HARDENING OF THE ARTERIES!

Come, let us worship and bow down.
    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!
The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
    as they did at Massah in the wilderness.
For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw everything I did.”

Psalm 95, verses 6 through 9; from the New Living Translation

I was nearly 7, I think, when my Papa Burbank died. I remember they called it “hardening of the arteries”. Today we know it as plaque buildup in the arteries. Now they can do things to help open up the flow of blood and avert death. Back then there wasn’t anything they could do for it. My reading for this morning, Psalm 95, and it’s verse about hardening of the heart, got me to thinking about him and his cause of death.

And though the miracles of modern medicine helps us today avoid the same outcome as Papa Burbank with our biological heart, it’s the spiritual heart that is in danger today. Spiritually speaking, we are at our Meribah. In case you’re not familiar with Meribah, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version. God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt and a life of slavery. He provided food in the form of manna every day. And when they complained about Heaven’s Food, God provided them with quails. Now there water supply is all but gone. I compare this to having nothing to drink before a procedure or surgery. You’re not really thirsty until you can’t have anything. So they turn against Moses and whine and complain, complain and whine, because they are so thirsty. Remember that God delivered them and has provided everything they needed up to this point. Now, why in Heaven’s Name would they start doubting God? Simple, it was what was in their hearts and it was hardening those hearts.

It’s said that you are what you eat. And that’s so very true. And here is something even more true: You are what you allow into your spiritual heart. And this is where our culture, and our United Methodist Tribe are at. Too many have allowed the bladerdash and flummery of progressive theology into their hearts. Our culture has jumped in Doc Brown’s Time Traveling Delorean and arrived before The Fall (that’s when Adam and Eve messed up) and bought lock, stock, and barrel into Satan’s lie that we are capable of being our own god. That given the right information (that’s what many call the “forbidden fruit”), we are free to choose our own path by determining our very own version of what is right and what is wrong.

The result is that the life-giving flow of “blood” has been blocked and denied access to our spiritual heart. And that heart has become hardened. And without treatement, that heart will cease to function and we will die. Remember my Papa Burbank! And there is no medicine or medical procedure that can restore that flow of life-giving blood. And there is no hope that neither progressive nor liberation theology can change this outcome. There is only one way, one source to prevent our hearts from this inevitable outcome.

If only you would listen to His voice today!

Psalm 95 verse 7

His Voice will never, I mean NEVER, contradict His Word that we know as The Bible. Our hearts are like Jeremiah (chapter 17, verse 9) described: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” That’s the Bad News, folks. But now for the Good News. Ezekiel said (chapter 36, verse 26):  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Like those poor, pitiful Hebrews, so many have forgotten how that through the ages God has been faithful to lead us to the life that sin has stolen from us. Physical heart transplants are amazing. But what’s more amazing is Spiritual Heart Transplants. So, if your heart has become hard, then there’s only one place to go–and that’s at the foot of The Cross!

ARE YOU A NOT OR A KNOT?

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 19 and 20; from the New International Verse

Well? Which are you? A Not? Or a Knot? Me? Well, I guess I need to be truthful. Sometimes I’m a Not and on occasions I am a Knot. A Knot is someone who is tightly held by their own stuff. A Not is someone who is liberated from that and all other stuff. Speaking only of here in the good old U.S. of A., so many–too many–are held tightly to their stuff. And many of these knots also want Jesus–but still be connected to all their stuff.

Progressive theology wants people to believe that they can have Jesus AND their Knot! But clearly Paul had other ideas when he wrote this letter to the Corinthian church. You see, they were tied to a lot of their stuff–and that stuff was contradictory to both God’s design and what it means to be holy. The Greek word translated NOT means ABSOLUTELY NOT! We are NOT our own. We are NOT in charge and certainly NOT in control of our lives. And, my friends, that is NOT a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a great thing to be a NOT!

Listen again to verse 20: You were bought at a price.  And that price was paid on that cruel Roman Cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem. If we are, call it “a Christian” or as I prefer, “a follower and disciple of Jesus”, then we are NOT any longer under the control and influence of anyone or anything–other than God! We can’t do what we want, be what we want, and still follow Jesus! NOT at all. NOT at all! So be a NOT and not a KNOT! Are you clear on this?

HEARD ABOUT ANY MIRACLES LATELY?

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121, verse 8; from the New Living Translation

Have you heard about any miracles lately? In this age of technological developments, many tend to think that miracles don’t happen anymore, if they ever really did. Well, sit right down and let me tell you a true story! Hunter is one of the grandsons of my very good friends, Greg and Pat. Greg is also my double-Brother; first my brother in Christ, and then my Fraternal Brother. Hunter is a great young man. Unlike so many of his generation, Hunter already has his career and is doing great in it.

Well, it was this past Saturday morning, Greg and Pat received a call that no parent or grandparent wanted to receive. Hunter had been in a serious wreck and was in the hospital emergency room. They didn’t know how bad he was injured. So they quickly left for the 45 minute drive. As they were driving they saw emergency vehicles ahead–as they slowed down it was then they saw Hunter’s truck. Honestly, it didn’t even look like a truck. So they started praying harder.

Here’s what happened. The best they can tell, the wreck happened around 3:30 a.m. He fell asleep, went into a ditch, and then proceeded to hit some trees. He was thrown through the windshield into a ditch. Oh, and this was one of those typical Alabama heavy fog mornings. No one could have seen his mangled truck. Hunter lied in that ditch for over 3 hours, best guess estimate, until 6:50 a.m. when someone arrived to open a country store heard him and called emergency personnel.

Doesn’t sound like much of a miracle thus far, does it? Well, let’s get back to this true story. After extensive x-rays and diagnostic testing, Hunter had NO internal injuries or broken bones. He did have a concussion, and lots of cuts and bruises–but before noon that day, Hunter was released and headed home. I don’t know about you–but I would have to classify Hunter’s story as a miracle. I have worked as a first responder and I have been at accident scenes where someone was thrown through the windshield and I can testify that was never a good thing.

See! Miracles still happen and they happen every day. I will close with what Greg had to said about that day. He says it much better than I can because he shared it out of his experience that day: “Praise the Lord! Hunter is going to be OK, a miracle from God. Bruised up. Cut up. No broken bones. He will be able to go home. Tell me we don’t serve a mighty God!” Indeed, Greg, we serve a mighty God!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

Psalm 139, verses 7 through 12; from the New Living Translation

Rather than my ponderings, reflections, and musings–you get to write today’s blog. At the risk of sounding like an English teacher, write your essay–in your heart and mind, and in the comments below if you are so inclined–write an essay answering these 4 questions:

  1. Where are you seeing God today?
  2. What is He saying to you today?
  3. Where do you see God at work today?
  4. Where is He asking you to join in with Him today?

WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING!

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings chapter 19, verses 3 and 4; from the New Living Translation

Ever had the Elijah Broom Tree Experience? Maybe someone reading this is under that Broom Tree right now!!! The Broom Tree Experience is that point and moment when you are ready to give up. Maybe not to the point of suicide; but then again, maybe you are. In the past I was there under that Broom Tree contemplating the permanent solution to a temporary problem. If the story of Elijah can teach us anything it’s that any of us can make that lonely journey to the Broom Tree Experience.

Perhaps it’s your job that has placed you in the Broom Tree Experience. Maybe it’s your health. Maybe it’s your dream of owning a business. Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s a situation in your church. Maybe it’s that you are caught in a web of addiction. The causes are as many as there are people in the world. It’s not a sin to be under that Broom Tree. But it becomes a serious problem when we choose to notify the U.S. Postal Service that this is our new address.

If this is what you are thinking, that the Broom Tree Experience is where you will spend the rest of your life, then think again. And think about Elijah. Elijah made up his mind to quit–to give up completely. That was Elijah’s decision and choice. Whatever it is that is creating that desire to just QUIT, even give up your hopes–then remember the rest of the story. Elijah thinks–I said THINKS–he is all alone; that he has successfully pulled away from any and every hope of a meaningful life. But it’s just another example of people thinking they are all alone–when they aren’t. Read some more:

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again. Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”

(Same book, same chapter, same translation)

Elijah had quit on Elijah. But God didn’t quit on Elijah. God had another experience, another task, another mission. And God doesn’t quit on you. No failure of yours will cause God to leave you under the Broom Tree. No problem is too great for God to quit on you when you are having your Broom Tree Experience. As God provided the necessary provisions for Elijah’s journey away from the Broom Tree, He will provide you with the necessary provisions to make that journey to that place where God has a new Word, a new mission, and a new hope. This is always true, even if you are a United Methodist! I leave you with a song:

CAN IT GET ANY CRAZIER? yOU BETCHA!

I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about my Tribal Chaos, but it’s time to get back to the rest of life. And for those who read my insights into our Tribal Chaos, don’t worry. I’ll get back to that later. But for now–let’s talk about this crazy culture. While checking up on the news I came across this–this–delirious, deragned, dippy, and diggy story. It comes out of Mountain View, California no less. A local principal called the police on a 4 year old because he came to school without a mask! (You can read the article here)

This young boy had what was described as developmental issues. The father was told to take his son from the school campus immediately or the police would be called. In spite of the father’s attempt to describe why his son could not wear a mask, the principal called for the police in the person of the School Resource Officer. Who, by the way, was very understanding–but he (the police officer) was handcuffed as to what he could do. So the father had to take his son back home–all because of a facemask, or lack thereof.

I don’t know about you–but this is absolutely bonkers! School is no longer a place to educate–but to indocrinate! Can you say Solyent Green? Maybe, George Orwell’s 1984? Listen, folks! As long as craziness like this is allowed to continue–it ain’t gonna get no better! Our law enforcement officers have more important things to do than act as bouncers for the latest wacky trend. There are real problems that need their attention. The assinine leaders of education have turned, and been allowed to turn because not enough spoke up, classrooms into indocrination camps. What’s next? Calling the police when a student rejects CRT? Or revisionists history? Let’s put education back where it belongs! A place of learning the 3Rs! And not the political BS! Shame on that principal! And a bigger shame on those who sit quiet on the sidelines like sheeple! This attempt at educating our kids is mediocrity at its worst form!

I hear a lot–I mean A LOT–of people complaining about the Walmart Self Checkout system. And if you would allow me to be blunt-honest with you, I would say that I ABSOLUTELY LOATHE that self checkout system. I don’t go to Walmart to become their unpaid cashier associate. And to make a bit of confession, I have used it before because of time restraints. But now I simply don’t go if I am under time retraints. Now I patiently wait in line for that lonely, single cashier (occasionally there are 2).

And that’s what got me to thinking–about people. No, not Walmart’s corporate board who made this horrible decision; the people, and in particular those poor souls who use the self checkout system. Every time I go in to our local Walmart I see several people using that system. Do they realize they are only adding to the corporate pockets more money and denying people a job? But they look like sheeple–you know–a cross between sheep and people.

So many, TOOO many people are choosing for themselves this Walmart kind of life. What am I ranting about? Look at that first word in the sign:

SELF! Our culture is putting the emphasis on SELF! What WE want. What WE deserve. How that WE are capable of figuring out this thing called life without any other help. And for God to help us out? Jeez Louise, we don’t need His help at all. We can do it ourself! And now we are being overwhelmed by a tsunami of consequences. Lives are being crushed and pushed around; only to be swept out to sea. I remember a song from my teenage years, “The Age Of Aquarius”! Well, 2022 is The Age Of Self-Aggrandizement!

REALITY CHECK! We can’t handle life by SELF! We need help–but not just any help. We don’t need Dr. Phil, or Oprah, nor the advice of Trevor Noah. And we really need to stop talking to ourselves in order to get sound advice. When we talk to ourselves like this, what we end up with is a lot of sound and very little advice. What we need is to look–look above this mess to the only ONE who took the chaos and created the earth and the universe. And for heaven’s sake–stop using the self checkout line at Walmart!

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.

Psalm 120, verse 1; from the English Standard Version

THE GREAT CONFLICT!

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

Matthew chapter 7, verses 1 and 2; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

I need some help understanding something. It has to do with the hatred and the subsequent chaos which follows the hate that is so prevalent in this culture. The hate is everywhere you look–yet I am left without a clue as to the reason. Now, I understand when the hate comes from the economic realm. You know, the haves and the have-nots. The have-nots want what the haves have. The haves think the have-nots are beneath them. I get that. And in the realm of politics? Oy Vey! Talk about hate! Both parties seem to have the same platform–HATE THE OTHER! But. . .

Within the Body of Christ? Here is where I’m aphonic! Speechless! On one side there is the conservative/orthodox folks who insist that The Bible clearly shows us how to live. Yet, let a person be divorced and instantly they become unfit to serve in leadership. The Gospel speaks about equality, yet some insist that women can’t lead. And The Bible teaches to love our enemies–yet some insist on using words like “abomination”. Jesus said we are to give up everything to follow Him, yet some people hold on more tightly to their traditions than to The Truth. Paul taught that The Kingdom eliminates all social and racial barriers–but. . .well, you know.

