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I hate to sound like a whiner, but if you read my last couple of blogs, you would think differently. 2015 has been, well, unusual. I’m not sure the reason, but God has really been putting me through the ringer. The first month and a half of this year has been filled with blow after blow. Expensive car repairs, financial setbacks, emergency surgery, losing 15 lbs in ten days due to that surgery (as a bodybuilder, that’s horrific). I’ve had kids that I care about and mentored for years leave my youth ministry, people take shots at me, my family has been picked at and I’ve been cranky and argumentative with them because of it all. And then there was the “straw”. You know, the one that broke the camel’s back?

That thing that takes you to the edge of your sanity?

That “straw” came in the form of what seemed to be termites on the floor of my 4 year-old home. Keep in mind, this is all in 6 weeks. (and I’ve left out some personal stuff!)

I stared at the floor and just thought, “Really, God? Termites? You’re gonna hit me with termites right now?”

I laid in bed for a couple nights in a row and thought about my options. By that I mean my emotional options, how I want to respond to the 6-week war I’ve been in. I could get angry. We all know that if you get angry enough, termites run away and gallbladders come back. I could be depressed, which we know keeps cars from breaking down. A good pity-party would surely bring kids back to our ministry and make people like me again, right? I could just “give up” as people say, but what’s that supposed to mean anyway?

I could do all of those things or I could choose to grow. I could open my ears and in the fashion of Job (he’s that Bible guy who has all of the bad stuff happen), I could let God work. I could let Him teach me and strengthen me when I feel at my weakest.

I heard a quote many years ago that said, ” A soldier’s strength is never known at times of peace.” Well, if that’s true, we’re about to see what past bootcamps have taught me. It’s time to strap up, forge ahead and fight. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned. It doesn’t mean I’m not challenged or even frustrated. It doesn’t mean I become Super-Christian and pretend nothing is happening because “I walk by faith and not by sight”. It simply means it’s war time.

As I said to someone the other night, life has seasons. Some seasons are better than others. Some northern winters will go down in history as crippling, yet spring always comes. Seasons. It’s a natural part of how the world works. Right now I feel like I’m waist deep in snow, trying to shovel my way to the driveway with a bad back. Even if I make it to the car, I can’t drive it due to the conditions of my path. But, I keep in mind…

spring is coming! So is yours. Keep shovelling!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ” There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

 

It was an average, casual Monday. Staff meeting in the morning, drove my daughter to the airport to fly back to college, came home and did some youth ministry work. Cooked some glorious steaks on my brand new grill, watched some TV, brushed my teeth and headed to bed. And then it happened. For the third time in five days, an excruciating pain in my abdomen. A pain that previously lasted about two hours, went away and I would go back to sleep. But this was different. The pain didn’t let up and I found myself laying on the living room floor, texting my wife upstairs that it was time to head to the ER.

“Mr. Henning, your gallbladder has to come out.” Excuse me, “come out”? I had never had a surgery in my life! My nurse-wife and everyone else informed me it’s a common procedure. Yank it out, home usually the next day with some additional time of rest. Right. Not exactly how it went for me.

A long list of complications landed me 5 days in the hospital.

When home, I was talking to a close friend of mine about all of it and how strange it was to be totally out of control of everything. He asked, “And what did you learn from that?”

I knew he was prodding for some deep spiritual response, maybe some kind of epiphany I had in my downtime. My answer… “Nothing”. At that moment I was aggravated, annoyed and inconvenienced by this needless speed bump in my life. By doctor’s orders, I couldn’t go to the gym for 5 weeks. 5 WEEKS!!!!! No driving, no picking stuff up, no nothing! Not to mention, worst of all, I had a youth retreat I was leading, happening in one week! I do not have time for this!

But after the dust settled, I DID learn something. Something kind of cool.

While in the hospital, I prayed, but I never had a “Dear Jesus, please protect me, please watch me, please give the doctors wisdom, please… “, (anything else scared people about to have surgery pray for) moment. Might be unusual behaviour from a Pastor, but here’s my “epiphany” on it all. Mike, listen up, here it is.

I realized, with some excitement, the state of my faith, the level of our relationship, God and I. You see, through the whole process, my wife was by my side. I never had to beg her to stay with me, to help me, to look out for my best interest. Because of her love for me and her history of never leaving my side, I just… knew. I could be assured of her presence even if I didn’t request it.

It was the same for me and the Lord. I guess I didn’t feel the need to go into panic-prayer mode because I just knew. I knew He was just as present at the hospital as He is when I’m at home writing sermons. He was just as present when my organs were being ripped out as He is when I’m cleaning the garage. Whether I begged Him or not, because I was His child, He never turned his head from the situation at hand.

