Extravagant Blessings = Extravagant Thanksgiving

 

Tomorrow the families of our nation will huddle around mountains of feasts as a way to render thanks to our Creator/Redeemer/Forgiver God for the abundant provisions he has lavished upon not only creation generally, but to each of us specifically. God is the God of abundance and we thank him in two ways: (1) We delight in, and have joy over all that he has blessed us with and (2) We delight in, and have joy in him over and beyond all that he has blessed us with.

So with each slice of turkey, each nibble of the dressing/stuffing, and with each sip of hearty beverage, let our hearts be filled with merriment and our lips full of praise to our heavenly Father who has bestowed so much upon. Let his extravagant blessings demand from us an extravagant and corresponding thanksgiving.

 

Happy Thanksgiving,

 

Pj

Guard Your Heart – Its More Than A Table

Guest Speaker – Charles Rowley shares his message  “It’s More Than A Table” from the Guard Your Heart Series with us.

Guard Your Heart With Hope (Post Election Special)

Introduction: Four Years Ago
I’ll never forget the Sunday Morning after the 2016 presidential election. We were working through a series called “Songlasses” which was a survey of the various worldviews of our culture which are anti-God and anti-church. Full-disclaimer: When it comes to ministry I adopt an apolitical stance, i.e., I don’t mix politics with pulpit. If you want to know my personal views, I’ll gladly to tell you but in a different venue over hot coffee and apple pie. However, my hope is that when Christ followers vote we do so with biblical values uppermost, particularly those issues that promote and protect life.
After preaching on that particular Sunday four years ago, I introduced myself to a new guest and when I did he immediately went all nuclear on me. He began to lambast me for not being pastoral enough. You see, his candidate lost and five days later he was still agonizing over her shocking defeat. With hyper-elevated voice he told that I should have offered a pastoral message, which included comforting the voters that lost (i.e. him), a condemnation of the new president, and a commiseration how horrible everything was going to be from infinity to beyond.
Guard Your Heart Post-Election Special
As I look back on that encounter I sure as heck don’t want to be ingloriously unpastoral today. I know that elections have consequences along with heavy emotional investments, especially in our hyper polarized political environment. Therefore, I want to add a special post-election “Guard Your Heart” message. I want to address the hearts of those whose candidate won and also the hearts of those whose candidate lost.
To Those Whose Candidate Won
To those whose candidate won, congratulations! You fulfilled your patriotic privilege and duty by voting. You, along with millions of your fellow citizens, chose the winner. Hopefully, he will be able to unify the nation and usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. We should all want that. However, as hopeful as you are about the future, you still need to “guard your heart” today by not being too hopeful. Here’s why. The church I was leading in 2008 was a polling place much like Bay Point is today. I remember interacting with folks as they were coming out after voting. With some folks, I was taken aback, even frightened, when they spoke so glowingly, even messianically, about the man for whom they had voted. In worshipful terms one person radiated, “If so-and-so gets elected all of our problems will be over.” His candidate eventually did win but guess what, our nation’s problems persisted and in some ways, got worst. That’s not a knock on one of our former presidents. I respect the presidency and consider it the hardest and most complicated of all jobs. It’s just that we know that our political system is deeply flawed and is governed by deeply flawed people. I think it has something to do with the old truism raised by Sir John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I may be wrong, but we always need to be wary of people who thirst for power for power’s sake. Thus, we should never put our hope in politics because, vicariously/simultaneously speaking, that is putting our hope in people. If we do, not only will we eventually be disappointed but we will also be committing the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is anything in which we place our trust, hope, and joy in more than the good Lord himself. So go ahead and continue to be excited about the vison, agendas, and policies, of the recently elected president. However, just don’t think he’s going to be ushering in the millennium before sundown. Furthermore, remember that that your citizenship is first in the KOG and secondly, the KOA. You are still obligated to “See first the KOG” (Matthew 6:33) as King Jesus taught. Furthermore, make sure your political attitude is that of David in Psalms 20:7
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Or even that of American war hero, General George S. Patton who once pointed out:
For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: “All glory is fleeting.” “All glory is fleeting.”
So guard your heart by not putting your hope in politics or politicians!
To Those Whose Candidate Lost
Now on to those whose candidate lost. Please guard your heart from disappointment. You got your hopes up and voted for the candidate that best represented your personal, party, and policy preferences but yet, he didn’t win. It’s ok to be disappointed. If the winners of this election need to guard their hearts by not putting their hope in politics then you need to guard your by putting more hope in God. As David asked in Psalm 42:11
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Remember also that just as there can only be one airplane pilot at a time, there can be only one president at a time so root for him to succeed. It’s probably the best way to bring healing and unity to our country. You can still put your hope in God because he is the Lord of the Nations. You can still put your hope in God because God is still on the throne and his will is still being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” You can still put your hope in God because he is still good and the future is bright. You can still put your hope in God because God has a plan and is working that plan. You can still put your hope in God because as Daniel 2:21 tells us he
Controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.
You can still put your hope in God because the end of the world will come at the end of the world and not a second sooner. And guess what? Although it may feel like it, it’s not going to come just because your candidate didn’t win. So put more hope in God because when you do you he will lift up your “downcast soul.”
Conclusion:
It was once said that we can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope. Weather your candidate won or lost let us guard our hearts by maintaining our hope in God. Let’s close our special post-election “Guard your Heart” message with the best hope floats scripture in the Bible, Psalm 33:20-22
20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

