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!

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

What’s Your Synergy?

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians chapter 3 verse 14 from the New Living Translation

Think about this: Energy produces synergy; and synergy produces energy! Perhaps I should take a step back and share the definition of synergy: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Maybe I’m the only one this morning thinking about that word synergy. But YOU, think about it. Synergy is producing the energy that keeps your house with light, a/c, and such going. Think about hydroelectic energy. Water flows throw a turbine, the turbine spins against that thingy, and electricity happens. Or think about your vehicle. The gas (or diesel as the case may be) in the fuel tank is drawn up to the engine–then that computer kicks in pulling all the components together–and off you go to wherever. Remove just one part of these processes and the energy ceases to exist. What does this have to do with The Kingdom Life? Good question! Great question!!!

There is a synergy in every person; it comes from seeking and wanting life as they want it to be. That’s the point: Wanting life as they want it to be. They know they can’t get there by themselves so they seek other sources to cooperate with them to that goal. That energy forms synergy and that synergy forms more energy. When it comes to the human life and human heart, where we seek cooperation or help matters. For that source ultimately determines success or failure.

Some are seeking cooperation with the world’s value system; allowing the world to tell them what they need. It might be money, power, fame, or even sex. We see this synergy happening within my beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church. Many believe that the Bible needs to be changed–or at least how we see the Bible–so that some might achieve what they believe will give them life. Cooperating with the latest pop psychology, the latest cultural trends is what many in our leadership believes will produce that synergy and energy that will reduce decades of decline.

The synergy that will produce the energy for the life we are created for is as Paul declared in today’s passage: through Christ! The synergy is found as we cooperate with Him through The Bible and with The Holy Spirit. For this synergy to work we must cooperate with God. You see, God doesn’t cooperate with us. He works ON us; IN us; and THROUGH us–never, never does He COOPERATE WITH us. WE cooperate with HIM! HE shows us what we need to achieve real and abundant life. And it’s all found in The Bible. But we also need the Presence and the Power of The Holy Spirit! Without The Spirit we end up with the form, but it’s void of the substance.

So, if you are finding your life missing some things–maybe even void of life–then do what Paul did–develop the synergy by cooperating WITH HIM that creates the energy which in turn produces the life, the ONLY life that fills us with peace, joy, and hope. And so much more. So VERY much more.

THE TIMES, THEY BE A CHANGIN’!

The picture is our last Thanksgiving with Dad, November 25, 2021

Life is full of changes; it just the nature of life. We can embrace them or fight them; accept them or resist them. Yet, change still happens. Yesterday was another reminder of how life changes. Yesterday I went back to Dad’s home to pick up some of the things he and Mother left me. To my new readers, allow me to give you the backdrop to my painful activities yesterday. My Mother died May 23, 2018; and my Dad died this year; January 14 to be exact. Debbie and I were with him, at his side when he slipped from the bonds of this life and into eternity. And I still miss him. I still catch myself reaching for the phone to call him.

And as I entered that house, it all came back to me–how much I still grieve. But this is another of the many examples of how life changes. Our Expedition (extended length) and my utility trailer were full. More than items, there are memories and stories that go each one. Such as that bedroom suite; my Mother’s parents bought it when they were young. In fact, it was one of the first “store bought” bedroom suites in their little community. People came over just to see and admire it. Then there is Dad’s table saw. He used it to make everything from little projects to shelves to baby craddles. I credit these memories (and perhaps my grief) for awakening me at 1:12 a.m. and not allowing me to go back to sleep.

And I am not alone. Perhaps there have been some changes in your life. They may be fresh, a few months old, years old, or even decades old. But the memories of those changes are still a part of who you are. And this “change” can, and often does, fill us with grief, anger, fear, and uncertainty. And in the darkness of this morning, the Holy Spirit gave me this passage–and I want to give it to you who are experiencing “changes”

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah chapter 43, verses 2 and 3; from the New Living Translation

And for my United Methodist friends, sisters, and brothers in Christ, we are facing changes. Like my memories of the items I brought to my home yesterday, you have memories in the United Methodist Church. Many of them are great and wonderful. And you may even long for things to be the way they used to be; but change in happening! And like any change, it is unsettling, perhaps making you fearful–or even angry. We may not even want things to change. You could even deny that change is happening. But “not wanting” and “denying” will not stop it. It feels like deep waters, raging rivers, even a fiery furnace. So, how can you and I approach AND deal with these changes? The best way is to remember these words of Isaiah. His “Tribe” was facing serious and what could be devastating changes. Be the prophet reminded them–and because we have The Bible–he reminds us.

  • He will be with us in the changes
  • He will not let us drown
  • He will not let us be consumed
  • He is with us and will stay with us until we see His glory

God is with us taking step for step with each of us along these changes. So, my friends, be strong and courageous. Don’t give up and don’t lose hope! God has His Best in mind for us; and it will bring Him the Glory! And whatever else changes, this will never change!

