God isn’t as religious as you think He is.

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“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This statement might just be among the most anti-religious things Jesus is recorded to have ever said. In one sentence, Our Lord turns over the tables of our religious presumptions and drives out the money changers of self made religion.
The words of Jesus here, must have made every Pharisee in town feel squeamish. He says something here that flies in the face of two prevalent forms of religion. In one joyful declaration or Lord knocked the legs out from under what I call, “The probationary gospel” and the “Cash and Carry Gospel.” Both of these are rampant in our culture today, and are as deadly to the soul today as they were in Jesus day.
1. “The probationary gospel” is a lie that portrays our heavenly father as nothing more than an irate deity, fuming over us with his bony finger poised over the Hell-button, just waiting for an excuse to drop the trap door open and send us screaming into the abyss. It’s a probationary gospel because it is entirely dependent on our good behavior. Imagine God saying to us at conversion, “Alright you little sinner. You’re forgiven for now, but if you don’t keep it clean you’re going back to the darkness.” It’s a fake gospel that says, ” If you die having even the smallest sin unconfessed, you’re going to hell !” Really? A salvation that is only as strong as my ability to confess? A gospel that depends on my goodness is no gospel at all.
Jesus says, “It’s your father’s good pleasure…” Your father was and is pleased to give you the kingdom. His salvation is not an act of obligation, but of divine love. If you are saved you are not on probation. You are not under the wrath of God any longer. God is your father and He is pleased to give you his kingdom and everything that comes with it. This leads to the second point.
2. “The cash and carry gospel” otherwise known as the health and wealth gospel. There are many preachers who are selling the gospel short, by making it primarily about money and health and material things. While I have no problem believing that God will meet all our needs and even give an abundance at times, the notion that the kingdom of God is about material things falls short of the message of Jesus.
The Pharisees loved money. If Jesus message had been about wealth and financial gain, they would never have crucified him. They would have flocked to him. I fear today that many preachers would have quite a following of Pharisees had they preached their messages in his day. The gospel is not about making it in this world, but in the next. Jesus said, “Its the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom of God is what is being offered here, not the kingdoms of this world.
The message of the gospel is not about how God can make you wealthy, healthy and successful in this life. Too many people become Christians because someone told them Jesus could improve their lives. While that is certainly true, that is not what makes the gospel good news. The good news is that we have an eternal kingdom that never fades, an eternal hope with greater riches than this world could ever offer.
Our lives are hidden with Christ (Col. 3). When prosperity preachers offer us mansions and cars and money they are thinking too small. If you read the verses that follow Luke 12:32 you will see Jesus inviting us to strip ourselves of any concern for material things and go after the real riches found in him. Paul tells us that “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink (i.e. material things) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Friends, Jesus came preaching a message that is liberating to the soul! It liberates us from legalism and materialism, among other things. He liberates us by showing us a father in heaven who is not nearly as religious as we are. God is not religious, God is love. He is Holy love. He calls us to free ourselves from the bondage of sin and self, by faith in him. When we turn to Him by faith we find a heavenly father who takes great pleasure in giving us a kingdom that never fades, never falls, never dies. He’s not inviting you to the burden of religious duty or the greater burden of materialism. But to the freedom and joy we were created for. This comes only through turning by faith and surrender to Jesus Christ, who died to open the door for us.

53 and counting….

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I turned 53 yesterday. That puts me two years away from a senior citizen’s discount. I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that in seven years. Lord willing, I’ll be sixty. Say what? After 50 birthdays start to become more and more important. (insert chuckle here)

It’s kinda weird to celebrate 53 years, partly because I still feel much younger than that. Even though it takes me longer to get up out of a chair, and I’m getting used to the fact that I can’t read anything without whipping out my reading glasses, I still feel pretty young. I still have lots of energy…most of the time, but I go to bed much earlier now than I did just a few years ago. But whatever delusions of immortality I had in my twenties are long gone. I know that one day this earthly life will come to an end, and statistically, that could happen in just a couple of decades, despite my hopes of living to be a hundred ( I think that would be very cool but only God knows about that.).

