In the Valley Is Where It Happens

I don’t know about you, but I could use some mountain top moments.  Being at the top of the mountain is awesome…beautiful views, quiet, peaceful, very few people, uncomplicated…just God and you.  Man, I could use some of that.

The truth be known, there may be beautiful panoramic views but there is very little growth at the top of the mountain where the soil is rocky.  The views from the mountain top are actually of the valley below where beautiful, lush growth occurs or views of majestic cities can be seen.  In the valley is where things happen not at the mountain top.

Life in the valley is tough.  The work is hard.  Dealing with people is complicated and hurtful.  Solid relationships are difficult to develop.  Friendships are underpinned by being vulnerable, forgiving and truthful.  Cleaning your own stuff up isn’t easy either.  It is difficult and sometimes almost impossible to work out of personal hurts, habits, and hang-ups.  Yet, growing relationships and cleaning up your personal stuff is how you grow spiritually and develop maturity.  In the valley is where it happens and growth occurs!

James 1:3-5 is incisive, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

  • In the valley of “testing of your faith produces perseverance.” This could be a personal thing, working through a relationship, dealing with work, or leading a group before it gets to where it needs to be.
  • Once “perseverance finishes its work,” you become “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  
  • In the valley is where it happens, and growth occurs. Often, we prematurely bail out because of difficulties never allowing God to finish His work. We look for an easier path not giving perseverance time to work its way out.

Look at the progression taught in Romans 5:3-5, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” It starts in the valley leading to perseverance which produces character giving us hope that cleans up shame resulting with “God’s love…poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”  In the valley is where it happens and growth occurs!

Whatever your valley may be today, don’t bail out or run.  Let perseverance have its way.  You will be glad if you do.  You will mature like never before and are able to look inside to see a wholeness which leads to peace.  In the valley is where it happens and growth occurs!

Itching Ears

A person with “itching ears” is an individual who hears what he/she wants to hear.  We saw evidence of this during the Presidential Election as we tuned into different news channels listening to news reported per our individual viewpoint.  If we didn’t hear what we wanted to hear, we switched to a station that did.  Each of us had “itching ears” to hear news reported according to our political slant.  Somewhere hidden in the midst of all this was the truth.  Once things have concluded, we will be able to find what stations ended up the most trustworthy and who was “itching the ears” of their listeners to keep them watching their newscast building market share.

The term “itching ears” is found in 2 Timothy 4:2-4.  The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, his disciple, to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  Let me ask you a question.  When you listen to someone preach or teach, are you listening for something that will make you feel better about yourself and life in general, or are you listening asking the Holy Spirit to teach and change you to be and do what God wants?  If you are doing the former, Paul says you have “itching ears.”  Quoting the biblical text above, we “gather around (us) a great number of teachers to say what our itching ears want to hear.” 

A Bible resource called “Got” states this very incisively. “The Greek word translated ‘itching’ literally means ‘to itch, rub, scratch, or tickle.’ To want one’s ears ‘tickled’ is to desire massages rather than messages—sermons that charm rather than challenge, entertain rather than edify, and please rather than preach…‘Itching ears’ impel a person to believe whatever he wants to believe rather than the actual truth itself. When people have ‘itching ears,’ they decide for themselves what is right or wrong, and they seek out others to support their notions. ‘Itching ears’ are concerned with what feels good or comfortable, not with the truth—after all, truth is often uncomfortable. Paul’s warning is that the church would one day open their ears as opposed to those who would scratch their ‘itch.’”

The biblical passage above states that Timothy was to preach in order to “correct, rebuke and encourage.”  We are all about encouragement but are we willing to receive correction and rebuke?  2 Timothy 3:16&17 states it this way, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Are you looking for an oral massage tickling your ears or desiring a word from God becoming a “servant of God…thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Don’t turn your ears away from the truth.

One Single Light!

