Author Archives: Rick Mauderer

The God I Never Knew

split-rock-lighthouse-from-a-distance

Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake Superior’s North Shore

Okay, so I was not raised in a Christian family.  But the picture here is from Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior’s north shore – that is where my life and God’s mercy finally  intersected in my conscious mind when He let the air supply in my scuba hose get stopped while I was diving on a ship wreck in 60′ of water.  At that point, I never knew God.  I didn’t even know God existed.  Correction:  I did know, I was just really mad at Him, so I pushed Him away so He would not exist in my life.  This is why I do not believe there are any true atheists in the world.  There are those who are angry at God like I was, and keep Him away, and there are people who just don’t know God yet – we call them agnostics: “a” meaning without or against, and “gnostic” meaning knowledge.  Back to reality…

So that day back in 1978, my diving buddy asked me if I wanted to pray before the dive.  “Are you kidding me right now?  Since when did I EVER need God?  And why would I shoot meaningless words into the sky?  And what could He do for me anyway?  He was way too far away!  Besides, all the things He COULD have done for me in my life up to that point HE chose not to!  Why give me an alcoholic dad?  Why all the anger and abuse?  Why make my mom and dad divorce and marry EACH OTHER 3 different times?  Why did I have to be born with a cleft palate?  Why did my aunt molest me?  And that is my short list.”  So perhaps you see the source of my anger against God.  That is also before I knew that one of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” He has been by my side – and YOUR side – every day of our life.  NEVER has He left us!  WE just give Him the cold shoulder.

“Somehow” I survived the mishap in Lake Superior which had every potential of doing me great harm if not death.  That night back at the cabin with the rest of the diving crew, I could not sleep.  I was faced with the question that few ever stop to ponder – “What if I had died that day in 60 feet of water, then what?”  I had no answers.

At that time in my life I was into all kinds of Eastern Mysticism, pyramidology, alien worship, and the like.  Now here is a great pause!  I would not believe in the one true God, Who has loved me from the day I was conceived in His mind, but I would love beings that don’t exist, worship things that are lies – and I thought I was enlightened!  Funny how the world deceives us!

A few weeks later I was driving into town (in Minnesota) to get ice for my dad and me for going out on the lake, and I remember driving past a church, and thinking, “Wait a minute! Churches have answers for that kind of question!”  I pulled a u-turn, and drove into the parking lot – might I add that it “just happened” to be time for Sunday school to begin – God’s timing is always perfect!

The church was Calvary Memorial Church in Navarre, Minnesota.  I was in my cutoff shorts and muscle shirt (not that I had many muscles, just wearing the shirt!) and was ushered to the youth group.  For the first time I heard stuff that rocked my world – stuff Jesus did – healing blind people, healing crippled people, raising dead people.  I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me?!! Nobody ever told me this stuff before!”  Or at least if they did, I wasn’t listening.  Truly in a state of awe.  Apparently I stuck out as the new kid.  Not sure why…perhaps it was my UNSunday like appearance?  Everybody else was in their Sunday best – suits, nice clothes, Sunday dresses, then there was Rick – cutoff shorts and t-shirt.  Confession – still my preferred mode of dress! 🙂

So after the morning lesson the teacher/youth pastor came up to me and introduced himself to me.  Then he asked me the strangest question:  “Would you like to come back tonight?”  I thought to myself, “You guys go to church twice in the SAME DAY?  That is a TOTAL waste of time!”  Then he said they were all going out to ice cream afterwards.  I said “Sure I’ll come!”  Can’t argue with ice cream, eh?

sodafountain

I cannot remember to this day what the evening service was like, but I do remember our time at this place on the shores of Lake Minnetonka called the “Soda Fountain.”  It was there over ice cream that Randy Heinsch, Dwight Anderson and his brother Duane shared the Gospel of Jesus with me.  The “gospel” means good news.  The good news is this:  Jesus came to give us life.  More than just life.  HE showed us how to live, and then gave us the Holy Spirit to heal us and guarantee us the new heaven and the new earth it talks about in Revelation 21.

Currently, we are hurt and dying.  Spiritually we are already dead, the body is simply following the spirit to its death.  Jesus reverses the spiritual death.  In fact He told us in John 6:63 –

The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Jesus’ words are spirit and life.  Our human effort amounts to nothing in the long run.

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless  (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. – Hebrews 7:18–19

He is not the distant rule enforcer.  He is life giver.  Redeemer.  Forgiver.  Healer.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people…Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. – Titus 2:11–14

He forgives…

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13–14

He heals…

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24

But most of all, He loves.  He IS love.  Would you open your heart and mind and soul to the Giver of life, the Redeemer, He who would love to heal you and forgive you?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us. – 1 John 4:7–10

This is the God I never knew!  It took decades to get to know Him!  You can too!  It starts with a prayer.  The prayer goes something like this….it is not the words that matter, it is the heart’s attitude in the prayer that matters:

Dear God – thank You for loving me.  I am hurting, and I need Your healing.  I am a mess and I need Your forgiveness.  I am dying and I need Your Life to give me life.  Your words are life and I invite You and Your words into my life and I give You total control.  I no longer push You away – in fact I ask that You draw me near to You.  I want to feel Your presence.  I want to live my life Your way from here on out.  Draw me into Your Words that I might know how to do that better I ask in Jesus Name!  Amen!

If you just prayed that prayer for the first time I want you to do 2 things.  1) write down today’s date and time as when you began eternal life.  Today is the day you became a Christian.  Nice!  2) contact me so I can stay in touch with you and help you grow as a Christian.  Life is not meant to live alone.  God made us and designed us to live in community.  So reach out and let me know how you are doing!

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It Took Beluga Whales….