OH LORD, IT’S MONDAY! iT’S A WON’T OR WANT DAY!

Resistance to change seems to be an inherited trait among the human species. Not all change is good–but when God brings about change–it is always good. The results of those God-initiated changes create within us one of two responses: Won’t or Want! Ain’t the English language–well–confusing. Two words that sound exactly the same–but their meanings are polar opposites. We can desire the changes God is doing–or we can refuse to be a part of the changes God is doing.

Not desiring–or WON’T–what God is doing compounds the feelings of dread, angst, despair, and all their cousins make every day a pain to the point that we become someone other than who God created us to be. But if we desire–that is, WANT–what God is doing, it makes every day an adventure–challenging adventures sometimes–but an adventure nonetheless. Though we may “like” who we are at the moment–God sees much more. And to bring that out, God initiates changes to bring out who He sees.

When God initiates change, the purpose is always to make us whole, stronger, and to transform us in His Image. To change how you feel about this week–change how you feel about the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Every moment possesses the opportunity to be more like Jesus. Open yourself up, and say to The Father: “Dad, I WANT the change that You see is necessary for me to be who I am created to be.”

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, verses 17-18, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” And when we WANT that change rather than WON’T, then we can say, “Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?”

Thanksgiving In The Changes

I know today isn’t Thanksgiving Day–but it is Thanksgiving Day that I’m thinking about this morning. I’m not thinking about all that food–but I am thinking about all the changes that are about to happen with our family. It was just a few weeks ago that Dad had to be taken to the hospital because his heart was in severe A-Fib. But Dad is a tough old bird–95 to be exact. And a couple of days later he was back at HIS home–that same home he had built in 1962. We decided to ask him if it was OK with him–after all, it’s his home–to have Thanksgiving at his house. We would do all the preparations–and he agreed. All of us realize this may well be our last Thanksgiving Day with him.

And now it appears that a big change is about to happen. For over 3 years he has been living by himself. But recent events are bringing about a change that he, nor us, wanted to see happen. Last week he fell, but he was unable to get back up, so he had to use his alert button to get paramedics there to assist him in getting back up. No injuries. Then this Wednesday he fell again–and again needed assistance to get back up. But this time he twisted his ankle–and it really hurts.

I called him yesterday afternoon to see how he was feeling. The conversation I knew that would happen one day–happened Thursday, 10 November 2021. Fighting back the tears he told me it was time for a move to assisted living. But, in his own words, “I want to hold on until after Thanksgiving.” These words are from a man who is a fierce warrior in life. He worked for 30 years in a plant, the last several years while also serving as a bi-vocational pastor, spending his vacation time going to school. When he bought the place to build his home he bought an extra lot for the garden. It fed us and many others over the years. He continued that garden into his late 70’s. And after retirement from being a pastor, he spent many years working at a local funeral home.

Last night and this morning my heart is breaking for him. In April we had to convince him it was time to quit driving. That was a horrible day! We’ve had assistance coming into HIS HOME 3 days a week–something he did not like at all. He’s been losing his independence–something no fierce warrior ever wants to do. He and I have talked about his funeral–and that really wasn’t hard at all to do. This fierce warrior has been running The Race and has kept The Faith. But this change–and at Thanksgiving–is difficult beyond even my ability to find words.

Honestly, I am dreading next Thursday. But it is supposed to be a happy and joyful day. And this dark cloud is hanging over us–trying to crush my heart. I mean, how can you even pretend to be Thankful when you know what will happen very soon thereafter? Well, this is where YOU come in to play. I know my attitude must as genuinely hopeful as Dad’s has been over many years, some of which there wasn’t much hope.

Pray for us, please! I have been so blessed to have This Fierce Warrior for 95 years. He has loved me–forgiven me–and encouraged me all the time. I know I shouldn’t be so down and out. I’ve had him longer than most sons have had their Dads. But my heartache isn’t for me–it’s for Him! For all the times he has been strong for me–now I must be strong for him! I must genuinely show thankfulness and joy next Thursday. But the only way it will happen is if God helps me. And thanks for listening to my heart this morning.

What’s Your Motto?

  • Just Do It
  • A Diamond is Forever
  • When you care enough to send the very best
  • I’d walk a mile for a Camel
  • Quality never goes out of style
  • Finger Lickin’ Good
  • With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good
  • Snap, Crackle and Pop!
  • So easy, a caveman can do it
  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
  • The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • The Quicker Picker Upper
  • We Bring Good Things to Life
  • The King of Beers
  • Fly the friendly skies
  • Because You’re Worth It
  • Let’s Go Places
  • Have It Your Way
  • I’m Lovin’ It
  • Betcha can’t eat just one!
  • When it rains, it pours
  • Taste the Rainbow
  • What Happens Here, Stays Here
  • When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight

Mottos! Yep! That’s what’s stirring up my gray matter this morning. When it comes to advertising–a great motto helps consumers to remember their product. So, what is YOUR motto? To help you tell me yours, I’ll tell you one of mine: “If you don’t like my sarcasm, don’t ask me stupid questions!”