That’s a pretty good feeling. I think too many people, even heartfelt Christians, trade the truth of an omni-present God for an “emergency present” God. One who seems to respond more to hospital prayers than everyday cares.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not insinuating that those moments of panic-prayer aren’t normal or even necessary. Even the greatest heroes of Scripture rang God’s doorbell in their darkest and most frightening moments. Chances are I’ll have a few more of those in the future myself.

What I’m trying to say is it’s important to remember the depth of truth in Psalm 139:7 “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” As crucial as prayer is in the life of a believer, We don’t always have to push the call button to be tended to. He’s already there.

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

 oil-pour
Wow, it’s been almost a year since my last blog! Talk about getting lazy.

Regardless, here I am, sitting in a secluded cabin in the woods of Tennessee. When I say secluded, I mean I feared slightly for my life as we drove up the side of a mountain to find the place. But we’re here and vacation has begun. I came up here  with only a few expectations:
1. Experience a real vacation outside of Florida. Disney’s great, but I need more.
2. Relax.
3. Hear God, clearly and intensely.

Can I be a bit transparent and honest with you guys? Can I drop the “Painless Pastor” stuff for a few and spill my guts? Ya see, before we left, I was feeling a bit “sluggish”. I could feel myself slowing down. My drive for ministry was “sluggish”, my motivation to plan was “sluggish”, my creativity was sluggish. The scariest thing is that my passion to move forward was “sluggish”. The last quarter of the ministry year was wearing on me but not because things were “bad”. It was just… heavy. Planning for a new youth building, planning for 2015, attendance goals for the year that seem we won’t reach, watching people’s lives disintegrate despite advice I’ve poured out, etc, etc. If you’re a Pastor (or in ministry at all), you know the deal. I’m not saying anything you don’t get and I’m not saying my struggle is something unique. I just think that after 14 years of very minimal soul maintenance, it’s caught up.

Many years ago, my wife and I bought a super kick-butt Ford Thunderbird. This thing was awesome. Quick, sleek, comfortable seats and even a cool keypad on the door that you type a code in to lock and unlock it. For us, that was high-class. But, I put over 70,000 miles on it and never changed the oil. I was immature when it came to maintenance. I just never thought about it. Until that day… that day the oil light came on. In typical circumstances, that’s a warning light, but for us, that was a signal of the end. The mechanic informed us that the oil had become so sludged up that it destroyed the oil pump. The filter could no longer “filter”, the pump could no longer “pump” and the engine pretty much just dried up and the heat and friction became too much. It was over.

All I had to do was a little bit of maintenance every 3000 miles and this meltdown could’ve been avoided.

So here I sit, in a cabin, “sluggish”, full of sludge, slowing down, all because of my inability to do maintenance. Don’t get me wrong, I read books, I take time to pray, time to study, even get away a little here and there. But I very rarely take time to do a full oil change. What I’ve done is the equivalent of a full detail job but neglecting the heart, the engine that keeps it running. I’ve neglected to notice the oil light of my own soul come on. I believed I could just keep on driving mile after mile and expect to run in high performance.

While here, I planned to sit and read a book and hear God scream something profound into my heart. Instead, he gave me this simple illustration of the oil change. So I prayed. I asked God to flush out my heart.

I prayed for a new “filter” for things to run through. The filter of seeing with His eyes, the filter of hearing with His ears. I want everything in life to run through HIS filter.

I prayed for a new “pump”. I want His heart to be MY heart, His passion to be MY passion, His motivation to be MY motivation.

I prayed for fresh “oil”. I want to have that same fresh anointing I had when I first began. I want His vision to flow through my veins and reduce the friction and heat that ministry can generate.

I prayed God would forgive me for my poor maintenance and teach me to see the warning lights before the meltdown.

I’d love to wrap this up with a story of how I’ve been changed in the first couple days and how I feel like a new man, ready to conquer the world with a fresh wind. Not yet. But I can already sense my motor running better. Here’s to maintenance!

Matthew 28-30 (The Message) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I wasn’t planning on blogging until tomorrow, but when I read this passage just now, it weighed so heavily on me that I had to sit and get this out of me immediately. I realize this may rub you the wrong way and you may disagree, but give it a shot.

Let’s read it first, then I’ll comment.

Luke 9
51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

Wow. Maybe you’ve already been all over this, but I’ve never noticed it before. Or at least the Spirit hasn’t revealed it to me in this way until now.

