Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Monday, December 22, 2014

Learn from it First, then Let it Go!

Ok, ok. I'll admit it. Yes...I watched it. Yes...I watched it...and I liked it! There..you happy now. Now everybody knows I watched the movie Frozen, and I liked it! Ok, so I have daughters, and I thought they were both just past the age of liking those kind of movies. I thought that over the years I had paid my dues, having watched all the princesses in action that Disney could round up. I've seen Ariel the Mermaid, Belle (the beauty of Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine from Aladdin, Pocahontus, Mulan, Raponzel, and probably some others I'm leaving out. I've even seen them all together skating with Disney on ice. So I thought all that was behind me, until this movie came out. My girls wanted to see it, so daddy went to see it. Don't get me wrong, the others were good, and I enjoyed watching them with my babies. But I figured, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. So I was looking forward to getting a quick nap. But it was actually good. In fact really good. But, now the only thing is, I can't get that song out of my head. What song? Oh, you know what song! Sing it with me now. (1 anda 2 anda) "Let it gooooo...Let it gooooo...." Yeah. I knew that you knew what I was talking about. I don't even know what she says after that. Just "Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo.....".
The whole world seems to be adopting that chant as our cry to deal with the past, and the hurt, and the pain, and whatever it is holding us back, and to just "Let it goooo....Let it gooooo....". And that's cool. In fact that's biblical. The Apostle Paul wrote "...forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14). Jesus himself said in Luke 9:62 "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." So it's good for us to "Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo.....". But....before you do. Let me give you a piece of advice. Before you let it go, you need to learn from it. Because if you don't, you're likely to pick it right back up again. (Purposeful pause to let that sink in). Let me say it again. Before you let it go, you need to learn from it. Because if you don't, you're likely to pick it right back up again.
Come on, let's be honest. How many of us have gotten ourselves into a bad situation, prayed for God to help us, got out, let it go, only to later find ourselves right back in the same situation? All of us! For some it was a bad relationship. You let it go, then later picked up another bad relationship. Some it was bad financial decisions. Got in debt, got in trouble, got out, let it go; then went right back and spent money you had no business spending on stuff you had no business buying. Might even be someone reading this who committed a crime, spent time in jail, got out, let it go, then later committed another crime. Hey I could stay here all day coming up with examples, but let me let you fill in your own blanks here. "I did __________; it caused ________ in my life; I asked God to help me not to _________ ever again; I let it go; and before I knew it I had _____________ again."
Look. God allows us to go through difficult situations in our lives, not so He can prove how weak or stupid we are; not because He enjoys seeing us suffer. No! He allows those things to come our way so they will make us stronger, wiser, and closer to Him. In fact the scriptures teach that we should be thankful for those growing opportunities. Romans 5: 3-4 "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope". But we can't just let it go and not learn from it. Otherwise our lives would become a constant rerun of the same bad movie.
So if you are in the midst of something right now, pray this little prayer.
"Lord, I am going through a tough time. If You will help me to get past it, I don't want to ever go through it again. So make my eyes wise to see where I am wrong, what I can do differently, and how I can grow from this experience. Then Father, help me...to let it go! In Jesus name. Amen!"
Now you can go about the rest of your day singing your song...."Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo....."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Love that Chases