Even our good old U.S. of A. has a motto: In God We Trust! The thing about mottos is that you gotta back it up–otherwise people just ignore or forget it. Unfortunately, with my aforementioned motto–I back it up with a healthy, sometimes an over-abundance of sarcasm. But that motto on all our currency? That thing about Trust In God? Not a good motto in these times–because it’s not backed up with action.

Before you start ranting and raving about the nefarious cesspool otherwise known as Washington D.C., know I’m not talking about that ash heap. This morning I am talking only to those who self-identify as Christian. I still remember decades ago getting emails about how Madeline O’Hare was going to the Supreme Court in an attempt to get In God We Trust removed from our currency. Now, I would have bought a plane ticket to see that, seeing she had been dead for years!

Christians want it on our currency–but it would be far better for them, for our nation, and for our world if it was just removed from the currency! There, I said it! But before you stop reading this morning’s pensiveness, read what is next. It would be far better for us, for our nation, and for our world if you have a motto that you embody with your attitudes, words, thoughts, and actions.

Yes! we need to Trust In God That’s a no-brainer! But more than saying we need to Trust In God, we need a motto that shows how much we Trust In God! Forget putting it on currency and government seals. Let’s put a new motto on our ordinary, going here and there, doing this and that life. And maybe it’s time I, too, changed my personal motto to one that better suits what God is doing in my life. So, what should it be, America? Hey! I have an idea. What about this one?

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

If we adopt this as our motto it means we would have to stop looking at political parties, the hollow (and I do mean hollow, not hallowed! I said what I meant, and I meant what I said!) halls of academia, and even ourselves in order to see a real transformation in our times; and really live through the strength of Jesus! How strong is Jesus? He carried the weight of all our sins while hanging on the Cross. And somehow, as strange as it may sound to some, I believe Jesus will strengthen us to be a light that brings hope to the hopeless. Call me crazy! You won’t be the first, and I dare say, you won’t be the last!

Wha?

Garmin. Waze. Tom-Tom. Google Maps. et.al. All of these GPS based systems promise to get us to a destination we are looking for. Right? But! Have you ever had the experience of using one of those GPS things and it tells you You Have Reached Your Destination only–it’s not the place you’re looking for? Yes or No?

That you are looking for a place you really want to be–so you enter it into your GPS. It does its calculating and off you go. You turn left. Then turn right. Then turn left. Then turn right. Go 5.2 miles. You hear the glorious words, “Your destination is a quarter of a mile on your right. In 100 feet turn right. TURN RIGHT!” Then! You find yourself at a cemetery and the GPS proudly announces You have reached your destination! Wha?????

While this parable (maybe it’s happened to some of you) would make a great episode of “The Twilight Zone”, it’s an every-day-often-all-day-long experience for people today. And it’s not a GPS thing. It’s a life thing. They try to find more than a tourist attraction or great restaurant. It’s trying to find satisfaction for their life. They seek The Promise but only find a cemetery. Solomon warned us about this in Proverbs 14:12–“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” So they think, “Well, Google Maps was wrong–I’ll try Waze!” More left turns. More right turns. But they end up in the very same cemetery. What’s a person to do? Isn’t there anything that can get us to where we long to be?

I’m probably about to appear to some to be a simple-minded dolt, but if nothing in this world gives us what we long for–then perhaps we should try God’s Word–The Bible. We read in Psalms 119:105–“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” If the directions you have been following hasn’t gotten you to where you long to be, then may I suggest you turn to God’s Word–The Whole Word–And Nothing But The Word? After all, isn’t insanity defined as trying the same thing over and over expecting different results?

Surrender your life to God. Then, when the undertaker reaches that final destination, it won’t be your final destination. With Jesus leading the way, our final destination is life!

It’s Out Of My Hands–But I’m Still In Control!

Here’s one of those, call it, Inconvenient Truths: Much of life is way above our paygrade! We lack the skillsets and knowledge to handle it. Deep down we know this is true. But that craving to be in control is the impetus induces us to hold on and not let go. I’m trying to think of an analogy to describe this choice to not let go. It’s like seeing a hornet’s nest and thinking how good it would look over the mantle. So we reach out to take it down and the hornets attack. But we won’t let go because we want it on our mantle–and the stings of those hornets keep on multiplying. But we want it. Got the mental image of this? Good!

There have been, are now, and until Jesus returns, continue to be problems and botherations that we cannot fix! And for most of us–that’s the irritation and vexation, and it’s becomes that hornet’s nest. Though the pain persists and intensifies–we refuse to let go of being in control–even though it’s conspicuous that we are far from it. And if we continue that hunger and aspiration to be in control, our life will reach terminal velocity–and the resulting crash leaves us unrecognizable.