It’s kinda creepy to think about your life ending, but at my age I can’t help but at least tip my hat in acknowledgement to that weird guy with a sickle, standing in the shadows. I know one day he’s gonna come knocking and escort me to glory. Fortunately, because of Jesus the trip will be a short passage into life. I think if it weren’t for Jesus I would be in great fear of death. How sad it would be to think that my life was just an existence until death. But I have great hope that this short life is just  a warm up for eternity.

However, despite my great hope, I still feel some apprehension about the future. I’m done looking back with regret about the past. I’ve looked back and seen God’s hand on my life and for that I give thanks. God has blessed me beyond my expectations. But I can see also that I wasted a lot of my life being way too self concerned. God has graciously worked in and through this little clay pot of a life despite some basic mistakes. Here’s a short list of things I could get really depressed about if I tried.

  1. Too much talking. Too little listening.
  2. Too many hours spent on computer games. Too little on relationships.
  3. Too much time looking for affirmation. Too little time giving it.
  4. Too much self preservation. Too little self sacrifice.
  5. Too much concern for appearances. Too little concern for substance.
  6. Too much convenience. Too little perseverance.
  7. Too much fear. too little faith.
  8. Too much self. Too little others.
  9. Too much resentment. Too little forgiveness.
  10. Too much flesh. Too little Spirit.

I’ve spent enough time thinking about previous years and how I could have given more and loved better. I wept. I’ve confessed. I’ve mended fences…or at least tried, some refuse to mend. But as the Bible says, “There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh.” I’m done trying to fix yesterday. It’s time to move ahead into the life God has for me and my loved ones.

The great news of the Gospel is that God is always calling us forward to new life. I’m ready to move into the gift of life with a new zeal for God and His kingdom. In my short 53 years, despite all the ups and downs, one thing has remained. Jesus Christ, my wonderful savior has held my hand all the way. His love is greater than my regrets, stronger than my fears, and more powerful than my insecurities.

He has been unswervingly faithful and undeniably capable in all situations.My king has kept me in His nail scarred hands even in my worst moments. He has given me a wonderful family, amazing friends and tremendous opportunities. The great news is that no matter how long I live on this planet the best is always yet to come. Quite frankly, I have no intention of winding down at this point. My God has given me a great gospel to preach and a great life to live and I feel that I’m just now getting started. I want the second half to be greater than the first. I want my life to burst with God’s glory so brightly that you’ll have to wear sunglasses to my funeral!

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging me. I want to encourage you to live your life completely for Jesus Christ. He is the very ground of your existence. He is the reason for every breath you breathe. He alone can give meaning and lasting purpose to your life. In fact, He alone can give you your life. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Invisible boy on the train track.

An invisible boy traipses along a deserted railroad track. He looks as far down as he can see, wondering what it was like, back in the day, when this track was filled with steel cars and hurried passengers. The smell of railroad ties intertwined with the whir of passing cars along the highway draws him further down the line. He’s surrounded by activity, but on that empty track he feels disconnected from it all. He wonders how far he could walk and how long he could be gone before anyone noticed his absence. He’s afraid to walk too far. He’s afraid his suspicions will be true. He’s afraid he’ll discover he could walk to China and the world would just keep moving like the traffic on the highway. Oblivious. Preoccupied. Not even aware he was gone.  But one day he decides to give it a try. He gets out on the track and walks. Alone. Invisible. Disconnected from the world speeding around him. Tired of being invisible. He just wants someone to see him. So he walks.

He walks for miles, waving at the oblivious passers by, imagining they’re waving back. As he travels along the track he leaves his home far behind, occasionally wondering if any of his siblings are looking for him. Once in awhile he thinks he hears a voice calling him home, but when he turns around to look no one is there. Must have been imagining things. So the invisible boy walks on. He walks on hoping someone will be able to see him. As he gets a little older and wiser he decides maybe it’s his own fault no one can see him there. He’s not trying hard enough. When you’re invisible you have to work a little harder to be noticed.

