Fellowship – The Power to Put God First

On Sunday, my pastor did a good job of explaining the Power of Fellowship.  God’s desire for humanity is that we be Saved and Sanctified. In other words, that we come to know Him and to be more like Him. 

 

 

That second thing,  the sanctification, is a process of being set apart. His goal for us is that we make a difference. It’s hard to make a difference if we are not different.

 

He accomplishes this “difference,” through the work of the Holy Spirit who spurs us through fellowship with His Word, His Presence, and His People. 

 

 

Fellowship is life-changing. We are changed by what surrounds us, our environment. Our moms were wise to be concerned about where we were and who we were hanging around with.

Our sanctification, our change occurs, when we surround ourselves with the Word of God, the Presence of God and the People of God. We are creatures of mind, spirit and body. The Word of God impacts our minds and our thinking, the Presence of God communes with our spirits and the people of God hang around our natural fleshy selves. We are balanced in our transformation into Christ Likeness when we practice all these forms of fellowship. 

We see imbalance in the “People” of God in those who saturate themselves in the word, but spend no time in His Presence or with His people. They are the intellectual followers.

Those who focus on His Presence. We call mystics. They are spiritual but have no theology or practical ministry with the rest of us who live in the world.

We know the social gospel types. They spend lots of time with other followers but their spirits and intellects are weak from a lack of time in His Word and Presence. 

The early church practiced the balance of tri-fold fellowship. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (The Word) and to fellowship (His People), to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (His Presence” Acts 2:42 NIV

Let’s practice balanced Fellowship. Hope to see you at Mel’s Diner tomorrow morning, March 10 at 7 as we plan out our God First Friday Breakfast. 

Be balanced and blessed.

Going to See The Shack

About a decade ago, when The Shack the book came out, it was pretty much universally slammed by “the church.” It was viewed as  inconsistent with scripture and main stream theology. The movie is out this month and it’s being proclaimed a tool for evangelism. What changed?

Apparently the movie isn’t the book. Check out the outreach.com statement.  However, I think the world and “the church” have both changed in 10 years. The world is much less “Christian” and the church is much less “orthodox.” That’s too much a subject for a blog. It would take a book to fully discuss that.

I’m going to see the movie and I have my reasons.

It’s topical.  People I love, people I know, and people I want to reach for Jesus are all going to see the movie. I want to be able to discuss it intelligently and accurately.

I’m open.  I am open to fresh perspectives about God.  Please don’t excommunicate me or demand I return my “Follower of Jesus” credentials. I still believe Jesus is the only way. I am just open. I don’t know everything there is to know about God and I don’t know anyone who does. There are many aspects of God I would love to learn about. 

I’m practical.  I have seen lots of movies and read lots of books that were not theologically correct or biblically based. I enjoyed many of them. I think I can sort out what is true. I can still be moved by many things. 

I’m missional. I want to reach people for Jesus. I want to make disciples. I am not willing to discredit any possible tool or path without checking it out. 

I like popcorn, milk duds and Coke Icees.  Okay so this one isn’t so important, but I provide it in the spirit of full disclosure.

I’ll let you know what I think after I see the movie. That will put me way ahead of those who are praising it and those condemning it and who haven’t seen it. I like to be out front.

 

First

I want to be loved for myself. I want the folks I love to want to be with me. I love doing things for my loved ones, but I don’t want to be loved for what I do,  but for who I am. In that way, I’m no different from God. 

We are made in the image of God and this mirror image is no clearer than in the way we love and want to be loved. Loving relationships include doing for each other, but FIRST comes the desire for each other. The essence of love is the pleasure of being WITH.

The lyrics of Lauren Daigle’s song FIRST expresses this wonderfully. 

Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares
I will lift my arms
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
And seek You… FIRST

We have little patience with those who claim to care for us, but who seek us only when we have something they need. God is so much more loving, and patient, than we are. How often do we go to him looking for something and not for Him? 

