04 December, 2017

Remember How Blessed You Are

This morning my wife and I were in Peoria for an important business matter that finished up much faster than we thought it would, so we had time to spend together. We decided to drive over to East Peoria and have breakfast at Steak and Shake on the riverfront. The riverfront is one of my favorite places to hang out. I just have an affinity for water, and I love the view looking back into the city.
So, we are sitting there eating when my wife notices a man come in, who appeared to be homeless. He sat near the back of the restaurant and was bundled up. A few minutes later my wife asked the waitress if she knew if the man was homeless and she said that he was, and that for the past 3 months he has lived there on the riverfront and spends a great deal of time in Steak and Shake. My wife asked the waitress to bring us his check. When she went up to pay for our meals, she also purchased a gift card and asked the waitress to give it to the gentleman anonymously. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, the emotions of it just got to me and I began to weep as I said to my wife that could just as easily been us. It only takes a sudden turn of events and most any of us could find us jobless, homeless and destitute. I realized just how much I take for granted just how blessed we are. We struggle at times and it causes us to get weary, but then I see a vivid reminder right before my eyes that screams at me that I am blessed beyond measure.  I just wanted to share this today to maybe stir someone else to recognize for themselves that they are in fact blessed... and if you are in Christ Jesus, things are only going to get better!

21 November, 2017

"It's All Your Fault!"

Yesterday I received a phone call from someone I had not spoken to in several years. This family used to be very active in the church and ministry but slowly drifted away from the church and I would say, from the Lord. After they had left the church, I frequently received phone calls and emails either asking for my help OR blaming me for the problems in their lives. I was accused of "failing" their family by allowing them to leave the church and things got so ugly that I finally told them that it was best that we parted ways. So… yesterday, out of the blue, many years later, I received a frantic phone call asking me to please come. I dropped my plans for Drive-Thru Prayer and went to see if there was anything I could do. I will not go into details as it is of a personal nature, but the family is facing a crisis of gigantic proportions and desperately need a miracle. When I arrived, I was a little apprehensive about going in because the last time we had spoken, years ago, it was so ugly with each family member trying to lay the weight of their situation on my shoulders. I prayed it would be different now.  It wasn't. 

Within a minute or so of my arriving the blame game started once again. It was all my fault. I did not love them enough to stop them from making the choices they made. Honestly, I was beginning to get a little steamed under the collar when it hit me… every charge they were throwing at me… they were leveling the same charges against God himself. I finally said to them that it was time that they collectively pull on their "big boy pants" and take ownership over the choices they had made and that not only could I not help them, but neither could God until they stopped pointing their accusing fingers at God and realize that God had absolutely nothing to do with the mess they were in. I told them that God was more than able and willing to help them, but he could do nothing until they confessed their sin (1 John 1:9) then got out of the way and allowed God to do what only he could do. 

Sadly, they were still mad and leveling accusations as I walked out of the door. I pray that God can somehow get through to them. He is their only hope.  Countless people find themselves in this exact situation. Rather than turn to God and say, "I blew it! Help!" The point their fingers at God and accuse, "It's all your fault!" Accepting ownership over our mess is two-thirds of the battle. God's just waiting to do his part, but he will not do it until we confess our sin. 

16 November, 2017

"You're Doing Something Right"

In the past few weeks, I've been told on four separate occasions that "you're doing something right" by people who have come to visit our church. One person told me that they were just "waiting for the lecture" telling them how they were living wrong and going to Hell. Another told me that they came to the church, actually more or less to shut me up, because they figured they people would be judgmental and condemning, but they were shocked to feel nothing but love and acceptance. I cannot tell you how good those words sound to me! 13 years ago, Pastor Jim Bolin invited me to a conference at Trinity Chapel in Powder Springs, GA and it was there that I first heard a phrase, "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness." Pastor Bolin gave me a copy of a book by that title, written by Pastor Jerry Cook. In his book, Cook wrote:
“When love, acceptance, and forgiveness prevail, the Church of Jesus Christ becomes what Jesus was in the world: a center of love designed for the healing of broken people and a force for God.”
From that time on, it has been my goal to make that phrase the heartbeat of the church where I pastor.