If you know the background, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Gas and fire, oil and water, corn mixed in with mashed potatoes… it doesn’t work.

The Samaritans completely reject The Lord as He draws near, which was expected. His croonies are ready to blow the place up in a display of power and retaliation. How dare those Samaritans! If they weren’t for joining the Jesus parade, they didn’t deserve to live.

But, their “manner of spirit” as Jesus points out, is all backwards. Then, in typical Jesus fashion, He flips the situation upside down. Instead of anger, instead of fire and brimstone, instead of picketing, yelling and spewing hate… He recommends grace.

Lemme just get right to what hit me this morning. How do we, as Christians, treat those who don’t think how we do? How do we react to those who push back against OUR lifestyle?

How do we react to the Muslim family in the airport? The homosexual couple in the store? The guy driving the car with the Darwin fish eating the Jesus fish? How do we react to the girl who just had an abortion or the ones who call us “weak” because “we need religion as a crutch”?

I’m not telling you to agree and accept everything as good and okay, but have you ever thought that maybe instead of “commanding fire to come down from heaven and consume them”, that Jesus prefers a different approach? An approach that can mix differences and grace together in only a way Jesus could do?

The next time you are about to react to some opposition to what we believe, please, put yourself in the above scenario. Imagine Jesus is walking in front of YOU and YOU are the one asking if you should call down a consuming fire.

You may be surprised when Jesus asks you to put down the verbal matches and extinguish our own thoughts.

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My wife called me on her way to work to inform me that a truck in front of her kicked up a rock and WHAMMO, you guessed it, cracked windshield. Not off to the side, not up high… dead center. No matter where you look, it’s in your sight and you can’t miss it.

It wasn’t very impressive, maybe the size of a dime, but there’s an important thing to understand about these guys. If you don’t tend to it, you’re looking at a potentially larger problem down the road… get it “down the road”? See what I did there?

If it’s not repaired, one jolt, one bump, one pothole can be enough to cause it to begin spreading. What was once the size of a dime can suddenly take over an entire area. You can ignore it if you want, but it’s not gonna go away and it’s only gonna get worse.

The Scriptures talk about sin in the same way.

Jesus said in Luke 12:1 ” … Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Huh? What’s that have to with sin? Let me explain. “Yeast” or “Leaven” in the Bible almost always represents sin. That makes what Paul says in Galatians REALLY important to understand.

Galatians 5:9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

If we’re not careful, those little, everyday, “everybody-does-em” sins begin to spread. That harmless flirting expands into an affair. That little white lie spreads into a web of deceit you can’t get yourself out of. A small “shortcut” or cheat turns into an audit, a little compromise here and there all of a sudden shifts your life forever.

“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

Don’t underestimate the power of this.

I didn’t underestimate the potential of the small crack in my window, so I called a professional. They came in, analyzed the damage and went to work. They cleaned the glass, prepped the surface and filled it with some type of magical liquid resin that would strengthen the spot and keep it from spreading.

Question. Has Satan kicked up a sin-rock that’s compromised the integrity of your heart? What small sin have you been ignoring? Are you risking a complete take-over down the road by pretending it’s not there?

My recommendation… call in the Professional. Allow Jesus to restore and repair you, immediately. Don’t wait, don’t put it off and don’t be naive enough to think you can truck on down the road with no danger involved.

The next bump could be enough to shatter your whole life.

1 John 1:9 “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

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So… not my most popular sermon, but here’s a blog version of last Sunday’s message. I mentioned it was probably easier to preach it than to hear it, so let’s see how READING it pans out for ya. It’s long I know, but bear with me. It’s worth the read.

Anyone who owns a Twitter account has either done it, or had it done to them (at least you THINK it was done to you). Talkin’ bout the good ole’ “subtweet”!

If you’re not sure what that is, Urban Dictionary defines it as this; “A tweet that mentions a Twitter member without using their actual username. Usually employed for negative or insulting tweets.”

Basically, it’s a way to write something bad about someone without them knowing it’s directed towards them. Or as I define it (in a not-so-classy way); “A cowardly way to talk crap about someone because you’re actually a little afraid of them.”

It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters instead of dealing with confrontation head-on. I compare it to playing paintball with our youth ministry in the past. The referee yells “Go” and some would never move one inch. They would hide behind the bunker, scared to death, hold their gun up and do what’s called “blind shots”. That’s just sticking the gun over the bunker and pulling the trigger like a madman, hoping you hit someone. Subtweets are the same, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Jesus always handled conflict head-on. He didn’t “blind shot” anyone and He surely didn’t run and hide. As Christians, shouldn’t we be the same? Sure, but instead, when we encounter conflict or get angry, we log in, take aim and fire away. I’d like to show you 4 quick truths about “subtweeting” you may not realize.

