It’s not easy to be a preacher in the United Methodist Church these days. Not that it ever was easy, but right now it’s as hard as it’s ever been. The fault line that has been there from the beginning of the denomination in 1968 has erupted. Fall out is every where, and it seems it will get worse before it gets better.
It not easy to be a preacher in the UMC for anyone. The fault line runs right through every single local church in the U.S. The majority of our pastors are progressive (the majority of Bishops even more so); the majority of our laity in the pews are traditionalists. But those majorities are not overwhelming and they are mixed. The day of judgment is upon us in more ways than one.
Undoubtedly our denomination is under the judgment of God. At best, overall we have been lukewarm…
How do you let go? Of the past? Of your growing up children, your grown children? The persistent pain? The chaos? That bitterness? The fear? The inundations of the current political climate? The uncertainty of the future? How do you let go of WHAT IS RIGHT NOW? Allow that last question to sink in a bit.
Well, some would say (and perhaps cheerfully say) “Well, you just gotta LET GO AND LET GOD!” And I reply, “Exactly what does that mean?” And some, maybe you would reply, “Silly, it means let go of it and let God take care of it!” And my response will be, “Yeah, but. . .what does it mean when I’m right smack dab in the middle of the storm?”
Some may chastise me (even flog me) for my next thoughts: “That sounds real cute and easy–but right now I don’t need or even want cute and easy. I need HELP!” When one is in the middle of a tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, 8.5 earthquake and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one, cute and easy doesn’t cut it; at least for me. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. . .but I suspect I’m not the only one.
In my spiritual journey, I started out as a “Methodist”. Then in 1968 I became a “United Methodist”. This has been my Tribe since 1956 when I was born and God said, “You better watch out for this one!” I had always thought I would die as a “United Methodist”. And now, at 63, it’s not going to happen. I am literally watching the Tribe that nurtured me, helped me see Jesus, find grace, explore and affirm God’s call on my life, implode and disintegrate before my very eyes.
For some, it’s not about their Tribe, but for some other horrible reason, they are in that tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one moment. Whatever was, and currently is–that “feeling” comes upon us with a weighty realization–It’s time to let go! It may be living in a harmful relationship, the rebellious child hell bent on destroying the lives of people around them, overwhelming grief, that crushed dream; even that bitterness of soul that comes from the wound no one sees but you. . .and God. It’s this question: How do you let go?
This is the question that is haunting me, and perhaps you, or maybe someone you know. As one struggling with this, and speaking on the behalf of fellow strugglers, don’t give me, or us, cute sayings or post on our FB page some “inspirational quote”! This only tends to exacerbate our inner turmoil by either making us feel like we are failures in faith; or that you haven’t really listened to us. How do you let go? I’m really asking, millions are really asking, “Can you do something to help me let go?”
The answer is No!And Yes! Wow! You’re thinking (I know you are because I have the gift of espn!), “Preacherman, you’re a world of contradictions! It’s gotta be Yes or No; not Yes AND No.” I guess I need to explain myself, and hopefully lower your blood pressure, and keep you from chastising me for my lack of faith.
No, you cannot help me let go because this is my choice, and the choice of all who are in the WWE Smackdown Steel Cage Match of our lives. We who are wrestling with this question are not unlike those battling some type of addiction. We can be clean and free for a season because you give us cute phrases or simply nag at us; but if it’s not our choice, then we relapse into that vicious cycle. We who are in the alligator grip of seeking to trying to decide how to Let Go must decide to Let Go for ourselves, not for any other person–just to release whatever it is that has filled our minds, and our hearts with all this smog. Not that this gator from hell is going to let go of us, he won’t; but now he knows he’s losing, even lost, the battle.
And Yes, you can help us Let Go; and here is how:
Listen to us. Fight your personal urge to “fix” us. Many times we just need to talk and know someone has heard us, who doesn’t have on their agenda to “fix” us. We’re not asking you to agree with us. Remember Proverbs 18:13–“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” And in case you didn’t get my message, hear how The Message puts it: “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Got it?
Love on us without trying to fix us! It’s called “unconditional” love. The Biblical word is Grace! Remember the mark of a follower of Jesus. John 13:34-35–“Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Yes, Jesus wants to change us–but never before we know we are loved by HIM. Do the same!
Pray for us! Pray that God puts a person or 2, maybe 3 or 4, in our path today who will share with us God’s wisdom. Pray that our eyes will see a surprise from God, who is always at work to heal us. Don’t pray for God to give YOU the answer we need; pray that WE see God’s answer, however it comes to us.
