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Where Do We Go From Here?

FollowingJesusMany times we get to places where we need some clear direction.  Even knowing the ‘what’ and ‘where’ isn’t enough if you don’t know the ‘when’. So we wait. We try to be patient, but the longer time goes on, the easier it is to lose hope.  And just like the thief in the night, it has the potential to rob our peace, hope, and even our future when we are impatient and lose faith in the One who brings the answers and directions.

In my situation, I know the calling on my life.  I have no doubts.  The Lord called me to pastor at the age of 16.  I didn’t fully understand the call at the time, but as the years have gone by its become more and more clear. The vastness of scope of the calling is also become more in focus.  I long to reach and teach others about Jesus.  I want to be active in teaching, training, and equipping a congregation for their walk with the Lord.  I love preaching the gospel to the lost and encouraging believers to trust God. It’s a joy to see them come alive – moved by the Holy Spirit – to effectively reach their community with the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness found in the gospel.

Even though I’m nearly positive of the region the Lord is leading me, the reluctance of my wife to move has me waiting on God to change her heart or to change me.  I’m totally open to either one.  Because I’m sure of it (at least in my heart), I’m waiting for the Lord to speak the words to my wife.  I do believe this isn’t a mission that God has called me to alone, but as my wife and I are one, His calling is for us to this ministry — His ministry.  And because my belief in our effective ministry as husband and wife, I await God’s move and voice to and through my wife’s heart.  I trust she’ll be faithful and committed to His voice when the Lord gives the go ahead.

I’ve had this daydream that we’ll be in the area and she’ll tell me something like, “Honey, God’s been dealing with me and I have something to confess.  He told me a long time ago where we were supposed to go and you were right all along.  But I didn’t want to give in because of fear.”

Yes, it’s a daydream.  Whether it comes true or not is entirely up to the Lord.  But whatever and whenever, I want to be ready for His clear direction to our path. So until then I wait.  (By the way, as I write this, we have another vacation planned in the area beginning in less than a week!)

Patience is something that has never been my long suit.  I’m very impatient when there is something I want so desperately that I can almost taste it.  It’s as if I lose all focus on what I need to do because of the things I want to do.

I remember the days of being a young teenager and thinking 16 would never arrive and the moment I would finally take my driver’s test.  But it did.  And waiting for that anxious day when I would graduate and be through with high school seemed to take forever; but it, too, came and went. As time marches on I have spent countless months and years looking forward to various milestones I wanted to achieve. Most who read this will understand looking back just how quickly your twenties, thirties, and maybe even forties can slip by.  Before you know it you’re looking back a half century of your life and wondering “where did it go?”

But patience is a fruit of the Spirit and I want to be one that will bring a full harvest of all His spiritual fruit for my Master.  It means during my walk I’m learning to take on my Father’s characteristics.  So in my impatience I remind myself that patience is required and it will mean as much as I want to start a church in a particular region, I must wait on His timing and clear direction in the process – because all of it is for Him anyway.

Patience is a tough nut to crack and even tougher to actually become a patient person.  You don’t see it develop when you’re staring straight at it. It occurs when you move on with other activities and responsibilities. Your dreams and goals become a peripheral item fully knowing the clock hasn’t stopped ticking. But there are other things to do as we walk out our salvation in the Lord.  His purpose is always before us if we’re attuned to His Spirit guiding us.  Our tasks were laid out before the foundations of the world when He chose us to be one of His children.

Ephesians 2:10 — For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Think about it, if He knew us before the foundations of the world (see Ephesians 1:4), it would only make sense that He would create tasks or works that fit our unique personality and also amply suited to the people we will encounter during our lifetime.  Nothing is arbitrary or happenstance with God.  He works all things together as a master painter would take added care to create the perfect masterpiece.  His care for us is immeasurable as is His care for those whom we carry the gospel and how we live out the gospel before them.  We are a reflection of Him (that is also His design) and so it is that He works through us for His glory.

Which brings us back to patience.  We may know our calling (and I do know mine), but our daily walk with Him IS the very purpose and plan of the Lord.  In the midst of our ‘daily commute’ with Him we’ll find ourselves helping, sharing, caring, befriending, giving, speaking, extending, loving, and so much more.  His purpose for us is to be an extension of Him and a presentation of His love wherever, whenever, and to whomever.

These are the things we must keep in mind when our heart is looking forward to other ideas we believe are in His plan for our lives. Instead of looking far down the road, just know with full assurance the road you’re on right now will lead you to the place He’s called.  And if all of you’re focus is down the road to the distant horizon you’ll never notice the opportunities for blessing He’s put right in front of you.

So instead of dwelling on what my calling and work will be next month or next year or in ten years, I should focus on what my calling is for today right where He has me.

— Pastor Rick

What If?

whatifIt’s easy to play the ‘What If’ game. Most people spend their entire lives playing this game. It’s pretty simple. You take your life and ask a “What if” type of question.

What if that hadn’t happened? What if I met this person or that relationship worked out or I got the other job? The game is endless and so are the answers. But in truth if you’re asking “What if” that means it didn’t happen and your situation is still your situation.

