Friday, December 30, 2022

Three Years as a Salvation Army Officer: Triumphs and Defeats in The Salvation War

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

This post is to celebrate the one thousandth blog post to A Lifestyle of Peace blog, since Feb 2013, 1000 posts all glory to God.  This is written in the hopes that it will inspire ministry workers early on in their ministry to not give up, no matter what it takes, to bring the gospel to the world in Jesus name.

Year One - Big Dreams

I was afraid. I mean really afraid. The kind of fear that threatens to paralyze you completely. The first few months of leadership were like that. I felt completely unprepared for what I needed to do. I had been taught to take orders, not give them. What is the right decision? How do I balance all these tasks? Which duties do I perform and which do I delegate? 

I was in a town I had never lived in before. I didn't know a single person there, and I had never managed a staff, or run a church for that matter. 

If I could give advice to any pastor or officer stepping into a new role, it would be this: Don't give up in those first few months. When you're afraid and it seems impossible, keep going.  If you can push through that initial phase you'll be alright. It gets better. You'll feel faith and courage begin to replace fear and doubt.

Early on it felt like... Stop raining everyday. A mere thought could turn my emotions. Making it through a day at the office from morning to evening seemed like a major victory. There is definitely an emotional element, a battle, but it's also spiritual, the enemy of our souls is trying to drive us out. Stick in, when the attack increases, dig your fox hole deeper.

Coming home to the empty house was tough. No friends at first, no family, no girlfriend, just my cats and me. It felt lonely. But slowly I began to make friends, people that became family to me. 

I had to keep returning to the bottom line, the foundation: I'm called to this, and I will never give up. I kept running to God. And I kept believing that though man may have meant this to harm me, or shame me, but God ultimately won out, and it was His will for me to be exactly where I was. 

The battle had begun. I was ready spiritually. I had a strong prayer and Bible study life. They taught us that at college. I had prayed for my future congregation my second year at college and it paid off!  Soon a small band of faithful outcasts gathered around me at the remnants of the once mighty citadel of Owosso. Little John, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and I, Robin, gathering a mish-mash of kingdom outcasts. The citadel, once a legacy corps had fallen in past years. It had closed it's doors, then reopened years later, but had struggled ever since. We knew a light had dawned in the ruins, God was rebuilding the fortress.

The morning services had been shut down when I arrived, though we had a small dinner church gathering Sunday evenings. We would drive to the Flint Citadel Sunday mornings, a few of the newbies, myself, and the last soldier of the Owosso citadel named Scott. 

If it weren't for Scott, the last soldier standing at the age-old citadel, I might've given up. But there was always one guy there who was willing to say yes, and believed in the mission of the citadel. It makes such a huge difference to a new officer when even one person believes in you and wants to come along side you in your journey. Scott is not perfect, neither am I for that matter, but boy did he make a difference for me.

One day I spotted him bell ringing. I had asked him to step in for 2 hours at the post office site. 10-12. And no one showed up all day. So he stayed until 5:30pm. I pulled up in the darkness, in the cold, and there he was, frozen, ringing the bell, no one around, and I honestly choked up in the car. I got out and he said through frozen lips, "no help... no help." And I just hugged him. What a guy!

I had a large chip on my shoulder early on. I was sent out as an assistant, not a lead pastor like many of my session mates. I later found out from my CO just how far the seminary had gone to make sure I wouldn't be sent out in charge, and I was troubled by this. But I knew any true Christian would face persecution for speaking up on key issues of the day. My CO and DC quickly promoted me to corps officer after viewing our progress in Owosso over the first year.

Dinner Church was the big battle early on. I was so disappointed to not have a morning service where I could preach. I loved to preach. So I embraced Dinner Church. I remember when I was at training college, at a tenuous spring campaigns, we had finished our work, and stopped at a Goodwill to shop. I found a plate, with Van Gogh's Café Terrace at Night on it. Little did I realize, this would become a centerpiece of the dinner church model: Jesus in the middle of the dinner tables.

It was chaos at first. The basement dining room would be a mess when we arrived Sunday night, the janitor's term had expired just before I arrived. People would be piling in downstairs. I would be busy mopping the floors and wiping the tables. Scott would be doing pickups around town. I never knew if I'd even have someone in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. 

We didn't have a sound system, so I would be up there trying to talk over the roar of the crowd. I hadn't learned how to properly command a level of respect or decorum, so people would often stand up and argue with me. Some nights it seemed like every person in the room was talking at the same time. 

I had not expected that I would need to lead worship. I had no worship leader. Being fearful of leading songs, I at first had no music at dinner church. We would have an opening, prayers, testimonies, a sermon, the meal, and a Sunday school video after the meal. 

We had no leaders. But thankfully a promising new recruit at Flint named Lexy came to advise me on the "relaunch" plan for the corps. She would lead worship with great talent, which made dinner church a well rounded experience. We found the sound system, and at last we began to have new members who would come consistently to help in the kitchen. The roomed filled up with people hungry for something different. In a few months we'd gone from about five people to about twenty five. 

Amongst the new attenders, we gathered a group who became senior soldiers. They became the helpers early on, four or five of them. Though only one remains today of those who joined three years ago. We had great trouble with consistency. People would come for a while, we'd pour into them, disciple them, and after a year or so they would disappear. This happened numerous times. It cut deep into me each time it happened. You can't help but love them. To see them go is devastating.

We had worked on the relaunch plan for 9 months, connecting with  people in the community, and in March 2020 we relaunched the morning services. We had our first service with about 15 people in attendance, not too bad! The next week, the country and the churches shut down during the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. 

Year 2 - Troubles

I think the thing I regret most is what I did next, shutting down our church services and going to live stream only. Many churches did this. That doesn't make it right. Something seemed off about it. I felt convicted. The grocery stores stayed open, liquor stores open, abortion clinics stayed open, Walmart open, and yet, the small businesses had to be shut down, and of course, all the churches as well. What a shock! In China the Christian churches were forced to shut down during Covid, in America we did so willingly. I will always regret that choice. I wish I had stayed open, with precautions, but open. We communicated to the country that we weren't needed, and today, they respected that communication, church attendance is down 45%

Another situation came up in the summer of 2020. I preached a sermon in Flint on unity in diversity and found myself in trouble with our regional headquarters. I was removed from preaching for a time, and my future as an officer was brought into question. Thankfully many officers and pastors and friends were praying and advocating for me, and everything was worked out in a way that allowed me to continue to serve as an officer. It was a very difficult time, struggling with the ups and downs, the fear and anxiety, and yet faith and hope remained. Christ was with me. I had twin angels protecting me, my CO and his CO, they both guided me through a dark time, to come out the other side stronger in my faith. God is good. 