Be an example for us! Don’t “tell” us what to do; SHOW US what it looks like to Let Go! And you can’t do that for us if you haven’t been there! After my divorce I got a lot of “counsel”; and honestly–not much if any at all helped. But when I found (I think someone was praying that I find it) my Divorce Support Group, I found how to Let Go from a small group of those who were in various stages of Letting Go! Show me your scars and I will first watch you, then I will listen to you. Otherwise, either pray for us or bug off!
While I may grieve what may appear to be the end of my Tribe, and while I may wonder what to do next, I know the ONE who can either CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY of this current mess–OR–who is prepared for what happens next, always prepared for what happens next. Only HE can help us Let GoWHEN we are ready to let go.
So, when you think of me, and when you see someone in different circumstances but still is wresting with the question, How Do I Let Go, remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others (even us who are wrestling that gator) the way Jesus loves you. And please make sure that all the glory goes to HIM!
Have you ever listened to the stories from The Homeless? Maybe if more listened to their stories they wouldn’t deny the Problem or blame The Homeless. I have served (not now thankfully) where the majority of church folks either ignored The Homeless or Blamed the Homeless. At best, only a handful would step up and follow the Command of Jesus–to treat others, and that includes The Homeless, as if they ARE Jesus–because in a very real way, they are because HIS Image is in them, too.
We’re all bundled up and trying to stay warm. Wouldn’t be so bad if the wind weren’t howling. The rain I could deal with. The cold I could deal with. It’s the wind.
They activated the cold weather shelters and the process has changed. We would have to go downtown and wait for a lottery process. You go where you’re told to go. They also give preferential treatment to those without cars first. I get that. We have “shelter”, but we’re just as at risk.
This brings me to my next gripe about the system. No pets. Not a single one. They will not allow you emergency shelter if you have a pet. We don’t, but we know people who do. It absolutely sucks that my city doesn’t have any kind of shelter for people with pets. I know some cities do and that trend is starting to grow.
do a quick review. This series has been
about how we can be a part of the God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture, and
we are looking at Gideon for our pattern.
Remember the definition of this word Culture: Culture Is The Attitudes, Values And Morals
Shared By People In A Particular Place And Time.
shape how we see life
determine what is important and what’s not important
declare what is right or wrong
needed their culture to be changed. Gideon’s
culture was filled with the oppression of the Midianites. No one was strong enough to stop these marauders,
muggers, and murderers. This was a
God-Sized Task. The Hebrews cried out to
God for help and God started looking for the right kind of person for such a
God sized task—and it was Gideon. And
here is why:
1. Rather than Gideon doing it through God, it would be God doing it
2. He got rid of his Asherah Pole, things that he thought gave him power
and held power over him.
3. Gideon looked for the signs that God would do
this through him, and our signs that God will do this through us are the Cross,
the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit.
4. And last week
we hit the pause button for perspective and clarity. Gideon operated out of his faith rather than
through his circumstances—by seeing an opportunity rather than a problem.
we come down to the preparation for battle.
This moment is Crucial; So Crucial That Success Or Failure
Lies In The Balance. And the same
holds true for us if we are going to be part of God changing OUR Culture. Let’s pick up the story in Judges 7:1-8 (NLT)
Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the
spring of Harod. The armies of Midian
were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said
to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the
Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own
strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may
leave this mountain and go home.’”
So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to
the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will
test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.” When
Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the
men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands
and lap it up with their tongues like dogs.
In the other
group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the
stream.” Only 300 of
the men drank from their hands. All the
others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.
The Lord told
Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the
Midianites. Send all the others
home.” So Gideon collected the provisions and rams’ horns of the other
warriors and sent them home.
But he kept
the 300 men with him. The Midianite camp
was in the valley just below Gideon.
There are more people than you can shake a stick at in the Valley of Jezreel. It was bad enough with just the Midianites; now there are 3 times as many people. There may have been as many as 60,000 or more in the Valley of Jezreel. Do you know what the name Jezreel means? It means “God who sows.” To the average Hebrew it probably looked like God has sown seeds of destruction against them.
honest, how many of you have felt the same way?
Ever felt like God’s hand was against you? You wonder to yourself, or even out
loud: “God, where are you? Don’t you
see what’s going on? Don’t you care how
I feel?” This is where Gideon was
emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
He is at the place where God sows and it looks like God has sown the
seeds of fear and destruction.
now he has an army of 32,000 warriors.
