Change of Focus

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. – Romans 6:14

“Welcome to ___-mart, can I get you a buggy?”, if you remember hearing that, then you know there has been a significant change in focus for that establishment. No longer are you greeted when entering the store. Instead you are checked when leaving the store. Still an employee, but now armed with a yellow highlighter, ready to catch someone in the act of theft. Granted, theft is a huge issue and companies lose millions of dollars annually, however, I don’t believe that theft is any bigger than in the past. Maybe I am being naïve, but it is definitely a change in focus. Instead of greeting new arrivals, the company demands that the employee be on the lookout for criminals.

The church can be just as guilty of this. Instead of welcoming new members to the body, we can focus on being  the lookout for members of the body acting in a “less than perfect” manner. Almost armed with a yellow highlighter of judgment, we can ready to jump on the “offender”.  Often we trade in grace for a policing mentality. Just as the theft in the store probably hasn’t increased, the amount of sin in the believer probably hasn’t increased. We all wrestle with sin. Yes, sometimes is it outright rebellion and defiance which needs to be confronted. The Bible tells us clearly to address this issue, but not for judgment. We are to do it as a teaching point. We even have clear direction on how to do this. (Matthew 18:15,16)

But before this, Jesus tells us something much more important in dealing with confronting others is their sin issue (Matthew 7:4,5). Specks and planks, we all get the concept, but do we practice it. Not perfectly, but our Father doesn’t demand perfection, because we are incapable of it. He commands us to become more like Christ every day. As with anything else, we need practice. Practice must be intentional. Professional players don’t practice during a game, they practice away from the game. We aren’t in a game, we are in a battle. A battle in which the enemy that wants us to judge one another.  Satan wants us to place shame and blame on each other, that’s one of his best tools. Grace, that is what we are to practice. So, the question comes up, how do we practice?

We can practice by offering grace in situations that might not engage another person directly. Watch the news. See someone who did some horrible thing, and offer grace. Instead of cursing a driver cutting us off in traffic and offer grace. When someone says something against us, don’t even speak…just offer grace. By practicing, we can be prepared to show that grace when we are put in a position to give it in such a way that it reflects Christ.

I recently read a book written by a former teacher where one of the characters asks “are you looking at the end of Jesus’ finger, or where He is pointing?”. Are we looking at the behavior of each other as a rating of how “good” they are at being a Christian, or are we looking for a place for us to serve and offer the grace He has so abundantly given us? Are we offering the buggy of His supply of Grace, or are we standing at the door with the yellow highlighter of judgment? Do we need a change of focus?

Baptism Snorkeling

For we live by faith, not by sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of men from our church. As is usual, a group of guys get together and they begin to act like a bunch of fourteen year olds. Not in an adolescent rebellious manner, but just goofy fun. Bad jokes were flying, guys picking on each other, and laughing at just about everything. Perhaps it is true about women going off to their conferences, I am sure it is, regardless it’s a rejuvenation of the soul. In one of the conversations with a brother, we began to talk about baptism. Not in a mocking way, instead joking about how we may have needed a little “extra” time under the water, just to be sure. Randy Travis has a song that advises a pastor to pray for the fish in the river that are going to have to deal with the amount of sin washing off the main character’s spirit. Again, none of this is mocking the ordinance of baptism; it’s looking at ourselves in a tongue in cheek manner, with the focus truly being on God’s grace and the abundance of it. In this conversation that thought process came up of wearing a snorkel during our baptism. Just imagine the picture of going under in faith, but wearing a snorkel just in case. A funny picture, but do we do that on a spiritual level every now and then?

We claim to be completely dependent on God, putting all of our trust in Him. To an extent, putting everything in His hands relying on His provision, protection and peace. If we get real, don’t we sometimes reach for that snorkel, just in case? We want to put our faith and trust completely in Him, releasing the fear that can so easily come upon us, but we put a contingency plan in place, again, just in case. Almost as if we are saying, “sure, I trust you Father. It’s not that I don’t have faith, but I better have a backup plan.” Just like when a person goes snorkeling, they have a bypass that has access to air, we can bypass the provision of the Father, trying to get access to assurance we will be taken care of. Can we really be any more sure of anything other than God?

