Well, here I am again, thinking about Lazarus–again. Yesterday I was thinking about him; and today–well here I am again. But The Spirit has me thinking about something different this morning. It’s about how Lazarus looked AFTER Jesus called him out from the grave. I know, today when people are buried their loved ones want either their favorite clothes or something brand new. But that’s not the way they did it back then. It seems the Hebrews brought with them more than Egyptian gold. They brought back some of the Egyptian burial practices–you know–the one of wrapping the body.
I still remember watching as a child “The Mummy” staring Boris Karloff–not the pitiful and pathetic remakes of modern cinema. If it came on today, I might just watch it again. That was quite the scene when The Mummy came back to life. Even in black and white, it was something to see. And this is what got me to thinking–about our culture and the church today. Just as there are brain-dead Zombies walking among us–they are a lot of Mummies walking around in grave clothes, too.
In politics, the Democrats are all wrapped up with Trump. The Republicans are all wrapped up with Biden, Harris, and Pelosi. Some are all wrapped with with the past. And others are all wrapped up with entitlement. And the church? Well, I can only speak for the United Methodist Institution (UMI). The Progressives are all wrapped up with disdain for conservatives. And the Conservatives are all wrapped up with disdain and disgust for Progressives and disobedient Bishops. Wrapped up in how much some Conferences are demanding to release the property.
And the more we rant and rail against another–the more tightly those grave clothes become. And without even realizing it, we become “The Mummy”! All of this vociferation only adds more and more wraps of cloth around us–and it keeps us from being the person Jesus died on the cross for to make possible. Though I wish the Progressives of the UMI would listen to me and stop blaming us for the problems–I doubt they will. So, let me speak to my fellow Conservatives.
Please, please, pretty please! Stop ranting about those disobedient Bishops and Conferences! You’re only beating a dead horse and not accomplishing anything. I challenge you to remember that Jesus is calling us out of the grave. But Jesus doesn’t want us wearing those grave clothes. We need to be unwrapped so that we can be turned loose as followers and servants of Jesus. Remember, not only did Jesus call Lazarus FROM the grave. He also commanded the Lazarus be unwrapped and set loose! Unwrap yourself from all this mishmash and step into this Next Great Awakening! Besides, you just don’t look right wrapped tight as a mummy!
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
Colossians chapter 2, verses 6 & 7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
What is your favorite place to “get away from it all”? No, I’m not talking about that place where you have to save and save or max out a credit card to get there. I’m talking about that place that is just a short walk or drive away. My “fortress of solitude” (remember Superman?) is the woods. It doesn’t have to be an enormous National Forest; just a place where there are enough trees to keep the view of the real world at bay for a moment. It is there I take a deep breath to regain my composure, or seek insights into what I should preach (or write), or simply but powerfully reconnect with my Savior. Perhaps I am drawn to the woods and trees because The Savior–my Savior, your Savior, and the world’s Savior–BECAME that Savior by dying on a rugged wood cross.
Not long ago I went for a walk in a new stretch of woods. I was not seeking to resolve any issues or find something to write about. It was one of those mornings when I just wanted to take a walk with The Savior. At the moment, I needed nothing from His hand; just to hold His hand was all I wanted. I was walking up a slight hill and I came to a level place, so I stopped for a moment just to take it all in (which is another way of saying I needed a rest). It was then I noticed it.
There was this tree I had stopped beside. Oh, I know there were lots of others trees around, but this one caught my attention. At eye level, it looked as if it were dead. Its trunk that should have been straight was bent and twisted. Obviously this tree, at some point, had encountered a severe storm and that storm had changed its shape. I also noticed that about half of its trunk was missing from near its base upwards to about 4 feet. Insects and perhaps disease had moved in after the storm that changed its shape. From my viewpoint, looking straight ahead at eye level, this tree had died and would soon fall and eventually rot away. And I also knew that process was a part of the cycle of life. This dead, decaying tree would provide nutrients for new life.
It was at that precise moment that I looked upward. I do not know what made me look up; perhaps it was The Savior who knew I was looking at the wrong part of that tree took his hands and made me look up. And I am glad He did because it changed my perspective about this twisted, bent tree. Right over my head, exactly over my head, there it was: a limb growing upward with green leaves. I am not a horticulturist by trade and I have never taken a botany class, but I knew enough to know that dead trees cannot produce green leaves. That limb was growing upward toward the sun and this happened because the tree was still alive even though at eye level it looked dead.
I took this experience as something the Savior was trying to teach me. The very first thought that entered my mind was, “The roots of this tree are still alive, so this tree isn’t dead! It’s alive!” (I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to amuse me!) At eye level there was not a single sign of life but below the surface life abounded, the roots were still working and there was still a connection in that bent and diseased tree to those roots, sending that life giving substance upward to that limb that was reaching up to the sun and producing leaves, that sign which said, “I am still alive! I am bent and damaged, but I AM alive because I am still connected to my roots!”
