It’s time . . .

I haven’t been here most of the Summer. Some of that is because it’s been a busy year. So much to do outside! It was such a beautiful Summer, not necessarily great for being poolside, but the temperature was tremendous and just enough rain that nothing turned brown in July or August.

But the main reason I wasn’t here was because I felt like I had nothing to say. And everything I thought about saying had the potential for someone to take it out of context and feel bad. Unfortunately, I’m still just co-dependent enough that the thought of someone being distraught because of something I wrote can completely shut me down.  So for the last few months I’ve been silent.

During the last few days, however, I’ve really felt as though it’s time to get back. I have ideas and aha moments almost daily, and not sharing them makes me feel anxious and depressed. Some I write in one of my journals (I have three or four), but often I want to just type . . . I can type so much faster than I can write.

OK . . . all that probably seemed like I was rattling on, but what it’s really done is given me a commitment to keep. It’s me publicly announcing (or as public as this gets since I really don’t have much of a readership), I’m going to start sharing here again on a regular basis.  It’s also a warning I guess that some of what you read here might not be what you want to hear. You are allowed to click off this page . . . I won’t even know. That’s why I put it here and don’t send it to any of my mailing lists. I save this space for my more controversial thoughts.  I guess what I’m really saying is . . .

I’m back . . .

Whose side is God on?

Joshua 5:13-14a Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

I’ve often wondered about these two verses. The angel of the Lord is on neither side. How can it be the messenger of the Almighty is not by default on the side of the Israelites? They are, after all, the chosen people of the living God!

But the angel is clear . . . he’s not there to take sides.

Yet, if the angels didn’t take sides, how did the walls of Jericho fall so easily? Why did nearly every battle in the book of Joshua fall to the Israelites without much of a fight?

Tonight I had this thought . . .

Ephesians 6:12 tells me my “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As much as humans disturb me, fight me and seem to be against my Father, my struggle is not against them. God is not “against” any of His creation. How could He be? How could anyone purposely be against something they created in perfection with their own hands? And even if you and I could, does that really fit the description of the perfect, complete and Holy God we’re getting to know more and more every day?

Even in the Old Testament, the place where the “wrath of God” seems so evident, God did not take human sides. Our Father’s battle has always been against the one who set himself up as the enemy, Lucifer, AKA Satan, the accuser, the devil. The Holy Trinity was fighting against Satan even then.

Here’s the thing . . .

Just as in war here on earth, in the Spiritual realm there are unwitting casualties of war. People who align themselves with the losing side out of misguided loyalty, false promises, the quest for power and more are lost in battle while the leader who started the whole thing sits in his comfy war-staging room and watches the battle play out.

That’s what the enemy has been doing all along. The people of Jericho had aligned themselves with our enemy. They didn’t even realize they were on the side of evil. The enemy had spewed lies to them just like he does to his followers today. It sounds good, but they have no idea they’re pawns in his little game.

When Israel took Jericho, it was only because the “evil of Canaan had reached its fullness.” The enemy had taken control of the area, and the spiritual power he wielded there had to be wiped out. We read about the ground battle in the book of Joshua, but I wonder what the heavenly battle looked like. It happened over and over again in the Old Testament. It continues to happen today. Even when the enemy thinks he wins by destroying the human flesh of one of God’s children, he’s lost. Because the only thing he does by taking the human life of someone who loves Christ is to prematurely allow that person to be in the presence of the Almighty. And the beauty of that thought is those who are human casualties on the side of the Lord of the Universe don’t lose! They just get their ultimate reward!

God doesn’t take sides . . . not the human kind. The Creator’s only enemy is the one who continually tries to usurp the Sovereign’s power. God is on your side. Will you be on His?

angel
The angel of the Lord does not take sides

Movie Review – The Shack

SPOILER ALERT
If you’ve read the book, you probably won’t notice any spoilers, but if you haven’t, beware, I’ll be mentioning some movie scenes below.

I’m really surprised at the number of Christians who are boycotting this movie. I guess because I’m usually on the boycott bandwagon, I’m not often on this side of the entertainment debate. I have had one or two people tell me they aren’t going because they felt in their spirit the book was wrong. Those folks I am encouraging to follow that instinct. If the Holy Spirit tells you to do something, just do it! I don’t care who tells you it’s alright to ignore those feelings because to them it’s fine, just listen to the Spirit.

But here’s my take on some of the negativity I’ve heard . . .