Spending hours of “What if” usually ends up being fruitless escapism. We rarely look at how at how much worse our life could have been with poorer decisions, unwise counsel, and a fistful of life. Instead we usually try to imagine how much better our life could have been in some way with a different set of variables. When taken to the extreme, if often leads to envy, self-pity, and depression.

For the sake of this post, though, let’s play the game! I’ll ask the questions and you take a few minutes to give it some thought as to how your life would be different.

  • What if you complained less and were more thankful?
  • What if you took all the wasted time from your day and used it to study the bible or pray?
  • What if you actually believed the bible for what it said?
  • What if you not only believed what it said, but put faith to action?
  • What if someone asked you the benefits of being a Christian?
  • What if you took the chance and shared your faith with your neighbor?
  • What if you actually counted all of your blessings?
  • What if you really believed God had a purpose for your life?
  • What if you chose to live a life completely sold out to Him and His plan for your life?

And then the one question that may have the biggest impact …

  • What if you lost everything you have? Family, friends, finances, health, occupation, reputation?

You see, here’s the rub: God does have a purpose for our lives and too often we spend our lives running from His purpose because we lack faith, knowledge of His word, a deepening relationship with Him, and we try to find pleasure in everything but Him.

It’s easy to answer the quick question of why I’m a Christian: because Jesus forgave me of my sins and I’ll spend eternity with Him in heaven. But I often wonder just how deep our faith really is. We’re so fickle with everything. In the summer we wish for cooler days. In the winter we long for summer. We look at blessings our neighbor has and wish it was ours instead of being thankful for what we do have already. Rarely do we look at our lives, in whatever state it’s in, and say, “God, you’re so good to me and I have so much more than I ever deserved.”

So what if we were to lose it all? What if, like Job, we lost our kids, our home, our riches, our health? I’ve said this before, but we’re so quick to criticize Job’s wife when she suggested he curse God and die. Ask any mother who has lost a child, let alone all ten of her children at one time, how much it hurts and you’ll notice the almost insurmountable pain in her eyes and words. With that in mind, her reaction to all the loss is much more understandable. But instead we stand in the doorway of our glass houses and throw rocks.

Our response at even the smallest part of his losses would often cripple us spiritually. Paralysis with fear and doubt pervade our hearts and mind. Our friends, much like Job’s, would be questioning what secret sins we had that led to our calamity. Think about it. When you know of someone who loses a child or spouse you feel bad for him or her. Then they have a serious car wreck and jeopardizes their health you start wondering, “Why are all of these bad things happening to them.” Then they get laid off … all back-to-back-to-back and you start thinking, “Something’s seriously wrong in their life for everything to go this bad.” It’s so easy to judge from the outside.

For Job, it wasn’t what he was doing wrong. He did nothing to bring on the destruction of his riches or the demise of his children. His fault, if you want to call it that, was being a man who was blameless and lived an upright life. He loved God and hated sin. Then the testing came. How do you respond when the testing comes to your life? Like Job? Like Job’s wife (who, incidentally lost everything, too)? Like Job’s friend’s.

In the beginning Job looked to God and basically said, “The Lord gave it and the Lord has the right to take it away. Who am I to question Him? So I’ll bless Him anyway.”

Job’s wife, in her soul crushing anguish suggested her husband curse God and die.

Job’s friends peered down their spiritual noses and wondered what secret sin Job carried that God would punish him so severely.

One thing to note about all the responses: they all acknowledged God. Maybe not rightly, but they didn’t just walk away from God saying, “He doesn’t exist,” or “He’s impure, unjust, or unrighteous.”

We may not always understand things that happen in our life. We may not know the reasons certain things occur to us. Our response and responsibility is to worship God for His mercy, love, and grace. We’re to respond, regardless of the obstacles we face, with a trust in His control of the situation. If we spend our time adoring and worshiping Him, we won’t have time to do what we normally do — worship ourselves and play silly ‘what if’ games. We must get past this mindset which is so deeply ingrained in us that we are the center of the universe.

I want to respond to life’s challenges, hurts, and disappointments with the genuine, deep faith knowing this life is temporary and He is with me every step of the way. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He does have a purpose for my life and has called me to walk by faith even when I can’t see the way. I want to know Him more intimately with an ever-growing faith that He’ll never leave me or forsake me. With that heart I can find the joy and peace only He can bring regardless of what those around me may say.

— Pastor Rick

Semantics are Just Some Antics

wordsWords can get us into trouble even when we don’t mean for them to.  Many times there are perfecting linguists who have this thought in mind and demand exactness when speaking.  The right words, the right order, the right intonation, the right pronunciation — all to convey a thought or message.  It’s frustrating when dealing with people who want to nit-pick every little detail.  The purpose might be to make sure you have a clear understanding of your thought and are conveying it just as clear to the listener.  But most of the time it comes across as some arrogant knucklehead trying to prove they’re superior in intellect.  It drives me crazy.

Here’s an example: Jesus loves you as you are.