As mentioned in my Monday/Tuesday blog, the Life Groups in my church are working through Genesis.  In chapter 7, at first glance, our loving God looked overly aggressive and out of character.  He judged the world by producing a flood that wiped out all of mankind except Noah, his wife, his three sons, and his sons’ wives.  Uh, looks like to me, God over reacted.

Did He really?  If you look back at Genesis 6, it reveals the behavior of the inhabitants in the pre-deluge era.  Genesis 6:2 says any man who wanted a sexy woman for his own, simply took her.  If a man saw a woman who was beautiful, he “married any of them (he) chose.”  He would literally capture her to fulfill lust.  Today, we call that rape or at least outlandish sexual abuse.  In Genesis 6:11, it states, Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for humanity had corrupted its way upon the earth.”  Man had become totally depraved and vicious toward one another. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).  Listen to the last part of the verse again, “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human being was only evil all the time.”  Each of these inhabitants deserved to be imprisoned.  Never forget, God has given man a will to choose.  He will not force Himself on a human being.  These folks chose sin to the point that not one of them could have repented.  They had become that hard.

That is, except Noah.  Before God chose to judge mankind by a flood, 2 Chronicles 16:9 states “the eyes of the Lord roam(ed) throughout the earth, so that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”  In His search throughout the world, He found one guy whose heart was obedient, Noah who “was a righteous man and blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”  He was righteous (right living) and blameless (whole or full of integrity).  He shined his light to others (“blameless among the people of his time”).  This one guy, one single light, saved the globe!

One of the things that I love is Christmas Eve service when the lighting of the candles occurs.  Without electrical light, worship centers are pitch black inside.  One single little lit candle can be noticed by every attendee.  It may be feint but the whole room is no longer pitch black…one single light!  God saved this world because of one light and it shined bright…the life of Noah.

We can’t give any excuses of how difficult it is to live in this crazy world.  Like you, I look at newscasts, live shots of seemingly deranged people, panels of “experts” who are vicious one to another, folks being violent towards on our streets, lying is the norm, truth is spoken seldom, corruption apparently unbridled, sexual sin grossly exposed…Our world is rapidly moving towards the behavior of Genesis 6.  Yet, one man, Noah, stood up and was counted as a righteous in a vicious world; a holy man whose light shined on the people around him.  Can you imagine the ridicule he took while building an ark…450ft X 75ft X 45ft with three floors and a deck then gathered food for the animals? It had to take a long, long time to construct, prepare logistically, and have food management organized.  Amazingly, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22).  One single light setting next to deep darkness impacted his God and future mankind.

How about you?  What would God say regarding the brightness of your life? What do the people who rub up against you say especially your wife and kids?  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).  How bright does your light shine?  One single light!

Lost Sheep

It seems like Jesus had his pull among the sinners and tax collectors.  After all they knew they were sinners, and He was offering forgiveness and restoration. But the Pharisees and scribes were complaining saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”  Jesus  would offer this as a response to their accusations: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over  99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.” Luke 15:3-7  Jesus said that because he wanted them to know the joy of heaven that comes with the salvation of the lost. But even more than that, in His parable, he talks about one who was already a part of the sheep pen, but went wandering, and was lost.  It was the rejoicing over the (repentance) of the lost brother. I understand this, as I have a brother struggling with the isolation of wandering away from the sheep pen. He is lost, and he doesn’t even realize it.  The sheep that was wandering was focused on things other than the rest of the sheep, and ended up in territory that he felt he could not return from. I want to tell my lost friend that there is a way home. This way is through the repentance of your lostness and the need for you to be found.  Now imagine that sheep, when the master took to looking, when the sheep saw him, he started to run from the master. He did not want to be found, so he hid. He hid because of his shame and guilt, but the master wanted to find him anyway. He understood that the sheep wandered off, because he lost his sight of that which kept him secure and strong. He lost sight of what was most important in his life.  You, my friend, have lost sight of what is around you. You think you are too lost  to ever be found, but I want to tell you that you are not. All you have to do is reach out to another, reach out to one who loves you, and desire to be home. Stop trying to run away.  People today run toward their addictions instead of away from that which will harm the body and the family. They find excuses to run, thinking their addiction is too strong, has too much of a pull on them, and nobody can understand. You are wrong! We all understand, and you, in your addiction must choose to be found. Those who love you are like the master who is looking for you, but instead of wanting to be found, be cleared of your hopelessness, you simply hide and continue in the lies and the torment of those who want to find the real you.  Stop running!  Stop making excuses for wandering away from the love of your life.  If you think this might be you, it probably is you, so why not look around you. Is the place you have wandered to better now than before? Is your heart better than before? Why not surrender to the wandering, the becoming lost, hoping to be found, but continue hiding behind addictions. You are worth so much to the Father, and to me and to those around you. Stop trying to make excuses and live for Christ.  He is out there waiting for you to grab hold of His hand and come back to us. Pastor Andy

