Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Hungry, Thirsty, Unknown, and Naked

Matthew 25:35-40 is a text social justice folks mention in hopes of mobilizing people who are apathetic about the needs of others.  These verses, I’ve observed, are quoted most often when talking about reaching into the heart of a broken city … a broken-hearted city like my own – Richmond, Virginia.

Take a look at the New Living Translation’s version:  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’   37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’   40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

The words of Jesus.

Rarely are these words … His words … quoted in the context of judgment, but that is in fact what Christ was talking about.  Take a look:   31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty … etc.

Maybe the most startling statement Jesus makes when preaching this sermon is verse 46.  It certainly is to me:   46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

He talks about separating the “sheep and the goats.”   According to Jesus, when He comes to judge the world, the righteous (the sheep on His right) and the unrighteous (the goats in His left) will be assigned their place in eternity.

I gathered from reading Michael J. Wilkins’ commentary on Matthew the following:  Jesus had given some clues about the events that would accompany His return (24:4-35), and then He taught lessons about watching, waiting, and being prepared for His second coming (His “first coming” being His birth in Bethlehem, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection).  Those lessons (24:36-25:30) include the parable about the homeowner and the thief, the parable about 2 kinds of servants (faithful and unfaithful), the parable of the 10 virgins (prepared and unprepared), and the parable of the talants (productive and unproductive).

When Jesus talked about sheep and goats He was talking about followers of God verses people living independent of God.  He made clear there was a reward for followers and punishment for the independent.  What is really cool is the surprised reaction of the sheep – those who would be rewarded:  “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, being a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned” (the last two categories found in the other Gospels).

The Lord was referring to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God declares that true righteousness (right with God, right living, right motives) is displayed by caring for the needy.

But NEVER does Jesus in the New or God in the Old Testaments indicate that acts of mercy and kindness lead to salvation and eternal life!  Jesus was clear about that, and Paul made sure the people that received his letters were totally informed.  One example of Paul’s teaching is found in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9:   “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Jesus was very clear:  acts of mercy and kindness are evidences that the sheep are already righteous!  The surprise of the sheep indicates that these acts of mercy and kindness were not intentional meritorious acts to gain access and entrance to the Kingdom of God, but were evidence that the sheep belonged to the Kingdom.

In light of my previous blog (“It’s Time” – October 11, 2011), I’ve been thinking long and hard about the motivation behind acquiring a specially-equipped truck, with all the bells and whistles and amenities.  I’ve come to a point where I’m asking myself, “Does it need to be ‘perfect’ before I begin to do what God is calling me to do?  Does the step-van/food truck need to come first – before I’ll venture out into the unknown?”

So … would anyone in the Richmond area consider joining me in an experiment.  First, prayer – asking for God to lead us.  Second, doing some “prayer-trips” around the city, looking for the places where needy folks are currently NOT being served by those already involved in such projects and ministries.  I think then, thirdly, it will be time to put a few propane burners in the back of my pickup, some previously prepared soup that we can warm up when we’re on location, something to serve coffee, some good water, along with cups, bowls and spoons.

What say you?

How To Amaze Jesus

How To Amaze Jesus

I don’t think that it comes as a surprise to us today that people coming in contact with the unique Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, were amazed by Him.  The miracle worker, healer, and teacher extraordinaire consistently amazed the crowds.  Here’s one example.  In Matthew 7:28-29 you’ll read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

But this is a stunner:  on two occasions the Bible says that Jesus was amazed!  That’s right, Jesus was amazed … as in astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, staggered, and the always brilliant Shakespearian King James version … taken aback!

Have you ever pictured Jesus with a stunned look on His face?  A look that says, “Wow!”

Look at Mark 6.  (Second book in the New Testament, sixth chapter)

1 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples.  2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

There it is again.  People were amazed … even in His hometown of Nazareth.

“Where did this Man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”  5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.   (Matthew 13:58 says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”)  6 And He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus was amazed!  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

How you view Jesus will dramatically effect your confidence in Him, your beliefs about God and truth (Jesus claimed God was His Father, and that He – Jesus – was the Truth), and your opinions on miracles and healing (did they, and can they happen in real life?).  Your perspective of the Carpenter of Nazareth will, according to Jesus Himself, determine whether or not you have a soul-saving, life-changing relationship with His Father (John 14:1-14).