Have you ever had to chase after someone that you loved? You saw them, you knew them, and you loved them. But...they didn't love you back. They really had no notion of loving you and at best only wanted to be friends; and you knew that. Yet, you chased them. You saw not even the hint of love returned. Unlike you, they didn't feel happy when you walked into the room. They didn't feel sad when you walked out. They weren't thinking of you when you weren't around; in fact they barely thought of you when you were. And you as much figured that. But you were driven by your love for them and a hope that one day they'd feel the same way. And so, you chased them. It's amazing the endurance we can find in our heart and our legs when we are motivated by love.
Usually in the movies the guy eventually gets the girl and the girl gets the guy. But not always so in real life. Some of you reading this right now are thinking of the one that got away even though it's been years since you gave up the chase. Some of you would start the chase all over again if given the chance, because that's just how love is. And if you think that the romantic, passion-driven love that we are capable of producing on our own will motivate a chase, then you need to hear about the power of the unconditional, unrelenting love that only God can give. Let me explain with a personal story.
See the bible I'm holding in this picture? That's the bible that was given to me when I graduated from high school in 1989 by the church I was a member of growing up, Mt. Bethel. Ironically, in this picture I was using that bible as an illustration when speaking at a baccalaureate service a few years ago. That's not my "preaching bible", but it's very special to me, and I keep it close by. When I was given that bible, I wasn't saved. I thought it was nice of the church to give it to me, but honestly I was more impressed by the monetary gift I received. I took it home and laid it down somewhere in my room. A few months later I went off to college. I really don't remember packing it, but that bible managed to follow me there. While at ECU (Go Pirates!), I stayed in two different dorms, and an apartment, and that bible came along with me. Granted, I don't remember opening it one single time. I graduated, moved back home for a while, got married the next year and moved into our own house. In all of that moving, I never remember packing the bible, but it managed to show up every time. About two years after I got married, I started to feel the pull of God on my heart, and I finally surrendered. And when that desire to read God's word hit me, I didn't have to look far for a bible to read. It was right there all the time. Now when I look at that Bible, you know what verse I think about? "Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.- Psalm 23:6 (NLT)
You see, I believe God was chasing me. God loves me so much that He pursued me for all those years. Long before I ever loved Him, He already loved me. Long before I ever reached out to Him, He was reaching out to me. He had been trying to send me messages all of my life to let me know how much He loves me and all that He has done for me. Yet up until that Sunday in 1997, I ignored every one. During the times I wasn't thinking of Him, didn't want to talk to Him, and certainly wasn't following Him, He was chasing after me. Now that is some kind of love! And one day I finally realized that, stopped running and gave in.
And guess what! God loves you that much too. So if you haven't turned to Him, know that He is still chasing after you. And He will until the world ends or you finally give in.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Won't Go Back, I Can't Go Back!

Most of my morning commutes to work are pretty boring and monotonous. I've been at my job for 13 years, pretty much driving the same way errr day. But every now and then the Lord will sprinkle a little excitement in there to keep it interesting. Well, day before yesterday, He did just that. I was driving along with a line of a few cars in front of me. I was approaching this sharp curve, people from around here know it as dead man's curve. I noticed the car in front of me, and then the cars in front of it, hitting their brakes, way too abruptly to be braking for the curve. Without knowing why, I figured it was a good reason, so I hit my brakes too. That's when I noticed a momma deer with two young deer following behind her. They weren't babies, but still young enough to be closely following their momma. They were crossing the road from the left side to the right. They were looking real jittery like they had been on the run for a while. It's deer season, so I'm sure they had been. I was so glad that all of us were able to slow down in time for them to safely cross over. This would have been a much different post had we not.
Well after they cautiously crossed the road and safely reached the other side, they shifted back into high gear to find their way back into the woods. But, they quickly found a pasture fence blocking them. All three stopped at it, and I imagined the momma deer saying something like "You've got to be kidding me. Dogs on my butt, almost hit by cars, and now this?! Can a doe get a break?". To which I mentally replied "I know the feeling sista girl...story of my life."
All of us were slowly creeping by thinking they may turn around and come back across. But I think she started singing that William McDowell song to herself "I won't go back..I can't go back...to the way it used to be". And let me tell you. Sista girl bent her knees slightly, and leaped right over that fence, which was about 4 or 5 feet tall. No running start or nothing. I was like..."Go head then!". But her babies were like..."Hey, what about us?". They both approached it, sized it up, and I guess figured they didn't yet have it like momma. But I believe they heard momma singing, "I won't go back...I can't go back.." (You can tell I grew up on lots of cartoons with talking animals). So they both got down on their bellies, and one after the other scurried under that fence. That bottom strand of high tensile wire couldn't have been more than 12 inches off the ground. I've never seen a deer get down like that, literally or figuratively speaking.
Well, if you've been reading my posts for any amount of time, then you know I'm always looking and listening for God in everyday experiences. And what I learned from that experience is that..."I won't go back...I can't go back...". Hey, I know we all go through rough times in our lives. I know you've faced many days like I have where it felt like the dogs were on your butt, the car horns were blowing, and a fence popped up from nowhere blocking your path; even if we are Christians. The children of Israel faced it too. God sent Moses to deliver them, yet no sooner than they passed the "Thanks for Visiting Egypt" sign, Pharaoh was hot on their tails, there were mountains on both sides, and the Red Sea in front of them. Then the people started crying and complaining and saying to Moses, "Why you bring us out here only to die". Moses prayed to God, asking what he should do. And the Lord spoke these words very directly and firmly to Moses, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." (Exodus 14:15)
We've got to do like the Lord showed Moses and Israel. We have to learn to let our faith in God overshadow our fear of the unknown. We've got to remember that everything God has promised is ahead of us and not behind us. We've got to keep telling ourselves that the past is called the past for a very good reason. Then we should take a cue from that momma deer and keep moving forward no matter what. So, I've decided that whether I'm able to go over, or I have to crawl under, either way..."I won't go back...I can't go back...".

