An Encounter with the Lord

I came across this sermon outline I preached over 10 years ago. God’s word is still as powerful today, so I trust it will leave you longing for an encounter with the Lord.

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord. This moment changed him. Anyone who has had an encounter with the Lord will testify of a changed life. When we see the Lord, how are we changed?

We see God for who He really is (Isaiah 6:1-4). In this scene, God is exalted above all (v. 1). Everything in Heaven worships Him (v. 2), recognizing His holiness (v. 3) and omnipotence (v. 4).

When we see God for who He really is, we see ourselves for who we really are (v. 5). We see that we are dead in our trespasses and sins without Him. We find ourselves speechless and without excuse in God’s presence because our righteous efforts are like filthy rags (later referenced in Isaiah).

In this revelation, we realize the price paid for our sin (vv. 6, 7). Isaiah’s price was the burning coal on his lips, showing him there is a price to be paid. On this side of the cross, we know that Jesus paid the price for our sin.

We respond in obedience and surrender (vv 8-13). Isaiah said, “Here am I.” God commissioned Isaiah at that moment to go.

As we reflect on Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord, it did not bring him tingly feelings. It came with difficult realizations, repentance, and surrender. While we do have those sweet moments, we must know that encounters with God are never contrary to Scripture. They lead us to a life of holiness.

My prayer for you is that you have daily encounters with God. May each day draw you deeper in your faith and understanding of our holy God.

State of the Church: Pre-, Mid-, and Post-COVID-19

This pandemic has caused me to think a lot about the state of the church. I believe much about the church has already been exposed, and much will be revealed when we are on the other side of this. Some of what I will share will be more of a hopeful forecast, but I will share it anyway.

I see the state of the church pre-COVID-19 as attractional. It is almost like each local church is similar to a dating relationship – look good to draw him in, do things in order to keep him, but not do the best job of being attentive after time passes.

I see that the state of the church mid-COVID-19 will be surprised. We have not had a prolonged time (in my lifetime) when we had been faced with missing a few weeks of worship together with the potential of more than that. We have not had to cancel rehearsals and meetings, pausing much of our way of ministry for a prolonged period. We honestly don’t know what to do. One pastor commented on Facebook that we have spent most days trying to find ways to fill the seats, while now we must focus on how to get the message to the people. We are at a place where we must figure out how to do the work of Jesus Christ outside a well-planned church service.

I see the state of the post-COVID-19 church as refocused. If we allow the lessons of this season to teach us, we will become much better at daily fulfilling the Great Commission rather than just trying to do it on Sunday. We will find ways to strike up gospel conversations and actually be the church. We will learn the value of making contact with people by phone conversations and video calls, making use of every possible way to connect. The church of the Lord Jesus will learn the value of the family of God once again and love each other the way we should have all along.

I would love to hear and read the thoughts of others about this matter. Some of you are much deeper in the trenches of church life than I am. We may disagree or have a different perspective on the matter, but I do believe we can agree on one thing – what we do now can change the trajectory of the American church. Let’s determine to change it for the better!

What We Should Have Been Doing the Whole Time

It’s amazing how difficulty directs our perspective. Our priorities are so distorted that it takes a very serious virus to make us do what we should have been doing all along. I should probably clarify what I don’t mean by that.

We should not have been buying hundreds of dollars in toilet paper all this time. I work with mostly women. They were in high panic mode that we might not have toilet paper this past Monday. The toilet paper hoarders about sent my office into a breakdown.

Now that I have clarified that…

We should have slowed down enough to spend quality time with our families. It has been nice this week not having to pick up kids from various events and not having to attend my own usual meetings. I simply work then come home. We eat together. We don’t have to rush through the evening rituals. It’s a beautiful thing!

God has been trying to get our attention for a long time. He kept saying, “Be still.” Each time, He got louder. Then it took a disaster to get our attention. Still, there are many who are getting out in the large crowds and disregarding the warnings. For those of us who are trying to slow down the spread of this, it has altered life. But, it has been refreshing.

Slow down. Take in the fresh air. Listen to the breeze and the silence. Look around at God’s creation. Let this time bring you to the place where you need to be. When the dust settles, may these lead to proper priorities that stick. Our overall health will benefit.

Responding to the Coronavirus

I must be honest. This virus is probably the biggest health concern I have seen in my lifetime. Many looked at this when it hit foreign countries and thought, “This will never hit the U. S.” It has. We have some who show no concern while others are stricken with fear. Where is the balance in all this?

Prayer is part of this balance. We should be praying for those who have been affected. We should be praying for each other that we make wise decisions in relation to exposure, etc. We need to pray for a miracle – a divine intervention. God is able, and there is no greater time to pray than now.