BalugaWhalesI was just about to leave work.  In fact, I had stayed substantially late to finish some things up when the phone rang.  It was my wife’s best friend Sheri headed to church.  She asked if I had left work yet (we all attend the same church).  I told her, “You called me on my office phone, what do you think?”  We both laughed.  She asked “Can you print something for me and bring it over the Single Parents/Single Adults Service?” I said “sure – what?”  “I need a Beluga whale.”   I paused.  “You need a what??”  She replied, “I need a picture of a Beluga whale.”  I smiled and said okay with kind of a half smirk, and told her that I would meet her at church.  So I drove over and met her.  Little did I know how God was at work behind the scenes.  This place we call “Behind the scenes” is what science is blind to.  It is called the Spirit world.

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city.  And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.   -2 Kings 6:15–17

 

Here is where it gets interesting.  I would not normally have gone over to the church on a Monday night.  So the picture above is what I brought to her – thinking three are better than one, right??  Well, along the way, Sheri has picked up a young lady (former student of mine, and now single mom) that lives with her, along with the young lady’s 5 year old son.  I’ll call her Jamie to protect her identity.  Well Jamie was coming to church tonight as well.  She had just given her life to the Lord a few days ago, and was on fire.  Even though she had made a few bad choices – she got back on the horse, and is intending to stay the path with her new found Lord and Savior – Jesus.

 

Well, Jamie decided to bring a friend tonight.  Let’s call her Andrea.  Andrea is also a single mom, but going through a major depression.  She lost her second child at birth a few months ago, and without the Lord, has not been able to see light.  Well, tonight I got to meet Andrea.  I could tell she was seeking, and Jamie confirmed it.  I asked Andrea if she knew the difference between Jesus and religion.  She was unsure, so I told her the difference, and shared John 14:6 with her.  I told her that Jesus was waiting to give her life, and that if she would pray and ask God to forgive her for going her own way instead of God’s way, and that if she would ask Him to come into her heart –  core of her being – that He would also bring life to her.  I shared with her Revelation 3:20 where it talks about the fact that Jesus knocks at the door of our heart and that if we let Him in He will feast with us, and have fellowship with us.  She prayed with tears and intensity.  When we were done, there was a party in heaven in her honor!

 

But it gets better.  The worship was starting in the main auditorium, so I told them all to go int and take part in the worship time.  I had this nefarious plan to sneakily get the two of them Bibles while they were in the worship time.  As I went into the church book store, I asked the lady to show me where the Bibles were, and she asked what kind I wanted.  I told her what had just happened, and with tears in her eyes she said “You look over there for Bibles, I will look over here for some other stuff.”  I found two Bibles the same – some women’s encouragement type of devotional Bibles – something to get them going.  But the lady came back with a CD on grief and loss, and then a special devotional book for mom’s who’ve lost kids, and then another CD on loss as well.  I looked at her and gave her a hug.  She said “This is on the bookstore.  I am gifting it to her.”  Have I said how amazing my church is yet??  Anyway, in perfect timing, the worship time was over, and I brought the girls to the bookstore so they could meet this awesome lady and gave them their treasures.  The bookstore lady gave them both big hugs.  The genuine love kind of hug.  Andrea was in tears of joy.   She couldn’t believe it when  she saw the things in her bag and the love she was experiencing.  She had told me earlier how she needed to pull out of her depression so her daughter of 3 years could see how life is supposed to be.  So the Lord, in His great mercy, brought her to Him tonight, brought her some great resources and a Bible to get to know Him better with.

 

But it gets better.  Their class was going to start any second, so I then sent them to their class they had come to attend.  A class called “Embrace Grace” or something like that.  Wouldn’t you know that the leader of the class on this particular night decided to step aside, and bring in a friend who had lost a child at birth.  She shared how God met her in this very trying time with amazing grace.  Never had this leader done this before…but in this particular evening, the Lord led her to this change of teaching this evening.  Andrea was beside herself. Who could have planned this night with all of its details to come together like clockwork?  Andrea had thought that all of this stuff she was feeling was so abnormal and weird.  Therefore,  she was weird.  Little did she know that she was not alone in these feelings.  Nor was she alone in the Lord.  God surrounded this young lady with a lot of love this evening.  She walked into a church lost, confused, and hurt.  She walked out as a found child of God with life, love, purpose, hope, still some hurt – but healing, and a new clarity in her life.  I am sure she has questions, but she is now in a great place to grow and heal.

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. -2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

Please pray for our new sister in God’s family – Andrea (God knows her real name!) as well as her daughter. And also please pray for Jamie that she would continue to grow in the grace and love of Jesus.


A Pile of Shoes

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Not your typical church service.  But then with God, what is typical?   The lady got up in front of the church and was sharing with the church how she is going to Mozambique again to help her friend for a while.  She wanted to bring a gift to her friend – a practical type of gift.  And as she inquired of the Lord what she should bring, she heard this small voice say “shoes.”  Shoes?  For her?  For others?  Who, Lord??  “Bunches of shoes…”  Okay then!  She didn’t know sizes, types, styles, gender, or anything.  Just shoes.  There was no email, no Facebook post, not even a phone call.  Just this impression in her heart:  “Shoes.”  So she shared with the church that last Sunday she would be there for a while that the Lord laid it on her heart to ask for people to donate shoes, if anybody was willing.  So, at the end of the service, they had a rather strange offering.  People by the scores went up and left their shoes at the altar.  Nice, ugly (those would have probably been mine!), new or used.  The picture above does not do justice.  It was a LARGE pile of shoes and boots.  And, in keeping with “strange” that day, many families went home barefooted!  They literally left their shoes at the altar for unknown people 10,000 miles away – in Mozambique.

 

On the other side of the world, IN Mozambique, the missionary lady was in pain.  She had sickness, she had been digging worms out of the feet of other people for weeks and months.  Even she herself had been hospitalized with the worms.  They were eventually eradicated from the missionary’s body, but her burden of love for these people she was ministering to was to give them something that would prevent them from getting those worms, or getting re-infected with them.  She prayed for shoes.  Sandals.  Boots.  ANYTHING that would prevent these people from getting these worms as they walked around barefooted.

 

And from a small church on the other side of the world, God spoke the answer to the missionary’s prayers, and an entire church heard a  call to leave their shoes at the altar, and a great number did just that, and went home barefoot.