Does He?  It depends on the context of the conversation, but for some that’s not even enough.  Here was the context when I said it: Jesus doesn’t expect you to get cleaned up and acting right before He’ll accept you into His family.  You’ll never be able to be good enough, smart enough, rich enough, clever enough, or clean enough to receive His grace and mercy.  So don’t wait around thinking you’ve got to change your life around first before receiving what God has for you.

And to follow-up on it, I gave this addendum: After you come to the Lord, He also loves you enough not to leave you where He found you.  We’re commanded to forsake our old ways and follow Him.  He’ll change you from the inside out and give you a new heart that desires to be obedient to the Lord out of a love that was non-existent before surrendering your heart to Him.

Almost everyone would declare that statement and its addendum are accurate.

Then I met this legalist; a modern day pharisee who decided to nit-pick every word.  How dare I tell the unsaved that God loves them just like they were.  Holiness can’t be in the same room with unholiness.  Light and darkness do not live together.  God can’t stand to be around sin and obviously apart from salvation sinners have sin in their life.  So God can’t stand them.  He could go on and on quoting verses of how God abhors sin and sinners are an abomination to God.

But that’s just half of the truth.  I look at John 3:17 and Romans 5:8 and see the merciful side of God.  It’s the side that extends mercy to those who don’t deserve it and grace to those who could never merit it.  It’s His love that reaches the unreachable, loves the unlovable, and calls lost sinners to salvation.

John 3:17 — For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

Romans 5:8 — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)

It’s frustrating enough to deal with shysters in the world, but when you get word-picking preachers who act more like lawyers than gospel declaring Christ followers, I want to pull the rest of my hair out.  How in the world can you reach the lost if you’re confusing them even further by telling them it’s His grace that saves them and yet heap shovels full of law on them before they can even be considered worthy.  That’s counter to God’s word and corrupts the gospel to a distorted message filled with garbage.  I sincerely believe they do it out of a desperate need to feel superior to anyone.  Sorry, buckos, you just proved you’re not and you did it with an abundance of arrogant flair.

The gospel, when delivered in its purity is good news.  Jesus lived a sinless life, took our sins and the penalty for them upon Himself, and rose again on the third day.  If you declare with  your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you are saved.  It’s that pure.  God does all  the work from the first to the last and we can do nothing of our own to earn it.  It’s a free gift He offers to us.  The works that occur after our conversion testifies of His hand in, on, and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The bottom line is this: God so loved the world He gave His only Son so we might receive eternal life.  That gift is to anyone and everyone who will truly call on His name from their very point of despair.  Jesus reached out to the common man and woman; fishermen, tax collectors, fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, harlots, and whores.  The ones that had problems with His message were those legalist preachers of His generation.

May God close the mouth of everyone who tries to add or take away from the gospel.  It’s a simple message of His love, mercy, and grace for a lost and dying world who are looking for hope.  That hope can only be found in Jesus.  He’ll accept you as you are, but will tell you the same thing He told those while walking the earth: “Follow me.”

— Pastor Rick

Trouble’s Diverging Path

disasterOur society has been set up for failure.  We have a lifestyle of expectancy.  We feel entitled to have our needs met, desires satisfied, and all at our beck and call.  If someone won’t give it to us, we’ll take it.  Look around and it’s the mindset you see everywhere.  It’s not just an American thing, but a global dissatisfaction with life and a demand for better without personal cost or responsibility.  And apart from the intervening grace of God in our lives, we’re destined for failure and disappointment.

I’m struck by two different mindsets of people.  The first is our common reply from mankind — even Christians.  It’s one of screaming how things are unfair.  People spend ungodly amounts of time clawing, kicking, and demanding we get “our fair share” or the all-encompassing “we want what we have coming!”  A jaded, cynical, self-absorbed, and arrogant lot we’ve become.  In all areas and economic levels you see theft common place because it isn’t enough just to envy our neighbor’s house, car, and spouse, but somehow we find an excuse just to take it.  You can read about it in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where looters (ironically mostly from out-of-town) come in and show their true character by stealing and continuing to destroy the economy in a lower economic region. It can be found with the rich, building Ponzi schemes to swipe millions of dollars and destroy people’s lifetime savings for their own ill-gotten gain.  And everywhere in between those two extremes are people who have thrown values and morals to the wind for their own greed and desire.  Everyone does what is right in his own eyes all because of this societal-disillusioned-state-of-mind that says, “I deserve [fill in the blank]!”

Then there is this other mindset.  A classic example is from the hymn writer, Horatio Spafford, a successful attorney from the mid 1800s who used his money to invest in property all around Chicago.

Spafford and his wife lost a son in 1870 to scarlet fever.  The next year the Chicago lawyer lost his fortunes in the great Chicago fire of 1871.  Then 1873 he sent his wife and four daughters ahead to Europe where he planned to join them after he had concluded some work.  He received word the ship they traveled on collided with another and sunk quickly.  A telegram came saying only his wife survived.  Upon passing the spot where his daughters had drown, he wrote these famous words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It’s one of my favorite hymns.  It speaks so eloquently to how we should respond when faced with crisis in our lives.  It’s not an easy thing to do and requires a heart that is completely submitted [read: TRUSTS] God’s ability to keep us in His hand.  This is true even when we don’t understand the calamities in our lives.  Remember the parable of the houses built on the rock and on the sand.  The storms came and hit both houses.   Often we have this faulty thinking that we’re not going to face adversity after coming to Christ.

