Change In Direction

Well, it seems the “change bug” has hit me.  I started this blog because I was passionate about the Kingdom of God.  So I focused on those “Kingdom” issues in life and faith.  However, in reviewing some of my posts, I noticed they were about the current Crisis in the United Methodist Church more than the Kingdom of God.  I had left the heart and the vision that started this blogging journey.

So, this morning I launched a new blog, A Wesleyan View In A Post Christian Culture.  My direction changed isn’t in a new direction, but getting back to what God started in my heart and mind.  To my followers and friends here, I invite you to also follow this new blog but don’t feel obligated.  This gift of writing The Spirit is giving me is helping me to be a more faithful follower and disciple of Jesus.  But I need to get back to the Vision of this blog because God gave me the Vision, so I need to be faithful.  I will probably write more here than at the other blog–but who knows?  Well, God knows, and I’m very comfortable with that truth.

Here is my first post in my new blog.  I will continue writing here about the Kingdom of God and anything about my Tribe, will be at the other.

Beware Of The Fall!

Falling.  Not the “trip over the rug” falling.  Not the missed the curb falling.  I’m talking about real falling–the moral and spiritual falling.  Last week I heard that a friend, colleague, and fellow pastor fell, and fell hard.  Now those of you who are close friends, please do not ask me who or where–because I will not tell you.  My friend and fellow pastor and his family are going through the unimaginable right now and such details will do nothing to bring healing and restoration, for them and that congregation.

I remember way back, the Jimmy Swaggert event.  And I remember thinking and saying, “Well, what should you expect from someone who considers themselves a superstar in the church?”  I know, I know, that was not very gracious, merciful or kind.  Truthfully, it was very self-righteous on my part.  Add to that, the recent fall of Bill Hybels.  I’ve heard Bill in person and followed him and the Willow Creek Church closely, reading many of his books.  After the recent move, I put those books on the bottom shelf, questioning his credibility.  But I am not judging him and I’m not throwing away those books.  There’s some good stuff in them, but I wrestle with the question of credibility.  That what sin does to us; it brings questions to our credibility.

And now, another fallen preacher and this is one I know personally.  Though I will not share the who, what and where, I now understand the why.  The why is true whether the preacher is on TV, writing books, or in the trenches.  They forgot–forgot 1 Corinthians 10:12.  From the New Living Translation it looks like this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

And this morning I have a shameful confession to make.  I had forgotten that verse, too.  Up until last week I said, “I could NEVER do such a thing.”  Now I realize that I’m setting myself up for that fall.  In my local Tribe every 3 years I am required to attend “Clergy Integrity Retraining”.  Fail to attend and I would not be appointed.  Another shameful confession.  I would say about these trainings, “Well, my integrity is about to expire, so I need to get it back.”  A more shameful confession:  I signed in and really didn’t listen.  After all, I wouldn’t do such a thing!”

So what am I going to do now?  Well, in 2 years when it’s time for “Clergy Integrity Retraining”, I will listen.  But I’m going to do more right now.  I am going to guard my heart and mind.  In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon reminds us all:  Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  To think I am immune to adultery or any other sin–it simply opens the door for Satan to come in, pull up a chair, and whisper in my ear counsel that is meant to, in Jesus’ own words, kill, steal and destroy.

Those who confidently say, “Well, I would never do such a thing!” are standing on a spiritual San Andreas fault line.  What can we do?  I want to speak especially to pastors now and church leaders, but for the rest of you, take heed because it applies to you as well.  Follow Solomon’s advice, guard that heart of your’s.  And I would add, also your minds.  This is where our Enemy sneaks in and attempts to change our logic.  Let us all become more intentional, not only in the realm of sexual sins, but in every sin–lying, cheating, gossiping, rejecting our Crosses, judging others by their appearance or their sin.  Even “small sins”, as if they actually existed, will lead us to even “bigger sins”.

How do we guard our hearts and minds?  So glad you asked that question.  Let’s read the rest of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in verse 13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  How will HE do it?  Look at this quote from D.L. Moody.

dwightlmoody1

But you need more than a printed Bible.  You need that Source of power that comes from beyond you.  That Source Of Power is the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who will guide you through that Bible to strengthen your inner being.  Fellow Pastors and Church leaders, I pray Ephesians 3:16 over you:  “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.”  I’m praying this now over you, and myself, and ask that you pray this over me.

I close with a joke, that I used to think was very funny, but now it’s very poignant.  A preacher was walking down a street and saw 4 boys with 1 puppy.  He asked them, “What are you doing?”  They replied, “Well, Preacher, we found this puppy but all of us want to take it home.  So we decided the one who could tell the biggest lie wins the puppy.”  With the eyes and voice of a preacher, he sternly told them, “Boys, when I was your age I would never do such a thing.”  The boys hung their heads down.  The one holding the puppy raised it up towards the Preacher and said, “OK, you win.”

One more time, 1 Corinthians 10:12, but this time from the New Life Version:

So watch yourself!  The person who thinks he can stand against sin had better watch that he does not fall into sin. 

Stay close to Jesus, very close with eyes and ears open to Him.  And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!  Oh, and watch yourself…

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 3

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE and you can find Chapter 2 HERE)

Chapter 3:  You Have Been Invited

This chapter is no different from Brandon’s other chapters in that it begins with the cold, stark reality of both our world, and the organized church.  And he does so, not with an accusing, finger wagging “Shame on you, church”, but a necessary confrontation for each of us to examine our attitudes; especially when it comes to those living in that wreckage, and moe especially in helping us recognize the wreckage in our own life.

