Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
Psalm 143, verse 10; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
This morning is one of those morning’s I don’t like! No, the coffee pot didn’t fail me, thank God! Yesterday afternoon was busy for me. I packed my bags for a trip I don’t want to make. My wife Debbie’s cousin, Michelle, is in a hospice center in Auburndale, Florida. She is dying from a rare and rapidly advancing form of cancer. We are leaving this afternoon for that 12 hour trip to be with the family. A little background here. Michelle’s Dad, Wiley, has been and is more of a Dad to Debbie than her own Dad. So Wiley’s daughters are more like sisters to her. So they are like sisters-in-law to me. We just need to be there.
We are in a very hard moment of life. And though I am “just” an in-law, some may say “outlaw”, they are my family, too. And their friends are our friends. I’m trying to process all this pain, and yes some anger, and it’s. . . well it’s just plain hard! So I’m reminding myself that sometimes life IS hard. It’s the nature of this fallen world we all live in. And even after 66+ years of living here, I still don’t like it.
And is it OK with you if I’m honest with you? Well, I’m going to be honest with you, like it or not! I am struggling right now. More than struggling, I’m in a quagmire. Now I’ve got a choice: I can wallow in this quagmire like a pig wallows in mud. Or–I can do something different. Being covered in this muck isn’t desirable for me. I’m not the brightest person in the world, but I sure ain’t the stupidest either. So, the only option is to do something different. And what would that be? I’m so glad you asked me this question.
I can do what the most prolific song writer ever did when he found himself in the mud hole of life. “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.“ I know this thing called cancer isn’t His Will. Sorry fundamentalists and Calvinists. Not everything that happens in life is God’s will. It’s OK to disagree with me on this point. But you’re still wrong. And I am going to be blunt with you: I haven’t a clue as to what God is teaching me in this hard and difficult season!
But there is something I do know. I know that God is Good! I know that He loves me. I know that He is faithful to me. He proved it to me on that Cross and a gazillion times since then. And I know that whatever it is He is teaching me, it’s good, good for me, and will bring Him honor and glory. What am I doing right now? Checking the list of things we need to pack, making sure they will get into the car, and I am saying the very same prayer David did when he was in the muck and mire of life as it happens: May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.God, I sure need some firm footing right now! And if you can spare the time, please pray for our family and that I will be a good student of Jesus–paying attention to Him and applying what He is teaching me!
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!
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
This week’s episode of “Oh, Lord! It’s Monday!” is all about being STUCK! As an adjective it means “unable to move, or set in a particularposition, place, or way of thinking“. So, let’s use it as an adjective on this rainy Monday morning. So, have you ever been STUCK? Maybe it was in an elevator; or in a room; or in traffic; or maybe mud? I know about that last one. I was about 20 when I bought a new Datsun truck. It was my first brand new vehicle. About the same time I was introduced to riding dirt bikes.
Just about a mile from the house was LaGrange Mountain. It was filled with great riding trails. One day, I had this dumb idea. “I’ll take my truck instead of the dirt bike!” Bear in mind it was a 2, not 4, wheel drive. I knew there were some hills it wouldn’t conquer, but there were some other trails. So off I went with my dumb idea. About 4 miles in I came upon a mud hole. I stopped, looked at it, and decided which side of the mud hole I should traverse. I was wrong. And I was STUCK! To make matters worse, it was in the middle of the week, there wasn’t anyone else out here. As I was commiserating about my dumb decision and dreading walking out, I heard a dirt bike! God sent me someone!!! Hallelujah! God foresaw my poor, make that DUMB decision and prompted another person to decide to ride his dirt bike that day! He stopped, we talked, and then he went back to get his truck and I was UNSTUCK! Needless to say, I didn’t try that again!
More than vehicles, elevators, and doors–we can get STUCK! Maybe it’s that job you’re STUCK in. Maybe it’s that home you’re STUCK in. Maybe it’s that marriage you’re STUCK in. Maybe it’s that mindset you’re STUCK in. Maybe it’s that you’re STUCK spiritually. You can’t move and it seems that no amount of effort you put into being UNSTUCK, you’re STUCK there like my Datsun truck. And if on this particular Monday you are feeling STUCK, then God has sent you this edition, just like he sent me that man on a dirt bike. Are you ready to get UNSTUCK? Well, here’s your own personal dirt biker coming your way!
You CAN’T get UNSTUCK! How is that going to help you? I’ll be glad to tell you. Even though you DON’T what it takes to get UNSTUCK, God does! All you have to do–NEED to do–is quit trying and begin trusting. For STUCK people, God has a very specific promise and process. It’s found in Isaiah chapter 42, verses 18 and 19:
“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present.
I’m about to do something brand-new.”
From The Message
In the case of my dumb decision, I needed to forget about it. I couldn’t go back in time and change that decision. All I could do–all I could hope for–was to be alert to the sound of someone else heading my way. What you need to do–what you MUST do–is stop trying and begin trusting what God tells you. Don’t limit the way that God will get you UNSTUCK! It may not be instantaneous–and if it’s not–it will be a process. And in His Process, you will find that His Grace is all you need. Are you still STUCK? Wait! I hear someone coming! And He’s coming for you!
When we trust God to be there to help us get UNSTUCK, then we can say: Good! Lord It’s Monday! What shall we do together?