BLESSED ARE YOU …

I’m reading through Matthew 5, 6, 7, as a discipline as I continue to preach through this teaching in anticipation of going deeper spiritually and taking people deeper spiritually. Jesus was with a great crowd of people and he and his disciples, (don’t think just 12), went over to a mountainside. (The hill region) The mountainside acts as a natural amphitheater. Jesus understood this and fully expected that he needed a place where he could speak to many, many people. So he sits down and begins to unfold the very core offeet of Jesus his teaching: this constitutes his “yoke.” From a teacher-student relationship a “yoke” is the burden of understanding or interpretation of, a given teacher in relationship to the subject at hand. So when Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he is speaking of people buying into his interpretation of something; in this case the Law of Moses.

Jesus begins with the word “Blessed.” Blessed is “Makarios” in the Greek and it is translated 44 times as blessed, 4 times as good, 1 time as fortunate and 1 time as happier. (in the NIV 1984) So as Jesus unfolds his interpretation of life and the Law at the beginning, he starts with the fact that your life is favored, good, and happier, when and if … these things apply to you. There seems to carry in this word the understanding that the face of God seems to be attuned to, or turned toward the person that is poor, that is mourning, that walks humbly, who longs to do right by others, that is merciful to those around them, that is focused upon one thing, who choose to make peace in peaceful ways and means, and even find themselves persecuted because of their desire to do what is right for everyone.

“Blessed are” does not seem to “inclinate” that these people go through life without any problems or getting everything they ask God for. It appears more right to understand this is a list of people that are giving their lives away; that live in contentment in their circumstances and focus a little more outward.

Jesus was teaching in the presence of a military state. The Roman army and culture that was trying to push into their existence occupied them. Everywhere they turned their lives and subsequently their religion was bumping into the laws and expectations of Rome.

In the midst of all of this Jesus begins what we call the “Beatitudes”, the list of blessings. This is in direct relationship to Isaiah 61, which Jesus reads in the synagogue (Luke 4) as he launches his ministry.

1“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV)

The Kingdom of God has broken through into a dark world. The focus of God is upon this world and specifically all the people of this world. All of this teaching has an eschatological focus: The Kingdom is here but the Kingdom is coming as well. As children of the Kingdom our transformation will be evident to all when we can find our peace and relationship to God the father in being content that God is with us in all of this. Whether in the “now or the not yet,” we WILL find relief and salvation from God.

Blessed are you today in your present circumstance, your desired circumstance and your eventual/ eternal circumstance, for the gaze of God is upon you. Find your contentment today in his shadow.

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Peace

“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
Ephesians 2:17-18 NIV

peace2Are you experiencing peace today? Peace in your soul, peace in your heart, peace in your health, maybe peace in your everyday life? Jesus came and preached peace. To us that were far from God, Jesus brought peace. Stewing in the fog of chaos and sin, Jesus offered peace. He offered me the peace that begins with being right with God. I don’t owe him.

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I have a motorcycle. I put down a significant amount of money but I still owe the bank. There is a very real bondage that comes with owing someone something. Knowing the consequences of a debt not paid off. I found the same thing when I owed someone personally. Afraid of what this person could do. Afraid of the feeling that I could never pay it off. Not only was I struggling to reduce the principal, I found myself actually compounding the principal, not just the interest, in my attempts to fight my way out.