One cannot read this chapter in the Presence of the Holy Spirit and come away thinking,
“How dare Brandon accuse us of failure!”  Instead, I found myself hanging my head down in shame that this powerful mirror is indeed telling us the truth about church when it becomes a religion.  I am being overwhelmed by this thought:  We, the church, have replaced “God’s Shalom” with “Shame On You”; and this is not good, not good at all.  And I weep for my own participation in this and my failure as a leader to call the church away from this spirit of judgment.

But as Brandon as consistently done up to this point, he doesn’t leave us to our shame.  He lays out a way to transform us into instruments of God’s Shalom.  He brings back into focus for the reader the real message of Jesus when This Creator walked among His Creation as the creature He participated in creating.  Creator becomes Creature.  In this chapter Brandon drives home a radical truth and a refreshing voice in our current culture.  Shalom begins by being born again.  Not in the way our religious world tells us, but in the way Jesus tells us.  In a world of “John 3:16 Sign Holding Folks At Athletic Games”, here is the prophetic voice calling us away from the hype, and into the true hope that comes only from being “born above”.

Brandon also brings back into focus the word and concept of “sin”.  He lays out a seemingly little known fact that in the Greek, the word for sin is us as a noun, not a verb close to eighty-nine percent of the time.  However, in the churchian culture of today it is used almost exclusively as a verb–to describe something someone did rather than the condition we are all in–thus leading to the misconception of various “degrees” of sin where one is not as bad as the other.  As with the writer Paul’s letter to the Romans, he points out that we cannot fully understand grace and redemption without first understanding the true nature of sin.  In a rarely seen clarity, Brandon lays out this foundational truth–that sin does more than alienate us from God–it divides us from each other.  Thus, this culture of hate and suspicion.

But Brandon does not leave us in the despair of our sin.  The message he shares is the one that our culture today needs to hear.  It’s the message of hope, Hope that produces Shalom.  Here is a word that gets back to the heart of the message that Jesus proclaimed that day in His home synagogue at Nazareth.  He breaks through this misconceptions and misinformation that I would say comes from the UNholy one, our real enemy, Satan.

I do not know because I’ve never asked Brandon if he has been nurtured in the Wesleyan understand of Grace, but as I read him as he write about Grace, it is as if I am reading a modern day John Wesley.  Understanding how the Grace of God is given to us, I mean, really understanding that Grace, will, as Brandon asserts, will begin changing how we see others.  Thus, we become instruments of and for God’s Shalom!  Help it to be so in me, Lord, help it to be so!

What I Am Discovering At New Room 2018

Image result for newroom 2018 conference seedbed

When most attend a seminar, conference or retreat they usually say, “Well, this is what I learned.”  Notice the grammatical tense of that word.  It’s in the past tense.  I know my high school English teachers At Mrs. Weir and Mrs. Pettus would be shocked that I remembered anything from their lessons.  And I have been guilty of using that word “have learned”, that the lessons are in the past tense of my life.

But one of the many, many, many things God has been teaching this “getting older” man is that while life has a “past tense” it also has a “present” and a “future” tense.  Here is a nugget that God has been teaching me these past few years.  Lessons that we learn about Him and our relationship with Him are not to remain in the past existing as a memory.  These lessons are to be a continual part of this Journey in Grace.  Thus the title of this morning’s blog:  What I AM Discovering (notice the tense) At New Room 2018.

Most of these lessons are direct quotes or my shorthand version of those quotes from this incredible group of Holy Spirit Led and Empowered Speakers.  This list is by no means, everything I am discovering.  And if history repeats itself, as I’m sure it will, there will be even more discoveries come to my mind in this Journey In Grace:

There are too many loose ties and not enough strong bonds in most churches today.

 

There are things that happen when God’s People get together with Jesus in the lead, that would otherwise never happen.

 

God does the work, but He does it through us.  It’s time to get our hands dirty.

 

It’s not about trying to get God to abide in us–He’s already abiding–but it’s about getting US to abide in HIM!

 

Being a Christian is all about entering into THEIR Relationship–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and NOT about getting them to enter into OUR relationship.

 

There are some things in our life that happen only because of our relationship with Jesus.  And there are some things that will never happen in us if we are not in a relationship with Him.

 

Revival is more than goosebumps and excitement, but a driven passion and holy obsession in us.

 

When Jesus shows up, life happens!

 

Stop making excuses for doing nothing.  We have the King of Kings on our side and the Holy Spirit living in us!

 

Jesus left heaven for us.  It’s time we leave our stuff for Jesus! (Maybe my favorite quote!)

 

Find the broken.  Church ain’t the church unless it is reaching out into the community!  (OK, maybe this is my favorite quote!)

 

We need to ask God to break our hearts with what breaks His heart.

 

Fire in a home without a fireplace will do harm.  A fireplace in a home without fire is pointless.  We need The Fire or we are pointless!

 

There is no greater tragedy than a sick church in a dying world. (Leonard Ravenhill)

 

The Holy Spirit transcends human ability and transforms human inabilities!

 

It is wrong to think that the Bible contains the Holy Spirit.  The Bible constrains us.  The Holy Spirit cannot be contained anywhere.

 

If Jesus in human flesh needed the Holy Spirit, we especially need the Holy Spirit!

 

When the church stops being the church we will die and become a monument to what God used to do rather than the movement of what God is doing.

 

You do what you from your passion.  The church today has stopped doing out of its passion and replaced passion with a boring religious obligation.

 

God shouts to His enemies, but whispers to His friends.