Now, before those who are in the liberal/progressive wing start gloating over my caustic rebuke on those mean-spirited conservative/orthodox folks–you are not beyond reproach. You declare that The Kingdom is all about the love–that loving must include a seal of approval and a blessing. Otherwise, it’s not love. Because the conservative/orthodox folks won’t give their approval and blessing on the LBGTQI community as being approved by God, they are homophobic, misogynistic, disingenuous, mendacious, and mean-spirited people who are full of hate. Liberal/progressive folks, well, at least most of those I’ve personally encountered, are filled with contempt and anger with anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Yet. . . I said YET they insist they are the loving ones. A bit inconsistent I would say. How can you tell one group it’s all about the love while at the same instant hate those who do not agree with you???

And, for the life of me, I can’t understand why both sides hate each other so deeply. Well. . .I’m still waiting for the answer.

CLARITY!

22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” 24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”

Mark chapter 8, verses 22-26; from the New Living Translation

This morning I was thinking–and those of you who know me, know this isn’t always a good thing. Nonetheless, fasten your seatbelts because we are about to take off. President Biden just signed a check for our government to spend another $737 BILLION. Purportedly this is going to get us out of inflation and help solve our economic problems. One would think, or at least I do, that after spending gazillions of dollars over the past several decades all the problems would have been solved. And then I was thinking about this mess in the United Methodist Institution. After saying gazillions of words our problems should have been solved by now. But in both cases, it ain’t happened and it ain’t gonna happen!

Yet, the dollars flow freely, and words flow even more freely! Politically, some are looking to Trump; and some are looking to Biden. They are looking for political salvation in parties that have neither the ability nor the skills to provide such a hope. And it appears at times that neither party wants to solve the problems; it seems that they just want to add fuel to the fire. Yet, people are tenaciously running down the path that leads us nowhere. And in our Tribe (the United Methodist Institution) it’s not any different. Some says it’s all about progressive theology and some say it’s all about orthodox theology. The view and perspective that both issues (in both the political and spiritual problems) have created is what I term perspective astigmatism!

Now, for those unfamiliar with astigmatism or do not live with this malady like I and so many others, here’s the medical definition: “a refractive error of the eye in which parallel rays of light from an external source do not converge on a single focal point on the retina.” And here’s the down-to-earth definition: “everything looks blurry!” And then I also started thinking (thank you, Holy Spirit) about this morning’s passage. A man was brought to Jesus for Him to heal. The villagers were just looking for a show; some entertainment and fodder for the dinner table conversations. But Jesus took this man outside the village and. . .well, you can read the rest of the story.

Here’s the point! After Jesus spit on this man’s eyes, he could see–but there was no clarity. He described people as, They look like trees walking around.” I understand that, and so do you who have astigmatism. And be it in the political arena or the spiritual arena, the dominant views are creating and spreading perspective astigmatism. Neither side seems interested in getting to that focal point where everything comes clearly into focus. And as long as were are focusing on the wrong point–be it political or spiritual–everything remains hazy and blurry.

The problems–both politically and spiritually–are deep and complicated; complicated by years of living in perspective astigmatism. So what is one to do??? Live each day with nothing seen with clarity??? Give up and become a stoic??? Well, that is an option; but it ain’t a good one. May I suggest something different, using the analogy of visual astigmatism? We ALL need to do 2 things: first we need to admit that what we’ve been trying and looking towards just ain’t working to bring us the Clarity that we need. Second, allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit give us the lenses we need to see life with Clarity! The “eye chart” that Jesus and the Holy Spirit uses is the Bible. They will never contradict what The Word says. They may (and usually will) contradict what WE say about The Word. But They will never contradict That Word.

SELECTIVE SEEING!

 Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

John chapter 14, verse 8; from The Message

We husbands are often accused of “selective hearing” by our wives. Know what? They are right and we are guilty! Admitting one has a problem is the first step in recovery. But I’m not orating today about husbands and selective hearing. Nay! I want us to take a serious look at what I call “selective seeing”.

Look at this morning’s passage. Remember the context! Jesus has been preparing them for his upcoming and intentional death. Jesus told them he was about to go back to see Dad and that they would know the way to where He was going to be! Thomas’ opening salvo was that they didn’t know the way. Jesus tries to explain this simple principle when Philip adds his two-cents worth: “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.” Both men were suffering from what is known as Confirmation Bias!

According to Wikipedia, Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” Here’s the common sense definition: “It’s seeing what we want to see and ignoring what we don’t want to see!” When these 12 guys started following Jesus as a student, each had their view of what The Messiah should look like. After 3 years one would think that they’ve began learning about the true Messiah, not the one of their imaginations. Alas, it seems like Philip didn’t read all the memos that Jesus had been sending. Philip was looking for what Philip was looking for; but not for what Jesus was showing him.

And before we get too harsh on Philip, what about us? Do we tend to see situations, people, and even the Bible with Confirmation Bias? Any book, any teaching, can and IS subject to Confirmation Bias! Even The Bible. Just recently I was reading a blog where the author was talking about Jesus’ parable about the praying of a Pharisee and the praying of a Tax Collector (Luke chapter 18). This particular writer is of the more progressive theology group. He fixated on verse 14 that tells of both of them going home. He chose a single Greek word as his fixation (Confirmation Bias)–par which can be translated as with. He said that this meant that both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector left together as friends. That each one changed their opinion about the other and accepted each other.

When we look into the Bible WITH Confirmation Bias we will find exactly what we are looking for, but not what God is saying. One doesn’t have to be progressive or orthodox, liberal or conservative, to be afflicted with Confirmation Bias. Confirmation Bias, or Selective Seeing, can and does happen to everyone. It can be intentional. AND it can be unintentional. Don’t read the Bible to find things that support your views! Nay, my friends! Open your heart. Open your mind. Allow God to be God and see what HE is showing you. Don’t see what you want to see. See what God is really saying. If our Tribe, the United Methodist, had been doing this all along instead of Selective Seeing, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

WOULD YOU LIKE A HEAPING HELPING OF KARMA TO GO WITH THAT?

52 He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. 53 But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 So they went on to another village.

Luke chapter 9, verses 52-56; from the New Living Translation

Can we be honest? Don’t we just love it when Karma jumps up and bites someone in the butt? Maybe it’s that person at work who used you to get that promotion. Maybe it’s that person who spread malicious gossip about you. Maybe it’s that car that had zoomed by you at break-neck speed that down the road was pulled over by a State Trooper. Whenever we feel like someone has wronged us, or is simply in the wrong, what is our response? Kindness or Karma?

As Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem, today’s passage tells us of an event where His disciples had that very same choice: Kindness Or Karma? James and John (you know–John the Apostle of “Love”) opted in for Karma! “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” This will teach those bigoted Samaritans! But read it again, paying attention to the response of Jesus to the brothers: “But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” Not the Samaritan villagers–but James and John! And after the rebuke, what does Jesus do? “So they went on to another village.”