When I began introducing that phrase and that concept to the church, the response, at least verbally, was very positive. People loved the idea of "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness" in theory, but not so much in practice. People in the church would say we are going to love everyone who comes through our doors... but then look down their nose at a single mother on food stamps and talk trash about her. Or an elderly man would accidentally wet his pants in the sanctuary and people would say, "Pastor, you have to get rid of him! He's ruining our church!" A teenage girl got pregnant and they would "speak" of support openly, but then run her down when they broke into their little clicks. People were excluded from invitations because they were on welfare, or their skin was the wrong color or any number of other things. There had to be an overhaul of the church if we were going to be a church that lived, breathed and practiced, "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness." It's been a long, tough road... but we are finally getting there. I won't name the issues, but the fact is that in recent weeks people have come and sat in our congregation that struggled with issues that the church would consider "taboo" and in times past have kicked people out of the church over those issues. I've been teaching for 13 years that if we stand at the door of the church with a measuring stick and make sure everyone measures up, then the very people who desperately need to hear about and experience the love, acceptance, and forgiveness which we speak of, will never have the opportunity! Unfortunately, many people sitting in our congregations have forgotten where we came from ourselves. I'm quite certain that we will still have bumps along the way, but I so happy to see and hear people who need to experience the grace of Jesus Christ expressing that when they came in our doors they felt welcomed and loved. This is the exact reason why we changed our church name to "The Oasis." It is our desire to be a place of refuge, relief and refreshing for those who are weary travelers on this road of life.

Keep it up Oasis Church. I'm so proud of you... but we still have a lot of growing to do!

13 November, 2017

"Your Words Are Nothing But B.S.!"

Today I had someone try to take me to task because they heard me say to someone that I barely know that I love them and that I’ll be praying for them. This person told me that my words were BS and that you cannot “love” someone whom you just met.  I’m not going to go further into that dialogue we had for this writing. I only share this to introduce my topic. I’d dare say that there are many in the church who really don’t understand this either, so I want to address this briefly. I am not going to go into a deep teaching, but simply highlight how it is that I (we) as a Christian can say and mean that we love someone who we just met or someone who seems unlovable by the world’s standard.

First, let me say that there are 4 types of love in the Bible. (Psychology today says that there are 7 types, but I’m not going to go there today because that is not the purpose of this writing.)  The four Biblical types of love are:
1) eros, which is a sensual or romantic love
2) storge, which is a family love, the bond between parent and children or siblings
3) philia, which is brotherly love and is the love that most Christians practice or express toward one another. It is a powerful emotional bond that is seen in deep friendships and encompasses love for fellow humans, care, respect and compassion for people in need.  
4) Agape, which is the highest form of love. It is the type of love that is expressed in God’s immeasurable love for mankind. This is the love that took Jesus to the cross. And this is the love that I was referencing when I told this person that I loved them.

Agape love is different than the other types of love in that Agape love first exists, and then it affects the emotions. Let me illustrate it this way… John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the world that He sat in heaven and had warm feelings?” That just seems silly, doesn’t it? We know that John 3:16 says, “For God so  loved the world that He gave…”   And that is the point of Agape love. Agape love is a volitional commitment to love. It’s a choice that we make of our own free will… something we CHOOSE to do. Agape love is a thought out choice to love… to give. Agape motivates us to act toward a person with love. We may not know them, but we show and express love toward them as a choice. It is unconditional, which means we expect nothing in return. Agape love is the giving that we choose to offer to others because Christ first gave to us.  This is considered strange or weird in the world we live in, because it is completely contrary to the way of the world. People cannot relate to someone giving without expecting something in return. I’ve seen this frequently when I’ve met new people, shown them Agape love and when they tell family and friends they warn them to watch out because, according to them, I have to be after something!  It’s simply the mentality of the culture we live in today. We hear it all the time, “Nothing is free! There has to be strings attached.”  Not even all Christians operate in Agape love. If there is not something given in return, whether it be emotional, physical or whatever, many Christians become hurt and offended. They do a good deed, and they mean it to be an act of love… but if there is no show of gratitude, or if they are not given recognition for it, they become hurt, offended and bitter. Again… Agape love is not like that. It is not attached to the emotions and therefore does not expect anything in return.

