Bend Us, Lord…Bend ME

21 02 2018

Today my prayer changed.  Today my heart changed.  Let me explain…

As is my custom, as I was driving into work today, I was praying the Lord’s Prayer (I often use it as a tool to guide me as I pray).  As I was praying for the Lord’s will to be done in me and at Gateway Church, I had this thought and said it out loud, “Lord, I feel like we’re the Cleveland Browns.”  For those of you who aren’t football fans, please bear with me for a moment as I bring you in the know.

The football team we know as the Cleveland Browns are perennial losers.  They used to be a powerhouse once upon a time ago.  However, they havAP STEELERS BROWNS FOOTBALL S FBN USA OHen’t even had a winning season since 2007.  In fact, that was only one of two winning seasons in the last 23 years.  Because they pretty much always lose, every year they get some really good draft picks.  In fact, this last year promised to be a decent season because they had a really good draft and made a lot of really good off-season acquisitions through free agency.  Could 2017 be the year they began to turn everything around?  Nope.  They finished 0-16.

Once upon a time, Gateway Church in Kennewick, WA (formerly Tri-City Foursquare Church) used to be a growing and thriving church.  As the newest coach…uh…pastor, in the six years I’ve been at the helm, although we’ve had some wins, we definitely have not grown.  Yet each year, I feel like this could be the year we turn things around (maybe you feel the same way…or hope…about the church you attend).  Like I said, “Lord, I feel like we’re the Cleveland Browns.” 

Yet God would change both my prayer and my heart as I moved on to pray for God’s will to be done in some friends who are on the verge of a major transition in their lives.  Because I don’t have a clue about what God has in store for them, but knowing their hearts to make difference for God’s Kingdom, instead of praying just for them, I began to pray for the city in which they live “Lord, your will be done in that city.”  That’s when God changed my prayer for my own situation.  And that’s when I began to pray, instead of “Lord, please bless Gateway Church and help us to grow,” to “Lord, your will be done in the Tri-Cities and help Gateway do its part.”  And as I prayed this new prayer, such a peace washed over my soul (like God’s Spirit was giving me an “attaboy!”).

Lately I’ve been praying a prayer borrowed from the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 where over 100,000 people came to Christ and which led to even more across the world (even to Azusa Street):  “Bend us, Lord.”  It’s a prayer they borrowed from somebody else, and now I’m borrowing it from them.  Today the Lord bent me.  He showed me my pride and self-centeredness.  Today God reminded me that Gateway Church (and myself) belong to the Church of the Tri-Cities’ Metroplex.  Today God reminded me that I belong to a larger team and I need to be a team player.

So let me challenge you to pray for your city and to do your part to help God’s Kingdom to grow there.  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! …For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3).

Bend us, Lord.  Bend ME.

Mel





Why Forgiveness Is Not Optional

2 05 2018

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard (even recently) “Christians” say these words:  “I’m not going to forgive…”  There are so many things wrong with that statement.  However, I’ll try to keep it simple.  Here’s how one well-known Christian leader put it:

“[If I am not willing to practice forgiveness, then] I have not even started to think about the meaning of Christian oneness which the world can see. The world has the right to question whether I am a Christian. And more than that…the world has a right to question whether Jesus was sent from God and whether Christianity is true.”  Francis Schaeffer

Forgive-because-youll-be-forgivenBesides the fact that Jesus said, “…if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15), there’s also this jarring truth from the Word of God:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  1 John 2:3-6

In other words, if we choose not to “live as Jesus did” (which includes not only obedience unto death, but also loving our enemies and forgiving them) then it indicates something is seriously wrong with our relationship with God, that we either don’t know Him at all or that we are deceived (a “liar”).

When it comes to forgiveness, please understand this, my friend…  If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have it within you to forgive (no matter how grave the offense against you) because Jesus dwells within you by the Holy Spirit, and He is really good at forgiving. 

Forgiving someone doesn’t make them right.  However, it will make you free as well as powerfully reflect Jesus.  On the other hand, choosing not to forgive is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person will die of smoke inhalation.

The choice is simple.  TODAY, choose to forgive.

Mel





What’s “Really” Wrong in America

25 09 2017

Jacksonville Kneeling

You know what’s wrong in America?  It’s the same thing that’s wrong in every other country, in our political parties, churches, what’s wrong in so many marriages, and in so many families.  Here’s how Jesus’ put it:  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  Out of the heart comes hate and prejudice.  And out of the heart comes pride.