In the seasons where you feel you have been misunderstood or mistreated; when you feel the “burning” desire for Karma to pounce on someone like a Lion on a crippled Gazelle–Jesus has something to say to you. It’s called A Rebuke! And to my fellow Tribal Members of the United Methodist Church, in light of this passage–do you really think all the words, words about Karma, we are passing from one side to the other (because both sides are doing this) pleases Jesus? One side talks about the love of Jesus and the other side talks about the need for repentence. All the while, words and wishes of Karma are also flowing way too freely. Folks, let’s stop all this talk about Karma–even though you may not use that word, you are definitely wanting it. Let’s do something together that reflects the heart and attitude of Jesus shown in today’s passage. Let’s be Kind and allow each side to go to the next village.

HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR FILTERS LATELY?

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

2 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 1; from the New Living Translation

Paul says that we need to cleanse ourselves from everything that can–well–mess up our life and relationship with God. That prompted me to think about cars/trucks and all its filters. There’s the air filter, oil filter, transmission filter, fuel filter; there’s even an inside cabin filter, and maybe some I’ve overlooked. These filters are all about preventing the bad stuff from getting inside. If the bad stuff gets inside? Well, let’s just say that the outcome isn’t good at all.

Once we’ve been cleansed from sin by God’s Grace, how do we keep out the bad stuff in order to have God’s life of holiness? The late Albert Outler once described a way to help us filter out this bad stuff from the teachings of John Wesley. He called it Wesley’s Quadrilateral–Scripture, reason, tradtion, and experience. However, later in life Outler regretted coining that term. Nonetheless, it’s a great tool to assist us in pursuing this life of holiness.

But sometimes traditions are wrong. Experiences change from person to person. And human reasoning fluctuates more than the stock markets. But one of these tools never changes–and that’s The Bible. Use those other 3 tools because they are beneficial to help us understand the life of Holiness. But the aforementioned are subject to change and may allow us breathe in some of that bad stuff. But The Bible has withstood the test of time. Allow God’s word to be that final filter so that after God has cleansed us from our sins, we don’t get “dirty” again. God’s commands are not given to us to make us miserable and unhappy. They are the filters that PREVENT us from being miserable and unhappy. And remember–when I say The Bible, I’m not talking about what others say about it–it’s about what The Bible says to us!

WHEN YOU HAVE THE KEY!

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.

1 John chapter 4, verse 1; from the New Living Translation

Have you ever come to a door, turned the knob, but couldn’t get in because it was locked? Try with all your might, it just won’t turn. And you can’t get in unless you pick the lock, bust down the door like you’re in an episode of “Cops”, or better yet, you have the key. Not just any key, but the right key. Every lock (unless it’s one of those “computer chip” locks) has a key with a specific series of cuts. A key that opens one door will not open another door, that is, unless they are “keyed” together. What does all this talk about keys and doors have to do with the Kingdom Life? Glad you asked this question!

There are a variety of locked doors we face in life. One of them is having a relationship with God. That door is clearly locked. And to get the door unlocked, we need faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; the sacrifice that calls for our admission of guilt, trust in God’s grace, and the desire to change our life by living it in Christ and Christ in us. That’s the simple part. But what about once we get on the other side of that door?

On the other side of that door is the life of walking with Him in the way that honors Him! We call this The Life Of Holiness! Where do we find exactly what this kind of life looks like? The life that honors God is found within the pages of The Bible. But, if we are honest, we find another locked door and we urgently need the key. Now, don’t misunderstand me on this point (though someone most definitely will). I’m not suggesting or even hinting that The Bible is some kind of mysticism. Though The Bible is clear about many things, there are some things that we have to, call it “wrestle with”.

How do we come to understand The Truth of and IN The Bible in ways that enable and empower us to live in the way that honors God? Now, there are some out there who sincerely believe that we have both the capacity and the ability to figure out on our own how to do this. In other words, human knowledge, logic, and wisdom are all we need to understand The Bible so that we can live in the way that honors Him!

The Key to understanding The Bible, and thus to live the life that honors God is The Holy Spirit. Now, The Spirit can and does use the insights of others. But the ultimate Guide to understanding the entire Bible is The Holy Spirit. Jesus promises this in John chapter 16, verse 13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (New Living Translation) It is God’s Holy Spirit, and never the human spirit, that will open the treasure of The Truth found in the Bible. Allow me to close out with a personal example.

Decades ago I avoided reading and especially preaching, anything from the Book of Ecclesiastes. But now, it’s one of my very favorite books. What happened? Well The Holy Spirit introduced me to one of my mentors, Chuck Swindoll. It was his book Living On The Ragged Edge. One phrase that Chuck brought to light that is repeated throughout the book of Ecclesiastes is under the sun! Chuck brought out that Solomon is describing life without God. And the Holy Spirit leaned in, whispered in my ear, “Did you see that?” That key and the faithful presence of The Holy Spirit opened the door for me in understand Ecclesiastes. And to this day, The Holy Spirit continues to help me see, not only Ecclesiates, but the entire Bible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs chapter 3 verses 5-7, from the New Living Translation

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND!

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”

Ruth chapter 1 verses 16 and 17, from the New Living Translation

Have you ever thought about the story of Ruth when life throws at us the challenges that come, causing us to make difficult decisions? It’s a powerfully fitting story for us when changes happen. Job relocation. Changes in health. Death. Divorce. Changing schools. You name the explosion that happened–and Ruth has something we need to see, and to understand. Even for us United Methodists! Especially us United Methodists!

Do you think it was easy for Ruth to just pack up and leave with Naomi? Dear Lord, that was her mother-in-law! And we know how mothers-in-law can be, right? She left everything that was familiar (sound familiar you?) to go somewhere that was completely UNfamiliar! She had never been there before. Remember this happened in the days before the Wacky World Web where we can “Google” and learn all about a new place. And though she had never been there before, she knew WHO would be there! Naomi and God! And that would be enough for Ruth!

What about you? Facing some difficult, painful, and challenging choices? Maybe you don’t even have a choice–but change is happening quickly! 3 things you need to see and understand from this part of Ruth’s story. Remember, it’s only part of her story:

  1. Who is your Naomi? Who is it that you can count on to be bold and courageous? Who is it that shows you what it’s like to keep pushing on when, nay! Especially when life get extremely difficult? Who won’t give in to the fear of the unknown?
  2. Who are you being a Naomi to? Who is it that needs to see faith and courage from you? Not only do we need a Naomi, but we also need to BE a Naomi to someone who may never see it except through you.
  3. Are you willing to give up everything for a future unknown to you, but known to God? Just because we don’t know what lies ahead, doesn’t mean God doesn’t know. If you follow many of the stories in the Bible, you will find this same story–people following God into an unknown future.

