Clarity

Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Never read the comments. Anyone who has spent a few moments scanning the comments on a news story can testify – this is not a good idea! Our Governor has a news conference a few times a week and watching the chat comments is a spectacle! Whether it is a local news story or even a religious story carried by national press, the comment section is a good signal that what our country doesn’t have is clarity. Even something that is mostly read by church leaders can be challenging. Reading the comments in a popular blog written for church leaders revealed not only dissenting views, but sarcastic, biting, and even ignorant comments from people who are ostensibly leading churches. Scary.

There’s a brief and unexplained mention in 1 Chronicles 12:32 about some from the tribe of Issachar that is fascinating. “From Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do...” Does that mean they had some special gift? Does it mean that they were naturally inclined to be able to see the outcome of decisions? Were they savvy or Spirit-led? Whatever was so outstanding about them that it warranted a mention, we need more of it today.

Maybe it was just a matter of having clarity … to understand … to know what to do. I know people who have a gifted sense of discernment. I turn to them when I lack clarity. It is always interesting to me that they seem to be able look past the things I’m concerned with to see a more essential factor that I’ve overlooked. Some days I’m cloudy, some days I seem to have clarity.

Clarity is difficult to achieve in our time because there is so much noise. Conflicting opinions, misinformation, mixed motives, emotional turmoil, tunnel vision, selective information gathering, and the world at our keyboard all contribute to a noisy experience in life. Even if none of it is audible.

It seems to me that we find clarity in the basics, not in the endless tangential issues and opinions we can be tempted to chase down. We we find ourselves drowning in the sea of opinion and conflict around us, maybe we can find some clarity by asking a few questions.

*What can I control about this situation? If nothing, then all of my worry and excitement about it are of no real value. If there is something productive I can do, then doing that should lower stress and help others.

*What can I say to diffuse the tension being experienced right now? If nothing, then it’s time to turn the noise off and pay attention to something that pertains to you. If you can help two parties bridge a gap or bring grace to a conversation, allowing God to use you in this way could be the path to take.

*What is the gospel mission in this moment? Aside from the conflict and raised voices (whether typed or spoken!), how do I bring the mission of Christ into this situation? It is more important that everyone involved experience salvation than that they are able to win an argument.

*Have I prayed about this and sought God’s wisdom? Too many times we are caught trying to engage humans without engaging the Divine.

*Can I distinguish between important and essential? There are many important issues being discussed today in our world – but in the end, are they essential? When the Lord returns, will He be interested in the discussion that is raising our passion today? If not, then I should be able to say that it may be important, but it is not essential – so there’s no need to exercise myself so much over it.

I don’t know if those questions give us clarity on every issue we are hearing / reading or not. But I do think they give us clarity on our position in the fray. As ambassadors for Christ, God should be speaking through us. Is that what it looks like? Then maybe that’s all the clarity that we need.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:20, 21. ESV

EPIC

I’ve read many adjectives to describe 2020. While some of them are not appropriate Christian reading, many were accurate. At this moment, my word is EPIC.

One definition of EPIC is “extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope“. From almost any viewpoint, this year has extended beyond the usual. In the retelling of this adventure, I expect the tale will grow exponentially, even though I wonder if it’s possible to exaggerate what we are going through. Did anyone anticipate Tropical Storm Beta? And we’re not through yet.

I suppose I am using EPIC in a sarcastic tone. Finding the positives in this year takes some effort. I know many churches began the year with themes like “20 20 Vision” – I am not hearing that as we enter the Fall season. I just hear questions. “What Next?” I can relate.

Even as we endure some pretty strenuous challenges, I do think we need to remember that in the storyline of every EPIC there are those moments when we wonder if every hope is gone … every hero has fallen … every good has been defeated.

So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.
    But what a difficult task it is!

Psalm 73:16, NLT

It is usually just before the turning point in the story that the reader begins to wonder if this is going to be a disaster rather than a victory. In the haunting lyric of Longellow’s poem, we read:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

It isn’t until the next verse that the bells of Christmas Day peal out a victorious sound.