Agape love is the type love that the Father wants and expects to be in operation in the Kingdom of God. In the world, we become acquainted with other people first, then we move into relationship and perhaps love. In God’s Kingdom we first love, THEN we move into acquaintance. Because most operate from the world’s standard, most people have a boatload of acquaintances and a few, if any real friends… and they are suffocating because there is a lack of love. This Agape love is a commitment to give and operates independently of what we feel or do not feel. As an example: Agape love is what motivates us to get out when it’s windy and cold and we physically don’t feel like it and stand on the street offering to “give” our prayers to the city and the people passing by.  

Enough Excuses

Those of you have followed my blog for several years know (as do those who know me personally) that I LOVE to eat good food. I love just about all types of ethnic foods and for me, eating is not as much a necessity as it is a guilty pleasure. I love to savor the aroma, the spices and flavor of fajitas, a good (emphasize GOOD) pizza, Kabsse at my favorite Lebanese place (Kabob G) in Peoria or any number of other foods. Eating is an adventure for me. Unfortunately, it has also become an "adventure" trying to keep my weight down. Five years ago I was rocking a much larger me, weighing in at 242 pounds at my heaviest. It bothered me, but like many of us do, I laughed it off and pretended it did not matter. It mattered. I did not feel well at all. I was always exhausted and easily worn out. I became winded walking the stairs to our bedroom and we won't even talk about how exhausted I became while preaching! I started a journey… no crash diets, but a journey and I got down to 195 pounds about 5 months ago when I suffered an injury which forced me to stop working on our church building for several months while wrist healed. In that time, there is no other word for it, I became lazy and careless and my weight rapidly crept back up to 216 pounds. A couple of months ago I looked in the mirror at myself and had a serious talk with myself. One of the things that I found myself saying absolutely rocked me as I said, "This is not just a weight issue, you're being ruled by your flesh!" It was almost like someone else said it to me. Those words stung like fire ants biting at my spirit-man. I really thought about that for a couple of days and I decided that it was time to wage war with my flesh and take authority over it. I started a group on Facebook called "Temple Builders" where a few of us have shared our battles and our successes. Some are still just watching on, and that's OK because I'm believing that they are going to get inspired and go for a life transformation themselves. 

So… how's it going? It's going… but it's rough. My body is not just laying down without a fight. My flesh is lazy. My flesh craves cookies, turnovers, and baklava. My flesh tells me that I'm too tired, or that my body hurts too much to exercise. Sometimes it, in fact, does. I just went through a period where I went 5 days without exercising because of the pain in my neck and shoulder, but today I had another serious talk with "self" and said, you are going to exercise today, even if all you can do is seven minutes of aerobics.  It took me more than an hour to get determined enough to get up off my duff, turn on the jazz (I like to exercise to jazz) and get with it. It hurt, but I kept telling myself, "just 7 minutes."  As I approached 7 the 7-minute mark I said, "let's do 10 minutes." Then it was 15. Then 20. I ended up pushing through to get in 33 minutes.  Yes, it was difficult… but I won a major battle with my flesh today. I'm determined that I'm not going to give in to my excuses. This is not just about my weight. My weight is a reflection of my spirit man, and I'm determined that things are going to change. For years I've convinced myself that I could never get my weight down to 190 (or below) but today I set my sites on 190. I will not back down. I will no longer allow my flesh or my age tell me what I cannot do. I have declared war on my flesh and I can do all things through Christ who is my strength!