They are still outnumbered—at least 2 to 1—but Gideon is cool. Gideon knows that God is with him and God has
given him the signs of assurance and reassurance. Now he thinks the time has come to act and if
Gideon is a real person he probably has some butterflies in his stomach, but
that’s OK. God is with him. But God still isn’t ready to act.
his faith hasn’t been stretched enough, God stretches it some more. “You’ve
got too many warriors.” The
butterflies are probably gone now because his stomach is in a knot. “Excuse me God, outnumbered 2-1 and there
are too many? Why don’t you trim down
their army? How about making my job a
little easier instead of harder?”
Have you ever asked God to make your life a little easier? But God has a reason. He doesn’t always tell us His reasons, but
this time He does: “If I let all of you fight the
Midianites, then they will brag about how they did it all!”
you ever done something for the church that God blessed but you said, “Look
at what I did! This is MY ministry. I worked hard and look at the results!” Or have you ever been in a really tight place
where you were struggling and thought you were going down for the count but God
delivered you? Instead of giving God ALL
the glory, you said, “Man, if it hadn’t been for MY faith and MY
wisdom I would have been a goner! But I
got through it!” We must
always be on guard against the temptation to take the credit that belongs only
to God. To help keep them And Us
from taking any of the credit, God does 2 things: a sifting and then a testing.
1. First There Is A Sifting
here know what sifting is? It’s taking
something such as flour and passing it through a sieve or like a wire screen to
remove the lumps from the flour. It’s
getting rid of the things that get in the way that thwarts or distorts the
intended purpose. OK, It Gets Rid Of
What Messes Up What’s Going On!
God’s sifting comes this way: “All those who are timid or afraid, exit stage left.” That word for “Timid” means to be consumed Not By What IS, But What MIGHT Be. They haven’t gone into battle yet, but God has guaranteed victory. But they are consumed by what might be, and what might be? They might be defeated. They might be killed by the Midianites.
that word for “Afraid” means literally Trembling Because You’re
Consumed With What “Might” Be. And
22,000 left even before God revealed His Glory, Power and Majesty! I’m going to get really annoying with this
question: Have You Ever Left The Battlefield Before The Battle Started And Missed
Seeing His Glory, Power And Majesty?
my take on this: It wasn’t their fear of
the Midianites and their allies that made them leave. Their fear wasn’t in the Valley or in their
head—it was in their heart. I Believe
They Were Afraid That God Would Not Come Through For Them.
you think Gideon told them about what happened in the pit? Don’t you think Gideon told them about what
happened to the fleece? Don’t you think
that the assurance and reassurance God gave to Gideon that he gave it to
them? I won’t be too hard on the
22,000. Maybe they thought that God
would do it through Gideon, but not through them. Perhaps they thought ordinary people couldn’t
do something like this—only extraordinary people could.
you ever felt that way? That God would
use someone else to change the culture, but that He surely couldn’t use someone
like you? Ever felt like there’s too
much shame, guilt, or failure in your life?
That’s The Fear! Fear That God’s Grace Is Not Big Enough For
You. And so you go back home Sunday
after Sunday. But God’s grace IS big
enough for you.
back to the story. Now Gideon’s army is
down to 10,000. At first they were
outnumbered at least 2 to 1, and now they are outnumbered at least 6 to 1. I would imagine by now that the knot in
Gideon’s stomach has eased up, and the butterflies are coming back in. God has stretched his faith twice. Now they are ready to fight. Right?
Wrong! God tells Gideon, “You
Still Have Too Many!” Gideon
thinks it time to fight, but God is still doing stretching exercises. If I had been Gideon then, I would have been
thinking, “Well, now what,
God? The fearful are gone, who else
needs to leave? Excuse me, God, but have
you ever heard of Gen. George Custer?”
2. Second There Is A Testing
tells Gideon, “I will test them for you.”
He didn’t tell Gideon to Test them. God determines who can be used, not
us. That word Test is rich. It
means to smelt or refine. It’s what a
silversmith does before they make their jewelry. Today that is done through the use of
chemicals and electricity. Back then it
was done with heat. If it didn’t stay in
the heat long enough, it lacked quality and was worth far less. If it stayed too long, it resisted the master
craftsman work. Even though 10,000 were
not terrified, they needed to still have other impurities removed from their
hearts. They need a test.
God tests them in a simple way. He tells Gideon “Tell everyone it’s time for a water break. Watch how they drink. Put the ones who get down on their hands and knees to drink on one side, and the ones who cup their hands to drink on the other side. The ones who cup their hands and drink, there’s your army!” Why this test? I think I know why. Those who drink from their hands are alert to what’s going on around them. They can see more than those who are down on their hands and knees drinking out of the river.
this same principle holds true today. We
can get down on our hands and knees and moan about how bad we have it. When we get down on our hands and knees and
all we see is our own reflection. We
can’t see God at work.