The people in Nazareth saw Jesus as ORDINARY!  No one special.  They were familiar with Jesus.  He was just one of the guys.  Just one of Mary’s children.  A carpenter … and the son of an ordinary carpenter.  So …

What do expect from ORDINARY?  What do you expect from a carpenter’s son?  (Furniture … or maybe farm equipment?)

Here’s a lesson in human nature:  The tendency is that if you grow up with someone, and you compare them to your ordinary self, you’ll tend to expect little of them … or yourself, or your peers.  That’s why all of us are surprised when one of the gang makes it big.  All of us are surprised when someone we perceive as “like us” does something beyond us.

And that’s when our ego responds.  Psychologically … we get offended … and the reason we do is because the peer that rises above us brings awareness to our lack of accomplishment.  Because we’re in the habit of comparing ourselves with ourselves and our peers and our relatives … when someone outdoes us, selfish-humankind that we are – we get offended.

And why do we do that?  Because we’re made to feel small in our own eyes.  The Greek word here for “offended” means “to be repelled because of unmet expectations.”  (The Nazarenes had low expectations of Jesus  – so they were repelled by Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, and His power to perform miracles!)

Jesus was amazed one other time in His life.  Take a look at this (Luke 7 – third book in the New Testament, seventh chapter):

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.  2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal His servant.  4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, “This man deserves to have You do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him:  “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9 When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Because the Centurion grasped WHO Jesus was … and that all the power of heaven was behind Him … and because the Centurion understood that Jesus had power in and of Himself (!!) … he knew that all Jesus had to do was COMMAND the sickness to leave his servant’s body – and it would be done!

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had power.  The Nazarenes thought Jesus was ordinary.

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had authority. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was “upity.”

The Centurion recognized that faith in Jesus was the key.  The Nazarenes thought their disbelief was the smart (or safe) position to take.

So … Who do you have more in common with, the Centurion or the Nazarenes?  Are you willing to stand alone, with confidence in Jesus?  Or must you stand with the crowd where it’s safe?  Taken to the extreme:  Is Jesus God in the flesh, the Savior of the World … or was He another insane false messiah?

Think about it.



The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge - to Christ, Spiritual Maturity, and Hope to the World

The Bridge.  A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation.  By the way … I’m that new pastor.  I took the position in October, and it’s been great!  I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.

Maybe you noticed the logo caption.  We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus.  We will never change the message!  It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN!  And coming King!

While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”

Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money.  The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?”  Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”

The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out.  If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out.  If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead)  tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”

It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things!  I want to hang out with people like those I described above.  I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.

Sounds idealistic?  Sounds impossible?  I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge.  Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.

Give me some feedback!  What did I leave out of my vision.  That’s an honest question.  I want to know.

A “Joseph” Generation

A “Joseph” Generation

August 9, 2009 – WEAG

INTRODUCTION:

There’s a broad spectrum of people that attend church, so I’m sure there are some here today who are checking out this church, wondering if God is real, taking in the atmosphere, wondering if there are business connections or networks to be joined, etc. You’re seeking something … You’re seeking Someone. That’s GOOD! You are welcome here!

If you aren’t a committed follower of Jesus, what you’re about to hear is typical of what we talk about … when you’re not around. The content of today’s message is not atypical, in other words. We, the church, know we’ve got some growing to do. We’ve got issues. We know we’re in process – moving from seekers of God to lovers of God. We come together every week, in a million locations around the world, 24/7 … not just on Sundays … and we LEARN. We study. And we grow.

We, the people who call WEAG our home base – our church – are no different.

I say “we” because Becky and I are members of West End. And while we’re not on the pastoral team, we’re on the ministry team!

I say, “we” … we are part of the WEAG Ministry Team because every person at WEAG is in ministry … of some kind or another. Ministry is just a church word that means – service. We are organized and energized to serve the interests of Jesus. What Jesus wants done, we want to do THAT!

We believe that God is real and that He forgives sin, don’t we, church? We love Him because – because He first loved us. Because He paid the penalty for our sin – which is spiritual death – eternal separation from a holy God. Because He willingly died in our place, for our sins. Because He’s alive – resurrected from the dead!

We want to learn more about Him, what’s important to Him, and how to please Him – which includes what He enjoys hearing when we worship and praise Him. We, the people of West End A/G, want to be the best Jesus-followers we can be … and we know that in order to be Christ-followers, we will change. WE MUST CHANGE! We haven’t arrived. We, the Church of Jesus Christ … we get it: we’re not perfect. We never will be … but that’s no excuse. We MUST grow.