IT’S FICTION . . . First of all I think it needs to remain in perspective this is a work of fiction. It’s a made up story. It sounds real . . . when I read the book, I kept wondering if it was a true story. Young did a great job of narrating in such a way you felt as though it really happened. On top of that, it’s a fictional story about something a person dreamed while in a coma. Let’s face it, God speaking to people in dreams is not a new phenomena. We don’t have any problem believing God spoke to Joseph or even wrestled with Jacob in a dream, so I’m not sure why this fictional story Should not be allowed to be called Christian based entertainment. Someone even said they thought people were taking it as scripture. If that’s the case, Christians shouldn’t read anything other than the Bible because there’s a chance we’ll mistake it for scripture. It’s fiction. It’s one man painting a picture of forgiveness, healing and the Trinity with words. If someone starts thinking it’s scripture, I think that little fact will straighten them out.

God is not a Black Woman . . .
no, He’s not . . . but he’s not a white man either. God is Spirit, and how He reveals Himself to His children is His business. He walked with Abraham toward Sodom and must have looked like a Middle Eastern man then. I like it that Young took God out of the box. He maintained the masculine pronouns just like God seems to like (since that what scripture uses), but the Bible gives God a lot of traits that aren’t masculine because is not human and has no gender.

Universalism. . . I can see how some might think this movie/book supports the idea that no one goes to hell. But on the other hand, there are several lines in the movie (and I believe in the book also) that dismiss this theory. At one point Papa tells Mack He wants to redeem the man who hurt Missy. If you’re going for a Universal view where everyone goes to heaven, then either there’d be no need for redemption or he’d already be redeemed. But Papa wants to redeem him.

In several places the issue of free will is given. Jesus and Papa both say they don’t want any slaves. Everyone is given a choice to follow or not follow. Wisdom says that trust is required for a relationship with the Trinity. All of these seem to contradict a Universalist view.

Mack’s dad being in heaven seemed to bother a lot of people, it bothered me a bit when I read the book. But by assuming the man could not possibly have made it to heaven is to become the same kind of judge Mack had to learn he was. The father was a leader in the church, and although the beating was inexcusable, we don’t know his relationship with the Almighty. One would think the man’s fruit would negate his ability to be saved, but while the Bible gives me permission to talk about His fruit, it strips me of my right to determine whether or not he accepted Christ’s forgiveness even in the few moments as he lay dying.

I’ve been told some people think this because Mr. Young is a Universalist. I don’t know. I don’t know the man. I’ve never even seen him interviewed. Maybe he is, but I don’t see that the book or movie solidify that view. I believe that even if he is a Universalist, Young left the door open for me to share my belief that One MUST accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In fact I thought the scene when Mack told Wisdom he would give his life for his children so they could both have an opportunity to go to heaven would make a perfect intro to explaining that God deemed us worthy of His love so He sent Christ, but we have to accept the sacrifice on our behalf to claim the gift. Even in this scene Wisdom simply illustrated the children were worthy of love; she did not give them a free pass to heaven.

Justice and Love at odds . . . I just don’t see it. Charisma News said that was a problem, but especially in the scene with wisdom, I see Wisdom being tough on Mack. Even Papa as a man told Mack he didn’t have to excuse the act of the man who hurt Missy. He also talked a bit about justice there too if I remember right, and then said He wanted to redeem the man.

The Wrath of God . . . OK I’ll give you this one. Young does minimize the wrath of God here, but in this context, with Mack believing that Missy was taken because of the Wrath of God, Papa’s statements are legit. Mack did not understand who God was. And the truth is most of the world doesn’t understand who God is. The wrath of God gets plenty of publicity, as does the picture of God who allows for cheap grace. I think the book and the movie both do a good job of showing the need for forgiveness and relationship with the Trinity. So, I can live with the wrath of God being trivialized in a work of FICTION just this once.

I think the biggest issue I have with all those who have problems with this book goes back to my very first statement. For some reason everyone seems to forget this is a work of fiction. I had more problems with THE BIBLE series on the History Channel than I do “The Shack”. “The Bible” series had a few deviations from scripture I thought, but they were relatively insignificant, so I didn’t make a big deal about them. And that series was supposed to be straight out of the Bible. If you’re going to put the Bible into a movie, you have to be accurate. But this is fiction . . . it’s a story someone told . . .

