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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

First I’m Gonna Hit the Lottery

cashpileThe people in their teens and twenties amuse me at times. You know those ones that have ALL the answers to everything you’ve ever thought of and some questions you didn’t?

I recently had a young adult tell me how they have their financial future all laid out. This person had found a house they loved that was nearly twice as large as our home and they were going to be able to buy it in just a few years.

When I probed a bit on how they intended to do that, it started with, “well, first I’m going to hit the lottery … ” Amusingly, I think they were serious. As I’ve matured I’ve come to realize being a millionaire probably isn’t in my future. But I am learning to be content with what I do have: great kids, great friends, a good job, a roof over my head, and my health.

Philippians 4:12-13 — I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)

You see, even if I lost everything, but still had Jesus, it’s enough. It’s MORE than enough. This life is temporary, but eternity is a long, long time. So I’m more concerned with then than now. Living better now might be easier (now), but when I take my last breath here, none of what I have here on earth can change my circumstances.

Many people find themselves fighting, clawing, scratching to ‘get ahead’ in this life.  They spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars trying to get a better house, a nicer car, a more handsome or prettier spouse.  They exercise more, work more, or simply play more.  They think if they can just get [fill in the blank] they’ll have made it.  And what is this elusive it?  Whatever their ‘it’ is, they think they’ll finally have peace in their heart they’ve really longed for and tried to fill with everything else.

James 4:13-14 — Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (ESV)

The reality is all we have in this life is fleeting — a vapor, as it says in the book of James — here today and gone tomorrow.  But that peace everyone tries to achieve through money, work, or relationships can only truly be found in Christ.

That’s why when Christians find their lives faced with the challenge of heartache, they can still have a peace that passes understanding.  They can keep assured this life is only a blink of an eye in the face of eternity.  The difficulties they find themselves is only for a season.  Whatever pains we face now will be rewarded with even greater joy that we can imagine in the next life.

“But I don’t want to suffer and endure here for something I’ll get there.  I want my happiness now.  It’s only fair.” — people everywhere, maybe even yourself

Yes, I’ve heard those whines and complaints.  Their perspective is misplaced.  God didn’t call us to be happy, but holy.  Holy His and wholly His.  Those grumblings are from a life set living for ourselves and not for Him.  When we live for self, we’ll never find true peace or happiness.  The hopes we have will be unsure because none of those are based on a surety.  But when we live with our heart set on Him and His purpose for our lives, we’ll find peace regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in.  Our hope is set on Him and His word (which He cannot lie).  So His promises are the security in which our hope stands firm.

That does not mean we won’t have trials or grief or heartache.  But He’ll have us (eternally) and we’ll have Him (eternally) and remembering this life is just a temporary place will give us peace and strength to finish all of our days reflecting His love, mercy, and grace.

— Pastor Rick

Ouch! This Hurts


Life making you feel this way?

We all have difficult seasons in our lives.  If you haven’t, trust me, you’re not immune and it is coming for you.  It won’t come when you want it to.  It won’t come when you expect it to.  It won’t even come when it’s convenient.  In fact, whatever the storm, whenever the storm, it will be contrary to all of those − it will be completely ill-timed and test the character in its deepest part of you.

It’s not whether you’ll go through trials or not. You WILL. So instead of whining, griping, and complaining … how you respond TO the trials, how you react TO the suffering, how you behave WITHIN the fire is paramount. What is God trying to teach you?

Remember whatever we endure, not of our own stupidity, is intended to bring Him glory. Our own failures of character and/or moral deficiencies bring on bouts of correction and discipline designed to bring us back in line and strengthen us for future works that He’s prepared us for – for His glory. These are works that He prepared, past tense, before the foundations of the world for YOU – works designed specifically for YOU.

But when the temptations, trials, struggles, and wars rage all around you – whether financial, physical, emotional, intellectual, relational – He is with you in the midst of those storms. He is availing His strength, His grace, His peace, His hope, to you. He is availing Himself to you for you and in you in those moments – all for His glory.