Now, those of you who call WEAG “home,” if you agree with what I just said, would you say, “Yep … that’s us.” (Ha!)

Pastor John asked me to speak on Tuesday of this week. I was in Orlando, at General Council, and immediately I knew what the topic would be. I just didn’t know the biblical text. But I found it!

Nowadays, all I seem to see, all I want to read about, all I want to talk about is leadership, leadership, leadership. I live and breathe the subject. I consume all I can on the subject. I’m constantly studying it. I have been for years! And because leadership development has captured my heart, my passions, my imagination, my life … because leadership development is now my calling and vocation … I AM A HAPPY MAN!

And in the course of my studies I’ve taken note: Leadership is either on display … for all to see … or it’s missing!

You can feel it … sense it … when leadership is present. And you can feel the hollowness, the emptiness, the void when it is absent. Leadership is either present or absent. There is no middle ground – no grey area. And I think you instinctively know what I’m saying is true.

When John asked me to speak, the Holy Spirit took me to Psalm 105.

Throughout the Bible, you will find potential leaders in various stages of development. And then, once they become recognized leaders, you’ll read how they brought necessary change … because that is one thing ALL leaders do. When leaders lead, changes follow … either for the good or for the bad.

Throughout the Bible you will see examples of leaders and observe their leadership. The Bible gives us an honest report of the good, the bad, the inept, the humble, the hesitant … military leaders, governmental leaders, religious leaders, early church leaders. From the dominating leader to the servant-leader – you’ll find them all in the Bible.

Look at Psalm 105:16-22

16 [God] called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.
   17 Then He sent someone to Egypt ahead of them —
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
   18 They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
   19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
   20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
   21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
   22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers.


1. Coming Conditions Will Call For Josephs

In Joseph’s day, God created circumstances that required a Leader to emerge that would change the course of history. God cut off Canaan’s food supply.

Take note: God … who is always GOOD … did something that appeared to be BAD at the time He was doing it.

Could God be doing the same thing, right now, in the world? Not just in America, but the world? Could God be creating the environment that will require godly leaders to arise, and step into the spotlight? Are there people – men and women in the church – THIS CHURCH – that will hold in their hearts the answer to the wearied and worried cry of humanity?

There’s famine in the land. People are crying out for bread, but not just any bread. They want … they need … the Bread of Heaven. There’s a spiritual drought in the land, and the only thing that will satisfy the thirst of disillusioned humanity is the Living Water. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and the Water that would satisfy the souls of men.

If Jesus satisfies your hunger and thirst, will you say, “That’s me!”?

Before you go rushing out of this building with slogans and t-shirts, bumper stickers and spiritual clichés, let me tell you – YOU’RE NOT PREPARED.

You’re not prepared for what God wants to do … what He’s going to do in our generation.

I know that! ( … and statistical studies will back me up) We can’t lead our world anywhere before we look, sound and live differently than our unbelieving friends. The divorce rate in the church is 30% … the world is 37%. We cheat on our taxes, we surf internet porn sites, we lie when we do business … and we’re the Church??? Did Jesus say, “I will build My Church,” and intend for it to look so … so … worldly?

If you believe that God is the Sovereign King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the all-powerful, all wise and knowing, everywhere-present God … and you don’t think He’s got a hand in what is going on in our world right now, there’s a disconnect between what you say you believe and what you really believe.

I’m not trying to mess with your mind, or lay a guilt trip on you. That would never bring about needed change in your lifestyle anyway, right? And I’m not manipulating facts. I’m calling it the way I see it. I have a strong opinion about the current state of the Church … in America. If you don’t see it my way … okay.

But you can’t just disagree with me and not have another theory on why things are happening the way they are, and why they might be happening this way at this time. I’d love for you to send me an email. Give me your opinion. You’ve heard mine.

Back to my point I’m making from verse 16: Like the famine in Joseph’s day, God is doing something. He called for a famine then. He can do the same thing today … but I suspect He’s going to do something on a much bigger scale. He’s not just going to mess around with Canaan. He’s going to shake the world.

BEFORE He sent famine to Canaan, He sent Joseph to Egypt.

2. Coming Conditions Require the Character of Joseph.

God began a process of preparing a leader to provide His solutions for Joseph’s generation. I believe God is in the process of doing the same thing – right now. Today. And He’s doing it in the lives of people IN THIS ROOM.

