One Saturday at a men’s cleanup day, I was walking across the yard of the Church with a friend of mine. We were picking up trash, straightening things up and talking while we worked.
My friend said, “Someone should really do something about those bagworms.”
I said, “Bagworms? What bagworms?”
“Don’t you see them? They are all over that tree over there.”
I couldn’t see them. For those of you that are not familiar with bagworms, they live in evergreen trees and chew up the tree to make their cocoons. Since they use part of the tree in the construction, the cocoons look like part of the tree. Plus, they hide underneath where the sun does not shine.
The bad part about bagworms, is that they will destroy a tree, or a whole yard full of trees, in just a few seasons. They basically suck the life out of them.
My simple bagworm philosophy is this: Sometimes God uses you to see something that no one else can see. When He does that, He is telling YOU to take care of it, not someone else.
I used this tact on my friend and suggested he take care of the bagworm problem. He didn’t. The trees died. Then there wasn’t a bagworm problem anymore, there was a tree problem.
Too often, I hear people talking about how “someone should take care of” something. Maybe you are the only one who can see the problem, and maybe you are the only one inspired to take ownership of the problem. Maybe, if you don’t take care of it, no one else will, and the problem will grow into something more severe.
I have found that problems that are giving to me to work on, are ones I tell others about, and they don’t get excited enough to help out. I used to get frustrated about it, until I figured out where the inspirations are coming from.
So... If there’s too much litter on the road, don’t complain about it, clean it up. If you think there is a problem in our government, run for office. If you think there is a problem in our schools, volunteer, be a mentor! If the taxes are too high, form a lobby to get them lowered. You may be the only one inspired to take on the job.
Oh, and if you think morality in America is waning, quit your job, be a pastor, and teach about Jesus. At least, that is what I am inspired to do...
His servant, Pastor Jay
As I sat in the train station one afternoon, I noticed a sparrow had somehow gotten trapped inside the big enclosed waiting area. I saw it as it quietly fed on crumbs left behind by a careless traveler.
I wondered if the sparrow had inadvertently flown into this room, or if he was born there. I wondered how long it had been since it had been able to stretch its wings and fly in the fresh air. All the sparrow had to do was to get through the doors to escape captivity, to be what it had been created to be.
As I watched, I imagined people in the same predicament, trapped in the waiting area of life, just feeding on the leftovers of others like all the commuters and travelers crowded in this one large room. I wondered how many of them had really seen the world the way God wants us to see it. I wondered how many would ever reach their potential.
Their challenge is much more complex, I told myself. How would they escape that lifestyle. Is it as easy as following the sparrow? Walking through the door and not going back?
Jesus said "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
For man, there is a door and it has a name - Jesus. Not only will he rescue you, he will give you a pasture - a place of rest. I believe that only then, you will reach your potential.
Twice a year we are supposed to change the batteries in our smoke detectors.
Some do. Some don’t.
Some do, but “borrow” the battery later on for something “more important.” We promise to come back and take care of it, but we don’t.
It’s amazing how many smoke detectors go without the power of a little nine volt battery, and how many people get burned.
Get the power
Twice a year, people come to Church – Christmas and Easter. They understand the importance of a relationship with God, but they never connect His power into their daily lives. They promise to come back more, but they don’t. With the DAILY source of His power (a bazillion times greater than a nine volt battery), He also gives PEACE OF MIND as we go through the daily grind. It’s kind of like charging your nine volt battery every day, instead of twice a year.
Some do. Some don’t
It’s amazing how many people get by without the power of God in their lives. They think they don’t even need a smoke detector. I hate to say it, but they are going to get burned.
Some simply find something more “important” to do on Sundays.
What am I getting at?
Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us and empower us DAILY. Not to inhibit us, but to help us. At the same time, believers in Jesus Christ get the benefit of saving Grace, so we won’t get burned. Get connected and stay connected. There’s nothing more important.
My wife and I were walking in beautiful Greenfield Park
a couple of weeks ago. As we walked my keen eye noticed something in the busy street that ran alongside the path. At first I thought they were large coins, but there were too many. But then I noticed little tiny legs and a head on each dark green “coin.” They were baby turtles! How in the world did they get in the road?