That’s not to minimize the pain or suffering.  I think that’s the purpose of this passage:

Romans 12:15 — Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

As the Lord’s return nears, things will continue to spiral violently out of control.  All around you see it: atrocities in the name of religion, disastrous storms, earthquakes, famines, wars all around the globe.  It’s all too clear that our hearts, even as Christians, are often tied too tightly to this world and things it can provide instead of living for eternity.  When will we wake up to the truth this world is not our home?  The temporary blip of our existence here on earth is just that, a blip.  With eyes fixed on what is to come, we need to change our perspective and our reaction to those things that so easily knock us down.

I’m not saying to be so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good, but rather, listen closely to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the chaos that encompasses our life.  Trust Him who saved you that He is able to keep you.  And if things don’t look like it at the moment, remember this place is temporary, but eternity is forever.  We’re just passing through from here to there.

To follow up for a moment on the life of Spafford, he and his wife went on to have other children and surrendered their lives to live and serve the poor in Jerusalem a half century before Israel was granted statehood in 1948.  The Spaffords didn’t always understand why things happened the way they did, but they never lost their deep abiding faith in the One who holds all things in His hand and has the unique ability to bring beauty from ashes.

— Pastor Rick

Defining Direction

directionYou don’t have to have all the answers.  But you do have to have some direction.  It’s the same whether you’re going on vacation, planning your financial future, or planning on starting a church.  There are so many variables that I wish I knew the answers, but the truth is I don’t have them.  Maybe that’s by design so I will lean more fully on the Lord and trust in His direction and not my own intellect or ideas.  And like any plans, we have a tendency to place a utopian overlay which often leads to disappointments when things don’t go the way we thought they would.  Knowing all of that, I’d still like to lay out the nuggets God has placed in my heart over the last several decades.

These directional keys can apply to any location.  So while my heart is burdened for the western upstate New York area, they could be applied anywhere.  It’s possible you may have thoughts beyond these, but I did feel the need to get them down on virtual paper for clarity and prayer.

  • Get to know the pastors in the region.  Not just knowing who they are, but putting a face to the name.  Understand their heart, motivation, goals.  Ask them what they are doing to reach the harvest fields with the gospel and offer to help them.  Pray with them.  They are your brothers or sisters in Christ; fellow shepherds; co-laborers in His service.  Don’t take this step lightly.  It’s important that we learn to walk together even if we return to different homes [churches].  This means we’ll have to lay down some of our theological preferences while clinging to the core doctrines.  This is a major hang up for many in the body of Christ which is why the church is so fractured.

John 13:34-35 — A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)

  • Preach the gospel.  This cannot be stated enough.  Present it clearly.  Present it everywhere you go.  Encourage, exhort, extend mercy.  Be faithful in planting the gospel to everyone you meet, whether in word or deed, and trust that the seeds you sow or water will yield a harvest.  You can’t be a soul winner if you’re not offering the gospel to those around you.  Ask for God’s heart and learn to see the world the way He sees them: captive souls desperate for the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 55:11  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (ESV)

Romans 10:17  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)

  • In the beginning we’ll probably have to meet in homes for prayer meetings and ministry.  Opening ourselves and being hospitable is not only admirable, but required.

1 Peter 4:9-10 — Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (ESV)

  • Those whom the Lord brings to you, care for them. Caring will include teaching and training.  Some will be wounded and seeking spiritual healing.  Be prepared for those who may be bitter, tender with those who are bruised, and protective of those who are hurting.  But remember the healing will come from the Lord, so be ready to speak His word at any time in any situation. Realize God is preparing those for His work, too!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 — All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)

  • Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t grow as fast as you planned.  Trust God for His work to be done through you when you’re fully yielded and obedient to Him.  It’s easy to look at small numbers and think it’s never going to be big.  Pray and ask for your borders to be enlarged, your dreams and desires to be increased, and press further into Him.

Zechariah 4:10 — Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (NLT)

Ephesians 3:20 — Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (NKJV)

Think big, dream big, ask God for big then watch Him blow away your expectations.

While the Lord has laid all of this on my heart and for a specific area, I know that God can, and very well might, have me do this somewhere else.  Or maybe in multiple places.  In the dreams the Lord has given me, he’s had me doing this work and during mid-weeks going into other areas and preaching revivals and seeing the people catching the vision of what God is doing and wants to do through them.

And none of this is for our own glory, but for His glory.  That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.  To see people set free; delivered from sin and made alive in Christ.  I’m excited to see His hand move and I want to be a vessel that will be used.

— Pastor Rick

When the Answer is ‘No’

noWe pray when we or someone we care about is in trouble.  We pray when we really want something.  We pray when someone asks us to agree with them for something they need or want.  And in most cases, we pray expecting our prayers to be answered with a ‘Yes’ reply from our Father as if entitled.  The request is usually a good one, an honorable request, like asking for someone’s healing or for a financial blessing.