God took Joseph to school! Joseph thought, as most teenagers do, that he was ready to lead … AT 17!!!

He lacked wisdom. He totally offended his brothers because he had no filter in his brain or on his mouth. From the original story, told in Genesis 37 to 50, we can gather than he was a spoiled kid. That wasn’t his fault. His dad showed favoritism to such an extreme that it was inevitable – a family feud would be ignited by Joseph’s big mouth. The family would be thrown the into chaos.

What I’m about to tell you is surreal. God was in it. God had given Joseph his personality and his parentage. From his mother’s womb, God had everything in mind that we read about in Joseph’s story.

God knew that Joseph would require a certain confidence to stand before Egypt’s king and make the declarations he did! God knew that Joseph would be willing to do and speak anything! But first God had to work on his raw gifts. He had to sharpen his mind, temper his ways, and develop his character.

Now … how would you go about raising up and training a Joseph?? If you knew there were days ahead – days that would require spiritual leaders using God’s wisdom, speaking God’s words and knowing God’s WORD, how would you begin? And when?

WEAG has been intentional when it comes to investing in kids and young people.

The Assemblies of God has over 330,000 churches, in 214 countries, with 60 million members. The A/G has grown from 300 people meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1912 to 60 million strong! We haven’t had our 100th birthday yet! And it is estimated by church demographers that by 2020 – if Jesus doesn’t come back first – the A/G will have over 500,000 churches and number 100 million strong.

Now … this is not an A/G pep rally, and I’m not selling the A/G, but I sure am glad I’m a part of it.

And … in the US … where it began, the A/G has 2.9 million members. And in that number … 2.9 million … there is a sub-group, numbering 1 million. That sub-group is made up a kids and young people under the age of 25!!

Do you get what I’m saying??

Why does West End pour so many resources into its kids and youth and college ministries??

Because God will, out of that population, raise up a generation of Josephs! Raw, edgy, hip, passionate, determined, mighty, fearless Josephs. They are in this building … and in this room.

You don’t have to be under 25 to be a Joseph. You can be 85, like Caleb. He was one of two spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land that reported, “We can take this land, in spite of the giants, the walled cities and the armies of idol worshippers!”

It’s a shame those two were in the minority … 10 spies said, “It can’t be done. We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We’ll lose. We’ll die. We can’t win.”

Forty-five years later, after all the smart people, the financial experts, the nay-sayers and negative report people … a whole generation … had died off, Caleb, at age 85, said, “I’m as strong as I was when I was a 45 year old. God has given me strength to do battle.” And he looked over the land of Promise and he said, “Give me THAT MOUNTAIN!” And he went and got it!

Now … to have

3. The Character of Joseph Requires a Challenge

It won’t take me long to make this point.

When God taps a Joseph … and He may be tapping YOU this morning … and this is tough … you’ll go to God’s version of Leadership School.

There are seekers in this room … I know that. People who are considering making the leap, believing the Gospel, giving their lives to Christ … and when some will hear this, they’ll stop seeking the God we serve. They’ll stop dead in their tracks. And they might say something like this: “Are YOU CRAZY???”

And the answer to that question is, “No.”

We’re grateful, not crazy. We’re forgiven. We’ve not lost our minds. God threw our sinful record into the sea of His forgetfulness. He’s won our hearts. He’s loved us into His kingdom. We have gladly accepted His rule in our lives … because we’ve lived without Him … AND THERE’S NO FUTURE IN THAT! We were once far from God, but now we want to be as close to Him as we can possibly be!

And if it requires that we lay down our lives for Him, we’ve considered the cost. We’re not stupid. We’re not uninformed. AND we don’t have messianic or martyr complexes.

We know that being a Joseph in the future requires God’s version of Boot Camp now. But we don’t run from that reality. We embrace it. Because there are lost and dying people out there who will never hear that Jesus loved them so much He died for them. They will never hear that God raised Him from the dead! They will never know that there’s a heaven and a hell. They’ll never hear a clear presentation of His story, in their language, unless we willingly go.

Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his brothers, fettered and sold into slavery, bruised, falsely accused of rape by a desperate Egyptian housewife, put into prison for years – with no hope of release, and forgotten by his cellmates.

But the whole time … from 17 to 30+ years old … he maintained an A average in God’s school for Emerging Leaders. He aced his character-development classes. He passed the tests each time they came.