Don’t Look to the Left or to the Right…Look Up

Today, because of elections, half of America is looking to the left and the other half is looking to the right. If you are like me, you feel that you have gone through the “heavy duty cycle” in your washing machine and then wrung out to dry.  You may be questioning whether national elections are fair and just anymore. The election of the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, has come down to counting relatively few votes that have been mailed in.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada and Georgia have the balance of America nervously and impatiently waiting “on the edge of our seats” to push one of the candidates up to the 270 total Electoral College votes needed to be declared President.  There is even a possibility that the Supreme Court might settle this election. Half of America will soon be despondent, discouraged, suspicious, angry, bitter, and maybe even volatile leading to aggression. And the other half will be gloating and laughing.

What does the word truth mean anymore?  Absolute truth is a thing of the past.  Today, truth means whatever it takes to get you whatever you want. Truth and fact no longer equate.  Absolute and relative my friend is not the same.  One is rock solid and the other is sinking sand.  And, whatever happened to the word grace and graciousness in America?

I am going to challenge each of you, don’t look to the left or to the right…look up! Reset your focus towards God getting your eyes off “the nasty now and now.”  The light of God’s word will steer your life in truth through the darkness. 

  • Matthew 6:33 points us upward, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Put your trust in Him.  He promises to take care of you.
  • Colossians 3:1-3 states “to set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  Spiritually, each of us are sitting in the heavenlies with “Christ in God”.  We are identified with Christ…died with Him on the cross, resurrected up with Him to walk in a newness of life, ascended with Him to heaven above the principalities and powers on earth, and now with Him at the right hand of God.  What comfort!
  • Hebrews 12:1&2 instructs us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  Whatever is “hindering” and “entangling” you today, “throw it off and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”  Get rid of all your anxious, paralyzing thoughts and focus on Him “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
  • Live daily in the light of Proverbs 3:5&6 (my personal life verses), “Trust in the Lord with all your heart  and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

The darkness of today is no match for the light of God.  Don’t look to the left or to the right…look up!

It’s Getting Dark Outside

On Sunday, the churchwide topic to be taught in our Life Groups was “unbridled wickedness”. Mr. Non-Confrontational, meaning me, usually does not enjoy in your face, negative topics.  As I thought about it, I recognized that it was a very appropriate topic.  The text was Genesis 6 that dealt with the depth of darkness in people prior to the flood of Noah. Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. So the Lord was sorry that He had made mankind on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. Then the Lord said, ‘I will wipe out mankind whom I have created from the face of the land; mankind, and animals as well, and crawling things, and the birds of the sky. For I am sorry that I have made them.’”  This was a dark, dark time.

At first glance, the Lord’s reaction seems to be really harsh.  However, when you look carefully at the depth of the darkness in the people, His righteous, just perspective comes clear:

  • “The Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”  The heart of these folks had become so hard there was no room for repentance.  They had become unyielding passed the ability to change.  God created mankind in order to have a being with whom He could build a relationship and have fellowship but realized these folks had moved beyond the point of no return.  In Matthew 12:31, Jesus declares, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”  The people had gotten past the stage of forgiveness.  The just, righteous, purposeful thing to do was make a change on planet earth.  Individuals had become flat out nasty to the core.  God could no longer tolerate this.
  • NEWS FLASH…This is a God-centric universe not man-centric. The earth is a speck on the elephant’s backside relative to the universe.  Yet, we think we are the center of the whole thing.  God the Creator is at the center not you the created!  I am so glad He is.  Among His many attributes, He is holy, righteous, immutable, all powerful, all knowing, ever present, just, merciful, full of grace, and love.

