Saturday, September 20, 2014

"You Gotta Know When To Hold Them, Know When To Fold Them..."

by John Stallings


If you like to read cartoons you’ll probably be familiar with the character Pigpen from Peanuts.

Pigpen always had a cloud of dust spinning around him. It seemed as if he didn’t do anything to cause it… it didn’t require any effort on his part to create the cloud; he didn’t even seem to be aware of the dust. The cartoon and the character Pigpen wouldn’t have been the same without that dust cloud.

Have you ever met a dusty Christian? I have. As a matter of fact I’ve been a little dusty myself from time to time. Of course we’re not talking about actual dust here, but the residue that can stick to us as we move through the experiences of life.

In Matthew 10:14, Jesus gave some superb advice to His followers when they were faced with those who didn’t embrace their message. He told them as they went to spread the good news, not to waste time or get involved in a debate, but to just “shake the dust off your feet” and move on to the next house or village.

This statement of Jesus to His disciples is one of the most amazing statements He ever made. Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be “Pigpens” going around all dusty.

To put it practically, Jesus knew that the best they could do wouldn’t always be enough so if they didn’t receive a welcome or a hearing in a place, if they “hit a brick wall,” they shouldn’t keep beating their heads against the wall, but rather, dust themselves off and move on. You will make mistakes. Some folk will reject you. You’ll say the wrong thing on occasion. You’ll come up against something called “other peoples problems." You can’t do anything about that so don’t make it your problem.

You can go down to the 7/11 and buy several baby pacifiers; put them in people’s mouths and they still won’t like you. If you’ve given it all you’ve got and it still didn’t work, instead of breaking into tears, instead of moaning the blues, “get outta Dodge.” If you hang around and have a crying jag because of a lack of decent treatment, those tears are going to make mud out of the dust at your feet and mud is harder than dust to shake off.

There are some of us who don’t know when to quit. I tend to have this problem where certain things are involved. I remember learning to water ski when I was sixteen. I have looked back over the years with amazement at the good man who was driving the boat that day. I know it took at least twenty tries before I could get up on the skis. That takes a lot of time not to mention fuel. With the patience of that brother driving the boat and the grace of merciful God I finally quit plowing water and stood up on the skis. Neither the boat driver nor I were willing to give up and I finally succeeded but I pushed around a lake full of water in the process.

Some of us will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid failure. I saw a funny carton once showing a man standing in front of his boss’s desk holding his hat in his hands. The caption read, “Fired? Does that mean I don’t get the raise?” There are times when persistence becomes an obsessive-compulsive issue.

So Jesus’ advice to dust off our feet will help us when we encounter unpleasant situations in life. If we’re not careful, we’ll carry the dust of past experiences into every situation we face and instead of our days being fresh and new we’ll be choking on the dust of the past.

Kenny Rogers had it right; “You gotta know when to hold them, and know when to fold them.”

There are five types of dust God wants us to shake off. First there is the dust of;

1. REPRESSION

Repression has to do with experiences that are pushed down into our sub-conscious minds. This is dust of painful emotions, or memories that have been repressed.

The things that we’ve repressed or pushed down are like the bottom part of an iceberg. 90% of an iceberg is invisible beneath the waterline. We push those painful memories down and about the only time they come out is when we have crazy dreams. I don’t mean to imply that all dreams are crazy but some of them are “pinto dreams” brought on by eating too many beans too close to bed time.

Dust represents the past. Obviously we can’t live in the moment if we’re carrying around the dust of past hurts and rejections. You will no doubt remember that dust has been used in the Bible to represent many things.

Genesis 2:7 tells us that God fashioned man out of the dust of the earth.
Psalms 103:13 reminds us that God “remembers that we are but dust.”
Ecclesiastes 3:20 says “we came from dust and to the dust we’ll return.”
Ecclesiastes 12: 7 again tells us that “we’ll go back to the dust but our spirits will return to the God who made us.”

 In ancient times when people mourned, they would put ashes on themselves, that’s why in Job 42:6, he tells us he repented in dust and ashes.

Not only is dust referred to in the Bible, we who live in 2014 still use it in clich├ęs to illustrate experiences we face in life. We say; “Another one bites the dust” and “wait till the dust settles,” “I’m not trying to throw dust in your eye,” and sometimes a fight is called a “dust-up.”

ONE SQUARE INCH OF HUMAN SKIN

I’m told that one square inch of human skin contains;

19 million cells,
65 hairs,
19 feet of blood vessels,
19 thousand sensory cells,
And 20 living animals.

That’s right, there are 20 microscopic bugs living on every square inch of our skin called “dust mites.” Did you know that 75% of the dust in your house is dead human skin? Now that’s gross.

A little boy was told by his Sunday School teacher that God made man from the dust of the earth. Not long afterward he went to a funeral and heard the preacher say-“ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,” telling the people that we came from dust and at death we returned to dust. The next day the boy called his mother into his room. He held up his bed-spread and pointed to the dust under the bed and said, “Momma, there’s someone under my bed who’s either coming or going.”

Some experiences are so traumatic we put them away where we aren’t able to retrieve them at will, so that they become information that we don’t have ready access to. Have you ever been in a situation that was so painful you can’t pull it back and have almost no recollection of it? Car wrecks and other serious accidents can be in that category for some people. A person can be involved in a physical altercation and be struck several blows, and be stunned when they look in a mirror at the marks on their face and body. It’s not that it wasn’t painful; the point is it was so painful they repressed it.

Make no mistake; even though we may have repressed the painful experience, it can still remain with us as “dust.” Our brain has the capability to store 15 trillion memories, most of which we aren’t consciously aware of.

AT PEACE WITH OUR PAST

God doesn’t want us to live our lives looking in the rearview mirror so we need by His grace to shake off the repressed dust of our past. Then we need to shake off the dust of;

2. REGRETS AND REMORSE

In 1 Samuel 16:1, King Saul had died and the prophet Samuel was still mourning his passing. God asked the prophet, -- “How long are you going to mourn for Saul?” God is saying, just how much of your precious time are you planning to put into this, when I had rejected Saul anyway? Fill your horn of oil and get moving. You have work to do because there’s a future king at the house of Jesse and your next assignment is to go anoint David one of his sons to be Israel’s future king.

Psalms 30:5 says;

weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.

We need to shake off the dust of regret about what we may have done or not done. Or maybe we need to shake off the dust of what another person has done to us.

Martin Luther told the story of how God used his wife to help him shake off a spirit that had stolen his joy. Morning after morning his wife would come to breakfast dressed all in black. She’d serve him his breakfast with her “funeral face” on. After a few days of this, Luther asked his wife why she was dressing in black. She answered, “Well, you’ve been coming to the table each morning acting like God is dead so I just thought I’d dress for the occasion.”

George W. Truett pastored the First Baptist Church in Dallas the first half of the twentieth century. One day when he was first called to pastor the church, he and a much loved church deacon went hunting. Deep in the woods as they were trying to get over a barbed wire fence, Truett’s gun accidentally discharged instantly killing his friend. Though it was an accident and everyone knew it and readily forgave him, Truett was so devastated because of what he’d done it was unclear for a number of months if he would even be able to remain in the ministry.

Truett referred to the incident many times throughout his life. One night in the depths of despair, Jesus visited him in his bedroom. He never related all that happened or all Jesus said but it must have been a wondrous visitation. Truett emerged from the depression that had enveloped him to pastor his church until his death nearly fifty years later. During those years the church grew to be the largest church in the world at that time. This church stands as a memorial to God’s power to help a broken man shake off the dust of regret and remorse. Then God wants us to shake off the dust of…

3. RUIN

The book of Lamentations is a book of dirges and mourning written against the backdrop of the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. The war wagons of Babylonia had plowed this city under reducing it to a vast gravel plain, even razing the temple. In this little book we can see the awful suffering endured by the people of that city at the hand of their enemies.