And when he was ready, and not a day before … when he was ready to lead …

4. God Literally “Set Him Free!!!” to Lead

He blew Pharaoh’s mind with his wisdom and spiritual depth. And not only did his dysfunctional family benefit from his rise to power in the throne-room of the king … not only did he literally save the lives of the people who trekked from famine-torn Canaan … but his strategy for battling the famine that eventually made its way to the breadbasket of the world – the fertile valley of the Nile – saved another nation, too. Egypt. God gave him the strategy.

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Joseph of ancient history had been prepared in God’s school of Leadership to make decisions … some decisions that would literally mean LIFE or DEATH.

CONCLUSION:

Are the days we’re living any less critical than the days of Joseph’s emergence?

Actually, they’re much more critical. What’s at stake? The eternal future of our generation. The eternal future of our family and friends. Is that reality on your radar?

At some point in time – in the not-too-distant future – God will keep a promise. He will usher in the literal Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He – Jesus, the Son of God – will reign forever and ever. There is coming a day when time as we know it will be no more. Before then, you must decide!

Some people, on their spiritual journeys, aren’t looking to Jesus as Savior and Lord. They not convinced they have a sin problem, and that there’s a holy God out there somewhere that can not co-habitate with sinners. Instead, they’re looking for something else … fulfillment, satisfaction, meaningful purpose … something to plug the hole in their soul.

Our mortality cries out for immortality! We want more! We have eternity in our hearts. This is why people go on spiritual journeys in the first place. We all want something to believe in that is bigger, better and beyond our selves. We’re so desperate for something to believe in, we’ll eventually find something … to worship.

It might be Michael Jackson; it might be a crystal good luck charm; it might be a politician or a political cause. Some might worship Mother Earth, and live to save a sick environment. Some will join the church of Tiger Woods; their communion will take place at the 19th hole, and their small group might be a radically committed foursome. Some might choose to worship at the Altar of Intellect, worshipping at the great university libraries of the world. Others might choose to put their best time into “World of Warcraft,” or wear out an X-Box 360. Some here might be tempted to put their trust in Oprah; they might religiously attend her televised meetings – never missing a broadcast … less they be “left behind” and considered un-cool or uninformed.

Many here … many here … may choose to worship The Golden Dow – whose temple sits in the middle of Wall Street, and whose priests ring a golden bell at the beginning and end of five, 8-hour services a week.

I could go on and on with idol possibilities. But none of those gods satisfy completely.

We know they don’t love us. We know they’re powerless to change our hearts, lighten our load, or heal our emotional and psychological wounds. And they certainly can’t forgive our sins.

But friends … Jesus can. And does, 24/7, 365! He saves us! He heals us! He loves us unconditionally.

And He’s coming soon.

God is setting the stage for the single-most important spiritual awakening the world has ever seen. This spiritual awakening will not be geographically confined – like The Great Awakening that occurred from 1730 to 1751. The next GREAT AWAKENING won’t look anything like ANYTHING that has happened since the resurrection of Jesus!

What will you do with this information … this sermon … this challenge?

First, I’m praying for A Joseph Generation to arise here at West End! I’m praying for young and old, male and female Josephs to pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ, and take His story to neighbors and nations.

If you believe in the eternity described in the Bible … if you believe the sermons preached by the Son of God, Jesus … you know …

You do not want anyone to miss heaven!

Second, I’ve been praying for persons attending today who have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Even after hearing the description of Joseph’s life today, they are … right now … saying to themselves, “This is the something I’ve been looking for. This is worth investing my life in. Jesus is the SOMEONE I can put my trust in. I know, full well, I am a sinful person. I know I need a Savior if I ever hope to live in the presence of a God so holy, as much as He loves me, Who can’t allow me into His presence unless my sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, His only Son.”

The first invitation is for those who wish to take the Good News about Jesus to neighbors and nations, to the end of the block or the ends of the Earth; who are willing to trust God; lay down their lives, put aside their plans, for a greater and more important plan.

If you fully understand what it means to say, “God, I’m willing to be a Joseph to my generation,” come.