We would like to think that we are intrinsically good as human beings (btw, that’s pride that’s doing the thinking here).  However, the Bible and our histories tell us differently.  Because of pride we judge others by their actions but we judge ourselves by our intentions.  And we can’t even see this because pride blinds us to it.It’s our pride that keeps us from saying, “I was wrong” or “I made a mistake” or “please forgive me.”  Instead of forgiving or trying to understand, we shift the blame, we entrench, we fortify, and we attempt to conquer.

Trump & NFLTake this past weekend for example, it’s because of pride that our President would call several NFL players SoBs (maybe that’s not what you heard, but that’s what “they” heard).  It’s his pride that keeps him from seeing or understanding how this hurt these men, their families, and their teammates.  And it’s pride that keeps him from saying, “I was wrong to use the words I did” or “I went too far” or “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

On the other hand, it’s pride that drove many NFL players in how they responded.  And though their protest was both peaceful and a show of solidarity, pride blinded them from seeing how their actions would deeply offend so many of their fans.  It was pride that kept so many of them from seeing that others might view their response as a protest against America, our flag, and our freedom (and the soldiers who died for that freedom) rather than against President Trump (whose remarks they were actually protesting).  It’s pride that keeps them from seeing that owners do have a right to tell their employees how they should represent their teams (as a pastor I have free speech too, but I can’t say or do whatever I want without repercussions including being fired).

It’s pride that keeps so many supporters of President Trump from seeing and/or admitting when he is wrong or goes too far.  On the other hand, its pride that keeps some from seeing how the players might be wrong or went too far.  And it’s pride that makes anyone of us think that our own personal freedom of speech is more important than anyone else’s freedom of speech.

It’s pride that causes us to prop ourselves up, our gender, our group, or our race.  It’s pride that motivates certain police officers to prejudice and the abuse of power.  However, it’s also pride to assume all white police officers are like this and must be guilty when an African American is shot in the line of duty.

So what’s the answer?  It’s not more legislation.  That can’t change the human heart.  It’s also not more pride.  Pride is not a good thing.  If I’m propping myself up, I’m pushing someone else down.  Pride is a marriage killer, a family killer, a community killer, a nation killer, a world killer, and a church killer (the worst kind of pride is spiritual pride).  Pride is a relationship killer!

So how do we change this nation?  One heart at a time and it starts with the person in the mirror.  The first step and, in fact, the battle is this:  to admit you’re proud.  This is what God showed me a long time ago:  humility is not the absence of pride but the admission of it.  And when we admit this and decide to not let our pride control us, this is what happens:  “God…shows favor [or “gives grace”] to the humble” (James 4:6…brackets mine).  That’s right, you get God in your corner helping you.  On the other hand, if we won’t humble ourselves, we get this:  “God opposes the proud…” (James 4:6).  Do I even have to say it, that it’s not a good thing to have God working against you?  Very well then, enough said.

“…if my people, who are called by my name [not “America” but the followers of Jesus leading the way], will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14 (brackets mine)

Humbly your servant for Jesus’ sake,

Mel





Saying So Long to Sympathy

28 07 2017

In my experience as a pastor I’ve come to the realization…and not because I want to but because that’s just the way it seems to be…that many people really don’t want to be healed.  I’m not really talking about physical pain though that can apply too.  I’m mostly talking about being healed from their past. Preferred-Victim-Card-new

Many say they want to get better.  However, it seems that their pain has become their best bud.  They love to talk about their friend.  In fact, in the house of their life, they’ve given their pal a room of their own.  Their pain is not just a friend.  They’re part of the family.  If their “dawg” moved out and skipped town, they’d be undone.  What would they talk about?   WHO would they talk about?

It reminds me of an encounter Jesus had with a man who had made friends with his infirmity (John 5:1-9).  We’re not really sure what that infirmity was, but apparently it slowed him down quite a bit and confined him to a mat.  Was he paralyzed?  Maybe.  The Scripture isn’t clear though.  However, he’d been “ill” (NASB) for 38 years.  That’s a long time to get to know someone and get buddy-buddy.

So when Jesus comes to Bethesda Memorial Swimming Pool, where this guy is hanging out, and asks him, “Do you want to made well?” the man doesn’t really know how to answer.  No one ever asked him that before.  Many had asked him what happened to him, or how it happened to him, or how long he’d been like this, or “is there any truth to the rumor about an angel stirring the water from time to time and whoever dives in first gets healed.”  He was a pro at answering those questions.  However, no one ever asked him if he wanted to get well.  That’s a dumb question!  Duh!  That’s why he was there in the first place…because he believed the rumor, and wanted to get well.  Right?