Why do we have this hankering to be in control even though we know the outcome? Blame it on Adam and Eve–Satan promised them something he couldn’t give them and that they were incapable of–Being In Control! Now that the blight and debility has been identified, what can we do? Would you believe there’s a story in The Bible about this very thing? Who wouda thunk it?

It’s in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 19, starting at verse 16. Some think it’s about the evil of being rich. Only a dolt would see it that way. It’s the story about a young man who realizes something is amiss with his life–and so he comes to Jesus. A good place to go. It’s the question about life–lasting life–enduring life–life now and life forever. The first thing Jesus tells him are the things he already knows–and also knows that aren’t really helping him.

So Jesus tells him to do one more thing–let go of your wealth and pursue God’s Kingdom. In other words–stop trying to be in control! After hearing what Jesus had to say, I love how The Message puts it in verse 22: “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

Listen to me people! We got mega-tons of problems–in politics, in the economy, in society, in our culture. Add to these, we all have issues that are draining the life right out of us. And as long as we hold on to them–and refuse to give up CONTROL–they will persist to our annihilation and the lights go out.

Give up the futility, senselessness, and ineffectuality of holding on to that illusive and imaginary thing we call being in control. Ask the Nail Scarred Hands to take it out of your hands. I commend this song to your listening:

Don’t be like that young man who refused to give up control and left the presence of the Only One who is in absolute control–with that hangdog look.

Apparently There Is!

Listen to the talk at the hair stylist or barber shop. Apparently there is. Listen to the conversations in the break room. Apparently there is. Sit down at the local liars table at the diner or fast food joint. Apparently there is. Listen to the words just about anywhere there are 2 or more people (yes, this includes the local church). Apparently there is. Someone reading this is thinking right now, “What is he talking about? A boatload of hopelessness? A superabundance of stupidity?” While this may seem to be true, it’s not what’s bouncing around in my mind–and my heart. It’s the answer to this question found in The Bible–a couple of times.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Genesis 18:14 (NLT)

Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change, much less use, the POTUS. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change our culture. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change Washington D.C. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts and minds of millennials. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts of the mega-rich. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change pastors. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change how businesses do business. I would expect to hear such things from those who are not Followers And Disciples Of Jesus. They just don’t know what The Lord can do.

But to hear this kind of balderdash and blather from those who call themselves “Christians”? Well, just call me Popeye!

If your “god” can’t use someone like President Biden. If your “god” can’t use someone like Nancy Pelosi. If your “god” can’t use someone like that discombobulation called The House of Representatives and The Senate. If your “god” can’t use someone like millennials. If your “god” can’t use someone like _________________ (fill in the blank of the stupidest person or group you know), then your “god” is way to small–and you need to change to a different “God”!

So, what if–I’m only talking to those who self-identify as Christian–instead of complaining, whining, griping, and yammering about all those “other people”, you begin praying FOR THEM rather than YALPING AGAINST THEM? What if you prayed for the peace of our nation? What if you prayed for those people to have wisdom? What if you used all that time spent bellyaching and sniveling to ask God to help them? Oh! One more thing! Make that TWO more things! What if you became the change you want to see in others? What if you became the model of HOPE rather than hopelessness?

If an old woman and an old man could have a child way beyond those child bearing years–and they did–can you imagine what WILL happen when we believe, act like, talk like, LIVE LIKE nothing is too hard for The Lord? This isn’t easy; I know! Even Jesus understood our tendency to believe more in the impossible rather than in GOD’S POSSIBLE!

Jesus answered, “What is humanly impossible is possible for God.”

(Luke 18:27 GNT)

You simply cannot be a follower of Jesus, if anything–I said ANYTHING (remember Popeye’s motto) is too hard for The Lord! If it is too hard, then, in the enduring words of the classic book by J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small! And that makes YOU the real problem, not those people!

The Three Most Important Words. . .in times like these

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

The greatest generation ever was those who fought in World War II. I would like to think that my generation was the second greatest generation. Why? We spent more time outside than inside. We had sweat beads around our necks in the summer. We could turn the right stick into a Thompson sub-machine gun. We didn’t think much about stepping in cow manure. We drank water from the hose pipe. We jumped off of bridges into creeks. Best friends could have fights and after the fight, still be best friends.

We watched violent cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, yet we never had the desire or even urge to to shoot someone or order bomb making materials from Acme. Oh! One more thing–we had the very best music! Country music was COUNTRY Music and rock-n-roll was ROCK-N-ROLL. One of our songs was “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.