Oh, this ain’t all of it.  But just some of the things the Spirit impressed on me to share with you readers.  Somewhere in these “nuggets” is a truth that some reader urgently needs to hear.  And remember….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 2

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE)

Chapter 2:  The Unity Of All Things

Brandon describes what I consider to be the shame of many fellow evangelicals in ways that are sharp and clear.  Personally, I suspect that some conservative evangelicals may want to tar and feather him.  I would say “Amen” to his descriptions, but I am more compelled to hang my head in shame; for he describes the sad truth about much of what is done today in the name of Jesus.  And I suspect that Jesus might shake His head in disgust with the ways people throw His name around in political, social, and even religious circles.

He paints a painfully true picture of both American politics and the American church.  I do not sense any self-righteous smugness on Brandon’s part.  Instead he paints a picture of his own participating in the paradigm and parasite that is ripping the fabric apart in this thing called relationships and community.  He brings into focus that we have become guilty of something that God refuses to do and Jesus never did:  that of dividing people into…..well, you name it.  Much of the wreckage of our culture lies within the “us and them” mentality.  Brandon both describes and addresses this issue with a calm clarity that is nonjudgmental but truthful.

Brandon draws us a new paradigm of the causes of this brokenness that permeates our culture, and even our churches.  He sets aside typical and stereotypical causes and manages to dig deep to expose the real roots of this cultural clash and chaos.  If you can read this chapter and still put labels on any person, then you need to go back and read this chapter again; and keep reading it until you see the wisdom that he lays out for us.

He doesn’t cut himself any slack, and he doesn’t the reader when it comes to the first step in bringing beauty out of this wreckage.  It is in our own personal admission that we have contributed to this ugly wreckage.  We use politics, social issues, even the name of Jesus to divide people.  And a divided people are not a wreck waiting to happen; it’s the carnage from the wreck that has already occurred.

As with that first chapter, Brandon does not paint a doom and gloom picture for us.  I sense to do so would go against his heart, mind and spirit.  Once he gets to the root of the wreckage of relationships, families, politics, churches, culture–he leads us through the fog and haze to a solution, a solution that begins to truly create beauty out of this wreckage of life.  This God-Breathed solution is simple, but not simplistic.  It is both easy and it is difficult–thus the tension that he brings out near the beginning of this chapter.

Brandon is adamant with his firm conviction that only as we come back to the real Jesus, not the Jesus of politics, church or our fanciful imaginations.  He presents with a clarity unseen since the ancient writers put their experiences and understanding on those ancient scrolls have I seen a clearer image of the real Jesus.  Jesus is the answer but most will not understand that, because they’ve been asking the wrong questions.  Brandon asks the right questions and gives us the right answers.

Brandon is right that the chaos and the Shalom exists together, in a very real tension.  Our problem is that we focus on one OR the other.  Moving into God’s Shalom means we see both, but have the strong confidence that God’s Shalom is stronger, much stronger, that the wreckage.

And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  Until I finish chapter 3…….

The Power Of A Name

Image result for names

Well, it happened again.  Last night Debbie (most definitely my better half) and I went out to eat supper.  We had chosen Cracker Barrel.  I thought that was a great ending to a great day.  I had spent the day at New Room Conference listening, learning about sowing the seeds of God’s Word for another Great Awakening.  The theme word this year is RISE.  I was overwhelmed by Damien Boyd’s sermon about the importance of connecting with people, especially the poor.  Damien pointed out that the poor isn’t limited to those without material substance–but especially those who are spiritually poor and those who have been broken by life.

Our server was Miles.  He was polite and attentive to us.  But this isn’t about Miles.  It’s about Marissa.  Many years ago The Spirit taught me the importance of acknowledging people at the Huddle House in Guntersville.  We had been out to eat, and I noticed her name tag, and thanked her and used her name.  She sat her coffee pot down, and thanked me for using her name.  She said that no one called her by her name.  It was always “Hey, you!”  Fighting back the tears, she was overwhelmed that someone noticed she had a name.  Ever since that evening I have made it a point to call servers, associates and cashiers by their name when I can see it.

Back to Marissa.  We had just left our customary 20% tip on the table and was getting up to leave when another server, Marissa, was walking by.  I said to her, “I hope you have a great evening, Marissa.”  She smiled and thanked me.  Then she turned back around, for a conversation.  She said, “I was wondering how did we know each other, but then I realized my name is on my apron.”  And I replied, “Well, you are a human being and you have a name, so I used that name.”

A bright smile came over her face and she said, “Oh, how sweet.  Give me a hug!”  We hugged and said our goodbyes.  I noticed as she walked away, there was a renewed joy in her steps.  Oh, it wasn’t me.  It was the Holy Spirit.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for Him to do what HE does best:  Remind people of God’s Presence, that He values them, and best of all, He loves them.

And early this morning I reflected on that simple but Holy Moment of God being with us.  I’m not bragging on myself–I have way too many faults to engage in such silliness.  But the Spirit impressed on me this truth.  All day I had been listening too and learning about the Kingdom of God.  And that night I put it into practice–doing what I have been doing since that night in Huddle House in Guntersville–what I heard and learned.  I thought I almost heard the 6 words I am striving to hear one day:  Well Done Good And Faithful Servant.

You see, learning about the Kingdom of God but doing nothing is like a sandwich without meat, mayo, lettuce, and tomato–you’re toast.  Jesus showed people that God values and loves them by connecting with them where they are.  A person’s name–using a person’s name is a profoundly simple way of acknowledging their value and worth–as a person and as someone who bears the Image of the Creator.