Today, it is obvious that we are pulling away from God at a rapid pace.  Look at the lack of civility, the rudeness, the murdering, the stealing, the abuse towards one another, the callousness, the harshness, the sexual promiscuity, sex trafficking, rape, idolatry, witchcraft, addictions, etc.  And of all things, there is an attack on the Biblical family structure, the building block of a healthy society and the first institution created by God for man.  Even worse, we have taken the right to live away from the most vulnerable, the unborn.  We are moving quickly towards the days of Noah… “every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”

It’s getting dark outside.  Per the days of Noah, the Lord will not tolerate this mess much longer.  Maranatha! Lord, come quickly!

The Process of Forgiveness

Below is a copy of the October 29th Daily Devotional called “Daily in Christ” authored by Dr. Neil Anderson whom I read and study daily.  All of us must be willing to forgive to grow.  Forgiveness is at the center of the heart of Jesus.  If you have any doubts about what I am saying, take a fresh view of the cross and what Christ did for you.  If “The Process of Forgiveness” becomes a problem, copy and laminate the below and keep it in a visible location.  Ask the Holy Spirit to empower and walk with you.  Then, purposefully and intentionally, work all the way through the process mindful of His grace.  It’s time to grow…

Luke 6:27-28

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Here are 12 simple steps you can use to walk through the process of forgiving someone who hurt you in the past:

  • Ask the Lord to reveal the names of the individuals who offended you and the specific wrongs you suffered.
  • Face the hurt and the hate. If you are going to forgive from your heart, you must let God search the depths of your heart (Psalms 139:23&24)
  • Acknowledge the significance of the cross. It is the cross of Christ that makes forgiveness legally and morally right.
  • Decide that you will not retaliate by using the information about the offender’s sin against them (Luke 6:27-34).
  • Decide to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to let the other person off the hook and free yourself from the past. Take your list of names to God and pray the following: “I forgive ___(name)___ for ___(specifically identify every remembered pain)__ .”
  • Destroy the list. You are now free.
  • Do not tell the offenders what you have done. Your forgiveness is between you and God unless the offenders have asked you for forgiveness.
  • Do not expect that your decision to forgive will result in major changes in the other individuals. Instead, pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
  • Try to understand the people you have forgiven. They are victims also. Freedom is a result of forgiveness in you. In time you will be able to think about the people who offended you without feeling hurt or anger.
  • Thank God for the lessons you have learned and the maturity you have gained.
  • When appropriate, accept your part of the blame for the offenses you suffered.
  • Confess your failure to God and to others (1 John 1:9) and realize that if someone has something against you, you must humbly and sensitively go to that person (Matthew 5:23-26). This must be a heart thing not a do thing.

Prayer: Lord, teach me how to love unconditionally and forgive quickly those who hate me, curse me or mistreat me.

Clear conscience?

Do you have a ‘Clear Conscience?’ A clear conscience is a confidence that what you say is what you believe. It is a heart that desires truth, and the willingness to surrender to that truth, regardless of how much the flesh does not want you to. Here is what Paul writes to the Church at Corinth: “For this is our confidence: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace. Now we are writing nothing to you other than what you can read and also understand. I hope you will understand completely – as you have partially understood us – that we are your reason for pride, as you are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.” 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 The testimony of a good conscience, that which is called integrity. It’s a heart that desires to live as God directs, not as we necessarily want according to the flesh. It also reveals a heart lived as a testimony of truth, not as a show of a false sense of belief, but that of humility and spiritual wisdom, compared to an intellectual argument. So many want to debate their truth, not from a desire to unite, but from a desire to win the debate. My understanding is more truth than yours, type of debate! The testimony of a good conscience however, is a life translated into the action of love for the sake of love. It’s a life desirous to benefit the other instead of self. Boy, what a world we would have is everyone started living like Christ lived. What a life it could be if CHRISTIANS started living like Christ lived! We are called to be different, to be lights in a darkened world, but how often do we try to live in the world where we think we are different yet our testimony reveals a life more similar to the world, than the one we profess. Pastor Andy