In the last post I discussed how we offer prayers like Popcorn Christianity.  We say the prayer as if placing popcorn in the microwave.  You wouldn’t put popcorn in the microwave and expect to open the door when the time is up and pull out a car tire.  No, you expect popcorn.  And our prayers are often like that.  We place our expectations into words that often sound more like a demand than a request and expect an answer — our expected answer — in very short time.  We treat God much like a short order cook.

“Here’s our order, make sure it’s cooked right, and make it snappy.”

Oh, we’d never want to admit that’s what we’re doing, but if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s the truth.  However the truth is our motives are not always pure.  Our desires do not always match God’s.  We are still broken vessels and our spirit wars against our flesh.  Our requests are subject to the same frailty and brokenness our mind and body battle.  And because of that, we often ask amiss.

So how do we change that?  How do we get to the place where we know our request will be answered?  It’s a trick question, really.  Our requests are always answered, but we refuse to hear the word, “No,” or “Not yet.”  The reality is we have to come to a place of complete surrender.  It’s good and right to seek God’s help.  It’s good and right to desire the best for others and ourselves.  But it’s also good and right to be open to whatever the answer may be instead of only willing to hear the Father say, “here ya go!”

God tells us ‘no’ sometimes.  He needs to.  We can’t see the big picture, but He can.  Asking to win the lottery may seem like the right thing. “Lord, I’ll become a good tither, help out with charities, feed the homeless.”  Sure you can do all those things without winning the lottery, but let’s look at the request.  If  you did hit the lottery, you could be subject to many temptations you don’t have to face currently.

You may still find yourself getting into as much debt because you don’t know how to manage the funds God has already given you.  You may find yourself in an even deeper temptation to the vices in your life (food, alcohol, drugs, sex, pride).  You may be physically attacked by people simply because they know you have money.  While it’s easy to see the utopian response to the prayer, you really don’t know how things would be different if you hit the lottery, but God does.  And maybe Him telling you ‘no’ is actually His way of protecting you.  Or maybe He’s teaching you to be more dependent on Him … to grow your faith and trust.

Being open to hearing the ‘no’ can be one of the biggest challenges we face in our life.  It forces us to fully lean on Him for everything.  And in everything, what God is calling us to is obedience to Him.  You see when we do that, when we’re obedient to Him, we’re actually saying with our life, “I may not know or understand the answer, but I’m going to trust You anyway.”

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was in deep anguish while praying.

Matthew 26:39 – And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (ESV)

Jesus knew what was coming.  He knew He was going to have to suffer and die.  His flesh wanted to run away from it all.  Rightfully so, who wouldn’t want to run from that kind of torture?  But His spirit was yielded to His Father’s will.

“Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Hebrews repeats the scene and adds a bit more clarity on the prayer:

Hebrews 5:7-10 —  In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. (ESV)

The bible clearly teaches that Jesus’ prayer to His Father was heard.  Jesus was asking, “Is there any other way?  Do I have to suffer so?  Do I need to die?”  Here is God’s only begotten Son.  If anyone would have favor from the Father, it would be Him.  But the word says He learned obedience through His suffering and became the source of eternal salvation.  He had a desire.  He had a hope.  But He also had a heart of obedience to His Father.  Obedience trumped his fleshly desires to escape.

“Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Isaiah 53:7 — He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (ESV)

It’s difficult to accept a ‘no’, but it may be required.  And the response wasn’t just in word, but in deed.  Jesus heard the answer and did not fight, kick, or scream at the unfairness of it all.  It was injustice towards Him, through whom all things were created.  He was taking upon Himself our judgment, our punishment, our penalty.

Whether the Father spoke the answer directly into His heart or whether the answer came in the form of the events is unclear.  But Jesus trusted His father and accepted the answer.

Philippians 2:8 — And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (ESV)

The following verses clearly explain why the Father said, “No.”

Philippians 2:9-11 — Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)

Hearing ‘no’ isn’t always easy.  But it is part of growing up.  It is part of the maturing process.  For those moments when the answer isn’t what we hoped or expected, He will give us His grace and peace to stand.  In the end, it’s about our lives bringing Him glory and honor.

All that said, “Lord, help me to grow up in You.”

— Pastor Rick

God’s Timing is Everything

clocksWe pray for what we think we need and are usually seeking a quick fix or an instant answer.  It’s our version of popcorn Christianity.  Place our prayer in the magical mystical microwave, set the timer for two minutes, and say ‘Amen’.

Our minds and hearts are often clouded by our desires rather than God’s.  We know all the passages about ‘we have not because we ask not’ and ‘we’re to be the head and not the tail’.  While those are good and true, by themselves they’re out of balance with the entirety of the Bible.  We spend our life expecting things on our time frame instead of God’s.  And what if the answers from God aren’t done on our time frame?  What if those answers take a turn different than we expected?

Most times, if our eyes are closed to the possibilities, we’ll miss the opportunities of blessings He presents to us.  We’re so tightly wound into our anticipation and expectation that we miss the visitation.  It’s time to look at life differently.  It’s time to learn to live like Jesus did with His eyes and ears attentive to His Father.