The writer of the book of Lamentations is believed to be Jeremiah. You’ll remember that he was the weeping prophet. To be frank, Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet of nothing but judgment. He accepted his calling with reluctance. He was forbidden to marry so that he could be a full time prophet of doom. Jeremiah was “a man of constant sorrow” and wept openly about the sins of his people. Of course the fact that his message went unheeded so long probably added to his depression. In a ministry that spanned some 50 years, there is no record of even one convert.

King Zedekiah didn’t appreciate Jeremiah’s ministry as witnessed by the fact that while the city of Jerusalem was under attack he was sitting in jail. It would seem that Jeremiah had his own “dust cloud.”

But the wonderful thing about this story is that even after enduring a life of rejection, hatred, being mocked, imprisoned, ignored, after seeing his beloved Jerusalem ransacked, desecrated and destroyed; after experiencing the horror of war, the brutality of the enemy and pangs of hunger, Jeremiah was still able to stand in the midst of the rubble of the city and the bodies of the dead and lift his voice in praise to God for His great unfailing faithfulness to His people.

Somewhere during all of this carnage Jeremiah “shook off the dust” of ruin and got a glimpse of just who God is and how great He is. Were it not for Jeremiah shaking off that dust, we wouldn’t have the great song we sing,-“Great is thy faithfulness.” He wrote those words in Jeremiah 3:21.

Like Jeremiah, you and I go through times when life seems to fall apart at the seams. It’s during these times that we can read Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations and see overwhelming the evidence of the unchanging faithfulness of our great God.

BALANCING THINGS OUT

In the interest of balance let me say that some people move on prematurely. Let’s don’t spin Jesus’ words to mean we should quit at the first rifle- crack of opposition. At the first sign of opposition or disagreement some folk have a “knee jerk” reaction and skip-town. “If the boss is going be like that, I quit! If things go south on me I’ll find a new job, a new spouse and a new church if I have to.

We should examine ourselves in those situations and if our foot-dusting is giving us too much satisfaction, maybe we dusted ourselves off too soon and for the wrong reasons. Sometimes persistence is called for. Jesus told many stories emphasizing that sometimes the wise thing to do is to keep knocking. But non-the-less what Jesus is saying here is; blessed is the person who knows when to quit. Next, we should shake off the dust of…

4. REJECTION AND RIDICULE

Rejection is one of the cruelest tools people use on one another. There’s no more brutal weapon. I don’t do rejection well, because I want everyone to like me. This seems to be a fairly universal feeling. Rejection says-in so many words—“You are worthless. You aren’t even worth the air you’re breathing. I wish you’d get out of my face and out of my sight because I can’t stand looking at you. You make no more impression on me than a bum stumbling down the street so please just go! I don’t know who you think you are but you and your opinions mean less to me than a gnat buzzing around my face.” Now most people don’t actually use these words when they reject someone but that’s how it comes across to the rejected person. Do you see why I say rejection is so brutal?

On the other hand some people don’t care what anybody thinks about them nor do they care about anyone else’s opinions. I would submit that these people have a whole different set of psychological problems.

I’ve shared this before but as a young preacher there were times I felt like quitting because I couldn’t stand the look a few people would have on their faces while I preached. I finally got the victory over it because I finally learned that most folk who have a perpetual frown on their face have it because they’ve held their face that way so long it’s frozen in place.

Jesus Himself was no stranger to rejection. When He visited His home town those who’d grown up with Him were incredulous. They took offense at Him and Jesus was taken-aback at their reaction. [Mark 6:3] When He left that town He just shook the dust of His feet and never returned.

The Apostle Paul was more or less rejected by the church at Corinth. The congregation there thought nothing of comparing him unfavorably to other teachers more to their liking. Paul made allowances for our limitations when he compared us to earthen vessels that God has chosen to use to store the treasure of the gospel.

Sometimes we just have to shake off rejection and move on, reminding ourselves that we’re “accepted in the beloved.” Lastly we need to shake off the dust of…

5. RESENTMENT AND ANGER

Have you ever been in a group of people who were sharing their favorite verse of scripture? I can tell you a passage of scripture that you’ve never heard mentioned in that category. Here it is, spoken by Jesus…

Matthew 5:29–30 says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Are these verses figurative or literal? I can assure you that these verses are figurative; otherwise, this message would be a case of the blind leading the blind. If you were to gouge out your right eye and chop off your right hand, the problem remains. You would still ogle with your left eye and misbehave with your left hand. Cutting off your hand or plucking out an eye doesn’t keep you from committing mental adultery. So should you pluck out your left eye?

Take a look around the storehouse of your mind and see if you can locate a resentment. It will be old and ugly but don’t let that fool you; it’s still very much alive.

Do you feel a little hostility toward someone for an action or a word that hurt you or maybe something that should have happened that didn’t? Or maybe you have resentment toward a person because of who that person is. Resentments are very resilient die-hards and can survive on very little. They can thrive in darkness or light. Often resentments are present even when people aren’t consciously aware of them and they grow like one of those monster pumpkins with roots running deep.

Recently I heard a team of doctors discussing cancer. They said that a cancerous tumor has such a voracious appetite that it steals energy from its host. That explains why people with cancer can be losing weight eating the same amount of food. Resentment, like a tumor drains away energy, takes away life and makes us exist on a different, lower level. Resentment crowds out what really belongs to us. What Jesus is talking about is-rather than actually cutting off body parts, - that for some things to be removed from us is terribly hard, even almost impossible.

To get rid of some things in our lives is like “spiritual surgery.” Resentment can become such a part of us that its removal amounts to a loss like amputation. Resentment can be so much a part of a person it can actually define their personality. If that’s so and it is, then removal of resentment can actually temporarily lead to a sense of loss of identity. To give it up can be as spiritually painful as physical amputation.

There’s no way we can bring resentments along with us into God’s kingdom. Heaven will consist of “spiritual amputees” whose anger and resentments have been removed. Giving up resentment will seem like at the time the most unnatural, self-destructive thing we can imagine. Forgiveness, in some respects, for some things can be almost as great a miracle as walking on the water, yet to gouge it from our lives is necessary to spiritual health. One reason anger and resentment must be dealt with [before sundown] is that; these two bad boys are famous for MUTATING into something uglier.

HERE’S WHY WE MUST SHAKE OFF THE DUST OF OUR RESENTMENTS…

Have you ever spent time in the company of a resentful person? It’s awful, it’s sad, it’s upsetting and it’s depressing. What would be really sad would be to be that person oneself, then you could never escape the company of a resentful person. What these folk are like is simple, they keep talking about things that happened years ago and you can tell they’re “feeling it.”

Have you ever been around a health clinic or hospital and seen a special waste container labeled BIOHAZARD? Into this contained are put items that present a health threat to anyone who comes in contact with them. Imagine with me now another kind of BIOHAZARD. Into this container goes anything that represents a threat to our soul’s health, whether it be-Repression, Rejection, Ruin, Regrets, or Resentment.

The question becomes; are we willing to take the action of putting all the dust of the past and present into this container intended for dangerous spiritual waste and give it all to God?

God will gladly accept these ugly offerings because He knows that in their place won’t be a gaping wound, but will become the site of renewed spiritual health and vitality.



Blessings,



John

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...

By John Stallings

 At the beginning of the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a scroll reveals that the wicked queen daily consults her magic mirror asking, "Magic mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?" Ominously, the scroll reveals that as long as the mirror names the queen, Snow White is safe.


The queen lives in a large stone castle that sits high atop a mountain. Her magic mirror hangs in a dungeon-like room with large pillars and ornate carvings. As the queen approaches the mirror to get her daily dose of affirmation, she summons the specter that has always and faithfully identified her as "the fairest one of all." An inferno billows within the mirror and gives way to a ghostly face. The beautiful but wicked queen inquires, "Magic mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?"