I personally found the picture of the Trinity Young painted pretty awesome. I loved that the garden of Mack’s life was a mess, but beautiful from God’s point of view. I also thought the book and movie did a tremendous job of pointing out the need for forgiveness and a full relationship with the Trinity. He did not get into the plan for salvation, but again . . . it was a work of fiction. I always assumed his point was the need for forgiveness and relationship so he left the way to salvation to us. If this movie can motivate dialogue about the Trinity and the need to trust in God, is it really a bad thing?

Everlasting God

Today on the way home “Everlasting God” by Chris Tomlin played on the radio. At the end a child reads Isaiah 40:28-31. I praised God as the wee one read “Even the very young grow tired and weak. Young men stumble and fall. But the one who trusts in the Lord will have new strength. They will soar like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and never faint.”

I recently was relieved of being a full-time caregiver when my mother-in-law went to be with Jesus. Now, if you don’t know me, you have no idea that natural care giver just isn’t the way anyone would have ever described me. Talk to my siblings, they’ll tell you. It’s a gift that just wasn’t in my wheelhouse.

However, in the almost two years I was Mom’s primary care-giver and the years before that I took care of some of the little “details” of her life, I never felt overwhelmed or anxious.

And those are two things I DO feel from time to time. Much less often now . . . now that I realize when I begin to feel that way it’s because I’m running my own show, not trusting in my Creator.

In my life, anytime I start to feel overwhelmed to the point of anxiety, I discover it’s ALWAYS because I’ve taken on a task or a burden that my Savior did not ask me to carry.

I know not all anxiety is caused by running ahead of the Holy Spirit. Some people need help because it’s hormonal or caused by a deeper mental scar. But for me, almost all of my severe anxiety is a direct result of trying to do things on my own without Christ and without His permission. When I truly wait on Him, I do feel light enough to soar like an eagle. When I let Jesus lead, I have confidence. When God is in control, I don’t grow emotionally weary.

I want that peace and inner energy that comes from following the One who loves me more than I can imagine.

Heaven Isn’t A GPS Location

My mother-in-law recently passed. We appreciated everyone who came out to show love and support. Most offered condolences, but the truth is we lost “Mom” a couple of years ago, so the grieving process had, for the most part, run its course. So, my standard answer when someone assumed we were having a hard time was to say, “She’s so much better now. She knew Jesus.” Because she did. She was quiet about her faith, but my husband can remember the day she gave her life to Christ, and I watched her grow through Sunday School, Bible Study and church attendance and I know she read her Bible faithfully. How can I be sad when I’m sure she’s in the Ultimate Vacation Spot!?!

But one reply to my “standard response” was this, “But what’s important is Jesus knew her.” This troubled me . . .

I can’t help but wonder, does the person who said this think that everyone has a ticket to heaven? Does he believe that all good people get to be with Jesus someday? How many folks think the Kingdom of Heaven is someplace everyone can find, like programming Pittsburgh into the GPS?

It’s not that our friend was wrong. The Bible does say at one time Jesus will someday say to some, “I never knew you.” So obviously having Jesus know you is important; however, check out Matthew 7! He is going to say that to GOOD PEOPLE! Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who were doing things in HIS name.

And I believe Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who never really knew Him.

There are a lot of people who THINK they know Jesus, but they don’t, they only know ABOUT Him. They know when we celebrate His birth. They know He died and rose again. They may even be able to quote scripture and go through all the motions of a “good Christian.” But they don’t know Jesus.

It’s like the parables of Matthew 25. Bridesmaids should know the groom, but what if the bride met the guy in college or while traveling abroad, and they didn’t get to come home until it was time for the wedding? Those bridesmaids would know all about the guy from letters their friend had written, but they wouldn’t really know him. They wouldn’t know his demeanor or be able to always tell when he was joking. They’d know ABOUT him, but they wouldn’t KNOW him. Half of the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable didn’t know the bridegroom well enough to know he might be longer than they anticipated. If they’d have really known him, they’d have brought enough oil to wait it out.

Jesus says multiple times, “If you love me . . .” He told us if we love Him, we’ll keep His commands (John 14:15) and feed His sheep (John 21:17). First John 2 says if we claim to know Him but don’t follow His commands we are liars.

And Jesus was clear. He said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Paul, who was the master at following the “commands” before he actually met Jesus, tells us in at least five places that we can not earn salvation. Our place in heaven is not reserved because of any good we do, but because we have faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s answer for Isaiah 64:6 because anything we might try to do that might appear to be righteous looks like dirty rags to God. Without Christ, we have no hope. The Bible is clear.