John 5:19 — So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. (NLT)

Let’s consider for a moment the Samaritan woman at the well.  You know the story.  Jesus comes to her, details her history, offers her living water of which she didn’t know anything.  All she could see at the beginning of the scene was her lifelong knowledge of hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans and of her own personal and moral failures. God the Father had an entirely different plan for her and she was about to encounter the One who would change her life forever.

Philippians 2:6-8 — Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a Servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

More than anything else, Jesus lived a life of complete obedience to God.  That is the example He gave.  He lived to bring honor and glory to His Father by being completely obedient to Him.  Jesus explained this to His disciples by saying He could do nothing by Himself, but only what He saw from the Father.  You have to keep that in mind when you read of His encounter with this adulterous Samaritan woman.  So let’s take a deeper look at this story.

John 4:3-4 — He left Judea and departed again for Galilee.  And He had to pass through Samaria. (ESV)

Most Jews would not walk through Samaria.  The land of half-breeds were considered lowly scum; unclean; bitterly hated.  It was like the Crips and the Bloods.  The two factions despised each other.  So for a Jew to go through Samaria meant one of two things: either he urgently needed to get through the area (a three day journey on foot, saving several additional days if they were to travel around Samaria) OR they were on a specific mission.  In this case, as already seen above, Jesus was on mission … His Father’s mission.  And as we’ll discover, God’s timing is perfect!

Jesus arrives at a village around midday.  This is a time when you might see men moving about with work, but you wouldn’t see women coming to the town well to draw water.  That was customarily done in the morning and at night, but women of ill repute tend to try to hide their shame and guilt.  Jesus, obviously Jewish, finds this Samaritan woman drawing water and He asks for a drink.  He starts a conversation with a woman most Jewish men would have sneered, scoffed, and disregarded.  She called Him on it and asked why He’d do such a thing.  Instead of answering her question He starts speaking life into her.

It’s important to note here that Jesus had sent His disciples to find food.  The ministry the Father had intended for this woman didn’t need their judgmental, critical, disgusted reactions.  Without them as a distraction, Jesus could speak straight to her heart and allow her the dignity of responding honestly and without condemnation.  That wasn’t His purpose.

John 3:17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. (ESV)

She’s obviously spiritually thirsty, but is confused by His answer about drinking of living water which leads to eternal life.  She wants it.  Needs it.  And then Jesus brings it all home.  “Go and bring your husband.”  He confronts her biggest shame — the very reason she gets water in the middle of the day instead of with the rest of the respectable women.  God knew exactly when Jesus would reach this town and exactly when this woman who desperately needed mercy and restoration would be going to the well.  Coincidence?  In God there is no such thing!

Jesus speaks clearly into her life so powerfully that she responds, “Sir, I believe you are a prophet.”  Her theology is as messed up as her sinful life, but that doesn’t dissuade Jesus.  She’s busy trying to change the subject of her sin.  But His purpose isn’t to shame, condemn, and belittle sinners, but instead to extend mercy, love, and grace.  In doing so, He declares something more clearly to her than any of the Jews who had asked Him as much.  In verse 26 Jesus says, “I AM the Messiah.”

Here this Jewish man comes into her village, probably one of the very few men in town she didn’t know, and opens her life before her.  While trying to live out her life hiding from the town gossips God meets her on her turf.

By this time the disciples come back and are shocked He’s talking to this woman.  I’m sure they knew something was up, but they dared not ask.  To take a situation in which they [the disciples] felt awkward they try to change the topic, “um, hey, we brought you some food.”  The boys were a bit dense. Jesus told them He’d already been fed and the disciples looked at one another and said, “Did someone already bring Him food?”

Here was Jesus’ response …

John 4:34 — Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (ESV)

The result was an entire Samaritan village asking Jesus to stay for a few days and many of them believed not just because of the testimony of this woman with a past, but because the Father had a plan and an obedient Son.

We need to learn to take our eyes off our proverbial clock or telling God exactly how He needs to answer us.  We desperately need to listen to the still small voice whispering and leading us.  We need to open our mouths in obedience and let Him fill it with words that will minister to hearts and feed our own soul at the same time.  God doesn’t always answer our prayers on our time frame or in the way we want.  If we can get to that place in our lives, we’ll be able to clearly see His hand in our lives.  After all, as His children, isn’t that what we really want?

I’m reminded of a line from the Rich Mullins song, Hold Me Jesus …
“I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want than to take what You give that I need.”

Father forgive us for living with a heart that is always trying to please ourselves instead of You.

God’s calling His people to walk with a soft heart and ears attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  I wish I could say I’m doing this perfectly, but I have my own failings.  That won’t stop me though.  I continue to daily pray for more of Him and less of me.  I want to have a heart that fully says as Jesus did, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

— Pastor Rick

What Is the Gospel?

goodnewsThe gospel can be explained in this statement: Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to earth, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, willingly gave up His life to be the full and complete restitution of mankind’s sin-corrupted lives, SO THAT those who repent of their sins and commit their entire life and trust by His grace under His Lordship shall have life everlasting with God the Father Whom, through the propitiation of Christ, has adopted us as sons and daughters to share in the inheritance of the Begotten unto Himself.