That kettle season we did very well, bursting past our goal by over 30% and our mail appeal did very well too. Unfortunately I think that led to pride to begin to seep into my heart. 

Year two would be defined by several Absalom's gathering around me in the ministry. I didn't know this at the time. I thought the Lord had surrounded me with a slate of new leaders, instead, they would become the seeds of a small revolt in our new church. But my pride had brought this in. I had let myself become double-minded. So God allowed it.

The election of 2020 and the slide of the country downward ever since has thoroughly convinced me that the body of Christ had as a whole become increasingly double-minded. And instead of hope and revival and victory, we sowed the wind, we called evil good and good evil, and God repaid us, by allowing the darkness to again grow darker. We had been double minded, one foot in the church one foot in the world. The growing corruption and evil in the world proves this to me today. 

Pride, pride, pride. When you've buttoned up all the other sins and repented and found hope in Christ and new drives, watch for pride which threatens from within. 

I'm grateful that at the beginning of 2021, we did a 21 day Daniel fast, eating only vegetables and praying for three weeks. Then, as we sought the Lord, the Absalom's released. Unfortunately their departure did great damage. One fourth of the small church God was building departed with them. I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back, and at the end of year two, I was wondering how I could recover.

Thankfully over Christmas I had met a beautiful young woman named Chelsey. She caroled for us at VGs with her friends. And she later invited me to a small group hosted at her home. It seemed just right because I needed a place desperately, to share the sorrows I was dealing with. Chelsey and I would become friends. Later during the revolt, Chelsey would come to be hired as the new program coordinator at the corps. 

The Lord revealed to me that the ministry work I had done in the second year had "burned up like chaff." It had had no kingdom value. I had walked double-minded, in pride, one foot in my work, one foot in the world. Thankfully better times were ahead, but it would take time to get there. Sometimes the new season begins but your heart takes a while to come into it.

Year 3 - Sorrow & Hope

One could say that the war the body of Christ failed to bring to the gates of hell came to the doors of our churches at the end of 2021. I'd seen the growing attacks on religious liberty in the west in the last seven years. I didn't think it would come so quickly to my door though. Right at the end of 2021 the increasing pressures to get the injection went from urging to insisting. You will do this, or you will pay a fine. You will be bankrupted. We thought well, we can just get tested weekly, a few days later it came out that testing was no longer free. The fix was in, the trap sprung, and I had come face to face with the possibility of having to resign my position as a pastor. That didn't take long! Scary stuff. But at the last minute, The Daily Wire sued the government and stopped the mandate from going into effect. Yet I'm certain such times will come again, with the recent "Respect for Marriage Act" passed into law. It's only the beginning of persecution.

During the spring and summer of 2021 I would hit a rock bottom of sorts in ministry. The church had dwindled in size, our worship leader had left after the debacle, my other leaders were gone, several attenders and soldiers left, and I had no heart to try to rebuild again. No one had rejoined of all those I had reached out to who had long ago been part of the citadel. I was also having increasing stomach problems, ulcers, dizziness, sleep problems, much of it I'm sure caused by massive levels of anxiety, and pressure I was putting on myself. I was also stress eating and gaining much weight. I found myself quite lonely, having lost my friends and my ability to trust for a time. Betrayal is a cold emotion, deep cutting, and takes long to heal from. 

Then my companion for the last 8 years died, Sunshine my wonderful cat. Many would think, well that's silly it's just a cat, but, being single, you learn to rely on your animals. They are the ones waiting for you at home, no wife or kids. 

Thankfully, Chelsey had come along side me in ministry. She started a women's group and brought in many new and wonderful ladies. Many of these women joined the corps as well. I was struggling each day to keep going during that time. But we did well that kettle season, and mail appeal was booming.

Dinner Church had sadly dwindled down to about 10-15 from 25-30. But it slowly began to rise again. The real story was the Sunday school and morning services at last beginning to grow. Sunday school slowly grew from 3-5 to 8-10, and morning church grew from 4-6 to 7-12. But my heart wasn't in it. 

Yet we did see victories in that time. We were asked to host the national day of prayer event, and we gathered twelve local pastors together to pray for the country, the hurting, and the lost. We gathered at the square near the center of town, and at that event we dedicated anew the city of Owosso to God. It was a Spirit-filled victory, and ever since, I look over at the square where we prayed and sense that something very important happened on that day. I don't fully understand what it means. But perhaps there is power in dedicating a city to God and His glory? All glory belongs to Him. 

In early 2022 we held our second Daniel fast, twenty-one days, only fruits and vegetables. During this time I found a new hope, a healing, and a renewal. The Lord gave me a word at the end of this fast, on the last day, a salvationist from the middle east messaged me a word from God. There was hope and God found me faithful. He gave me a hope for marriage and family for the future.

While I was on vacation after Christmas, I was outside praying, and I heard the Lord say, "You've been faithful in a dry season, now be faithful in a season of plenty." I didn't know what God meant at the time. 

But slowly as 2022 went on we saw growth, discipleship, and small victories. I continued to struggle, but found myself slowly gaining renewed strength, hope, humility, and a new mindset of single-mindedness, I had learned at last to give it all over to God, and reject worldliness, as well as pride. And during this time as winter bled into Spring, and the fourth year of ministry began, Chelsey and I became increasingly close. Year four would begin a new chapter, in the fall, of healing, encouragement, romance, peace, and joy. 

Ministry is wonderful and crazy. The internal struggle is the real struggle, the battle between hope and bitterness, the battle between fighting on and wanting to give up, the battle between pain and joy. It's real and it's crazy. But if you cling to God, very close, desperately close, and give it all to Him, and seek Him day and night, He takes impossible situations and gets you through to the other side. And that's true even if you were the one who messed it up in the first place! That's the truth. God will get you through. Keep running back to Him. If you ever run the other way, to the world, that's when you get yourself into real trouble. Giving up isn't the answer either. Unless it's God's definite command. Keep in mind that everything is temporary. Even failure is temporary. Pain is temporary. As long as you don't give up and quit, you can get through the season you're in, on to the next season. Things get better. God turns defeat into victory.

Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life, said Jesus. Don't give up. Endure to the end. It's worth it. I'm 100% sure of that. Nothing is more important on planet Earth than getting people to the feet of Jesus Christ, so they can find salvation. Any level of pain and difficulty is worth that eternal victory. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Quick Answer: You Christians only care about lives before they're born

The Claim:

"You Christians only care about lives before they're born, too bad you don't care kids after they're born." 


Did you know that there are over 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the USA, about 90% of which are run by Christians? Also, in the USA there are about 11,000 homeless shelters, most of which are operated by religious groups. Also, 48% of US church congregations (about 150,000 churches) provide some form of food pantry or food assistance program. 

Historically, Christians founded the first hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, food banks, and crisis pregnancy centers. (Source: How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt

Christians are actually those who do the most for those who are already born. 


