Do It God’s Way

“Doing What It Says” means taking God at face value.   It means that God is still on the throne, holy and perfect and does not need our help in guiding the world toward holiness; we just need to accept His definition of it.   In becoming devoted Disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to accept God’s guidelines for what is acceptable behavior and what is not.   Just because we “feel” a certain way or because we were “born” a certain way does not give us the right to call it “normal” or “acceptable.”   We were born in sin and consequently many of our feelings, desires, understandings etc. are sinful in nature.  

I’m sure that Moses didn’t agree with God on many things.   Was it fair that God sent all of those plagues?   Was it right that God drown the Egyptian Army in the sea?   How about Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his son?   What about Adam and Eve, after all they had permission to eat of everything else in the Garden!

Regardless of where you stand on the many issues surrounding our obedience to Scripture, you always end up asking certain questions:

Is God’s Word really God’s Word?

Is the Bible really inspired by Him?

Is it relevant for today?

Why do some things no longer apply as they use to?

Would it be right for God to leave us guessing?

NOTE TO SELF: Jesus said that the faithful would experience opposition.   Are you ready for it?

Don’t Ask

I was recently in conversation with a UMC Pastor that held the Bill Clinton approach to the homosexual issue in the United Methodist Church; “” Don’t ask, don’t tell.”   As the lead pastor of a growing church his answer was simply not to address the issue publicly, and in fact to skirt around it if need be.   The difficult part is that taking a stance on one side or the other could fracture the core of the church causing many to leave.   It can also fracture our family structure, especially when the issue involves a loved one in our own house.   It is an issue that sharply divides our hearts and culture.   So, to go back a few years and approach the issue; “what would Jesus do?”

Let’s break it down into bite size chunks: first, yes, God wants all of His creation to be with Him in an eternal loving relationship for all of eternity.   This includes all people, young, old, black, white, straight, homosexual, bi-sexual, questioning, whatever.   God never created one person that He didn’t want to include in His heavenly family forever.   Let the record show that God loves all people, through all time, in all states of existence.     But there is a condition called sin, or rebellion, or pride, and this condition separates us from a holy and perfect God.   God loves us but due to our sinful nature we are eternally separated from Him.   So now what?  

As a perfect God, he does not leave us alone in our fallen state, He offers us redemption.   The first step of taking God up on His offer of redemption is to admit that we need it!   If I don’t see or admit that I have sinned then how can I do my part which is simply to accept His sacrifice and repent?   To repent means to have a change of heart, to want to have not sinned, to desire to not sin if we had the opportunity to live those moments over again.   It would be absolutely wrong of God to create humankind in His image yet imperfect and not offer humankind the opportunity to be forgiven.   In reality, our decision to accept His sacrifice and repent is part of the creation process.   God is still “creating” you!

But where do we get our sense of what’s right and wrong?   What determines what is acceptable or not?   In other words, where is truth?   Where is the dividing line of acceptable behavior and sinful behavior?   Is it left up to each person, society or culture?   Has God given us the principles of righteousness and holiness somewhere or are we left in the dark to figure it out for ourselves?

For centuries Christianity has accepted that the Bible is God’s holy and perfect Word for humankind.   We have accepted the authorship of the Bible as being God inspired through various writers and have taken God’s Word at face value when it has told us of its perfect harmony with the holiness of God.   So why all of a sudden has our stance in the church changed?   Is it not telling us what we want to hear?   So, as an example, if the Bible is no longer correct when it comes to sexuality what else needs our attention?

NOTE TO SELF: decision time

Mike

Mike was a young man with a new family.   His wife and he were building the American dream and literally had the small house, two kids, a dog all surrounded by a white picket fence.   Mike was a builder by trade and very meticulous about his work.   Many of his houses were listed each year in the Parade of Homes due to his eye for quality and detail.   Life was good and the family seemed very happy and secure, but one day that all changed when Mike enrolled in school to become a Pastor.

This was only somewhat of a shock at the time as Mike had been growing in his faith for many years.   He became more involved at his church, started attending small groups and spending more and more time in the Scriptures.   While Mike felt that his life was flowering into something new and beautiful his wife did not.   She felt abandoned and like she had lost her husband to something else.   As time went on the arguments became uglier and the time they spent away from each other seemed to fuel the fires even more.   Finally, the camel’s back broke.   Mike’s wife felt that her marriage was going down a path that would be unrecoverable.   She felt ordinary, not appreciated, abandoned and empty.

While Mike was becoming more and more involved with his faith, growing and now going to pastoral licensing school, his wife was also becoming more involved at her work.   She was starting to sense the attention and affection of a co-worker.   Over the months, Mike missed the signs of a deteriorating marriage until the day she finally told him she was having an affair.   This rocked his belief in God to the core.   “After all I’m doing for God how could He let this happen?”   Mike felt that since he was following the path God had carved out for him that God was left with the responsibility to keep everything else “in order!”   Wrong!   Really, Mike was putting God to the test!