And even more succinctly in this statement: We are wholly, fully, and utterly dependent on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ alone and apart from Him, we are damned.

The gospel brings FREEDOM!  When we submit our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ we receive freedom from the shackles of sin that once held us captive.  We’re no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to His righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18 — But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

You might be thinking, “I don’t want to be a slave to anybody.”  But the truth is everyone, including yourself,  is already a slave and there’s only two camps: sin or righteousness.  Everyone ever born is a slave under one of those two camps.

Under sin’s domain, you have no choice.  Sin is everything you are about.  We were born in sin, live in sin, and die in sin.  We are saturated with a sinful heart and sinful mind.  We don’t even have the ability to choose righteousness.  Sure we might give up some things by a change of mind, but our heart, at it’s core, will still completely black in sin.

But God, in His infinite mercy, love, and grace extended to us Himself through His Son, Jesus.  And that is the good news.  That is the gospel.  We would never be good enough, smart enough, rich enough to earn salvation on our own.  And without salvation in Christ alone, hell is the end result.  But Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.  That is the good news, but wait, there’s more!

Like any gift extended, it must be received.  Jesus extends to us everlasting life, but unless we receive it, it remains unopened.

Romans 10: 9-10 —  if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

That gift is forgiveness.  He forgives our sins when we confess and repent (turn away) from our sins and ask Him to be Lord of our lives — a change of ownership.  The result is forgiveness.

Forgiven!  Completely!  In that forgiveness He puts into us a soft and tender heart; one that can hear the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit.  We no longer find true joy in doing unrighteousness, but we find a love and joy of pleasing our Lord.

In the gift He gave is so much more than just forgiveness.  It includes His righteousness.  It includes grace, peace, hope, and love.  It includes adoption to the God of all the universe so that He becomes our Father and we become His children — His sons and His daughters.  In Him we now have a large family of brothers and sisters who are all learning and growing in Him.  It includes everlasting life with our Father who desired to spend all of eternity with us.  Our sin had separated us from Him, but the gospel is the good news that He made a way for us to be set free and united to Him forever and ever.

In Christ we are free from sin and shame.  Free from hopelessness.  Free from eternal separation from God who infinitely loves us.

The word gospel means ‘good news’ and now you know how good indeed!

— Pastor Rick

Vision Then Commission

praying-in-churchMore and more of the churches in America are looking like this picture.  The faithful are falling to the wayside.  Pews are empty. Societies crumble while a powerless church watches on.  We claim to have the answers, we claim to have hope, we claim to walk in His love − and yet so many churches are mere shells.  Walls and a roof, but no heart.

It’s not done by intent.  No one starts a church with an end date, or more appropriately, an end-of-significance-date, in mind.  Somewhere God’s people lost sight of their mission.  It wasn’t a set day that they gave up, but rather the heart of the people became muddled with this world; choked out by the cares and snares that seem to bombard our every waking moment.

We lost our way.  That’s not to say we lost our salvation, but we forgot what it was like to have His hunger growing in us day after day.  And in our wanderings, we’re not the only ones that suffer.  Look around at our world and you can see the suffering everywhere.  Physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual health is at an all time low.  The only hope this world has is in Jesus and unfortunately, His people have become so wrapped up in themselves they don’t even notice the desperation around them.

Proverbs 29:18 − Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

I’m not preaching a social Jesus.  I’m not suggesting the church should go all out to end all poverty, hunger, and health issues − though we should care for those the Lord sends our way.  While I am concerned about filling the belly of a hungry child, I’m more concerned with the spiritual destiny of those around me.  If I give a job to a homeless man, but fail to share the gospel with him, what have I done?  “Here ya go, buddy.  This will take care of you for today. Good luck with the rest of eternity.”

I am living in the bible belt of America.  It literally seems there’s a church on every corner.  And yet even here hopelessness grows.  Fear creeps in and takes hold of people’s heart.  They have given up their dreams for a promising future because they’re struggling to get through today.  Who can worry about tomorrow when you have so much to be concerned about for today?  And then it becomes the way of life for them … they cast off restraint.  Why bother?

Isaiah 22:13But instead, you dance and play; you slaughter cattle and kill sheep. You feast on meat and drink wine. You say, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (NLT)

So how do we change our world?  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  One life at a time.  We need vision.  We need a “thus saith the Lord” in our lives.  And why do we need these things?  Because our world needs these things!  There are desperate people looking for hope and we have the answer, but keep it to ourselves.  Oh, Lord, bring revival to our hearts!

Everyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord has divinely assigned tasks in their lives.  Not works for salvation, but of demonstrating His effectual work in our lives.  Christians need to know what His plans are and be about His kingdom instead of our own.  We need to ask Him for direction in our lives because people around us are waiting for us to live what we say we believe.

Romans 10:15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (ESV)

I’m sure of my calling.  It burns in my heart to do it and yet the Lord has me in a holding pattern.  He’s preparing me, stirring the simmering pot, waiting for His timing before releasing me.  My heart is heavily burdened for an area that has less than 7% evangelical Christians.  This area was once a growing, thriving area of spirituality, but over time has become so cold and hardened to the things of God and yet this is where He’s telling me to go.