The mirror responds, "Vain is your beauty, majesty. But, oh, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is fairer than thee."
The queen's face contorts and her eyes burn with anger. How could a maid, dressed only in rags, compare to the regal beauty of the queen? "Reveal her name!" demands the queen. The mirror tells the queen the name of Snow White. "A lash for her!" hisses the queen.

Though she is a beautiful queen surrounded by royalty, her envy of Snow White consumes her. From that moment forward the queen seeks to destroy Snow White. The queen commands an aide to take Snow White into the woods and kill her, returning only with her heart. When this doesn't work, the queen attempts to kill Snow White by giving her a poison apple. 

Ultimately, the queen perishes while fleeing the scene of the crime. She is destroyed by envy.

MIRRORS

Every morning when I get up I go through all my morning rituals; a cup of coffee, a shower and shave, and maybe a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast. And before I set foot out of the house I've looked at my mirror once or twice to make sure everything looks okay (or, at least, as well as can be expected!) 

Some spend a lot longer time in front of the mirror than others, combing their hair until it’s just right; putting on make-up, checking for blemishes, shaving, and so on. Others take a quick look, pat down any unruly hair and walk on.

The mirror always tells the truth.


If you’ve sprouted a few more gray hairs – it won’t be shy about telling you. If you have bags under your eyes – it will come right out and show them to you in their full glory. If you have put on weight – it won’t beat around the bush by telling you how great you look. It comes right out with it and shows you in glorious detail the extra bulges.


The mirror doesn’t spare our feelings. It doesn’t gloss over our defects and tell us we’re better looking than we really are. In fact, the closer we get to the mirror, the more it reveals what we’re really like.

So why do we have mirrors in our homes, if they’re only going to depress us? As unpleasant as it may be to confront our own faces first thing in the morning, we know that if we don’t take a look at ourselves, and make some major adjustments, the rest of the world is going to see that morning face!
A billionaire and a pauper could stand before a mirror and both would get equal treatment…the truth!


So we figure, it’s better to "face" the truth, and make the changes that are necessary to become presentable.

IN THE LETTER FROM PASTOR JAMES, GOD’S WORD IS COMPARED TO A MIRROR

In chapter 1: 22-25 we read…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
The mirror [God’s Word] always speaks the truth. It tells us clearly who God is, what he expects from us, and what he does for us.
A great thing about a mirror is the mirror doesn’t talk. If it could, we might hear comments such as:
Not having a good hair day, are you?”
“Put on a few pounds?”
“That color doesn’t look good on you.”
“Do you realize that outfit makes you look fat?”

I tend to stand up straight, pull back my shoulders and tighten my stomach when I’m standing in front of the mirror. If I notice something about my clothes that I don’t like, I have the opportunity then to change my clothes or to put on something that covers up anything with which I’m not pleased. For me, looking in a full-length mirror at the side view is the one that hurts.

God’s mirror, His Word exposes things like the absence of personal Bible study, prayer, worship and basking in the presence of the living Lord. It reveals the little time, if any, we spend on our relationship with our Savior. In the pages of God’s Word He reveals His heart as to how He wants us to live and to act; and He clearly calls us out when our actions differ from those that please Him.

A key reason why many believers aren’t motivated to spend time in the Bible as they know they should is because it’s not comfortable seeing their flaws or their spiritual flabbiness laid out before them. Just as we may avoid looking at ourselves too closely in a physical mirror because we don’t like what we see, we may decide to avoid God’s mirror all together.

Yes, if we look at His word often and long enough, we will get a glimpse of what we look like in God’s spiritual mirror, and that’s not always a pretty sight! Seeing ourselves as God sees us is not only uncomfortable and convicting, it also cries out for change. Thus, if we’re unwilling to make changes or to take any action to improve our spiritual state, our spiritual life will continue a downward spiral, while we work hard to keep up the outward pretense of being spiritually mature.

Listen to Hebrews 4:12…

For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Most preachers/teachers will be able to relate to what I’m about to say. Over the years, I’ve had people to accuse me of preaching right to them, or at them. They feel that I’ve gotten too personal with the truth and were made uncomfortable. Isn’t that amazing… to be accused as a man, of doing what only God can do? God’s Word is a mirror!

Just as a glimpse in a natural mirror may spur us to eat better or exercise to get rid of the bulges we don’t like, hopefully seeing ourselves in God’s spiritual mirror will motivate us to “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” When we hear the Word, or read it for ourselves and don’t personalize its message, and we walk away unchanged and unaffected, we are…

like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”

Again, God's Word is merciless when it comes to telling the truth. It reflects back to us the blemishes in our lives, the warts of failure, ugliness of sin and its effect on our relationships with others, and how out of shape we are in doing what God wants us to do.


What would be the point of looking in the mirror, seeing that I had food on my face, and then just walking away? The looking was a waste of time.


If a man ate breakfast and got food on his face you’d expect him to take a napkin and clean his face. James says that when we read the Bible and don’t apply it to our lives, it’s just like seeing food on our face and leaving it there. The reading and looking were pointless exercises because we didn’t act on what we’ve seen and read.

When we read the Bible, or hear a sermon, we’re supposed to see ourselves in it. All too often we’ll hear a sermon and say to ourselves, “I wish so and so could hear this! They need it!" Often in a church service, the folk on the front rows have shovels and they shovel the truth they hear back to the good folk on the back seats who’re sitting there under open umbrellas. Consequently nobody gets anything.

One of the most important reasons we read study and understand the Scriptures is to see things that have gone wrong. God's Word speaks to us plainly and with no beating around the bush. It tells us where we have gone wrong and what needs to be fixed. Without this kind of reflection we don’t know what’s wrong and are easily led to think that everything is okay. It would be like the person who has food in his face all day because he ignored what the mirror told him.

James writes, "Get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice."

We don’t like to hear that sort of thing. We don’t like to think of ourselves as having "filthy habits" or "wicked conduct." We have a much better idea of what we’re like and "filthy habits" aren’t part of our image of ourselves.


But we have them.


They may be habits that are quite acceptable to the rest of the world but in God’s mind they’re filthy habits.


We may just like to gossip but the Scriptures condemn gossip as a filthy habit. (James 3:1-12)


We may be in the habit of criticizing and judging others in an unkind and unloving way (James 4:11-12). The Bible condemns this as a filthy habit.


We may stereotype people and judge them on the basis of their skin color or their nationality or their political persuasion or on whom their parents were - just as if we had the right to do so (James 2:1-4). That’s prejudice – and it’s a filthy habit.


We may be in the habit of letting our anger get out of hand and stinging others with harsh and judgmental words. That’s a filthy habit. (Matt 5:21-25).

Moreover, we’re very good at justifying why we are caught up in such and such a bad habit. And so we make little effort to change things. For example, “it isn’t my fault that I get angry – other people drive me to it.”

Habits take a lot of work to break. The first step in breaking them is recognizing we’re doing it.

James says, "You are guilty of sin and the Law condemns you as a lawbreaker. Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all" (James 2:9,10).


It’s not good enough to listen to God's Word, shake your head in agreement and then forget it. You and I need to listen and put it into practice. Let the Word that you hear have an impact on your life. Let it show you that all is not right with your relationship with God and the way you are treating other people is not acceptable to God.

To be able to do this, we must accept that the Bible is God's Word to us. We need to place ourselves under the authority of the scriptures and recognize that this is God speaking and that it’s His message to each one of us. God wants us to be happy and live peaceful lives and he has things to say about how this is achieved.

The Bible isn’t a whole lot of dos and don’ts aimed at making life dull and boring. God wants us to live the lives that He created us for. When we realize this, we are all the more willing to listen and put into practice what we’re being told.