How do you respond? How do you react when the enemy seems to slip behind the front line and inflict pain and torment in your life? Most begin with the denial that a loving God would allow this to happen. “This can’t be happening.” “I’ve been going to church.” “I’ve been doing what He wants.” We start going through the list of “do’s and don’ts” to see how we line up against them – as if our works earn God’s favor. It couldn’t when we were unsaved, and it doesn’t when walking out our salvation. So that first reaction is completely improper and yet so hard for us to shake from our core thought patterns.

I’m not quite sure if it’s human nature or American arrogance to believe things should always go our way.  And when they don’t, we kick, scream, demand, command, and quote scripture to rebuke the winds, command the demons, and demand God give us justice.  Our society tends to always expect perfection towards us while we give excuses and justify our poor behavior, lazy work habits, and snippy, sarcastic remarks.  We hide behind (anti) social media, criticize, manipulate, dominate, and castrate ideas that are contrary to what we hold to be self evidently true.  The key word in all of that is ‘self’.

Most people, myself included, move past disbelief because the problems don’t disappear when you deny they exist.  Instead, they grow.  Realizing denial isn’t working, we quickly move to anger and frustration.  Those are often dealt with hostile attitudes, fighting, criticizing, outbursts of anger, playing the blame-game before moving into the demands for justice, fairness, equality, oh, and let’s not forget,  retribution.  You see it’s not bad enough that we’re being treated unfairly,we believe they (whomever ‘they’ are) should ‘get theirs’!

None of those approaches work effectively.  Oh, they may partly work or temporarily assuage the situation.  The results are generally not permanent and they tend to worsen as time moves on.  But is any of that, any of it, honoring God?  Remember, He’s with you through it all.  And while you’ve tried every trick in the book, you’ve yet to go to the Creator of heaven and earth and ask Him why.  When you do, you may not get an answer or at least not the answer you want.

Maybe He’s not trying to teach you anything.  Maybe’s He’s preparing you.  If I went to the gym and the trainer teaches me the correct way to use the weight machines, I don’t need further training.  I’ve moved beyond that to the ‘regular workout’ routine. And continuing to do the workout routine on a regular basis builds strength. So when I do come across a situation where that strength is necessary, I have the ability because of the weeks, months, and years of training for that purpose.  With that mind-set, maybe God is putting you through boot camp.

For the sake of this post, let’s assume this isn’t a boot camp situation. You’re not in this to build spiritual muscle, but rather its fiery trial that you’re facing.  How do you respond?  Let’s take a look at the word and see what we can glean.

James 1:2-4 — Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (NLT)

Hmm.  Count it joy.  Wait … GREAT joy.  Is that how you’ve approached it?  Probably not, but you can see the results.  So the trials bring maturity.  They bring a perfecting of our heart (attitudes).  Uh-oh.  There’s the rub.  The trials are to change our attitudes?  That means how we respond is vitally important. But James has more to say:

James 1:812 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NLT)

God will bless us for PATIENTLY enduring.  I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include grumbling, mumbling, and putting on our mad-face.  What it means is when they occur, know that God is doing something in us to change us until we’re more usable.

Maybe James was wrong.  Maybe that’s not what Jesus really meant.

John 16:32-33 — 32 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

Jesus was talking to His disciples, but the words apply to us, too.  Here on earth we’re going to have trials and sorrows.  He knew that there was a cost to being His disciple.  Too often churches try to paint a rosy picture – that all our problems will come to an end when we give our hearts to Jesus.  That’s not true.  What we get is usually a more difficult life, but along with that we get forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, hope, adoption as His children, and a future home where all of sin’s sting will be far removed.

You see the key is to realize this life, this temporary home, is not eternal.  It’s temporary.  Eternity is a breath away from us and in that place every tear will be dried, every heart ache will be replaced with immense joy forever and ever.

Jesus also said this:

John 15:18-2118 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.