And this casual “for no particular reason” stroll though the woods became a classroom where I discovered an important lesson straight from The Savior. I reflected on the many storms that had happened in my own life; things which threatened to destroy me which were not my fault. I also reflected on the things I had done which allowed the insects and diseases to come into my life and start to destroy me. By the way, these “insects and diseases” are better known as “SIN”! I looked back and I knew there had been times in my life when at “eye level” I must have looked dead, to myself and certainly to others. But The Savior had another view, and that was at the roots of my life. HE is where my roots grow that holds me tight and gives me nourishment. He does this faithfully, even when I may not even be aware of His gracious work. In that bent and damaged tree, I saw my life, and in that limb reaching up toward the sun, I remembered my roots.
Paul, in writing to the believers at Colosse, gives us words to live by and certainly words to give any and all of us hope. The life of a tree is not in how straight its trunk is, but in how deep and how strong its roots are. Paul told the Colossians, and us, to let our roots grow deep in The Savior. We do this by being faithful to our private devotion times, by being faithful to worship and service as the Body of Christ, we do this by a daily persistent prayer life, and so many other ways. Our roots grow deep in The Savior when we focus on Him, His love and grace for us. And nothing makes our roots grow deeper than when we spend time at the foot of The Cross, The Cross made from a large straight growing tree. The more time we spend kneeling at The Savior’s Cross allows our roots to be stronger and deeper.
Perhaps there have been times in your life when storms, by no fault of you, have come along and bent and twisted your life. The dreams you held have now vanished like the early morning fog. The urge to throw in the towel on those dreams may be strong. If this is you right now, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” The storms do not change God’s purposes for your life. If anything, the storms you weather adds purpose to your life. Just as that tree taught me a lesson, so your life can teach others life changing lessons about the power of relationship–the relationship with The Savior because your own roots are growing down in Him.
Perhaps the disease and insects of sin have invaded your tree. You look eye level at yourself and may sincerely think that you are finished. You may feel that you have lost your usefulness in the Kingdom. If this is you this morning, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” Allow your roots to grow down into The One who still speaks those same words to every broken sinner, “I will not condemn you. I will release you to go and have a new start.” Grace and mercy are always available when we admit our inability to save our self and we intentionally choose to grow the roots of our life in Him.
And I discovered another lesson that revealed something about me that I thought I had managed to conquer, and it just hit me. (See, learning is not over just because you leave the classroom.) You may be familiar with this expression: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, God taught me a new expression: “Don’t judge a tree by its trunk at eye level.” I hate to admit it, but I must, that from time to time (and even once is not acceptable to The Savior) I judge people at eye level. I allow a bad experience, a moment of mistreatment, that eye level experience, to continue to shape my opinion of that person. I cannot see their roots, so I have to look up toward the Son and remember that there is still hope when there is still a connection to the roots. And by the way, if you have not figured it out yet, there is no way I or you or anyone can see the roots. Father, forgive me for my judgments and thank you for reminding me (again) that you are the judge, not I.
Let us pray: Father, above everything else, I want my roots to grow deep in you. I need the life giving substance of Your Spirit. Help me engage my life in those practices and disciplines that will keep me alive in You. Thanks for keeping this bent and diseased tree alive with new growth. And Lord, help me to stop making eye level judgments, not about trees, but about people. Amen and Amen!
36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas…
Acts chapter 15, verses 36 thru 40; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
As you’ve noticed, I haven’t been writing lately. It’s not for lack of material–but I’ve had what we call here “the crud”. Tests revealed I did NOT have Flu A, Flu B, Covid, Sinus Infection, nor Pneumonia. So it must be “The Crud”! All I’ve been able to do lately is preach and teach and a few other things. But writing wasn’t one of those “other” things. Well, after much prayer and medicine, this morning I am feeling a lot better. The Crud is losing, and I am gaining. And so I am back doing one of the things I love and enjoy doing: Writing! And for those who watched Tuesday night’s Facebook Live Bible Study, you’ve heard most of what I am writing about today.
Today’s passage is what has been come to be known as a Paul and Barnabas Moment. Paul wants to revisit all the churches they planted to see how they were doing—AND to make sure that what happened in Antioch wasn’t happening there. Paul wants to make sure that the Message of Grace hasn’t been polluted by adding things to Grace. Barnabas agreed AND he wants to bring John Mark with them. But Paul insists that he isn’t allowed to come—and thus the disagreement. Paul is stubborn on this issue. But so is Barnabas.
There comes a moment—a decision has to be made. The decision made was different than the first decision. The first decision was about taking or leaving John Mark. Since that decision doesn’t seem to be an option—another decision has to be made: What Now? Both men seem to be immovable on their positions. So the Holy Spirit moves with another option. They Part Ways. Barnabas goes in one direction with John Mark. Paul goes in another direction with Silas. And what about the United Methodist Church?
This moment in the early Koinonia should have been put into play at least 22 years ago—maybe longer. Sadly it wasn’t. While both, I said BOTH sides continue their rhetoric and reasons why we should stay together or why we should part ways, we have been missing our purpose and our mission. Here are the obvious reasons why it’s time to end our debating and move on, in separate directions.
We are in a Paul And Barnabas moment. In fact, we’ve been here for a long time and no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. The Paul and Barnabas Moment continues to be present, and it will never go away; until we reach the only conclusion that will work and resolve this crisis.