You see I was born a sinner. I was not born innocent as some well meaning but totally misinformed and/or delusional people would tell you. No, I was born with the nature to sin in my heart already there. Much like an apple is formed with an apple seed alreadyApple seeds in it. GUILTY BY BIRTH! My capacity to sin only grew as I grew. The more I sinned the more I became aware of sin. The debt I owed God couldn’t be offset or paid for by my good works or acts of kindness. I could never be good enough, or nice enough, or even give enough, to make up for the attitudes of my heart, the filth I was immersed in, or the sins I acted upon. Like a man cast into a raging sea, overwhelmed by the waves, drowning, I needed a rescuer: a savior.
I owed God!
In the midst of the ocean, as death threatened to swallow me and drag me down to the depths of the sea, God sent his son to do the one thing nobody else could do; save me from myself; my humanity.
I don’t know the actual or intrinsic value of the blood and body of a man that did in fact live a perfect life. The price for my life, the salvation of my soul for eternity, the peace that I need was found in having my debt to God cancelled. This is the “person” I owed: I was in ever increasing debt to God almighty.
Somehow, for some reason, he chose to love me enough to send his son to earth to be bloodied, beaten and viciously crucified for my debt. As a result I owe God nothing. passion-of-the-christ-nailNothing except the ever increasing love that I have for my savior. Nothing except the desire for intimacy and presence of the king of the universe. Though I have not seen him he has been very obvious and present in my life. Though I have not touched him, I have very clearly heard his voice and obedience is my act of reciprocal love. How can I not love him that endured so much for me?
His one request of me? Love.
Love my creator.
Love my enemy.
Love my family.
Love my friends.
Love those in need.
Love.
It isn’t easy, it isn’t always fruitful, but it is always the call from my savior. I fail, but thankfully his invitation is to get back up and try again. “Press on,” he said, “your going forth is sure.”
Do you have peace in your life? I mean is there peace when you wake up?
“Sin” in your life robs you of peace.
“Unsettled relationships” rob you of peace.
“Debt” robs you of peace
“Not knowing” steals your peace
Having faith that life has purpose and meaning, knowing that you can trust your future to God who is infinitely bigger than you, brings peace.
That peace is waiting on you through the free gift of God in the sacrifice of Jesus. He who had no sin became sin for all of us. Repent (stop doing things with the worlds wisdom, stop living for your own pleasure) and give God your life. (Read the Bible and then do the Bible as literally as possible) then watch things change as your life takes a new shape, the shape of peace.

 

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Move Forward

So I have this picture and I want to share it with you. Here it is, it was given to me by a young man that I got to shepherd. It is a privilege to pour into his life and I am honored to even know him and call him friend. I was wrestling one day last Fall with hearing God and he noticed. I was IMG_0861sitting in the coffee shop he managed and he walked over and gave me this note. It is written on a torn off piece of a coffee filter, (how apropos), I now have it up on my wall under my writing Plexiglas. Let me share with you the situation.

 

I’m sitting in a coffee shop sipping my $4.00 latte’. This day I wasn’t so much talking and visiting as I was praying and listening. I needed to hear from God. I needed to be quiet. I was trying to understand the next physical step our church needed to take: to build or not to build? See, I have a 4 phase plan given to me from God for our physical location, but I was trying to skip phase 3 and save up some money for phase 4. We were doing well, but something was off. That something was that I believed God had given us a plan and asked me to lead it; all the phases, in order, and timely. I clearly was hearing God say, “If you don’t do what I ask, how can I lead you forward?” But, I was still wrestling it was a scary number to me.

How long are you going to ignore God?

So this young man comes over and pops down a note on 2 cents worth of paper product and it became one of the catalysts for a $250,000 build out. “Take the next step. Move forward.”  The project was 7 months from “go” to finish and we only owe $11,000. Wow God you are so faithful. I ponder that note often since it is on the wall next to my head. I look left and there it is at eye level calling to me to heed.

My mind is kidnapped every time

I don’t want to write to you about a building project, but rather that God still speaks to you in very conventional and unconventional ways. His voice is ringing out, but sometimes we can’t hear it for all the noise in our lives. We sit down with our Bibles but the kids, the day, the dogs, and work, steal our minds and runs off with them. We have been mentally kidnapped. We try to just stop and breathe during the day but the phone rings, someone comes in our office and we are kidnapped again. Some days it feels like we are going nowhere and we don’t know if we should take a step or not.

Move Forward

This post is for you. You have been hijacked by the problems of life. Maybe your kidnapper is bad decisions that you made and now the consequences have come calling. Maybe the kidnappers are rejection and divorce, indebtedness or deadendedness. Maybe your abductor is the lie that, nothing will change, so you might as well sit down and stew, and whine, and mull, and wallow in your self pity. It may be something else entirely. I want to say to you, “Look at the picture.” Just stare at it for a second. Here is a word from God from an unconventional place: “Take the next step. Move FORWARD.” (emphasis mine) You need a word today and that word is, “Take the next step. Move forward.” It might be scary, it might be ridiculous, it is entirely possible that you will be the only one that understands the need to do it, but do it!! God is in front of you saying, “Follow me,” he is not behind you screaming, “Get a move on.” May God reveal himself to you today!

Kevin and KelseyOn a side note

It just so happens that this past Sunday was this young man’s last Sunday with us after 7 or more years. I performed his wedding, blessed his children and now, this past weekend, we blessed and commissioned him and his family to Detroit Michigan, to go on staff at a church there.

He took the next step and he and his wife are moving forward.

Is it well with my soul?