It may not be an overt act or even a conscious thought, but we can still put on our snorkel. Sometimes it’s just our pride that puts us in feeling like we have to be doing something. Yes, that can be pride. We often justify it as, well God doesn’t want me to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. There are times when we are to act, but shouldn’t we ask for the prompting of the Holy Spirit before we launch off into “our” plan. We have to come to the point where we understand that God always…ALWAYS has a plan. There are times when that plan is for us to act and there are times when that plan means that we need to wait. The only way we can truly know the difference is going to Him in prayer and listening for the Holy Spirit to give us guidance.

When we rest in the faith that God’s plan is a perfect plan. That His plan has been prepared before our existence, we can have peace in knowing that although we are being immersed, we don’t need a snorkel.

The Greatest Trick

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

The movie “The Usual Suspects” is about as far from a Christian friendly movie as you can get, but there is a line in that movie that is very appropriate in our walk. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”.  Think about that for a minute. According to one survey 40% of Christians don’t believe that Satan is real. We are not talking about those that don’t claim to follow Christ, these are people that claim to be Christ followers. 40%!

Satan is the master deceiver, and it is showing in our world today on a level never seen before. He deceives us into believing that God can’t forgive EVERYTHING we have done. He deceives us into believing that we can’t escape from who we were. In short, he continues to deceive and he’s not going to stop. His tools are few. He deceives, he tempts and he accuses. That’s it, no more. All the other things we ascribe to him are really just variations of those three. When he fuels the fire of apathy, it’s a deception of God’s love of us and His command for us to love others.

The thing about those tools is they are only effective if we engage. He can’t deceive us, when we know the Truth (capital T intended).  He can’t fulfill temptation if we resist him in submission to God. He can’t accuse us if we stand on the Truth of our deliverance in Christ. However, if we are deceived into believing that he is not active, we are easy prey.

The survey quoted earlier goes on to say that the 40% of Christians who don’t believe in Satan, think that he is a metaphor, a symbol of evil. He is not a metaphor or a symbol, he is the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. I have heard it said that, as Christians, we often either give too much credit to Satan or not enough. We shouldn’t sit around and look at every stressor and associate it with him, but then we shouldn’t negate the fact that he is active and wants to destroy us. He can’t destroy our salvation, but he can sure steal our joy, destroy our witness and kill our passion.  

The most awesome part of our relationship in Christ, regarding Satan, is that we can exercise Christ’s authority over Satan, simply by calling on His name. When the assault is so very real that we can feel it, call on Christ and Satan is powerless. But when there is no assault that we can see, don’t be deceived, he is planning. Again, we shouldn’t live in fear, the Bible tells us not to. But shouldn’t part of our daily prayer be that Satan must flee as we call on Christ? Why not make that part of our daily walk? In that way, we can go a long way in making sure that the devil doesn’t get a foothold. Remember, his greatest trick is trying to convince you that he isn’t even there.

Make Me an Offer

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” – Matthew 26:39

Many years ago, I was in the market to buy a new truck. Walking the dealership lot, looking at brand new Chevy trucks is an exciting feeling. Seeing a dark blue long bed truck, I knew I found the truck I wanted. It didn’t take long for the salesman to walk  up and begin his pitch. Very soon in the conversation I asked what the price of the truck was. I knew what I could afford and I really wanted to hear that the truck was in my range. The salesman answered my question with, “make me an offer”. I kind of laughed, thinking, ok so now we play the game. I asked again about the price of the truck, since there was no sticker on the window. He responds again, with “make me an offer”. Now I was getting a bit frustrated. He knew exactly what the dealership wanted for the truck and what he could quote as the price. This went back and forth about four or five times, the salesman refusing to quote a price for the truck. I started to walk away, telling him to forget it. Now he was getting anxious. His commission was walking off the lot. Chasing after me, he said wait, let’s talk. I turned back and told him to give me the price of the truck. Again, his comment was asking me to make an offer. Really?!? He still wanted to play the game of make the prospective customer commit to a figure, so that he could be in control. Well, I didn’t get the truck and never returned to that dealership.