“Orchestration”

Scripture: Daniel 2:21
 
The Lord controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.
 
Observation:
Like most powerful people the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was quite the egomaniac and also quite insecure. One night he has a dream he can’t understand but senses it’s about his own eventual dethronement. He summons his astrologers, magicians, and professional dream weavers but they cannot confirm or deny the contents and meaning of the dream. They even go so far as to assert that no one on the planet really knows. Finally the king stumbles upon Daniel, an enslaved Hebrew that works as a low-level operator in his administration. With confidence, Daniel tells the king that unless he repents of his arrogance that God, the only true God, will take him down and give his kingdom to another. After all, God is the only one that determines the course of history. It is he that sets up kings and removes them in accordance to his sovereignty and plan. Nebuchadnezzar knows that Daniel correctly interpreted his dream and temporarily repents of his arrogance.
 
Application:
Today is a very important, albeit much ballyhooed day, in which our nation elects its next leader. Regardless of the results, we, as Christ followers, can take comfort in God’s overarching orchestration much the same way Daniel did. His amazing plan “goes marching on” and so will we.
 
Prayer:
Lord Over All,
As our nations furtively awaits or next leader, help us to find peace in your sovereign hand no matter what transpires. In Jesus name, Amen!

Guard Your Heart With Encouragement

Introduction: Review
Last week in our “Guard Your Heart” series we warned about the inherent dangers of spiritual arteriosclerosis, which, if left unchecked and untreated would harden our hearts and turn us away from the Living God. Just as hard heartedness, caused by chronic unbelief, costs the first generation of Israelites the Promised Land, so too will it cost us entrance into the ultimate Promised Land, heaven itself. Two of the best therapeutics to combat unbelief are: (1) Constantly fill our hearts with faith, which comes from the Word of God. (2) Ask God for a spiritual heart transplant which he is exceptionally good at according to Ezekiel 36:26
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
 
Today we head back to anti-arteriosclerosis passage of Hebrews 3:12-13, to discover another treatment against hard-heartedness
 
12 See to it that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
 
Fight the Good Fight of Faith In Your Mind
How many do you know that golf is a hard sport to play? Even its greatest players, like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, are quick to point out that no one ever masters it. However, the hardest course one will ever play is not found in historic places like Augusta or Pebble Beach but the fairway between one’s ears. This means that the mental aspects of the golf are just as difficult, if not more so, than the physical ones. Clutter your brain with swing thoughts and watch your golf scores sky-rocket. Believe me, I can attest to this truth!
 