I saw someone post on social media the other day that it was well with their soul. In context I believe they were referring to a thing going well in their life, and for that they wanted to thank God; absolutely and entirely appropriate. As a matter of fact, in the Joseph's Pictures 219“Law” we are instructed to bring sacrifices of thankfulness on the occasion that our hearts are so moved. God does a thing and we are excited, bring a sheep, bring some grain, bring some kind of sacrifice (that costs you something besides energy) to God to say, “Thank you God.”

When was the last time you stopped complaining and said, thank you to God? Seriously. In the midst of all the political pandering still going on, all the hate that is still being perpetrated in the guise of pretend offendedness, personal family drama, work place struggles, financial ruin, have you even stopped to look around and see what all you have to be thankful for?

When God does something wonderful in my life, I say thank you. The other day I was at home and I mowed my yard. As I mowed I thanked God for a yard to mow. I thanked God for our home, our dogs, food, a sunny day and a hot wife. (Or was that a hot day and a sunny wife I confuse them some times.) I stopped to thank God in the midst of a good day for all the good in my life.

What about when it isn’t fun?

As I sit here remembering that person’s “It is well with my soul” post, I wonder, shouldn’t I thank God when things don’t go my way? Don’t I believe he is always sovereign?

James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Are you focused on coasting?

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go. It isn’t always easy. I have also come to the understanding that just like church, there is never really a “coasting” time: a time when things are perfect and we could live like this all day. There is always, I say ALWAYS, something coming at us. What I see determining peoples “joy factor” is their focus. Are you focused on the “coasting life?” If you are, let me tell you, it will NEVER come, but you will live in a state of constant frustration, discontentment and grief as you strive for it.

Rejoice, rejoice and then rejoice

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and tells them,

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is Paul; ship wrecked, left on the open sea, beaten and left for dead, persecuted over and over, jailed and beaten but singing through the night. He found it inside of his belief in God that he could learn and grow in the midst of suffering if he changed his focus. I cannot recall a single passage from Paul where he is in jail and says, “Pray for me to get out this is awful and unjust.” No, he says, pray that I might have boldness to proclaim the gospel in these chains.

Thunder Hole, Acadia National ParkAnyone can bring a thank offering when things are going their way. The question is, will you do it when you are floating in the ocean, hanging on to a piece of the boat that just broke up, and you see the sharks? Can you count it all joy then? Can you see God trying to teach you something eternal, or do you just scream at God because this isn’t fair?

Joy is found in a long range, eternal, “I’m here for a moment,” focus. Happiness is found in our circumstances. Happiness is a wave that crashes on the beach over and over, but it can drown you. Joy is a buoy that you can hang on to and it will keep you from drowning.

Sooner or later you have to ask yourself what’s going on? Right?

I don’t want to be some doomsday prophet, or even come across all Chicken Little with the whole, “The sky is falling” routine, but come on! I look at this man’s picture and I realize that whether it is the polarization of the country, the hate of all the people pretending to be something that they aren’t: civil, and the escalation of violence, not to catastrophymention what greed and fame are doing to our nation, we must see that something is up. Doesn’t it make you a little introspective about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Doesn’t it begin to call you to ask if you really think that there is an intelligent designer or if we just came out of the mud? It begs that we find a nice quiet spot and just be quiet and listen to our own hearts. This happened FAST.

 

Is there anything we should know?

In Matthew I read,
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.             Matthew 24:3-8 (NIV)

Everyone has faith, but why do you have faith?

I mean help me here. I supposed to believe that two particles of dust that none can give an account for existed in space that no one can account for, and suddenly threw themselves at each other for no reason what so ever and with no help? Seriously? And in so doing got moving so fast that in colliding they created a reaction that became living matter? And as this matter progressed, I’m supposed to believe that some of it decided totwo specs become a tree, and some became mud, and some became animals? Really?

It makes a lot more sense and takes a lot less faith for me to believe in a God that intentionally created the world I know. I mean how backwards would I have to be, how much faith do I have to conjure up, to believe everything came from absolutely nothing? Nothing means “nothing.” Nothing can’t mean something. If it is something then it came from somewhere, or someone.

 

You ever watched a dog chase it’s tail? That’s what I see when I’m asked to believe that things like what are going on in the world and Jesus teachings don’t mean anything. ThisWhy-do-dogs-chase-their-tails is what I see when a scientist finds flesh in a supposedly millions of years old dinosaur bone.

I look at the picture at the top and I see things progressing like Jesus told us they would and the questions I personally have to turn to are, What does this mean, and who can I help?