There are many distractions and obstacles, but I’m determined to follow God.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I know the Answer.  Until He releases my wife and I into this harvest field, all I can do is ‘praypare’.

Pastor Rick

The Mission Field: Local or World Wide?

missionsWhen people think of missionaries they often think of third world countries, no fresh drinking water, extreme political persecution, and so on.  But when you read the command of Jesus in the book of Acts chapter 1, He said you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  He didn’t just jump to “the end of the earth”.  There is a vast area way before we reach that destination.  For many, they are either too fearful or too selfish to venture further than their own “Jerusalem” and often won’t witness even at home.

The question in the subject line was: The Mission Field: Local or World Wide?  The answer is a resounding YES to both.

We need to learn to walk in obedience wherever He’s called us.  Being His witness, testifying of what He’s done in our lives (if He’s done anything in them) isn’t a suggestion, but a command.  Making disciples, or training people in their spiritual walk, is also a command.  It should be part of our daily life … wherever and to whomever He leads us.  Many times we agonize over witnessing to people when we hear the Holy Spirit tell us to ‘just open your mouth and I’ll fill it.’  It’s easier to stay in our comfort zone when the reality is God is calling all of us out of our natural comfort zone.

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

The quote above is from a well-known pastor whom I admire. It seems fitting here.  We need to become so dependent on the Lord that we finally realize HE is our comfort zone.  Wherever He leads me, I know He’s there with me.  He’s not going to send me into the desert by myself and lead me to my own ruin.  He’s designed me to bring Him glory.  He said He would never leave or forsake me.  So when I’m obedient and I follow Him as He leads me, I can be assured that He has a purpose — a work — specifically for me and specifically for that place.

There are so many excuses I’ve heard over the years.

  • I have too many friends or family here.
  • I don’t know anyone there.
  • I don’t know the area and I’ll get lost easily.
  • I may have to leave a lucrative job.
  • What if we go broke?
  • What if it doesn’t turn out like we think it will?
  • How will we make it?

For each of those thoughts and questions the answer is: God.  Let’s take a look at these excuses …

I have too many friends or family here.  Yes, maybe true, but would you willingly choose to live a life that is in disobedience to His will?  What kind of blessings can you possibly expect from a life running from His calling?

I don’t know anyone there.  You know God and you know His voice.  You know His comfort.  You can have His peace because He’s leading and you’re obedient.  Staying and being disobedient may bring some comfort, but that comfort is fleeting and will never bring lasting peace, joy, or contentment.  I want to hear Him say to me, “Thou good and faithful servant.”  Those words will elude us when we purposefully walk in disobedience.

I don’t know the area and I’ll get lost easily.  For a time.  But God will be your grace and strength.  He’ll be your help in time of trouble.  He’ll prove Himself over and over when you don’t know the way to go, but you have a heart of surrender to Him.

I may have to leave a lucrative job … what if we go broke?  Are you really desiring to build your kingdom here or His kingdom?  Or more aptly, are you your own person?  Who do you belong to?  You can’t truly call Him Lord and then defiantly do your own thing apart from His will.

What if it doesn’t turn out like we think it will?  If He’s calling and your obedient, what does it matter how it looks on the surface?  If He’s in it, trust Him for the results.  Let me say that again, “IF HE’S IN IT, trust Him for the results!”  Don’t you think He already knows what is going to happen when we obey Him?  Don’t you realize it’s about Him, not you or me?

How will we make it?  A sobering question.  But the answer is still in the Lord.  If He takes you to it, He’ll bring you through it.  Giving tithes and offerings doesn’t make sense, and yet I’ve seen His provision for years by my giving up my ideas and being obedient to His word.  His promises are for us and our best interests … even when we can’t see them initially.

God never promises the road ahead of us is going to be easy.  He never promises we won’t have struggles of faith, health, or finances.  What He did promise is this: I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Is that enough?  It should be.

NOW does that mean God is sending  you to a tribe on the Amazon River who have never heard of the gospel?  Maybe, but odds are not likely.  But you can be a missionary to your neighbor or other people on your street.   He may be calling you to show hospitality and love to those in your every day life at work or at the grocery store.  He may be telling you to open your mouth to a single mom at a soccer game or a college age young man with piercings and tattoos everywhere.  Our job isn’t to wonder why me, but why not me.  He didn’t just save you so you could keep this wonderful good news secretly hidden and tucked away.  It is meant to be shared and if you saw people the way He sees them your heart would be changed.

Maybe He’s calling you to change jobs or occupations.  Maybe He’s calling you to attend a different college.  Maybe He’s calling you to a different city or even a different state.  We get so scared that He’ll send us to Africa that we shut down and refuse to even consider hearing where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do.

It is, after all, about Him, right?  It is, after all, what He wants that matters, right? If we hide our heart and find our delight in Him, no matter what we face, we’ll have His peace and presence in our life.  For me, that’s more than enough.

— Pastor Rick