For those of you reading this who attend ALCC you know that this past Sunday I began a new series of sermons centered around the life of Daniel, with courage being our focus. I’m excited to examine how God’s word can equip us to rise above the fear that seems to be abundant in today’s world. While circumstances that produce fear abound I am truly convinced that while fear may always be a part of our lives we are intended to be courageous and act valiantly in the face of that fear.
In the preparation for this series I came across another biblical character that shows what can happen on the other end of the spectrum. 2 Chronicles tells us the story of a King that ruled Judah named Uzziah. Uzziah had a great start and in the early years of his leadership he moved Judah away from idolatry and back towards a right relationship with God. However, an all to common thing happened as God blessed Uzziah.
In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 2 Chronicles 26:15–16 (ESV)
In his weakness Uzziah trusted in the Lord and was made strong. However, once gaining the throne, conquering all of the nations that threatened Judah, gaining fame and position, Uzziah grew proud as if by his own ability he accomplished these things. Had Uzziah remained humble the length and strength of his leadership might have been legendary but due to his pride and the loss of his humility God placed leprosy upon Uzziah and he lived the rest of his life isolated and alone.
Here at ALCC we are experiencing God’s blessing with so many new people just this past week that it’s beginning to be difficult to even recognize who’s new and who’s been here a while. Since May we have had 66 adults that have indicated that they are here to stay! This doesn’t include the children that are in these families just the adults. We are stretched for space in every way. Even after creating the early service and having about 125 people move we are once again running out of space at the 10:30 service. In many ways we are being blessed like Uzziah was, but unlike Uzziah we will not grow proud to our destruction.
The same is true on an individual level. Do you think that your success came because you deserved it? Was it your work or your intellect or your skill that caused you to advance? The moment you begin to believe that you deserve the good things in your life you are moving into dangerous territory.
Everything good comes from the Lord.
Every blessing, every skill, every resource, every warmth, every comfort. If humility and gratitude fills your heart for the blessings that surround you then you are a candidate for even greater blessing. Start thinking that they belong to you and that you earned them and they can be gone in a blink.
Wow! It seems like forever since we’ve had rain here in Alton. Officially we had 2.2 inches in May, 2 inches in June but only .15 of an inch in the entire month of July. We are now officially in drought conditions. In some places the farmers are deciding to plow under their corn because the cost of harvesting will exceed the value of what they harvest. I’m sure you’ve seen the cornfields that already look ready to harvest and yet they have no ears of corn on their stalks.
That’s what drought does, it makes things look like they are all right when in fact they are very bad.
Have you ever experienced a spiritual drought? I have.
Like natural drought it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long, slow process where every day can be just like every other day with only one thing missing, the presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. For me it’s often something that changes my routine. Some extra thing in my schedule, some big event on the horizon, or anything that causes me to develop a pattern that squeezes out some or all of my time with God. At first it really doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Everything is still green and there is still fruit on the trees. But with each passing day of missing the refreshing that comes in God’s presence things dry a little more. Almost without notice things begin to get brown. Things begin to die and the ground begins to crack open until one day you look around and everything is dead! It can happen so easily.
Over and over in the scriptures the Holy Spirit is represented by different symbols. Oil, fire, and wind are all symbols of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, but perhaps the most common symbol of the Holy Spirit is water! Rain, dew, springs, and rivers are all used to describe the Holy Spirit. In almost all of these references there is a refreshing or strengthening that accompanies the Holy Spirit represented by water.
In John 7:38 we read:
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ “
Not just water, but living water!
You see, something flows out of each of us every day. If we are refreshed by God’s Spirit and His word then living water flows from us and touches and refreshes everyone it contacts. God’s presence manifests itself in kindness, service, strength, forgiveness or in short the Spirit of Christ. In times of spiritual drought we still have something flowing from us but it causes pain, stagnation, and hurt. It’s our normal human state that only the refreshing touch of God overcomes. When we have extended periods without a touch from God, just like ground that has had no rain, we begin to die until eventually we bring death to everything in our life.
The good news is that droughts come to an end. Even thought it’s been a very hot dry summer here in Alton we all know that the refreshing coolness and rains of Fall are coming! Droughts don’t last forever. Unlike the natural world, you and I don’t have to wait on the rain. It’s available anytime. Simply make some time for God’s word, worship, and His presence and you will find that it’s always raining in His presence!