And now it is 2021, and the question begs to be asked and answered: What Are The Three Most Important Words For Right Now? I have been listening, and have advanced to the level of Intermediate Noticer. Based on what is being said and shouted, here is my comprehensive yet incomplete list of what different people are thinking is the answer to the 3 most important words needed for these times. In no particular order they are:

  • We need Trump
  • We need Biden
  • Ban all guns
  • Need more guns
  • Prayer in schools
  • Bibles in schools
  • Close the borders
  • New American revolution
  • End foreign aid
  • Drain the swamp
  • More government aid
  • Congressional term limits
  • Less on defense
  • More on defense
  • Change your mind
  • Change YOUR mind
  • We need love
  • We need peace
  • We need hope
  • Have judicial reforms
  • No more racism
  • New political party (I must say this, “Really??? Aren’t political parties part of the problem??? And you want to add to the sewage?”)
  • We need kindness
  • We need determination
  • Deport all Republicans
  • Deport all Democrats
  • New moral values
  • Old moral values
  • Legalize more drugs
  • Government medical care
  • Defund Law Enforcement
  • Something, Anything, Everything

There are more to add to this list. Some “imagined” solutions are more complicated than three words. As if our world isn’t complicated enough. There are no simplistic solutions to the problems our culture and nation are facing. But. . .the solution is simple; just that simple. This list reflects groups of people–group mentalities. Group mentalities tend to produce complicated, complex, and irrelevant solutions. The answer–the simple but not simplistic answer–is found in three words:

I Need Help!

All of the fake solutions to our issues are focused on what others need to do–never on what the individual needs to SAY! To say “I NEED HELP” is to acknowledge that NOTHING–NO THING OUT THERE–can help heal our brokenness and help us navigate this total mess. If nothing OUT THERE (I refer you to the above list as being “out there”) that can help and heal us–then the answer must be UP THERE! I’m talking about the One Constant in an ever changing universe and culture–the Throne of God.

To end this madness, the place to begin is with the person in your mirror–that’s YOU! To say “I Need Help” is to admit the limitations created by sin and the Hope found only when we surrender completely and unconditionally to God. My best days happen when I begin the day, end the day, and admit every moment between beginning and ending, “I Need Help!” My worst days happen when I fail to say it. My mediocre days happen when I forget to say it throughout the day.

It’s simplistic to approach life saying that others need to change. Simplistic solutions have never worked. But solving this crisis is really simple. Admit your own need for God and trust God to both change and guide YOU–not “them”! Let your words be the words of the Psalmist:

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121 (NLT)

The Great I Am!

For this Lenten Journey, I want us to look at the most profound statement ever made by Jesus while He was here in our human form.  We are going to be in John’s Gospel looking some of the “I-Am” sayings of Jesus—those moments and situations where He identifies Himself in a very specific way.

Let’s lay the groundwork for today’s passage before I read it to you.  Moses had this unbelievable encounter with God.  We call it “The Burning Bush” story.  God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and inform them that God has appointed him to lead them to the Promised Land. 

But before Moses agrees, he wants to know who it is that is sending him.  They will want to know who has sent him, so Moses poses the question:  “Who shall I tell them sent me?”  And in that moment God reveals His true Name:  I Am Who I Am!  In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh!  And God goes further with this statement:

This Is My Eternal Name, My Name To Remember For All Generations.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because without this knowledge, nothing that we look at this season will be really understood.  The first one we need to look at is from John 4:4-26 (N.L.T.)

He had to go through Samaria on the way.  Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”   Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep.  Where would you get this living water?  And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”  “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.  “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

We need be begin our journey with boldest statement ever made by a human being.  Jesus tells her:  I AM!  For what I am about to say, some would want to tar and feather me and run me out of town, but I’m going to say it.  Jesus did not say “I Am”.  Now, you look confused.  “Preacher, you just read that Jesus said I Am.” 

But Jesus did NOT say I Am—because He did not speak English.  Jesus spoke in both Aramaic and Hebrew.  So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh!  The Eternal Name of God that everyone is to remember!  Can you imagine the shock on this woman’s face when Jesus identified Himself as Yahweh?  It was a name so sacred that Law prohibited its use in public.  No human being since Moses was allowed to use that name. 

And no one dare named their child Yahweh!  Yet this is the name Jesus calls Himself.  What were the first thoughts running through her mind?  “Is he crazy?  Has he been out in the sun too long?  Is he playing mind games with me?  Is he mocking me because I’m a Samaritan?”  Whatever her first thoughts might have been, they didn’t stay long. 

Somehow she knows His words ring true, so she runs back into Sychar with the news, telling everyone she can find:  “I’ve found Him!  I’ve found Him!”  And the people may have laughed, “Who, husband number 6?”  She catches her breath, “No, no, I think I’ve found Messiah!  I just know He must be Messiah!”

I know it says she asked a question:  “Could He be the Messiah?”, but it’s not a question of doubt.  Hers is the question of hope.  And here’s the One Thing you need to remember today:

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!