When you see people, acknowledge their worth and value, then if you pray the Lord’s Prayer, it has become real and true in you–Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  See people the way God sees them.  They have a name.  God knows their name.  Do you?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Hi!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 1

Well, I’m about to do something, more accurately–yet another thing I have never done.  It seems this is happening a lot to me.  At 62, I had thought maybe all the new stuff was over with.  Boy, was I wrong.  Fellow blogger, Brandon Andress, made an offer I couldn’t resist.  Brandon is about to release his third book, Beauty In The Wreckage:  Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, and he asked if any blogger or podcaster would like an advance copy to read and review.  Normally, I do not jump at such offers, but this one drew me in–it was the title.  So I asked for an advance copy to read and review.  Lo, and behold, he actually agreed.

Over the coming days, I am going to give an honest review of each chapter.  I’m not going to share quotes–because I want you to experience in context the powerful moments of experiencing an even more powerful truth.  I am carefully going over each page, paragraph and sentence–not to find an error–but because it is so profoundly and powerfully speaking into my life.  His book is scheduled for release October 9, and I will definitely be adding this to my Kindle Library.  I would encourage you do to the same.

Chapter 1:  Learning To See Beauty In The Wreckage

He opens the chapter (and book) with the hope of God’s faithful presence and the power of God’s Prevenient Grace.  It comes to him personally, and unexpectedly.  Here is the place that we long for–and the place God longs to give us.  It is the life of peace.  Brandon reaches back into the Old Testament times for a word I believe our culture urgently needs:  Shalom.

But Brandon does not gloss over the realities of this our current culture, a culture motivated and characterized by such things as anger, hate and chaos.  He shares more from his personal experiences, his personal brokenness rather than pointing the finger at others and the “powers that be”.  There is no Polly Anna here.  This chapter is not about, “Oh, just get over it.  Pull up your big boy pants and move on.”  There are no simple solutions offered nor trite feel good phrases.  He is very clear that this is a process, even difficult process.

He brings the brokenness of our culture into a laser sharp focus.  With a clarity rarely seen, he cuts through the arguments and excuses to pain a picture of life as it really is today.  He labels the deeper issues that are at the root of our current cultural crisis.  His “no-holds-barred, no-disqualifications” words confronts us with the truth we have avoided and never want to see:  that we are all broken somewhere (my words, not his) and that denying this only adds to the chaos, and our personal pain.

Yet Brandon also manages to paint a hopeful–most hopeful future even in the midst of the wreckage of life as it really happens.  It is not all doom and gloom, but the way he paints this picture reminds the reader that hope is more than possible–Hope is indeed real.  Our future does not need to be defined by our past nor our present.

As you read this first chapter, prepare for what I call “The Mirror Experience.”  What’s “The Mirror Experience”, you ask?  It’s the moment of unabridged and unfiltered truth.  You see, mirrors never lie.  We lie.  We lie about what we see in the mirror.  But the mirror?  It never lies.  The mirror reveals what is good, but also what is not good.  Remember the Queen in Snow White and her mirror.  “Mirror, Mirror on the wall.  Who’s the fairest of them all?”  And remember the Mirror’s reply, “It ain’t you!”  Maybe The Mirror didn’t say it exactly like that–but that’s what he meant.

Brandon brings the balance our culture desperately needs.  He paints the issues with clarity like a Michelangelo, not a Salvador Dali.  Truth drips from the pages.  When most writers write about the wreckage of our culture, they fail to give us hope.  But Brandon Andress finds the way to share both the despairing truth of life as it is AND the even more powerful Hope of Shalom and how God brings it to us.

When I finish chapter 2, I’ll share some more.  But for now, Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Great Anticipation!

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

(Anticipation lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Who remembers that song by Carly Simon?  Guess I’m revealing my age; actually I don’t have to reveal my age–it shows naturally.  But early this morning, I’m awake and filled with great anticipation, like a child on the way to Disney World.  What is the cause of my great anticipation?  I am leaving for Brentwood, Tennessee for another New Room Conference.  This will be my third consecutive time.  I don’t know how long this event has been happening.  If I did, I’d probably kick myself in the butt for missing the earlier ones.

What is it?  I’m so glad you asked me that question.  It’s a time of inspired worship, spirit-filled preaching and teaching, and a time for Spiritual Renewal.  Not all “conferences” I have attended over these past 44 years have filled me with anticipation.  OK, OK, it’s closer to 99% of those conferences never filled me with anticipation.  But this is different.  I looked up synonyms for “anticipation” and there was a single word that leaped out at me from that list.  It’s a word you seldom hear used unless you’re singing that great old hymn, Blessed Assurance, FORETASTE!

We don’t use that old word much anymore, but maybe we should.  It means “a slight and partial experience, knowledge, or taste of something to come in the future”.  You get that small taste, and you know, “Wow!  This is just a sample, I can’t wait to get the full course!”  This foretaste has been given a name at New Room–AWAKENING!  I confess that my hope for the church in the U.S. before New Room was at an all time low; I mean the bottom of the cellar, ocean bottom low.  But here….I was Elisha’s servant who had his eyes opened to the presence of Heaven’s Army!

We worship together, learn together and we have these things called “breakout sessions”.  From a list of subjects we choose where we want to go.  Last year was an especially powerful Epiphany for me.  I can’t even remember which breakout session I had signed up for, but something (actually someONE) drew me into a different one on Travailing Prayer.  I was like a puppy being drawn towards that treat.