Then why doesn’t he say to Jesus, “Yeah, I would really like to be made well”?  Maybe he didn’t really know who this guy was who was talking to him, and about all the people he’d healed already, and that He was the Great Physician and God in the flesh.  And while that may be true, it still doesn’t explain his answer, “Sir…I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Do you see it?  More than he wanted to be made well he wanted to tell Jesus about his friend, Max Pain.  He wanted sympathy, not victory.

What do you want, my friend?  Do you want victory, or do you want sympathy?  Do you want to be made well, or would you rather talk about your sidekick?  Here’s the truth:  you can’t have both.  For if you get victory, your homie has to move out.  There’s no place for them anymore because Jesus is moving into that room.  And instead of a sob story, you’ve a got a testimony.  Instead of you being the victim, Jesus is the hero!

Praise Him!  He has won the victory and we too are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37-39)!  It’s your choice though, so choose victory!

Mel





Lessons from Izzy

8 04 2017

IMG_0197 (2)As I write these words to you, I do so with a tremendously heavy heart.  In, fact, I’m really having trouble keeping it together as well as holding back a flood of tears from bursting forth.

Last week unexpectedly, and tragically, our Great Dane, Izzy (short for Isabelle) passed away.  The day before she seemed perfectly fine.  However, the next day she got pretty sick.  When we realized how truly sick she was, we rushed her to a 24 hour emergency pet clinic.  However, she stopped breathing just before we pulled in.  They tried their best to revive her but to no avail.  Needless to say my family is heartbroken and distraught.

Everyone who knows us can tell you how important our animals are to our family.  In fact, they are our family!  Izzy wasn’t just my pet, she was one of my girls and I miss her deeply and am grieving thoroughly.

That night, as I held one of my boys (I can’t remember which one because we took turns holding each other) and we wept together, God spoke this to my heart:  “This is how I grieve.”  He didn’t finish that sentence nor did He have to for I knew what He meant…

This is how He grieves when someone rejects Him. 

This is how He grieves when someone chooses a life of sin and isolation over Him.

This is how He grieves when we refuse His direction and it leads to hurt.

This is how He grieves when we grieve.

This is how He grieves when a soul He created and gave His very Son for is lost for eternity.

God loves you deeply, my friend, and He grieves for you.  Please don’t turn away from Him.  Please don’t reject or refuse Him.  Please let Him have full access to every room in your heart and to transform you into something so beautiful.

Thank you, Izzy, for this tremendously valuable lesson in my life.  I will surely miss you, girl.

Mel





Why We’re Not Transformed

9 06 2016

This blog has been a long time coming.  Why am I writing it?  Because I care.  And why now?  Maybe it’s just the right time.  Maybe you’re ready to hear it, read it, believe it…or someone you know is.

stuck-2Are you stuck (or know someone who is)?  You (or they) made the decision to follow Jesus, to try this Christian thing out.  However, nothing is really changing.  You (they) feel a little better…a little more at peace…a little more content.  However, life is still pretty much the same ol’ same ol’ with some slight variation.  You wouldn’t call it transformation though…and neither would others.  Maybe you’re stuck in a relationship that you don’t feel good about or something feels wrong about how you’re doing this relationship.  Maybe your family life isn’t improving or your marriage.  Maybe you’re stuck by addiction.  Maybe you’re stuck in a financial pickle.  You can’t seem to make this Christianity thing work for you.  You just can’t seem to follow through.  Why?

Were you being dishonest when you made the decision to follow Jesus?  Were you insincere?  I know a lot of people who are stuck (good friends) and I don’t believe that they “didn’t really mean it” when they decided to follow Jesus.  In fact, I know lots of people who love Jesus but are still are not being transformed.  Did you change your mind then about going all in with God?  Aha!  We may have stumbled onto something.  Not that you changed your mind, but that maybe you needed to change your mind and you didn’t.  Keep reading…

If you call yourself a Christian, Christ-follower, believer, etc. then no doubt you’ve heard the word “repent.”  For many of us, that word might have a negative connotation.  Maybe it makes you think of a serious preacher, sweating profusely, veins popping out of his neck, and screaming at the top of his lungs, “REPENT OR DIE!”…“TURN OR BURN!”  Is that what repent means?

I was taught that it means to “change your ways” and if you’re walking one way, to turn around and walk the other way.  Is that what you were taught?   That’s what I used to believe and teach.  However, I was wrong as were those who taught me.  We were wrong!