How the 12 Steps Can Change your Life: How to do Steps 1 through 12

How do the twelve steps work? It's helped millions find a new pattern of life. But how can it change your life? And how exactly does it work?  As practically as possible, I'm going to share my story of how the twelve steps helped me, and from that I hope you'll find something that can help you as well.  

In 2012 I was messed up and trying to find hope in life. I was hooked on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. I was praying to God for help. And God told me, not in words really, but somehow it was communicated to me: Go back to 12 step groups. 

No not that Lord, anything but that. Please no. I would almost rather die than go back to recovery. Ugh! But I agreed. 

My friend Kyle started taking me to meetings, I started going several times a week. I was just listening, dirty clothes, shirt soaked wet from sweating out, shoes ripped apart barely holding together. I kept coming, just listening, kept coming, kept coming.

Now several months in I was amazed to find I hadn't drank or drugged. What in the world! I had tried so hard to quit several times, many times to quit, to cut back, to control it, absolutely to no avail whatsoever. But I was sober. 100% sober.

My shirt would be soaked every day I went to AA, sitting there, my entire shirt aside from the sleeves would be soaking wet, from my body churning out the toxins. And the AA old timers would just kind look at me, like yep, kinda smile slyly, and cheer me on.

This is really life and death. We treat it like it’s fun and stuff and it is, but underneath that, it’s so incredibly serious its life and death.

There was an old timer who always sat in the back, old Randy O, been sober at that time for 27 years, and he kept talking about those steps. He was stern about it too, he didn't take any nonsense. But I could tell he really understood the true meaning of the steps. He had been sponsored himself by a man who had been sponsored by one of the original 100 who started the twelve step movement. So I walked over to that scary old timer and asked him to be my sponsor. And he said, “Well what are you willing to do?” And I said, “anything.” And I meant it.

He said, I want you to meet me at my place, at 8 am every day, Monday through Friday. And 3 hours a day, we’re gonna go through the big book, and we’re gonna listen to the Joe and Charlie tapes as a supplement as well. Early on, the steps were worked through very strictly, and there wasn't any meeting once a week to read the book. You met with your sponsor everyday. In fact early on when you took your first step, you did it front of your home group, and your home group then voted on how well you surrendered.

The fact that Randy recognized that I was a desperate case, and that I would not survive if I didn't take serious action, is a miracle in my life. The fact that he met with me five times a week, 3 hours a day saved my life.

People today come to recovery and they hang around go to a bunch of meetings a week, and then they relapse at 3 or 4 months or at 1 year or 2 years and they think recovery let them down. If you work the steps, you never have to relapse. I firmly believe that.

So Randy was taking absolutely no nonsense from me.

Early on in my recovery I was still smoking cigarettes, I was still struggling with depression, and so many issues. I was a mess. But slowly but surely my life began to improve. It’s amazing what sobriety can do for a train-wrecked life. My family really considered me dead. Straight up dead. Very, very slowly, those relationships began to re-emerge.

This was last ditch, a near death effort to somehow break the chains, somehow escape this disaster that had totally consumed my life. This was a lost cause, could I somehow survive and break free of addiction? It seemed impossible at first. But I fought so hard, I kept fighting, I clung to the railings despite all the storms of emotion and depression and urges that threaten my soul my life, everything was at stake. And I’m so glad I fought so hard then. I really try not to be prideful, but I’m so glad I tried so hard. I can pat myself on the back for that. Because I was such a mess emotionally, physically, spiritually, a total mess. It was crazy.

Somehow I managed to show up to this guys house week after week and listen and begin to grow.

I knew God had brought me into recovery. I knew that. So I realized that I wanted to join a church. I recalled how mom took me to a church that I really connected to about a year earlier. And I went there. It was pastored by a young guy in his thirties. It was hosted in a high school auditorium, so I didn't feel threatened by the environment, I felt OK walking into that building.

I remember the first time I went, the pastor talked to me after the service and I must’ve been quite a sight because the look on his face was pretty interesting. But I kept showing up, I kept listening and learning from the services they held. And I really connected to it.

In my first year, I went to like, 8-12 meetings a week. I went to tons of meetings and I listened, but I also talked. I shared what I was going through, and I kept sharing as I learned from the book.

I remember when a major break through happened. As he was taking me through the book. I realized something and I looked up at him and I said, ”You really understand how I feel don’t you?”

And he said, “Yes.” Plain and simple, I finally realized that I was like him. He understood exactly what I was going through. It wasn't really about alcohol or drugs, it was about the way I felt everyday. And Randy really, really understood that.

In the Doctors Opinion in the big book it says “the action of alcohol on chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy. These allergic types can never use alcohol safely in any form.” Randy told me early on that an alcoholic of my type, in his body, has an allergic reaction to alcohol, that once I start drinking the craving is triggered, and my body insists on more. That’s the first aspect of the disease, an allergic reaction of the body. That’s why other people can safely drink 2-4 drinks and not go crazy and end up in jail. My body is different. My body reacts with craving for more. But there’s a second aspect of the illness. It’s that once I’m sober again, I have an obsession of the mind that demands the need for more alcohol. The book says the persistence of this obsession is astonishing. Many follow it into the gates of hell and death. And it’s true. I’d do anything to fulfill that need. Ruin my whole life. Drugs are no different. Same odd reaction, same obsession of the mind that demands more and more and more.

The doctors opinion continues saying, “Alcoholics are restless, irritable and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks- drinks which they see others taking with impunity.” After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over.” Doctor Silkworth wrote that, and it fits me perfectly. I called my life the repeating disaster, because the same pattern kept occurring.

I would use and drink for months, years, whatever, and I’d go to treatment, sit there at the center wondering if this was the time I would finally get sober. I would get out, start going to meetings, my life would begin to improve, I’d start to feel hope again, but then I’d slowly start to drift away from recovery internally. I’d start to go to less meetings. I’d likely begin to re-connect with old friends. That old addict mentality would return, the sense of excitement and wonder at the possibility of a drug. And then I’d go back out. I’d be out for months, things would go to hell very fast, and then eventually I’d go to treatment, start to hope for recovery again, and the cycle repeats.

The doctors opinion really helped me to understand that I have a disease that is treatable with recovery groups. And it’s a two fold illness.

Next Randy took me into Bill’s Story. And the whole purpose of Bill’s story is that I would identify with him and realize my alcoholism is in many ways similar to his, not 100% but quite a few similarities.

Page 6, Bill shares how he stole from his wife’s purse for money to buy alcohol. I used to steal from my mom’s purse.

And Page 8 Bill writes, "Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. Alcohol was my master.” Boy can I relate to that. I did finally come to the moment of surrender when I’d realized that drugs had conquered me. I was the slave, the prostitute, I was the whore on the corner willing to do anything. But it had to break my heart to do it to me. It really did.