 

When the missionary’s friend arrived in Mozambique, she asked her, “I don’t know why, but I felt the Lord wanted me to bring shoes?”  The missionary broke down and cried.  She had wondered if the Lord had heard her request for shoes.  Would she even get them?  And if so, how?  She had thought about sending out a newsletter, or a Facebook post, but the Lord in His infinite love and sovereign power had beat her to the punch!  “Shoes you want?  Shoes you shall have!”  Box after box after box arrived at the compound in the truck.  The nice thing was that these shoes and boots were already broken in!  People could now walk around in shoes, boots, sandals, anything that fit their feet – and they could avoid a worm infestation in their body that had very painful implications.  How beautiful is the body of Christ!

 

You might ask how I know this story?  Is it one of those “urban legends”?  Well, this last weekend, Sept 21st, I attended a church called  Convergence Church here in South Fort Worth.  Convergence is the church from whence the shoes were donated.  My son is a student at their school of supernatural ministry, and he really wanted me to come and hear Heidi Baker speak there this weekend.  “Heidi Baker??” I asked…I was in like flint!  Heidi was that missionary.  She and her husband had come to the US on their yearly speaking tour and Convergence church was definitely on their  itinerary after the shoe experience.  As she stood in front of Convergence church and started sharing the story of the shoes, she broke into tears, and just stood there.  Tears of thankfulness.  Tears of overwhelming love.  Tears of knowing there is God in heaven who actually hears our cry.   Trying to regain some form of composure standing in front of hundreds.  But she lost it.  Probably 2-3 minutes went by.  It was truly a beautiful time of love being poured out.  Probably not a dry eye in the place.  Love is a powerful thing.  And those shoes are doing a work of love as people wear them over in Mozambique.  I can only imagine what some of the men are wearing.

 

So this is in perfect line with what the Lord has been weighing on my heart these past few years.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

 

So the love is there!  The first question is then why does the world not see it as much as it should?  The second question is how many of us continue block that love?  For years I did that.  I have a trail of damage behind me to prove it.  How many of us have too many layers of paint over the original beautiful wood boards to see the beauty God created in the wood grain?  How many of us let our hurts cover over the love HE poured into our hearts? He doesn’t pour it into our hearts so we can just hang onto it and “feel the love” – it is to become rivers of living water flowing out of us.

 

It is an extravagant love.  As I read Ephesians, I am struck by just how extravagant His love really is!  And it dwells inside of each one of us who call Him our Lord!

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

1 John 4:7-8 says “God IS love”  as true as 4+5 = 9.  God = Love.  If we see God, we are seeing love personified.  IF we have God dwelling in our hearts, then to the extent that we allow Him Lordship over us, we will love.  Truly love.  We will take off our shoes, and go home shoeless so that somebody 10,000 miles away might be blessed to have our shoes by the Love of Jesus.  We will give the person ahead of us in line at the grocery store the extra $1 they need to pay their whole ticket when they come up short.  We will walk up to a perfect stranger at the mall with an injury and offer to pray for healing from them in the love of Christ (Warning!  Healings may occur!)

 

1 John 4:7-8:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

 

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

Go.  Love people in His Name and for HIS Kingdom’s sake.

 

Promises Kept!

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God keeps His promises. He promised! In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:20 says that all of the promises of God find their “Yes” in Jesus. But wait! It gets better! Romans 11:29 says that the gifts (promises at the very least!) and callings of God are irrevocable!

So why is this important? Because back in 1978, right after I gave my life to Jesus, I heard this missionary come speak at our church, and he said that if we felt God was calling us to a life of Christian service, that we should raise our hand and come forward. I did. I had no idea what that would entail, but I did hear an idea in my head that it would be a rather circuitous path for me.

I knew that I would one day be a full time pastor, but also knew that all along the way I was to serve Him wherever and however I could. So I have. I have been Sunday school teacher (in fact when I was a junior in high school I was asked to teach the high school Sunday school class at my small, Minnesota church – and it actually grew!  I had been a Christian for only a year), a youth pastor, worship pastor, band member, and regional pastor – regardless of where I lived. God has seen fit to use me. He does have a sense of humor!

And God has brought some awesome people into my life over the years to mentor me (although they might not say they were mentoring me – I was watching them VERY closely on how to do this thing called life!). The first guy was an engineer from Honeywell named Fred Shemanek, who went to the same church I did – Calvary Memorial. He approached me and asked me if he could disciple me. I had never heard this term before, but said yes anyway, because it meant he would be a friend. We met at his house Saturday mornings. He had me memorize verses – I still know them to this day – Psalm 1, Galatians 2:20, etc.

Then there was the Anderson family. Duane became my best friend through high school. He had a profound impact in my life, but he probably never knew it. They had no idea what they were doing for me, but watching a family interact without yelling at each other while actually being NICE to each other was transforming. They were showing me how to live as normal Christians.  This gave me an operational definition of family.

Then there was the Owens family. I showed up one day after I had broken up with a high school girlfriend, and was a mess. A guy at church told me to go see Art Owens, so I did (this is called “pass the turkey”!). I am sure he was pretty surprised to see me driving up his drive. I still remember our first meeting to this day – he was talking with family members out in the driveway, and when a pause came, came over to where I was and asked me what was wrong. He told me some things (I don’t remember what they were) but then he set aside some time for me to meet with him later in the week. Nothing big. I just had dinner with the family. But his love for Jesus and for the Word of God was clear, and infectious. I became a “back door” friend for years after that. Little did I know how great a man the Lord had dropped into my life. (https://vimeo.com/96339888 )   But his influence, and that of his family would be life changing – lifegiving. We would spend time at their kitchen table playing board games, eating meals, talking, doing life. But always, Art talked about Jesus in what he said and did. How he ran his business – he would say he gave it to God, and that God runs the business. His daughter, Sandi and I would become excellent friends over the years – also a life changing blessing from a loving God.

