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It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.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.