While we are to “Do What It Says” (follow the call of Christ in our lives) we are not to ignore the other responsibilities God has entrusted to us.   Mike had family responsibilities that he had walked away from.   He ignored those that he loved because of his enthusiasm for his new-found life direction.   In essence he had replaced his family with his ministry calling.   In his subconscious, Mike was also looking forward to “God owing” him because of his service in Pastoral Ministry.   Mike’s enthusiasm got the best of him!

To be faithful to the calling of God we have to remember that God will never ask us to do something that is wrong.   God is good and the plans He executes in the world through us are good too!   These plans are many times difficult, misunderstood and laden with hardship, but they are always good.   We have to remember that “good” in God’s eyes is much different than “good” in humanities eyes.   God is always moving forward toward the eternal redemption of His creation while our attention is many times very temporal.  

In the fall of 2015 I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mike at a seminar we were both attending.   Things had progressed in his family situation to a full blown ugly divorce that included using the kids as pawns.   Mike was extremely depressed.   One day in the middle of a class Mike turned to me and said; “I really blew it!   I mentally and emotionally walked out on my family …. now it’s just done.”  

As the months went on Mike did his best to become the father and husband that he knew God wanted him to be.   He found out that he could serve God as a pastor and be a loving father and partner at the same time.   It was difficult, as most things God calls us to do are, but he prayerfully started to seek God’s help and guidance to do them all.   The good news is that on now Mike and his wife “dating” once again.   Truly God is healing their marriage.

As in all situations where we are torn between living out God’s plans in our lives, we have to remember that those plans do not include abandoning the loved ones He has giving to us or expecting God to clean up our trail of broken commitments.  

NOTE To Self: Don’t abandon those lovely people God has give to you!

Deadliest Catch

I love this program!   The men and women on this program risk life and limb for the sole purpose of catching crabs and making a living.   These fishermen sail into the Bering Sea throughout the year in search of large healthy Ophelia crabs.   In many of the episodes I have watched the weather conditions are horrendous!   The risk is immense and these fishermen are faced with long endless hours of monotonous work, extreme cold, massive waves, hunger, illness and even death.   Without a doubt being a crab fisherman in the Bering Sea is one of the most hazardous jobs in the world.   One small slip into the frigid waters will leave the individual in a hopeless state of hypothermia.   Besides that, there is no guarantee that they will catch anything!

But one-character trait I have observed from the men and women on this program is there selfless sacrifice for the sake of their families.   They are willing to put themselves in harm’s way and endure countless hours of misery for the sake of providing for their loved ones.   We also see this type of trait in those in military service.   Our military service men and women have made the choice to protect our nation and their families by placing themselves on the firing line, and they do this by choice and dedication.

Jesus calls us into the same type of setting: placing ourselves into an uncomfortable or harsh situation for the sake of others.   Crab fishermen do it for income, our military does it in order to protect, we should do it in order to serve others in Christ’ name.   It all seems so simple, but in reality, unless we apply rule number 1 (It’s Not About You), it will never happen.

We also have to remember that Jesus dove headfirst into a deadly situation all for our sake.   He didn’t have to, He chose to, for you and me!   I have to assume that Jesus, knowing the future, must have seen a great worth in placing Himself in that deadly position as compared to allowing us to fall into the future we were heading for.   Jesus chose to place Himself in harm’s way fully knowing that it would cost Him His life but saving ours.   Isn’t it gratitude for this that should be an overwhelming motivator to serve Him in our life?   In His Word, the Scriptures, would it be fair if He misled us?

Start Somewhere …

The biggest problem with people serving Christ is that they don’t know where to start.   I have a great idea, start by serving either as a greeter or nursery helper.   Both of these ministries in the church are usually understaffed, so check in with the ministry leader for each and get plugged in.   How hard is it to welcome someone to church or change a diaper?   Actually, neither of these ministries is complicated or require great skill, they just require a willing heart.   That’s the key: willingness.  

Mark 10:38

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

In this setting the disciples wanted to follow Jesus without completely understanding what they were getting into.   I believe we can admire their faith and choices at this point even though Jesus points out to them that they could never endure all that He was going to.   Their hearts were willing to step into the unknown regardless of how extreme it was going to be.   They were eager to follow but unrealistic as to what it would cost them.   At this point the disciples were relying on their own strength, fortitude and reasoning to be able to walk in Jesus’ shoes.   It wasn’t until later, after the ascension, that the disciples were ready to go forth with the help, strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.   That’s the deal … it is God through the Holy Spirit that provides the wisdom, strength and fortitude to do His will, not the human intellect, stamina or persona.   Our job is to simply be willing …. regardless of the path or outlook!

Are you?