I would eventually go to St. Paul Bible College (Now called Crown College) and then to Minnesota State in Mankato to major in chemistry, then to the University of Wyoming to finish my degree in chemistry and education  (It was there that I met my wife).  We would then move to Oregon and I eventually found a job teaching at Grace Christian School in Medford. We eventually moved to Texas and I began teaching in public schools – for 25 years.  During that time I also attended the University of Texas at Arlington to do more physics coursework, and finally to the University of North Texas to earn my master’s degree in Educational Administration and then do my PhD coursework in stats. I worked my way up from coach to teacher to assistant principal to principal to central office staff.  But I always had this hunger for something more significant – not that teaching the lives of kids isn’t, but I wanted something where I could have a more direct impact for Jesus. I kept thinking this would be as a lead principal somewhere, but as U2 sang it, never found what I was looking for.  Below is a screenshot of all the places I have applied for a principal job in the past 10 years:

Oh, The Places I've Been!  (or least been asked to interview!)

Oh, The Places I’ve Been! (or least been asked to interview!)

The highlighted places are places I got interviews for. Some even offered me a job, but it would never seem to fit. We finally reserved ourselves to staying in Texas – and at the school district where I was at, and at the church we were at – because we were in a church that was bringing healing to the wounds one picks up in life – a far cry from the others we had been members of during our marriage.

Why do I tell you this seemingly boring story? Because of God’s promise He made to me back in 1978 at that little church called Calvary Memorial. All of this “stuff” was happening as training. God’s training program is always the best, beat seminary by a long shot, and makes you a way better minister of His love and grace.  But is usually takes longer than 2-4 years.  In my case, because I am a bit thick, it took me roughly 30 years.  But this was stuff I could never get in Bible College, or seminary. Not from my master’s or PhD coursework, but from doing life with God, and being sensitive to the people He brought into my life.

That calling He placed on my life in 1978 finally came to fruition in January of this year. I am now a full time associate pastor of staff development for an amazing church in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Everyday I rub shoulders with some of the best and brightest people I’ve ever known – people who serve God with abandon. He DOES keep His promises, on HIS timetable – and they really are irrevocable, even if we forget about them.

Thank you God for bringing the people into my life that you have: Fred Shemanek and his family, Art Owens and his family, the Anderson family, and how could I ever forget the Hankel family – whose mom, Mary Hankel, was my guitar playing and singing and songwriting friend whose whole family loved me deeply through dark times. Isn’t it amazing how our loving God brought musical and guitar playing people into a guitar player’s life!?

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  – 1 Corinthians 12:18

I love you.

False Christs

Try this:  Have a friend who does not know Jesus write down the first 5 words they think of when they think of the name “Jesus.”  What image do they have?  Is it a false Christ?

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.
Matthew 24:23-24

Even the elect?  I’ve always been shocked at that statement!  I guess just because they are “the elect,” does not mean they are infallible, and it does not mean they are “foolproof.”  I’ve seen kids raised in Christian homes join cults…because they didn’t know the real Jesus. My very first teaching job was at a Christian school-replacing the former science teacher who left to join a cult because she didn’t know (so how could she teach?) the real Jesus.  When I was a new Christian, I almost got sucked into a cult because I didn’t know enough about the real Jesus.

This passage is not necessarily about prophecy.  To me, it is about spiritual abuse and wrong teaching.  It is our shepherd teaching us about “stranger danger.”  Ironically, the words “Beware of false Christs” were said by the actual Christ.  Why would He say such a thing?  Because, as the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11

“…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
2 Corinthians 2:11

Schemes?  What schemes?  Well, much like those crazy mirrors in the “house of mirrors” at most carnivals that are designed to make us appear differently – stretch us, shrink us, make us really fat, skinny, and just plain out-of-proportion…Satan tries to do that with peoples’ image of Jesus.  And one of the best ways he does that?  In unhealthy churches.  Peace, be still – I am not going rebel on you!  I am not saying “Don’t go to church!”  I am saying to go to a good church!  A church that preaches the real Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of other peoples’ bad experiences with life.  Just because the speaker is angry, does not mean Jesus is!

When Jesus first began to reveal Himself to you, what was He like?  I can tell you how He FIRST introduced Himself to you because He tells us how He did:

 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  –Jeremiah 31:3 

Let me tell you a cool story I recently witnessed.  Majed El Shafie was a Muslim born in Cairo Egypt.  He was a very rigid man brought up in the custom of Islam and all of its rules and harshness.  He was very well set to rise into the power brokers of Islam with an uncle sitting on the Egyptian Supreme Court, and another uncle sitting as Vice President.  He had a childhood friend born in the same hospital as he, raised in the same neighborhood as he, and attended the same school as he.  They were best friends.  One major difference:  His friend was a Christian.  But Majed never stopped to focus on that.  They were just friends.  They grew up together, laughed together, played practical jokes together, were normal together.  As he grew older he began to notice that people made fun of his friend – Tamir, and were even mean to him.  In college Majed was studying law and had always been curious why Christians were persecuted.  Though his friend Tamir was a Christian, and Majed did not sense any strange things about him – no third eye, no protuding horn, etc.  He wondered what was so bad about them that Islam hated them such, so he asked his best (and Christian) friend.  Tamir gave Majed a book that he said would answer all of Majed’s questions – a Bible.

Truly seeking answers, Majed flipped the book open – you know, one of those “random” opens where nobody knows where it will land.  Of all the places in the Bible where it could open, the Lord made sure it opened to John chapter 8.  The first story ever read by Majed, and the first experience Majed ever had with Jesus was when He encountered the woman caught in the act of adultery.

Majed was spellbound.  He knew rules and laws.  He knew exactly what would happen in Egypt if this were to happen! As he read the passage, he identified with the religious leaders as they waited for judgment to be passed, and the immediate execution of this infidel.  But it didn’t happen!  Majed was shocked by the response of Jesus.  Compassion.  Wisdom.  What sticks out in Majed’s mind is that Jesus told the anxious crowd of religious leaders who were ready to murder, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…” Majed automatically knew that there was only one person in that crowd who was without sin – and He was not casting any stones.

Religion needs stones. Jesus doesn’t use them!