Hers may have been a tarnished hope, or it may have been a secret hope that no one could see in her life.  But somehow, deep down in her heart, there must have been that hope that God would come near to her to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart. As we make our Lenten Journey, we need to know that we are going to find that same longing in our heart—to see and experience the nearness of the One, True and Living God.  And we can count on Jesus being that just for us, as He was for her!  And it is all because of The Name:  Yahweh!  Jesus is Yahweh and here’s why:

1.  He Is Yahweh Because He Looks For Us

Jacob’s Well was the place ordained by God for this woman.  He Has A Place Ordained For You, To Meet Him Face To Face, For You To Surrender Your Life To Him.  And Jesus planned it out for that moment when she would be coming to draw water.  As Jesus and his entourage arrives at Jacob’s Well, Jesus announces, “Guys, I need to stop and rest; besides it lunch time.  Tell you what, go into town to McDavid’s and get you something to eat, and bring me back a #7 combo.  I’ll just wait right here.  Now, go on guys.” 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them ahead while He stayed behind?  Well, I have and I’ve come to this conclusion.  If there had been several of them with Jesus, that woman probably would have stayed away.  But just one man there, it’s not as threatening to her.  Jesus wanted this moment with her.  He had been looking for her and the time was right. 

And He looks for us.  There are God-ordained moments where He is looking for us.  He is looking for us to have this special relationship with Him.  God wants us to have more than a mental knowledge about Him.  He longs for us to give Him our hearts.  But God-ordained moments go further than for us to become a Christian.  There are God-ordained moments to comfort us, encourage us, strengthen us, and to take us deeper into this relationship with Him.  And you never know when they will appear.  This woman came in the middle of the day; not the usual time to draw water.  And God may surprise you with ordained moments because He is always looking for us. 

2.  He Is Yahweh Because He Knows Us

Everyone in Sychar must have known this woman.  Five divorces and shacking up with another man.  They looked at her and saw someone who couldn’t keep commitments.  They saw someone who had no morals.  They saw someone whose only contribution to the community was to keep the gossip lines hot.  They saw her as dirtied and all messed up.  They saw everything that was wrong with her.  They thought they knew her.  But there was so much about her they could not see because they had made up their minds about her.  But Jesus knew there was more to her than what was on the surface. 

Only God, Only The One Whose Eternal Name Is YAHWEH Can See Into The Deepest Recesses Of The Human Heart.

He sees the secret sins we hide from others.  He knows the dark secrets we keep pushed down deep.  But He knows more, much more.  He knew what she was truly longing for, and He knows what we are longing for.  This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises.  She knew one day Messiah would come.  Though it may have been a weak hope, there was the hope that Messiah would come to save her.  Listen to your heart; your heart knows it wants to be known deeply and intimately by God.

3.  He Is Yahweh Because He Offers Us Life

At Jacob’s Well this God-Ordained moment was for one single purpose:  To Bring Real Life To This Dirty, Broken Woman!  It wasn’t an accident Jesus was there.  It didn’t just so happen that this woman appeared.  She needed life and Life is what Jesus has to offer.  Nothing Can Give Us The Life We Long For, Only Jesus.

Some people settle for a life of thrills, but there are never enough thrills.  Some settle for a life of wealth; but there’s never enough.  Some settle for a life of respectability—but they are hollow and empty inside.  This woman was looking for life through one relationship after another.  But none of them satisfied the cravings of her heart.

Nothing in this world can give you real, abundant, lasting, eternal life.  This is something only God has—Jesus is Yahweh because only HE has the life that we hunger for.  Only He Has The Life That Will Survive The Ups And Downs Of Life Here On Earth.  Only Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He does it as The Gift.  He and only He paid the price necessary to take away the dead things of our life, and put in their place Life.  It’s not just any ordinary life, but the most extraordinary life of all—His Very Own Life.

It is His Eternal Name, Yahweh and He is looking, looking for you because He knows you. He knows you need more than an ordinary life—but the most extraordinary life of all.  Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put the life of Christ in you.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here are your Next Steps:

  1. Identity Anything That May Have Robbed You Of Hope.  The news;  This controversy going on in our Tribe;  Guilt;  Some fear, named or unnamed; Crushing grief that you keep holding on to, that you never completely give over to Jesus; Feelings of inadequacy.  It’s the thing that is limiting your potential.  Once you identify it—
  2. Give It Up To Jesus.  Make it your offering to Him.  He’s not looking for only the good things to offer Him, He wants the pain, the burdens that you carry to be given over to Him.  You don’t have to keep carrying them because He carried that weight, while on that Cross! 

To Change THE Culture, Change YOUR Culture!

(Second message in current message series “How To Change The Culture”

To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!.  Hopefully last week we learned that in order for God to use us To Change The Culture, we have to become the weakest of the weakest. 