Fight the Good Fight of Faith Together
Like golf, much of our faith is lived out in that six-inch space between our ears. So when Paul talks about “Fighting the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12) he means we must constantly preach to ourselves about the person and promises of God. This is one of the best remedies to prevent a bad case of spiritual arteriosclerosis and subsequent hard heartedness. Although our battle against unbelief is often fought within our squishy brain matter, not all of it is. It’s also fought in another place and that place is together.
 
Encouragement!
The pastor of the Hebrew congregation encourages his people to make sure they do one thing really, really well-
 
Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.
 
This encouragement command is a mutually reciprocal one, which demonstrates that our faith is not to be lived out individualistically but with one another. This encouragement also echoes the fact that when Christ calls us to faith in him he simultaneously calls us into his faith community with one another. What is one of the best ways we can serve one another within our faith community? Encouragement! How often and how long are we to encourage one another? The Hebrew pastor says, “Daily” and as long as it is called “Today” meaning as long as we are on this planet, on this side of eternity, in this age before Jesus’ 2nd Coming.
 
Parakalew
The word for encouragement stems from the Greek term parakalew. It means to instill courage, to console and to comfort. In John 14:26 Jesus used an almost identical word “Paracletos” to name and describe the person and work of the HS:
 
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Encourager
to be with you forever—
 
The 3rd Person of the Trinity is first and foremost an encourager and his primary ministry is to encourage the people of God. As JD Walt puts it,
 
Encouragement is the language of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit encourages.
 
Amazingly, the Holy Spirit is not the only member of the Trinity that is committed to the ministry of encouragement. So too are the Father and Son. Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:16
 
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us
and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope…
 
Let that sink in for a moment. If the entire Trinity is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement doesn’t that tell us necessary encouragement is and that we need it every day until the Lord’s return? The saying, “Encouragement is oxygen for the soul” may be true but it is definitely oxygen for the faith. But how do the Divine Encouragers encourage? Through the body of Christ! They encourage us so that we can encourage one another. One of the most satisfying and easiest ways to be used by God is to encourage others in their faith.
 
Encouraging Examples
The absolute necessity of a Niagara flow of encouragement in the Body of Christ prompted Paul to send Tychicus to the church of Ephesus (6:22)
 
I am sending him to you for this very purpose… that he may encourage you.
 
Because of his encouraging heart the early church leader Barnabas was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement” in Acts 4:36. Paul himself specialized in the ministry of encouragement. Listen to Acts 20:1-2
 
1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.
2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people…
 
Romans 15:4 tells us that one reason why God gave us the Bible in the first place was to encourage us
 
Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
 
I could go on and on but why all this encouragement? Because life is hard and living the Christian life is harder. Because the devil is always nipping at our heals. Because unbelief is always knocking on the door of our hearts and we are always susceptible to hard heartedness. Because we need it every day if we are going to be all that God wants us to be and do all that God wants us to do.
 
Conclusion: Encouragement Hotspots
One way we fulfill our vision of “Creating irresistible churches everyone enjoys” is to flood our souls with encouragement and then spread it. How do we do that? We do that by creating hotspots of encouragement! And where are those? We call these hotspots “Together” groups where we gather in various places throughout the week and encourage each other to live out our faith the best way we can. It was easier for the early church to encourage one another because they met daily in small house groups. They knew how to encourage one another because they knew each other so well. Do we? Can we really encourage one another by meeting once a week for one hour? I don’t think so. Where, and to whom, do we go to encourage and be encouraged? Who GETS way too much encouragement? Who GIVES way too much encouragement? Who loves to be AROUND encouragers? Our Together Groups, which we will be launching in December will ensure we get all the encouragement we need. More details are forthcoming.

Political Attitude

 
Unless you are Rip Van Winkle you may have heard that we are currently smack dab in the middle of a presidential election cycle and the winner will be revealed in a few short days.
 
As Christians we know that our ultimate politic is to Jesus Christ and his kingdom which he said we are to “Seek first above all things” (Matthew 6:33). That being said, we, secondarily so, are also citizens in the Kingdom of America and as such, are called to be active in our democratic republic by exercising our constitutional right to vote. Although we know that the “Kingdoms of this world” are NOT ultimate, we still need to support candidates whose policy positions resonate with, or are compatible with biblical values. I personally believe this always God’s will for us when it comes to voting.
 