I wanna seek You
I wanna seek You
First
I wanna keep You
I wanna keep You
First
More than anything I want, I want You
First

One of the greatest acts of love is to listen. How often we want to express our “love” by giving the loved one a piece of our minds. We relish in “setting straight” and “getting things off our chest.” Isn’t that why when we think of prayer, the words we speak come to mind. The idea of silence and listening seems foreign to prayer. 
Before I speak a word
Let me hear Your voice
And in the midst of pain
Let me feel Your joy
Ooh, I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I speak a word
I will bring my heart
And seek You First

Can we try to do better in putting God, and each other, FIRST?

Can we come looking to give instead of get?

Can we come listening instead of talking?

Can we come for presence and not presents?

FIRST. 

God First Friday

We know that we should put God First. The verses come easily to mind. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3 In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success. Proverbs 3:6 TLB

 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

God first is a command with promises: Direction, success, food, drink and clothing. It would seem putting God first would get our every effort. It’s not so.  It’s just hard. 

I’ve tried. Each day I have intentions to pray and write a blog post before anything else, yet I end up checking my email, the weather and Facebook first. In fact, I start my day worrying about what I will eat, drink and wear. Not only do I not do my God stuff first, sometimes I don’t do it at all. 

I understand that putting God first is more than just focusing on Him early in the day. It’s about him being the top priority.  Aren’t our priorities revealed in our use of time? I spend time on important things that our not God. I also spend lots of time on things of no eternal significance. 

I’ve found that if I can get together with other followers early in the day and focus on God, my day becomes better. On Sunday, there’s church. On Monday I’ve been joining guys from my church for coffee. On Tuesday, I meet with guys from Lighthouse Family Church. On Wednesday, I drive my wife to Abbeville so she can talk to the residents at a nursing home about Jesus. On Thursday I meet with men from The Bayou. 

Friday mornings I’m free. It’s an important day to put God first. I’m wrapping up my work week and shifting focus to weekend activities. So I’ve decided to meet for breakfast with anyone who would like to talk about putting God first. I’m a big breakfast fan. There are lots of great places to have breakfast in Acadiana. I think I’ll try a different one each Friday. That way there’s a greater chance someone will see what’s going on and be curious enough to join in, kind of a Putting God First Outreach. 

Consider yourself invited to join me. I’ve created a Facebook page to discuss God First Friday Breakfast. Check it out here. https://www.facebook.com/GodFirstFridayBreakfast/ On Friday, March 10, I will be at Mel’s Diner on Johnson. I’m hoping you will join me and on March 17 we will have to find a bigger place. I’ll keep the Facebook page updated on how things are going and where we are meeting. 

Put God First at least on Friday. 

Wait for a minute, an hour, maybe a day.

Do you sometimes think God is yelling at you? I do. I’m not sure that He’s necessarily angry. I think I’m just not listening. It usually comes up with a convergence of coincidences. Take yesterday for example.

I am sitting in line at Comeaux High waiting to pick up my grandson. I am also talking to a client on the phone. Suddenly there is a tap on my window and an irate woman angrily questions my ability to read and advises me I am blocking traffic. Knowing I can read, she advises me that the sign I am parked under advises no parking before 2:30. Of course, it’s after 2:30, but when you’re angry facts are irrelevant.

I didn’t respond. I would like to say it’s because I am a cool guy who thinks before he responds. Sadly, not always so. The truth is my client heard it all. I didn’t want to embarrass him further. I was caught by surprise and all my smart ass responses didn’t come to mind until later in the day. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Now for the coincidences: Since then I have seen an article that suggests waiting a day before responding to things like Facebook posts. Then I was hit by an article that postured that we are creating Pharisees in our children when we communicate with them in anger instead of love.    At a men’s bible study on Tuesday, my brothers were sharing about how they had “short fuses” before they came to Jesus. I guess they are now all patient responding thinkers. 

I kept my mouth shut because I still have a short fuse.  See what I mean? God must have a message for me. Maybe it’s in the THINK advice shown above.

THINK is a set of filters we should apply to our talk before it comes out. 

True. Obviously we shouldn’t be speaking things that are not true. Perhaps less obviously we should NOT say things JUST BECAUSE they are true. Oh, admit it. We have all said, “But it’s true” usually after devastating someone with a hurtful blast. Just because it must be true before we say, it doesn’t mean we have to say it because it’s true. We need to apply other filters.