31 October, 2017

The Only Way to Freedom

Many years ago I read a story in a newspaper in which told of a prisoner in Australia who was in the county jail awaiting to be transferred to the State Prison. He was facing a lengthy sentence and knew that if he was going to escape, he had to do it from the county jail. He began to plan a daring escape. The day came when he executed his plan flawlessly by crawling under a delivery truck parked at the prison receiving dock. He clung to the bottom of the truck and rode it out of the front gates of the prison. He held on for dear life to the bottom of that truck as it drove down a major highway for about 20 minutes or so. Finally, the truck began to slow down and when it came to a complete stop, the man quickly let go of his grip and dropped to the ground. As fast as he could he rolled out from under that truck to freedom.  As he stood up he was stunned to find that he was inside the walls of the state prison, five miles from the county jail from where he had come from.  

You know, a lot of times it really seems that life is like that, doesn’t it?  Life boxes us in and we get to a point where we feel imprisoned by our fears or anxieties… our guilt and shame. These pressures seem to wall us in emotionally and spiritually, and we begin to desperately search for a way out. We try one thing after another, trying to escape, only to discover that we're just moving from one prison to another, one anxiety to another. We might try friends or relationships. Some might try drinking or drugs or even risky behavior, trying to find a release from the pressure we are under and the wall that is closing in on us. And with each “escape attempt” that fails, those walls get even tighter, higher and thicker and there just seems to be no way out. The reality is, there is no way out… except for Jesus. It does not matter what else you try, or how many times you try it, eventually it is going to lead to the same dark, cold and lonely place. The sooner we learn this and we give up our folly, the sooner we will find the only real purpose and fulfillment that there is to find I this life. Yes, those things work for a season, but the end result is always the same. We’re just riding from prison to prison, thinking we are free, but when we stop and look around and discover that all we’ve done is exchange one prison for another. Only Jesus can set us free. And he whom the Son sets free is free indeed. 

28 October, 2017

When the "Tithe" is Misdirected It is No Longer Tithe

In the times we live in, many people have chosen to take their "tithe" and use it to bless other people rather than give it to the church. Paul addressed this head on in this passage:

1 Corinthians 9:8-14GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Am I merely stating some human rule? Don’t Moses’ Teachings say the same thing? Moses’ Teachings say, “Never muzzle an ox when it is threshing[a] grain.” God’s concern isn’t for oxen. 10 Isn’t he speaking entirely for our benefit? This was written for our benefit so that the person who plows or threshes should expect to receive a share of the crop. 11 If we have planted the spiritual seed that has been of benefit to you, is it too much if we receive part of the harvest from your earthly goods? 12 If others have the right to expect this from you, don’t we deserve even more? But we haven’t used our rights. Instead, we would put up with anything in order not to hinder the Good News of Christ in any way.
13 Don’t you realize that those who work at the temple get their food from the temple? Don’t those who help at the altar get a share of what is on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who spread the Good News should earn their living from the Good News.

The simple, straightforward truth is that when a person takes their tithe (not God's, but their own) and places it anywhere else, they are in disobedience and rebellion to the Word of God and God is not going to bless that. In truth, the issue is that they want to control where the money goes because it somehow makes them feel good that they have "blessed" someone else. They have received their "reward" right then and there, self-gratification. But the Biblical blessing will not come upon them because they are acting from a selfish and rebellious heart. If a person wants to bless another, that bless another, that should be done as a free-will offering over and above the tithe. Those that take their tithe and use it such a manner are typically fight periods of deep depression, anxiety and suffer financially themselves and they cannot see that they have brought all of this upon themselves by trying to do works of the flesh rather than obeying God. God's Word is clear... "obedience is better than sacrifice."  So even if a person sacrificially gives to another but in the process is disobeying God's Word, they bring curses upon themselves. 

25 October, 2017

This, Too, Shall Pass

I’m sure we have all either said the phrase “This, too, shall pass” or at least heard it said. Most often those words are spoken as words meant to encourage and comfort someone who might be going through a particularly tough or upsetting period of their life and the words are said to say, “Things not going so great? This, too, shall pass. It will get better sooner or later. The thing is, I’ve learned in my life that it works the opposite way as well. “Everything hunky-dory and going your way? Well, enjoy it while you can, because this, too, shall pass.  Life is filled with ups and downs and twists and turns, and changes as do the seasons, so enjoy it all while you can, because this season will come to an end.