If we take our car to a mechanic and he says that the funny noise coming from the motor is serious and some urgent repairs need to be made, we would be foolish to ignore his advice and drive away. That’s just asking for trouble. Our Maker has some important advice for each of us and likewise it’s foolish to ignore it and continue on our merry way as if he hadn’t said anything to us.

 GOOD NEWS!

For Christians the mirror of God's Word has something else to say to us. When we ask, "Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?" God's Word comes back with the answer, "You’re the fairest of them all!"
But how can that be when the biblical mirror has just reflected how much wrong there is in our lives? How can that be when we see so many bad habits in our lives? We have done our best but still God's mirror keeps on showing us that our conduct is wrong.

God's mirror tells us that we are "the fairest of them all" because of Jesus our lord. Because of what he’s done for us in his death and resurrection we can look into the mirror and see ourselves without spot or blemish. Jesus has made us clean. On a wooden cross outside Jerusalem he sacrificed himself in order to get rid of anything that would mar our complexion in the sight of God. Through faith in Christ, we are told that God has forgiven us. We’re clean. We who are dirty and untidy have now been declared "not guilty". Because of God's saving love we are beautiful in his eyes; we’re the fairest of them all.

So on the one hand, the mirror of God's Word tells us we're  sinners, imperfect, and that we indulge in filthy habits and wicked conduct. But on the other hand, the mirror of God's Word tells us that through Jesus we're  forgiven, made clean and that we are indeed, "the fairest of them all". We’re sinners who continually step outside of God's plan for us and yet his love doesn’t stop. Jesus even went to the extreme of dying for us and welcoming us back into his family.

In 2 Corinthians 5: 21 we read;

For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

So there we go. The same Word that reveals the sin in our life also provides the way for cleansing. Listen to Psalm 119:9;

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way, by taking heed thereto according to thy Word.-Psalm 119:9

We must not just listen to the Word of God; we must do what it says.
 Receive it. Read it. Review it. Remember it. Do it, responding to it as the Holy Spirit leads you. Pastor James concludes by saying,


If you do what it (God's Word) says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it (James 1:25).

Blessings,


John

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Lizard Selling Insurance?

By John Stallings


A lizard can be caught with the hand yet it is found in king’s palaces. Proverbs 30:28. NIV


Larry the cable guy was recently on The Tonight Show & made a funny joke about Geico insurance. He said he had an insurance claim & they sent a Lizard adjuster over to check it out.

Solomon the wise man said there was much we can learn from a lizard. These little lizards we have in Florida are something else. I got interested in the little fellows recently & Googled them. They’re called Anole lizards & only live a couple of years. They hibernate in cold weather. They are extremely territorial.

Solomon tells us we can learn from lizards. So if the wise man says it, let’s see what we can learn.

1. LIZARDS LIVE BEYOND LIMITS.

Even thousands of years ago it was said of them, “They can be caught with the hand but can be found in king’s palaces.”

What is it about these creatures? They are so fragile & don’t seem to have much of a brain, & can be caught by hand, [if you’re fast enough,] but are downright uncanny.

We have a glass sliding back door at our house & when the weathers’ warm small lizards call this area home. They’ve never asked permission & don’t seem to care whether we like it or not. Here’s the problem; the small ones seem to be able to wish themselves inside the house.

Really. They are outside the glass doors-- then we blink & one will be inside & what happens to them then isn’t pretty. We don’t like reptiles or anything that resembles them. Juda says they are so small they can squeeze in the tiny cracks in the doors but for the life of me I don’t see it. It has to be some sort of magical trick they play because all at once, voila, one will be crawling on the glass door- on the inside.

These guys are unbelievable. I read somewhere that lizards have been found on the top floors of huge skyscrapers, & no one knows exactly how they got there.

No matter where it is, lizards will find a way to get there. Period. They’re not born there & don’t really belong there but that doesn’t stop the lizard.

They put no limits on themselves & even though they’re trespassing, they look at you as if they have as much right to be there as you do. They assume perfect liberty to go anywhere they want to go.

Have you set limits on yourself? Have you decided there are limits on what you can do & where you can go? Some people are limited by their;

PAST

Psychologists in their study of the human psyche usually study the first five years of life, thinking everything important to our development is in those early years. Many of them seem not to be able to get past our childhood.

This is wrong on many levels & this emphasis has caused many to be stuck in the past. While the formative years are important, I don’t believe we should place too much importance on whether our mothers buttoned our sweaters too tight or not.

In Isaiah 43:18-19 God said,

Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.
Behold I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

God put our eyes in front of our head & He isn’t pleased with our living our lives looking in the rear view mirror, reveling in the dead past when each day can be new & fresh. To some folk the past is more real than the present & they seem to like living that way.

But living in the past limits us. There has to be a point when we stop rehearsing what has happened to us, & move on to what’s next in our lives.

In Acts 3 there was a man sitting in front of The Gate Beautiful who’d been lame from his mother’s womb. Think about that. He wasn’t hurt in an accident or disabled in his youth; he’d never known what it was like to walk. He had no frame of reference of any kind for mobility without the aide of others.

The man’s history was affecting his present condition but when God got involved none of that mattered, he was changed in a moment of time. The man, lame from his mother’s womb was miraculously healed & went walking & leaping into the temple. You & I don’t have to be limited by our past; our God is a “now God” & wants to do a new thing in our lives.

Then some people are stuck in the;

PRESENT

Some are stuck demographically, some are stuck geographically & some are stuck financially. They don’t see any options for themselves.

We need to stop being so accepting of things as they are & start seeing things as they can be. We don’t have to leave everything like it is in our lives.

The greatest revival we’ve seen in the last half-century has been the Civil Rights revival. Yes, revival is exactly what happened under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. He looked at things as they were & refused to accept them that way.

Dr. King changed society. You see, that’s what a revival is. A spiritual revival wouldn’t be one that happened within the four walls of churches. A real spiritual revival would be one that would escape the four walls of churches to spill out into society & change the status quo. Dr. King went to Washington D.C & gave the “I have a dream” speech & the world took notice.

Do you have a dream that extends beyond your past & your present? If not ask God to give you one. With the help & grace of God let’s get rid of the limits we’ve imposed on ourselves & look to new vistas ahead. Next;


2. THE LIZARD ADAPTS TO NEW CIRCUMSTANCES.

In order to survive & thrive, a lizard can change colors when & if necessary, especially the Chameleon. This creature adapts. Did you hear about the lizard that landed on a box of crayons & exploded? The lizard can change, adapt & adjust.

Change seems to come easier for some folk than it does for others. Changing when necessary doesn’t mean being wishy-washy, compromising or accommodating to make people accept us. Nor does it mean tailoring the Christian message to make it more palatable to the masses. What it means is we don’t live in a static world. Change is a normal process & if we can’t adapt & change we become irrelevant.

We live in a world of change. I recently read that scientists say more than 98% of the atoms in our bodies were not present a year ago today. You are really a new person. Our thinking changes, our attitudes change, our position in life changes, our actions change, & our relationships to God & others change.

More than 200 years ago when George Washington traveled from Virginia to Washington by horseback it took him 10 days of traveling at the speed of 25 miles a day. Today that trip would only be a few hours by car.

The problem we face isn’t just that things are changing; it’s the rapid rate of change. There’s a knowledge explosion in progress.

I know you’ve noticed the 8-tracks are gone. Not only that, cassettes are gone, & evidently Cd's & DVDs are on the way out. Now days the young folk are working with digital downloads & there are millions of songs on I tunes, plus movies that can even be digitally downloaded.

Recently we needed more memory on our computer & were shown a device half the size of a ball-point pen that plugs into the front of a P.C that will hold the equivalent of several lengthy books. Most of the young folk in your life & mine probably haven’t ever seen an old-fashioned typewriter & don’t remember Leave it to Beaver.

We are in a day of exponential change & are drowning in a sea of data. Its been estimated that a weeks worth of a large newspaper like The New York Times contains more information than a person in the 1800s was likely to come across in a lifetime.