The second invitation is for those who aren’t ready to take the message to friends and neighbors, but for those who are ready to believe the message. You’ve been thinking about it. Today is your day of decision, and you have decided … I’m going to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

To those who are reading this message on my website, if you would like to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, take this prayer as a guide and pray it. Put as much of it as you can in your own words. And if you can think of anything – if anything comes to mind while you’re praying – that you want to specifically acknowledge as sin in your life, take some time to articulate what you want from God. (It may sound something like this: “Lord, I can remember when I was immoral [describe it to Him in your own words] … and it has haunted me/made me feel unforgiveable/made me feel guilty for so long. Please forgive me for that sin. [And if you think, after you’ve finished praying, that you should forgive someone, or ask for forgiveness of someone, make plans to do so.].”)

PRAYER: Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins, in my place, and I believe that God raised You from the dead. I give You my life for Yours, and I intentionally choose You as my Lord and Master. I invite You into my life with thanksgiving and deep gratitude. Amen.

What I Believe About God

I attended a meeting not long ago and heard a speaker say, as the general premise of the talk, that she had figured out how to get God to heal anyone, anytime.  She wasn’t talking about coercing God or artfully manipulating Him to do whatever we would want Him to do, especially in the area of healing.  She wasn’t that dumb.  Rather, her main point was that everything we need to know about healing, and getting people healed, is in God’s Word – the Bible.  All we needed to do was pray a certain way, believe a certain way, and He’d come through.  He would have to, you see, because He “had promised us He would heal anyone who believed, and would respond favorably to anyone who prayed in faith.”

But she doesn’t know what to do, think or say when “God” doesn’t heal someone, other than to just keep praying.  (That is, until death ends the process, of course.)  Others who believe in healing today, and have the formulas that “work,” will explain that when a person isn’t healed someone is at fault – either the person praying or the person that is sick.  What they are unintentionally or intentionally saying, depending on the person, is that they’ve got God figured out.  They know how He operates.  He’s totally predictable … that He responds a certain way in a certain situation every time that situation occurs.

Well … that’s what people say who have either (a) never read the Bible, (b) have read only the “interesting” parts of the Bible, (c) [ the most likely option] have approached reading the Bible with a certain pre-judgment (or prejudice, if you will).  Oh, and there is an option (d) and it is:  people have heard and then bought into teaching from teachers who live option “c” – teachers who themselves bought into the teaching of someone … who bought into the teaching of someone … etc., etc.

Their God is only as big as their understanding of Him … and that tends to be SMALL.

Let me tell you about my God.

He’s smarter than me.  I’m limited in my understanding of Him.  I can’t figure Him out … BUT … it doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I like it.  (If I could figure Him out I might think He is weak, or lacking intelligence … way too small to be worshipped as the great “I AM.”)

God tells me a lot about Himself … but again, more than I can fully understand … and He keeps me curious.  I want to know more about Him.

Put another way, His BIGNESS makes Him God … and for me, I like that.  I want a BIG God.  I want a God that can do infinitely more than I can, so much so that I wouldn’t want His job because I couldn’t do His job.  (I certainly don’t think I’m up for it.  I believe the position of GOD is filled.)

God’s Word, while totally true, is complex because it’s from Him – the One who is infinite in wisdom and knowledge.  It’s written to me and for me – the one who is finite and not all-knowing.  That means that there are parts of the Bible I won’t “get” … and there are parts that no one will get.  (If I could get it all, or if anyone else could understand it all … well, we’d have to be God’s equal, right?)  That said, there are times when children will get Him better than we do.

I believe God is the consummate, perfect LOVER.  He never holds grudges, never lies, alway understands, and is totally accepting … but … He’s not stupid.  He loves with His eyes wide open.  We can’t fool Him.  There’s not a place dark enough that we can hide our true feelings toward Him from Him.

Because God loves me He wants me to know Him better and better, and because He loves me He will reveal more and more about Himself to me in language I can understand.  (But that still means I won’t ever FULLY understand Him, or His ways.)

I believe God is beyond generous.  Because He’s so giving He always wills and wants to give me what is good for me; He said so.  He will not withhold good things from me.  At the same time, He WILL withhold what is NOT good for me.  He said so – He said don’t even ask for those things because He’s not listening.  Therefore,I should never try to lay a guilt trip on Him.  As hard as we might try, we can’t make Him feel guilty for not answering our every prayer in the way we dictate it to Him.  I also believe you and I can’t come up with formulas that make Him do anything He doesn’t want to do … even if we beg … or fast … or cut ourselves … or make promises concerning what we will do for Him in the future.  I can never force Him to do anything.  He is the greater, I am the lesser.  So if I think or believe something … ANYTHING … that doesn’t mean He has to believe it, too.

