Monday, July 15, 2013

A different kind of unprecedented loss

I just returned from an event that I know will change my life in some ways, forever. I was honored to be part of the team feeding those firefighters and police who were dealing with the tragic loss of 19 firefighters at the Yarnell Hill wildfire just outside of Prescott, Arizona on June 30, 2013. It was a sad and difficult duty, yet one at which I am not only honored but proud to have served. I have often worked with firefighters as well as police and the communities of these men and women are so very different than that of any other collection of people. Many other communities are closed, meaning they separate themselves from outsiders simply because they talk "shop" with one another at length and therefore separate themselves from the laymen who may wander into conversations. A good example of this is the medical community.

But those whose lives, by the very nature of their work, are risked on a daily basis is another group altogether. Those who run into burning buildings, towards 100 foot long flames, or find it necessary to dress themselves in body armor each day are certainly a different breed. This event, a fire near the small town of Yarnell, Arizona, has caused one of the great tragedies of recent history. So many, no... most of the young men who lost their lives were in their twenties, just starting out in life, two had babies on the way, and several had small children. The sadness has reverberated across our nation but most of all through the State of Arizona and even more throughout the family of first responders.

Our part was small, just feeding those who had come to help the families of the fallen in their need. (Although to hear the fire guys tell it, we were one the most important pieces to the event) It was helpful that 4 out of 5 of our team preparing food were also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) as well as Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) Because of this we could spot people who were having difficulty processing the events of that day and help them to deal with it. Personally, I know I was able to "defuse" several folks who were struggling. I will be forever grateful to The Salvation Army for providing the training needed to assist people in need.

The morning of the memorial service we fed more than 900 people breakfast, most of them honor guard from all over the US and even beyond. If you were able to watch on television that memorial service, you saw and heard the largest contingent of honor guard and pipe and drum corps ever assembled play Amazing Grace. I was inside the auditorium and it was one of the most remarkable events I've ever witnessed. These folks came, many at their own expense, to be a part of honoring their fallen brothers. I get it. I attempted to do what Jesus told us to do, to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. No problem with either of those two elements. Rivers of tears were shed in front of me this past week by big men who aren't supposed to weep and by normally detached personnel who can usually handle any difficult situation. They may not have known the victims of this tragedy, yet they called them brothers. They may have suffered great loss in their lives prior to this, yet the loss of these 19 men has brought them to their knees.

Five of the victims all attended one church, simply called the "Heights" by local Prescott folks. The Heights worked with us to provide lunch to the ICP (Incident Command Post) on a daily basis. They wanted their people to heal and being involved in this issue was certainly healing. My hats off to their team of volunteers who gave of themselves daily to feed those present.  These things take their toll in many ways, sometimes not until much later. I will pray for those who were there as well as for the families of the fallen for a very long time to come. I will also pray for the lone survivor, Brendon, who will undoubtedly carry around the guilt (even though he bears absolutely no responsibility)  for not having perished with his comrades.

I am only writing this because it will help me heal. You see I too felt pain at this loss. I too have wept for those who have perished and for their families, their friends and their children. I could never pretend to know why these horrible events happen, but they do. Knowing that, we should rush to the sides of those who do not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our responsibility is merely to share the truth with them, They must make the choice to believe or not. These 19 men died in a blazing fire that was probably upwards of 2500 degrees. But most of them knew Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so that fire was momentary. Imagine suffering through that forever. My desire is that no one should ever endure that, and the only thing that will make that happen to them is the pride someone may possess in denying the saving power of Jesus.

This was a loss that not happened for quite a while and its impact was felt around the globe. But we should feel this same loss and same grief at every single soul that perishes without the knowledge of the Lord. We should weep just as much for each baby that is killed by abortion. These are the losses that we could stop, yet we do nothing. I weep for our nation that has condoned murder and denies the ability of God to heal us, to heal our hearts. I hope we will all grieve for the Yarnell 19. But even more than that, I hope that we will all move to stop the unwitting loss that happens every day throughout our once great nation, yet has turned its back on its God, Who will, according to His word, heal our land if we will just come back to Him. Without Him we will most certainly experience an absolutely unprecedented loss.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Kingdom of God