Can you imagine our salvation experience if it had been like that. We recognize our need for a savior, ask God to save us and He says, “make Me an offer”. Making our relationship with Him a negotiation. It sounds ridiculous, yet there are times that is exactly what we do. We can try to negotiate our walk with Him. “God, if you do this, then I will do that”. Does that sound familiar. Maybe it is not as overt as that, but it can still happen. We ask God for things in prayer and yet forget to thank Him for, if nothing else, our relationship. God pursues us, but not for a barter, He pursues us because He loves us. Not for what we can give Him, but for who we are, His child. God doesn’t barter with our time from His side either, although we may see it that way. God is not answering our prayers based on our work. He doesn’t say, “Kyle if you pray more, serve in the church more, tithe more, then I will answer your prayer. If you are a better Christian, I will fulfill your heart’s desire. God answers our prayers based on His will for our lives. If that is the basis for our answered prayers, shouldn’t that be our prayer? Not my will, but your will, Father.

Negotiation puts us on a level status with God Almighty. Bartering suggests that we have the same authority as God. I am sure we don’t see it that way in the midst of our prayers, but that is the truth of it. We can’t assume that God comes to us from a position of a salesman, trying to get us in His pitch. He is God, Almighty, Sovereign, and Loving. Think about that, if He is all of that, then we are above all…loved.

6 Word Sermon

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. – 2 Timothy 4:2

As many of you know, I travel a lot in my work now. Usually, these trips are without incident, and I am able to do my work and get home as soon as I can. Then there are times that are not so smooth. Delayed flights, overbooked hotels, blocked IT support, unprepared sites, were a real drag on one of these “not so smooth” trips. Let me tell you about it. To make matters worse, I had to stay an extra day. Rebook flights, extend car rental, and find a new hotel room. Fortunately, I had the help of an awesome travel agency.

So, after a long, hard day I go to the Crown Plaza in Oklahoma City (yes I am giving them a plug). I am welcomed with a smile and some bad news. “Mr. Orrell, I am sorry but your room isn’t ready” (in my mind I am screaming, NOOOO!), but she continues, “if you will have a seat for just a few minutes, I just want to make sure your room is completely ready, would you like a drink?” I knew she was offering wine or a beer, and that is not good news for me, but I ask for a Coke Zero and get one. In just a few minutes, I am told that my room is ready.

Dragging into the room, throwing my bags on the bed, shedding my coat, I am totally drained. I make myself go walk/run at the fitness center, thinking when I get back to the room, I’ll order something healthy from room service. Then I see it, the 6 word sermon that completely changed my day. On a note pad next to the phone is written (exactly in these words) “Edjoy you stay God bless you”. I was broken, someone who didn’t know me, didn’t know what kind of day I was having, and cared enough to share God’s love with me, exactly when I needed it.

That 6 word sermon will be with me forever, and caused me to think. Have I shared a 6 word sermon with anyone today, in the last 5 days, in the last month? Do I even have a 6 word sermon ready? Well, I do now. My humble suggestion is that we all have a 6 word sermon ready to share, and then SHARE IT!

 

Eavsdropping

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. – John 14:6

Not too long ago, I was standing in line, waiting to board a flight. If you have ever flown Southwest Airlines, you know how that line works. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of flying Southwest (one of my favorite airlines), it is much like lining up in school. The point is, you are very close to each other and can’t help but overhear other people’s conversations.

A group of young, 20-something businessmen were talking about smartphone games. They asked each other about favorite games, what they supposed was the most popular game, even what was the most addicting game. Quickly, I learned where their passion was, at least for that moment in time. I had a mirror moment. I had to look myself in the face and ask, what would people hear if eavesdropping in on one of my conversations?

At times they would hear about my thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys or the latest outcome of a golf tournament. They might hear me talk about my vocation. Of course they would hear about my family, but how often would they hear about the most important relationship of my life…and their life? Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him is not only important; it’s not only vital; it’s literally life and death: eternal life and death.

It would be unrealistic to say that He would be the focus of every conversation we had. There are times when we have to talk about work. Sometimes, we need to focus on day-to-day life with our family and friends. Sometimes, my wife needs to hear how important she is to me. But how often do I talk about nothing but Jesus? How often do I shift the conversation so that we can talk about Him to others? Is it fifty percent, twenty, or lower?

We have to realize that, as believers, we hold onto the greatest truth. We have the message that every person on the planet must hear. The movie Déjà Vu has a line that says, “What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they’d never believe you?” We have to approach this truth not as they would never believe it, but simply as the absolute truth.