So be starts turning somersaults along the track. He discovers that when he’s performing, he becomes visible. But when he stops, he’s gone from sight again. So it’s best to keep doing tricks along the track.  Maybe if he turns enough really good flips the by passers will take note and someone will join him on the track. It works, well, sort of. At first no one seems to care about his attempts at acrobatics, but as he perfects his art, people start to notice. The slowing of traffic and the photos being taken by amused drivers, give him reason to flip even more. Finally, someone has noticed the invisible boy! So he flips more, turning and twisting, jumping and throwing himself in all directions, whatever it takes to keep the growing crowds cheering. But a boy can only turn so many flips before the has to slow down and rest. Then they’re gone again. Seems like all they wanted was the show. When he looks up from his rest he is invisible again.  His aching joints and the dimming of the sky  make it clear to him that he has wandered farther down the track than he thought, and the time has gone by faster than he imagined. He has spent way too much time doing tricks for attention. Eventually the time comes when he just can’t keep up the show. All he can do is keep walking. At the end of the day he’s still an invisible boy walking along the tracks. Disconnected. Invisible. Tired of turning flips. Wondering if anyone out there is able to see him.

Help my students perform a miracle!

I have challenged my High school Bible class to put their faith into action by attempting to raise $1000.00 to help support a worthy cause. The cause is a ministry trip being taken by three of our staff people and one student this coming May.
They are going to Uganda to work in a children’s prison…yes you heard it, a children’s prison. These children are all but thrown away in a facility without so much as a bed to sleep on and healthy food to eat. Our team will be going there to minister through a mission organization called, “Sixty feet” who ministers to many places like these. You can check out the organization on the web.
My students want to help out, although they are not able to go. They want to do what they can to raise part of the funding for the mission.IMG_20140126_034102

They have three weeks to raise the money.

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This is a photo of the sleeping area of the prison. Thirty eight children sleep here on the floor. No blankets or pillows. But the work of sixty feet and of our staff who are going to help, this can change.

 

Now for some practical information:
1. Where do you teach? The school is called Oakdale Christian Academy. It is a small Free Methodist Boarding school, located in the mountains of Eastern Ky. I’ve been ministering in this area for about 25 years. I’m a pastor, teacher, and Youth Camp Pastor. You can look up Oakdale on the web (Oakdale Christian Academy.org)oakdale sign
2. How do we donate? Send checks to : Erin Cook c/co Oakdale Christian Academy 5801 Beattyville rd. Jackson, Ky, 41339 Please write on the memo line “Bible Class Project” (Erin is the leader of the team. She and Kathy have served there in Uganda before, for several months. They are quite experienced in this ministry.)

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3. When is the deadline? All funds need to be in by April 24th.
If you have any other questions leave a comment or email me at mdriskill48@gmail.com

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Thanks for your help. Pastor Mark

Beautifully Broken…Celebrating the Risen One.

How was your Easter, or Resurrection Day, Yesterday? Mine was beautiful, although not much went according to plan. I started the morning off with a community Sunrise service..in which I forgot that it was my job to arrange the service and get people to handle various parts of the service. Nothing like staring out at a sea of expectant faces looking at you, then suddenly realizing you have no order of worship, or songs etc. But thankfully Pastor Tom handled the music, and Bob Schaeffer, our speaker did a great job. Then on to my service, where we traditionally have a brunch combined with worship, which includes a blossoming of the cross. Brunch went well, and it was a nice service. We had some funny moments with the music as Jeremy and Meg tried to negotiate chords and notes between guitar and piano. They always do a great job, but there was a bit of laughter with a couple of songs. They both are great worship leaders, but this was the first time they had led together. But even with the minor chord confusion the song service was joyful and beautiful. Then came the blossoming of the cross. Usually we cover the cross in flowers from our gardens, but due to recent flooding and morning frost the cross was sparsely covered. A couple of folks were able to bring in flowers and my resourceful wife went outside before the service and got some wild flowers from the church yard. Oh and I forgot to mention that my daughter had trouble with her brakes on the way to church, so I was dealing with that early on. Then she got sick and Mary, my wife, had to take her home before the service. So any visions of a high powered super duper, cutting edge, crowd drawing Easter services quickly vanished. They won’t be writing about this in church growth magazines.

But it was one of the more beautiful days of celebrating the risen Lord I have ever experienced. We may not have wowed the crowds and mystified the seekers. I may not have preached an unforgettable message. But Jesus showed up in a beautiful way. Our service was pretty regular. Pretty unspectacular. And pretty awesome. I’ve been to a lot of Easter services, but only a few really got me in touch with the resurrection of our Lord in such a profound way. Why was it profound?