"The Kingdom of God"......what a very interesting phrase. The phrase itself appears 70 times in the bible. All in the New Testament. 5 X in Matthew, 15 in Mark, 2 in John, 33 whopping times in Luke, 7 in Acts (which also was written by Luke) so Luke accounts for 40 of the total appearances. And Paul mentions the phrase 8 times in 5 different books. The total number of times Jesus is mentioned speaking this phrase was 46 times. So it's no wonder why the disciples used it so much. But Luke was an after the fact disciple. He wasn't one of the twelve. Yet he records it more than any of the others and he also records Jesus using it more than any of the others. So from all this, I must deduct that either it was a popular phrase in 1st century Israel or Luke just was taken with it and decided it was so descriptive of what Jesus was attempting to get across to the masses that he would use it a lot. But Jesus is recorded making a particular statement regarding the Kingdom of God that has always intrigued me. He said in Luke 17: Luke 17:20-21 20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." So here we have the Pharisees once again attempting to either confuse Jesus or discredit Him. They were the ones who knew about God and the prophets and they didn't want this carpenter to make claims that were unfounded. They may have been trying to get Him to say something on which they could jump. But never forget that they were looking for Messiah and they were expecting a political or military leader to arise to throw out evil Rome and come to the rescue of the downtrodden, not a spiritual leader who simply ignored the things of the political world. Now someone who only was concerned with the Kingdom of God. Here's a little exercise that may help you to understand what it is to be in the kingdom of God.....or else it may drive you absolutely nuts. Try to describe your spirit. Do you even believe that you have a spirit? Do you think that your spirit is separate from your soul? If they're different how are they different? And if those two are different, how are they different from our physical body? Now if you have a good idea in your mind about that, think about is your spirit different from the person sitting next to you or in front of you? You can easily see how your physical body is different, but does your spirit look different as well? How would your spirit differ from the spirit of some great hero of the church? Would it look different from Paul's spirit? How so? How about Mother Teresa's? These are just some things to dwell on when you consider what it is like in the kingdom of God. One final one....What will Jesus look like when you meet Him face to face? The church leaders of Jesus' day did not expect Him to look the way he did. They wanted a warrior who would take out the Romans. He is not at all what they expected, yet they were very well versed in what and who He should be. I think we will all be surprised when we find out the truth of things. Today we look for the Lord's return and many are disappointed that He has not done so as of yet and no two Christians will agree on what that will look like. In fact I'm always surprised when I find two Christians agreeing on anything. But I would say to those who look for Him in the air...."The kingdom of God is within you". Jesus basically said you won't find it by seeing it right in front of you. Remember this was the same One Who said "seek and you will find." He also said 3 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Matt 13:13 So we must interpret from this that there is a way other than seeing and hearing to discover the things of God, the Kingdom of God. We sang this morning about the eyes of our heart. Now of course our hearts don't have eyes, but we all do have spiritual eyes that are, or at least should be attuned to the spiritual world. But what exactly is the Kingdom of God? If God is the creator of all things, then doesn't the Kingdom of God include all things? Well, from this I would say at least everything that's in you. Well of course God's kingdom includes everything in the universe, although He has given up rule of this earth to our enemy and hasn't he done just a fine job with that. What we must understand is that we are not of this world, even though we live in this world. We belong to the kingdom of God. We have spoken for quite some time about our relationship with God and how by having a deep close relationship with Him we can take on His very personality and develop some of His marvelous traits, ending in the most important part of Him, love. To accomplish that would certainly be to live in the kingdom of God. When Jesus spoke of living water, we must consider what exactly that meant. It's found in two places, the first being when He met the woman at the well. She was surprised that He being a Jew would even speak to her because she was a Samaritan, a dreaded half breed. But instead He said this: John 4:10 10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." Well she quickly asked where do you get this stuff? His answer was simple: John 4:13-14 13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." Well maybe not so simple. This must have confused her a great deal. But what Jesus was saying to her then and to us today is that this is the water that we drink in the Kingdom of God. It is knowledge of God. It's refreshing because no matter what your situation, it can bring a peace like no other place. It strengthens you in a way nothing else can and it prepares you like nothing else can for any situation. I believe that Jesus prepared His disciples for revolution, but not in the traditional sense of revolution. If the kingdom of God was that for which we were to strive, then winning the war, winning the revolution would be found within ourselves as well. The revolution is a battle that is enjoined by ourselves, against ourselves and is won, in part, by drinking some living water. That Living water is a wonderful thing, and can only be obtained in one place. But I told you that the bible speaks of living water in two different places. The second one is a little later in: John 7:37-38 37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Now the first one was about receiving living water and this one is about an outflow of living water. But lest we be conflicted about this at all, John explains what Jesus means by this. John 7:39 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. You see we cannot receive Jesus unless the Holy Spirit, God Himself is involved and we cannot give Jesus unless God, the Holy Spirit is involved. Our spirit is unable to do anything apart from Christ. But it is even more than that. We are unable to live in the Spirit unless God be involved. Now you may well ask, "How is it possible that we can live in this world and not be of this world?" and I believe that's a fair question. When I asked you what you think your spirit looked like, it was to make you think about that because it should look different now than before you knew Christ. Jesus said the Holy Spirit, this living water would do this: John 16:13 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. But the goal is not that we get new information, but that we see things differently and therefore our hearts are different and our spirits are different. Paul was so convinced of this change that he said we need not even consider each other in the flesh, but in the spirit alone. 2 Cor 5:16-17 16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. This should excite you and make you jump for joy that we are not in the flesh, but that we have been changed into spiritual beings by merely drinking some living water. This should excite you that life is happening all around you and no matter when Jesus is returning, we are one day closer to that. And it should excite you that you have the possibility to have a close relationship with the King of Kings, not in some pie in the sky sort of transcendental manner, but a one on one relationship that will help you overcome all the difficulties you encounter in this life and enable you to draw others to God by what you have learned and to give them some of that living water and lead them forward into the kingdom of God. You have His word on it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thank You