That’s not what “repent” means (at least not in the New Testament).  That’s not what John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2, Luke 3:8), Jesus (Mark 1:14-15, Mathew 4:17), Jesus’ disciples (Mark 6:12), Peter (Acts 2:37-39), and Paul (Acts 26:20) were directing us to do.

The Greek word (metanoia) that is most often translated to this word “repent” has a relatively simple definition:  to change (meta) your mind (noia).  That’s right, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul were asking, instructing, strongly urging, requiring us (for transformation and even salvation) to change our minds (uh oh, some of us might have to change our thinking about what repent means).  In fact, I contend, that unless we change our thinking, changing our ways isn’t even possible.

Yet in this day in age, letting the Bible change the way we think is rare.  Instead of accepting and believing Scripture as truth, we have a tendency to read it like we’re eating fish and picking through the bones.  Those things we like or aren’t too much of a stretch for our faith, we add to what we think we already know.  However, those things that don’t jive too well with our personal experience or history we tend to qualify or redefine.  So rather than changing our thinking about what is truth and what is false, or what is right and what is wrong, we adjust “our understanding” of what Scripture “must mean in today’s culture” so we can be more comfortable with it.  This doesn’t change the truth, however, just as relabeling a container of poison does not change its essence and make it any less deadly.

On the other hand, this kind of thing is not new at all.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul said:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

There it is in black and white.  If we want to be transformed, we need to change our thinking and no longer go along to get along.  In fact, according to this verse, if you don’t align your thinking with God’s, then you won’t be able to figure out what God wants for you (what “His good pleasing and perfect will” is).  Your own will and the will of an imperfect world is battling for top billing and God’s will is drowned out in the process.

Do you want to be truly transformed?  Do you want to truly be set free?  Then repent.  If you want God’s blessings, you need to do things God’s way.  So change your thinking about God – that He’s perfect, that He’s good, that He knows what He’s doing, and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Change your thinking about who you are – that you’re not all that (neither am I), that you don’t know everything (neither do I), and that when it comes between God being right or you being right, God’s the one that is always right.  Align your thinking with God’s Word (the Bible).

And here’s the power that God’s Word promises us (the Gospel):  to those who believe, He indwells us and works and wills in us towards love and good deeds (Philippians 2:13).  We don’t have to drum these things up.  On the contrary they flow out of our faith and relationship with God (Galatians 5:6).  However, we have to repent first.  We have to change our thinking and to want what God wants and to believe what God says is true.

You can do it, because His Spirit is in you if you truly are His follower.  The question is, are you really following God, or are you expecting Him to follow you?

“Let God be true, and every human being a liar.”  Romans 3:4

Mel





Lost in the Dark

2 07 2015

I remember my dad telling me a story of a time he got lost in the woods while hunting.  As it got dark, he continued to stumble around for awhile.  1371318592429However, it was hopeless.  He couldn’t see anything that could tell him if he was even going in the right direction.  Therefore, he decided to (actually, he felt like he should) stop and wait until morning before continuing on.  Right where he stopped there was a large old tree where he nestled himself within its roots and where he dozed in and out until sunrise.  Creepy!

When morning finally arrived, my dad was both amazed and humbled to discover that the tree he used as a makeshift bed was just a few feet or so from a cliff which he was headed for before coming to terms with the fact that he was indeed lost in the dark.  By the way, once it was light, my dad was able to get his bearings and easily find his way back to camp (and that’s why I can tell you this story today : ).

As I reflect back on that story now, I see clearly two things that saved my dad from certain destruction.  First of all, and as I already mentioned, my dad was able to admit that he was truly lost.  Second, he listened to that voice (which I believe was the Holy Spirit) to stop and wait for the light.

In our world today, there are many who are lost in the dark.  However, many of us don’t even realize that we are. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit wants to help us, but some of us don’t recognize His voice.  That’s why God wants to use those who He’s already rescued to help those still in eternal peril.  In fact, those of us who are found have an obligation to help those who are still lost and don’t even know it (Matthew 5:14-16).

If you’re reading this and you feel a little lost in the dark, do yourself a favor and admit itbefore you step off the cliff of No Return.  Come to terms with your need for God.  Stop your fruitless wandering in circles and look for the Light.  He’s only a cry for help away.  Jesus loves you so much and wants you to be truly free.  However, you are going to have to admit you need Him.  And here’s the truth my friend, we all do, and there’s no shame in admitting that.  By the way, here’s the really Good News:  God has done all the hard work to blaze a trail to life and freedom.  We simply need to change our minds about our predicament, turn around, and follow Him.  It really is that simple.

Mel








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