Now there are only 300 left. Start with 32,000 subtract 22,000 timid and fearful and subtract 9,700 clueless = and you have 300 Culture Changers. And God says, “Now, we’ve got the right number!” 300 versus over 60,000. Outnumbered 200 to 1. Do you feel like that in your culture? You want to witness to others about Jesus but you feel outnumbered and outgunned! But God does His best work in this kind of environment.
And Here is the one thing you need to remember:
God Uses The Sifted And The Tested!
need to allow God to sift us—to get rid of the timidity and fear that can
paralyze us. What are you afraid
of? What makes you tremble with
terror? You must allow God to sift that
stuff, that junk, out of you. We need to
get rid of our pride and arrogance.
We need to be tested, refined to get rid of the things and attitudes that prevent us from completely trusting in God’s Promise, Presence, and Provision. We need to be alert and sensitive to what God is doing every day. And God is at work, we just need to be in a position to see His work.
carefully what Gideon does next. He
sends the rest home, but before they leave, he takes their provisions and
horns. Why? Well If They Weren’t Alert To What God Was
Doing, Then Leave It For Those Who Are Alert To God’s Activity. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 about the
talents wasn’t new. Here it is in real
life—take from the ones who aren’t aware and give to those who are. Yes, God is gracious and merciful. He’s always ready to forgive and give us a
But if we are not in tune, in sync with God when God acts, He’s not going to waste what He has given you. He will give your place, your service, your worship, your gifts to another who IS in tune and in sync with Him. Now We’re Ready For The Game Plan, And YOUR Next Step: The Next Steps are the 2 questions that has been filling this place even before you arrived here:
What is it in your life that is keeping you from unconditionally trusting The Father? Allow Him to get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way.
Are you really alert and aware of what’s going on? God is looking for those who will always be on the lookout for what God is doing.
honest, are YOU that person? God is
going to change this place and community, even if those who are ready are
outnumbered 200 to 1. It takes absolute
and complete surrender to Him. What Are
You Holding Back From God’s Grace That Is Big Enough To Change Your Culture
Even If You Are Outnumbered 200 To 1?
Will you allow God to Sift your heart?
Will you accept God’s tests that are not designed to crush you, but to
Refine your heart?
week it’s all about Mason Jars,
Flashlights, And God!
Okay. Okay! Here is the skeleton of the Sunday Sermon. Remember, I don’t print it if you don’t ask.
The quote, attributed in our experience to Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized by Robert Kennedy in 1966, is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse, but that is something I cannot confirm. All I know is that I like it and I can certainly see why it is called a curse, though it sounds like a blessing. It is simply “May you live in interesting times.”
Friends, we live in interesting times.
From a natural perspective, we live in
times when the world is waking up and stretching – we have an uptick in seismic
activity and a shift in the climate.
From a political perspective, there is
an intensity in the division of political parties that we haven’t seen in decades. This is true here, and around…
After my first cup of coffee and morning worship music, I begin my morning devotions. The first one I always read is from J.D. Walt. (You can find it at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/ ). This morning’s title was Are You a “For” Person or an “Against” Person? (You can CLICKHEREto read it). Here is the first paragraph:
Let me ask it another way. What are you for? Many people (if not most) cannot answer this question with any sufficient or satisfying detail. Over the course of life and time, people slowly become cynical about their ideals, hopes, and aspirations (and even their faith) and wind up becoming more defined by what they oppose than what they are for.
J.D. Walt (Seedbed Daily Text)
And immediately, this thought hit me hard: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
ENOUGH of being ugly towards other people. ENOUGH of the negative comments about this, that or the other. ENOUGH pointing the finger of blame at this person or that group. People, HEAR ME! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
The time has come for us as Followers of Jesus to become known for what we are FOR rather than what, especially WHO we are AGAINST. I’ve seen and heard too much of it already. And, I shamefully confess before you the reader, I’ve been guilty of this!
THEREFORE I resolve to immediate resign from the “I’m Against Committee”. But this isn’t enough. I resolve to be, in J.D.’s words, a FOR PERSON. Here are some of the things I am FOR:
First, and foremost, I am FOR Jesus and I will reveal this through my thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.
I amFORkindness and compassion.
I amFOR helping people any way I can, regardless if they “deserve” it or not.
I amFORsaying and doing things that builds up others rather than tear them down.
I amFORseeing the beauty around me, especially in the chaos around me.
I amFORbeing grateful for everything I have.
