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My wife and I started attending Central UMC 30 years ago, which was a few months after we got married. I was in graduate school and working at an internship and she was substitute teaching. We did not have very much money. A night out for dinner for us, which was rare, was getting Dominos Pizza and eating it in our small apartment living room.
We were a little intimidated when we first started attending Central. There was no contemporary service back then, which is where we typically attend now. Rather, there were just two classic services in the sanctuary. I remember when the offering plate came around each week that I felt terrible because we either didn’t put anything in or just a few dollars.
We learned about Central’s Covenant Giving Program that fall of 1989, which was simply a covenant between the person/family and God. I was thrilled that the church would not know what we put on our card. We put down $7 per week and I felt pretty good about it. (I looked it up and that is equal to about $14.50 per week now).
A few years went by and I heard that some of Central’s lay leaders were going to be hosting an information meeting on tithing on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. I was interested but afraid of what I would hear. God moved in my heart. I attended and was taught biblical principles of giving that day. I went home afterward and told my wife that we had to start tithing. We started and have never looked back. God has been faithful to us and we have been faithful to Him. Even in times of challenge, we have given because we did not view it as optional. Cable TV – optional. Sports/entertainment – optional. Eating out – optional. New car – optional. Big house – optional.
I want to now share a few nitty-gritty details that may help you if you will read on.
A final word. Generous people tend to have more joy in their lives. About 20 years ago, I met a man who shared with me that he and his wife gave away over 30% of everything they made AND they hoped to increase that. He was absolutely one of the happiest most spirit-filled people I had ever met. I wanted what he had. When I have a bad day…I give. When things aren’t going well…I give. When I have a good day…I give. When things are going well…I give. Regardless of the circumstances, giving brings me joy. I encourage you to try giving, but only if you want to experience joy, fulfillment, gratitude, and contentment. Anne Frank once wrote, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” So, if you haven’t already, start measuring your wealth by being a blessing to others, not how many dollars are in your bank account.
The past two weekends I had the opportunity to go to Harriet, Arkansas and teach a few hundred junior high students that they were chosen by God. It was an incredible weekend where we saw God do some incredible things, but, reminding junior high students that they are chosen by God isn’t the easiest task. I mean, do you remember your junior high experience? As I told them this weekend, if some crazy time warp happened and I was sent back to high school, I would be fine; I enjoyed high school. But, if that same time warp sent me back to junior high? Oh Lord, please let the end of the world coming soon! (Which, in this theoretical situation, if there’s a time warp that sends me back to junior high, it seems plausible that the end of the world would be rapidly approaching).
Junior high, and honestly younger, is where we are first flooded with the reality that there is pressure all around us to be like that person. There is a pressure that tells us to strive to do whatever we can to blend in with those around us or to work hard to somehow prove we are better. It may have started at a young age, and now it has extended into your adult life, and maybe you haven’t even realized it. You are searching. You never discovered your identity as God’s chosen and valuable possession, you never realized that there was value in who you are solely because God has created and chosen you, and you’ve been chasing value ever since those playground days caused you to believe that you were inadequate.
Well, hear God’s good news for you. If you don’t get anything else from this blog, I want you to leave knowing ONE thing, that God chooses you! Over and over and over again, God consistently says yes to you, despite anything that you might think disqualifies you, despite anything you might think isn’t worthy of being chosen by God, he chose you. In Deuteronomy chapter 7, God reminds his people who they are.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
We have been chosen. I think we have a really bad understanding of what it means to choose something. For us, choosing something or someone is usually about what they bring to the table. Speaking of tables, do you like choosing options to eat? I hate it! I love food, but I hate choosing. I hate choosing because I want the best option and if I choose poorly, I’m going to be disappointed!
This is how we view choices! Really it is how we view any type of value. We want the best option! Maybe it’s an award that you’ve won in your life, maybe it’s being the best salesperson, maybe it’s making sure your child is the star athlete, or maybe it’s maintaining your status in the “in” crowd and surrounding yourself with things. All of these “identities” are usually based on something we can do. What do you bring to the table? Then in situations where we feel like we are not being chosen, or we don’t have anything to offer, it can produce some really serious anxiety in our lives. When we’re not chosen it causes us to wonder what might be wrong with us. It makes us feel worthless. Unworthy. Unqualified. So we keep up appearances all while wondering if we truly have any value.
You see, when we don’t know whose we are, we’ll never know who we are! Because of the life experiences which teach us that being chosen is all about what we add, we can start to feel like God might choose people the same way.
Do you ever feel this way with God? Do you ever think, “Does God love me? Does God choose me? Would the creator of the world really want to know me?” The answer is a resounding, “YES!”
In the above scripture, God is trying to get us to see that God chose us based on one thing, and one thing only! Because God loves us. Right now, as you are, YOU are a treasured possession of God! Not because you earned it, not because you were already cool or powerful, not because you were destined to be awesome, not because you have lots of talents, not because God thinks you’re going to be really successful. God chooses you, even when you think you are the LEAST likely to be chosen!