For as long as I can remember one of the things that I have loved most has been music. The Lord has used a simple melody or a lyric hundreds of times to capture my attention and direct me towards something that He wanted to say to me. My most moving memories of God’s presence have almost always been accompanied by some piece of music.
One of my most favorite pieces of music is not even church or worship music, but rather would be considered by most people to be modern classical. It is by a composer named Aaron Copeland and is named Appalachian Spring. If you heard it you would probably recognize some of the melodies as it has been used in a lot of commercials and movie soundtracks. There are parts of it that actually make me happy.
Anyway, music is a huge part of my life. It communicates right into my spirit. It is for that reason that I am very careful about what I listen to. While this might not need to be a part of your life, for me nothing conveys a message right into my spirit quicker than melodies and lyrics. For others perhaps it’s the written word or video but for me the quickest way to get something onto me is through music.
I think that everyone has something like this that works best for them. I believe that God created each person with this “door” into their spirit. It’s important that you find out what that is for you and become a guardian of that doorway. It will be a very strategic position in your life. Whoever controls the gate into your spirit will ultimately control your spirit. Don’t allow anything through that gate that might move you away from God. No message, tune, image, or philosophy.
I believe that this is what Solomon was admonishing us to do when he wrote in Proverbs 2:23 “Above all else, guard your heart. For it is the wellspring of life”. You have to be careful what you allow to take root inside you. If you control what gets in you can control what takes root in your spirit, mind or heart.
Let me leave you with a favorite, simple, worship chorus that not only feeds my spirit, but also makes my point. Enjoy it!
As many of you know this past week I was blessed to be able to take a week off with nine other men from the church. We traveled almost a thousand miles North into Canada where we spent a week fishing on the Winnipeg River at Kenora Ontario. It was a great week of not only fishing, but also fellowship.
However, the very best aspect of the trip was the recreation. You might be tempted to say that the whole trip was recreation. In the sense that we normally use the word recreation I guess it was, but I want you to consider for a moment what the word recreation actually means. Look at it. Do you see re-creation or created again? That’s actually what the word used to mean. Being created all over. Its meaning was derived from the sense that at times people need to break from their routines, find a less-busy, less-hectic pace, get some rest, clear the mind and be created over.
With our understanding of the one who created us in the first place these times should be times of spiritual renewal and refreshing. That’s exactly what this week was for me. While I love the fishing and the fellowship, what I really love is the quiet, the change of scenery, the lack of a schedule, and the ability to just talk with the Lord while experiencing the beauty of his creation.
In contrast, think about some of the things that we call recreation or vacations. They are filled with an even faster pace, less rest, long lines, and more stress. While these may be fun, I know for me, I need these other, slower paced, less busy, more restful times to truly be re-created.
During these times I always have time in the scriptures, I love worship music so when I fished by myself I had music playing out of my iphone, and I just talked to the Lord about life. I came home with a clearer sense of God’s purpose for my life, my family’s life, and vision for the church. It was an awesome and needed time of recreation.
Let me suggest that you make time not only for fun this summer, but also recreation!
I was reading Romans chapter 1 this morning and I noticed what I believe to be an intentional progression in the titles that Paul refers to himself by. Notice verse one of Romans chapter 1 where we read…
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. Romans 1:1 ESV
Do you see it as I did? Paul refers to himself first as a servant of Christ, then an apostle, and lastly a person who has been set apart for the gospel of God.
Often I reverse that order. As I contemplate all of the aspects of being a Christian I must confess that the ones I appreciate the most are those that speak to my rights, privileges, inheritance, etc.… I was once lost, but now I am found! I was once blind, but now I see! I was once an orphan, but now I am an heir of God and co-heir with Jesus! I’m headed to heaven where I will rule and reign with Him! Wow I love all of that! It’s wonderful being set apart for the Gospel. While I realize that this is certainly not the context that Paul had in mind when he said that he was set apart for the Gospel, it’s what I like thinking.
After being set apart I am a pastor! I’m the guy! I get to make the decisions! My name is on the stationary! People don’t call me by my first name because I’m the pastor! People hang on every word that I say. People buy CD’s of my sermons and read this blog! Wow, I must be important!