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I Don't Want You to See Who I Really Am!


Suppose it was perfectly acceptable for you to walk out of the house today, heading to work or school or wherever you are heading, ...totally naked. Of course pretending for a moment that it was warm enough to bare all, but what if there were no laws against it, and your work or school dress code allowed it. Would you? My guess would be many of you would not. I know I wouldn't. That's because the reason most of us wear clothes is not just because laws or social norms require them, but more so because there's a lot about our bodies we don't want others to see. So we cover it up. And even with the parts of us that are not generally concealed by clothing, if we don't like how it looks, we try to cover it in other ways. Blemishes on your face? Ladies cover with make up or men might grow a beard. Hair thinning? Put a hat on it. Legs spotty or veiny? Wear long pants, skirt to your ankles or pantyhose. I could go on with examples, but you get the idea. And the idea is that we have come up with many ways to conceal what we really look like and...who we really are.

That effort runs much deeper when it comes to our character flaws and personality imperfections. And even deeper than that when we talk about our spiritual shortcomings. Just like how we dress over our mess, we can work just as hard to hide our sinful thoughts, words and actions. Many of us can even conceal it, and at least think, talk and act right long enough to sit in church for a few hours each week. And the folks sitting around us are none the wiser. They have no clue of the violent thoughts you've been thinking. Couldn't imagine the curse words you sometimes mumble low enough where no one hears you. Would never guess how many of your waking and sleeping hours you spend lusting after someone who belongs to someone else or material possessions you don't possess. No one knows that because we have gotten good at covering it up.

But there are not enough clothes or proper talk or christian-like conduct that could ever hide it from God. He sees all and He knows all. I know, cramps up my stomach too. But this is the thing. He knows it, but He still loves us. And because He loves us, He is not going to leave us that way. If we will surrender to Him and obey Him, He won't help us cover up what we're not proud of...He'll fix it. And not just patch it up either. He will change our whole lives and give us a brand new start and take us to places we never ever could reach without Him. Just read this beautiful prayer written by King David.

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty! Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign Lord?  “What more can I say to you? You know what your servant is really like, Sovereign Lord." 2 Samuel 7:18-20 (NLT)

David prayed this just after God reminded him of how he brought him from tending sheep to be a mighty King. Then God made a covenant with David, an eternal promise, to make his lineage a great dynasty.

When others looked at David, what they saw was a mighty King, strong in battle, able leader, and righteous servant. But what they couldn't see was the lust that he harbored in his heart. The lust that would later, in chapter 11, lead him to sleep with another man's wife, get her pregnant, then come up with a scheme to have her husband killed on the battlefield. But at this point, he is hiding that lust very well. Everyone else still saw David with all of his spiritual clothes on. But God saw him for who he really was. Which is why David said, "You know what your servant is really like".

Look don't get any ideas about my question earlier. Go ahead and put your clothes on. And go ahead and put on your makeup or your hat or your wig or your pantyhose, or whatever you put on to hide whatever it is you don't want us to see. And when you go to church this Sunday, don't feel like you have to tell everyone what you've been thinking, saying or doing. We don't have to see everything or know everything about you. But always remember, God sees it all, and God knows who you really are....and He still loves you!