Equally interesting to Majed was the lack of preaching, discipline, or threats by Jesus. He did not force her into slavery, or servitude. No beating (The Koran, in Surah 4:34 says husbands are to beat their wives if they even fear disobedience) No manipulation.  In fact, what Jesus said only takes up a line or two in a Bible,

“Neither do I condemn you.”

Wow.  The last thing Jesus told her was

“Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:11

Of all the ways Jesus would choose to reveal Himself to Majed, it was with that story.  Grace.  Love.  Mercy.  Wisdom.  Peace.  Protection.  Truth.  Forgiveness.

Think about just SOME of the Bible’s names for Jesus found in Isaiah 9:6 – this is OLD TESTAMENT!  You know this passage!  It is the old “For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a Son is given…

And he will be called

  • Wonderful Counselor (you mean He cares enough to help, guide and heal us?)
  • Mighty God (He never backs off of His power – Mighty to save!)
  • Everlasting Father (His love never fails, never give up, never runs out on us!)
  • Prince of Peace (I can think of a lot of titles to put after prince, but peace?  Yep!  He especially loves to take on your life’s storms!)  Then there is this really interesting, seemingly non sequitur word in the next sentence of that passage.  Peace is such an integral part of who Jesus is that it is actually part of His government:

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7

Of the things that God tells us to sing about in the Old Testament, we are told one of them is His love:

I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  Psalm 89:1

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise. Psalm 101:1

It’s kind of a big thing.  Apparently, it is important to Jesus that we know He loves us.  If we are representing anything other than the graceful, loving, merciful, and forgiving Jesus, then we are perpetrating a false Christ, and Jesus tells others to stay away from us!

I think I know what some of you are thinking – “What about when He disciplines us?  He’s kinda mean THEN isn’t he??”  Let’s let the same Bible tell us about God’s discipline:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
Hebrews 12:6-7

The words discipline and love are so close to each other in that sentence they are nearly right next to each other!  His love never goes away – even when He is developing us, and teaching us!  Even when we have messed up!

Rest in the arms of a loving, graceful, merciful, and “in-loving-pursuit-of-you” Jesus!  Ask Him to reveal His true self to you.  He is faithful!

Does Freedom Really Work?

Created by Gateway Church in Southlake, TX

My mother died a few years ago.  Truth be told we parted on not-so-good terms.  One of the last conversations we had ended in a pretty bad argument.  It had been brewing for years.  I had questions.  Why did she continue to marry men who were abusive?  (She and my dad married and divorced each other three different times.)  My dad never changed when I was a child…always the same angry drunk, abusive, into illegal printing of pornography, and all the stuff that goes along with that.  He was arrested in downtown Minneapolis for indecent exposure.  That got OUR family name in the paper – not many people with our last name around.  Suddenly, my friends couldn’t come over to play anymore.  I would call and have to talk to their dads and listen to why my best friends could not come over to my house any more.  I was in third grade, and had no way to process this.  I could go on with stories, but you get the idea.  Then she married Dick, my stepdad, who was also a drunk.  In between the marriages between my dad and then Dick, she slept with truckers who would stop in at her small-town drive-in on the edge of town.  She was only trying to find the love she so desperately needed – that we all so desperately need.Then there was my younger brother.  Molested in the boys restroom at school in the small town of Alden Iowa by some high school boys, he grew up thinking that is what he was brought to earth for – an object of pleasure for others.  He is in an Iowa prison.

I’ll never forget the night that it all came to a head – I, living in TX and my mom living in Iowa.  I am not in any way faultless in this whole thing, I am just sharing a story.  I was struggling to sense of all the pain of my childhood.  I was angry that all of mom’s maternal resources – emotional, caring, time, thoughts, etc.  went to my younger brother who was making choices that he knew were wrong.  I was angry that my mom continued to expose me to abusive situations, never came down to visit me, or her grandchildren.  I lost it with her.  A year later she was dead from cancer.  She never smoked a day in her life, but her lung cancer, I am sure, was from all the smokers that she married.  We did talk a couple of times in between and sort-of patched things up, but my heart was still hurting deeply by some pretty serious mother wounds – that I never admitted existed.  I always kept the strong front.  “Nothing is bothering me.”  I would say she was forgiven, but not really fully explore the pain I had stuffed away, because it was easier to ignore it than to acknowledge it.

When I found out that they were doing Freedom ministry training at church, I was ecstatic and signed up.  My boss was gracious enough to give me the whole week off, so I was set to go!  I know I found a true treasure in the Freedom Ministry at Gateway Church.   I’ve watched people be truly set free from things in a single moment that others have gone through years of counseling to get nowhere with.  A woman set free from a heroin and prostitution cycle with no withdrawal and no relapse (at least for 7 years so far).   A man set free from a 20 year addiction to drinking and drugs and violence.  A woman set free from 11 years of bed-ridden depression.  A 16-year-old girl set free from an eating disorder that took her through 6 of the best treatment centers in the US with no lasting results, but when exposed to the Freedom of Jesus, was set free and is now eating healthy and enjoying a professional career as a counselor.

So, I am at this training and on Tuesday morning, we were doing an exercise where we were to ask God if there was an area in our life where we needed to forgive another person for something.  Not forgiving somebody is one the single largest reasons for people not being able to live in victory in Jesus and living freely.  Forgiveness is freedom, grudges are prison.  Forgiveness is primarily for the victim, not the perpetrator.  I had this little voice in the back of my head say “Your mom.”  I thought to myself, “I’ve already dealt with my mom issues – that stuff is done.”  I felt the impression again – “your mom, and you are denying it.”  I said “No I’m not!”  We were going to take a break, and were going to come back and go through another exercise.  As we were breaking, a kind woman came up and said these words to me, “Can I be a mother to you?”  I kinda froze, hoping things weren’t going to get weird in public….but all she did was straighten my collar, then give me a hug.