Page 11, Bill wrote ‘My human will had failed.” Total lack of power. I had no ability to quit on my own. I tried a thousand times. Could hardly last a few hours.

Chapter 2 talks about the solution to this problem. Which is to have a psychic change, a sort of spiritual awakening that would change who I am. That’s always why I would relapse after 3 months, 4 months, 30 days, 6 months, 9 months, because I had never had the psychic change which can only be brought about by the steps.

Chapter 3 talks more about the illness of alcoholism. See, people are very resistant the suggestion that alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. People want to believe it’s that I’m bad, it’s that I’m evil, it’s that they lack willpower. And why shouldn't we, that’s what everyone kept telling us. But it isn't true. Alcoholism, addiction is an illness of mind and body, treatable with the twelve steps and meeting attendance.

Chapter 4 is specifically written to help those who struggle with the higher power aspect of the program. I believed in God when I first came into the program. I didn't know what that meant or how to connect with God, but I did believe in God. I had called out to Christ and he had delivered me, I knew that. But honestly, these steps helped me to practice my faith in real life.

Pg 45 of We Agnostics says “Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live.” The whole issue of addiction is lack of power. We couldn't find that power internally, so we had to look outside ourselves to a power greater than ourselves.

It says many of us were once violently anti-religious. Pg 46 says that we found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a power greater than human power, we commenced to get results.” So if we could step back and lay aside some of our old ideas, our old prejudices about spirituality, we could then make a beginning, and begin to see results.

The book says a man asked himself this question Pg 56: “Who are you to say there is no God?” And that helped him to come to realize that God did indeed exist and was willing to carry Him through recovery. Step 3 is the biggest step in my thought. It makes all the following steps possible. We turned our will (which means how we live) and our lives (our whole world) over to the care of God. Which means when I take that step I’m now deciding to check all my decisions on what God’s will is for me. So I must seek to know God’s will and follow it.

In How It Works, Chapter 5, Bill writes that selfishness was the root of all our problems. Pg 62. And regarding step 3 he wrote “First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.” Step 3 is the most important step, is my view.

Step 3 prayer, Pg 63, “God I offer myself to thee, to build with me and do with me as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do your will…”

Immediately following step 3, comes step 4 and 5. Obviously hugely important. I've sponsored several guys in the past, they've always quit on me during step 4. Doing a full personal inventory is not an easy thing, because it forces us to see the very worst parts of what we've done. Because I know for me, I had a hall of mirrors, smoke and mirrors inside my memory. Where I had rewritten history so that I was the victim and everyone had just done it to me. When I did this 4th and 5th step with Randy I had to clear out the lies, honestly look at the things I’d done, and see the truth. Really the 4th step is all about seeing the truth, telling another person, and by so doing, clearing out the wreckage of the past. All of the terrible things we went through, that we did, all the trauma, the sprees, the jail, the mental hospitals, the treatments, the emotional chaos, broken relationships leaves a pile of debris in our souls. And by doing the 4th and 5th step thoroughly we clear out that wreckage.

I could not stand how I felt while not high or drunk. Being sober was a living nightmare because of this sick mind I have. And all that wreckage in my soul. That was a huge factor that led to me continuing to use, because I felt so terrible sober. The massive, major keystone to surviving in recovery is being humble enough to admit I need to clear that wreckage out. And I can’t leave anything out. The worst stuff needs to come out, or I won’t find healing.

So I did that. It was challenging. My sponsor gave me 3 weeks to write things down. I worked on it and found myself trying to avoid doing it, because it was just rather unpleasant. And I became depressed during that time. But I kept forcing myself to return to the list, and keep writing stuff down. At the end I had 47 pages I think was the total.

Randy and I met one day, in the morning and I went from 8 am until 3pm. We had to meet again the next day, and we went again from 8 am to 1pm. So it took a total of 12 hours to finish doing my fifth step.

Into Action chapter 6 of the big book begins with step 5, then goes into steps 6 and 7. But after step five you’ll notice that there a little list of promises, is what I would call them, which includes pg 75; “We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.” See those promises are true. I was so ashamed before I did that step, but now I could look people in the eyes. I would be a nervous wreck by myself, now I can sit at peace. And most importantly of all, all that wreckage in my soul had cut me off from God, and now, for the first time ever in my life, I begin to sense the presence of my Creator. Sensing that presence, is what the program means by “serenity.”

But the big promises, the ones we read at meetings, those promises are from the big book, and they are listed right after step 9. When it says “we will be amazed before we are halfway through” it’s talking about before we are halfway through the 9th step.

Step six is about becoming willing to have God remove our defects of character. So in the fifth column of our 4th step we have our list of character defects. And we look at that list and see which of those kept coming up over and over again. For me selfishness kept coming up. Self-seeking kept coming up. Fear kept coming up. Pride, ego, laziness, being inconsiderate of others, being self-absorbed with my little world. In step 7 I had to ask God to remove those character defects.

The 7th step prayer, which I took with my sponsor said, “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character…” Pg 76.

Which is interesting, in the Salvation Army, which I work for today, the founder William Booth gave his life to Christ, but later on in his life, in his 30s, he realized one night and wrote in his diary: “God must have all there is of me.” And I realized the same thing. Similarly the 7th step is about turning everything over to God, the good and the bad, and asking Him to change us. Amazing.

I don’t have the power to remove character defects, but God does. But in my relationship with God is I leave the inner work to him, but I do the footwork. So when I see those defects on my list, I try to practice the opposite in my life. If I’m normally fearful, anxious I try to practice courage. If I’m normally selfish, I try to focus on loving and serving others. If I’m normally self-seeking I try to seek God’s will instead. And slowly over the years God removes our defects of character.

Step 8 and 9 were not my favorite steps. But my sponsor asks me to make four lists. He said grab four pieces of paper at the top of each write, first one, right now, next sheet, later, next sheet maybe, last sheet, never. And he had me take my list of people I’d harmed, which I’d made in the 4th step, and write down their names in each of those categories. My mom, my dad, my sister, grandparents, close friends all went on the right now list. But people I didn't want to see, or really still hated, went on maybe or later or never. And he said work on the right now sheet, and by the time your halfway through you’ll want to work on the later sheet, and the maybe sheet, and someday on the never sheet.

Slowly but surely I made those amends, going to the people in person, talking to them. Many people outright refused to even meet with me. To this day, many will never agree to meet with me and listen to my apology. They can’t stand me, they know how manipulative and cunning I can be, so they wont even put themselves in that situation. So be it. I made amends to my grandpa at his grave site, with my dad and grandpa there with me.