First, it was profound in it’s simplicity. For example, a simple wooden cross sparsely decorated with the flowers of the field, showed a depth of love from the people that you just can’t manufacture. I loved watching the children hang little wildflowers and Tulips on the cross. I’ll take that over a cool video any day.

Second, it was profound in it’s joy. Everything from singing a birthday song to Lauren, to clapping together when Theresa announce that her ailing grandfather, for whom we had been praying, was now getting better, to hearing the congregation sincerely repeat, “He is risen indeed!” as the service began. The joy was not pumped with hype and pretense. It was simple, pure and real. We have a church that truly loves Jesus and believes he is alive forever.

Third, it was profound in it’s impact. No, we didn’t baptize anybody. There was no flooding of the altar. Doggone it we didn’t even get a truckload of guest names to follow up on next week. But God’s people were inspired to live as those who have been risen with Christ. My Twelve year old friend Mike, who I’m training to preach, came up to me, after the service, and said two things that almost bring tears. First, he said, “I’m excited about being a preacher some day.” Second he said, “Can we start visiting the nursing home? I feel bad for those people who have nobody to visit them.” Mike wants to live the risen life. He wants to bring life to those who need it. Did I mention that Mike is twelve years old? He wants to bring the gospel to people who are too often forgotten.

Finally, it was profound in it’s brokenness. Like I said the services I attended were both a little imperfect, but still very powerful. Isn’t it just like our risen Lord to come to us in our brokenness and bless us. That’s what the story of the resurrection is all about. The risen one showing up in our midst, and blessing us just as we are. It makes me think of his first appearance to his disciples. They were hiding in an upper room, broken, afraid and in need of his presence. Then he walked through the wall and said, “Peace be with you.” May we allow the risen one to walk through our walls and bless us in our beautiful brokenness.

What happened to Chislev?

What were you praying about in December 2014? How about November? October? This was my reflection this morning. I was reading in Nehemiah chapter 2 and was mildly stunned. I realized that He had prayed for an opportunity to approach the King of Persia and ask for permission to go back to Jerusalem and begin a massive restoration project. That was in Chapter 1. That prayer took place in the Hebrew month of Chislev (November/ December). Then on reading Chapter 2, I see that the conversation he had prayed about having with the king din’t even occur until about four or five months later, in the month of Nisan (March/April).

So Nehemiah began praying for an open door to the king in about November, and although he was in the kings presence every day, the actual conversation never took place until about four months later. Even then, the conversation was initiated, not by Nehemiah, but by the King himself. I could spend a great deal of time writing about such things as providence, God’s timing, etc. but I’m thinking in a slightly different direction today.

As I reflected on the four month span between the two events I was prompted to look back into my poorly organized prayer journal to try to see what I was praying about four months ago and what’s going on right now. In some cases I was encouraged to see what God had done over the last quarter in my life, but I was also a bit embarrassed by the prayers I had prayed, ideas I had written down, and plans I had made, many of which I have forgotten about. So much was lost between Chislev and Nisan. Whew! I’ll take another slice of that humble pie, with a scoop of ice cream please. To keep this brief let me just throw out some conclusions.

1. Journaling is a great idea if for no other reason than it helps me remember things.

2. Nehemiah didn’t have a list of ideas. He had one burning desire. Hard to forget something that grips your heart. Pray, not for ideas, but for passions, burdens, deep desires.

3. I need to clean out the closet of my million ideas and see which ones are truly from God, and toss out the ones that aren’t.

4. Just because you forget, doesn’t mean God does. Some of those forgotten prayers were answered anyway. Others are still before the throne. Keep praying.

So I’ve gone over the last few months and begun to ask the Lord to help me do some spring cleaning in my heart, mind and calendar. Time to seek the Lord for a fresh vision for these warmer days, and to dust off forgotten plans and just see what doors will open in Nisan.

Walking in God’s Favor.