1. It shows your immaturity.
Like a 6 year-old who just got their ball taken on the playground, we run off and talk about what a doodie-head someone is. The Apostle Paul had to address the Corinthian church about their same immaturity towards each other.
1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
Time to grow up my friends.”

2. It shows you can’t be trusted.
It’s heartbreaking to find out someone in your crowd of pals turns out to be a backstabber and liar. Their nice to your face, but seem to always find that opportunity to let you have it. Jesus understood this all too well as Judas does in Matthew 26:14-16 and don’t forget the other guys, especially Peter in Matthew 26:31-35.

3. It shows you can’t handle conflict.
Just like my kids in paintball battle, instead of facing opposition, we hide behind our Twitter Bunker and hope our blind shots hit the target and inflict a little pain. I personally believe the only reason we do this is because we’re actually a little afraid of them. What if we were brave enough to do what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15,16?
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend.”

4. It’s Bullying.
Label it what you want, say you’re “just getting things off your chest”, however you wanna wrap it up, it’s bullying. But let’s remember that people, young people, have taken their own lives over crap like this. You don’t want that kind of responsibility haunting you.

Ephesians 4 tells us “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them… Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

If you’ve made it this far in the blog and actually may care a little about what I’m saying, I wanna leave you with 3 things to think about before you shoot your next subtweet from behind your Twitter wall.

1. Would I say this to their face? If so, why haven’t I?

2. What does this really say about my character?

3. Am I acting in a way that truly honors the “Jesus” I say I follow?

BTW, this blog was written specifically for you. Yeah, you know who you are.

Earl

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I’ve made the comment before that one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time is shopping. Hang on, it’s not that simple. Watching my debit card being slid through that machine repeatedly makes my eye twitch and wrecks my soul. What I mean by “shopping” has nothing to do with actual gift purchases.

What I really love is walking through the stores, hand in hand with my wife as Christmas music plays and all the decorations are up. Now, I enjoy this anytime of the year, but there’s something about Christmas time that just amplifies the emotions. Its just her and I, all alone, on a mission… together. We’re not concerned about our jobs, not talking about the “troubles of life” or “what’s wrong with kids today”. It’s just us; a coffee in one hand and hers in the other. It’s a simple time of connecting, sharing, and hearing each other.

Relax guys, this isn’t gonna be a sappy Hallmark movie blog in effort to win “Hubby of the Year”. I mention this because of something that dawned on me this morning. I had just dropped my daughter off at school and was praying on the way home as I usually do. I said this to God. “God, I need some help. I’ve been really flat the past couple of days. I’m just not feelin’ it. I’m spiritually sleep walking lately and I’m asking you to please stir up something and re-ignite my heart.” My answer came in somewhat of a flashback of the past couple of days and other “flat” moments in my spiritual trek. These moments look like this.

Wake up, hit snooze and pursue 9 minutes of bliss. Actually get up this time and grab my phone by the bedside. Check emails as I head downstairs with one-eye open (not the safest thing but hey, there may be an important one I missed while sleeping). Get safely downstairs to brew the liquid gold my system is screaming for. Turn on the TV and watch a dog that can hoola-hoop??!! No way! Awesome! I make my daughter’s lunch while waiting for Good Morning America to start. Hey, Taylor Swift is gonna be on. I should DVR this for her! I answer a few emails and wait for her to get ready. I’ve got a few minutes, so lemme check my Facebook.

I get a chuckle out of your post about how cold it is outside since it dipped below 70. Oh look, little Susie lost her tooth! (Susie’s name has been changed to protect her identity). There’s one of those old looking cartoons with the clever captions. Nope that one’s not funny either. Wow, he’s got an exam today and forgot to study… again! Crazy stuff. Daughter’s ready to go. Load up, head out, wait in line, drop her off, drive home and pray, “God, I need some help. I’ve been really flat the past couple of days…”

When’s the last time you spent real time with God? Not at church, not in your small group, not in that routine little ‘Thank you God for this day” prayer. I mean just you and Him? Your Bible in front of you, a coffee in one hand and His in the other. Talking, sharing, connecting, letting his Word and His love awaken you from your spiritual slumber. We can’t DVR the episodes of God’s fueling in hopes to catch it later. Don’t miss these moments. Taylor, Facebook and the hoola-hooping dog can wait.

Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”