And you’ll wonder how do I find these people. I asked myself the same question. But it’s interesting God will cause us to encounter these people. It’ll be our choice if we want to be brave enough to walk up to them and make amends. But I've had that happen time and again, there they are, and I go talk to them.

Step 10 is essentially steps 4 through 9 rolled together, as a daily practice to continue to grow. Step 10 is that we realize that the steps are spiritual tools for daily use, and we keep using them. I do mini 4th and 5th steps all the time, and in prayer I do 7th steps, and I still make amends from time to time. That’s step 10. Step 11 is growing spiritually. So I've got this concept of God. Am I continuing to grow toward God. Am I building that relationship through prayer and study and meditation on his truths. For me that meant attending a good small group, volunteering at my church, getting to church services every Sunday, not just once or twice a week, to really practice my faith.

Step 12 is super important. Now having been taking through the steps by Randy, am I willing to offer this incredible wisdom I’ve received to other alcoholics and addicts? The answer is yes, I am, and I try to carry the message at meetings. And sponsor people. If anyone in this room needs a sponsor, come talk to me, I’m always willing, I’m leaving in 2 months, but I will meet with you. Your part, in that, is mustering the courage to walk up to me, or someone else, and ask. Get active in service work, it’ll change your life. Chapter 7 then, is all about how to do that, how to work with others effectively.

Step 1, I surrendered to the fact that I’m an alcoholic addict, with the two fold malady, of mind and body, it sound simple, it isn’t. I have a mind that fights the disease, telling me I don’t have it, but a final surrender had to be made. Step 2, coming to believe in God, step 3, turning everything over to Him. It’s a radical program of action. Steps 4-9 work through the program of action thoroughly. Step 10, keep that program of action in your back pocket as your tool kit for dealing with life on life's terms. Step 11 continue to grow closer and closer to God (grow, not maintain) and Step 12, share this message with others who need it. Plain and simple, a true way of life for recovery. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Messiah Jesus born in a manger to King of the Universe

“Mother and daughter looked more like twin sisters. Both were grossly overweight, and together they couldn’t have possessed more than eight teeth. Both had spent too many nights in jailhouses and skid row missions. As they lugged garbage bags full of their meager possessions past our church, Wanda and Lucille decided that it would be a good place to get religion again.

Their presence embarrassed me, especially when our paths crossed in public. They would waddle up, throw their pudgy arms around me, and loudly proclaim, “He’s our pastor!” One night, I reluctantly went to their little house for dinner. They sat me on a wooden crate at a card table surrounded by stray cats and décor rescued from a junk heap. We ate fast-food fried chicken, fruit cocktail straight out of a can, and Wonder Bread served on worn plastic plates. Later that little shack became a house of evangelism. Almost weekly, they would phone me to come and share the gospel with bikers covered in tattoos, homeless drifters, or runaway teens —many high on drugs or reeking of booze. In five years, I led many people to Christ in their place on the poor side of Tulsa.

Had Jesus come to Tulsa, Wanda and Lucille would have bullied their way past everyone to be first to host him. I would have found a polite way to steer Jesus toward a more impressive home. But he would have said, “No thanks, I want to stay at Wanda and Lucille’s place. They’ll wash my feet with tears of gratitude and wipe them dry with their hair. By the way, I’ve already been there a thousand times before. I slipped in with every down-and-outer they ever invited into their shack.” The amazing story of Wanda and Lucille is a reminder that there was no room for Jesus in the inn. As a result, he was born among barnyard beasts to an unwed teenage mother so he could be crucified between two criminals. Surely, none of us can be so far gone that he won’t come to our house. Are you part of the Inn crowd, or the Stable few?”
-James Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories (abridged)

Just like Wanda and Lucille, when you really get down to understanding how to really know Jesus the Christ in close relationship, to have Him as your friend, your savior, your Lord, your King, it comes down to one simple key truth: You must be willing, open, hungry to receive Him, humble enough to desire Him deeply.

A humble desire for the Lord of all. Simple, pure, truthful, meek, lowly, humble. That’s what it takes. Maybe in the end that’s a gift from the Lord himself.

Maybe that’s why the beginning of the greatest sermon ever written, the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us that, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.”

We’ve been looking at the promises of God, the incredible hope we find in our faith, the gospel message we’re given to share with others, and last week the abundance, the abundant life of a believer, and all of these things surround one central truth, one perfect truth, one perfect reality, indeed, one perfect person, our Lord, our Savior, our Friend, our Creator, Jesus the Messiah, which brings us to our codeword, codeword Messiah.

Who is this being, who is this person, this infinite God who made us? Who is Jesus really? He provides all these things to us. He gives us hope, a future, promises, a message, an abundant life. And it all comes to us through Jesus.

The one who said I am the way, the truth, and the life. The one who said I am the resurrection and the life. The one who said I don’t condemn you, but go and sin no more. The one who said I am the light of the world. The one who said Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! The one who said If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. The one who said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. The one who said you will be my witnesses to the ends of the Earth.

We know this savior, this mysterious infinite being, through the words he spoke to us. Indeed in John 6 63 What gives life is God's Spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God's life-giving Spirit.”

The words about Jesus bring God’s presence, the life giving Spirit. That’s why it’s so important to study your Bible supernaturally. To encounter God.

It’s vital.

Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. The one who brings life to us. Apart from Him we are nothing. With Him living inside us, we have all these precious promises, hope, a message, and an abundance.

The messiah was promised to come to help us all the way back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, when humanity turned against God and rebelled. Humanity fell into sin, and the world became an evil place. This was God’s judgment on humanity for their willful disobedience. But God also promised that in the future, a descendant in the line of Adam and Eve would be born that would bring lost humanity back to God.

This promised one, this anointed one, this promised savior, this messiah, would be born, to change history forever, to deliver us from our own sins, and bring us into peace with God. That’s what we have now, is peace with God.

But I think we have to be careful to always keep our eyes on Jesus. Indeed it Hebrews we’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12). We have all these promises, hopes, abundance. But we have to always be reminded of where it came from, it all comes from Jesus the lover of our souls.

One of the churches of Revelation had grown to fight evil so much they had lost their love. It says in Revelation 2:4-5

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Let us return today to our first love, the loving close relationship with Jesus our savior, who is the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life, and the true vine.

So I was asking myself late last night, how do I help each of these wonderful saints to do something as simple as know Jesus the messiah more deeply? To really know Him and love Him and walk with Him. How simple. What a thing! To know Jesus deeply.

(Hope) One, very simple, believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is really your savior. To believe in your heart, really believe, that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that he’s alive right now.

So simple, child-like faith, to really believe, to really trust, to really know in your heart Jesus is your personal savior.

So simple, yet so profound. The mystery of faith, do you personally believe and know that Christ Jesus is your savior? If so, amen, praise the Lord!