Yes, changes, especially those great big ones, are on the frightening side. Ruth left behind family, friends, community, and her culture. Things that held value to her. But. . .I said BUT they were not more important to her than what God wanted from her. What are you holding onto at all costs? Let go of it and follow God! Who knows what will happen? I don’t think Ruth knew that the Messiah would be a part of her geneology–but He was!

Euthanasia for children?

First it was the right to abortion that some insisted was a guaranteed right. Now we see coming out of the acceptance of abortion as a right, the eunthanasia of children is acceptable in The Netherlands! Lord, have mercy on us!

Theology School

The Netherlands Minister of Health, Ernst Kuipers, announced on June 27, 2022 that the government plans to approve a protocol to permit child euthanasia in October.

The Netherlands euthanasia law currently permits euthanasia for children as young as 12, when parents or guardians consent; the Groningen Protocol permits euthanasia for disabled newborns. People over the age of 16 are considered adults and can consent to euthanasia.

Kuipers is not planning to amend the current law but to extend the Groningen Protocol children from age 1 – 12. This announcement sets a dangerous precedent. The Groningen Protocol permits euthanasia of newborns who are experiencing current orpossible future suffering.

DutchNews.nl reported the following:

  • Doctors have to be convinced the child’s suffering is unbearable and there is no possibility of a cure or a treatment to alleviate the pain.
  • Any diagnosis has to be fully discussed with the child’s parents as well…

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WHERE YOU START MATTERS!

18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

Romans chapter 1, verses 18 through 21, from The New Living Translation

There is a Finish Line for just about everything in life. It’s where we want to be–call it–a goal! It’s where we want to end up at. Be it a sports competition or a career–and everything else in between. The goal is to reach that predetermined finish line! And most folks know where their finish line is located. So, off we go to reach that finish line! But where is the Starting Line?

If one wants to be a doctor, they don’t start by hanging up a shingle and opening an office. If you want to be a business owner, you don’t start by renting a building and putting up a “Grand Opening” sign. All races have a Starting Line! And participants do not get to choose their own Staring Line–the rules determine it for them. All football games start at Zero-To-Zero! This is, call it, The Rule In Life! You can’t have a finish line unless you also have a Starting Line! And if it’s true in this physical life (and it is!) then it is also true in our Spiritual Life!

Where You Start Matters! In life and in your spiritual life! We cannot get around this. Think about field and track events–oh, say–the 100 yard dash. The winner is the first one to cross the Finish Line, right? But suppose a runner decides to start at a different place, say 50 yards closer to the Finish Line. They will cross the Finish Line first, but they won’t win the race. Why? Because they cheated, goofy!

So, where does everyone Start in their spiritual journey for a relationship with God? And here’s the point of contention in my United Methodist Tribe, and many others. Many in life (and in my Tribe) want the Starting Line to be, what I would call, An Assumptive Ascertion–that

  • we arrive in life completely in God’s Design
  • we are free to correct misunderstandings about the Bible
  • and we are capable of figuring out what is and what isn’t “sin”

However, there’s these pesky verses from Paul to the church in Rome. While the finish line is for us to have eternal life and joy with The Father, the Starting Line is that we are sinners. Paul’s letter to the Romans is his systematic theology. Here he describes what life in Christ is all about–from Start to Finish! We enter this world perfectly innocent. But inside all of us is that seed of sin. And at some point, that seed begins to grow and eventually it corrupts us through and through. Sin is like Kudzu; it starts small but eventually takes over everything.

The finish line in the spiritual journal is to be exactly like Jesus. You know, the one in whose image we are created. But we will never get there until we have the right Starting Line! The Bible clearly teaches us what is and is not a sin. And while it may sound mean and cruel to some, admitting that sin is in control of us, it’s really the place of hope. We can’t know the Savior until we know we are first sinners! Only sinners can recognize how much God loves us. We sinners see clearly that love on the Cross! The only way God’s Grace can restore us back to our Original Design is to admit we are sinners, that Jesus died to atone for our sins, that we need His help both NOW, and for the rest of the journey to the Finish Line. So, if your Spiritual Journey is making you unhappy and miserable, then clearly you haven’t started at the right place. It matters where you start!

WHAT DO YOU WANT?????

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

Mark chapter 10, verse 51, from the New Living Translation

So, Jesus asks that question to a blind man. And you know what? He’s still asking that question; not to just the blind–but to everyone. Everyone includes you and me! In fact, it’s a question that He is asking every nano-second of our lives here on this third rock from the sun. So, exactly what do YOU want from Jesus?

Ever heard the expression, “I want my cake and eat it too!”? It’s about wanting what WE want. I would exhort you to be careful about what you want! Not everything we want is worthwhile; neither does it give us the deepest desire of the heart: Life at its richest! I looked up that word translated want and found out it means “to will, have in mind, intend”. Oh, and there’s another meaning: “to take delight in, have pleasure”.

So many today are wanting a life that doesn’t really give any lasting delight. And in the arena of religion, many are wanting Jesus AND! Jesus and their stuff. Honestly, I can’t remember if it was from one of Andrew Murray’s books or Watchman Nee’s books. But I remember the lesson: Jesus AND anything else leaves us with nothing. We can’t have Jesus AND our stuff. Be it traditions, bad habits, sexual desires, property, power, money. . .you name it! We can’t have Jesus and anything else.

When Jesus asks us, “What do you want?”, He isn’t offering Himself along with our preference of cake. He’s offering us life–life where we surrender and submit to Him and His plan and purpose for our life. Don’t forget that the life Jesus offers us stands in direct opposition to what the world offers. So, be careful what you want. Because if you want Jesus AND anything else, you miss out on Jesus and what He offers us!

An S.E.C. KInd Of Grace

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Matthew chapter 16, verse 24; from the New Living Translation

Those who know me know that I like college football. Now mind you, NOT over-inflated ego NFL football. College football! And I love the Conference that all other Conferences like to hate–the Southeastern Conference or S.E.C. And I’m passionate about the Team that most folks absolutely hate–ALABAMA! ROLL TIDE! I got to thinking this morning that THE Season begins in less than a month. And those 3 letters that most folks hate began rolling around in my gray matter. S.E.C.! S.E.C.! And I started thinking about Grace!

Many folks want a S.E.C. Grace! I opted in for S.E.C. Grace because the term Cheap Grace was already taken. So, what’s a S.E.C. Grace? Glad you asked. It’s Simple, Easy, Comfortable Grace! And I’ve noticed this about the S.E.C. Grace crowd–they are found in both the conservative camps and the progressive camps. In fact, the theological belief systems don’t really matter. Many people, way too many people, think of grace as that Get Out Of Hell Free Card!