I have spent a lot of time in the past few years assisting people in realizing one of the most important things a person can have in their life, their goals. I firmly believe that without goals no one can move ahead in their lives. We are unable to prosper. For without goals you will meet one of the criteria for living in that situation we refer to as "lost".

Lost is one of three things; not knowing where you have been, not knowing where you are or not knowing where you are going. Without goals firmly planted in your mind, you cannot possibly know where you are going. You will be relegated to that group that will believe "every wind of doctrine". Goals are shaped by your beliefs and then executed by your heart. That's why it is said regarding some, "they had great heart." Those who have great heart are able to accomplish great goals. But if someone has no goals, no matter how great their heart, nothing would be done, nothing accomplished. I have set many goals over the years and some I have accomplished and all of the ones that have been accomplished, were accomplished only through the power of God. I do not believe that anyone is able to accomplish anything unless God either allows it or assists it. Therefore God is present in all situations, and yes, even the bad ones. One of my goals, and I am sure the loftiest goal, as a pastor is to assist people in their search either to find Christ or to draw nearer to Him. There really is no other reason for my existence in the role in which God has placed me. I sincerely hope that in everything I do that God is glorified and thereby people see Him a bit more clearly. My greatest goal is to point to Him in everything I do. I think I discovered something this week that I have been unable in all my time on earth, to be able to describe in any sermon, or message or conversation or letter. I think this is a true revelation of something very important. It is the secret to a happy life. I want to share this with everyone, for I believe that we all have a desire to be happy. Some people would fool you on that account for they look always as though they just walked away from a train wreck. They look always dazed and confused. Their countenance is down continually and every attempt to cheer them or make them smile is met with a look that screams, "Just leave me alone".

Folks, happiness is a choice. And although it may not be a conscious choice, it is a choice nonetheless. Whenever an unconscious choice is made, it is accomplished because of an attitude that is owned or is at least prevalent in the very psyche of the one making that choice. In those who would own an attitude of extreme happiness, it is first necessary to own an attitude of gratitude. We must learn to be thankful. Now many will say that I am over simplifying the key to happiness, but I struggled with this quite a bit and I am absolutely convinced that being grateful for everything that happens to you is the most important key to any and all happiness in your life. I read a quote while researching this subject by a man named Emmet Fox. Mr. Fox stated, "Bless a thing and it will bless you, curse it and it will curse you... if you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it." I would add to this that it doesn't matter if something is permanently troublesome or painful, blessing it, being grateful for it will remove forever its power over you to make you feel its pain. Now are there things in my own life I wish hadn't happened? Are there things I wish I hadn't done? Of course there are. We all have pain and we all have regrets. But understanding that we must each take possession of our own lives will help us to understand that we must learn to be grateful for what happens in that span of years we call a lifetime. All of it, without exception.