I was taking notes right and left.  At the end, now there was another Epiphany.  The speaker asked that anyone who needed prayer to come and offer themselves to God.  This preacher never hesitated.  I went forward and stretched myself out on the floor.  As I was praying I became aware of another presence.  Someone was standing over me, and he was praying for me.  He was praying in tongues FOR me (a new experience for me), but I wasn’t freaked out by it.  In fact, I felt a calmness come over me.  From time to time, he touched my shoulder as he prayed in tongues and I felt the most amazing coolness where he touched me and a profound calmness in my heart.  Somehow, I sensed it was a prayer for preparation for what was ahead for me.

In the time that followed, I tried to figure out what God was trying to prepare me for.  There were some moments that I thought I figured it out–but I was wrong.  And now?  I am still assured it was and IS a prayer for preparation–not just where I thought it would me.  Through a tumultuous April, a time when I allowed hurt to consume me, I have finally learned that this prayer of preparation was for where I am right now.

I still don’t know all the details of what God is preparing me for here–but I know He’s Got This, and I am OK with that.  Actually, better than OK.  I am filled with anticipation!  Unlike the anticipation of Carly Simon that was keeping her waiting–this anticipation is keeping me moving forward.   I don’t know where it’s leading me, but I DO know that HE is both with me, and waiting for me as He reveals more and more of what He has for someone like me.  Now here’s a testimony of grace and mercy.

Truthfully, I never anticipated that at 62 years old that God would have so much more for me–but HE anticipated it.  And that moment of being prayed for in a language I could not understand has given me more confidence in God than I ever had before.  Well, excuse me but my “foretaste” is beckoning me.  Need to pack up and head out to God knows where–and I’m perfectly good with that.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  OH, and don’t miss the “foretaste” He has for you….

I Found The Wayside!

(I must insert this disclaimer at the beginning of this blog that by no means do I consider the people in this community to be fallen, forgotten or obsolete.  It’s only an illustration of my point.)

Wayside.  Are you familiar with that word?  Usually it’s connected with 2 statements:

  1. Gone by the Wayside
  2. Fell by the Wayside

I’ve wondered where in the world is Wayside?  Well, I found it.  I noticed it the very first time we traveled down to see our new pastoral appointment.  I’ve been meaning to do this post, but wouldn’t until I stopped and got my proof.  Well, Saturday on my motorcycle pilgrimage, I stopped and got these pictures as proof I know where the Wayside is located.  Think about the previous 2 statements concerning the Wayside.

Gone by the Wayside.  This means that something has become obsolete, like those heavy “brick” looking cell phones, which by the way, was my very first cell phone.  Fell by the Wayside.  This means to fail to continue or to drop out.  Obsolete.  Dropping out.  These images are used to describe some values and people.  I’ve always wondered where they went, and now I know.

When people “fall by” the Wayside, often they are either treated with great disdain or completely forgotten.  People shake their head with a degree of sadness and leave them there, by the Wayside.  And when long-standing Christian-Judeo values are considered “gone by” the Wayside, people shrug their shoulders, forgetting those values and declare they are now more enlightened than their superstitious ancestors.  So, the Wayside becomes the place of the forgotten.

I know where the Wayside is, but does Jesus know?  Absolutely He knows!  The fact is He does far better and far more work in the Wayside than in many sterilized and sanitized sanctuaries.  Jesus leaves no one behind.  He came back for Peter after His Crucifixion, though Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus.  Remember the Angel’s message to the women that first Easter morning?  Mark 16:7 (NLT) records:  “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”  He would have come back for Judas, if Judas had not given up too soon.

The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is for people who have fallen by the Wayside.  Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)–“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.”  Look again at the bottom of this sign welcoming people to Wayside:

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“A Little Bit Of Heaven”.  If you feel like you have fallen by the Wayside, hold on to that last line.  Wayside is a little bit of heaven because it’s a place filled with God’s grace that will forgive, redeem and restore anyone and everyone who has fallen.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to go by the Wayside because it’s filled with those for whom Jesus insisted on dying for.  And where should the church be today?  Well, I think that other sign says it all:

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What if we all became the Church for The Wayside?  It would probably be a bit messy, but it would also be a bit of heaven.  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Postscript:  Don’t consider yourself obsolete if you embrace and try to live by the values of the Kingdom of God.  And don’t consider His Values obsolete.

How To Respond To Hurricane Florence–And Other Disasters

For the last few days, most of us have been glued to The Weather Channel for the latest exploits of Hurricane Florence.  So, I must put on another one of my many hats:  DISASTER RESPONSE COORDINATOR for my Tribe in North Alabama.  This work (for which I am not paid monetarily, but paid in far better ways) requires my attention whenever and wherever a Disaster occurs, not just North Alabama.

With all the flaws and faults of my culture (in the U.S.), I am proud that when something like this happens, the vast majority of people step up and want to help.  Serving in Disasters that happen in my territory, and in talking with others in my position, it restores our hope for humanity.  But….(you know a preacher, which I am first and foremost, must speak up)….sometimes good-hearted, well-meaning, and caring people who want to help, create another Disaster, for which those who are leading the response, only adds to the chaos and burden of Disaster Response–both non-profits and Emergency Responders.  I teach the Early Response Team training, and in every class I remind them that in every disaster there are 2 disasters:  the one nature produced and the other one produced by well-meaning people who show up (without training) too early and people who send unneeded supplies.  The latter disaster slows up helping survivors.