Giving …

From 2010 to 2014 I served three small United Methodist Church in Central Michigan.   During that time, applying the principle “It’s not about you” became the dividing line between spiritual maturity and immaturity.   Many in the parish I was serving had been going to church and participating in church activities most of their lives.   They were walking as Christians, looking the part, doing all the appropriate stuff but still considerably immature.

One of the congregations I served was very small, only 14 people on a good Sunday.   This congregation was comprised of mostly older and retired individuals and consequently volunteerism was almost non-existent.   But they always “bellied-up” when the heat bill was due or the apportionments for the church conference were past due, but usually with a self-interested heart.   The overall attitude of this church was one of complacency and self-preservation.   There was essentially no outreach whatsoever at the church.   The church building while beautiful was slowly deteriorating and approaching an unsafe status, but the coffee fellowship was always an integral part of their Sunday morning rituals of gathering in the sanctuary and then communing in the basement for coffee and snacks.

The congregation was small and financially struggling but they didn’t want to lose the church building and fellowship that they had enjoyed for years.   It really didn’t make any difference if they weren’t promoting Jesus to the community or inviting others to know Christ, what was important was their own comfort and traditions.

I once had a pastor tell me that his small church was dying.   He said there was usually around 13-15 people there on Sunday but the day would come when they could no longer afford to keep the doors open.   What a shame!   But this pastor was very comfortable with the slow death of this church.   “If all I do is minister to these few while they slowly die, that’s OK.”   It didn’t make any difference that the church wasn’t growing.   It didn’t make any difference if new people were coming to faith, what was important was that they had their traditions in place, it was comfortable and it remained all about what they wanted .. not Jesus.   My heart sank and I told him “what a shame!?”

Somehow, I don’t think that God is honored when a congregation focuses on keeping the doors open and not the mission Jesus left us with.   In Matthew Jesus spells it out.

 

Matthew 28

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus doesn’t tell us to keep the fires burning and He doesn’t say to keep the coffee pot on.   Jesus instructs us to “lose” ourselves in obedient service to Him.   “GO” He says and tell someone.   Unfortunately for many congregations you can’t do that when you use your resources keeping yourself comfortable and self-serving traditions in place!   GO!   To ignore the call of Christ upon your own life, or the life of the church, is to sin against God and to dishonor Christ’ command.   After all, the Great Commission isn’t the Great Suggestion, it’s a command to action!   He doesn’t say “let’s have blueberry muffins next week,” He says to feed someone in need, shelter the homeless, clothe the needy, comfort the sick, write to an inmate and visit the destitute all to be done in His name.

Jesus basically said to give of ourselves not to accumulate for ourselves.   “How about Panera muffins next week?”

The Most Important Moment

As a pastor I have become very familiar with the last few moments of a person’s life.   For most people desperation never hits as hard as it does during those final moments of existence.   Suddenly the individual is faced with the purpose of life, what their life was all about and how it was handled.   They find themselves faced with those moments when the “why” of life is being answered in full.  There is no more waiting, no more procrastination, no more “I’ll think about it later,” its decision time!   And the gavel strikes downward and its blow is the final sound heard in this life.  

Unfortunately, I see too many families that are blind-sighted by the death of a loved one.  They never expected death to find its way into their lives so soon, surely not today!   They find themselves overwhelmed as there has been no real preparation by either the deceased or the family for this sudden event.   The individual is just gone … and at that, suddenly!   And the phrase “it’s not about you” has never had such deep meaning!

In those final moments and the days following I have seen many families take comfort in the memories of what the deceased accomplished and how their life was lived.   I hear statements like “what a great dad they were” or “they lived a good life.”   But in reality, when you consider their life from a Godly perspective it’s too late for the one that lived a life outside of a relationship with God.  

Why is it that we have such a hard time facing the reality of death?

Luke 16:19-31

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

How true it is even today!   Jesus rose from the dead and still most do not believe.   These greatest of all events are something I can’t control or quantify, and it is especially beyond my level of comprehension and understanding.   For most people their lives are all about themselves, believing that at the end they will be due Heaven because of their self-evaluated well-lived “good” life.   Unfortunately, most people are only shooting for “good enough” and not the “holy” that God calls us to seek.

This story represents the issue of serving oneself through life with no thought whatsoever regarding God.   In the world today, we are assured that to live the good life we simply need to amass as many treasures as we can.   It’s the “Burger King” way of life … “have it your way!”   But God’s Word and the example of Jesus clearly show us that life is not about us but instead is all about loving God, being in relationship with Him and serving Him by serving others in His name.   The cool part is that we find unbelievable contentment and purpose in that relationship with God, not so much in serving ourselves.   So, the challenge for us is to establish a life of grateful service and not an attitude of serving so that God will owe us a Heavenly eternity.   Let’s be clear, He will never owe you anything!   It’s not about you!

NOTE TO SELF: Do life His way … it’ll be worth it!