Helpful. Before saying things shouldn’t we be sure it will help. It’s one of the reasons we need to delay before speaking. Determining whether something will be helpful to a friend or in a situation requires some analysis. 

Inspiring. Another way of putting this one, but it doesn’t start with “I” is to make sure what we say lifts up and doesn’t tear down. Scripture commands us to encourage one another. If what we want to say isn’t encouraging, why are we feeling the compulsion to say it?

Necessary. If we just applied this one filter we would speak a lot less. We would then become known as great listeners and even eloquent speakers. Most of what we say isn’t necessary. We love to hear ourselves talk, but that doesn’t mean every word out of our mouth is a gem. Folks aren’t writing down everything we utter. Want to be a blessing. Most of the time, just shut up. It’s better to say one true helpful, inspiring and necessary things than a thousand babbles. 

Kind.  This filter doesn’t affect so much whether we should speak, but how. Some of us can speak necessary truth in a helpful and inspiring way and still devastate folks because our words are like bulls in china shops. Think about someone you love to talk to. Chances are they really don’t say much and what they do say is delivered with love and gentleness. Fury, anger and meanness doesn’t positively change lives, only love does that. 

Okay, God I hear you. I going to try to wait long enough to THINK before I respond. I’ve already tried to convince others to do the same.  That was easy. Now the hard part: doing it myself.

 

Close Encounters of the Divine Kind

One of my favorite movies is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The title of this 1977 classic comes from a classification of close encounters with aliens. The third kind denotes human observations of aliens. Actually observing an alien would be a really big deal. As far as I know, it’s only happened in movies, yet millions believe in creatures from “somewhere else.” 

I don’t know anyone who has seen God, yet I completely believe in Him. I know that many saw Jesus, the God-man, but I haven’t gotten a chance to chat with any of them and I haven’t seen Jesus myself, yet.

My belief in God is certainly largely faith-based, but not entirely. Although I haven’t seen Him, I have had many close encounters. I didn’t always realize I was having an meet with the divine while it was happening. My encounter perception seems to work better through the rear view mirror. Looking back I can see many divine interventions in my life. I have had conditions cured. Only God could have rescued me from certain bad decisions. I have had moments of joy so intense that they were unearthly, or more precisely divine. 

I have also had moments so dark and low that my passage through them is evidence of an encounter with God. God has been there, most intensely on the mountain tops and in the deepest darkest valleys.

There are many more, much less dramatic, encounters with Him. They can happen in flashes through the smile of a loved one or a glimpse of His creation that screams, “Enjoy me. I’m proof of the creator.” Sometimes it’s just the warmth of invisible loving arms surrounding and eliminating the chill of a bad day or a tough moment. It can happen when a pain suddenly stops or frightening loneliness unexpectedly vanishes. 

Our God is so great and glorious that a Divine Encounter of the Third Kind, an actual sighting, is more than we can handle. It will not always be so. One day we will see Him face to face. Can we even imagine what that will be like, the first personal and permanently transforming Divine Encounter of the Third Kind?

K-Love

I love all kinds of music. I credit my god mother. When I was a kid I would spend nights at her house. She had a phonograph and  records of all kinds of music. I would listen to all of them and grew to love them all. For me, music is powerful. I listen to it day and night. It makes my exercise tolerable. It helps put me to sleep and deals with my stress. It helps me keep focused. I still listen to all kinds but mostly “Christian” music, new and old. That keeps me focused on Jesus. I think such music and radio like K-Love is the best hope for “Christianity.” Consider this from an article I recently read:

1. Church Attendance Is Now a Fringe Activity

Except for a few U.S. communities (deep in the Bible Belt), nobody asks which church you attend anymore, because the assumption is you don’t go to church.

Increasingly, church attendance is a fringe activity.

2. “All Welcome” Means Nothing

Almost every dying church has an “All Welcome” sign nobody takes seriously. About the only way non-Christians will show up at Christian churches is via personal invitation. Regardless of what any sign might say, the real welcome comes from you.

3. Regular Church Attendance Is Irregular

Culture has changed so radically in the last decade or two that even committed Christians aren’t in church as regularly as they used to be. (Here are 10 reasons why.)