(Abundance) Two, very simple, seek the Lord, time and again, Jesus will call you to himself in your life. As you get busy, life happens, you start to drift off a bit, your prayer life gets a bit stale, your bible study time gets a bit repetitive, and Jesus will call you afresh to himself.

And that’s your opportunity to seek Him, and wonder in your heart: Who are you really Jesus? What does it mean that you are infinite? You hunger and thirst in your heart to know the mystery of His glory. And the mystery of His glory and perceiving it begins with asking the question to God: Who are you, really? God, show me your glory.

(Promise) Thirdly, very simple, love Jesus. Love Him deeply. Reflect on His gift to you. Reflect on His promises. Reflect on His nature. Reflect on His character. Reflect on the words of Jesus and their complexity and yet, simplicity.

The word of God says that to love Jesus, if we want to show our love for Jesus its very simple, Jesus said he who loves me obeys my commands. (John 14:15) Trust and obey, trust and obey, for theres no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

(Gospel) Fourthly, if we’re to believe in our hearts that Jesus is our savior and is alive, the other part of that is to share the message with others. Are you doing that? One study found that only about 2-3% of Christians actively share their faith! That’s crazy! That may just be reflecting people who go to church. Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re an active Christian. But real Christians share their faith. Share the gospel. They get the message out there because they are desperate for others to find what they’ve found in Christ. Redemption! A new life!

(Maranatha) Fifthly, long for his coming. Israel had longed for the coming of the messiah. And he came as a little baby. They didn’t expect that. Jesus will return. He will set up his kingdom. He will smash the nations to pieces like pottery. Jesus may have come two thousand years ago as a servant king, a servant suffering savior, but when he comes a second time he’s coming as all powerful king of kings and Lord of lords. He is coming to rule. He is coming back as the Lion of Judah. Let us long for his return. That is our calling today.

Know Him deeply. Seek Him. Believe in Him. Trust and obey Him. Share your faith. Long for his return. For He is the messiah. And everything is about Jesus. Life is not about stuff. It’s not about people or countries or power or wealth. It’s not even about you or me. It’s really about Jesus. Everything is about Jesus. He is our creator. God dreamed us up. He comes before us, always, forever, God bless you, Merry Christmas, Jesus was born to give us life. He came. Come again Lord Jesus, amen!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

I am NOT a Victim: The Christian Life is an ABUNDANT Life

“Slats Grobnik scratched out a few bucks selling Christmas trees. Just before Christmas, when all the trees had been picked over, a ragged couple came onto the lot. As they turned the price tag over on each tree, it was obvious that they didn’t have enough money to buy one. Then the woman spied a discarded Scotch pine. It didn’t look so bad on one side, but it was terribly scrawny on the other. Not far away stood another pitiful tree with the needles on one side eaten away.

The woman whispered in her husband’s ears, and he asked if three dollars would be enough to buy both trees. Slats figured that he couldn’t sell them anyway, so he agreed. He watched as the couple dragged their two scraggly trees away, leaving a trail of pine needles in their wake.

A few evenings later, Slats was walking home when he spied a magnificent Christmas tree in the window of a dilapidated apartment building. Then Slats saw the ragged couple sitting on the porch out front. “That’s a beautiful tree up in the window,” exclaimed Slats. “Yep,” replied the man with pride. “That’s our tree. Actually, it’s the two trees we bought from you.” “How can that be?” asked Slats. “I sold you the two worst trees on the lot.” “I know,” the man responded. “But my missus is clever. She had me work the trees together where the branches are bare. We formed one tree out of the two and wired them together."

Slats Grobnik learned a secret that night. “You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws, that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want. But if you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.” 

Christmas is the story of God taking the flawed and making it beautiful. God can wire together an ordinary carpenter, an unwed teenage girl, a handful of shepherds, prostitutes, tax collectors, and flawed disciples to tell a Christmas story that brings joy to the whole world. When you feel like you are just a little person in a little place, take time to remember Slats Grobnik’s amazing Christmas story. 

God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.-1 Cor 1:28” -James Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories (abridged)

God takes us who are like the scrawny broken Christmas trees, and he decorates us, wraps us in garland, waters us, nurtures us, and makes us into something truly new and beautiful.

You see someone who used to be afraid, broken, quiet, and shallow, and they come to Jesus Christ and they become someone very different, whole, complete, less afraid, more confident, wise, and true.

God takes broken things and makes them new. And abundantly new. Abundantly beautiful.

He takes us who were depressed, hurting, beaten by life, who had become bitter, and he doesn’t just add a few new things to cover the old, he heals those places, and decks us out in bulbs, lights, ornaments, stars, candy canes, and as he works on us we smile, and as he completes the work, we glow as a new hero.

Why? Because of our foundation scripture for today, found in John 10:10: Jesus said: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSV)

The Greek word here for “abundantly” is perissos
Pronunciation: per-is-sos'

The definition is: over and above, more than is necessary, superadded, exceeding abundantly, supremely
pre-eminence, superiority, advantage, more eminent, more remarkable, more excellent

It brings to mind the classic Psalm 23, which describes this abundant life of a follower of the messiah.

“1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”

One thing you must keep at the center of your mind and heart is that the Christian life is an abundant life.

And I think Psalm 23 really defines what that means.

It means my cup overflows.

But it doesn’t mean we won’t have enemies. In Psalm 23 we see God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. So there are enemies, but God prepares a banquet for me in front of them.

Yes, we do walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we don’t fear evil at all. We don’t fear Satan or demons or wicked people. No, we know we have an abundant life provided by Jesus.

That’s for you. Do you view your life as fundamentally abundant? Overflowing? Full of good things?

During this kettle season it’s been hard to think of my life as overflowing with good things, but it’s absolutely true.

I have my mother visiting, I have a beautiful girlfriend who spends time with me, I have friends and spiritual family in this church who pray for me and encourage me. I have a warm place to live in, a vehicle, legs that work, abundant food, and a soft bed to sleep in.

Sure there are problems and bell ringing issues and fundraising issues, and stress and all that, God didn’t say there wouldn’t be problems. But God is with me in all the problems. That is abundant life, even on the hard days.

As much as I know Jesus has washed away my past sins, there’s more to it than that. He walks with me everyday.

“Jesus was born to give us life. One of the beautiful things about the Christmas story is that it doesn’t offer just my past forgiveness and future hope, but everything I need right here, right now.

• Jesus came so that I would have everything I need to fight the discouraging battle with private sin.

• Jesus came so that I would have everything I need to have a peaceful relationship with my angry neighbor.

• Jesus came so that I could stand against the desire to judge or condemn others.

• Jesus came so that I could forge with my spouse a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.

• Jesus came so that I could parent my children with patient wisdom and grace.