Granted, it sounds good to say Grace is Simple, Easy, and Comfortable. After all, doesn’t God keep us Safe? Isn’t it so Easy that a caveman can do it? Just have faith? And doesn’t it take away the misery of guilt and make us feel Comfortable? But then there’s these words from Jesus:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Those who want the S.E.C. Grace fail to understand that in accepting God’s Grace mandates that we also follow Jesus! Now, let’s do high school biology anddissect what Jesus says. First He says “you must give up your own way”. Sounds simple, but it’s not exactly simple. Here’s the truth: we WANT our way and will fight to keep our way! We have this inherent thing called sin; and it wants to be in charge of us. And it will fight against us tooth and nail to win. Then He says: “take up your cross”. I don’t know about how you feel, but to me there’s nothing that sounds Easy about carrying our cross. Sounds like to me that I need to be dying every day.

And finally Jesus says: and follow Me! Does it sound comfortable to you to go the places where messy and broken people live, work, and play? While Jesus promised us the Comfort of the Holy Spirit, He never promised that He would make us Comfortable. Following Jesus is going head-long into the battlefield! It’s about making sacrifices. I know many combat veterans, my son and son-in-law included. But never once have I heard any of them describe their battlefields as making them feel Comfortable!

Grace doesn’t mean we get what we want. Grace doesn’t mean we get to keep what we want. And Grace doesn’t mean we get to choose where we go. Now, for some, this may sound like an argument against Grace. It’s not! It’s the reason why not just any “grace” will work. God’s Grace includes His presence and power to help us overcome the sins that hounds us to death. His Grace isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s a lifetime of growing, being stretched, and discovering the exciting things He has for us to do. And the joy that is waiting for us, on the other side. Grace that doesn’t challenge us–well, it’s just a S.E.C. kind of grace. And that’s simply not worth having; it just doesn’t give us what we need.

MEANWHILE (Back at the ranch)

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli.  Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

1 Samuel chapter 3, verse 1; from the New Living Translation.

Good morning and a sight disclaimer. What I am sharing today is a condensed version of yesterday’s message. Get back to that single word:  Meanwhile!  This means something else is happening at the same time.  And what was it?  Eli’s sons had gone their own way instead of God’s Way.  Turn back to Chapter 2 Verses 12-13:  Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests.  They were wanting what belonged to God and also to the people.  Let me repeat that: They were wanting what belonged to God and also to the people.  Sound familiar? And if you read further into chapter 2 you will see that they had disobeyed God’s sexual ethics.

Now, these alleged priests were doing things that God had clearly said that no one should be doing.  They were living outside God’s Design—and worse—they were supposed to be the ones who were to share God’s Word.  And then there’s the end of Chapter 3, Verse 1:  Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon. Because those who were to be in charge had abandoned The Truth, God’s Message was rare, and God’s Visions were quite rare!

In order for God’s Message to be clearly proclaimed and clearly understood in the ways that transform people, communities, culture, and the world—we need to see clearly God’s Vision!  And That Vision matches The Message.  And The Message matches The Vision. But we are living in a season where human logic and human reasoning has Displaced God’s Vision—and thus Displaced God’s Word found in the Holy Scriptures. The definition of Displaced is:  “Take Over The Place, Position, Or Role Of Someone Or Something.”  Displaced Means That The Authority Of God’s Word—and Thus God’s Vision—has been removed in order for human logic and reasoning to take over what we see and what we say.  So what does it look like when God’s Vision has been displaced by human logic and human understanding?  I’ll Tell You 3 Things That Will Happen Without God’s Vision:

1.  We Lose Our Direction

In travel and Navigation it’s absolutely essential to have some point that never changes.  It’s Called True North.  Magnetic North changes; True North never changes. If we’re in Alabama, going True North will lead us to the same exact location as following True North in Albania.  To faithfully follow Jesus and successfully navigate the problems and traps that Satan throws at us, we need that clear sense of direction.The Direction In Our Journey With Jesus Is Firmly Rooted In The Bible And What The Bible Says.The Bible Is Our True North.

The Bible clearly tells us how to live—and live in a way that fills us with joy and peace.  But without That Vision, Solomon says that we Perish!  Do you what that Hebrew word means, I mean really means?  It means A Lack Of Restraint!  And God’s restraints aren’t in place to make us miserable and unhappy—they are there to keep us from being miserable and unhappy.

2.  We Lose Our Perspective

Remember that Perspective Is How We See Life.  That’s important because Perspective Ultimately Determines How We Live.  And here is where we find our culture—and our beloved Tribe.  Without Perspective Sin Doesn’t Look Like Sin Anymore.  It’s how one was born.  It depends on the situation one is in.  There has ceased to be a Standard—and people have lost that Perspective of what it looks like to Follow Jesus.  It’s all shaped by culture, pop psychology, and threadbare sociology.  Without The Vision We Are Without The Message And The Result Is We’ve Lost The Perspective Of Living The Life Of Holiness That God Designed For Us To Live!

3.  We Lose Our True Purpose

This is the saddest part of living Where There Is Not Vision.  Oh, we have other purposes—but it’s not our True Purpose.  We live out of a False Purpose. 

  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Blend In With Our Culture.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Point Out The Sinners And Tell Them Where They’re Wrong.  BTW—That’s The Work Of The Holy Spirit.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Protect What The Church Used To Be.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Just Survive Until Jesus Comes Back.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Feel Smug And Better Than The Rest Of The World.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Be Insulated And Isolated From The Messiness Of This World.
  • Our Purpose Isn’t To Make The Church A Comfortable Place Where We Are The Consumers.

Our True Purpose is honor God’s Message and Vision in a world that is dying. I.E., to reveal God’s Redemptive Plan for fallen humanity! Ever since Adam and Eve messed up–God has been seeking to Restore!

In this time of disaffiliation and a broken culture, hear the Good News this morning:  God Is Still Calling Samuels!  People who will hear, answer, and follow God’s Vision in order to share God’s Word!  And folks, this culture and our community needs a bunch of Samuels!  And God is calling Samuels today. He’s looking for someone who says:  Speak, Lord.  Your Servant Is Listening!”  The Hebrews were in a spiritual wasteland—The Wasteland That God Intended To Be Their Promised Land!  All because there was No Vision and thus, there was No Transforming Message. Be a Samuel!