“And the King granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (Nehemiah 2:8)

Nehemiah was a bit too old to attempt a back flip, but today he almost tried one! He could not believe what just happened. He had spent the whole night before pleading with God for favor from the Persian King. Through trembling lips he nervously requested leave to go to Jerusalem and attempt a rebuilding project for his people. Not only did the King grant his request, he also granted supplies and protection for the whole project! How long the old man stood there with his mouth hanging open is unknown to us, but I would have loved to have seen it. Retiring to his room, Nehemiah sat on the edge of his bed in sheer awe. Then He looked up to heaven, with tears of golden joy dancing across his face and tried to find words to give to his God. But how do you adequately say thanks when your future, once thought lost forever, has just been handed to you on a silver tray of divine favor? In such rare moments all you can do is rest in the unexplainable goodness of God. Nehemiah experienced the favor of God. Can you and I walk in such favor? Or is this just the stuff of ancient stories? To me the Bible is more than a collection of ancient accounts. It is the playbook for those who would know God and experience him today and into eternity. When we read Nehemiah’s explanation of things in chapter 2, verse 8 we see how his assessment of things shaped his destiny. You see many of us miss the favor of God in our lives simply because of the way we choose to look at life. When he wrote of his experience with the King, he gave the reason for how things worked out. Let’s be honest, many of us, if we had been through such an experience, we would have said something like this: “And the King granted me what I asked because…

1. I caught him when he was in a good mood.

2. I know how to work people and get what I want.

3. He probably has ulterior motives, but at least we have a win – win situation.

4. I was the just lucky I guess.

Strangely enough, if it hadn’t worked out we would be tempted to bring God into it at that point…

1. God must be mad at me.

2. God doesn’t care.

3. God doesn’t exist.

Funny how we work that isn’t it? God only gets the credit for our disappointments. Or worse, his existence is determined by whether or not we get what we want. Then we wonder why this whole faith thing, “didn’t work for me”. It didn’t work, because you really haven’t tried it yet. What you tried was superstition, not faith. God doesn’t bless superstition. He blesses faith. Nehemiah shows us what walking in faith, and consequently divine favor, looks like. Nehemiah 2:8 shows us the mindset that we need.

“And the King granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (2:8 E.S.V.)

 1. “The good hand…” – Nehemiah assumed the goodness of God. Even though his home town was in ruins, and the future looked uncertain, he understood that God’s nature is not determined by our present circumstances. For many, God is only good if I am happy at the moment. But all the saints of Biblical history affirmed, even in their worst moments that God himself is good. I have to accept, that as James put it, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.” and that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:13,17) I must come to God with the assumption that God is good even when my situation isn’t.

2. “of my God…” – Nehemiah had a personal relationship with God based on faith. I cannot walk in God’s favor from a distance. From Genesis to revelation people who would experience God are called to a personal faith relationship with God. This came in Nehemiah’s time through obedience to the law, but now it comes through the one who fulfilled the law in himself, Jesus Christ. Friend you will never walk in God’s favor by simply believing there’s a God out there somewhere, and by trying to live by your own understanding of goodness. Jesus said, repeatedly, that we must come to God by personal faith and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. Then I must daily walk in faith and growing obedience to him. Many claim to believe in Jesus, but have not yet begun a personal relationship with him. Read John 15 for description of how we are to live in a daily relationship with him.

3. “was upon me.” – Nehemiah trusted in the presence and power of God that was upon him. Whenever the Bible talks about the hand of God being upon someone, it refers to his power and presence. Nehemiah understood that the Persian King didn’t respond to Nehemiah’s clever words, but to the unseen power of God that was upon the servant of God. It reminds me of Jesus words at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me…” (Luke 4:18) Jesus walked in divine power. This same power he promised to all who follow him, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses….” (Acts 1:8…) Paul demonstrated this same confidence in the power of God in his letter to the Corinthians,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 E.S.V.)

So we see that we walk in divine favor, when we start with a shift in our perspective. We begin to experience God at work in us and through us when we assume:

1. That God is good, despite how things look at the moment.

2. That God desires a personal relationship with me.

3. That God wants me to walk in his power, not my own.

Finally, I have to say that Nehemiah wasn’t asking for favor so he could simply live a good life and do as he pleased. Nehemiah walked in God’s favor because he was committed to God’s kingdom and cause. The underlying theme to all this is that we must live for God’s glory and kingdom if we are to truly find the fulfillment and purpose and favor we were created to experience. Jesus said it this way, “Seek first (in priority) the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)