Not talking about this elephant in the room in the past didn’t make the elephant disappear. Ignoring anything rarely, if ever, makes it go away. And ignoring it, or choosing not to know anything about it, has made the problem worse, a lot worse.
Sometimes there are principles and truths that demand that Paul And Barnabas Moment. Some ideas, or call them beliefs, cannot co-exist together. The idea being pushed by some bishops and others that the United Methodist Church can be a “Big Tent” where there is room for our different views is flawed. The issues we are facing are so opposite that they cannot co-exist together. We need to learn the lesson from electricity. You have a positive current and a negative current. And those currents cannot exist together. See what happens when you take a live electric line with 2 wires and touch them together. Unlike magnets, theological opposites do not attract and stay together. They repel one another. That just the way it is. It’s time to admit it. And it’s time to stop blaming one side or the other.
The failure to recognize, accept, and move forward in this Paul And Barnabas moment the way they did—is doing nothing but creating tension and even more division—and it resolves nothing. Folks, the Big Tent, if it even existed, has collapsed a long time ago. UNITED METHODISTS ON BOTH SIDE, WE’RE DOING NOTHING BUT SPINNING IN THE MUD; AND IT’S ONLY DRAGGING US DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO A HOLE! And we are hurting the Witness of The Koinonia by trying to co-exist.
Everyone is making a decision on which side they are standing with. Even churches who don’t want to make a decision, have chosen which side they are standing on. Remember the lesson about positive and negative electrical wires. And while that electrical wire has a neutral wire, there is no neutral position to take here in the United Methodist. Why? It’s the nature of The Kingdom of God; and it’s the nature of our relationship with God. We are either in or out. No middle ground has ever existed when it comes to walking with Jesus!
We have reached critical mass in reality, not theory. In the realm of nuclear bombs, critical mass is a chain-reaction that results in more neutrons being generated by fissions per second within that mass than escape per second to the outside world. In other words, a deadly explosion is about to happen. And the explosion about to happen within the United Methodist Church—if it remains under that non-existent Big Tent—will leave about as many survivors as the detonation of a nuclear bomb. United Methodists, I ask each of you: Are you really willing to push that button and destroy the Wesleyan Movement? I hope not. I pray not! Say it isn’t so!!!
It is better to have that Gamaliel Solution rather than to self-destruct. Remember early in the formation of the Koinonia when all of the disciples had been brought up on charges before the Sanhedrin? They were trying to figure out the best way to deal with them. Some wanted to kill them. But Gamaliel had a different idea. We read in Acts chapter 8, verses 38 and 39: “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! I make this plea to our Bishops to implement the Gamaliel Solution, sooner than later. By doing this we can stop pointing fingers and laying blame at each other’s feet. Tell the Judicial Council to go to Antarctica, and let us depart in peace. Then we can go to either Cyprus or to Syria and Cilicia.
This is where we are, folks. It is what it is and all this caterwauling isn’t solving or resolving anything. Failure to part ways is hurtful. Please Bishops, Please! The Gamaliel Solution sounded good back then. And it sounds even better today. Let’s leave the results to God on who’s right and who’s wrong! Failure to do so is just wrong. . .just plain wrong!
So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?
Romans chapter 6, verses 1 and 2; from The Message (Msg)
Being a pastor, I know something about this “change of address” thing. Today, it’s not a big thing. Go online, notify whomever, fill out a form, and PRESTO! The address has been change! But at the risk of sounding old I will say, “Back in the day, we had to fill out a form with the post office, and then write letters to those others who sent us mail notifying them of our change of address.” Moving isn’t easy. I still remember to this day what the late Bishop Sanders would always say before the reading of the appointments: “When you move, take everything! Take the piano and the dog!” Oh, one other thing he would say: “And don’t go back!”
Why all these random thoughts about moving and change of address? Before one is about to leave their old home or apartment, they make one last round to make sure that they haven’t left anything behind. But when it comes to following Jesus–it takes a complete break from what use-to-be and step into what-it’s-going-to-be. We cannot carry our old baggage with us if we are truly following Jesus. As a matter of fact, we can’t take anything with us from that old address! Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Alas! We have too many preachers and teachers who do not believe that God wants us to make a complete break with our old life. And these apostate teachers and preachers are leading folks into the life of Deception! Yes, I called them Apostate! Like Horton the Elephant, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant!”
Teaching and saying that you can still do the things you use to do and still be a Disciple of Jesus is akin to an addict who says: “I’m not an addict anymore. Although from time to time I still allow my addiction to control me. But I’m a follower of Jesus, so that doesn’t matter anymore.” Grace forgives us of our sins–but Grace Never Sanctifies Our Sins! Yet there are so many who have been taught that this is how it works; especially within the LBGTIQ community.
To be a follower, I mean a REAL follower of Jesus is disruptive! It’s the call and life of leaving everything else behind. It’s not always easy to leave the old address. And the temptation to “move back” to that old house is very real–and often very powerful. But the same Grace that invited us to move away from that old address and into this New Address, is the same Grace that is available to help us from that temptation to go back to that old home. God’s definition of “sin” hasn’t changed; nor will it ever! But thankfully He is always here to help us to keep moving forward–and to help us from wanting to move back to that old address. You just can’t carry that old baggage from our old life and follow Jesus. You just can’t! And that, my friends is the best news ever!