Maybe the trial you’re facing isn’t from men, but from illness or “bad luck”.  We live in a fallen world.  A sinful world.  A world that is broken in every sense of the word.  Cancer should not exist, but it does.  Heart ache should not exist, but it is prevalent.  Accidents shouldn’t take place, but they do.  Babies aren’t supposed to die.  Loved ones aren’t supposed to suffer.  And yet we all face them daily.

So how are we supposed to react when we’re being hit on every front?  How are we to respond when our lives are in turmoil?  What should we do when all hell seems to have broken loose in us or our family?  The answer is simple and complex.  Easy to answer, difficult to put into practice.  Here’s the answer, then we’ll look at the complexity of it.

Isaiah 26:3You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (NLT)

The ‘You’ is referring to God.  He will keep you in peace when you trust Him and when our thoughts are towards Him. Simple answer, but actually putting this to practice is difficult.  Why?  Because we tend to think we can think our way out of our problems.  We try to resolve things on our own.  Our nature is to hang on to it tightly, making whatever the issue is, part of us.  We’re not just struggling financially, we’re poor.  We’re not just struggling with our health, we’re cancer victims.  We’re not just struggling with our sexuality, we’re addicted.  Instead of identifying with Christ and turning towards Him we put on this shame and make it part of who we are.  I’m reminded of two verses during the course of this discussion.

Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart;do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do,and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

And …

Matthew 11:30 — 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

God wants us to let go of everything and hide completely in Him.  Allowing God to be our all in all; giving Him complete control of every area of our lives.  We can’t depend on what we think because our thinking is already broken by sin.  Our judgment is faulty.  Giving up our ideas to reason through our problems and trusting Him in the midst of them is where we’ll find peace.  There will be times God will speak to our heart and say, “Do this” or “Say this” to your struggles.  He’ll give us the words and the ways to deal with it.  Or maybe He won’t, but He’ll give you His peace that passes or surpasses natural understanding.

It all comes down to our identity with Christ and learning to completely clothe or identify ourselves in Him.  Anything less will result in frustration and futility with questions of “why me”?  When we choose to hide entirely in Him, He’ll provide the peace in the midst of our storms.  He’ll give you the strength to endure them.  He’ll supply the grace and the mercy you need at the time of your need.  And all we have to do, all we have to do, is trust Him.

We want all the glories of an ease-filled Christian life.  But we’ve confused this life with heaven.  The life that is ahead of us on the other side of eternity is where we’ll find true and unending joy.  To think we’ll find it here is utterly ridiculous.  We’re in the enemies territory and the devil hates God.  But while we’re here, behind the enemy lines, in his territory, we’re to exemplify His love, testify of His goodness (read: preach the gospel), and be faithful.  And, in the process, rescue as many POWs as we can in spite of any opposition we may face.

This all leads to my final thoughts on the struggles we face.  In the years that followed the earthly life of Jesus, those who trusted Him with their lives often found tremendous trials.  Persecution was a reality of choosing to identify yourself in Christ.  It still goes on today around our world.  In America, we have it pretty easy.  We think we’re being persecuted only because we don’t know what true persecution is.

Many are called to lay down their life for their faith.  You can read in the book of Hebrews how people were stoned or sawed in half for their faith.  Think about that.  We think we know what pain is, but there are those who thrive on doling out pain for their own pleasure.  I’m pretty sure being sawed in half around 100 A.D. didn’t include anesthesia, or a high powered razor-sharp saw to speed up the process.  If giving your life to Christ meant knowing you would face death – a painful death at that, would you?  Just how deep is your faith?  Those that give their lives for Him know what it truly means to completely trust in Him.  Do you?

— Pastor Rick

Let Go, Let God

LuckyBunny7The title is cliché, I know.  But I hope you’ll hang to the end and see what the Lord is saying to me today.  Maybe it will touch your heart, too.

This following is a true life story that happened to one of my close Christian friends and it is fresh in my mind today.  Several years ago he and his wife gave their autistic son a bunny as a pet. The boy loved the bunny. He was always holding it. He had it in his arms from the time he got up until he had to go to bed.  He was always hugging and squeezing it. One day he came crying and holding the bunny out to his dad.  My friend had told him on several occasions the boy was hugging it too tight and hurting the bunny.  This time he hugged it too much and the bunny died.