More than 3000 books are published every day. For a student in a technical college starting a four year program, half of what they learn in the first year will be outdated in their third year of study.

When Jesus came to walk this earth His message was change. He said in Mark 2:22;

And no man putteth new wine in old wine bottles; else the new wine doth burst the bottles….

The message Christ brought was that His death on the cross would turn the religious world on its head & change everything.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16;

.though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

One of the most awesome things God built into us is the marvelous ability to change & adapt.

Paul said in 1 Cor.9:22;

..I am made all things to all men that I might by all means win some.

Notice, Paul said; I am made ALL things to ALL men that I might by ALL means win some.

Both Jesus & the apostle Paul are saying…..Change, Change, Change.

Did you know that change helps reverse the aging process? It does. Do something different. Go to a different restaurant. Drive to work a different route. If you have hair, try a different hair style. It makes a difference. If you’ve been on the computer too much, get off of it & read. Don’t always email your friends, make a call now & then. It will help keep you young.

If The Rolling Stones can keep going at almost nearly 70, so can we. CHANGE. The magic of the lizard is the power to change.

DON’T LET AGE BLUFF YOU.

Have you noticed that the younger generation isn’t impressed with age as much as the older generation? My generation thinks that you have to start acting old at 65. Nowadays people aren’t retiring at 65 & that’s good. Coaches like Joe Perterno have stayed active into their eighties.

DON’T LET YOUTH BLUFF YOU EITHER.

Look at what people like the three Hebrew boys, Daniel & Esther did when placed in extenuating circumstances. They thrived because they wouldn’t allow their surroundings, no matter how foreboding to cause them to give up.

Paul told young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12;

Let no man despise thy youth but be thou an example of the believers……

The third thing we can learn from lizards is;


3. THEY GROW BACK WHAT THEY’VE LOST.

Some lizards can grow back tails & limbs. Isn’t that amazing? I realize that human beings can’t grow back body parts but there are many things we can lose & grow back.

Many times people go through things & in the process they lose their confidence & self-esteem. They also lose their faith. But these things we can grow back. We can’t get everything back but many things we can get back.

We shouldn’t be so accepting of our losses taking a lackadaisical attitude as if it were all mean to be. If we are God’s children we have powers of regeneration inside us.

God’s promise in Joel in 2:25 is;

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten; the canker worm & the caterpillar & the palmerworm…..


EVERYBODY LOVES COMEBACKS

Many famous comebacks are in the realm of sports. I’m reminded of a Little League team that was getting walloped. It was 15-0 & just at the top of the first inning. A man who was watching the debacle commented to one of the boys on the losing team who was in the dugout & obviously unconcerned, “Aren’t you worried about the game?” “Oh no sir” he said, “We haven’t even come to bat yet!”

I’ve been privileged to visit Hawaii twice & both times I’ve been drawn to the Pearl Harbor site where on December 7, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on our Pacific naval fleet. They show a 45 minute film at the memorial that allows you to experience with chilling reality what happened on that fateful day.

Within a few moments, five of our eight battleships were sunk & the rest damaged. 2,400 American military personnel were dead. America was shocked & crippled. But, oh, what a comeback was staged. The brutal attack rallied the Americans to enter WW2 & thus the Allied forces won the day.

I was amazed to learn that two of our ships that were sunk by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor were raised by the dry docks & refurbished in time to get back into the war. Amazingly, these two ships later were responsible for the sinking of several of the ships that participated in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, the one big mistake [mistake for them that is] the Japanese made was in their not destroying our ship rebuilding capabilities. A monument to comebacks!!

THE BIBLE IS FILLED WITH GREAT COMEBACKS

There are great stories of people who should have failed but came back from oblivion to be changed into vessels God could use.

There is Moses, who when he was forty had his picture in all the Egyptian post offices because he’d killed an Egyptian taskmaster. Forty years later he made a comeback & was instrumental in emancipating the nation of Israel.

Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to deny his God but the next day he made a comeback & his accusers fed the lions in his place.

Simon Peter who miserably failed on the night of Jesus’ arrest & denied the Lord 3 times, later after Jesus sat him down on the beach came back to become one of the greatest preachers of the church.

SAMSON

No sadder story exists in the holy record than that of Samson. He failed God miserably because he didn’t take his anointing seriously. But his life actually ended in victory.

Judges 16 tells the story of how Samson played with Delilah & finally told her the secret of his strength, his seven locks of hair. He played the fool for he must have known Delilah was up to no good. Samson sealed his fate when he did this.

Then his enemies, the Philistines came in & gouged out his eyes & made sport of him by making him grind at the mill like an animal.

The Philistines took Samson to Gaza but this was a big mistake. It was like taking a ticking time-bomb into the city. Though Samson hadn’t fulfilled the most & best God wanted for him in life, God still loved him & was going to give him a great comeback in his death.

It would be easy to look at Samson’s life & think it a failure but we can hardly do that when God loved Samson & esteemed him highly at the end of his life. God saw something in this man at the end that impressed Him, & if we look at his final prayer we can see why.

In Judges 16:28……And Samson called unto the Lord and said, O Lord remember me I pray thee and strengthen me I pray thee only this once O God that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood and on which it was borne up- of the one his right hand & of the other his left.

And Samson said; Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might and the house fell upon the lords & upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.


Judges 16:22 tells us that Samson’s hair, the source & symbol of his strength had begun to grow back. What have you lost that you need to grow back?


Is it your faith? GROW IT BACK!

Is it your self-esteem? GROW IT BACK!

Is it your prayer life? GROW IT BACK!

Is it your joy? GROW IT BACK!

Is it your sensitivity to God? GROW IT BACK!

Is it your ministry? GROW IT BACK!


We might think that because of the failures Samson made, God would forgive him --but not allow him to be restored back into a place of genuine respect & honor in His sight & ours. If it were left up to man, that would have happened. We do away with people like Samson & put in them in life’s “fire sales.”


But not so with God! We only have to look in Faith’s Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11, to see Samson’s name mentioned as a great person of faith. Why? Because he never failed? No! Because he by the grace of God was able to GROW BACK what he’d lost in the final hours of his life.


If you were to ask what gives me the most hope that life’s insurmountable odds may be overcome & victory won, my answer would be one word,

JESUS!

Though I enjoyed Mel Gibson’s film The Passion, the one negative about it to me was-- though it depicts accurately the sufferings of Jesus, for almost two intense hours, I’d have liked to have seen more of the resurrection. Without the resurrection the sufferings of Jesus are just an abject tragedy. But with the resurrection His sufferings are transformed from tragedy to triumph.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is histories greatest comeback.


LOW IN THE GRAVE HE LAY, JESUS MY SAVIOR,
HE ROLLED THE STONE AWAY, JESUS MY LORD,
UP FROM THE GRAVE HE AROSE WITH A MIGHTY TRIUMPH ORE HIS FOES,

HE AROSE A VICTOR FROM THE DARK DOMAIN,
AND HE LIVES FOREVER WITH HIS SAINTS TO REIGN.
HE AROSE. HE AROSE. HALLELUJAH CHRIST AROSE
.

Jesus said because He lives we also shall live. But not only did Jesus purchase for us victory over death, He also came that we might have life, & that we might have it more abundantly.

Jesus came back to offer new hope for shattered lives & He still offers comebacks for those who are willing to give their lives to him.

IF GOD HAS THE POWER TO RAISE JESUS FROM THE DEAD…..WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE HE CAN DO IN YOUR LIFE?


Blessings,


John



Friday, September 5, 2014

Talkers, Dreamers, Wishers, Dabblers and Doers

By John Stallings



There are five types of people you’ll find in every area of life. They are in business, education, & even the Church. Only one of these types ever really accomplishes anything, & it certainly isn’t the;

1. Talkers

Talkers gab & blab. They are always talking about what they are going to do but never do anything. These folk have the ability to get people excited. They have the gift of gab. The gift of yada-yada-yada. They can charm the birds down out of the trees with their chatter.