Old Testament, New Testament, from the beginning of time until the end of it, God is unchanging and God still chooses you! But, as I found myself prepping for my talks to these students, I discovered I often forget that truth. I think we all still forget. Over, and over, and over again! Reminding ourselves of our identity in Jesus is the constant battle of continually following Jesus. I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting things right, caring for others well, or about how much you read your Bible, Are those things important? Of course! They are the foundations of truly following Jesus. However, I think those are actually the easier parts to remember and do well. I’ve been following Jesus now for over 20 years give or take a little bit, and I still struggle believing that God chooses me. I forget this truth every month, every week, and every day.
So today, are you walking as a child of God? Are you reminding yourself whose you are?
If so, then hold your head high and be reminded that you have extreme value as God’s child. Take courage knowing that you don’t have to strive to find identity in anything else; we are chosen by God and our identity comes from God!
If not, maybe you find yourself exhausted as you chase after things to prove your worth. Maybe you feel so tired and stressed trying to make sure you’re wearing the right shoes, trying to make sure your kids have on the right brands, trying to make sure everything is picture-perfect in your family's life, but you still wonder every day - God, do you really choose me? Be reminded that the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes! You ARE my beloved child, my valuable possession!”
What would happen if we stopped listening to the many voices who make us believe we’ll never measure up, and instead begin to see ourselves the way God does...
Remember, YOU are chosen by God.
Occasionally, there are those people who get into your heart. Joyce was one of those people. Joyce Lynn George passed on into the loving arms of our Lord on August 30, 2019, in Fayetteville, after succumbing to injuries sustained from a car wreck. She was 59. Her family asked that I speak at her funeral, which was held at First United Methodist Church in Coffeyville, Kansas. Joyce’s family welcomed me into their home and into this celebration of Joyce's life and faith. I now see where Joyce got her unconditional love, kindness, faith, and the importance of family. I'm so thankful she had a family that cherished her.
It’s been amazing to hear of the Joyce I didn't know - her younger years as a kind and loyal friend, her life as a strong single mom raising three boys, and to understand the struggles that led her to Genesis. This is the way I knew Joyce in her last years.
Psalm 23:1 says: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Joyce talked often about her love for Jesus. She knew He carried her sorrows, loved and died for her - and was with her every moment.
The scriptures say there's Faith, Hope, and Love. (1 Cor. 13) And the greatest of these is love. Joyce was a spirit-filled believer with all three.
Psalm 23:2: He makes me lie down in green pastures He leads me beside quiet waters
Joyce, and all of us, who are on a journey with God as our shepherd know He's got a plan and purpose for our lives. God gave her soul peace even in the storms she faced. At one point, with Joyce trembling and holding my hand - she said she wanted the struggle to be over, and to be in heaven with her mom. Today we celebrate them being together again.
The word God gave me about Joyce was ‘Unique’ – how special and amazing He knit Joyce together. We are each unique and precious to God, just like Joyce.
She was a free spirit and we connected instantly when we first met. We shared a lot in common, marriage and a wild son (I only had one and she raised three), a devastating divorce, feeling like a loner in the world, and a deeply loving family but choosing to be distant for fear of being the black sheep. We also shared faith in a Savior whose mission was to the hurting, broken, and lonely.
Jesus said that when we encounter people who are struggling and help them, we are helping Him. In Joyce, I met Jesus himself. I met a deeply spiritual woman, who every time we talked asked for prayers for her family to be healthy and safe.
Joyce was excited to get involved in church and to be welcomed as a child of God. She planned to volunteer to hold babies in our childcare ministry and to be a mentor to single mothers. Joyce was following Christ in becoming the person He created her to be.
In our last conversation, she talked about joining our Celebrate Recovery program. That's a place for everyone. A place for dealing with our hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Joyce wanted to heal and grow in God’s strength. God was doing incredible things in her life.
It's bad enough to lose your home once, but Joyce went through that trauma twice. The second time, Joyce came to me and wanted to join our church family after her move. She asked us to pick her up every Sunday. We would pick her up and have breakfast together. She loved our worship because it is unique just like her. At Genesis, we have everyone from multi-millionaires who have everything, to people who have nothing, bikers, doctors, hippies, and accountants. We are all one family.
My prayer is that your family will be closer together than ever before.
After her accident, we can't ignore the difficult question: Why do bad things happen to good people? I don't have an easy answer, but I know that God is right there with us as we move through challenging times of life. Like Jesus said, “I will be with you always.” God is with us right now to comfort us and bring us to green pastures and still waters.
Seven years ago I broke my neck in an accident. Before then, I assumed there was always going to be another day. I took the special gift that is life for granted. Now, every day is a miracle, a chance to love God and love others. I pray that we will look at life differently as we reflect on Joyce’s accident because she loved God and loved each of you, just like Jesus said to.