One thing that hit me is that we often operate with the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working Through God.  Allow me to explain what that means:  Working Through God Means We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And Bring Success. 

The Church is designed a different way.  Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.  I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference? 

It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon.  This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches.  It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.

Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.  Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges 6:17-32

Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.  Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”  Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree.

The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.”  And Gideon did as he was told.  Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 

When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”  “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.”  And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”).  The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old.  Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.  Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully.  Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”  So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. 

Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down.  In their place a new altar had been built, and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed.  The people said to each other, “Who did this?”  And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash. 

“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of Joash.  “He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.”  But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal?  Will you argue his case?  Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning!  If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!”  From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.

God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for Gideon.  Now we come to Gideon’s response.  Every time we encounter God requires a response from us.  It is the nature of the Divine Encounter.  Even if we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response.  There’s no way around it.  We either grow deeper into that relationship or we go further away from that relationship.  And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change, You Must Change Your Culture.

I have parable for you this morning.  There are 5 frogs sitting on a log.  3 of them decide to jump.  How many frogs do you have left?  Is your answer 2?  5-3=2.  Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will join?  Are you ready for the answer? 

The answer is 5!  How did I arrive at that answer?  Easy.  I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision.  And here is where the church is at today:  We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.

With the assurance of His presence and the promise of His power, Gideon acts.  But notice the way he acts.  He doesn’t get his sword and round up an army.  He doesn’t go looking for a fight. 

The truth is that his first response has nothing to do with the problem of the Midianites.  It deals with His Own Personal Culture.  And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:

1.  Gideon Worships God!

To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.  I can just see God in heaven.  He smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”  And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than smile.  He danced!  Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are nothing compared to when God dances. 

So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for worship.  He cooks a young goat and makes unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says.  An ephah of flour is over a half a bushel.  A young goat and a loaf of bread made from over a half a bushel of flour.  Don’t you get what’s happening?  Remember the first half of this chapter.  Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds. 

They are reduced to starvation.  But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.  He’s not offering God something out of his abundance. 

He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all that he has in worship.  Worship Is About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God.  There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they have worshipped God.  Time spent in this sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.  A little over a half a percent. 

Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to God?  If God is going to Change The Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy.  It must be your heart every moment you are awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere!  Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence, Power And Purposes of God.

When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the angel says:  Put the meat and bread on the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.  Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous.  Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.”  But he doesn’t.  He does exactly what he is told.  The angel took his staff and touched the offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all. 

Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many:  We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire.  The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”.  But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says,  “Don’t Be Afraid!”  And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.

2.  Gideon’s Culture Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.

He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace!  Before Gideon could change the culture of his nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture.  Gideon had been afraid and blaming God.  But now Gideon’s heart has been changed.  Even with the fear and all the questions he had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:  He Learns To Trust God. 

In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God.  We are not going to change our nation by forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders.  The Process Of Change Begins With Us.  God changed The Culture but He started with Gideon. 

God can and God will change Our Culture, but it starts with the person you see in the mirror.  Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him.  And God goes right to work using Gideon.  And here is the third a final lesson today about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:

3.  Gideon Had To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.

What’s an Asherah Pole?  Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.  She was the wife of the god known as Baal.  She was the one they were thinking could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause their wife to produce a lot of children.  These were all signs of prosperity and strength.

The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids one had, the more they thought they were strong.  They believed their strength came from the Asherah pole. 

As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.  

So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night.  Why at night?  Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him.  Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, there goes Gideon the Coward again!”  But there’s another way to look at this:

Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same.  If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture

The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites.   Why?  So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God.  Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free. 

And what about your Asherah Pole?  Asherah Poles are all around us today.  Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real.  What is your Asherah Pole?  Idols are still present today, they just look different. 

Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable?  Is your Asherah Pole the desire for convenience?  Is your Asherah Pole what you consider important?  Is your Asherah Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain?  Is your Asherah Pole fear?  Anger?  Despair?  Selfishness?  Apathy?

Do what Gideon does:  Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar.  God cannot use you to Change The Culture of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole.  But if you will, God will Change You, Then Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.

Last week you were given a choice for your next step.  Join up with all the complaining; or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next Gideon.  Here’s this week’s Next Step

1.  You Can Hold On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be.  OR

2.  Cut Down The Asherah Poles In Your Life.  Get rid of those things that are holding power over you.  Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.

HOW TO BE A WATER-WALKER: STEP 1: GET OUTTA THE BOAT!

For the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at this story from Matthew.  Turn in your Bibles or your phones to Matthew 14:25-32.  As you are turning, I want to ask you for a big favor.  I’m asking you, at least through this series, to forget everything you know or have heard about this story, and use this season to ponder some things you may have either forgotten, or never thought about.  Let’s read:

25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified.  In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”  27 But Jesus spoke to them at once.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.