Consideration for others is part of this balance. I think of the verse in Romans 12 – “in honor, preferring one another”. I also think of the example of Jesus as reflected in Philippians 2 – focus on the welfare of others above self. Many are refusing to take precautions such as self-quarantine because of selfish reasons like toilet paper hoarding or just the desire to be out rather than trapped at home. Let’s think about the risk of us contracting something that would spread to those whose immune systems are compromised. This is a huge thing that could have helped matters a long time ago.

The extension of kindness toward others whose opinions differ is somewhere in this balance. I have read everything from intense medical facts to thoughts of this being a conspiracy. Now is not the time to be arguing.

It is high time we put ourselves aside for the greater good. It is not a time to panic. God is not caught off guard. Let’s trust Him even when many are scared. Our faith is a great witness, so let Jesus shine in the midst of this uncertainty.

Do I Really Love God?

I worked for a pastor several years ago who loved to assign me to visit people he didn’t necessarily want to visit. I always knew I was in for a treat when either he or the secretary contacted me to visit a particular person. I went to the local hospital to visit this lady, so I told her who I was. She was quick to say, “I’m a member at your church. I haven’t been in 20 years, but I love me some Jesus.” I couldn’t make a judgment call on her love for Jesus, but I asked myself if I love Jesus like I should and what Scripture I can use as a measurement. I have preached this message on a few different occasions, and I pray it will help you ask by asking yourself these eight questions.

  1. Do I serve God (Deuteronomy 11:13)? Love is an action, so I display my love through serving God. We must be careful that we always serve out of love rather than obligation. This eventually leads to burnout, and then we have to repent and repair.
  2. Do I rejoice in God (Psalm 5:11)? I didn’t ask if you and I rejoice in our circumstances. They waver, but God is constant. If we love God, we rejoice in Him and brag on Him.
  3. Do I love His presence (Psalm 26:8)? If we love God, we love to spend time with Him. 
  4. Do I hate evil (Psalm 97:10)? Hating evil does not involve hating the person who commits it. Our responsibility there is to love the evil person to Jesus while hating what the evil is doing to him or her.
  5. Do I love God’s Word (Psalm 119:97)? I’m not just talking about reading it to say you fulfilled your duty. This verse talks about meditating on it. It will not impact us unless we get all we can from it.
  6. Do I love others (John 13:35)? Jesus said our love for others proves that we follow Him. He didn’t say that impressive buildings, rocking worship services, and big giving to religious causes was the litmus test. The real proof is loving ALL people, even the most difficult ones.
  7. Do I keep God’s commandments(John 14:15)? Jesus made it clear by saying, “If you love Me, keep my commandments”. We won’t keep them perfectly, but a true child of God will want to honor and obey God.
  8. Do I invest in others (John 21:15)? Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him. This was after Peter denied Christ leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmative answer was, “Feed My lambs.” In other words, invest in other people. God did not put you here for you. Your story can help someone else if you let it. The bigger picture of our life is us pouring into others who can do the same. That is when we find our greatest fulfillment. 

Love is not measured by the warm and fuzzy feelings we get when we think about God. Love is measured by how we strive to know and obey Him. So, how do you score in these areas? I think we can all improve as we strive to draw closer to Jesus.

The Power of One

Something got me thinking today. As I have been getting involved in a new ministry opportunity, I have had some good things happen. They have been slow, but they are good. But ONE negative thing caught my attention today, and I allowed it to bother me for a few hours. I really had to stop and pray for the individual, refuse to allow this to change my appreciation for the individual despite the action, and move forward. It’s crazy how ONE negative person among more positive people can kill the mood if we allow it.

Then I was reminded of another ONE in Scripture. This was ONE individual of ten who returned to thank Jesus after being healed from leprosy. Think about it! Leprosy was a disease for which people were treated as inhumane. Jesus healed 10 people, and only ONE came back to thank Him.

I’m also reminded of another ONE. This time it is the return on ministry. When Isaiah saw the Lord in Isaiah 6, God told Isaiah that he would only have a ONE-tenth return on his ministry. How discouraging! Ten percent! Yet Isaiah was willing to do whatever God said.

While these things can be discouraging, there is only ONE who really matters. At the end of the day, I have to be sure my Audience is ONE – the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says I will stand before Him and give an account one day. He is not going to measure my deeds by the opinions of others. Jesus Christ is the Standard. He is the only ONE who matters. So I must consciously choose daily to focus on Him.

So, don’t let ONE person bother you. BUT, let ONE Savior satisfy you. His name is Jesus!

A Handwritten Note

This morning, we had a memorial service for a lady who had once attended our church until the last few years when she moved out of state. Her daughter and son-in-law faithfully attend our church. Because I participated in one of the musical selections, her daughter had a handwritten note of appreciation for my participation in the service. It led me to think about how such notes are rare today.