For a moment after my accident, I was transported into the arms of our Heavenly Father. Surrounded by pure light - there was no fear, no pain, and no recollection of my accident. It felt like I was being held by God himself. I pray this gives you some peace knowing this.
And that's what the scripture says: remember the story of The Prodigal Son when the son returns home - The Father, who represents God, runs to the Son (who is each of us) and hugs him. That's what Joyce experienced a few weeks ago. This is what each of us will experience someday. I hope that brings you comfort. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul says that he'd rather stay here on Earth because there's work to be done but it's better by far to be at home with the Lord.
At the end of Psalm 23, the writer says that he was sure that he is going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. That's where our sister Joyce is. In the house of the Lord, where there's no more suffering and no more tears, and I look forward to joining her there someday.
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“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”—Ephesians 5:14, NIV.
A couple of years ago, Dr. Jan Davis and I were invited to be a part of the Seedbed New Room Summit at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. One of the outcomes of this three-day summit, filled with prayer, discussion, worship, and teaching was the following definition of awakening:
"Awakening is the outcome of encountering Jesus, through whom the love of God the Father is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Awakening both results from and leads to deep wholeness in people, renewal of the Church, evangelization of a generation, and transformation of society. The common thread of the Christian story and the great urgency of our day, awakening unfolds in small ways which produce vast blessing to all of creation. It comes most readily to those who are desperate for more of God, to any disciple of Jesus thirsty for a manner of prayer and quality of relationship that bear the marks of plain, Scriptural Christianity—the measure of which is holy love. The Church cannot manufacture awakening; it is ultimately a work of God’s power and a sign of His presence. But we can sow for awakening, remove impediments, and posture ourselves to receive it. We do so by the ministry of Word and Spirit, the priority of travailing prayer, in communities of banded discipleship, for the sake of multiplying the Church of Jesus Christ and the bold expansion of God’s Kingdom."
There is a lot packed into that paragraph which reflects a deep longing for God to awaken his church. Again, if “sleepers” are going to rise from heavy slumber, it will take a work of God to raise us up.
In Revival Rising, Mark Nysewander, pictures awakening as another type of rising—the rising power of a tidal wave. He laments that we often settle for less than God’s power. We settle for a small blessing, a little boost, or a little help and God desires for us to experience “Holy-Spirit-coming-on-you” power. This is the type of power Jesus speaks of in Acts 1:8 when he says to his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Nyswander calls us to repent for making the possibility of revival so rare. And that we should expect the Holy Spirit to come in power for this time in history.”
Awakening for a people or a nation begins with individuals. Dave Thomas, in his tract To Sow for a Great Awakening, tells of the spiritual posture of individuals during the Welsh revival of 1949-51. The key leader of the revival was Scottish evangelist, Duncan Campbell. Initially, Campbell was to stay for ten days in 1949. Instead, revival occurred and his ten-day itinerary turned into a three year experience of awakening.
When witnesses of the revival were asked of their experience of the Spirit’s great movement among the people, they stated that a spiritual posture played an essential role. Witnesses described that there was, “a spirit of urgency and audacity, an attitude of brokenness and desperation, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing.”
The people were desperate for awakening. They were desperate for Jesus. Perhaps the lack of spiritual fervor in much of western Christianity is our lack of desperation for Jesus. We think God wants to remove our problems and fix places in our lives where our lives don’t serve our desires and dreams. We easily forget that God desires our holiness much more than God desires our westernized definition of happiness.
I heard someone talking recently about successful church ministry. What does successful church ministry look like? What has it always looked like? Like Jesus. Jesus is our only measure of success. Jesus was open to all the possibilities and power of the Father. In fact, Jesus said that he only does what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19-20). When we are desperate for revival, what we are really desperate for is the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the full expression of the love of the Father.
Dennis Kinlaw tells the story of an evangelistic crusade taking place in Romania at the time that Communism in Eastern Europe was falling. The attentiveness of the people in attendance was remarkable. After so long a time of being deprived of the Christian message and teaching, the people were desperate for the presence of God and to hear God’s word proclaimed. One night, as the evangelist Sam Kamaleson gave the message, he noticed a sound sweeping across the audience every time he said the name of Jesus. What he discovered was weeping. Sam explained, “You know, when the last alternative option to Jesus has been exhausted and shown for its true bankruptcy, the name of Jesus takes on great power and allure.”
So, let me close this blog entry with a question: On a level of 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, what is your desperation level for Jesus and to be fully alive (awake) in him?
 Mark Nyswander, Revival Rising (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2016), 6-8.
 David Thomas, To Sow for a Great Awakening (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2016), 8-9.
 Ibid., pp. 9-10.
 Dennis Kinlaw, This Day with the Master (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), December 2.
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