My assumption is that the mama turtle waddled across the street to a grassy area outside the park. It was there that she laid her eggs. When they hatched, the babies instinctively started for the “promised land” of the park, with its cool grass and calm waters.
Unfortunately, there were obstacles in the way. First they had to get down the six inch curb that lined the street. Then they had to run (if you can call what turtles do running) across that busy street. Then, if they didn’t end up as turtle pancakes, they would encounter the greatest obstacle of them all, another six inch curb.
You may think I’m heartless to draw you a picture of the futility of a baby turtle with half inch legs trying to jump up a six inch curb, but it is for a point. Frankly, I don’t think any of the turtles were able to pull off a Michael Jordan sized leap and scale the curb. I do find it humorous to imagine the turtles flying up the side of the curb as if they were attached to bungee cords they use in some of the Chinese martial arts films. In reality, the turtles only chance of reaching their promised land was for a hand to reach down, scoop them up and place them on the top of the curb.
We humans have the same predicament. We are separated from God by an un-climbable wall, equal to the size of the Grand Canyon
. Even the best mountain climbers would not be able to scale that wall. You see, that wall represents our sin; our imperfections when we are compared to God’s Perfection. We cannot step into God’s Promised Land without a divine hand of grace to scoop us out of the mess we are in and set us on the other side.
Jesus is that hand. He came to meet us in the street. To lift us out of the danger we are in. To keep us from being “turtle pancakes” in the road of life. Jesus is the perfection that wraps itself around our imperfection so we can stand before God in His heaven.
Do you see it now? I think that’s why believers in Jesus get so frustrated with non-believers. We can see you struggling. We can see you trying to climb the six inch curb with half inch legs. We can see you trying with all your might. But we also see the 1 ton Duelly Crew Cab pick-up truck coming fast. We want to reach down and scoop you up and set you on the curb! But we can’t. We can’t pull you up. You can’t climb up. It’s your choice. Stay where you are, or ask for God's hand to save you. You have to ask for divine help. Reach up from the bottom of the pit you are in. Reach high into the infinite. Call out the name of Jesus and ask Him to be your Lord (leader) and Savior (forgiver). He will, and we can celebrate on the other side together with Him.
(Oh, and don't go back into the street)
No. What if?
These are two words, when put together, that can haunt us, like a ghost from the past, or inspire us with the hope of adventure and possibilities.
What if, I had only taken a different class in school, or had a different teacher.
What if, I had practiced more at reading, or basketball, or piano.
What if, I had married so-n-so.
What if, I hadn’t said the things I did.
What if, I could erase that one horrible day.
What if, the police had not pulled me over that night.
See how that ghost can haunt us? We play that video tape over and over in our minds and we keep hitting the rewind button, play, rewind, play, rewind, play…
…instead of hitting the fast forward button.
What if we had an opportunity to start fresh.
What if we could erase the past and start anew?
What if you could find hope instead of despair in those two words…
Did you ever think that two little words could have such power?
Let me give you some words from the Bible that have given me hope, then I’ll explain why they mean so much to me.
Philippians 2:3 (KJV) Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
What if, everyone could have the attitude of Christ? Or am I crazy to even think that!
You say, “Jay, you are thinking way too big!”
On the contrary, I’m thinking small.
I know these words can’t change the government overnight.
These words can’t change the schools overnight.
These words can’t change your family overnight.
These words can’t change even those that are nearest and dearest to you.
But you know what?
What if I just concentrate on changing me? Me?
That’s it, think small.
What if I do nothing out of selfishness?
What if I do nothing out of vanity?
What if I humble myself, instead of trying to prove I’m better than everyone else?
What if I look at people the way Jesus would?
What if I look around and find someone in need and care after their interests, like hunger, poverty, health, and loneliness.
Then, I will be on my way to having the attitude of Jesus.
And what if I did this? And what if you did this? And what if your family did this?
And heaven forbid – what if a whole church did this? Being like-minded, having the same love, being in one spirit and purpose? Like Jesus? Yes. Like Jesus.
And what if a community of churches did this?