• Jesus came so that I could face the realities of life in a fallen world without doubt or despair." -Come Let Us Adore Him, pp. 139-140

An abundant life, which Jesus came to gift to us, is one we’ve received from Christ, and one in which we’re walking in victory, despite the trials and struggles we face.

Our lives are fundamentally about joy, peace, and blessing.

2nd Peter 1:3-8: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We have everything we need from Jesus to live a godly life, a victorious life, a life of serving others, a life of joy and hope and truth, a life filled with self-control, perseverance, godliness, affection, and love.”

And as we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God dresses us like this, in all these beautiful attributes of character. He makes us more and more like His son Jesus, overflowing with love and faithfulness. That is our calling.

And when you look at an abundant life, I think yes it does mean outer things, friendships, relationships, food, shelter, safety, freedom, work, and funds, but it is just as much internal characteristics that God is fashioning in us.

He takes the most lowly sinners, people who steal, slander others, cheat, skip out on paying taxes, download internet music illegally, people who if we saw a woman being attacked, we’d just keep walking, people who stole money from their parents or friends to buy drugs or booze, people who had no character and no values whatsoever, and he makes them into shining heroes, princes of the kingdom of God, heroes of the faith, people of character, people of honor, people who go from stealing someone's wallet and then help them look around their house for it, to someone who see a twenty dollar bill on the ground behind an old lady, and are excited to pick it up and chase after the old lady and give it back to her. People who are accidentally mailed a Christmas card with money in it, and it came to the wrong address, so we mail it to the right address, leave the money in it, and pay for the postage ourselves.

As much as we are the Christmas tree surrounded by presents, maybe the most beautiful part of being a Christian is seeing how God decorates us with all new character and beliefs and a desire to do good when no one is looking.

I want to read for you a scripture the Lord gave me from the book of Deuteronomy, this is the book Jesus most often quoted from, but in this scripture it talks about how if we do diligently follow the Lord we’ll be blessed in all these different ways, but it also says, that if we don’t, and we turn away and do our own thing, well there will be many curses.

It says Deuteronomy 28:1-19: “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

7 “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. 8 The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9 The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.”

That’s always how it is in life I think, God lays before us two paths, obedience or rebellion, and with our actions, not as much our words, but with our actions we choose our path. Free will.

We can follow Jesus and live an abundant life. Or we can follow the ways of the world, and our way will be cursed and broken. The choice is ours. I choose Jesus.

I choose to live the abundant life. I believe God’s promises. Believe and speak these affirmations from scripture:

I have faith in God. – Hebrews 11:1

I am strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. – Ephesians 6:10

I am a chosen generation and a royal priesthood, holy and special. – 2 Peter 2:9

God has plans for me to prosper and have hope for the future. – Jeremiah 29:11

God hides me in a secret place. I abide in the shadow of his formidable presence. – Psalms 91:1

God can do more than I ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20

This dire situation is only temporary. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

God cares for me; I can give him my anxieties. 1 Peter 5:7

God will keep me stable as I give him my burdens. – Psalms 55:22

I seek God, and he rewards me. Hebrews 11:6

No enemy can pluck me out of God’s hands. – John 10:28

My enemies come at me one way but flee away from me seven ways. – Deuteronomy 28:7

When I honor God, he will command blessings upon all the ventures I undertake. – Deuteronomy 28:8

The Lord will give me prosperity in every area of my life. – Deuteronomy 28:11

Windows of Heaven are open to me, and blessings are poured out to me, more than I could ever receive. – Malachi 3:10

I walk by faith, not by the obstacles standing in front of me today. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

I trust God’s word; it is light for me when I cannot find my way. – Psalms 109:105

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Shepherds vs. The Wise Men: The Report goes out to Working Men, Elites, and Political Leaders

Recently I received some information, a report that was very good. Chelsey, and Karen, and my mom, and others had gone out for the Stuff a Blue Goose event, for the first time at Meijer, and with the help of MSP they had raised over $1,000 in donations and 300 toys. That is what you would call good news, yes?

Additionally, they even applied for an internal grant to get us more toys. Similarly Home Depot in the area has reached out and is going to support us with coats and winter gear for those in need, Also, Nelson House funeral home is doing a toy drive for us. This is all good news. Information, shared with me, that is encouraging.

I also received some bad news, and bad reports recently, at the parsonage, the basement flooded with sewage. We had to get it fixed. Then the furnace in the basement of the corps here failed. We got it fixed. Then the drain in the kitchen at the corps flooded with sewage as well. Crazy stuff!

Good news and bad news. That’s what we’re talking about today.

When we think about how we respond to things that happen in our lives, it’s just basic to human life. Some days we get good news, some days we get bad news. And life becomes very often how we respond to the information we’re receiving. Good or bad, our response tends to dictate how things will play out.

And when you look at the word gospel, you’re looking at the formula by which we find our eternal hope. We find everything we need in the gospel.

But baked into the gospel message there is both good news and bad news.

The good news is of course that Jesus came to save us. But is that enough to understand? Well, the big question remains, what is Jesus saving us from? That’s the bad news. The bad news of the gospel is, that we’re dead in our sins and trespasses and justly open to the wrath of God.

For me reading the bible early on, it was a hard book to read, because it tells you the hard part about yourself, and the sin problem, something that is internal to me and you.

Good News, Jesus’ offers grace. Bad news, you have to admit you’re a sinner, and also be willing to stop sinning by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent, and embrace a new way.

I know for me when examining the life of Jesus, I didn’t want the gospel at first because I knew I would have to change my behavior. I would have to stop living for myself first. I’d have to stop getting drunk and doing drugs and smoking, and chasing girls. I would have to live a different life in light of what Jesus had done.

That was bad news. But the good news is, Jesus offers a perfect way, where we find our true destiny, and we come to find who we truly are, and what we were always meant to be.

But it’s all about how we respond. For me what seemed mostly bad news, is now today something I understand as almost entirely good news.

But if you boil it down to it, it’s information. The gospel is information we receive and then decide what we’re going to do with it. We read this map, these directions saying, you’re a sinner, you deserve hell, you will go there without Jesus, but here’s what you do, come to Jesus and receive Him as your savior, and you’ll be born again and set on a course for a new world, a new paradise free from sin.

It's a map showing you how to come to Jesus Christ, and how to receive Him as your savior personally. Have you made him your personal savior yet? It’s not enough to just hear it and say oh yes I agree with that.

What if I pulled out a map and looked at it and said oh yes, that’s quite correct. Have I gotten anywhere? No. I have to get in my car, follow the directions on the map, and then I’ll end up where I belong. Say I’m traveling to traverse city. I look at the map here in Owosso and say oh yes I agree that’s how to get there. You go up this highway then get onto another.

And I say to you alright I’m in traverse city. You would say no you’re not you haven’t moved.