Obviously, the stakes are sky high because the candidates, and the parties they represent, are so deeply contrasted and our nation is so widely polarized over these contrasts.
 
Centuries ago, John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, was deeply concerned that his people were being divided over politics much in the same way we are today. He believed they could model for the world and church, a sense of healing and unity even while disagreeing on whom to vote. Thus, on October 6, 1774 he penned three pieces of advice:
 
· To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
· To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
· To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
 
I find the first point pretty easy to adhere to given that it is illegal to take bribes or sell our individual votes in America. Obviously, people were doing that in Wesley’s time. The second and third points are much tougher to live out: not speaking evil or sharpening our spirits (getting our meters in the red, i.e., negative and nasty) against the people that voted for the person that we might not ever vote for. Whoa, this restraint of attitude and discipline of words takes an abundance of Christ-likeness which is all the more reason we need to practice exactly what Wesley preached here.
 
So as you prepare to vote, or await the results of this election, keep these three things uppermost. And remember, regardless of which candidates wins next week we can still keep our sunny side up and our bottoms dry because Jesus is the Lord of the Nations and the future is still bright.
 
Agape,
 
Pj the Polo Pastor

Milestones

In Every Change God Faithful Will Remain
 
Recently my church and I celebrated my 30th year in ministry. Although I was very blessed by the many encouragements, cards, and gifts I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, that sure went fast” and “I guess this constitutes something of a milestone.”
 
I remember my “calling” to go into ministry when I was ten years old. I remember the academic challenges of 12 years of post-high school education. I remember the arduous ordination exams.
 
I mostly remember, however, the many people who gave their lives to Christ for the first time or and those who rededicated themselves to him. I remember the hospital visits, funerals, and the weddings. Also the wonderful saints of God that served so faithfully and sacrificially.
 
Although aging brings its own set of challenges, physical and others wise, I can say that I am more passionate about the ministry than when I was a young hot-shot seminarian who thought he had all the answers and could solve all the problems of the church hours before sundown.
 
As a young ordinand I was once told, “If you can do anything else but ministry, do it.” My response back then is the same as it is now only with more resolve, “I can’t do anything else but ministry and I don’t want to do anything else but ministry.”
 
I suppose the next milestone will be my 40th year in ministry. My hope is, “Lord willing and creeks don’t rise” that we will be able to celebrate it together along with a myriad of others.
 
As you go about your day today remember three simple things: (1) Keep you sunny side up and your bottoms dry, (2) God is Good and the Future Is Bright, and (3) I love you and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
 
Agape,
 
Pj, your Polo Pastor

Guard Your Heart from Spiritual Arteriosclerosis

 Introduction: Arteriosclerosis

 In my last semester of seminary I took a required course called CPE. CPE is an acronym for “clinical pastoral education.” This is where a seminarian becomes a floor chaplain in a hospital. I was assigned to a cardiac ward and was there to minister to the unique needs of heart patients. I quickly caught on that if something goes haywire with your heart every other physiological function in your body is diminished. One of the most common, and most dangerous, of the heart diseases is called arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is the thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries. It restricts the blood flow to one’s heart, other organs, and tissues caused by the buildup of fatty plaques in the artery walls. Smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetic factors are contributing causes of arteriosclerosis.

Roughly 2, 8000, 000 people die every year in America of which 800,000 do so from heart disease (1/3). Heart disease, by far, is the #1 killer of both men and women in our country. Thus, there are over 500,000 surgeries performed annually to combat this silent killer (uncles, JD). During my time in CPE, and 30 years of ministry, my heart broke as I watched dozens of people I cared for endure major surgeries and suffer through painful therapies. Unfortunately, a few of my “flock” had hearts so badly damaged and weakened that they never made it off the table. Dealing so often with the heart-breaking ramifications of heart disease made me realize one of life’s most valuable lessons:

*Keep Your Heart Healthy Or You Won’t Be*

Spiritual Cardiologists

Pastors are a lot of things, but mostly we are spiritual cardiologists. As such, we are always concerned with the condition of our people’s spiritual heart. What is a diagnostic tool, and MRI if you will, to determine whether or not you have spiritual arteriosclerosis? As we continue our “Guard Your Heart” series today let’s turn to Hebrews 3:12-13, to find out

12 See to it that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  

13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The Nature of Unbelief!