Yes, my friend was right, the important thing is that Jesus knew Mom. But I am afraid my friend doesn’t understand Jesus has chosen to only know those who get to know Him. He wants to know us all! Peter tells us He doesn’t want anyone to go to eternal death. Yes, Jesus wants to know us, but unless we accept the gift of life He offers by accepting what He did on the cross as payment for our sins, we can’t get to know Him.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to convince people that everyone gets to heaven, you just have to be good. That’s the enemy’s favorite lie. Christ has gone to make a room for us, but those rooms are for the people who’ve gotten to know Him . . . really know Him.

Good . . . when is it good ENOUGH?

There’s a conversation on Facebook right now that started with a friend upset by a pious pastor condemning kids to Hell because they believe in Santa. Seriously, if you are a Christian and you’re doing that kind of thing, stop! Just Stop! Believing in Santa is NOT anti-Christian. It’s not straight from Satan. There was a Saint, a man who followed Christ and did so much good the Catholics canonized him, named Nicholas who lived in the region of Turkey and did kind things for others. He has many legends surrounding him, including putting gifts in stockings hung to dry at a fire. Somewhere, someone, took the legendary Saint and gave him a home at the North Pole, and sometime in the early 1900’s Coca Cola gave him a red suit and made him a heavy, jolly fellow. I don’t have a problem with Saint Nicholas or any of his pseudonyms. We don’t bring him into our church because he already gets enough press, so we try to keep the focus on Christ. It doesn’t mean we don’t like Santa.

However, the conversation quickly turned (my fault . . . completely my fault). My friend assumed that these young ones the pastor was condemning automatically had a spot in heaven because they were younger than 13. I have a problem with that theology and said so (I know, I can’t help myself). And my comments began to stir up some controversy. So I decided to put my thoughts here instead of clogging up that Facebook post.

First, will someone please show me in scripture where there’s an age of accountability? I simply can’t find it. I’ve read the whole book through at least twenty times and been in it daily for close to thirty years. I’ve never seen that magic number or even that phrase. We lie when we tell teens and younger they aren’t accountable for their actions and thoughts.

Second, I need some Bible scholar to show me where God condemns people to Hell. Again, all of those years of reading and it’s not until AFTER Jesus comes again that I can find any record of condemnation on God’s part. In fact in John 3:17, Jesus says He wasn’t sent to condemn the world but to save it! Job said it was his mouth that condemned him (Job 9:20), and Jesus said our own words would condemn us (Matthew 12:37). King David requested condemnation for his enemies in the Psalms a LOT. He even predicted the condemnation of the enemies of righteousness as well as those who plot wicked . . . but there’s no mention of Hell. Jesus said the Queen of Sheba would be condemning those who didn’t believe in Him. Jesus did say that the Pharisees were going to have a hard time escaping condemnation from Hell, but when you read it in context, you find our Savior saddened because He longed to gather them under His wings like a hen gathers her chickens. Jesus wasn’t condemning them. He knew they were not going to be able to escape the condemnation at the last days because of their hard hearts. And the most telling verse about condemnation is John 3:18. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” God isn’t condemning (remember, this is the verse right after the first one in this paragraph). Whoever does not believe stands condemned. Through their unbelief they condemn themselves.

And finally, there’s the issue of the good going to heaven. I used to buy into that theology, but it doesn’t stand up to scripture. There’s no guarantee that the “good” have a place in heaven. If I believe that, then what do I do Isaiah 64:6 “all of their righteous acts are like filthy rags.”? And where does Hosea 6:6 – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (quoted later by Jesus) fit into the “good equals heaven” theology? Why did Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden for merely eating a piece of fruit if God overlooks those who don’t love Him enough to do what He asks?

In Deuteronomy Moses warned the people they would stray from God, they would seek their own goodness and make their own holiness. He told them when that happened they’d lose the blessing of God, but if they turned their hearts back to their Creator He would rescue them. When we try to set up our own degree of “goodness” we make a mockery of the goodness of God. We can not be good enough!

Romans 3:10 says no one is righteous, yet the scripture is clear that only the righteous will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Romans 3:20 says “no one will be declared righteous by following the law.” And Paul goes on to say righteousness is given to those who believe. It’s a heart thing. Only those who believe in Christ are declared righteous enough for heaven. Paul tells us that everyone is entitled to this gift! No one will be left out. God does not condemn us to life apart from Him. But as Jesus told us in the parable of the wedding feast, some will choose to be left out. By choosing anything . . . ANYTHING . . . good or bad over Christ, we condemn ourselves, we turn down the invitation.