DEAR BISHOP GARY MUELLER; an open letter

Dear Bishop Mueller and fellow servant in Christ,

I am writing to you even though the reality of you reading this is very slim. Yet, I remain hopeful you will. The call we share in Christ now compels me to speak to you about recent events in Jonesboro. To be more specific, it is the article from Arkansas Democrat Gazette by Frank E. Lockwood, dated August 2, 2022. This would have been 2 days after Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, following your Conference’s guidelines, voted to disaffiliate from your Conference and the United Methodist Church.

In your interview with Mr. Lockwood you referred to, and I quote, “I am concerned that traditional Christian orthodox thought is beginning to resemble white Christian nationalism“. To your credit, you did not directly call Jonesboro First United Methodist Church white Christian nationalists. However, sir, I kindly refer you to Leroy Jethro Gibbs Rule #39–“There is no such thing as coincidence.” The fact you made this comment the day after that congregation faithfully followed the Discipline and Conference Procedures, cannot be considered coincidence. Thus, this letter, #BishopMueller.

At the risk of sounding exactly like the fictional character, Gomer Pyle, “For Shame! For Shame! For Shame!” Now, in all fairness, I don’t know anyone from Jonesboro First United Methodist Church. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that I could learn something about them from you, Sir. Perhaps they are attempting to create and push the agenda of, in your own words, white Christian nationalism“. Yet, when I looked at the photograph of the sanctuary, it’s reasonable to expect to see skin-heads, white robes, even swastikas. I saw none of these.

#BishopMueller, you have done a terrible thing, sir. Why is it so difficult for you to allow any congregation follow in the direction that God is leading them? You speak about a “big tent” for a variety of positions in the United Methodist Church–but you belittle and demean people by “coincidentally” talking about “white Christian nationalism” who have tried to find a place under your “big tent”. May I graciously remind you of what James wrote in chapter 3, verses 10-12 (NRSVUE)? “From the same mouth comes a blessing and a curse. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

#BishopMueller, you have furthermore cast a dispersion on our Book of Discipline. Since you did not deem their meeting to be in violation of our Disciple, then they were not in violation of our Discipline. However, there are many of your colleagues who are in open violation of that same Discipline. Yet you have not, to my knowledge, cast any vituperations against them. Is it because that the Jonesboro First United Methodist Church situation is different? To call out one for following the Discipline and your Conference procedures and not another is shameful duplicity on your part, Sir.

#BishopMueller, even if your use of that term “white Christian nationalism” was not directed at those who voted to disaffiliate, your timing in using that term was, how can I say this in a way that helps you understand your error? Sir, it sucked! Forgive my bluntness sir, but you owe Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, and all United Methodist congregations a sincere “without excuse” apology. And even though Leroy Jethro Gibbs Rule #6 states “Never say you’re sorry. It’s a sign of weakness.”, he added Rule #51: Sometimes you are wrong.

And in the future, may you be treated with kindness and grace. And though I am aware many will say my words to you were unkind, yet they are full of grace. When we are in the wrong, words are unkind; for none of us like to be reminded we made a mistake. But even words of correction can be filled with grace. #BishopMueller, I assure you that my words are filled with grace because that’s what followers of Jesus do. I remain, as always,

A servant of the Lord, Jesus,
Randy Burbank

Wanting One Thing, But Doing Another

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 

Romans chapter 7, verse 15, from the New Living Translation

The news is filled with stories about conflict. From homes, communities, within nations, and between nations. Even the “Church” is not exempt from conflict. But this morning I want to bring that word closer to home. And the word I am using isn’t conflict–but Conflicted. The definition of Conflicted is “having or showing confused and mutually inconsistent feelings. Notice those last 3 words: mutually inconsistent feelings. In this morning’s passage, Conflicted is what Paul is talking about–mutually inconsistent feelings.

It’s not enough to say there is conflict. Nay! It must go deeper within each person to realize that one is wrestling between 2 mutually inconsistent feelings. For example–let’s say someone has hurt you and you refuse to forgive them. And maybe it doesn’t bother them that they refuse to forgive that person. BUT. . .one day they read Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT) Now, if they are serious about following Jesus there is more than a conflict going on. They should be Conflicted.

There are 2 mutually inconsistent feelings happening. More than feelings, it’s conflicting ideas; more than ideas–it’s between truth and THE Truth: Unforgiveness versus Forgiveness. Our “truth” (not being willing to forgive, as in this example) is in conflict with THE Truth (that forgiveness is uncondition)! If we are serious about following Jesus, the result should be that we become Conflicted! Like with Paul, we know what we should do–maybe even “want” to do it. But instead we don’t. In every issue of life there is our “truth” and THE Truth.

Until we are Conflicted we will never deal with the difference between our truth and THE Truth. And when we become Conflicted, what should we do? Well, simple! First become Conflicted! In verse 24 Paul wrote: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Thankfully for us, Paul answered his own question (and what should be OUR question) in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

Jesus delivers us from whatever it is that is Conflicted with THE Truth. He doesn’t bless our truth–but works to take away that Conflicted desire we have. And to my fellow United Methodist Institution tribal members, we should be Conflicted over what is happening. We have mutually inconsistent feelings within this Tribe. So, will you live with and in “your” truth, or will you trust God enough to take you into THE Truth? Being Conflicted is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Now we are contronted with truth versus THE Truth. Don’t allow truth to guide you to your conclusions. Instead, let THE Truth guide you and trust God with the results.

Immune

While some complain about certain “vaccines”, no one seems to be raising the alarm against being vaccinated against the Whole Gospel!

Walking Beside the Boat by R.G.Henley

These days many of us are of differing opinions about vaccines, but most of us agree on at least some of them. As I read schedules for boosters, I reach back to a message I have shared before, and from where I now stand, it bears repeating.

I remember the drill. Wake the children, get them washed, dressed, and fed, and buckle them into the car. Drive to the clinic and wrestle them out of the car while they wail about another shot, and I mumble promises of ice-cream cones or big cookies. We get into the waiting area and join the chorus of children singing the high-pitched “another shot” wail, and moms (with an occasional dad) chanting the bass “ice cream cone/big cookie” augment.

In the office we wrangle the child into a modified basket hold while a nurse gently administers a pre-measured dose of vaccine that will protect…

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Are You Ready To Be Amazed?

Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 

Acts chapter 10, verse 44 and 45, from the New Living Translation; emaphasis mine

Tell me, are you going through some difficult “hard to see any kind of favorable future” times? Are you ready to “throw in the towel”, “raise the white flag of surrender”, “knucle under”, “concede defeat”, or “give up the struggle”? At the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial hawker, I say now unto thee: “ARE YOU READY TO BE AMAZED?”