Oh, great!  Here we go!  That “small act” took perhaps 3 or 4 seconds.  But in those few seconds, God spoke to me volumes, memories and feelings and demonstrated that I still carried around in my mind and heart something I had absolutely no business carrying. Unforgiveness.  Hurt.  Pain.  Death.  It was gunk – pure and simple.  Kinda like the leftover parts from a science lab on dissection.  What was I going to do with it plant a garden?  Develop a new line of aromatic Potpourri?  I had an unforgiving spirit, and hurt and pain – a major infection of the spirit and soul that was oozing puss and “icky stuff” – and in my great intelligence and wisdom I had convinced myself was not really there.

Really?

Scripture is really clear. Remember the story about the guy who was forgiven a great sum of money that he could not repay to his master, but then turned around and demanded a friend of his pay him back the $5 he was owed, and when his friend couldn’t repay him, had him thrown into jail? The man’s original master who had forgiven him the great sum of money did not take really kindly to that.

In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”   –Matthew 18:34-35

Wow!  You mean that my spiritual struggles that I have been unable to break free from are possibly, maybe, perhaps due to the fact that I have this grudge I am hanging onto?  But my mom is dead!  Perhaps that will get me off the hook?  The Lord was really clear.  “How has that worked for you so far dude?”  He had a point.  Why I would choose infection over wellness is beyond me, but I had been doing that.  But now in a second – a lightning flash – the Lord had spoken truth through a simple act of love that was undeniable.

I went into the hall, found a corner to cry in, and then forgave my mom.  I then asked God’s forgiveness for refusing to listen to Him, and told Him I chose His forgiveness for my mom, and that I also forgave her.  When a little girl’s abusive and alcoholic dad commits suicide when she is young, it has an impact on her and her future family.  I understood.

Mom, I love you.  I am sorry for the pain YOU had as a little girl.  Jesus was there.  Did you know He was?  Thank you for trying the best you knew how to raise us kids.  I am glad that now you are experiencing the true, pure, and consuming love from the true Father in heaven.  As I write this in Gateway’s coffee shop, ironically, the song playing is Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine.”  I am glad you are finally free and living in the love you were designed for.  Save me a place!

-Your son

Rick

(P.S. Thank you lady who straightened my collar and allowed God to use you as my surrogate mom for 4 seconds…you were used, and you were successful in being used!)

My Son…

One of the great evils I have seen is when a man earns great wealth through hard work and sacrifice (that is not the evil part yet!), and then he has children (still not evil yet!), and as the children grow up, they inherit all the father’s wealth without ever having to develop a work ethic (bingo – that is the evil part!).   I know that as a dad myself, I have worked hard to get where I am, and would love for my son to have better than I had growing up.  But I cannot forget what got me to where I am – hard work, and I cannot deprive my son of learning this blessing.

I have this friend who is very wealthy.  He was raised in LA (Lower Alabama) – probably somewhere near Forrest Gump.  His daddy always made him work.  They were not rich, and so if they wanted something, they had to work for it!  As my friend grew up, he became a very successful musician.  He now lives in a neighborhood where all of his neighbors have their lawns mowed.  Every weekend, these little trucks drive up with all of their mowers, edgers, and other miscellaneous machinery, and after a few pops and spins the lawns are all done and spotless – except my friend’s lawn.  He can still hear his daddy’s words, “Son!  Get off your butt! We got work to do – and yer burnin’ daylight!  And If you think somebody else is going to do it for you then they’ll also take yer money!”

Death by sweat as he remembers it.  So every weekend, my friend mows his half-acre of lawn – just he and his son.  They save money, but even more important, his son learns a work ethic. His neighbors think they are strange.  While my friend and his son call this rewarding work, other people would call this undue suffering.  “Why suffer when you can have someone else do it?”

Suffering is not a welcomed idea in this society.  Counseling and psychotherapy has grown exponentially over the past few decades as we try to alleviate our pain and suffering.  In most weight rooms, there is this poster which says: “Strength = stress x reps”  (the more we lift weights in repetition, the more we build our strength.).  Yet, somewhere, we have gotten it in our heads that work = suffering, and suffering = evil, which must be avoided at all cost.  Even as Christians, we would much rather focus on the promise of God rather than the suffering of God.  Suffering is just for missionaries, right?  I don’t know, one of my former students is a missionary in Fiji.  She “suffers” daily from over exposure to the beach, the weather, and the people she and her family lead to Jesus.  No, suffering is not just for missionaries….

The Bible has some things to say about all of this.  Jesus Himself said,

“If the world hates you, you should realize that it hated me before you.”  – John 15:18

This world, run by the evil one makes no bones about it – It hates Jesus – it has since Satan was banished.  So, Satan’s goal is to make it as difficult as possible for Christ followers.  Jesus goes on to say,

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

So, in spite of the suffering, we WILL overcome (Thank you Jesus!).  We have a promise.  God has given us a promise, but He also has a will for us.

Here is where the confusion comes in…perhaps I can clarify.  The promise of God is not the will of God!  The promise is for inspiration. The will is for doing.  You can only do His will, you cannot do His promise.  But again, people get confused.  If we subject His promise to our will, we will birth an Ishmael.  Isn’t that what happened with Abraham?  He was given a promise, and after a promise is given, we are to act in such a way as to align ourselves with that promise.  Abraham messed up.  He received the promise, and didn’t act in line with that promise.  He birthed an Ishmael.  The world has suffered ever since.

We all birth Ishmaels.  Some are greater than others, and some last longer than others.  Lesson learned:  Good motives do not justify bad actions.

Is this scriptural, or am I just pulling your leg?  Well, let’s consult scripture:

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” – Hebrews 10:36

That journey between the promise given and the promise received is called process, also known as God’s will.  That is where we line up with the promise given.  There are no shortcuts to a promise, only willful obedience to His will.  This process invokes suffering – the suffering Jesus talked about in John. Doing God’s will inevitably causes suffering, so the question is will we suffer successfully?  Jesus said something interesting:

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34

Notice how doing God’s will is associated with work?

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in (not for) our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3–4

The goal of Christianity is not to live pain-free; it is to become Christ-like.  Jesus did not avoid pain.