And what if your neighbors and your co-workers and the mayor and the teachers and the council and the representatives, and …
What if thinking small can change the world?
Those two small words are growing in me –
and now, you –
Click to Listen to Pastor Jay's message about Gideon.
Recorded November 2012 in Gilbert, AZ,
at the church where Jay and his family were baptized.
(you may also download the mp3 by right-clicking and select "save link as...")
A good friend of ours contracted cancer many years ago. He suffered dearly as he drifted closer and closer to his death. One of the few things he could eat was my wife’s home made cinnamon bread, which she made often for him. Even though our friend was suffering, his prayer life and walk with God was inspiring. He would call us regularly from his bed to see how he could pray for us, but would never ask for prayers for himself. He kept a prayer list faithfully updated until the day he died. I choose to think of the example of my friend, not as why believers suffer, but how believers suffer.
In the first chapter of Peter’s first letter, he is addressing a group of people who have been displaced from their homes and are suffering because of their faith. In his letter, Peter is encouraging the readers with a gold mine of wisdom:
1 Peter 1:22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.
Look at the last part of the verse 22 first – “love one another fervently with a pure heart.”
Love one another… with a pure heart
Where can we get a pure heart except from God? It is only through His regeneration in the Holy Spirit that we are purified. In His Power, often through suffering, we are purified by the fire of trials. It is only through the fire that our impurities and priorities are burned away and turned toward Godly righteousness.
God is the vine dresser, cleaning His vineyard, clipping and chopping, burning the waste, so that He will get the glory of the harvest. God uses His wisdom to cut away parts of our lives, often with a great deal of anguish, to make us ready to bear fruit. His goal is to create in us the fruit of a pure heart that is free from corrupt desire; free from sin and guilt; free from what is false. He wants us to be blameless and innocent – unstained from the guilt of anything.
Love one another… fervently
Imagine you are hiking with a friend along a treacherous path high in the mountains. The view of the valley below is awesome, but the stones are loose beneath your feet. Suddenly, your friend’s foot slips and he begins to slide toward the edge of a cliff, clawing and grabbing for anything that will stop his fall. He reaches out to YOU with one last grab of his hand – one LAST CHANCE!
The verb fervently Peter uses, means to “stretch out the hand” with intensity. It is not a fake, insincere hand that is reaching out. An insincere hand will not have the strength or the capacity to save. There is no hypocrisy in a fervent hand. There cannot be.
Now, look at the first part of the verse – “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit”
Love one another… through the Spirit
As a follower of Jesus Christ, when God is alive in you, you have His power in the form of the Holy Spirit living and working INSIDE YOU. When you are suffering, when you come to the end of yourself, you are in a great position. God’s Spirit is in control:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” - Galatians 5:22-26
I believe that Biblical principles still work if they are “obeying the truth through the Spirit.” (1 Peter 1:22) It’s when we allow our self to get in the way of the Spirit that ruins the purity of the Christian love. Why? Because the love we give is not of Christ, if it is of our self.
As born again believers, God has put His Word in our hearts. Jesus said the very first priority to believers:
“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31
Therefore, we must FIRST obey God, and then “love one another in the Spirit, with a pure heart, fervently,” remembering the fervency of Jesus as he reached out BOTH HANDS to us on the cross.
Pastor Jay Merritt
When the tomb of the great medieval conqueror Charlemagne was opened, the workmen found not only the man who once controlled over half of Europe, but they were startled at the scene that greeted them.
Clothed in elaborate royal garments, still sitting on a throne, were the remains of the Holy Emperor of Rome, and something unexpected. Those who buried him in the year 814 placed a scepter in one bony hand and an open Bible on his knee. A cold, lifeless finger pointed to Mark 8:36: "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"
It is not known if Charlemagne requested this pose or if those closest to him decided to make a powerful statement of his failures to the generations that followed. It is known, however, that the great conqueror was depressed at the end of his life for not fulfilling his earthly goal of world domination.
There is a big difference in placing trust in things we can see that are temporary, and the things of God, that are unseen. “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
There is a loud voice in many of America’s churches saying, “If you have enough faith, God will make you prosperous.” There is a problem with this message – it is not consistent with the Bible.