 

4. A Band, Lights and Haze Are Traditional

Many ‘contemporary’ churches sound like they’re programmed for 50-year-olds. (Since I’m nearly 68 that’s not bad for me :)) 

The way we do worship music in the ‘contemporary’ church is not that contemporary. In fact, the band, guitar, keyboard and lights is the new traditional ‘rock’ worship.

The culture has moved on to other music; hip hop, R&B, DJ, pop and so much more.

 

5. The Show No Longer Captivates

Bad preaching and bad music can kill a church, but great preaching and great music don’t automatically generate church growth.

6. Church Members Follow a Dozen Ministry Leaders

Today many Christians actively listen to, read and follow more than a few ministry leaders, other than the pastor of a church they attend, subscribing to their podcast, reading their blogs and otherwise tracking with their church.

7. God Has Become Generic

As the Barna Group’s research has shown, even though most Americans self-identify as Christian, almost 50 percent function as post-Christian in their practices and beliefs. In a post-Christian culture, God is generic. Jesus is specific, and personal.

8. People Don’t Know What They’re Converting To

Most people don’t know what it means to be a Christian?

It’s very difficult to become a Christian if you don’t even understand what that means.

9. Background Understanding Is Often Zero

Post-Christian people have very little Christian background from which to draw.
 

10. No Church Can Be Better Than Some Church

Our culture has gone through a few decades of people leaving the church. But we’re moving in away from a generation who are done with church to a generation that doesn’t know church at all. Maybe that’s a good thing. They have no bad experiences to overcome. They just have no church experience at all.

Things are changing. There are some common things which seem to be working, that seem to be drawing people to Jesus. Music is one of those and the simple message of K-Love that is to be positive and encouraging seems to work. They don’t do sermons or teachings. They do meet people where they hurt. They share short testimonies of folks whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus. The music they play seems to be non-offensive to non-believers yet draws people to Jesus.

Maybe that’s more like we should be. Meeting people where they are. They clearly aren’t interested or feel welcome in our churches. They may eventually, but first they have to be comfortable with us and curious about changed lives. Maybe we need to be more positive and encouraging and less preachy and judgmental. Maybe powerful music can be part of that. Isn’t it worth a try? Most of what we are doing now isn’t working.

 

African Chicken Farm

 

Jonathan and Megan Reaux are members of my church. They have served as missionaries in Africa. I would like to recommend a ministry that needs help. I have borrowed extensively from one of their recent news letters. We have arranged for online donations to this ministry if you are interested. Follow this link and select “Africa Chicken Ranch.” Okay so it’s not a ranch, but read what follows and you will get the idea. What follows is from the Reaux’s newsletter.

Pastor Petro is a good friend we’ve come to know during our time in Africa. We spent a lot of time with him and his ministry in Olkolili, Tanzania, and have come to respect his dedication to God and the souls that God has placed around him. 

 
He has such a tender heart and a passion to improve lives. Not only is he a pastor of a great church, but he has a school which has over a hundred children, who are either orphans or children of very poor families. Before we returned to America, we helped as much as we could by donating books and our car. They were incredibly grateful, but their expenses go beyond what 1 family can do. They have government fees, teacher salaries, student meals, and more to pay for every month. 

I’ve been in contact with Pastor Petro and others in the states, and we’ve come up with a plan to build a poultry farm near the school property, that will bring in supplemental income as well as provide meals for the school children. The income from this poultry farm will help to fund the operation of the school long into the future. Pastor Petro has met with successful poultry farmers around Tengeru, where we lived while in Tanzania, and they have agreed to help him with advice in starting this new venture. NOTE: With initial donations, the construction has already begun. 

To get this new operation will cost him around $6,000 U.S.D. This will pay for the first 1,000 chickens, their immunizations, and building materials for housing. However, this is money that they do not have. So we want to bless them. It is a gift that will continue to give for years to come, and will enable Pastor Petro’s ministry to be self-sufficient.

You can visit Pastor Petro’s personal facebook page here, and even send him a message. However, his english is not the best. Send him this message, and you’ll make his day; “Mungu akubariki sana!”
Translation: God bless you very much! Here’s the link to give again. You can pay by credit card or echeck. Thanks so much.