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be. Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.
Acts chapter 8, verses 39 and 40; from The Message (MSG)
So, has the Spirit ever grabbed a hold of you and taken you somewhere else? Maybe you remember this story. It’s known as the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Imagine, if you will–that you are that Eunuch. You’ve just been baptized and you’re so excited. Imagine, it just so happened that you met Philip who just so happened to understand what he had been reading. You’re so thankful for that “accidental” meeting with Philip. And just when you’re about to ask Philip some more questions–POOF! He’s gone! But that didn’t dampen the Ethiopian’s joy!
And to think, all this happened because of a single event. Jump back to verse 26: Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” You wouldn’t have found that road in any travel guide of the time. Well, after all–it’s desolate! Yet, it’s to that exact place that God sent Philip. What Philip did not see, nor could he see, was what God alone could see. Someone needed The Good News. And Philip agrees even though he doesn’t have a single clue why. Remember, God didn’t tell him WHY he needed to go there. Just that he needed to BE there.
This is one way that The Spirit grabs hold of us. To simply and gently point us in another direction. It may not have been the direction of your choice. And it may not be where you think you should be. Nonetheless, Philip knew he had been grabbed by The Spirit. So off he goes along that desolate road. And when Philip discovers WHY he’s there–and does what The Spirit tells him to do–then The Spirit grabs hold of him again–and he literally is taken from one place to another in an instant! You know, like from the Starship Enterprise’s Transporter Room. That’s another way The Spirit grabs hold of us.
Whether He needs you simply to walk along a desolate road until you “accidentally” find another person–or if He needs you to uproot from where you are to where He wants you to be–He has a purpose. It’s up to you and I whether we accept that assignment, or not. When we are grabbed by The Spirit, it’s not the time to analyze–rather it’s the time to allow Him to take you to where He wants you. It seems to me that a lot of folks want do to the grabbing–holding on to what they want. But that never works. Why did The Spirit grab hold of Philip? Simple! He knew Philip was willing. Are you willing?
2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” 4 Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” 6 And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”
Matthew chapter 11, verses 2 thru 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
What Are You Doing? That’s the question a mom asks her child as she’s reaching for the cooking jar, or as her son has permanent markers about to become the next great artist on the wall of the hall. Or it’s the question a wife asks her husband when she catches him looking on Facebook Marketplace at motorcycles. It’s a question about desire and intent. And it’s a question that all of us really need to spend a long and deep time thinking about: Desire and Intent.
If you overlooked today’s passage, please go back and read it; if you did read it, read it again! John the Baptist, who was in prison. . . John is in a dark place–literally and it seems also spiritually. Two of his disciples visit him and he sends them on a mission: Go find my cousin Jesus and ask Him: Are you really the Messiah or should we go looking for someone else? I find this story to be another one of those I classify as This Gives Me Some Hope story! I mean, if the man Jesus called the greatest one who ever lived struggled with doubts, then there has to be hope for me, too.
So off they go on their Mission. They find Jesus and present Him with John’s question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Now, I would call this a Yes Or No question. Many times when I ask a Yes Or No question I get a “War And Peace” answer. Look, just answer my question Yes or No; that’s all I need from you. I don’t need to hear a Macbeth soliloquy, thank you very much. Jesus could have answered their question with a simple Yes. But He didn’t.
Instead, Jesus says much more; and it’s a great thing that He did: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” See and hear the power in Jesus’ answer. It’s not a Yes Or No. It’s all about what He is doing! He knew Cousin John needed more than a simple Yes Or No! He needed assurance that would build up his confidence.
The Question about Messiah is more than a one word answer. It’s about what The Messiah is doing. And it’s also a question about us and directed toward us. The question Jesus is asking us isn’t: “Are you a Christian?” The question that He is asking, and by the way, so is the world, is “What are you doing?” Are you mad at what is happening in the world? Are you mad at what is happening in the United Methodist Institution? Disappointed? Fearful? Worried about the real estate of your church? If so, then it’s time to do what the GPS does when we miss a turn: It’s time to recalculate!
What are you doing? If you are serious about being a disciple and follower of Jesus, (notice I didn’t say if you are a Christian) then you and I should be doing the very same things that Jesus was doing when John the Baptist sent his question to Jesus. “the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” We need to focus on where people are hurting, where people are broken, and the places that desperately need The Good News.
So, What Are You Doing, Right Now? Make sure it’s what Jesus is doing Right Now! Oh, one more thing for my fellow Wesleyan Tribe. Don’t overlook Verse 6: And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” Don’t worry about things like money and buildings. Just remember what Jesus added to His answer to Cousin John: “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”
43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”
Matthew chapter 12, verses 43 thru 45; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Don’t you dare leave the United Methodist Church! You heard me right! Don’t you dare leave the United Methodist Church! Did I just upset some of you? Are you thinking: “This Preacherman has either gone bonkers or he’s been drinking the Kool-Aid of the Bishops!”Neither of these are true. My ESPN just kicked in and at least one of you are thinking: “But Preacherman! Aren’t YOU leaving? Then why tell me not to leave??? I’m confused!” Put your hackles down and hear me out. OK? Thank you!