I believe God is HOLY.  That means He can never sin, just as light and darkness can’t mix.  He can’t sin against me, or against anyone in the whole world.  So … if anything bad happens to me – my stocks tank, I’m shipwreck, I am stoned (and I’m not talking about “pot” here), all my goods confiscated, I get really sick, or even die … it’s not His “fault.”  He is perfect.  Pure.  Right every time.  Good every time.  Kind every time.  Because He knows everything and I don’t, He knows when it’s time to pull the plug – my days are numbered … BY HIM.  You can’t sing, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” and believe otherwise.

I believe God is more concerned about me – the real, down-deep-inside-me me – than my comfort.  That means things I may not like could be good.  Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong, or bad.  God can’t be bad.  My circumstances could be, but He is never or could ever be bad.  That also means that something bad happening in my life might ultimately bring about something good … something unanticipated.

God is tough.  He is the same God – in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He didn’t come to His senses in the New Testament.  Jesus doesn’t represent “His good side” while Jehovah represents “His bad side.”  He does not have a split personality.  He is not a child killer in the Old Testament and a child resurrector in the New.  He is Job’s God.  He’s is Peter and John’s, too.  He hasn’t changed.  Everything He did in the Old and New Testament, whether we understand it or agree with it, was good because He is good.  In other words, He had His reasons for whatever He did … and He was HOLY while He did what He did.  Got it?

I believe God healed people in the Old and New Testaments … and He DIDN’T heal people in the Old and New Testaments – for His own reasons.  Again, some of those reasons He has never explained.  Some He has.  That said … even if I’m not healed, not protected, not always safe, not wealthy, not comfortable, not IN on His plan or plans … I try not to care.   It’s hard, but I’m better at it today than yesterday.  Because I trust Him.  I trust His judgment.

I trust Him.  And I love Him.  I can’t wrap my arms or my mind around Him, but I love Him – passionately.  During some tender moments He and I share it’s all I can do not to cry – I’m so filled with emotion.  I go ahead and cry eventually.  And He likes it, and thinks it’s masculine.  

So … that’s my God – my best attempt today to put what I believe about him down on paper, or in a blog post.  I don’t want to live without Him just because I don’t understand all of His ways.  I want Him, even if He keeps me wondering.  He is wonder-filled and wonderful.

Oh, and I do pray!  I do ask.  I ask BIG.  I have great faith.  I’ve seen miracles.  Real, honest to goodness miracles.   And when He doesn’t answer in the way I pray I just keep praying – with an open mind and an open heart.

He is God.  I am not.  And that is a good thing.

Bankrupt? You Don’t Have To Be

Today our President and the Congress debate solutions to the Wall Street crisis of 2008; US politicians are on the TV and the radio, posturing.  All this has become front page news and the lead story of media broadcasts because of the current state of the American economy.  

You know it and I know it:  any fix they come up with will be temporary, just like all the previous fixes.  We can hope for some semblance of financial balance (i.e., restrained government spending, moral investment, honest and honorable leadership, wise and unselfish stewardship of accounts, etc), but given the track record of Washington and Wall Street, would you agree that our hope for long term financial solutions is on thin ice?  

What makes matters worse is the financial track record of most Americans, period.  I think most folks would agree with me again:  we – ourselves – are not reliable when it comes to reigning in personal spending and making wise investment choices.  Most Americans find it a daily challenge to restrain greed – our constant, enduring and ongoing lust for MORE.  We want more of everything – more food, more X-Box games, more skin, more credit, more house, more … more … more!

We have a sin problem at the root of our financial problems.  Actually, every human being has sin as the root of every problem.

Rather than talking about the sin problem, God came up with THE long-term (actually, an eternal) fix.  He came up with THE cure.  He provided THE answer.  He has THE solution.

I love the language God and His servants used in the Bible to describe what He was prepared to do, and did, for mankind.  

Jesus said, “… the Son of Man (talking about Himself) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a RANSOM for many.”  The apostle Peter wrote, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were REDEEMED from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect … Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (selections from 1 Peter 1:18-21)

Do you get it?  God didn’t provide a temporary fix.  He ransomed us.  He redeemed us.