And I’m worried today that some of you might be looking at the gospel, the map about how to receive Jesus and saying oh yes I agree with that. But you haven’t actually made Jesus Christ your personal savior and given your heart and your life to Him. You’re just agreeing that you like the idea of it.

It’s time to dive into the middle of this and give your entire life to Jesus, to cry out to Jesus to be your savior. Do it now.

If you haven’t done that, stop listening and just spend the next few minutes crying out to Jesus who is here, to be your personal savior. Period.

So today, we’re going to examine two parallel scenarios. First, the shepherds and how they connect with the messiah.

Then the magi, and how they connect.

Then how the shepherds respond to the message, and how Herod responds to the report from the magi.

From Luke chapter 2:8-20 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

The response of the shepherds to the information they receive is positive, they go on a mission in the midst of the night to find this child they’ve heard about.

A dark night, cold, tired, sheep sleeping, and boom, the whole universe changes for these guys. And they go off into the night and find this baby. And their response is positive, they praise God.

They received a report. They investigated the information. They confirmed it was real when they found the baby Jesus just as they had been told. The shepherds then returned, and gave God glory in the situation.

They obeyed God by telling everyone they saw. They took the information they received, verified it, then took the message to others. That is the same job we have today.

And I can tell there was an anointing on the shepherds as they spread the message. Because people were astonished by the message. It says they were amazed. There was power behind the message.

If some smelly shepherd came to my door saying the messiah had been born I probably wouldn’t respond too well. But if they had the anointing of God on them, well that changes everything.

Have you ever been told something by someone who had an anointing? And you knew you were meant to hear it from them. All of it was meant to happen. And there was power behind their words?

I’ll tell you this, I have things I like to write about and preach about, but, when I really am preaching or writing about what God wants me to share about, well, there is an anointing on it that is strong.

The idea of anointing though, is like, there’s power and authority behind the words. It’s more than words. You can sense God’s confirmation in it, even His presence in the words being spoken. It’s powerful. You all I’m sure have had moments like that, when God’s power resting on what you’d received. And you felt it. Hard to explain though, right?

Let’s take a look at our second scenario. The first you could say is the working class version of events. Next one is the rich elites and powerful version of events.

From Matthew chapter 2:1-18 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.””

The second historical depiction in Matthew shows the three elites coming to visit the baby messiah, God led them there through a star in the sky. Who are these men? Travelers from China, or India, or Japan? Or from Russia? They were philosophers, wise men, elites from the eastern half of the world.

Once again we see the spread of information and it’s effects in the world. God spread the truth into the East through the wise men. God’s kingdom plan is unfolding for the world.

But the evil one is already at work. He wants to kill the messiah while the messiah is still a baby. The enemy works through Herod, who orders the murder of the innocents in Bethlehem. A terrible event in history. But Joseph and Mary and the new baby flee into Egypt to escape the murder, but later return.

News reached Herod through the wise men. And he acted on the news with terrible plans. He has children slaughtered and it’s horrible.

And the enemy has plans in our world today, and in our state, the state of Michigan, a state that murders unborn babies. And it’s horrible. The enemy has plans. And sometimes we think we know so much. But we end up making huge mistakes when we don’t have the correct information. Or we don’t understand the information like we should.

News reaches the shepherds and they spread the good news. The same news reaches Herod, and he becomes a messenger of Satan, having the children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 slaughtered.

We see this same struggle in our news feed every day. The struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies.

How does news reach us? By various different routes, television, radio, social media, news websites, and so on and so forth.

That’s how we understand what is happening in the world right now. But what happens when the sway of evil enters the news? Sometimes it can have us believing good is bad and bad is good. It’s all about how the information is presented.

It’s all information. News, data, stats, facts, events, history. Information is so very important. It’s how we know anything!

The shepherds heard it from angels, and they spread the report after seeing it themselves.

When good news hits the right ears they magnify the good and spread the good. That’s our job, to spread the good news about Jesus.

Spread the good. Too often we hear bad news, and spread the bad. And bad takes over. We can’t fight evil with evil though. We must overcome evil with good.

When good news hits the wrong ears, evil takes place. Wicked people, attempt to destroy the good news. This happened in the account of herod.

The wise men followed a star and found the messiah. But the news hit the wrong ears when the word of the messiah came back to Herod, and he ordered the murder of many children, to try to stop the birth of the messiah.
  • Difficult Truths (the horror of sin and lostness) become
  • Glad Tidings (the mystery and glory of God’s total forgiveness and grace)
  • Then the battle on Earth begins between God’s Kingdom and Satan’s Empire.
  • God’s Kingdom spreads (through magi and shepherds)
  • Satan’s Empire attacks (murder of the children in Bethlehem)
All of this plays out in the historical events surrounding the birth of Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men, Herod’s response, no room at the inn for Jesus, the escape to Egypt, it all fits together, to define the battle between God’s kingdom and Satan’s empire.

So let’s talk applications.

First of all, this code word Gospel, good news, glad tidings, is for you. The good news, receive it as a gift for yourself.

Take the information and apply it. Take the gift, but also open it. Put it to use in your life. Don’t just read the information, make it part of you, make Jesus your full complete savior.

Then take the good news report, like the shepherds did, and spread it everywhere. Spread it at work. Spread it to your family. Hand out Bibles. Feed people. Pray with people. Knock on doors. Invite everyone to church. Hand out tracts. Post on social media. Send out emails. Write books. Start websites. Anything, and everything to get the message out.

But do it according to God’s will, and walk in faith as you do it, then you’ll be anointed as you speak and it will have power behind it. Walk in His will.

Thirdly, recognize there will be opposition. The enemy will be doing everything he can to discredit you, to cause you to slip up morally, he will try to block the message, hide the message, and stop people from listening to the message.

But God grants us the victory in all that. As we seek His will. Trust God in those battles, and recognize opposition forms. Even controversies will form around important issues where God wants you to take a stand. Expect it, and stand firm. Get that gospel out there.

Also recognize the power of information. The power of God’s word is that power, the power of the truth. But also recognize the power of lies, that’s why news and media and corporations are always trying to spin the truth and manipulate what people believe, because knowledge is power. So recognize that there is a war of information going on in our world. And people out there have a vested interest in manipulating your opinions and how you see things. Guard against that, praying to God for discernment, a vital tool, God’s gift of discernment, ask for that spiritual gift, to discern carefully the real truth of the times we’re in. Because there are so many webs of lies in this world.

But, Jesus said, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Only Jesus can set us free.

So in conclusion, and in summary:
  • Study the message of the truth
  • Believe the truth
  • Receive the truth internally
  • Share the truth with others - Love others in that
  • Recognize the spiritual battlefield – good vs. evil
  • Overcome the evil one with the love of Jesus flowing through you
  • Resist the lies of the world system
  • Discern the truth in this world with the help of God.