In this year of pandemic, racial chaos, political polarization, wildfires, and hurricanes we might be speaking like Longfellow’s stanza … or like Habakkuk’s painful outcry.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.

Habakkuk 1:2

Yes, in every EPIC there is a moment when all seems to have gone wrong and it appears to be the end of the story. It was during such a season when brokenhearted disciples heard the world-changing news:

He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

Matthew 28:6

So, while we wait for something better to happen, don’t give up. Keep your faith strong. Remember you are not alone. The struggle as we live out our EPIC is not easy, but there’s something ahead that will change the whole story in an amazing way.

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

Sermons Moving To…

For the millions of you reading my sermon notes each week, I’d like to inform you that they will be posted at another site. The weekly sermon notes from Forsythe Church of Christ will be moving to the Forsythe site (FACOC.org). Each Sunday just look for the newest post of the day and those will be the most current sermon notes.

There are other places to find the sermons as well. If you prefer video, we are working on getting the video presentation each Sunday and Wednesday on our YouTube page.

If you are just an audio listener, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Podbean. Please do not listen while driving.

That anyone would listen to the sermons or be interested in the notes is a compliment I do not take for granted. Thank you!

Ready For New Beginnings

An email advertisement had this heading: “You made it through another week.” Can’t we all resonate with that … making it through another week of coronavirus details, hurricane recovery, and screaming political headlines. Our friends to the West are dealing with wildfires. We can really be weary with just making it through another day, much less another week.

Weariness and discouragement can sap our spiritual life.

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1, NLT

Even faithful King David experienced times of longing for closeness to God and renewal of his spiritual strength. Our text today exposes three reasons we are in a constant battle to regain our confidence and faith.

Reasons We Battle Weariness

Our Enemy Wears Us Down

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-5

The enemy wears us down by opposing God’s truth, bringing doubt, and subtly twisting the truth. I feel sure that one of the most common questions God hears is “WHY?” I also feel sure that the Enemy attempts to answer that question in deceptive ways and it can wear us down spiritually if we listen to him.

Our Senses Mislead Us

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

Genesis 3:6-7

What Eve saw looked edible, tasty, and exciting. She was deceived just as we have all been deceived by our own thoughts and senses when the Enemy lies to us. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” We tend to veer toward the wrong when we trust in our own senses.

Our Denial Entangles Us

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Genesis 3:8-15

The blame game – it’s someone else’s fault. We refuse to acknowledge our weakness, our rebellion, and the way we chase after our own desires rather than God’s truth. Refusal to take responsibility does not change the reality.

The Good News we all need to hear is that renewal is within reach because God is always at work. Our troubles can seem huge to us at the moment, but God sees beyond them – he is beyond them.

Isaiah 42:9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you. Let’s be encouraged today to see the ways that God brings newness into our lives every day.

God’s Daily Renewal in Our Lives

New Mercies.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

What a joy it is that His mercies are new every morning – because we need the mercy of God every day! God prepared clothing for Adam and Eve – a great act of mercy even though they disappointed/disobeyed Him.  Whatever your yesterday was like – today you can experience the reality of His New Mercies all over again.

Jesus Gave Us New Life!

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:4

Beyond the mistakes, troubles, and regrets of the past – God gives us a new life when we identify with Jesus Christ in baptism. Paul says it this way:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

We are not the same people we were before we gave our life to Christ. We are not the same people we were when we first gave our lives to Christ – we continually are growing in our faith.

Galatians 6:15 …What counts is the new creation.

Peter says it this way: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – 1 Peter 1:3

The power of the new birth is found in the resurrection – He can promise new life because He is a Risen Savior! Jesus gives us New LIfe!

The Promise of a New Future

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:13

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

Revelation 21:5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Conclusion

It is true that we can be weary, worn out, and lose our spiritual strength when we
listen to the enemy, rely on our own senses, or refuse to take responsibility for
our own actions.