A ransom is a sum of money (or other kind of payment) demanded or paid for the release of a prisoner or a hostage.  We humans are prisoners to sin.  We are held hostage by sin.   In Galatians 3:22 you can read it yourself.  “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”  Jesus Himself said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed …”

The word “redeem” is interesting, too.  To redeem means to gain, or regain, possession of something in exchange for payment.  It also means to pay the necessary money to clear a debt.

God paid a huge price … a priceless price, if you will … to buy us out of our slavery to sin.  God paid for our sin.  He paid blood-money.  He paid in blood.  His own blood.  He paid, even though HE didn’t owe anyone anything.  God, the Father, GAVE His Son … and the Son – Jesus – willingly, lovingly came to die for every sin-prisoner, everywhere, in every era.

If you’re up to your eyeballs in financial debt, hope and PRAY your government leaders do the right thing(s).

But if you’re aware that you’re up to your eyeballs in debt to God for your sin … your personal sin … PRAY.  When you do, ask Him to apply the blood-payment Christ gave for everyone’s sin to your PERSONAL account.  When you do that in faith and by faith, God wipes out your debt.  He balances the books.  He sets you FREE from the debtors’ prison of sin.  He pays the ransom so that you can go free.  He redeems you.

Today, the United States reels and staggers under the weight of huge debt brought on by stupid and/or greedy investments, unsecured debt, faulty lending practices, and selfish corporate and banking leadership.  Contrast that with the weight of sin mankind has been crushed by since history began.  You and I may not be in a place where we can remain unaffected by the state of the world’s sick economy, but we can do something about the weight of sin in our lives.  Thank God (literally), your personal spiritual bankruptcy can be expunged – deleted, erased, and completely removed – by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  All you have to do is ASK.  Just ask.  Ask God to forgive your debt … and He will.  Every time, for everyone.

Think about it.

Loving You … and More

img_1302.jpgThe greatest thing we can do in life is love.  There are three qualities of life that make living wonderful and human – faith, hope and love … but “the greatest of these is love.”  Faith allows us to live above the normal tenors and tones; hope is the stuff of confident and believable dreams.  But love ties us to other time travelers with cords of immeasurable strength, deeper emotion, and superior thought.

Can love be commanded, or demanded of us?  Some think not.  Maybe most think not …  And so, if someone were to command love, or command anything, there are those who would resist loving, or whatever, just to retain control of their life.  But, arguably, the greatest Man to ever live said that we are commanded to love – and we are to do it in ways that bring love its fullest expression and fulfillment.

That  Man, Jesus Christ, was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” and He replied that the greatest commandment was to love God.  He then volunteered the second greatest commandment:  to love our neighbors.  He concluded that all the commandments (to not steal, murder, lie, covet, etc.) hung on these two – loving God and loving our neighbors.

Some people think Jesus actually suggested a third commandment when He said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The actual quote is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But Jesus was not saying, or commanding, that we should love our selves.  He was just pointing out that we should love our neighbors … anyone who crosses our path in life … to the same degree that we love ourselves because He knew that no human being (generally speaking) would have a problem loving themselves. 

I really want to explore what it means to “love” God, and I’ll do that in another column, but today I want to write about loving others.

We humans long to be loved, and give love.  Like a puzzle lacking its most significant piece, we have a hole in our hearts that is shaped for love.  We have it in our DNA – to be loved by someone, and to express love to someone.  Like boiling water in a tea kettle on a hot stove, we want – we must release this pent up something … this emotion that is in us and of us.  And we want to have love returned to us in a genuine way.  And that is a key thought, too, don’t you think?  Don’t we all want to be genuinely loved and authentically love someone else?

That said, you might think that loving others comes naturally. … but it doesn’t.  Loving is an acquired taste.  But once it is delightfully experienced, it’s addictive.  Loving others is a learned skill.  So, I suggest that if it wasn’t commanded, we might only drink in love, hoping not to spill a precious drop.  (For example, if parents don’t model it, children won’t do it naturally, because it’s MORE natural to be self-centered and selfish.  With our first infancy cry, we demand to be taken care of.  From birth WE COMMAND others to love us, and we do so with our incessant grasping and howling.)  Loving, like sharing, must be taught.

My Mom and Dad, Retha and Claude, loved each other, and in so doing created an atmosphere in our home that encouraged loving.  We saw their love, felt their love, and then wanted what they had.  That’s when they began the teaching process.  Mom and Dad taught us to love.

Got a question for you.  In all our talking about love, are we first loving?

Think about it.

(pictured above – Brandon, April 1, 2008)