Trophies

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. – Mark 11:25

Have you ever won a trophy? I’m not talking about a participation trophy that everyone gets. I’m talking about a real trophy that you won by working hard and overcoming another team or another player in sports or by winning another type of competition. In the moments of the championship game or final contest where you had to win by outplaying, outthinking your opponent. When you got home, you placed that trophy on a shelf or in another prominent place. You won, and you wanted everyone to know it.

I remember winning my first trophy in soccer. It was my favorite sport, mainly because I was decent enough at it to enjoy playing. I played football one year in the fourth grade, but I was so bad that my play was to run out on the field and pretend to be hurt when we ran out of timeouts. I wish I were kidding. I played baseball for a year and mostly got to first-base before the pitcher hit me. I led the team in turnovers the one year I played basketball. My sports career was not stellar. So why did I become better at soccer? Because I wanted to. I wanted to learn the game. I was willing to put in the extra hours of practice on my own time. All of these things showed that I wanted to win. The game of the championship was not a blowout. It was close. The other team scored and that meant we had to score twice in order to win. The game was intense, back and forth, but when the final whistle blew, we won. The trophy was ours.

When watching a championship game on TV, you see the winner holding the trophy high, sometimes even kissing it. We cheer when our team wins. The trophy is the celebrated prize. But can a trophy be a negative thing? Well, that depends not on the trophy but on the contest.

When someone has wronged us, betrayed our trust or hurt our heart, we feel a loss. From society’s perspective, the loss must be overcome with a victory. We feel that we have to get even or more. We hold our forgiveness as if it’s a trophy, and if we give it, we will lose. The opponent has won. We even display our trophies by being bitter, prideful, or hostile. We can’t let the opponent win by offering our forgiveness. We see their victory as our loss.

Nothing could be further from the truth. By living this way, forgiveness isn’t the trophy. Bitterness, pride and hostility are, and we celebrate them by holding our forgiveness back. Imagine standing before a crowd and holding up your bitterness and kissing it. Shouting victoriously over the hostility in our hearts. The thought of this seems ridiculous. Instead, the victory is in the cross. The trophy of forgiveness is celebrated when we lift it up to Jesus. When the Father sees us forgive as He forgave us, we experience the victory of relinquishing the opponent’s hold on us. We let it go, not to give the opponent a free pass but instead to refuse to allow that hurt to have victory over us. No matter how we try to get even, their hold on us remains secure.

If someone were to walk into your home, what trophies would they see on the shelf? What prizes would be on display? How would your victories be presented? Would it be the hall of bitterness or the absolute glory of God and His provision of forgiveness and peace? The shelf is yours to decorate.

United

if we have been untied with Christ in a death like His, we will certainly be also united with Him in a resurrection like His.  – Romans 6:5

How many times a day do we use the word “united”? As for me that is not very often, but perhaps it should be. Usually when I think of the “United States” or the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” are the only times I even think about that word. Today, that should change. Today, that should become a word we use daily. Yes, daily.

What does the word mean? The dictionary defines it as; made into or caused to act as a single entity. Think about that, to act as a single entity. Not different parts, but a singular thing. And that thing has a common cause or purpose. So, the question is why should we think of this word on a daily basis. Scripture gives us the answer to this question. Romans 6:5 states, if we have been untied with Christ in a death like His, we will certainly be also united with Him in a resurrection like His. We are united with Christ. As a believer, this is not a hope or a wish, this is a fact. It is not “someday, I hope to be”, this is a truth that happens at our salvation. At the moment we accepted God’s gift of grace and salvation, we became united with Christ. Think about the definition, we became one entity with Christ. Christ in us, just as we are in Christ. Again, as a believer, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Daily, we need to focus on this truth, that now and forever more, we are united with Christ. We have the assurance that He will never leave us, that His union with us is eternal. So, just as His union with us is eternal, it is most certainly in the moment. When we are feeling less than Christ-like, His union with us is not diminished. The relationship is not “less than”. We are still united with Him. The United States endured a Civil War. When the states acted no longer a singular entity. It was a horrible period in our history. Sometimes, we approach our relationship with Christ in that manner. That because of our sin we are no longer in union with God. The truth is, we are not in harmony with Him, but our union is not in jeopardy. In fact, at the moments when we are tempted, or most importantly when we find ourselves in the midst of our sin, it is crucial that we remember this union, this bond we have with Christ. Conviction by the Holy Spirit draws us back to the harmony we need. Remember, just as we are united with Him in life, also we were united with Him in His death. We are dead to sin. It no longer has any power over us. We may choose to sin, but it no longer has control over us. It is the fact that we are united with Him in the resurrection of life that gives us authority over that sin. We must exercise that authority and we can only do that in Christ. In fact, it is because we are united with Him, we have power over sin and death.