I wonder how many times we cling to things in our lives because we love them. We love them so much that we can’t see how it affects us.  It’s not wrong to love something, but it is wrong when that love becomes an unhealthy situation for either us or those affected by our unhealthy choices.  In some situations instead of facing the realization that we caused the situation we may even apply blame someone else. “The store sold us a sick bunny.” But maybe the truth is we held something so tight that we squeezed the life out of it.  Instead of seeing a continuing growth and maturing, the life is gone and we’re left with nothing but a fur pelt in remembrance.

A few months ago, I was encouraging people to look forward.  And they couldn’t.  They were handcuffed to the “way things had always been done.”  I exhorted people to trust God for bigger and better, but they clung to tradition and refusal to change.  They didn’t want change for whatever reason — generally a fear of losing the past or fear of the risk of failure.  The apostle Peter may have failed in some people’s eyes when he got out of the boat then started to sink after he took his eyes off the Lord.  But the reality is this: only Peter got out of the boat and for a time (short as it was) walked on water.  Peter walked on water.

While those in the boat, a bunch of guys who were  probably just being typical guys, might have needled him he sank when he attempted to walk on the water like Jesus.  “You ain’t no Jesus, Peter.”  “Thinking you were good enough to walk on water, HA!”  “Look at me, I’m Peter and I want to walk on water, too.”  That’s just how guys are.  We tease and put each other down while refusing to face our own weaknesses and failures.  And in this instance, they were still sitting in the boat petting their proverbial dead bunny and wondering why Peter’s didn’t die when he stepped out on faith.

While I can’t prove the boys didn’t do that to Peter, you can’t disprove it either.  What we know is only one asked Jesus if He would give permission to walk on the water to meet Him.  Peter.  Jesus did grant it.  And for a few steps, Peter, one who had only been on the water in a boat, was a water walker.

This post is a bit metaphorical, I know, but I’m sure you’re smart enough to make the connections in your life.  You have to step out and trust God even if its something you’ve never done and are nervous to try.  If Jesus is with you, it’s gonna be alright. be encouraged.  Life only goes forward, never in reverse.  The things that are already done cannot be undone.  So moving forward is a necessity, but when you do move forward, make sure to hold the Father’s hand and let Him lead you into His life’s path for you.

Isaiah 61:3 — to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (ESV)

Will you make mistakes?  Absolutely.  We all do.  The maturing, or sanctifying work of Christ is to get back on track with repentance and a submission to the Father’s will — yielding our own.  Until we’re willing to acknowledge our failure to Him, we’re unable to see how He can turn our ashes into beauty.  See our entire life is to bring glory to God.  Our lives are to be for Him.

In order to do that we need to remove our grubby, greasy fingerprints from our own lives and fully trust in God’s sovereignty.  He will accomplish what needs to be accomplished whether we’re following Him or not.  But if you want to see His hand of blessing in your life, you’ll want to lay down your preconceived notions and trust His plan is far bigger and better than anything we could dream up.

Ephesians 3:20-21 — Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)

My friend and his wife had to dry the tears of their son who didn’t realize what he had done. They didn’t have any way to protect their little boy from his own destructive actions.  And like them, my heart still breaks for the innocent people there who were just wanting to find a deeper walk with God and instead found several people pretending … intentionally or unintentionally.  I was called a hireling, but the wolves were the ones guarding the sheep long before I ever arrived.  The wolves were in charge and desperately grasped for control – of everything.  Instead of fighting, I walked away.  Not of my own, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The saga of the little church that could, is still ongoing.  I do pray for them.  I do ask for mercy and favor.  But like anything in life, answers come when we repent of making a wreck of our lives and submitting to His hand.  And like the prodigal child who comes back home hoping just to live as one of his father’s servants, we’ll find our heavenly Father waiting outside, looking down the street, praying for our safe return.  And when He does, He’ll wrap His arms of mercy and grace around us and just let us feel the warmth of His everlasting love.

— Pastor Rick