Last night I was doing my Tuesday Night Facebook Live Bible Study. We were in Acts chapter 10 and the story of what is appropriately called The Gentile Pentecost! God gave a vision to this Gentile named Cornelius to call for Peter to come to his home. Then God gave Peter a peculiar dream about sheets and a variety of critters. Cornelius responded immediate to God’s vision. Peter, on the other hand, was trying to figure out the meaning of his dream. And God interupted Peter’s “trying to figure it all out” moment when Cornelius’s entourage knocked at the door with an invitation to come to his home–and mind you–it was the home of a “Gentile”! That was a place where no self-respecting Jew would ever go! But Peter went, and he brought along his own entourage.

After they arrived at this “Gentile-Unholy-God Awful” home, Peter shared the Good News of Jesus and The Kingdom Of God. And before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit came upon and within those “Gentiles”! And that infilling resulted in the very same thing that had happened earlier in Jerusalem during the Feast Of Passover. And the Jewish believers were “amazed”, “astonished” that it was happening to these “unclean” Gentiles. And get this: They weren’t even converted Jews–they were still Gentiles!

I looked up the Greek word translated amazed or astonished. Among it’s many meanings is this: “to throw out of position, displace”. In other words, they were not expecting such a display of God’s power in the place they were at. Maybe you’ve sung the song Amazing Grace. But tell me–be honest with yourself–“When was the last time you were amazed, astonished, thrown out of place by the display of God’s Grace and Power?” The synonym that should be used (but seems to be rarely used) is AWESTRUCK!

So, when you are stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”, don’t you dare hand over to our Enemy your hopes and dreams! Even when the obstacles seem to be unsurmountable. Grace is truly amazing when we allow God to be in control of ‘dispensing’ it, even in unlikely places! And to my Tribal Members who are facing a difficult time trying to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Institution (see, I can’t even bring myself to call it a church anymore!) don’t you dare “Say Uncle” and give up on God’s Vision to bring into our messes, another Great Awakening! Allow yourself to be displaced from what seems to be an unfavorable outcome and get ready to be Amazed!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

The Lost Art Of Disagreeing

39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 

Acts chapter 15, verses 39 and 40, from the New Living Translation

The book, The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, was written over two millenia ago, but it is still read and studied. And it shows! But there has been an art that appears to have been both lost and forgotten. It’s The Art Of Disagreeing. And this shows as well. How should we handle those moments when Disagreement happens? Well, there’s something about this in The Bible, and in particular, the book we call Acts. Paul and Barnabas had a shared history. Here is is in a nutshell:

  1. Barnabas gets the apostles to accept that Paul had indeed been converted and was accepted by the apostles. (Acts chapter 9)
  2. Barnabas enlists Paul to help to teach the new followers in Antioch. (Acts chapter 11)
  3. God calls Barnabas and Paul to share the Good News in other places, and the church there blessed and sent them. (Acts chapter 13; note how they were identified at first: Barnabas and Saul/Paul, indicating that Barnabas is the team leader)
  4. It is Paul and Barnabas who go back to Jerusalem to settle the issue about circumcision. (Acts chapter 14)
  5. It is Paul and Barnabas who agree to return to all the places they had been to check up on the followers there. (Acts chapter 14)

And it is at this point when a Disagreement erupts between the two. Not just any ol’ Disagreement, but a SHARP Disagreement! It was so Sharp that this team that had worked so well together, went separate ways. Can’t speak for you, but I would say this was a seriously big Disagreement. Ever had that kind of Disagreement with someone or a group? Maybe it was with your best friend–and you became fiends instead of friends. Perhaps it happened in your family. Maybe in a club or group you were in; perhaps at work; perhaps at church. Wherever it happened, the results are very similar. Harsh words were spoken. Suspicion went wild.

And then the rest of the world heard all about how the friend became the fiend. But what if we simply followed the example of Barnabas and Paul? What if we went our separate ways without talking maliciously about the other? What if we focused on our daily walk with Jesus instead of the Disagreement? Does being angry and bitter contribute anything positive? Remaining focused on the Disagreement serves only to keep the wound open and festering. And who knows? If we simply allow the other to go one way and you another, eventually you might become friends again. But even if that doesn’t happen, at least you will be free of the anger and bitterness.

And now to my United Methodist Tribe; the time has come for our Barnabas and Paul moment. Our Sharp Disagreement isn’t doing either side any good. And this Sharp Disagreement is doing great harm to the work of The Kingdom of God. Allow the other side to go in peace and with grace. Then focus on what God is wanting from you and what He has for you to do. Tell you what, whether your Disagreement is with another person or with the UMC–let’s have a good ol’ fashion funeral. Bury that Disagreement and let’s move on. I leave you this morning with some sound advice from an old Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel. It came after a Disagreement between the Sanhedrin and some followers of Jesus:

“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

Acts chapter 5, verses 38 and 39, from the New Living Translation

Not Exactly What I Had Planned

We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps.

Proverbs chapter 16 verse 9, from The New Living Translation

Lately I’ve been sharing about changes and hopefully some thoughts that will help others facing changes in their life. This morning, yours truly, is about to face some significant changes. And this is not exactly what I had planned. You see, I had planned to go on serving as pastor and preacher until I was about 68 years old. By the way, I’m 66 right now. Then I would find a nice little place to “retire”. After all, 50 years of doing this would surely be more than enough. Right? Haven’t I earned my peace and quiet by then? I had planned to preach for those who were on vacation or who were sick. But pastoring wasn’t in my plans. So God had a really big belly laugh. So what changed?

Last night the second of the 2 churches I served unanimously voted to begin the disaffiliation process from their Annual Conference. Both congregations had decided to explore a new future for them. This leaves me with my own options:

  1. Stay a United Methodist pastor, but later this year be moved to “somewhere” because the Annual Conference would not allow me to stay at a non-United Methodist congregation.
  2. Surrender my UMC credentials–but what happens to my pension fund?
  3. Retire earlier than I had planned and seek that illusive “peace and quiet”, and leave these precious congregations without a pastor.
  4. Retire from the UMC but then seek a new way to serve God in a new Tribe.

So you can clearly see, none of these are exactly what I had planned. Ever had your plans disrupted? More than disrupted, perhaps your plans (like mine) have EXPLODED, and there’s debris lying everywhere. What does one do in this situation???? We do the Proverbs chapter 16 verse 9 thing. We look to God for Exactly What He Has Planned For Us! This is true not only for cumbling Tribes/Denominations; but in every aspect of our lives. Every step of my now different plan is carefully designed by God. So much for peace and quiet! Instead I have been offered the opportunity for peace and hope! Father/Daddy, you can quit laughing now at my plans. I am an older version of young Samuel: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”

We plan the way we want to live,
but only God makes us able to live it.

Proverbs chapter 16 verse 9, from The Message