I have met these talkers as a pastor. They come into a church & know just exactly how to present themselves. They seem to know just what you want to hear. They will talk & as they talk they’ll use exaggerated hand motions to paint you a picture of what they will do & help you to do. The problem with these folk is they are all “talky- talky- talky & no walky- walky -walky.” They will get you all excited & leave you hanging.

Talkers usually end up bouncing from church to church because they know people will finally catch on to their yada-yada & stop listening.

I learned the hard way about talkers as a young pastor. In my first church I allowed a man I hardly knew & was new to the church to influence me to add another weekly prayer meeting, one he suggested should be an “all-nighter.” Being inexperienced I felt it would look “nonspiritual” if I declined & some of the faithful members agreed to try it. Can you imagine our surprise when we learned that this man who had the idea wasn’t going to be present at any of them; He was too busy? But he was certain still the all night prayer meetings were the answer for our church.

A little checking on my part revealed that this man had misrepresented his past & his life had been a series of one flop after another. Out of twenty years of a so called Christian life, he’d spent half of it in jail & the other half running from town to town presenting himself as something he most definitely wasn’t.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not against all night prayer meetings but after that experience my question to an individual who suggests we add another night to an already crowded weekly schedule is- “where were you ten or twenty years ago when the people of the church were praying & interceding for the lost?” Usually the truth is they were out sowing wild oats & living like the devil while the people of the church had been faithfully serving God.

These folk are just talkers & nine times out of ten they won’t be around for more than a month anyway. But you can be sure they’ll be somewhere else giving their yada-yada to someone. The prophet Hosea calls these people “morning clouds” that appear for a little while & then poof, they are no longer visible.

Next we have the,

2. Dreamers.

I don’t want to be too hard on dreamers because people need their dreams. However, too many dreamers read books, go to seminars, take notes, write mission statements, write out goals & “pray about it” but they never carry through. They never cut a rut from a plan to a practice, from a list to a living ministry. Dreamers are always dreaming but never able to live out their dreams. When I was a kid I used to want to be a cowboy; to be exact, a singing cowboy. I spent many hours of my days dreaming about being like Gene or Roy.

There is one kind of dreaming that’s very powerful so long as a certain ingredient isn’t missing. Let me explain. I suppose my cowboy dreams were normal but at some point I had to lay those childlike dreams aside & dream for my real future.

When I was growing up, since my dad was a pastor we usually lived next to the church. Starting at about age fourteen, a few times a week I’d go over to the church, lock the door & get up behind the pulpit with my guitar & act like I was in an actual service. I’d open “the service” with prayer. Then I’d say, “Now I’d like to sing you a song I wrote.” Then I’d proceed to sing a song, but not one I wrote, because I hadn’t as yet written any songs. I was day-dreaming. Then I’d sing one or two more songs “I wrote.” I wanted to be a songwriter so bad I could taste it. When I finished with the music portion of the service, I’d open the Bible & start preaching to my imaginary audience. Well, I wouldn’t exactly preach, I’d read a little bit & then I’d holler. I’d read a little bit more & holler. It seemed to me that’s what my dad did as well as all the other preachers I’d heard; they’d read & holler. Then I’d close my imaginary service, slip out the side door & go home, hoping no one was the wiser.

If you came to one of my services today, over fifty years later, in all probability here’s what you’d see & hear; I’d get up & welcome the people & sing a song or two that I wrote. But these songs would be songs I actually did write, because now I have some songs of my own. Then I’d open my Bible & read a few scriptures, expound on them & there would be several spots that I’d raise my voice to emphasize a point. I do in reality what that teenager envisioned so long ago.

But if I’d never gotten out of the dreaming stage, if I’d never started getting up in front a real audience, all the practicing & all the secret dreaming wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere.

So I think I can say all my boyhood dreams came true. Dreaming is a powerful & necessary thing but dreaming alone isn’t enough. An individual must make the effort & be willing to work & do all necessary to bring those dreams into fruition. Then we have the,

3. Wishers.
These people wish things would change all by themselves but they won’t act to change them. They wish they had a better prayer life. They wish they knew the Bible better. They wish they could get to church more often. They wish they had a better devotional life, but never open their Bibles between visits to church. If all these people blew the dust off their Bibles at the same time, we’d all choke to death in a dust-storm. They wish the church had more money to reach out to the lost but they never give any. If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

I heard a story about a preacher who got up in his church & said, “This church is on its knees now, but I can see this church rising.” All the people said amen. Then he said, “This church is not only gonna rise, this crawling church is gonna walk.” Everyone said amen. Then he said “This church isn’t only gonna walk this church is gonna run.” You guessed it, everyone shouted amen. Then the preacher said, “Brothers & sisters, God has shown me that if we’ll all start being liberal with our tithes & offerings, this church someday very soon is gonna fly.” Then everything got real quiet & one man on the backseat said, “Let her crawl brother, let her crawl.” Next come the,

4. Dabblers.

Dabblers love the feeling of starting a new project but they never finish anything. Dabblers get bored easily. They shine one shoe & leave the other not shined. Dabblers often leave a wave of disappointment behind them. They dabble a little here & they dabble a little there but never bring anything to completion. There are far too many Christians who dabble at serving God.

God is a finisher. He finished creating the earth. Jesus hung on the cross & said “It is finished.” He didn’t as some supposed on that day say, “I am finished.” He said “It is finished.” He said the great plan of God that was established before the foundations of the earth were laid- was finished. Too many people have exchanged the word finished for the words, “I’m through.” I’m through with that church.” I’m through with this marriage.” “I’m through with school.” They are always getting through with things but never finishing them. One meaning of the word finish is- “bringing to perfection.”
When the carpenters are through with a house they bring in the finishers. The finishers put the Crown molding around the edges & corners of the rooms. They hang the doors & make sure they are well balanced & open & close smoothly. A house left “unfinished” would be a rather ugly house even though it had four walls & a roof. Many people in high society send their young women to “finishing school.” There they learn the finer points of being a lady so they can later be at ease & poised in the circles they’re expected to move in.

We can never be truly successful if all we do is dabble. To be successful at anything, we must put our all into it, for one thing is certain, we’ll only get out of an enterprise what we put in it. My mother wanted me to learn to play the piano & was willing to pay for me to learn but I can’t play the piano today because all I wanted to do was dabble & play chopsticks. I suspect I’m not alone in that.

The only accomplishers in this world are the;

5. DOERS.

Doers make things happen. Doers don’t just wish things would happen. They don’t dream & talk about it. Doers aren’t dabblers. They actually get things done. Doers are daring. They are movers & shakers. Doers build churches. Doers build businesses. Doers are the ones with the testimonies. No church, business or enterprise has ever gotten off the ground without a few doers. We will always have more than enough of the others but we must “Be doers of the Word not just hearers.”

Doers don’t go by their feelings. I read an article somewhere that said “80% of the world’s work is done by people who aren’t feeling well.” That didn’t really surprise me. Many people will sit & wait until the “mood” strikes them before they’ll move on a project. They have to have a certain feeling but the problem is the feeling seldom comes. As I read the article, I thought, you know, I’ll bet the man who wrote that it wasn’t feeling well when he wrote it. And it wouldn’t surprise me if some who read this article won’t be feeling all that great as they read it. As I think about it, I’m not feeling all that great as I’m writing it. But what do our feelings have to do with anything? Can we allow feelings to rule us when they can change overnight for no apparent reason? I’m sure you’ve learned by now that if you’re going to get anything done you must put your feelings on the back burner & go to work because feelings will fall in line as we move. It was William James who said, “We don’t feel our way to a different way of acting, we act our way to a different way of feeling.”
Do you want me to tell you how the shake off depression? Get up & start doing something. Now if you have some sort of clinical depression & are being treated for it, that’s between you & your doctor. However, I’ll bet he’ll tell you you’re better off doing than just sitting. If you wake up depressed, tell depression you’re going to work & you’ll take the depression with you. Chances are great that you’ll leave depression behind as soon as you start moving.