Today, at the moment we feel alone, the moment we feel the pull of the world, the moment we feel that we are powerless over the temptation that is before us…we must focus on the fact, the truth that we are united with Christ. We are a singular entity with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the almighty God, the wonderful Counselor. In Him, we have the power to overcome the world.

DELAYED – DELAYED – DELAYED

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. – Mark 16:15

Yesterday was one of those days that people that fly hate. Weather has delayed your flight. The truth is that not only your flight was delayed, but numerous flights because of bad weather. We can get into the mindset where we might think, “with all the technology we have, do we really have to deal with a simple weather delay?”. Well…yes we do have to deal with it. The airlines don’t have this nasty little conspiracy to mess with our plans. They don’t like it any more than we do. They are losing thousands of dollars with each flight that is delayed. Yet we often focus on ourselves and how this delay impacts us. What if we take another look at the impact.

Pilots will tell you that the thing they dread most is weather. The winds and shifts have more than just a dangerous impact on the plane, they can in fact be deadly. But, what about other impact, the kind we don’t see. What if my delay is a chance to focus on what God would have me do? What if another person is being delayed because there are other dangers waiting for them? What if I am missing an opportunity to share the good news of the Gospel? Wait…did I just miss that opportunity? Do you know how to know if you missed an opportunity to share the Gospel? It’s easy to know. Ask yourself the question, did I just share the Gospel? If the answer is no, then you missed an opportunity. Now maybe it’s not an overt evangelical time, but it could be a prayer, it could be a kind word and giving Christ the glory for it. There are many ways we share out testimony and we miss them all the time. I know I do.

Perhaps you’re not flying today, but you are put in a place sometime where you are delayed. Don’t miss an opportunity to see what God has put in place for you to make the best of your delay.

Got a Joint?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. – Romans 1:16

Settling down in the plane on the second leg of my journey, a young lady sits beside me. There is a bit of chitchat, what kind of work do you do…are you on your way home, or is this business, etc. Then I hear, “Do you have a joint?” Surely I didn’t hear what I just thought I heard. “Pardon me?” I ask, then she repeats her question, “Do you have a joint?” At this point I am looking shocked, and I say, “Pardon me?” again. Then she smiles and tells me that she is only joking.

I look her right in the eye and say, “You’re not joking, are you?” Now it’s her turn to look shocked. I don’t wait for her response. Instead, I proceed, “See, I used to be an addict, and when I wanted to test the waters, I would ask a question like you just asked to see what kind of response I got. If it wasn’t shock, then I knew there was a possibility of engaging in my addiction. If the answer was shock, I could simply say…just kidding.” Her eyes are now a bit down cast. I repeat my statement, “You’re not joking, are you?” She confesses that she wasn’t joking, that she wanted to party that night and wanted to get started right away. I asked her if I could tell her a story, she said, “Ok.” What else could she say? We had a 50-minute flight ahead of us.

I begin to share my testimony, my pattern of destructive behavior and the only true way to stop that pattern. I shared the freedom that Christ offers, much of which I have been able to better articulate with the Freedom In Christ material. I ask her where she is in her faith: “What do you believe?” is how I framed it. We begin one of the most intense conversations I have had in a long while, and by her admission, the most intense she has ever had. Five minutes before the flight attendant announces our impending landing, this young lady, who 40 minutes ago wanted to party and was looking for weed, accepted Christ as her savior.

We serve a radically action-oriented Father, who never fails to amaze us and offer freedom to those imbedded in sin. I was on that plane because my original flight was cancelled. I was moved to that seat because I checked my bags at the last moment. There are no coincidences, no “just by chance” moments. Our Abba Father orchestrates times and places for us to glorify Him. The question is, are we prepared for the questions we may be asked, like…got a joint?