Everybody wants to be led by the spirit until we sense where the Spirit is leading us(to do God’s will) – then we bail trying to find spiritual heroin.  In actuality, Pain is not our enemy; it is only proof that one exists.

Even Jesus did not sidestep pain or the process of doing His Father’s will:

 “Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he learned obedience by what he suffered.” –Hebrews 5:8

Oh Shiney!

In order for a glow stick to shine it must be broken on the inside.

There are some things in life I’d just as soon not know. Knowing it just hurts  I have friends who know this fact even more than me.  I guarantee they would just as soon not know.  But knowing makes you all the deeper, all the more real, all the more able to be used, all the more stronger.  I bring three pieces of evidence to the courtroom of the public opinion today:

1) Shari Smith.  2 days before her high school graduation, her father, the pastor of the church in their town, was looking out of the window of his study  as his daughter drove up their driveway, get out of the car and check the mail.  He went back to studying.  A few moments later, he looked up again to see her car still in the driveway with the door open, and car running, but she was gone.  To make a long story short, she was abducted, raped, and murdered by Larry Gene Bell.  This case has been featured on TV in both Forensic Files and The FBI Files.  Before her life was taken from her, her killer gave her a choice in how to die, and then had her write her last will and testament.  What would you write?  If you knew you were about to die?  What would you want people to know?  Here is what she wrote, as recorded on her sister’s website:

I love you Mommy, Daddy, Robert, Dawn & Richard (her boyfriend) and everyone else and all other friends and relatives. I’ll be with my Father now, so please, please don’t worry.  Just remember my witty personality & great special times we all shared together.  Please don’t even let this ruin your lives, just keep living one day at a time for Jesus.  Some good will come out of this.  My thoughts will always be with you & in you.  Casket closed.

(After a personal note to Richard, Shari continues.) Mom, Dad, Robert & Dawn, there’s so much I want to say that I should have said before now.  I love y’all! I know ya’ll love me and will miss me very much, but if ya’ll stick together like we always did – ya’ll can do it! Please do not become hard or upset.  “Every thing works out for the good of those that love the Lord” (Romans 8:28). (http://www.dawnsmithjordan.com/article_ROC.php)

Incredible words and perspective for an innocent 18-year-old girl about to die.  I want to focus on her family.  What are they to believe?  How is dad to go on pastoring his church?  Believe me, I know I am treading on holy ground here, and I do not look at any of this flippantly – I have the utmost of respect for this family.  They press on because God gives the grace and the power to do so.  They did not give up, nor did they shrink back.  Could God have prevented this all?  You bet!  Here is where I lose a lot of people:  God had bigger things in store that day, and in the days to follow.  The death of this beautiful young lady has touched more people than her life ever could  have.  God maximized her life through her death.  Yet in this plan, her family would hurt and have to suffer much pain.  However, unless we are broken, we cannot shine His glory.  His glory brings healing to people, and it transforms us all if we let it.  I, for one, choose to not let her death be in vain.

2.  Maria Chapman.  I was surfing through YouTube trying to find a certain song when my favorite musician showed up on James Robison’s show.  I watched it with tears streaming down my face.  Here is the link to the episode:  http://lifetoday.tv/swf/2010/03/100304.htm.  Steven Curtis Chapman is a man among men.  Who can lose his daughter and press on to serve God and actually write and sing songs about it without breaking down in tears every time?  Steven is every bit of a dad I would ever hope to be – a man of God, and accomplished musician.  Yet, I again would say that God’s plan included pain, that He would heal, but was necessary for the furtherance of His glory and to bring people to Him in such a way that could never have happened through Maria’s life.  He maximized her life through her death.  But in the process, her family hurt.-But unless we are broken inside, we cannot shine.  God’s plan was for HIS glory to be shown that day and for many millions of people following the story to be touched and drawn to Him.  I would not wish the story to be replicated in anybody’s life.  I understand the pain – from a distance.  Again, I choose to let her death not be in vain.

3. Eva.  I have a dear friend who suffered the loss of her mother years ago to suicide.  A tragic loss.  Made more tragic by the consistent impact it has had on those this mother left behind – one of those people being my friend whom I’ll call Eva.  Eva also is a mother, who is trying to minimize the damage of such an act to her children – who loved their grandmother.  Eva has struggled with this suicide for years now since it happened.  Just a few days ago she received a message from a fiend of hers who had battled depression for years.  Little did Eva know that her friend had also seriously considered suicide.  But her friend chose not to.  Why?  because she saw the damage it caused Eva’s family, and she in no way wanted to perpetuate this legacy to her children and loved ones, so she is alive today, and after years of Eva struggling to know “why” finally got at least one reason, so another entire family would be torn up. We cannot shine until we are broken inside.

There are varying levels of brokeness.  Joseph struggled under great brokeness after his own brothers left him for dead in a pit.  Yet, years later he would again see those same brothers.  Would he exact revenge?  Should he?  I know he struggled with it, yet scripture reveals this mighty truth that Joseph told his brothers:

 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.   Genesis 50:19-20

It is really muddy waters when a person tries to declare if God did something or not.  I am not implying God caused harm to any of the people mentioned above.  I do know this:  He could have prevented it, but chose not to.  WHy?  Don’t know, except this is part of it:  the 50:20 principle.  Genesis 50:20.  A little girl about to be murdered also said the same thing when she wrote Romans 8:28 in her last will and testament.

Let me close with this story:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:1-7

If you have pain today, submit it to Jesus.  He desires to heal it, but He also wants to use it.  He will meet you there.  Invite the Holy Spirit into the pain and into the source of the pain.   This same Jesus who suffered even to death Himself, “also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6)

Our bodies are made of clay, yet we have the treasure of the Good News in them. This shows that the superior power of this treasure belongs to God and doesn’t come from us….God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, and we know that God will also raise us with Jesus….All these things are for you. And so the grace of God that is being given to more and more people will bring increasing thanks to God for his glory. So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day.  We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.
18  We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

To those who have suffered loss, my deepest condolences go to you.  If you will email me, I would like to pray for you in your loss that Jesus will help you make sense of it all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ4hgnfhRvY

What Day Is It?