So, let me give you this Randy’s-Handy-Dandy-Guide-To-Disaster-Response:

  1. First thing:  Pray!  Pray for the survivors.  Pray for the emergency responders–including utility crews and local government crews–working to help survivors and restore some calm to the chaos.
  2. Call them SURVIVORS!  Avoid use of the word “victim” when talking about those impacted by the disaster.  Calling them SURVIVORS says to them that they are going to overcome this disaster–that power is available for them to overcome this adversity.  “Victim” means they are powerless–they aren’t!
  3. Plan Before You Act!  Based on potential conditions and needs, decide ahead of time how you want to respond.  Will you go to physically help?  Get training to know what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.  If you are going to collect supplies to send, determine drop-off locations and how you will get those supplies there.  Wait for the authorities to say what they need BEFORE you start collecting.
  4. (This one is VERY, VERY, VERY, IMPORTANT)  DON’T SEND USED CLOTHES!  When I was in Waveland, Mississippi after Katrina, we had built our own levee should another hurricane hit–with used clothes.  We have neither the time nor people to sort through used clothes.  In 2011, while helping Hackleburg, Alabama, I filled up 2 dumpsters every other day with used clothes.  The reason it was every other day was because that’s when they were emptied.  The Survivors have been dumped on by nature, don’t dump on them with your used clothes.
  5. Listen to Local Officials For What Is Needed!  Don’t send anything unless it is specifically needed.  You may think they need what you have, but trust the Boots-On-The-Ground folks who are in the middle of the chaos.
  6. When the door is opened for Volunteers, go wherever they need you.  Some folks want to be where the cameras are.  Others want chainsaws and “real” work.  No task in Relief Operations is minor–though you might think sorting supplies isn’t what you signed up for.  How can those supplies get dispersed if we don’t know what we have?
  7. Donate Green!  I’m not talking about recycled materials, but cash.  BUT.…NOT JUST ANY GROUP!  Faith-Based groups are where you get the most bang for the buck.  In my Tribe, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (called UMCOR) spends 100% of your gifts directly for the disaster.  NO administrative funds are ever taken from these donations.  Give $10 for relief of Hurricane Florence, $10 goes for relief and recovery.  Click Here for more information.  Check with your local houses of worship to see how they are helping financially.
  8. Finally, KEEP HELPING EVEN AFTER JIM CANTORE AND THE CAMERA CREWS LEAVE.  Clean-up continues long after The Weather Channel folks leave.  And after the clean-up is over, there’s the repairs and rebuilding phase, we call The Recovery Phase.  Recovery takes typically 3 times longer than the clean-up.  And in the Recovery Phase is where we find the survivors who need help.

Well, there’s more I could say….and if you would like to continue the conversation or have questions, please respond in the Comments Section.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Getting What We Ask For–But Didn’t Realize It Would Be THAT!

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PSALM 106:6-15 (NLT)

Like our ancestors, we have sinned.
    We have done wrong! We have acted wickedly!
Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.

It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.  Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.  This passage is just one of many that backs up this jewel of wisdom.  In this one Psalm, we have the history of God’s ancient people, and God’s current people.

Here’s the flow:  God’s people, the Hebrews, called out to God for deliverance.  They were slaves, helpless at the hands of their oppressors.  God called Moses to lead this movement.  Pharoah refused; God spoke; Pharoah still refused; pattern repeats.  Until Pharoah finally agrees to let them go.  Then he changes his mind and sets out in pursuit of them.  THEY are at the Red Sea and no bridges or boats around.  They are scared they are about to die.  They whine at Moses, but God intervenes and gives a promise:  “You will get to the Promised Land, and you will never see these Egyptian soldiers again.”  God parts the water, they cross over.  The Egyptians follow and God closes the Sea and dead soldiers everywhere.

They head towards The Promise and God does 3 things:

  1. He provides for their physical needs
  2. He leads them all the way
  3. He assures them He is with them through the Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night

These 3 things occur 24/7.  And how do they respond?  Here’s the Cliff Notes Version:

  1. They whine about fresh food from heaven that costs nothing and which they did nothing to produce it
  2. They can’t wait for Moses to return from consulting with God, so they make an idol they can see.
  3. They whine some more, a lot more
  4. They face some enemies threatening them but God promises Victory and it happens
  5. They get to the edge of the Promised Land, God still providing, leading, and assuring them of His Presence, and they give up without even trusting.
  6. They want a new leader and go back to Egypt–to slavery–but at least they would have garlic and onions–slavery for sure–but oh, those good old onions!

So what does God do?  God gives them what they asked for:  denying them entrance into The Promise.  They all die (except Joshua and Caleb)–in the wilderness.  They never tasted those wonderful onions in Egypt–the land of slavery and oppression.  But they got what they asked for–to turn away from The Promise.

Don’t be hard on those Hebrew children.  It’s happening in our culture today.  God offers us The Promise–The Promise of Life–Life that is full and meaningful–Life that happens through dying to self and self-interests.  Instead people choose to go back in the direction of slavery and oppression all to satisfy their selfish desires.

The Promise of God is that through giving we receive.  Through helping we are helped.  Through listening we are heard.  Through humility we are lifted up.  Through dying we begin to live, really live.  Instead, this Post-Christian culture has opted-in for selfishness, entitlement, fear, hate, blame, hate, and thousands of other destructive mindsets–all in the name of finding life.

The rejection of God’s Truth, as revealed in the Bible, has given people just what they’ve asked for–the politics of hate and fear, and settling for lifestyles that are nothing but onions in the land of oppression.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love a good onion and garlic seasoning.  But here’s what I’m learning:  When we human beings decide what is good and not good, right and wrong, people are led back to oppression and bondage.