But it is also true that God is always bringing renewal into our lives – he gives us the
strength we need to do more than just make it through another week – but to live
each day with hope and faith.

  • His New Mercies
  • His New Life
  • His New Everything

Have you experienced newness in your relationship with Him?

How many of us need to have a renewed appreciation for the newness he brings to His children?

Prayer Requests can be sent to our church via FACOC.org

COVID: Why We Cannot Give Up

I join with all who are exhausted with protocols meant to diminish the propagation of COVID-19. There has been nothing like this in our lifetimes. It has maintained a presence in our thinking over the past several months and shows no signs of an end anytime soon. Some predict even more difficult struggles as Fall turns into Winter.

For some, that means it’s time to just stop. Take off the mask. Forget all the precautions. It’s too much to think about any more. I hear this in various statements made.

“If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go and a mask isn’t going to stop it.”

“Most people won’t die. For those that do, it’s sad, but we can’t give up our freedoms for the sickly.”

“None of the numbers are reliable, it’s all just a means to control us.”

“Government organizations and scientists have changed their minds so many times, who can even know what to do?”

“It’s just not that big of a deal. The virus itself won’t kill you. It is the other stuff that gets you.”

“Masks are a total delusion – they don’t help at all.”

“I have faith, so God will keep me from getting the virus.”

And one of the worst…

“This will all disappear on November 4th.”

While all of these statements are either demonstrably untrue or reflect a focus on self at the expense of others, I continue to hear them. More, I continue to see them demonstrated in the actions of people on social media and real life. I get it. It is tempting to just dump the whole virus lifestyle and get back to pre-COVID life.

There are some very real reasons why we cannot lay down our vigilance at stopping coronavirus spread within our circle of influence.

  • The virus is not aware of your feelings about coping. It isn’t listening to your demands nor your proclamations that it’s nothing to worry about. It is a silent and invisible enemy that does not choose its path by how people feel about it.
  • The virus is not a respecter of persons. When we gather with other people and disregard social distancing protocols, we act as if we are impervious to the virus. Yet we continue to read reports that rebut that position. Wedding parties become super spreader events, church gatherings that lead to virus propagation and infection, and even political rallies that claim the lives of prominent politicians. It’s not hard to find others who are ready to ditch the efforts to contain the virus and…that’s part of the problem.
  • The virus has claimed thousands of lives and continues to do so every day. If we explain away that those people were already sick, or have co-morbidities, or were about to die anyway – we are close to saying it’s ok for them to die. Anyone on board with that?
  • The virus continues to rage around the world. It keeps coming back. That tells me that no matter if you live in Italy, Spain, or the United States, you are going to have to deal with this virus for quite some time.
  • The virus will not be ignored. The approach many take is just to ignore the whole thing. Sure, you can point to some gatherings where the virus did not break out. You can name people who have had the virus and never had a symptom. You can downplay, explain away, compare away – but ultimately the reality is that the virus is spreading, growing, and is difficult to eradicate without the basic protocols (wash hands, wear a mask, stay more than 6 feet away).

You may not agree with the political approaches to dealing with the virus, but don’t allow that to let your guard down. Because there is one more thing I want to mention that we often forget.

  • You can bring the virus to someone who may suffer and lose their lives, and you not even be aware of it. The invisible nature of this virus puts us all at risk. I know some people characterize this as living in fear. Careful approaches to all dangerous situations in life are a common practice, even among the bravest of individuals. If I have any fear, it is that I could bring the virus to someone I love who may not be asymptomatic. I’m not concerned that this could happen, but that it has happened thousands of times.

Giving up now may mean more than you think. So before you gather with that crowd, consider whether there is an effort to contain the potential infection. None of our efforts are 100% effective, but we can do all we can do. There are many stories of people who are not compromised in their health but end up in ICU anyway.

The thing that I try to remember is that every effort I make is not about me trying to stay well, it’s about me trying to keep people I love well.

That’s important to me.