I amFORbeing both sincere and authentic, warts and all.
I amFORholding the door open for others.
I amFORlistening to others with all my attention.
I amFORforgiving others regardless of the offence or depth of the wound.
I could keep going on and on, and you would give up reading my list of what I am FOR. So let me leave you with Paul’s thoughts about what to be FOR.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
And be sure you love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
Something got me to thinking this morning. Remember my last post, that where I’m from there are only 2 seasons: Hunting and Football. Well, it’s the Football Season that has filled my mind with so many random thoughts. But one thought screamed out louder than all the other. At this time lift up your trays, put away all electronic devices, and place your bags in the overhead compartment or in front of your feet. We are about to take-off.
Saturday the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers face-off on the gridiron battlefield in pursuit of that illusive National Championship at the capital of National Champions, Bryant-Denny Stadium. Neither team has experienced the agony of defeat thus far this season. But comes Saturday evening, one of them will. Players, coaches and staffs have worked hard for this moment. Both teams had a bye-week coming into this epic confrontation. Coaches and staff have been teaching. Players have been learning.
This is great stuff! Talent against talent. Desire against desire. This is THE opportunity for one of these teams to get closer to their goal of an SEC Championship and potentially another National Championship. The attention should be on those who, through sweat, tears and blood, have the opportunity to seek the rewards.
Ticket prices were already way above face-value because of the nature of this epic battle. And now, those prices are orbiting Mars. Why the spike in prices? Because President Trump will be in attendance at the game. THIS IS NOT A RANT AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT! Simply an observation from a football fan, and a Crimson Tide Fan. For many, it seems that the focus is off of the Teams and players and onto a single person. Granted, the last time President Trump watched the Crimson Tide play they brought home a Championship Trophy. But even the sports news outlets are focusing on “The Visit”. And that, my friends, is what screamed at me this morning.
In the Body of Christ, I see much, way too much emphasis put on things other than our Reason. Styles of worship, religious doctrine, personal feelings, superstar preachers (of which I’m NOT), appearance of facilities (exempli gratia–color of the carpet; I’ve seen a church nearly split on this issue), dress code in the ‘sanctuary’, is it ‘A-men’ or ‘Ah-men’ (again, I’ve heard this issue), who should be allowed in, who should NOT be allowed in, the use of robes (again, been there-done that-got the T shirt [wanna see my scars?] to prove it), denominational labels, pipe organs, drum sets, temperature in the sanctuary, pews versus chairs; and the list goes on ad nauseam.
Is this really what “church” is all about? A lot of folks think so–and it has become such a pungently odoriferous aroma that my spirit crawls with angst when I even hear the word “church”. The focus has become all those “other” things to the point that 6 things have happened (you can probably think of more, so add them to the comment section below):
Those who long to serve Jesus have become disgusted and walked away; many after long years of service. They have been labeled “the dones”.
Those who are hurting, broken, or disgusted with their life refuse to turn to the church because they see it as a place with more dysfunction than their own life. They have been labeled “the nones”.
Those who sit in the pews believe that they should be the consumers of what the church provides, rather than the producers of the Mission. I call them “the selfish”.
The Church that once influenced the culture for the better, is now influenced BY the culture. I call this “heart-breaking”.
There is a lack of Biblical Wisdom and Knowledge that has led to people defining the Bible to fit their life rather than allowing the Word of God define their life. I call this “sad”.
And people are being ignored and going into eternity without a relationship with Jesus. I call this “exponential tragedy”.
What is all this about? This life that Jesus came to provide through His suffering, death and Resurrection? It’s certainly none of the things I’ve described that blinds people to the real Reason for following Jesus. Our Reason for following Jesus must be the same Reason He came into His creation as one of His creations:
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Luke 4:16-21 (NLT)
If you consider, or ‘call’ yourself a Christian, how much of you day looks like what Jesus said here in Luke? This is the Reason to be a Real Follower Of Jesus:
To live by the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit
To bring Good News, the BEST News of all to all who are spiritually poor, even bankrupt
To set captives free
To help the spiritually blind see The Father who loves them so very much
To bring freedom to those who are being oppressed by The Enemy (that’s Satan, just in case you forgot or didn’t know)
And that we can all be delivered from the Old Life and given the New Life–that everything in a person’s past is covered by the blood of Jesus and removed from them forever!
I just have to ask: If you go to church somewhere, is this the Reason your church is there? If not, don’t you think it’s time for this to become THE REASON? I do, and I’m seeing signs of this happening now. Make sure you know that you have the right Reason for your life.
And love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!