 

Maybe all the political garbage going on, all the artificial protesting and posturing, the pretend offended-ness, all the violence, should make us stop and define (for ourselves) what it is that we really believe. Do you really believe that at the end of life, there is nothing beyond it? No, I believe Jesus said signs like these are signs of the beginning of the end, not the end itself. Things like this don’t scare me, don’t get me riled up or anxious, they make me aware that there are still people that need to know the God I know, the peace I know, the eternity I know and the hope I live in every day.

 

I’m not saying it’s the end of the world. I’m not saying this picture means anything. What I am saying is, it is worth stopping and searching out what I believe and why. Is my belief emotional drivel or is it founded on a foundation of some sort?

 

Listen …….. the sound of hoof beats, the blare of a trumpet? Maybe just noisy people.

 

 

Yesterday’s Manna

Manna

There’s a story reported thousands of years ago, of a tribe of enslaved people numbering over a million and a half, that were set free and found themselves wandering in themanna1 desert. They ended up wandering for 40 years. In the course of that time they supposedly were fed each day by their deity with a flaky, coriander sized, substance they called “Manna.”

Manna, who knows what it looked like and what it was. The report says that it showed up each day on the ground and they just gathered what they needed for that day. In the beginning some people gathered more than they needed for that day and it went bad. It soured. Actually it became worm infested and rotted: it stank! The whole process was a test. It was a test to see whether or not they could or would follow the rules, the Law. Sure enough, they failed. There is always that one group, that one person, or family that has to push the limits and do the very thing they were told not to do. It was no different then, still the same today; we still all fail.

In our human nature it is always a temptation to hoard up more than we need. Call it hoarding or call it greed, like in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected journey,” Bilbo the Hobbit shows up in the halls of Erebor and finds a great hoard of dragon and dwarf gold. Both dragons and Dwarves are hoarders: greedy to a mortal fault.Smaugs-Gold-e1462824043518

This whole story from the Bible is about how God provided for the Israelites as they spent 40 years in the wilderness, as they came up out of Egyptian enslavement. This food was there for them day in and day out. Was it the food of angels, the food of heaven? Maybe, but in any case it was God’s daily provision for them.

Many times in our lives we point to God doing wonderful or great things in the past. Sooner or later, like an aged out, fading high school quarterback, we point to “That one time,” or “That one play.” We look back to God saving us and yet, we don’t have anything else since then to testify about. We remember a healing from the Lord, a restoration of a wayward child, a saved marriage, freedom from drugs or alcohol. The point being that we are always looking way back.

Even when God blesses me, like with the manna, I don’t want to waste my time trying to live in yesterday’s blessings. Think of it like the test of whether or not we will follow God and trust him to continue to provide for us. God wants to provide for you every day. It is appropriate to remember what all God has done for us, but it is not ok for us to continue to wave that one blessing like it is all God has done for us. God wants to touch your life in so many new and more significant ways. God wants you to look for him everyday. God is taking you on an adventure. An adventure of bringing the Kingdom of God to bear upon your life, your influences, and your circles of friends.

Amazing highs

This past weekend at our church was pretty amazing. The worship was so very “transcendent.” (Can I use that word if I haven’t used any other big words like that yet? Lol) We prayed that God would open our eyes and our hearts to his presence. We repented of our own sins. We thanked God for what he had done in our lives. We invited God to touch us again. We didn’t want yesterday’s manna, we had already thanked him for that and enjoyed that. We wanted to spend new time with him. 23 people got baptized that day: it was overwhelming. 10 year olds through 40 some year olds stepped up, let go of their pasts, and received new manna from God. But even now, that was yesterday, I want today’s time with God.

God wants to walk with you

When you think about what it means to “Be” a Christian, do you still point to yesterday’s manna, or do you have a vibrant, passionate relationship to God that continues to put you in his presence? God wants to walk with you; he doesn’t want to have walked with you. Make sense?

I want to encourage you to look for God’s blessing and presence everyday. I’m not suggesting that he isn’t enough; I’m suggesting that he wants to be a bigger part of your existence now; in the moment, not in the memory.

Acts 14:17
Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

 

 

Today is EIGHT

I woke up to a reminder from a friend today: today marks 8 years. Nine years ago I was struggling in a continuing conversation with God. Eight years ago today we launched the first Sunday morning service of the Vineyard Community Church Richmond.