There is so much in the Bible about DOING! James tells us; ---“Draw nigh to God & He’ll draw nigh to you.” He also told us—“Faith without works is dead, being alone.” One of my favorite verses of scripture is Daniel 11:32….But the people that do know their God shall be strong & do exploits.”
If you want to do something special with your life, resolve with me to stand up on your feet & get moving!

As Todd Beamer said, one of the passengers on the ill-fated airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, on 9/11/01, trying to take back the hi-jacked plane & thwarting the plans of the terrorists, "Let’s Roll!"

Let’s be "doers of the Word" & works of God.


Blessings,


John

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What Condition Is Your Condition In?


By John Stallings


You’re stale, you’re stagnate, you make me want to vomit.—Rev.3:16—The Message


There was once a great Bible scholar who was appointed by his denomination to be in charge of quality control for his organization’s educational ministries.

One of the ways he did this was to drop in unannounced at local churches & attend children’s Sunday classes.

One day he was in a class for boys when he decided to ask one of his standard questions, this one about Jericho. He blurted out, “Who caused the walls of Jericho to fall down?” There was dead silence for several seconds. Finally a little boy spoke up: “I don’t know but it wasn’t me.”

Well, the visiting dignitary about lost it all. He was horrified. He turned to the teacher in the presence of the kids & asked: “What have you been doing in this class? I asked who caused the walls of Jericho to fall, & the only response I get is, I don’t know but it wasn’t me.”

The teacher looked thoughtful for a few seconds, & then she said, “Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve known Johnny all his life if that boy says he didn’t do it then he didn’t do it.”

The visiting expert was doubly distressed to see that this terrible ignorance existed even on the church educational staff. After the Sunday service he took his case to the pastor & told him the whole story. The pastor called an emergency board meeting. After it was over he called the expert & said, “Well, here’s what we’ve decided. We’ve known Johnny & his teacher for a long time & we don’t think they’d lie to us.

To be frank we don’t really believe Johnny did it either so we’ve decided to charge the walls off to “miscellaneous building expenses” & forget it.”

Kind of a cute little story but it’s built on a basic reality pointing up the lack of Bible knowledge many people have, even some who sit in church Sunday after Sunday.

Like the song Kenny Rogers sang, once in a while we need to ask-what condition our [spiritual] condition is in. What about the verve & zest of our daily walk with God?

LESSONS FROM LAODICEA

Tucked away at the end of the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul speaks of the church at Loadicea. He asks that when his letter is read, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans.

We know that the Laodiceans heard & likely treasured this letter. It’s a credit to them that they understood apostolic revelation. That’s good because a more majestic picture of Christ can’t be offered than the one found in Colossians 1-2. A clearer statement on biblical sanctification & Christian growth can’t be found than Colossians 3-4.

Yet for all of the spiritual blessing heaped on them some 30 years later they had grown smug, arrogant & self-dependent. Numbed by materialism, they met with the sternest rebuke of Christ in the letters to the churches in Asia Minor.

In the book of Revelation there are letters written by John to “seven churches which are in Asia.” But of course the words were Christ’s words. These weren’t denominations but rather separate local churches. John wrote to these churches regarding “things which must shortly come to pass” & events that would be “hereafter” These churches are identified as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia & Laodicea. Each of these churches is addressed in chapters two & three.

Two of the churches are commended without any rebuke or indication of resident sin, Smyrna & Philadelphia. Five had sin & repentance was needed. Absent repentance, their “candlestick” or light would be removed. These seven churches are selected because they seem to represent every possible condition of local churches & the instructions given them applies to all churches in like conditions.

The Laodicean church is undoubtedly in the worst condition of all the churches, although outwardly it appeared to be in great shape.

Laodicea was the wealthiest of the seven cities known for its banking industry, & its manufacturing of black wool & a medical school that produced eye ointment. So rich was this city that when an earthquake almost destroyed it in 60 AD, its wealthy citizens refused imperial help in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves. The people of Laodicea were well heeled & flaunted it.

The only downer about the place was their lack of good water. The city of Hierapolis was only seven miles away & they were famous for their hot springs. The city of Colosse was about ten miles away & they had cool mountain water. Loadicea had to build a six-mile aqueduct & by the time the water arrived it was lukewarm & insipid, filled with minerals & chemicals. The water was noted to make people gag when they tried to drink it & sometimes they vomited.


Slowly over the years the culture of this city became the culture of the church & because of their riches, they became comfortable & complacent.

LET’S DROP IN FOR A VISIT THE NIGHT THE LAODICEANS RECEIVED THEIR LETTER FROM JESUS.

The letter as heard for us through the ears of a church member named Robert.

Robert arrived just as the meeting was starting. It had been a hectic day at work but he wasn’t going to miss this evening. The church was packed because everyone knew there would be the reading of “the letter” tonight & they were all looking forward to it.

Robert had heard about the letters the other churches had received & some of them had gotten a royal roasting. But as he thought about it, he felt they’d be O.K. He wasn’t aware of any sexual immorality in the fellowship, at least not like those guys in Pergamos & Thyatira. They had the riot act read to them but Robert was sure his church would be spared.

There wasn’t any false teaching here & the people didn’t get excited about every new fad that came along. The sermons weren’t all that exciting but at least they weren’t going to lead anyone astray.

The Smyrnans had been warned that they’d be persecuted & maybe even sent to prison but Robert knew he’d leave the church if it came to that. He wasn’t going to put his career at risk over religion. But, not to worry, Laodicea was a peaceful town & wasn’t the sort of place where that kind of thing happened.

No, nothing negative was going to happen tonight, not at this church. After all they had the biggest & most beautiful church in the area, the best dressed choir & the people of the church were all upscale folk. He thought they’d probably get about the same letter the good folk at Philadelphia got last week; that was rather encouraging stuff.

The pastor is starting to read… The words of the Amen, the faithful & true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”— “hey not a bad start” Robert thought.

The pastor continued. “To the church at Laodicea! I know exactly what you’re like. And frankly you make me sick. You think you’re so great but you are useless. Your self-satisfaction just makes me want to throw up.”

You could have heard a marshmallow fall on a carpet. The stunned silence held for a minute & then the people started glaring at each other.—“How dare He!”—they whispered ferociously to one another. “After all we’ve done.”

Robert just sat in silence, reeling from the blow. After all, there were no false teachings that are mentioned in the letter. It may not have been an alive & excited church but it certainly wasn’t a dead church. It wasn’t thriving neither was it dying.

We’ll come back to Robert a bit later.

The Laodiceans weren’t “risk takers” but they weren’t comatose either. The church was well within the range of evangelical respectability. You might say it was sort of normal. It was a safe place to have your membership. No big high-risk plans were on the drawing board in Laodicea. Nothing dynamic was in the offing, just a warm group of people meeting together to share middle class values & a Christian orientation to life in general.

They were just a group of benign believers content to cocoon together with other believers for an hour or so each week. They weren’t frozen & they weren’t fried. They weren’t hot, neither were they cold. Call them tepid, call them lukewarm, [call them irresponsible,] &, Oh, did I mention; call them disgusting in the eyes of Christ.

Jesus literally said, “I’m about to vomit. What’s going on at your church makes me sick to my stomach.” Unlike most of the other six churches, there are no words of commendation for this church. Once we get over the initial shock at what the usually meek & mild Jesus said to these folk we’ll proceed to learn why He felt that way. Before I go further with the Laodiceans, I’d like to ask you a question;

WHAT’S YOUR CONDITION WHEN IT COMES TO SPIRITUAL PASSION?
I’m not asking if you like chicken wings or quite walks on the beach. I’m asking “what is your passion?” What pulls you out of bed & keeps you going when there’s very little in the outward circumstance to encourage you?