What about children? I don’t find any special dispensation for children other than 2 Corinthians 7:14 . . . the children of a believing mother or father are considered holy. I know that’s harsh. Now, I don’t find anyplace where it specifically says the young children of a non-believer who die end up in hell either, so I’m not going there! That’s up to God, and I prefer to think as long as a child has that innocence he or she is born with that child has a spot in heaven. But let’s face it, when I stack it up against scripture, that’s just what I prefer to think.

I’m not saying I know it all or everything I believe is correct, I’m just asking you to take your thought preferences and hold them up to scripture. That’s what I do. Some of it isn’t spelled out. So I hold on to what I believe with the knowledge that I could be wrong and understanding that God is bigger and knows better than I do.

Our Father has created a perfect heaven, a place we were given a peak into in the Garden of Eden and the book of Revelation. It’s a place with no room for those who aren’t willing to completely obey their Creator (yep, that’s what He was basically saying in Genesis 3). It’s a place for those with a heart seeking God first and foremost. It’s not a place for the good, it’s a place for the righteous. I don’t want anyone left out of heaven! So I certainly can’t tell “good” people, “It’s OK, you are such a kind good person, I know there’s a place for you.”

What if God meant what He said that only the righteous can dwell with Him? What if He meant it when He said no one is righteous without the blood of Jesus? If after all my years of reading and studying scripture I’m wrong, I will apologize to the masses who are in heaven whom I didn’t expect to see there. But I’d rather do that than stand in front of my Savior trying to explain why I helped a man into hell because I didn’t tell Him the good news of Jesus Christ who came to make us righteous if we only follow Him with all our heart.

Open Letter to Professional Athletes Attempting to Make a Statement Against Racial Oppresion

Dear Athletes,
Today as I see photos of many of you on your knees on September 11, 2016 instead of on your feet, I am praising God that we live in a country where you are free to do just that. I am tremendously grateful to my Father in heaven for the freedom to make a statement without fear of repercussion from the government. However, I am also saddened by method you’ve chosen.

You see, like you, I often want to make a statement. I want to stand up for my Savior. I want to stand up for injustice and inequality. I want to stand up for scriptural values. But unlike you, I don’t have the platform or the fame for my statements to carry as far as you do.

You’ve made a statement, but unfortunately, it’s hollow. You are disrespecting an entire nation! Your statement tells me you don’t respect my uncles who died to help free your ancestors. Your statement tells me that my uncle who traveled underground for fear of his life when he stood up against slavery doesn’t matter. Your statement may be about black oppression, but to most of us it says “I don’t respect the majority of Americans who are trying to do the right thing.”

Yes, there is still racial oppression. No, our country is not perfect. However, the stand you are taking (or not taking) appears to be against the majority instead of the minority. The majority of police officers are not racially biased. They may be culturally biased in order to protect themselves, but for most it has nothing to do with race. The majority of employers do not look at race when they are hiring, most don’t care about color or ethnicity, most want anyone with integrity and a good work ethic.

If you want to take a real stand, use your platform to teach young people how to be more respectful. Help them see that we have to stand together and forget about race. Help them see there are good people who don’t care about race, help them search out those folks. Help them see that employers can’t afford to hire people who are going to cry “racism” every time someone of another race legitimately gets ahead. Go into the areas of oppression. Help train young people to be people of integrity, people of respect. Turn the tide, create a new culture the police don’t have to be afraid of. Be there with them when the police come out and show them how to treat good and bad officers with respect. Help them see that the best way to expose bad cops is to be respectful in large groups. Someone will be videoing . . . there always is. If the whole group is respectful and the cop is still a bad cop, they can take them down . . . one by one. If you want to take a real stand, take it against those of your race who are making all the rest who live in that same culture look bad. Let’s face it, every race, every profession, every ethnicity has that minority who make the rest of us look bad.

I want to expose people who I am linked to racially and culturally who have no integrity. I want people to know that even though I am an evangelical Christian, I do not support people who bully or belittle those who do not share my faith or values. I don’t do this by disrespecting those who are trying to do what is right!