With the slovenliness that is permeating our leadership, it is easy to want to get the heck out of Dodge. And who can blame us Traditionalist/Orthodox Folks for hurrying to abandon this thing that looks more like the Titanic than John Wesley’s vision for the Body of Christ. But then…there’s this parable of Jesus. It’s about a man who got rid of one demon, cleaned up his house, got it in order–but that’s all he did. That demon knew this, so he went back to check things out. Sure enough! It was all clean and in order–but that’s all. So he goes and gets 7 of his friends (who are also demons; I mean, who would be a friend to a demon but another demon, right?) and moves right back in. And that’s when things got a lot worse for that man. Comprende, my friends?
Sure we could just leave the United Methodist Institution and believe—wrongly believe, I might add—that we are finally free from this detritus and onerous thing. We might think we will be better off. But take into your considerations this thought: Where Will You Go? Oh, one more consideration: What are you going to do once you get there? If your only desire is to get away from the United Methodist Institution, you can achieve that desire. But what’s next? If you just leave without knowing the what’snextyou are leaving the door open for even worse of the same-ol’-same-ol’. Remember this guy in Jesus’ story. He got out of one mess only to end up in an even bigger mess.
My fellow Wesleyans, this season of discernment is another one of God’s blessings to us. We have the opportunity to do more than just leave, we are being gifted by God’s Grace to become a part of renewal and revival across our land. To use an old term: Another Great Awakening! Whether you choose to become part of the Free Methodist, Wesleyan Methodist, Global Methodist, or become independent–do so with the faith, hope, and conviction that it’s because God’s Kingdom is on the move and YOU get to be a part of this mighty movement! And please understand that it may require you to let go of a lot of ideas, opinions, and other stuff–so that you can step into what God is doing right now.
Friends, not every generation and age has had this rare and beautiful moment of stepping out of the old and into this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. But we do! Step away from what was–AND step into what God is doing right now! Don’t dream about leaving! Please don’t! Instead, dream about what God is doing and where He is leading us. I am applying to transfer my credentials to the Global Methodist Church–not because I’m sick and tired of the United Methodist Institution; even though I AM sick and tired of it. No, my friends. I stepping into a fresh and new movement of the Holy Spirit! I have been doing more than just discerning about leaving the United Methodist Institution! I’ve been discerning what God is wanting from and for me and where that is going to happen! I’m getting in on the ground level and am excited to be a small part of seeing this movement form and grow! You can just leave, or you can step into another Great Awakening!Your choice!
Here’s something to think about today. Did you know that 180 parts per million of hydrogen cyanide is considered lethal? And that exposure to 135 parts per million of hydrogen cyanide can be lethal after 30 minutes? That’s parts per million! Imagine a pile of 1 million grains of sand–and then you take out 180 grains of that sand and put it in another pile. Then compare to two piles. Not much there, is it. Now imagine a room with 999,820 molecules of good ol’ healthy air. Then someone adds just 180 molecules of hydrogen cyanide. What happens next? Your next of kin is planning your funeral.
Now, why all this talk about chemistry? Well, I’ve been thinking again. Who would have thought? And I was thinking about sin. No! Not me sinning! I can do that without even thinking! I was thinking about the effects that sin has on all of us, myself included. You see, when I talk about sin, I’m talking about my problems, too. It’s all around us. And it’s even within us. And to pretend something we do or want isn’t a sin? Well, remember that even 135 parts per million of hydrogen cyanide is lethal after 30 minutes of exposure. And though Jesus used the symbol of leavening in talking about the Kingdom of God, Paul also used the symbol of leavening when it comes to allowing sin to become acceptable in The Body of Christ.
6 Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. 8 So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians Chapter 5, Verses 6 thru 8; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Some of you readers may think that I am about to take aim and unload the clip at the Progressives. And I easily could do just that. But then–there’s that 135 ppm thing. It doesn’t matter if one takes the Orthodox view of the Bible or the Progressive view of the Bible. Sin is sin is sin. And it doesn’t matter which camp you are in–sin is always lethal. It keeps us from being who God made us to be–In His Image. And to my more conservative friends, using the Sacred Scriptures to justify your beliefs and opinions on things like women and racism and politics? Who use the Sacred Scriptures to judge and condemn those who don’t agree with you? Remember just 135 parts per million is lethal after 30 minutes.
And to my Progressive friends–remember sin doesn’t care which camp you reside in. Promoting that certain things in the Sacred Scriptures are no longer a sin–remember 135 parts per million is still lethal. Whether it’s promoting that all forms of sexuality are blessed by God, or saying everyone gets into heaven, or that the Resurrection is only an idea not a reality–sin is sin is sin is sin. Sin doesn’t need us to define it! Sin is defined by the appropriate application of The Entire Bible. Notice, I said application not interpretation! Sin exists because of Satan. We can rationalize and justify anything we want. And promoting it within the beliefs and practices of the United Methodist Institution–or any other denomination or tribe–is the same thing as adding 180 molecules to 999,820 molecules of good ol’ healthy air. It’s deadly!