What can make you burn the midnight oil? What would you do if you didn’t get paid? What would you sacrifice blood sweat & tears for? I’m talking about hunger, thirst, fire, passion & a drive for meaning & achievement in life.

One dictionary defines passion as; “Intense, driven, overmastering feeling of conviction, ardent affection, devotion to some activity, deep desire or interest.”

PASSION comes from the Greek word Pascho which means “to suffer” or “to sacrifice.” Passion is a requirement if we are to be truly successful at any enterprise.

When you think of successful people in any field you automatically think of passion. One of my favorite sports figures is Tiger Woods. Here’s a man who can even make me want to watch a golf game. Tiger’s late father who was a passionate man about golf started exposing Tiger to the game at the age of three. Tiger’s dad would take him out to practice every day for two hours. The passion his father had rubbed off on Tiger & he actually lived to transform the game.

I’ve read that during a tournament when the other players are resting, Tiger will take his coach & go to a private spot to practice. Now that’s passion.

Look at any sports stars in any sport & the same is true. The truly great ones are always the ones who burn with passion for their sport. There’s Mohammad Ali who made me want to watch every fight. There was something about his enthusiasm that captivated me.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan is another man who has a passion for his sport that makes him a “star.” These athletes are people of passion & when you watch them you feel as though they’d play even if they weren’t so handsomely paid.

When we think of Bill gates certainly passion comes to mind. A man of mega-bucks but not only that, we think of a man possessed by computer software & how to make it accessible to as many millions as possible. I’ve heard that when Bill Gates was in school he was always looking out the “windows.”

John 2:17 says that Jesus was literally “eaten- up “with zeal. The word zeal is another word for passion. It’s defines as “eagerness & ardent interest in the pursuit of something.” When Jesus went into the temple to run the money changers out, He wasn’t mad as some have supposed. He sat down & weaved a whip of cords before going into the temple. A man freaking out with a temper fit doesn’t take time to do that. Jesus no doubt was disturbed but the scripture says it was His “passion,” or more literally: He was eaten-up with zeal & passion for His Father’s house.

Passion isn’t the temporary surge of joy a person gets when he/she has just been hired for a new job that will give them more money. Too often when this kind of job has been taken, the good feeling quickly dissipates when the reality of what the job entails sinks in. I’ve heard people say they hated their job so much they got physically sick on Sunday night because they had to go back to work Monday on a job they hated, even though the pay was excellent.

Maybe you left the small job you had because it wasn’t showing the flash you felt you needed but in truth it involved something you were passionate about. Now you may have a good paying job but the passion isn’t there & you hate every minute of it. I’m not deprecating good pay or any kind of work, or saying we have to be giddy & in love with every task we do. Gainful employment is necessary & a person must work to exist. However the truly happy person is the one who has found their life’s work & is so passionate about it that it really doesn’t seem like work.

LET’S LOOK AGAIN AT THE CONDITION OF THE LAODICEAN CHURCH
In Revelation 3:15-16 Jesus said, -I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So because you are lukewarm—neither nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.
Unlike Colosse, whose water was cool & refreshing, & unlike Hierapolis, whose water was hot & healing, the water at Laodicea was lukewarm & hard to swallow. I don’t believe Jesus was saying that He’d want anyone to be openly hostile to him—although at least that would mean they had some emotion.

What Jesus was saying was; you’re all the wrong temperature, you’re passionless & indifferent & don’t take a stand for anything. You’re a group of half-hearted self-sufficient Christians & you’re making me ill.

The church at Laodicea was singing “standing on the promises,” but they were only “sitting on the premises.” They were “so satisfied they were petrified.” They were singing “throw out the lifeline” when they never made it any further than the “close line.” They were probably singing, “I surrender some.” And maybe, “Take my life & let me be.” And the ever beautiful “My hope is built on nothing much.” At the end of their services they’d probably stand & sing “Asleep in Jesus” & pass out.

But before we get too critical of these Laodicean folk, let’s ask ourselves if we’re familiar with any churches that are lukewarm. Most churches are filled with nice people are they not? They are meeting their budget. They are seeing some growth.

THE LAODICEANS DIDN’T SEE THEIR CONDITION

They “didn’t know what condition their condition was in.”

In Revelation 3:17---They say “I am rich; I have acquired wealth & don’t need a thing! ---But Jesus evaluates them & says,--you are wretched & pitiful, blind, poor & naked.

“There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Not only was this Laodicean church indifferent, they were ignorant of their true condition.

Have you ever looked at yourself from the side in a mirror & not been delighted with what you saw? I have. It feels awful, not to mention how it looks. You thought you were okay in the weight department until you got a gander at yourself in that big mirror. You didn’t realize the condition your condition was in until you turned sideways & got that side perspective. You’d been kidding yourself all that time. I hate those mirrors. That side-view never fails to put me back on my diet.

JESUS OFFERS SOME ADVICE TO THESE PEOPLE
I COUNCIL YOU TO BUY FROM ME GOLD REFINED IN THE FIRE SO YOU CAN BECOME RICH; AND WHITE CLOTHES TO WEAR SO YOU CAN COVER YOUR SHAMEFUL NAKEDNESS—and salve to put on your eyes so you can see.
In a city that had plenty of gold as a source of its wealth Jesus says,

It’s not enough. You need gold from me. In a city known for its manufacture of black wool “You need to get clothes from me. In a city renowned for its manufacture of eye salve Jesus said, come to me for divine vision. You need a renewed spiritual vision so you can see life & eternity for what they are. Your eyes have been blinded by the light of culture but my eye salve works. Come to me realizing that you have no resources of your own you need my salvation & my power to be what you need to be.

JESUS ALSO SAYS, ACCEPT MY DISCIPLINE

Whom the Lord loves He disciplines. Jesus still loves this lukewarm church even though their love for Him has grown cold. Christ wants them to repent & rekindle their love for Him & replace complacency with a renewed zeal.

Revelation 3:20 is one of most graphic pictures of Christ in the Scripture. It’s the picture of Him standing at the door knocking asking to be allowed inside. By all rights, this picture should be reversed & we should be knocking on Jesus’ door, but here He is, in all His grace & mercy, knocking on our door.

We generally use this as an appeal to sinners but as we can see, the context here is lukewarm Christians. It seems Jesus is saying, “I’m the offended, the wronged party. You should be pursuing me but here I am again, seeking you out. I’m extending myself to you, I’m knocking at your door, and I’m taking the initiative.”
What is most astounding about this scene is; Jesus has obviously not even been asked into this church. He isn't included here. He's standing on the outside knocking. This isn't a den of iniquity where Jesus requests to come in to show His love & mercy to the unsaved & unchurched. Rather, this is a church where Jesus is seeking to gain admission.
Though it grieves me to say it, I've been in churches where Jesus' presence wasn't anywhere to be seen or felt. But still He stands desiring to be welcomed in. Though this statement seems ludicrous, just think what some of these churches who seem to be doing so good without Him, could do if they ever actually welcomed the Lord into their midst.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR THE LAODICEANS
All they had to do was open the door, to be sincere & repent.

Back to the meeting where the letter has just been read & to Robert our eye & ear witness.

There was practically a riot when the pastor got through reading the letter. People were storming out left right & center. It almost reached stampede proportions. But Robert didn’t move. There were just a handful of people scattered across the church sitting quietly with their heads bowed & some were softly crying.

“Lord I’m so sorry.” Robert prayed quietly. And for the first time in his life he was really praying. “Lord I had no idea. Please forgive me. I hadn’t seen my condition until now. Please come into my life & make it your own. Thank you for not giving up on us!”



That night the church was reborn.



Blessings,



John