I had moved to Kentucky from western Oklahoma and was here to help a friend and do a job. My calling is to be a light and to bring the light. My initial understanding was that we would spend 3 years bi-eight-isgreatvocationally building a church up; I was sent to assist and assist is what I did. I stayed on for six years and then began to understand that something had changed; I needed to get out of the way. The problem is I had fallen in love with central Kentucky, but I knew I was called to do more than be bi-vocational, but I didn’t know what God had in mind. I began to dream, think, and envision what a move out of state would look like. I questioned going back to Oklahoma, Ohio where I met Jesus, or some place new. God what do you want?

God said “COME FOLLOW ME”

What do you want Lord? I don’t hear too many Christians asking that question any more. “What do you want me to do Father?” “Where do you want me to live God?” “Whom do you want me to minister to Jesus?” I hear people dreaming about a call to ministry but itquestion dice usually begins with gathering together a financial guarantee, they aren’t willing to sell out, move out, and totally trust God because he said, “Go.” They want safety nets and promised salaries bigger than most staff members have in their present churches.

I began to pray. I was very aware that I had not heard from God at all, so I leaned into Elizabeth Elliot’s teaching, “when God isn’t telling you something new, then do whole heartedly that last thing he told you to do.” (something like that) Whole heartedly has always been the way I get involved, I don’t think God created me to watch life go by, I want to live it and I want to live it fully, whole heartedly, enthusiastically, and squeeze every drop of blessing and experience and relationship that I can out of it. I want to live it as more than a conqueror: hupernikeao, Roamns 8:28, I want to live life and live it to it’s fullest; a vehemently abundant life; perissos John 10:10

Art, falconry, Scuba diving, motorcycling, traveling, guitar, poetry, coffee, friends, preaching, leadership, loving, ministering, I find myself whole heartedly diving right in. The Vineyard Community Church of Richmond Kentucky has been no different. From the 20130806_113643.jpgmoment that the Pastor of the Lexington Vineyard contacted me we have been ALLIN. We knew that we were planting a church; it was exciting to meet with people willing to roll the dice and follow the vision.

With 16 years of ministry experience, 5 children, two sons in law, and one grand child, we leveraged everything we could: savings, 401k, what ever we had, to see this thing born.

With one vision

It was exciting, it was fresh, it was loud, it was in the community and God had given us a vision that we would not be deterred from. Admittedly I certainly did not do everything right, I’m just not that smart. It is also clear from conversations that there were a significant number of people that had a lot of differing ideas, or agenda as to what was going to happen; what they personally wanted to happen; I don’t think that is unusual.

Sometimes I haven’t done it right

There have been bumps, valleys, struggles and pain from the get go. There has been joy, salvations, baptisms, healings, and celebrations carrying us along in the Spirit. We have seen God move in wonderful ways and we have cried together because it’s not all Rose_Thorns_2759sunshine and roses. We have seen persons come and we have seen persons go, we pray God continue to be near to them.

I haven’t always done it right no doubt, I have had to ask forgiveness and apologize at times, but then, that’s why Jesus died, so I could get back up and press on. I will always strive to say what needs to be said, corporately or personally, because I’m not smart enough to be scared, nor am I savvy enough to be quiet. I will refuse to compromise anything that might harm these sheep. I will refuse to be a hired shepherd: I have been called as a brother and joint heir with the great shepherd. I will not be perfect but I know that I will be held accountable to caring for the sheep of this fold. It is a very serious matter in my soul. So I live ferocious to attacks.

Stick to the plan

As a church we will continue to press into the vision. When God calls me home or away, the vision can change, until then we stick to the plan:

Chase God with a reckless abandonment,
Love everyone that walks through the door
and try to stay out of God’s way.

DSC_0115Today we are eight years old. WE are eight years old. A lot of people have placed their signature and DNA into this ekklesia to make it what it is today. Whether it was my boss that gave me a job knowing that someone more focused could do it better, the pastor I left that blessed us, or the people that came and went, this church, this gathering of sheep, is marked forever by them all. We are who we are because people cared, loved, served, gave, believed, followed, sacrificed and grew in their own relationships to God. God bless you all.

All the faces, all the people, all the circumstances

So today I reminisce on all the faces, all the people, all the circumstances (good and bad) and thank God that all of these have brought us to where we are today. Still loving, still serving, still caring, still outreaching, stillPulse 2 reaching out, still growing, still chasing Jesus and still seeing lives changed as hurting people seek an audience and an opportunity with a living God.

Happy Birthday to you VCCR, you are growing up into such a beautiful mature Church, God bless and be with you. Until the trumpet sounds and we all are caught up together, or until we all meet together in Heaven to remember, I pray that we will always be found seeking the heart of God, loving this community and more besides, and that our impact will always be bigger than our number.