Why is our nation in the mess its in?  Simple, the majority are wanting onions and garlic rather than The Promise of God–a life that is rich in meaning and profoundly filled with purpose.  I just remembered an old Burger King® advertising campaign from years ago:  “Have it your way.”  From thinking they are entitled to whatever they want to sexual identities to ethics to morality and even to the definition of “right and wrong”, when we have it “our way” the result is…..well just watch the news…..onions, leeks, garlic for everyone–but also bondage and oppression….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him! 

Spiritual Erosion

This morning a word came into my mind–yet another random thought–a condition with which I am afflicted.  I wonder, is some 12 Step program to help me with this?  It has served me well at times, so I guess I will allow this condition to continue.  Oh?  The word?  OK, it’s erosion.  One definition says:

the gradual destruction or diminution of something

In case you were wondering (I know I was) about that word diminution , here’s that definition:

a reduction in the size, extent, or importance of something.

The word “erosion” hit me this morning during the news.  Tropical Storm Gordon, flooding alerts, another teen shot in Birmingham, a mother arrested in Florida for the death of her 2-year-old child are just some of the stories that caused this word to invade my gray matter.  Most people think of erosion as something that happens to dirt and rocks.  But there is another type of erosion–spiritual erosion–that is far more dangerous and even more deadly.

I can’t remember exactly when I heard the term “Post-Christian Culture” but I am keenly aware that it exists.  My definition of “Post-Christian Culture” is as follows:

The loss or dismissing the values of  the Kingdom of God

Can you handle the truth?  Here it is:  The values and ethics of God’s Kingdom are no longer the dominant influence on our culture.  Over the years, as people who claimed allegiance to Jesus became passive, silent, or even worse–the consumers of what the church produces–it created an ethics and values vacuum.    Aristotle once hypothesized “horror vacui” which means Nature Abhors a Vacuum.  In other words, nature can’t stand for any space to be empty.  When lightning forms it creates a vacuum, so air rushes in to fill that vacuum, thus creating thunder.

It’s not just nature–but human beings also abhors a vacuum.  Way back in March 2009, Dr. Leon Seltzer wrote an article for Psychology Today titled “Human Nature Abhors A Vacuum”.  He wrote, “We humans crave stimulation, and on many different levels. To experience ourselves as fully alive, we all have various “arousal requirements”–“whether physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual.”  A little further into his article he makes this astute observation:

“…I’ve become acutely aware of how experiencing an inner vacuum can lead people to make poor life choices, especially in relationships.”

We are in a Post-Christian culture because the values of God’s Kingdom and Rule are noticeably absent in the American culture.  A vacuum of solid and proven values and ethics have left, creating the vacuum.  To fill that values/ethics vacuum, people are turning anywhere, everywhere to fill that void.  Entitlement, selfishness, disregard for consequences, blame, hate, distrust….and the list goes on to what has filled that values/ethics void created when people stopped being followers of Jesus and opted more for a fan or casual relationship.  “Jesus, I need just enough of you to avoid hell.  That’s all.”

So, how do we change the current values and ethics environment we find our culture in?  May I suggest we do what Jesus did and continues to do.  Infuse the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, once again.  Here’s a list of ways we can do this, and if you have others ways, please share them in the comments section:

  1. Tip servers at 20%, or more
  2. Call the clerk, associate, cashier by their name if they are wearing a name tag
  3. Stop being a consumer of what the church does–be a producer
  4. Give up you place in the checkout line to the person behind you
  5. Put your cellphone on vibrate mode when in a waiting room and wait to call the person back
  6. Smile, smile a lot, especially in the presence of grumpy people
  7. Refuse to judge someone by their external features.  In fact, be friendly to them and get to know them
  8. Help someone do something
  9. Get acquainted with your neighbors
  10. Volunteer with some outreach program
  11. Accept and be glad that you are not entitled to anything
  12. Work hard for something you want
  13. Accept responsibility and even the blame when do something wrong
  14. Admit you’re not always right, and certainly not perfect
  15. Offer to take someone to lunch on Sunday, right after the Worship Service
  16. In church, sit next to someone you don’t know, and strike up a conversation
  17. When someone lashes out at you–respond with kindness and grace, not more heated words.
  18. Care about God’s creation by being a good steward of this earth
  19. Find common ground with others–hey, at the very least, we are all sinners.  That’s a great place to begin
  20. Simplify your lifestyle–don’t go into deep debt for the latest “toy”
  21. Do one random act of kindness a day–if someone sees your act of kindness, it doesn’t count–so keep doing it until no one notices
  22. Better yet, do random acts of kindness even if no one notices
  23. Read the Bible and ask: “What does this say to me?  About me?”
  24. Pray–not with churchy “King James” words, but as if you were talking with your best friend, because HE wants to be your best friend
  25. Allow someone to merge into traffic
  26. Freely forgive even if–especially when–they don’t deserve it
  27. At the fast food drive thru, pay for the person’s purchase behind you (I got this one from a Christian radio station)
  28. Excuse yourself from conversations that are rude, ugly or lewd
  29. Slow down and do something relaxing
  30. Love God with all your heart, mind and life
  31. Love others the way Jesus loves you
  32. Make sure all the glory and credit goes to God for everything good

I could go on, but what specific things can you do to change the Values and Ethics of our culture?  Please post in the comments….

The Not So Simple Plan

 

I don’t know how many of you will read this post to the end because…..well because it is primarily about my Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  But I would encourage you to hang with this post because it will have something that is a reflection of our culture….and a challenge to those who are more than fans of Jesus.

