goes off with the ring tone of “Aikman Touchdown, Aikman touchdown!” and Troy has to admit, “I dwell in the past.”
We are the church.  We are called out of the world, set apart from the world and sent back into the world.  We are on a mission from God, and while God is constant—his love endures forever and his faithfulness continues to all generations; we are blessed to try new things.
We have a mission and have been commissioned—that means we have God’s own authority to do what we are sent to do.
We have taken the yoke of our Master upon us.  We are serious about obeying his commands, especially the one that he gave before he went to the cross:  that we love one another.
And we will continue to huddle on a regular basis.  We may go no huddle for days at a time, but we will come together to encourage one another and urge each other to continue our mission.
Imagine graduating high school or college or getting an honorable discharge from the service and signing on to do something for the rest of your life and being told that it would be the same thing every day.
The day would change but you would do the same thing over and over and over again.
Same stuff, different day.  Now who couldn’t get motivated for that?
Now imagine being commissioned to take the good news of life in Jesus Christ to the world and then help people become more like Jesus while we learn to become more like Jesus; except in this case you were told to use your imagination.  Try some new things.  Get out there and make a few honest mistakes.
What if you were told to try new things?  Get together with other believers and try new things.
Try something new!
That’s a pretty good gig.
But I love singing Blessed Assurance.  I don’t want to stop singing it.  Then keep on singing it.  You do know that 142 years ago, it would have been considered “that new stuff” they’re singing now.
And just 20 years ago, Shout to the Lord would have been a new song.
And just 7 years ago a crazy idea like walk a block for Jesus might have been a little iffy.
Or just 5 years ago, something off the wall called Chewy Tuesdays might have seemed a little weird.
Or just yesterday when you stopped and talked to that person who seemed lost and lonely and you told them how much God loved them and that there was a place where people gathered to encourage each other before they go back into the world—for you that was something new.
Or on your flight to the other side of the country or the other side of the world, you gave a person a blue wristband for no other reason than to tell them that God loves them.
That without consulting the pastor or the session or the appropriate committee, you just shared the love of God with the person across the street that you had been meaning to talk to for a week or two or the past nine years.
That without any coordination with anyone else, you just took half a dozen gospels and gave them to people you knew needed to draw closer to God.
Then for no particular reason, you make hot chocolate for the neighborhood kids.
Somebody, without permission from the pastor or session or anyone for that matter, put up a flyer in the post office about how much they love this church and the hours that we worship.  Now there’s a new thing.  Somebody other than the preacher putting up a poster about what we are doing.
If God says, “Don’t dwell in the past,” could it be that he is talking to all of us and not just Troy Aikman?
If God says that he is doing a new thing, doesn’t that sound like a challenge for his kids to start trying new things?
Our faith and love and hope are secure.  God loves us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus.  That is constant.  That is our Rock.
Now, let’s huddle up and mix in some new plays with the old.  Let’s sing some new songs.  Let’s try some new ministries.  Let’s talk to some new people or even to the same people with a renewed desire to reach them with this joy of this abundant life that we know.
Let’s do some new things!
God who is constant still does new things.  He brings water and life to the wasteland.  He puts new life into old bones.  He still does new things.
It is time for his church to reach into this modern world and do new things that bring people to Christ.  It is time to do new things that let them know this God of love who we know so well.
It is time to find new ways to bring good news to a hurting world.  Let’s do some new things!