When I was in high school and college, I used to write such things. I would write letters to people back home. One of my favorite things was corresponding with my grandma. There was such excitement in receiving one of those letters!

Think about what a blessing you might be to someone if you took time to write a simple note of appreciation or encouragement. In my first full-time ministry, I was very discouraged. The pastor I worked for said one positive thing in six years, so you better believe I saved the few notes of encouragement I received. They stayed in my middle desk drawer. I would pull them out when I felt like quitting (and that was a lot).

I challenge you to write a note to someone – your spouse, child, pastor, friend, parent, or someone you appreciate. This practice doesn’t have to be obsolete. Let’s revive written encouragement. That’s what the Bible is, right? It’s written encouragement from Heaven with love.

The Proper Way to Disagree

Let me just cut to the chase. If you disagree with someone, make it as public as possible, call them an idiot, and make them feel stupid for not seeing things your way.

SERIOUSLY…

How many of us are guilty of that? We immediately get on social media, let everyone know how angry we are with someone, and get as much attention as possible. Facebook is a great place for sympathy, right? 

Public places are not appropriate for private disputes. If my wife and I have an argument, I don’t tell anyone. My wife and I work it out. It’s no one else’s business but mine and my wife’s. 

Such disputes can do major damage to the cause of Christ. Several years ago, I came across a guy on the internet who called himself the “watchdog”. He was not a watchdog but was one of the things in Proverbs 6 that the Lord hates – “he who sows discord among the brethren”. His website was dedicated to bashing a preacher. I commented one day (a huge waste of energy that I can’t take back) and remarked about how unbelievers were probably reading this and wanting nothing to do with Christianity because of his hateful approach. I predicted that he would say that the real people doing damage to the cause of Christ were the pastor he bashed daily and those like him.

When approaching someone with whom you disagree, ask yourself how you would want to be confronted (the Golden Rule). The purpose is not about you being right. You and I can love those with whom we disagree (we’re kinda commanded to). I disagree with a lot of people, but I do my best to treat them with dignity and respect. I’ve always heard that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. This approach may preserve your relationship and allow you to lead someone to faith in Christ one day. Think about that the next time you have a disagreement.

I Won’t Go Back!

I could go a million different directions with this title. Most of the time when I hear this, people are upset about something. They won’t go back to a church because the preacher didn’t drive 500 miles to some hospital to be with their fifth cousin during an x-Ray. They won’t go back to a doctor because they had to wait. They won’t go back to a restaurant because they received bad service. However, what I’m thinking about has nothing to do with location. I’m talking about the past.

So many people today want their future to be great while still living in the past. I must confess that I have been guilty of this. I wanted the “good old days”, but they really weren’t that great. God is all about doing something new. He has no desire to leave you the same.

So why do we go back? What is so great about dysfunctional relationships? Porn addictions? Religious ritual without the power of God? It isn’t great, but the devil will keep you in the past to paralyze you from reaching your potential in Christ. God has a greater life for you ahead if you will live in obedience to Him. Am I proposing that it is easy? No! But I am saying that you will live an unfulfilled life as long as you keep going back, trying to make things the way they used to be.

If Jesus Christ is your Savior, the words of this song by William McDowell say what you are and the life you should desire to live.

I’ve been changed, Healed, Freed, Delivered I’ve found joy, Peace, Grace, And favor. All my shame, Guilt, Sins, forgiven No more chains, Fear, My past is over

And right now is the moment
Today is the day
I’ve been changed
I’ve been changed
I have waited for this moment to come
And I won’t let it pass me by…

I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be before Your presence came and changed me.

Embracing the Thorn

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes what he calls a “thorn in the flesh”. I would say most of us have this “thorn”. Some scholars believe it was Paul’s eyesight. I seem to think it was difficult people in ministry. I believe Paul did not say what it was so any of us could relate to the principles behind this thorn.

My thorn is anxiety and depression. They have recently been more of a challenge. Over the weekend, I reached out to a pastors group on Facebook. These pastors gave me some wonderful insight that has helped me so much. They reminded me to embrace the thorn.

Embrace the thorn…sounds comfortable, right? I’m imaging a counselor saying to me in a soft-spoken tone, “Embrace the thorn. Be one with the thorn.” The point is that I can use it as a tool to help others rather than a curse. So, this weekend, I did just that. I preached for the first time in almost a year and a half. In that message, I shared a little bit of my struggle. It felt good to admit it.

I’m going to close this post with a teaching message I gave on the subject in July 2012. You will see I am sitting down in this message. I was just diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder within two weeks of preaching this message. I was still struggling, but I was going to do my best to deliver God’s message. I did not mention my diagnosis in the message, but I believe the principles can be of help. Whatever thorn is in your flesh, I pray you can come to the point of embracing it.