The pastor to the Hebrew congregation is trying to figure out why the first generation of Israelites, the very people God miraculously rescued from the Egyptians, through 10 Plagues and Red Sea Crossing, never made it into the Promised Land. Instead, they eventually died in the desert after circling around MT Sinai for forty years. The cause of death, according to his autopsy report: spiritual arteriosclerosis brought on by onset unbelief. Unbelief is a silent spiritual killer because it does not trust God’s person and promises for everything we need in this world and the world to come. It is the foundational sin, the most lethal sin, and the worst sin since all other sin springs from it. The pastor strenuously warns his people about the dangers of unbelief because it has the power to turn their hearts away from the “Living God.” How does it do that?

Skleroma

The Greek word for hardening is skleroma which translates into our English word sclerosis. It means to be emotionally and spiritually hardened against someone. Hardness of heart clogs our spiritual arteries to the point that we chronically refuse to listen to and trust God. I’m sure we all, at one time or another, have suffered from bouts of hard heartedness! This is when we completely shut down dialogue, thoughts, and feelings towards another person. We don’t want to talk to them, be around them, or even think of them. It’s not even that we are upset but just emotionally indifferent towards them. Unbelief, like nothing else, hardens our hearts towards God, the worst of all spiritual conditions!

 Hard Hearts Examples

Spiritual arteriosclerosis happened to Pharaoh. When he heard God’s demands to free the Israelites through Moses, Pharaoh hardened his heart, i.e., meaning he wouldn’t listen to or obey God (Exodus 8:19). In the 1st century, the Pharisees were out-and-about condoning no-fault divorces and using Mosaic Law to justify it. Jesus told them this was a concession from God because of the “Hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). When Paul was teaching in the synagogue about the salvation that comes only from Jesus Christ we are told, “Some were hardened and refused to believe” (Acts 19:9).Three times in our immediate context the pastor warns his people, “Do not harden your hearts as the Israelites did” (3:8,15,4:7).

The Insult of Unbelief

Unbelief generates within us a spiritual arteriosclerosis which hardens our hearts towards God and turns us away from him. Unbelief always turns us away from God because it insults his character. To qualify, we are not talking about momentary doubts but chronic unbelief. The worst thing we can say, the worst rumor we can spread, and the worst insult we can hurl, is to say someone is not trustworthy. They may be talented, smart, and even loving, but these things are of no value if, at the end of the day, we can’t trust them.

How many of us just love it when our character is questioned, criticized, or attacked? Nothing gets our “meters in the red” faster although we know, at the bottom of our hearts, that we are flawed and on our very best day are not totally trustworthy. Now consider how God feels when we question his character through unbelief. Obviously, God is awesome in love, holiness, goodness and amazing in the rest of his attributes and his omni-qualities. We wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t believe it was so. However, unbelief says that God is not totally reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature but it is far worse to not trust God. Because of the Israelites’ chronic unbelief, God would not permit them to enter in the Promised Land. God disciplines it far more harshly than any other sin.

Conclusion

The best way to guard our hearts against spiritual arteriosclerosis caused by onset unbelief is to fill our hearts with faith (prescription for spiritual Lipitor???). How do we get more faith? Romans 10:9 tells us that we get if from hearing the Word of God. Faith says that “God is both willing and able to do whatever he has promised” (Romans 4:21). Faith trusts God and glorifies his trustworthiness. Faith is the best prescription for spiritual arteriosclerosis.

Some of us may need to transplant a few arteries of unbelief and replace them with arteries of faith (stints). While others may need a total heart transplant. The good news of Ezekiel 36:26 is that God is exceptionally good at heart surgery:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Let’s pray that God would do his surgery on us now!