I’m quite certain that we have all enjoyed seasons of favor where it seems that everything falls neatly into place and it all comes together for us with minimal effort on our own part.  Those are great times… but we all know that the tide is going to turn and it can’t last forever.  For me, the past two years have been, by and large, the opposite. Yes, there have been some ups in that period, but for almost two years, beginning with the storm that ripped the roof from the church which I pastor, followed by 8 inches of snow that came 6 days later filling our building with water… and for two years we have been in a state of transition and rebuilding, not only the building but the congregation as well.
During this time key people opted to leave the church. Others moved. We’ve fought with contractors and the insurance company. Illnesses and family needs have caused those helping me rebuild to cease helping. It’s just been a rough period and I’m exhausted, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. Through it all, I encourage myself with the knowledge, “This, too, shall pass.”

Right now, I’m battling with Viral Arthritis which has shut me down from working on the building completely as I ached from pretty well every joint in my body. I have a deadline on getting a particular job done, and I’m seeing that I’m probably not going to make that deadline. But the reality is that this is a self-imposed deadline, and life is not going to come to an end because it is not completed. I just have to give a little and not be so tough on myself. Concerning these past two years, I keep telling myself that it HAS to get better soon. It just has to. I keep reminding myself of something John Lennon once said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it is not okay, it's not the end."

21 October, 2017

When You Get Off Course

Yesterday my wife got off work early so we decided to spend the afternoon in Peoria and to have dinner there. We stopped by to see our son for a few minutes where he works, went to Bass Pro Shop and then went down to spend some time on the riverfront. I took her down to see my favorite "escape" spot which I had never shown her before, and then decided to drive across town because I wanted to pick up something from Schnuck's grocery. Rather than hop back on the Interstate I decided to take the route through town, which I had not done in probably at least 4 or 5 years. I figured I could find the way and started out heading the right direction. Now, I should explain that I have a problem, in that when I am driving and I get to talking, I pay no attention to where I am going. In the past, and I have found myself WAY off course. I mean like 40 miles off course  in the past. Yesterday was no exception. I headed out in the right direction, and Libby and I were just talking about school, the church and life… and the next thing I know, I see a road sign and I think to myself, "How in the world did we get here!" I knew exactly where we were  but I had no idea how I had gotten there because as I was pre-occupied, I had simply gone another way, nowhere near where I had intended to go. We were not in a hurry at all and were just enjoying the day, but the point is, we'd started out going one way and ended up somewhere else.  

This morning I was thinking about yesterday's events and I thought to myself, "that is a great illustration of how people stray away from the Lord." They point themselves in the right direction and take off, but then fail to pay attention to where they are going. They don't notice the signs. They don't realize how far they have gone, because they are so busy with other things, and then they look up and say, "How did I ever get here?"
Spiritually, it is vital that we pay attention to what is happening around us. Peter said, "be sober" which means to be alert and aware. Many times we get so busy with all the "stuff" in our life that we just are not even aware of where the road is taking us and that we are so far off our intended path that it is very difficult to get back.

Yesterday when I saw how far I had gone, I decided to keep going on in that direction because it was such a long way back. In fact, we changed our plans as to where we were going to have dinner, rather than turn back.  I think many people do the same thing in their spiritual lives. They see how far they have gone and they think it is too far to go back. But with Christ, all we have to do is ask his forgiveness and repent (which means go the other way!) and we are back in right standing with God.

I know most of you who read this are walking the right path with Christ, but if you happen to read this and you have made a wrong turn and you think you have gone too far; turn back today. Don't go any further. Yesterday, I simply spoke into my phone, "Siri, get me directions to Schnuck's" and then followed the directions she gave, which lead me right back to where I needed to be. If you are off course, rather than call out to Siri, why don’t you just call out to Jesus. He is ready, willing and able to get you back on course, headed in the right direction and to deliver you to your appointed destination.

If you have never made that decision before, to call on Jesus… can I tell you that it really is the easiest and best decision you will ever make, to admit that you are going the wrong way, and that you need the help of Jesus Christ to help you turn your life around and then stay on that course, following after him and his word. Try Jesus! You won't be sorry!