Among my fondest childhood memories was Saturday morning watching cartoons. But some “social influencers” say that those cartoons were too violent. Excuse me! I’ve seen the mayhem that Bugs Bunny inflicted on the likes of Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tasmanian Devil, and Yosemite Sam. I’ve watched every trick and trap Wile E. Coyote tried to set. And do you know what? I’ve never tried to order anything from Acme. In all my comic books, I never saw an ad to get one of the infamous Acme catalogs. And now that we’re in the age of the Wacky World Web–I haven’t Goggled Acme or ordered missiles, or dynamite, or rockets, or cannons, or even anvils. And I never shot someone like Elmer, or knocked someone out with a hammer like Bugs. Must be something bad wrong with me since I didn’t do all of that. Now, I have to admit that there are plenty of people I would have loved to have given them a good ol’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of their heads. But amazingly, I’ve even managed to keep from doing that; though some days are harder than others.
And my kids absolutely loved the Scooby Doo cartoons. And this leads me to today’s rant. So fasten your seatbelts and remain seated until the turbulence is over. The newest Scooby Doo Cartoon movie, “Trick Or Treat Scooby Doo” has the cartoon character Thelma (you know, she only had a single orange turtleneck sweater) coming out as a lesbian. And the writer, James Gunn, wanted this to happen as far back as 2002. Thankfully, the production company nixed the idea back then. Just wish they had in 2022. I mean, taking kids cartoons to promote sexuality. And to make it completely acceptable that teens are capable of having the wherewithal to make such a life-altering decision. This is OK, but Wile E. Coyote trying to blast to smithereens the Roadrunner is unacceptable?
Why can’t cartoons just be cartoons instead of platforms for the latest political correctness drool? This latest Scooby Doo movie is a ludicrous, farcical, incongruous, preposterous, gelastic, zany, and wacko job being done by those who think they know it all–but really ain’t got a clue about anything. Their infinitesimal minds think they are doing a service to the world. News Flash: THEY FAILED! And as if this wasn’t a big enough disaster, a large number of Twit Heads were all excited on Twitter. It’s enough to make me think about putting on a Roadrunner Costume and go out looking for Wile E. Coyote and let than anvil drop on my head! Better yet, maybe that anvil needs to drop on the Twit Heads who think this is a great moment in cartoon history. Just let cartoons be cartoons.
You can rationalize it all you want and justify the path of error you have chosen, but you’ll find out in the end that you took the road to destruction.
Proverbs chapter 14, verse 12; from The Passion Translation
Yep! I just said it! And I don’t take it back. If it’s offensive to you, then toughen up, buttercup! There are those who are demonizing the Holy Writ! I know, I know! That’s strong words; but sometimes strong words are needed. And this is such a time! It’s not a new thing that’s just happened. It’s been around for thousands of years. Heck, even the Master of the Demons tried this trick with Jesus. But it didn’t work on Jesus. And it doesn’t need to work on us, either!
For those keeping up with the soap opera known as The Schism Of The United Methodist Institution, it’s being played out in front of our eyes. Maybe I should define the contextualization (we hear this a lot) of my affirmation that Holy Scriptures are being demonized! Straight out of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, demonization means: “to portray (someone or something) as evil or as worthy of contempt or blame; to vilify“! Remember, this isn’t a new phenomena to the Twenty-First Century. Now, what I call demonization, others say, “Well, that’s my interpretation.” Or, “That’s just your interpretation.”
As part of our process for discernment and disaffiliation from the United Methodist Institution, we are required to listen to both sides of this issue. 8 days ago we heard about why the time is right and ripe to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Institution (UMI) and affiliate with the Global Methodist Church. This past Sunday we heard why we should remain in the United Methodist Institution (UMI). And their presentation was that there are just differing interpretations of Scripture–but the UMI is a Big Tent where we can all live together with those differing interpretations of Scripture. Sounds good right? But then there’s that pesky Solomon and his Book Of Proverbs. The New King James Version renders it like this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”
I realize and accept that right now we are living in a world of grays. And that for many of us The Bible is Black and White; right and wrong; holy and unholy; blessed by God and not blessed by God. Granted, it seems like there are ways to understand the same passage in different ways. For example, 1 Corinthians chapter 14, verse 34:
Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Some say this is black and white. NO Women Preachers Allowed! Now, I can see how some interpret this to mean no women preachers. But “The Law” that Paul was referencing was Roman Law! Women were not allowed to interrupt speakers in public forums. Truth Time! They could not accuse their husbands of adultery. THEY could be accused, but they couldn’t accuse. And the whole of chapter 14 is about all the chaos that was happening when the Corinthians were, as we would say, “In Church”! And those who demand that there can be no women preachers demonize the prophet Joel, and the apostle Peter:
Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.
Joel chapter 2, verse 28; from the NLT
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.