A minister visited a poor church in a poor third world country and spoke with a member of the church who had recently heard a faith based wealth recording that was exported from America. The message was not good news to the devout believer in Jesus Christ. He came away believing that since his town was poor and his church was poor and he was poor, that he did not really believe in Jesus.
Is this the good news of Jesus Christ that is for ALL PEOPLE?
American Pastor David Platt, author of the book Radical, stated in a 2010 PBS interview, “This idea that if you believe God, have enough faith, that he will give you health or wealth or prosperity… It’s not the good news that Jesus preached. More than health and wealth, Jesus I think gives us a picture more of a homeless and wounded gospel, and even the New Testament church is not a picture of prosperity theology. It’s a picture of adversity theology, persecution, struggles, poverty, helping one another out.”
How many of the original disciples were rich? None.
True, there are a few Bible verses and human examples that one can focus on to sift out a message of prosperity, but the good news of the Bible is Salvation through Grace. Yes, God’s Grace can, but does not always equal health, wealth and prosperity. Look at Peter’s first letter, “In this [good news] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes…” – 1 Peter 1:6-7. Due to their abundant faith, early believers were chased from their homes, killed, tortured, and had all of their riches confiscated. Peter tells them their faith is for salvation, which is more precious than gold.
Christians still face persecution. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani serves in Iran and has been in prison for over 1000 days. He is sentenced to die for simply being a Christian and refusing to renounce Jesus as his savior. If the message of health, wealth and prosperity were true, Pastor Yousef’s faith is weak.
There are Christians around the world that go to church every Sunday, knowing that they may be attacked and killed. Yet their churches are full. Is the gospel of wealth and prosperity “working” for these people, or is their faith rooted in something deeper?
On the flip side, if a wealthy person were presented the idea that God would make them rich if they have faith in him, they would probably say, “I am already rich. I don’t need God to be wealthy.” Where’s the good news? It’s OK to be rich and love God, but God has much more to offer than fleeting wealth.
Peter explains the good news of the Bible – not wealth, but the love and of God in the hope of Jesus: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls..” – 1 Peter 1:8-9
Pastor Jay Merritt
“Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people." – Isaiah 57:14
I was walking along an old city street when I nearly tumbled head over heels after my toe struck the edge of the sidewalk that had been upturned by the roots of a nearby tree. The dangerous obstruction reminded me of the term used in the Bible that causes people to fall off the path and away from faith in God – stumbling blocks.
As believers, we should always be on alert to remove stumbling blocks from the path of those who are not strong in their faith, and to not be a stumbling block ourselves. We must be careful about heaping up rules that believers must follow to avoid temptation, and also avoid the other extreme of encouraging them to explore all of their liberties found in Christ, to the point of leading them into temptation.
Instead, we must let the Holy Spirit do His work, and not get in the way.
Remove Stumbling Blocks
Jesus said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42
We must continually and fearfully evaluate the way we live and act to make sure we do not cause people to turn their eyes from Jesus’ perfection and onto our imperfection.
Unfaithful Leaders Become Stumbling Blocks
"You have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," Says the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 2:8
Leaders of God’s Church, have a huge responsibility to teach God’s truth and not personal opinion. Leaders also must lead blameless lives so they do not send their flock off a cliff.
Hypocrites in the Church are Stumbling Blocks
"… you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:28
There are too many “phony Christians” who are turning people away from God without realizing it. Telling your children to “do what I say and not what I do” is hypocrisy. Praising the Lord and then cursing with the same tongue is hypocrisy. Greeting a fellow believer with a warm smile one moment and then telling the next person you meet some gossip about them is hypocrisy. STOP IT!
Watch Against Becoming a Stumbling Block
“…let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
“…do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
“It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” - Romans 14:13, 16-17, 21
Please realize, as you work in the church, there are many people who come from many backgrounds, who have many struggles and personal convictions. Just because you feel it is OK to drink alcohol, don’t encourage others to do so, even in jest. If you feel that eating meat is like eating poison, don’t argue with a believer who needs it. Likewise, if you are a meat lover, don’t starve your vegetarian guests. If you smoke, don’t smoke in public, so you don’t entice or offend others.
