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June 2014 entries

Heaven Really

I started a series of messages last Sunday entitled "Heaven Really." Briefly stated, I wanted to clear the air over all the conflicting ideas about the after life. It has been greatly received. I asked for questions from my listeners that would lead the direction of the messages. There is much to say about heaven and I wanted to speak to those things most on the minds of those who were taking the time to listen. The answers would come straight from the Bible and not my opinion. Which brings me to my subject.

One person responded to my request for questions by saying, "I know what I've experienced. God can do what He chooses to do. Man can only express his opinion." Imbedded somewhere in that statement are several presuppositions. One is that the speaker, in this case me, will answer in such a way that proposes his opinions as the answer. I want to respond as clearly as I can. My opinions matter very little. My only authority comes from three sources; my willingness to be used by the Spirit of God who leads us to truth; the irrevocable gift of teaching the same Spirit has seen fit to bestow upon me; and years of consistent study of God's Word. None of these things makes me any smarter or more important than anyone else.

The second presupposition indicated by the persons statement is that somehow I would disbelieve their experiences if I were to be told them. What this person does not realize is that I have probably experienced spiritual happenings in my life that would probably make that persons experiences pale in comparison. If the truth were known, they would probably wince and suspect that I were spinning unbelievable stories if we were to compare our life's stories.

Thirdly and lastly, the person making the statement seems to imagine that all preachers limit God's activities to what they know or can understand. The assumption, unfortunately, is well founded. There is a growing movement among ministers who believe they can determine what God will do before He does it. Even worse, they believe they can dictate the parameters within which God is allowed to operate. They make statements like, "God would never do that." Or, "God could never do that or move in such a fashion." I have even made comments like those in t he past, but never more. Who am I to say God can or can't do something. Such thinking reminds of  Natanael asking in the days of Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" or the Pharisees chastising Jesus with words like, "You can't do that on the Sabbath!" Todays church leadership is becoming more like the Pharisees of the first century and less like the Wise Men who followed the star without questioning the validity of its position.

Join us as we honestly seek answers to questions about the after life as we continue our journey in the series "Heaven Really." 

Back From Retreat and the Devil is MAD

Just over a week ago I wrote about the trip to Portugal in my blog I called "Retreat." I shared with you, my readers, how we were hosting nearly 200 missionaries deployed in Europe, Asia and Africa. The retreat was a tremendous success. We counseled, taught, prayed and laughed with God's greatest saints. There were ministries, marriages, and hopes restored. And believe me, the Devil did not want us to succeed.

It all began on Friday as my executive pastor and I boarded the shuttle from Chattanooga to the Atlanta airport. The driver looked at us and said, "I'm sorry, but we overbooked this trip. I'm afraid we're going to have to to sit four of you in that back seat. So the trip began with four of us sticking together, literally, in the back of a van as it hurled down I-75 darting from lane to lane towards the airport. With each swerve there was a sucking sound similar to the noise made by a sweaty bare back getting up from a plastic couch.

When we finally squirted from the back of the van we went immediately to the check-in counter to get our boarding passes. Upon checking in, I found that my computer screen said I'm there too early and my traveling partner was being sent to Texas instead of New Jersy. Upon inquiring with the airline rep we found that our flight had been cancelled. He was being re-routed and I was being moved until the next day. The problem was that our flight to Portugal was leaving out of New Jersey that evening. We were supposed to arrive a day before the others to get the rooms ready and meet the hotel staff. Needless to say that did not happen. When we asked if they were going to put us up in a hotel and pay for our meals, the rep just said, "Oh, we don't do that anymore. You'll have to find a room for yourself."

The next day we arrived early at the airport. We had been told that it was possible our flight would be cancelled again. That would mean another night in Atlanta. We knew that would have to get another hotel for various reasons. That's another story for another day. We did make our flight and were prepared for a 5 hour layover in New Jersey before or flight left for Lisbon. That layover became 10 hours. After boarding and unboarding one plane after midnight, I began to get the idea that the enemy was not happy about this trip. That made me excited to see how God would bless us and the missionaries we had gone to serve. My mind went back to a statement I had made during the previous Wednesday night's Bible study. "If your plans or prayers are delayed, it doesn't have to mean that you are out of God's will. It may mean that the enemy is threatened by the weight of your purpose or prayer and is working hard to detain you." You can read about that in Daniel chapter 10. I was pretty sure the devil was trying to discourage us before we ever got to Europe, but our troop held up under the pressure and began to anticipate great things.

Here's a new lesson I learned. If the devil can't delay or discourage you enough to keep you from your mission, then he will try to attack you afterwards so you might think twice about doing anything great for God in the future. After we were worn out from the travel delays, time change and serving the missionaries we were ready to return home. Then the enemy began to attack us again. I was detained and searched at the gate. It did not delay our boarding, but it is un-nerving to be bodily searched and have your carryon emptied in the airport in front of your church members.

The flight back to the states was un-eventful enough and I thought that the devil had given up on us. I was wrong. Boarding the tiny jet from Newark to Atlanta we all took our seats. The captain made a brief mention of weather in Atlanta and then proceeded to get in line behind the other planes. We sat without moving for over 20 minutes. Once we were aloft the pilot came back over the speakers and said the delay on the ground was due to receiving a new flight plan. It was going to take longer to get to Atlanta than he previously had thought. He wasn't even sure if we could land in Atlanta because of storms. I could tell by now it was harder and harder for the group to take this news lightly. But in a few minutes we were laughing and trying to guess where we might land. The whole while I thought of the chartered bus waiting for us in Atlanta. 

When we finally landed we were elated to learn that we had landed in Atlanta afterall. Once we got our luggage we headed for the bus. You can probably guess by now that some of our party's baggage had not made it on the plane. When we left the airport we experienced firsthand the weather that had delayed our flight. Traffic began to build and our bus almost came to a complete halt on the freeway through Atlanta. We were in that heavy traffic and downpour more than halfway home. Finally, we emerged from the showers and the traffic cleared. I texted my wife and told her we were only minutes from the church. Then the unbelievable happened.  The bus silently pulled off the road less than 10 miles from our waiting families. The bus had stalled. Once again I expected to hear weeping and wailing. And that was just what I expected to come from my own mouth. But it didn't come from my lips or from the others traveling with me. Instead we laughed. Satan tried one last time to steal our joy. In the end, he failed. In a few minutes we were up and running and united with our families.

Anything worth doing is worth suffering for. No good deed goes un-opposed. Satan only leaves you alone when you are disengaged. So if you want to be left alone, do nothing for the Lord. If you do, however, you will never know the joy of serving God in a meaningful way. It's your choice. I know what mine will be.