If all of us who are like minded about people being treated with respect all just did that and showed the next generation to do that, we could make a huge difference. We need to stand together and teach the young people of this nation how to respect others . . . and most especially themselves. This business of showing disrespect because ONE other person showed disrespect has got to stop! You have the power and the platform to do it! And standing out of respect for those who’ve lost their lives defending your freedom and for a nation that, even with all its faults, is still the best place to live is a good start.

Your “stand” is dividing. Your “stand” is teaching young people to show disrespect. Your “stand” is your right! But it is not against those whom you are against. Those people don’t care! The people who are oppressing your race will oppress mine too if it serves their purpose. The people who are oppressing your race don’t care about the flag, the National Anthem or America. You are not hurting them. Those people are small minded, hateful individuals with no loyalty and no heart. The best thing we can do is to truly STAND and stand together.

Punishment or Pronouncement

I was thinking about Genesis 3 today. Most of the time people think of Genesis 3:14-19 as a word of punishment from God. But I wondered today if it was more of just a pronouncement of what was going to happen in the future.

In the NIV and the KJV, only God’s word to the serpent, “I will put enmity . . .” and his first words to Eve, “I will increase you pain . . .” include words that indicate God might be punishing. The rest of the passage makes it sound as if the sin released into the world caused the problem. “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” Are those words of punishment, or a pronouncement of the consequences of sin?

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Punishment or pronouncement? When I read the first two chapters of Genesis, I get the feeling that God meant for husband and wife to be equal partners, to make one another better. But what if sin unleashed caused men through the ages to use the physical strength God gifted them with at creation to “rule over” the women, created with less physical strength, but different strengths to compliment the men’s strengths.

Much of the evil and bad things that happen today are primarily consequences of sin. Some, consequences for the person who created the evil. For others, their pain is the consequence of another’s sin. God doesn’t need to “punish” per se . . . we bring on trouble ourselves simply by stepping out of God’s will.

Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining those He loves. Some would argue this means that God punishes, but discipline does not always mean punishment. Discipline more often means learning a lesson or doing a task to improve a skill. Discipline makes us a better person.

So . . . the whole thought process makes me wonder . . . did God tell Adam and Eve they were being punished or did He merely pronounce what He knew would happen because sin had been unleashed on the world?

What is a Christian?

I’m not going to call myself a Christian anymore. Instead I’d rather be known as a “close friend of Jesus Christ.” Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a church calls themselves a Christian, yet I wonder if many of them really know Jesus at all. You see, Jesus called those who do God’s will His brothers and sisters.

It made me think of the show “Blue Bloods.” The show is based around an Italian family whose “family business” is law enforcement. Even though the matriarchs of the family are both gone (mom and grandma have died), the entire extended family, sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren, gathers at least once a week for a family meal. They don’t miss unless they are working or on vacation. Nothing takes precedence over the family meal.

My family had a similar gathering pattern. As a child, I spent time with my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents at least weekly before they died. And my siblings and I were well aware we would be going to my paternal grandparents at least two Sundays a month. Grandma Meyer always had at least half a dozen pies waiting because all of the local aunts, uncles and cousins would be there by late afternoon.

The body of Christ is called to be a family. We are to be more than what the modern day church calls “Christian.” Hebrews 10 tells us to make sure we keep meeting together. I don’t want anyone to ever think that “marking attendance” is more important than a relationship with Jesus Christ, but the honest truth is part of the way we can measure how close we are to Christ is the priority we give to meeting with the “family.” If the following list was the criteria for for measuring your relationship, what would your category be?

Close Family or best friend – attends every Sunday plus Bible Study – corresponds to the Bible Apostles
Second cousin or casual friend – attends 75% of the time – corresponds to the Bible disciples
Close enough I should go to the funeral – attends 50% of the time – corresponds to the Bible followers
Comes to the annual family reunion – has a church to call home and goes when it’s convenient – corresponds to the Bible crowd

As you can tell by the third column, a lack of commitment by people who call themselves Christian has been going on since Jesus started His ministry. I’m sure the folks in the “crowd” thought they knew Jesus. They’d heard Him preach and eaten with Him on more than one occasion. These are the ones who lined the streets when they heard He was coming to town, but because they didn’t know Him like they thought they did, they are the same ones who stood in front of Pilate yelling, “Crucify Him!”