Love Prevents Being a Stumbling Block
“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” – 1 John 2:10
In ALL things, use a huge measure of God’s Grace, rather than beating your brother down with the Law. Each of us can find faults and can be found to be at fault, each and every moment of the day. The more we get to know each other, the more we know that we are all imperfect and in need of a perfect savior.
Let Jesus Be Offensive, Not You
The true stone of stumbling is Jesus. We are simply called to tell people about Him. For some He is a stumbling block, to others, He is foolishness. To believers, Jesus is the Christ – the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Some will reject Him. Others will accept Him. Our job is to clear the path for Him, and step aside.
Jesus is the stone that we must allow ourselves to come crashing down upon - the Rock that must knock us to our knees. Isaiah, Peter and the Psalmist called Him a “precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16, 1 Peter 2:6, Psalm 118:22), and a “stone of stumbling” and a “rock of offense” (Isaiah 8:14, 1 Peter 2:8).
"O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about… “ - Judges 6:13
Gideon of the Old Testament had been beaten down by his enemies, by his fears and by his failures. He was just living day by day, one hour and one meal at a time, not unlike a typical broken man of our day
He had forgotten what it was like to live in the presence of God.
The Angel of the Lord came to a fearful Gideon as he hid, hunkered down in the shelter of a wine press, trying to beat some wheat into submission, so he could have a little bit of flour for bread. He didn’t dare to get out the ox and use the threshing floor to make flour; for fear that his enemies would take him, his ox and what little food he had secured for himself.
For years Gideon and his people had been beaten down by life. They would plow and plant and water their crops only to have their enemies sweep in at harvest time and take all that they had. The enemy wasn’t nice enough to take only the surplus, they took it all. The seeds that were set aside for future crops and even the work animals were taken for the dinner table.
Gideon’s people had no hope. They were alive, but just waiting to die.
In this setting, the Angel of the LORD came to Gideon and told him two things:
The LORD is with you. You are a mighty man of valor.
For Gideon, these were the last two things on his mind and probably sounded like sarcastic mocking. He expressed his true feelings in the next verse, “If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” And then Gideon spewed out a bunch of excuses about his own incompetence.
The Angel of the LORD simply responded, “I will be with you.”
God saw Gideon as a one man army, able to save an entire nation, not a defeated victim of my circumstances. He sees you and me that way too. With God, you are an army of one. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” - Romans 8:31
What Gideon soon realized was that he, his family and all of his people were not living in God’s presence. Everyone had become complacent and did not behave as if God was standing right next to them every minute of every day. It took Gideon a few minutes to realize what the Angel of the Lord meant when He said, “Go in this might of yours.” -Judges 6:14
Without any prior experience, God saw Gideon as a mighty man of valor. Beginning with his own home, Gideon began to clean house, removing all of the things that did not give God glory. Overnight, he tore down the idols and removed the temptations that would lead his people away from God.
With the sound of a trumpet, Gideon had an army of tens of thousands to fight his enemies. But there was a problem. If Gideon and his men defeated the enemy, then God would not get the glory – Gideon would.
So, Gideon, with the direction of the God, reduced the number in his army from 32,000 to a mere 300 men. Gideon did not question how he was to defeat his enemies with just 300 men. He had not forgotten that the Lord had said, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” – Judges 6:16
Gideon had 300 extra soldiers than what was needed for God to win the war!
It is my firm belief that we are our own worst enemies. We try to fight our battles in our own limited power, energy and resources. The simple fact is, without God, we will be defeated.
Moses had a similar encounter at the burning bush. Thomas had a similar experience in the upper room. I have had similar moments of doubt and feelings of incompetence. But we must realize, God has a totally different perspective on things. He sees hope where I see despair. He gives hope with the simple reminder of His presence.
When we choose to give God the Glory in everything, He comes at our problems with all of His power, presence and vengeance.
Even though you may be beaten down by years of failure, the Lord is still with you. When you feel like there is nothing left, and even hope has breathed its last, God still sees you as victorious.
With God, you are an army of one.
Pastor Jay Merritt
Pastor Jay Merritt writes about God in every day observations.