For example, I lost everything I had in one day back in 1994. I found myself without a family, a home, a car or even clothes other than what I had packed in a suitcase I owned. No books, no computer, no phone. At that moment I wasn't very grateful for my situation and I grew angry at not only the situation, but at God, those who were trying to comfort me, those who had caused the situation, and anyone who came close to me. But as some time passed, I learned to be grateful for the events of that day because it turned out that God had plans for my life of which I knew nothing. That day was a turning point in my life. And although it seemed as though it was a turning point toward hell, it was most certainly a turning towards heaven. I am now able to be grateful for that day and the events that happened then, because if they had not happened exactly as they did, I can safely say that I wouldn't be where I am today being blessed abundantly in so many ways by the same God I thought had abandoned me that day. The thing that I missed then, but know now is that had I blessed that day immediately and begun to seek all the ways in which God was leading me, I wouldn't have wasted so much time wallowing in self pity. Paul wrote this to the church in Thessolonika:
1 Thess 5:18 "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you"
Really? God wills that I might be tortured and even killed for believing in Him? That's what the church there was facing. Paul was saying that if it happens, then God allowed it and so then, be grateful for it. If we believe in God, then we should understand that all things come from God, directly or indirectly, ordained or allowed. Jesus said that the two commandments were love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. We all get that, we all understand that these are the things we need to do and that by doing these two things we keep all the law and acknowledge all the things in all prophecy. So how do we love God with all our hearts if we fail to show gratitude to Him when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives? How can we truly love our neighbor as ourselves if we fail to thank them for the pain that might be caused by them? Even when it is great pain. For example, if someone breaks into your house and steals your television set, a brand new 42" flatscreen that you just got a few weeks before in order to watch the upcoming football season. Then they catch the guy. The tv is gone, but they have evidence that this is the guy. The police are going to allow you to speak to the man who did this, So what are you going to say to him? You have choice. You can either get in his face and scream about what a horrible person he is and how all thieves will burn in hell and on and on and on........or you could simply tell him that you forgive him and thank him because since he stole your television you've had more time to get into the word of God and draw near to Him. And then you could tell him about the love of God for him as well. Which of these scenarios would be loving God and loving your neighbor? Which would be more likely to bring someone who obviously doesn't know the Lord to at least a place where he might be made aware of God's love? Anger never shows God's love, nor does it ever put us in a place where God's light is shone on a dark situation. Is being grateful for a tough situation even logical? Not in man's or the world's economy, but in God's economy it makes perfect sense. Dietrich Bohhoeffer wrote, while imprisoned in a Nazi prison, "Gratitude changes the pangs of memory to a tranquil joy." He was hanged while incarcerated in prison. Bonhoeffer was a protestant pastor who stood up against Hitler. He lived in God's economy. The doctor who witnessed his death and attested to it, wrote, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” The Pilgrims escaped religious persecution in England, fleeing to America in 1620. In that first winter they dug 7 times as many graves than built places in which to live. They were the poorest Americans who have ever lived in North America, barely eeking out enough food to keep themselves alive. Yet the one thing that everyone knows about them is that they set apart a day to thank God because they were grateful for where they were. And they shared what they had and had fellowship with the first Americans who joined them in that thanks to God. We all have trials and tribulations, but if we are to move past those things that are difficult, then we must be grateful for those trials, and bless the trials, laugh at those difficulties that seem too difficult to move past. And then carry on to what God has prepared for us. When my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I was told that she wouldn't be leaving the hospital in which she lay, that hospice needed to be called, I first told the doctor who spoke those words of doom to me that he wasn't in charge of life and death, but I knew who was. And because I had learned the lessons of gratitude I thanked God for giving me this woman who had given me so much joy in the last few years. I let Him know that if He chose to take her home to be with Him, I was OK with that and I would simply be grateful for the time we had together. I would rather He let me have her for a while longer, but it was up to Him, not me. I was just blessed to have her for as long as I had. As I write this I can hear her rattling some pots and pans as she does the dishes in the next room. I'm not saying that gratitude saved her life, but knowing that I would have been grateful either way, helped me get through it a bit easier just as she was grateful for more life on this earth. Gratitude doesn't make any problems or trials or tribulations disappear, but it most certainly makes them more bearable. And in fact, as Bonnoeffer wrote gratitude will change those difficult times, those pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. Gratitude brings joy, gratitude brings peace and for that you have His word on it.