In case you’re wondering about the difference in disciples and followers, Mark 10 says that when they headed toward Jerusalem, the disciples were astonished, but the followers were afraid. Both groups knew that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Everyone was aware that the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead. So the disciples were surprised that Jesus was walking right into their headquarters, but they weren’t afraid. The disciples knew that Jesus had it under control. They’d not only seen Him work miracles, they believed that He could do things they couldn’t imagine. They weren’t afraid because they knew they were friends with the Son of God.

The followers on the other hand were frightened. What was going to happen to them if someone in Jerusalem found out they were following Christ? Should they keep it under wraps? Would they be better off distancing themselves from this man who calls Himself the Messiah? Following was a fun thing to do sometimes, the company of Jesus was an exciting place to be, but it wasn’t a priority. It is easy for a follower to fall away because the commitment level just isn’t there.

But if you read Mark 10:32 closely you see that the highest level of commitment is where we all should want to be. Jesus “took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen.” They had the inside scoop. The apostles were Christ’s closest friends, His confidants! That is the circle I want to be in. It’s the circle Joshua chose thousands of years before (Joshua 24:15). It’s the circle Moses and Abraham walked in. This is the circle founded by those folks from Hebrews 11.

This is why the leadership of our church (and probably yours) emphasizes church attendance. We don’t care about the numbers. It’s not a notch on our belt or bragging rights. We don’t want you to come because we want your money. We want you to be in worship and Bible Study because we know that’s where the Apostles are. We want you to be in the inner circle, the core, the ones closest to Christ. We want you to be the first ones to get a Word from Him, we want you to be His confidants.
All four of those categories (and even a few who think they are “good people” but don’t even have a church home) call themselves Christian. Yes, I am a Christian, but I prefer that you think of me as Jesus’ closest friend, His confidant, His family.

Sermon from Pentecost 2016

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost. It’s the anniversary of that piece of history we just read in Acts. Most of you already know it’s my favorite holiday on the church calendar. And a lot of you have already heard my Holy Spirit story, and the rest, if you ever want to hear it, just ask, I love to share. But to give you an idea of why I believe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is so exciting, let me tell you a little about what has happened since that day.

You see it was the Holy Spirit took a disciple who denied Christ and feared for his life into the very first leader of the world wide church. It was the Holy Spirit that took one of the first and most famous persecutors of the early church, a man named Saul, and turned him into Paul, the most famous Christian preacher of all time, the man who wrote the majority of the New Testament. It’s that same Holy Spirit that took a young shy girl, one who would never stand up in front of a small group, let alone a large one and put her in front of you today.

It’s the Holy Spirit that takes all Christians from, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “Saved from hell to saved for a purpose.” I believe it’s the absence of the Holy Spirit in churches and Christians that is causing churches to die and Christians to lose hope. Without the Holy Spirit Christianity is hard work. Being a Christian without the fullness of the Holy Spirit sometimes doesn’t feel worth it. In fact, my confidence in Christ and my relationship with Him comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to move in my life.

Here at Sycamore Tree, we focus a lot on John 10:10: “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came to bring abundant life.” A lot of people read or hear that verse and live like it’s the only verse in the Bible. And because they pick and choose which part of the Bible they want to live by, they wonder why they miss on out Abundant life.

Jesus came to give us an abundant, full, rich life. But in order to live an abundant life, we have to reach out and take hold of it. It’s our responsibility to live in such a way that allows the Holy Spirit to live within us so we can take hold of that abundant life.

At least nine times in the New Testament Jesus tells us the things we have to do to live in the abundant life that He promised in John 10:10. This is just four of those places.
Romans 6:63 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
Romans 8:2 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:10 . . . the Spirit gives life because of righteousness
2 Corinthians 3:6 . . . the written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

The scripture is clear that if you want the abundant life Jesus promised, you need the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the things we do in the flesh are worth nothing, and trying to work your way to heaven brings death. But it consistently tells us that life comes from the Spirit. Galatians 5 tells us how to get peace and joy, but these are the fruit of the Spirit.

The truth of the matter is that as much as people want abundant life, most don’t really want the fullness of the Spirit. I know it’s a little scary, but it is so worth it.
And just in case you’re wondering what I mean by want it, let me use a couple of illustrations you’ll be more familiar with.

For example . . . I would love to be fit, but I just don’t want it bad enough. I want the benefit of exercise, but I am not really willing to do the work it takes to get fit.
Sylvia can tell you stories of students who WANT good grades, but they don’t want to do the homework it takes to GET the good grades.