And today, because of “their” interpretations some want to change the Biblical Sexual Ethic by insisting that it’s OK to be LBGTQI and that they are just living out how God created them. For them, it’s all about love and grace. And that we can’t love them unless we also agree that God created them this way. Gray, Gray, and even more Gray. While I could excuse those who insist on no women preachers as being ignorant of Roman Law (and ignorant of the rest of the Bible), there is no gray in the Bible when it comes to sexuality and the sexual ethic:
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’
Matthew chapter 19, verses 4 and 5
Now, if Jesus correctly understood that Genesis chapter 2 is God’s design and plan, then there is no gray area left. Someone might say that Jesus was answering a Pharisee’s question about divorce. And He was; divorce was never God’s design and plan. And just like every other sin (except the Unpardonable one), it can be forgiven and the individuals get a fresh start. But to call the Biblical Sexual Ethic a gray area? And then justify that view by throwing in some other scriptures (out of their contextualization)? Well, one is demonizing the Holy Writ. And that’s just wrong. So very wrong!
And all I get for my God-warnings are insults and contempt. But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!
Jeremiah chapter 20, verses 9 & 10; from The Message
Here in our part of Alabama, it’s a bit dry; so dry that trees are begging dogs to “mark” their territory on them. We’ve been under a “fire alert” and “no burn order” for weeks. The state forestry service and local volunteer fire departments are uneasy when they see smoke. Just a small fire can turn into a major event. And all this talk about “fire” has me thinking this morning: Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire!
I’m having another thought: Where IS the fire? And now another thought: IS there a fire, in you? In ME? Look again at how Jeremiah feels: The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. What words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones for you? Seems like there’s a lot of fire in people’s words about politics and football. And there is definitely a fire in the words directed between Traditionalists and Progressives. But that’s not the fire we need. As a former firefighter, I can attest that the worst kind of fire is the one that’s out of control. And those fiery words that are being carelessly thrown around are out of control. And folks on both sides of this United Methodist Institution internal warfare need to stop it. It’s getting us nowhere and like a forest wildfire, it’s consuming and destroying us from the inside. And Satan is smiling right now!
We need fire–but not just any fire! We need the Fire that isn’t under our control–but under God’s Control! For way too long we have tried to be in charge of, call it the “narrative” of what God really wants. It’s found in all 3 camps–traditionalists, centrists, and progressives. And our culture is paying a heavy price for our attempts to control this narrative. Folks, Jeremiah got it right! He didn’t want to be God’s Messenger, to speak God Words to his culture. So he tried to hold it in–all of it–like a 50 something man trying to suck up his gut when a pretty woman walks by. But he just couldn’t hold it in; Jeremiah, that is! So, no matter what others said about him, he was going to share God Messages with the people. It was indeed a fire in him.
We need the fire to fall down from heaven. This is the only way renewal and revival will happen. And the only way it will happen is when we stop trying to get others to “get right with God” and have inside of us what Jeremiah calls a: “fire in my belly, a burning in my bones.“ It’s not a coincidence at that particular Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to set up residence in the hearts of those Disciples and Followers of Jesus, He came in the form of Fire! I want that Fire in my belly, and that burning in my bones! What about you? Are you on Fire for Jesus–or for your particular “brand” of Jesus? Make sure you want MORE of Jesus–a whole lot more! I leave you with a song:
7 Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. 8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 9 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it.
1 Timothy chapter 4, verses 7 thru 10; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
I’m stuck in a rut! Ever heard that expression? Or yet, have you ever said that? Ruts do not just happen by themselves; and rarely do they happen instantaneously. They happen by traveling the same path over and over and over. At first there are no problems at all. But every trip down that trail the rut gets just a litter deeper; well, unless it’s really muddy! But you’re (hopefully) smart enough to get my point. But then one day it rains and the storm lasts longer than a brief moment. And you start out in those clearly defined ruts, until finally–You Can’t Get Out, And You’re Stuck In The Muck And The Mud.
This scene certainly describes a lot of people–and it’s not a modern phenomena. Era, age, nor gender is excluded from being stuck in a rut. In our age and culture, people are stuck in a rut–the rut of values and morals. Feelings, alleged experts, along with pop sociology and psychology have redefined what is acceptable and unacceptable. And their miseries multiply faster than flies in a garbage can on a hot summer day. And then they wonder why they are so unhappy.
Well, maybe it is time to look back rather than forward. Back to the guidance and instructions from Paul to Timothy. Read this again: “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly.“ There’s a single word that you do not need to glance over, or overlook. That word is YOURSELF! You can’t make others become godly, but you can train yourself to become godly! To be trained isn’t a solo activity. You gotta have a trainer! Someone who knows the ropes and knows what works and doesn’t work. Think about a fitness gym. You can stand in front of one all day long, and you will still be out of shape. You can go inside, pay the membership dues, and stand inside all day long–and you will still be out of shape. That is, unless you consider round to be a shape.
Nope! You gotta get busy. Even then, you need guidance of a trainer to help you. You could be doing the wrong exercises the wrong way resulting in injury to yourself. And the best trainers are the ones who will both correct you and encourage you. The source for Godliness, or the “Training Manual” if you would, is The Bible. When taken as a whole, The Bible discloses who God is–and what He wants your life to become. And the trainer is The Holy Spirit. It’s the purpose of being a follower and disciple of Jesus–to become godly! And godliness isn’t define by our interpretations or the interpretations of others of the The Bible. And godliness isn’t found in one or two verses. Nor is it found in taking those verses out of context.