Waiting and Writhing

Our organization is in the midst of great change.  Mission statement, vision statement, structure, and many of the operations are all changing now because of some untended issues of the past, and because we, and the world, are different than when we were founded 45 years ago.

We have leaned on Psalm 37 to help us with our “posture” as we enter into this time.  To help us with our psyche, emotions, approach.  Much of this Psalm is about evil men.  We are not focusing on this.  But we are focusing on the Psalmist who is anxious, angry, quite possibly frustrated and wanting change.

We are told to not “fret” twice, we are told to “trust in the Lord and do good”, “commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will do this”, where the “this” is to give us the “desires of our heart”.  These words were encouraging to me as we are in the midst of this upheaval.

The challenging directive is in verse 7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”  The translation of “Be Still” is to be silent, to wait, to be dumb- that is not able to talk.  And “wait patiently” is to dance, writhe, whirl about, made to bear or bring forth, writhe in pain.  This doesn’t sound like patient to me!

So we are in effect to be silent and at the same time actively writhe about, and dance in anticipation of what God will do.  The comfort for me in this is that waiting in silence makes me writhe about.  To sit and wait is challenging and makes me squirm in my chair. 

In this Psalm the outcome is assured, and we are given the directive in verse 4 to “delight in the Lord”, and promised that: “he will give you the desires of our heart”.  

And we are told: “he will do this” in verse 5.  And we are told to “trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture” in verse 3. God will act and accomplish his purposes, we are to trust in this and enjoy the journey and outcome.

In our impatient society today, and in our desire to “get ‘er done” we are told to slow down, engage physically with the living God and in so doing we will delight in him and receive a good outcome. So this is our posture and approach to this time of great change.

The God of TODAY

As of late, I find myself focusing my blogs on a couple of subjects.  One of these is the idea of planning for the future but making sure we live in the moment, maxing out each 24 hours of our lives.  The flip side of this is others who can’t get out of the past to live today. The challenge is for each of us to not discard and waste today.  Many opportunities stare us right in the face yet untouched.    The sacrificial love of Christ is fleshed out today not yesterday nor tomorrow.  Paul the Apostle instructs us “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation(2 Corinthians 6:2).

We make the Great Commission a big campaign. We shout out, “Go into all the world” without recognizing that “go” is actually a present tense participle which is translated “going”.  It means “as we are going,” impact the world with the 2nd mile love of Jesus. Whether you are at Costco, Walmart, a ball game, work, a restaurant, and most importantly at home, allow God to give you opportunities to be compassionate, kind, patient, gentle, good, peaceful, and loving and for opportunities to share the gospel.  Ask God daily to make you aware of opportunities and that your eyes will be wide open. 

Below, I am listing verses that will challenge each of us to understand the importance of T-O-D-A-Y fixing our eyes on Christ “the author and finisher of our faith”:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
  • Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  • Psalm 95:6-8, Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,“Do not harden your hearts.”
  • Psalm 118:24, The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad”.
  • Proverbs 22:19&21, “So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you…teaching you to be honest and to speak the truth so that you bring back truthful reports to those you serve.”
  • Hebrews 3:13, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
  • James 4:13&14, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”

God is clear about this.  The verses above tell us that the old is passed away; to not worry about tomorrow; to listen for His voice today; His desire to do and teach us things today; to encourage one another today; and to not focus on tomorrow.  The time for God’s favor is today.  Fully live out today and experience the blessings of God while blessing many other.  Our Lord is the God of TODAY.