After all of that has been covered and I have been sufficiently appreciated, recognized, and edified… I am a servant?
I hope you see the humor in the above statements. However, it’s really not very funny is it? Service should always come first. Service is the predominate guiding principle of our Christianity and spirituality. None of us have a greater right to boast than did Paul. His education, experience, and reputation made him a truly great tool in God’s hands and yet he himself used servant as his first title.
Today I set as my goal to not be a better Pastor, but a better servant. I think working at the first will take care of all the rest.
Are you resistant to Change?
No one really likes for the things in their world to change. However, did you ever think about the consequences of not changing? While this is not original to me I thought it to be a great example of the ripple effect through time as we either decide not to change or simply don’t pursue it.
Consider this piece of history…
American railroad tracks are 56.5″ wide (the “gauge”) because the English built the first railroads in America and they used that width. Why did they use that width? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used. Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that were used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing. Why did wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Because older wagon ruts throughout England used that spacing, and if they changed it, wagon wheels would break by either falling into or being forced out of the old ruts, which were 56.5″ wide.
The old ruts were that size because the roads were built by the Romans, who arrived in England in 54 BC and left about 400 AD. Their wagons, and their chariots before their wagons, used that spacing, and that spacing was used all over Europe and wherever Rome conquered, because their wagons used the identical wheel base everywhere. So the modern railroad track width derives from the Roman chariot.
Why was the Roman chariot track width 56.5″? Because, that was the width of two “standard” Roman horses. Thus, wagon and horses would fit through the same narrow street.
The impact of these curious dimensions continue today. A space shuttle sitting on its launch pad has two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs, made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is just wide enough to accommodate a railroad car. Therefore, the width of the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle is equal to the width of two horses all because no one wanted to change!
What we end up with if we refuse to change are limitations on what we might become and accomplish. Like the SRBs we could be more powerful and more useful but due to limitations that we allow to be placed upon ourselves, for reasons that we probably don’t even remember, we restrict our own true potential.
Allow the Holy Spirit to mold, shape, remake, and form you into the person that God created you to be and refuse to allow anything to hold you static.
When I was in the military there was a term that we used a lot the concept of which I find very useful yet today. The term was “Hip Pocket Training.” The concept was that as a leader you needed to always have something ready that should you and your soldiers have a lull in a days activities you could pull this topic out and teach it to your subordinates. It was founded on the premise that each day would present you opportunities and situations from which you could base some point of learning. I still do that almost every day.
Here’s one from last night. As many of you are aware we just completed a very successful Family Fest with several thousand in attendance and hundreds of volunteers involved in the planning, execution, and the cleanup from the event. In my opinion it was a huge success! One of the crowd’s favorite activities each year is the fireworks show to close the day. Hundreds of people begin to show up just prior to the show and our back field is filled with families sitting on the grass watching the show. Drivers along Humbert Road pull over to watch. Literally and figuratively it’s a blast!
However, one aspect that we did not foresee is the impact that the exploding fireworks would have upon the dogs in the subdivision across the road from the church. I’m sure they thought that their neighborhood was being invaded as the blasts are loud and the show lasts about twenty minutes. In response to this one of the families affected posted a synopsis of their evening and their dog’s reaction to the fireworks on Facebook. The comments were neither abrasive nor accusatory, just a report of the reaction of their dogs.
The point of this story that I thought presented a great teachable moment was a short discussion of what an apology is and what it is not. It occurs to me that most people feel an apology is an admission of some sort of guilt or wrongdoing. However, the Latin word that our English word “apology” comes from infers the defense of a particular position. It is possible to be completely in the right and still offer an apology.
Take our fireworks show for instance. We were completely legal. We had secured the proper permissions, used a licensed and insured contractor, and even went beyond the required regulations and had two fire trucks on hand in the unlikely event that something went wrong. Legally we were right in every way. However, that does not preclude us being genuinely sorry that we scared these dogs and created discomfort for our neighbors who we care deeply about. Our apology does not mean that we will discontinue our fireworks display in the future, only that we will actively search for a way to alleviate any problem that we cause doing it and that we are sincerely sorry for their discomfort.
1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”
I believe that humility expresses itself in the ability to genuinely say, “I’m sorry,” regardless of the circumstances and regardless of your position.
Just for thought….