Here’s a brief background for this post.  In the United Methodist Tribe, our “official” group that develops our official “beliefs” and “social principles” is called the General Conference and it meets once every 4 years.  These “beliefs” are published each 4 years in what we call The Book of Discipline, or called “The Discipline” for short..  Since 1972 our official “stand” on human sexuality is that all persons are equally in need of God’s grace and are people of worth and should be allowed to attend any United Methodist congregation (we turn no one away).  However, the only form of “sex” that has God’s blessings is that of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.  We further believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that no self-avowed or practicing homosexual is eligible for licensing, commissioning or ordination in the United Methodist Church.  This has been our stand since 1972.  Every 4 years attempts have been made to declare other forms of sexuality are OK and that the Bible is wrong.  Yet each time our wording, that I consider to be most gracious yet true to the Biblical Standards for sexuality, has been preserved by the General Conference.

However, in recent years, there has been open disobedience without much in the way of consequences for this rebellion.  Clergy and Bishops have broken their vows to support  and maintain the standards set in The Discipline.  In 2016, this General Conference was facing the same attempts to change our Discipline to declare that homosexuality is now OK.  Some attempts to change our stand had already been voted down by the body when a motion was presented and passed to form what we call the Commission On A Way Forward.  A group of individuals were selected by the Bishops to serve on this Commission with the charge to form a plan that would settle this issue once and for all.

After several meetings they formed 3 plans that will be submitted to a called session of General Conference in February 2019.  I won’t go into all 3 of those plans, but I refer you to the website and you can read for yourself. (Click Here for the Report of Commission on Finding A Way Forward).  But I will give you my summary of those 3 plans:

  1. The Traditional Plan:  Maintains our current wording and belief but with mandatory penalties for those who violate The Discipline.
  2. The One Church Plan:  Every church, every lay person, every pastor, every Annual Conference determines their own view of human sexuality–without fear of penalties for anyone who disagrees.  Summation:  YOU get to choose.
  3. The Connectional Plan:  Regional Conferences would be formed based solely on their views of human sexuality and then churches and pastors select which Conference they want to be aligned with.

I’ve said a lot and could have said even more.  At the risk of sounding like a late night Infomercial Hawker….but wait, there’s more!

Now a group has come up with and will present what they call “The Simple Plan” (Click here for that report).  It will remove all of what is termed “restrictive language” concerning homosexuality and ordination in the United Methodist Church.  Let me say this:  to my gay friends, you are my friends and I love each one of you.  I am not judging you or your relationship with Jesus if you have one.  I am, however, maintaining my conviction that the Bible IN CONTEXT is the source of authority for life and faith.    Furthermore I do not consider you or any gay person an abomination.  I reserve that term for churchians and tenured pew sitters.  After all, it was only towards the “really religious” folks that Jesus was ever tort or gruff.

Here is what The Simple Plan seeks to accomplish, in my humble opinion:

  1. The Elimination of The Bible as the source of morality, faith and life.  If it can’t be trusted in the arena of human sexuality, how can it be trusted anywhere?  Taken to its conclusion–God is nothing at all like the Bible portrays Him and this includes the concept of God being Gracious and Merciful.  The Simple Plan declares that The Bible is unreliable.
  2. It reduces the Creation Saga to a fanciful myth and pigment of the imagination of writers.  In the Creation Saga, God establishes all order, including human sexuality.  The gift of sex is reserved for husband (man) and wife (woman).  Only this act of intimacy has God’s blessings.  All other sex is outside the blessing and approval of God.  Notice, I did say ALL other sex, not just same gender sex.  The Simple Plan reduces the Creation Saga to a mythological context with no real application for today.
  3. It promotes feelings as the final determinant for what is authoritative for life in the Church.  For millennia, the people of God have relied upon The Bible.  Granted, it’s been misused and taken out of context to justify all kinds of immoral behavior and systems.  But it was, and should continue to be, the Guide for determining holiness of both heart and life.  The Simple Plan throws out this Sacred Writ for what we believe about ourselves–not what God says.
  4. It reduces humanity to the status of slaves and prisoners.  I know that some liberal-progressive-ProAgressive (a term a friend uses and I have to agree with it) will argue me that The Simple Plan doesn’t created slaves and prisoners–rather it liberates.  Not so fast, bucko!  You are defining people by whom they want to have sex with–i.e.–that humans beings are nothing more than sexual beings.  Sex creates bondage when it is engaged in outside the place that is blessed by God.  The Simple Plan says that a person is identified by their sexual partner, rather than the whole person.
  5. It closes the door for personal transformation.  This is akin to Point 2, but goes deeper.  The Simple Plan closes the door to the act of God’s Grace to change and transform us from sinner to saint.  It avoids even the hint of sin, ergo, without sin we do not need to experience change.  All we need is to declare that God has created and blessed who we really are.  There is no model for personal transformation, but emphasizes self-acceptance.
  6. Finally, The Simple Plan demonizes everyone who disagrees with the plan.  While insisting that they be heard, they refuse to listen to other views and resort to calling them bigots and declaring they really don’t know Jesus.

In reality, The Simple Plan is nothing really new.  In fact, it’s rather old.  I mean, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY old.  It goes back to Eden.  The Simple Plan promotes the lie that Satan told Eve and Adam.  “Look, you can be–you NEED to be your own God.  Forget what God said.  Be who you want to be.  This fruit is just what you need to be a complete person–and your own God.”

You see, in reality, nothing is simple about sin.  It is convoluted and destroys those who allow it to define them.  My prayer, and my hope, is that the Tribe for which I have been a part of for 62 years–The Tribe where God called me to serve–will adopt The Traditional Plan.  And if not–then I know God will lead me to where I can continue to experience transformation and offer transformation to a world led astray by The Serpent’s Lie.