It’s the same way with the Holy Spirit. You have to WANT abundant life enough to be willing to put yourself in a place where the Holy Spirit can work in you. But the Spirit, being a part of Christ, will never force Himself on you. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, so if we want the fullness of the Spirit, we have to want it. Luke tells us we have to ask for it.

It can be a scary endeavor. It makes people afraid to ask for the Holy Spirit. But like me and Peter and Paul, once you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you, you will never be the same. Don’t worry, Jesus seldom changes your basic personality. After all, that’s the way He created you. But like a rock in a polisher, the Holy Spirit will often smooth of our rough edges so that the most beautiful part of you is more visible to the world.

Most of the steps that we have to take to allow the Spirit to work in us Steve has talked about over the last twelve weeks. You see the more we grow in our faith, the closer we are to Christ and the easier it is for us to allow Christ’s Spirit to work in us. Those little plants we took home two weeks ago give us a great example of what to do to make sure we can grow in the Spirit.

Prayer will always be the #1 means to access the Holy Spirit. Steve asked you every week if you’d prayed for your plant. And the truth is, praying for your plant wasn’t that important, but for most of us, if we only talk to God as often as most of us prayed for our plant, our relationship with Jesus will be failing. Luke makes it clear, we have to ask the Holy Spirit to work in our life.

The second thing you have to do is make your faith yours. I’ve found it amusing these last couple of weeks the stories we’ve heard about people who let someone else be in charge of their plant. Most times it didn’t go so well. The same is true of your relationship with Christ, and the ultimate relationship is the Holy Spirit because that is Christ living inside of you. No one but you can make that faith grow. Others can encourage you and help you, but you are the only one who can make room for the Spirit of Christ to grow inside of you. Steve can’t do it. I can’t do it. TEENS, your parents can’t do it. You are not too young or too old to begin to take responsibility for your faith and allow Christ to grow in your heart.

One of the top three things you need to do to experience real life in the Spirit is nourish your faith. Your plant needs water and sunshine and even a little Miracle Grow from time to time. Your faith needs nourishment too. And like your plant it needs it OFTEN and REGULARLY if you really want it to grow. You can’t just give it nourishment when you have time or remember. If you don’t feed the Spirit within you, it will shrivel. Paul compared it to a fire when he wrote to Timothy. In II Timothy 1:6 Paul told the young preacher to “fan into flame the gift of the Spirit.” What happens to a fire when you stop adding wood? The same thing happens to the Spirit within you when you quit feeding it. God’s Word is the food. If you aren’t reading or listening to it every day, you are letting the fire die. And in the 21st Century, there’s really no excuse. Besides the fact that Bibles are easy to come by, almost everyone has a smart phone, and there are at least two free Bible aps that will not only allow you to read scripture, they’ll also read it to you! Nope, no excuse!

Finally, and the most serious problem I see with most people who say they want to grow in Christ, you have to make it a priority. People say they want abundant life in Jesus Christ, but their priorities speak a different message. Just like being fit is not a big enough priority for me, faith is not a big enough priority for most.

A priority is something that is important to you. It’s something you put ahead of other things in your life. And truth is making a list of priorities and putting God at the top doesn’t automatically make it so. Your actions tell the world what your priorities are. I have been told that if you want to see what your priorities are get out your calendar and bank statement and make a list of the things you think about all day. No matter what you WANT your priorities to be, these three things will tell you what they really are.

If growing your faith and having life in the Spirit really are your priority, then it will be reflected in
• Your Church attendance
• Your tithing
• The time you spend in prayer and Bible reading (or listening) and study
• The gifts you give above your tithe to organizations that share Christ
• Your thoughts and the way they change as you grow
• Your language
• The Changes in the way you feel about things
• The people you spend time with

The Holy Spirit was first given to all believers on Pentecost right after Jesus’ resurrection. Before that only a handful of people got to experience the Holy Spirit the way we do now.

If you are a believer then the Holy Spirit has already been planted in you like those seeds Steve planted at the beginning of lent. But whether it stays in the ground or grows past a seedling is completely up to you. You have the opportunity to grow the Spirit into a huge tree that spreads out to comfort others and produce fruit, but what that seed becomes is completely up to you.
To paraphrase Joshua, “Choose for yourselves this day whether or not you want an abundant life through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. As for me . . . I want it all.” I praise God that when I make the effort, His Spirit grows in me and I know life . . . real, true, abundant life.