Today

As Long As It Is Called Today

The men had all lined up to go back to their cells.  Men had gotten baptized that morning in the Coffield Prison in Tennessee Colony, Texas.  Largest prison in Texas with over 5,000 men in it.  About 300 of them had come forward that morning for prayer and ministry. Their desire is to reach out to their fellow inmates.  Some came for prayer.  Some were broken-hearted about family issues back home, that they can do nothing about.  Some needed to give their lives to Jesus, and came forward to do just that.  I had just spoken on the real reason Jesus came to Earth – not to change our behavior (although that tends to happen when we walk with Him!), and not to make bad people good (although that tends to happen as well!)…but to give dead people life.  That is what He Himself told us!

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

My brother in ministry, Leonard, had given the altar call.  Who’da thought that some white kid born into a house of poverty in a trailer house in Iowa and a black kid raised in inner city Cincinnati by his grandma would one day meet and become good friends, and then become co-laborers in ministry both at the large Texas high school where they worked and the prison where they frequented. God is awesome like that!

Anyway, the men  who were baptized had all gotten their certificates of baptism as they lined up to return to their cells.  I saw one man – in his late 50s – to the side with tears streaming down his face.  I walked over to him as he was looking at his certificate of baptism.  I asked him if everything was okay.  They were tears of joy.  He told me that he had NEVER been recognized for anything (positive) in his life – not at school, not at church, not on the job, not in his community, not by his mom or dad growing up – until today.  He had just received a certificate of baptism.  Not only was it recognition, but he viewed it as coming from God.  God approved of him.  It overwhelmed him, and he could hardly contain it.  Late 50s.  Prison.

On the 2 hour drive home I could not shake that experience. Leonard and I spoke about it.  A verse came to my mind from Hebrews.

“Instead, continue to encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

I wondered if that man may have been steered from prison had homebody in his life found goodness in him, or helped him find what he was good at, and spoke into his life.  I’ll bet so!

Then my mind wandered to those people God has placed into my life.  Last time I looked at a calendar, today was still called “Today,” and scripture is quite clear!  As long as it is called “Today,” I am to be an encourager.  Kids need it!  Adults need it!  People who work under you need it!  Perfect strangers need it.

Today, my challenge to you is simple:  find somebody to encourage, and tell them how you see God in them, or tell them how something they did really blessed you, or tell them that you just appreciate them and are thankful they are in your life.  I have this folder in a drawer that is full of cards of appreciation or thanks that people have given me over the years.  I read them when I need to be reminded from time to time that I am appreciated. But I have found that I am not alone in this!  I know everybody has the same need.  The world has a way of wearing us down.  God wants us to build each other up!

You may commence to encouragin’!

You are Free to Move About!

I received an email from a Sunday School class today that posed an excellent question: “When was the last time the Word of God changed you??”   What a great question!  Recently, God has been showing me things that will combine several verses that are all scattered throughout my brain from years of unorganized storage – kind of ADHD-ish.  I see an event, and all sorts of related scriptures start to jump to the forefront of my brain.  As this increased, I started this blog that is kind of like a devotional.  I figured it was happening for a reason!  I do need to stay up with it more often, but when something “Clicks” in my feeble brain, God wants me to write about it so others can be blessed by it (at least that is my hope!)

Most recently (Saturday night and Sunday), God blessed me right in the middle of a lesson I was teaching to 5th and 6th graders.  I was teaching on the armor of God – a unit called “Armed and Dangerous!”   We spoke of the two pieces called “feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace” and the “shield of faith.”  I asked them to tell me why they thought  the “feet fitted” part was listed as a piece of armor.  Then it hit me – feet take us places, so we need to have shoes/sandals.  In the battle we are in, our feet take us behind enemy lines to go to captives, share the gospel and let Jesus set them free.  WE are the ones who take the gospel – the good news – the good message that Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4:17-21,

“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The last words Jesus told us were the great commission in Matthew 28:

“Go…”

It’s one of those common sense things:

“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?   And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?   And how are they to hear without someone preaching [the “GO” part!]? (Romans 10:13-15)

…that requires feet.  These feet –  fitted with the same stuff Roman soldiers had, spiritually speaking – were spiked on the bottom, much like modern football cleats.  SO, they help to make sure that each step counts.  That you can stand your ground and not slip.  You can be pushed and not budge.  Our weapon is that we take the gospel into enemy territory, share it with captives, let Jesus set them free, and bring them back over to God’s Kingdom of love.  Here is a great example of using our feet to invade the enemy’s camp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p3H8BDF1Gk  We often have heard that the sword is the only offensive weapon in this listing of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18, but I believe the feet that are fitted with the gospel of peace are even a greater weapon!

Now the Shield.  As I had been preparing for that lesson on Friday, my mind went back to a movie clip with a great scene about shields… it is a great YouTube clip to be sure (now the entire movie has some things that probably should not be shown to people – I wished I had known that before watching it  in theaters)!  I did not show the clip to the classes because I did not want the kids to figure out what movie it came from, and then go watch it without mom and dad’s permissions….The main part is about 50 seconds into this clip.

Ephesians 6 talks about the “day of evil”…and this clip shows a great “day of evil” scene – reminding me that sometimes, when the stream of “attacks” (the black cloud of attacking arrows approaching in this picture!) seems to never end, all we can do is get behind our shield of faith that says, “Regardless of what happens, by faith I believe that God is good, He will not rip me off, and I am more than a conqueror through Jesus…” and wait for the storm to pass… to hide behind our shield  – to “stand” – “and when you have done everything – to stand.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll37USUoiM0

God often said these kinds of words to his people in the OT:

And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. – 2 Chronicles 20:15

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:17

Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes… – Deut. 1:29-30

… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.” – 1 Samuel 17:46-47

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7

So we can claim what Hebrews tells us:

“…my righteous one shall live by faith…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” – Hebrews 10:39

Go take up the battle!  Preach the Gospel!  Stand, and don’t let the enemy move you!