Physical fitness takes more than one or two trips to the gym. It takes a commitment to reach the goals one has set for themselves. It requires consistency, as well. So, instead of pointing out to others where they AREN’T godly, focus on yourself. Maybe if YOU were in training for godliness–you would find the peace and joy that is missing in action in so much of our culture today. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” Spiritual flabbiness isn’t attractive–to anyone. So get into spiritual training–it helps now and prepares you for eternity. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians chapter 5, verses 20 and 21; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
One of my favorite twentieth century philosophers was Harry Callahan. Remember the “Dirty Harry” movies? Yeah, that’s the one I’m talking about. He expounds upon many great philosophical ideas; my favorite being: “A man’s got to know his limitations!” This is true in many areas of life. At 66 I’m still learning that I cannot lift and move as much stuff as I did when I was 26 without paying an extremely high price. Yes, within this realm of The Third Rock From The Sun there are physical limitations for all of us. Some of them are age related–but even more are not related to age. And this morning I am speaking about those unrelated to age. And to be even more specific–just ONE! Our thinking!
Thinking can be both a blessing–and it can also be a curse. Deep thinking is very good. Shallow thinking is. . .well stupid! Have you ever considered that thinking is part of how we are created in His Image? In eternity, God’s Thinking is unlimited in both wonder and power. And us here on earth? Well, there are limitations. And dismally, it’s often the wrong things that affect our thinking.
Now hear this: You are in charge of what affects your thinking! Lots of things you don’t have control over. But thinking? It’s all yours! Ordinary thinking is affected by things like money, fear, relationships, despair, hopelessness, the stock market, politics, the news, pride, selfishness–in short–everything that is attached to this orb called earth! We cannot avoid the negative stuff that happens. And yes, Virginia, life can be and is often unfair. Now, all this rubbish, waste, and refuse can limit our thinking. But it’s up to you how much it influences you. And how much it influences you determines the outcomes and consequences of your thinking.
But what if. . .I said WHAT IF when all that hogwash tries to wash over us we chose to Think Great Thoughts? The Great Thoughts are those Thoughts that are focused on God and His Thoughts! WE are limited. No good news here! But God is UNLIMITED! And that’s Good News for us. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he gives us a great model to follow. Read verse 20 again–this time slower: “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.“ Now that’s Great Thinking! Instead of thinking like you’re thinking, how about thinking about the Glory of God. And remember that you are made in His Image. Allow the Great Thoughts about the Glory of God to flood you mind. Thinking, and How you Think in response to life as it happens. . .well it’s really important for you, and to your world. I leave you with this passage:
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Proverbs chapter 23, verse 7; from The King James Version (KJV)
2 One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.
Acts chapter 13, verses 2 and 3; from the New Living Translation
Any given moment of every day–you are either in motion or you are in a movement. Think about this definition of Motion: the action or process of moving or of changing place or position. In other words, something is moving. When I think of Motion, I think about a rocking chair. There’s motion in a rocking chair. Am I right? Well, of course I am. But where does that motion take you? Well, when you stop rocking, you’re still where you started. Capeesh? Motion, but going nowhere. Or think about a playground swing. Lots of motion going on. Right? But when the swinging stops you’re right back where you started. Well…unless you fell off or jumped out of the swing. Motion happened, but you really didn’t go anywhere. Ever heard the expression: “Going through the motions”? It describes life that is dull, drab, and empty.
But what about a Movement? Here’s the definition of Movement: abundance of events or incidents. With a Movement things are happening–and often at a rapid pace. Right now I’m thinking about a bulldozer! Yes, I am a man! Now there’s some Movement! When it’s done with it’s work–the landscape changes when there’s movement with that bulldozer! It just isn’t the same. It can’t be the same. I can’t speak for you, but I can, and will, speak for myself.
I want to be a part of a movement. But not just any movement, mind you! I’m talking about that Barnabas and Saul moment you just read about. If doing what you’ve always done is still leaving you bored and a bit empty–if all your motions (you know, all the things you’ve been doing to have a better life) you’ve gone through is leaving you with the same scenery, I would suggest–Nay! I urge and beseech thee by the mercies of God to stop going through the motions and get involved with The Movement Of The Holy Spirit!
Remember my analogy of that bulldozer? The Movement of the Holy Spirit that is happening all around us even as I write, is intended and designed to change our scenery. Church as usual is going away. Church as usual has a lot of motion but it’s not changing the landscape. But I sigh and say Alas! Some people want the motion more than the Movement! Not me! Ever heard of this thing called motion sickness? A lot of folks, and way too many churches are suffering from motion sickness. The sad thing is that some don’t even realize it.
But I’ve never heard of a condition called Movement sickness! That ought to tell you something right there!!! If you will allow me a bit of literary license, I want to say: Choose today! Choose right now whether you will embrace motion or movement! If motion seems better to you, then own it! But as for me and my house, we choose The Movement! So make up your mind! But don’t be surprised if the landscape changes and business as usual goes away–if your choice is The Movement.