This Is More Than Just A How-To Series; It’s About Questioning Ourselves On Which Side Of The Boat Are We Living Our Lives.  Are we inside the boat or are we outside the boat?  And if we are in the boat, are we really safer?  Is it really safer holding onto what we think makes us safe?

You see, We are all on a journey—it’s called Life.  And we get only 1 trip, one opportunity at this thing called LifeWill We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Will We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Please, make no mistake about it; it’s risky outside the confines and comfort of the boat.  But let me share something with you about life inside the boat:  It’s Boring, Mundane, And It Drains The Life Right Out Of Us.  The question of the hour is this:  Which is stronger in your life?  The so-called safety of the comfortable and predictable? Or, the desire to live a life that makes a difference? 

We will be looking at several issues that we must deal with if we are going to be Water-Walkers.  And the very first principle that we must address is so simple, it must be stated and it is the one thing you need to remember:  Water-Walkers Have To Get Outta The Boat Or You Will Never Walk With Jesus

Water-Walkers are not dreamers; they are people of action.  They don’t focus on developing great ideas or thinking lofty thoughts.  They are not interested in how much they can know—but they want to know how much they can do.  Water-Walkers are not interested in getting the credit, or being on the front page. 

They are in the deepest sense of the word—servants, for they are the greatest risk takers.  For them consensus is nice, but they won’t wait long for it to happen, unless they know that waiting is a part of God’s plan. 

President Teddy Roosevelt described Water-Walkers this way“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena—who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly.  So that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” 

Let’s look at what goes into the making of a Water-Walker.

1.  Water-Walkers Recognize God’s Presence.

Peter and his friends got into the boat late one afternoon.  Jesus needed to be alone with The Father.  Peter didn’t mind being in the boat.  This is where he is most comfortable and at ease.  This he can handle, much better than the stuff Jesus has been doing. 

But this boat trip was different; this time this time it was a storm so violent that it was all the disciples could do to keep the boat upright and floating.  By 3 a.m., they weren’t interested in getting to the other side; they just wanted to stay alive.  It was then it happened—a shadowy figure appeared through the storm.  Mark’s Gospel adds a twist on this story.  He says, “Jesus was about to pass them by.” 

This doesn’t mean Jesus was trying to sneak pass them.  The Greek word for “to go past them,” is the Greek translation of an Old Testament technical term—Theophany.  A Theophany is a defining moment when God makes an extraordinary appearance for the purpose of revealing a message.  This is an Intentional Act of Jesus—not sneaking by them—but Revealing Himself To Them!

It’s like when God sent Moses to a cleft in the rock so God’s glory could pass by him, or when God sent Elijah to stand on the mountain because he was about to pass by.  With each person God was going to call them to do something extraordinary.  In each situation the person that God called felt afraid. 

And every time those people said yes to their calling, they experienced the power of God in their lives.  Jesus was waiting to see if they would recognize him or not.  Before God speaks to us, he has to get our attention. 

Understand, that it’s in our crisis moments where we most frequently encounter God.  Those Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.  Of those in the boat, it was Peter who recognizes the moment.  He recognized that God was present—even in the most unlikely place.  He realized that this was an extraordinary opportunity for spiritual adventure and growth.  The second thing you need to know is this:

Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.

2.  Water-Walkers Discern Between Faith And Foolishness.

In an instance where some would call Peter foolish, again, he calls out to this other Water-Walker, “If it is you Jesus, command me to come to you on the water.”  Why does Matthew include this detail?  Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water?  I think it’s for a very important reason. 

This Is Not Just A Story About Risk-Taking; It Is Primarily A Story About Obedience.  That means I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

Matthew is not glorifying risk-taking for its own sake.  Jesus is not looking for bungee jumping, hang-gliding, day-trading, tornado-chasing drivers in Smart Cars.  Water-Walking is not something Peter does for recreational purposes. 

This is not a story about extreme sports.  It’s About Extreme Discipleship!  Before Peter gets out of the boat, he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea.  So he asks for clarity:  “If it’s really you, call me!”  Asking for clarity is a good thing.

I’m almost sure Jesus smiled a bit, because one person in the boat got it.  Peter had some inkling of what it is that the Master is doing.  I don’t see the other 11 lining up for their opportunity!  Not only that, Peter had enough faith to believe that he too, could have the adventure.  And the third thing I want you to know is this:

3.  Water-walkers Get Out Of The Boat.

Right now, I want you to put yourself in the story.  Imagine in your mind how violent the storm must have been if even seasoned professionals were afraid.  Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of that night—and no Dramamine! 

These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat.  It would be tough enough to try to walk on the water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still.  Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at hurricane force, it’s 3:00 in the morning—and you’re terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment.  You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing—The Lord Is Passing By.  He’s inviting you to go on the adventure of your life.  But at the same time, you’re scared to death.  What would you choose—the water or the boat?  The boat is familiar.  You know the boat. 

On the other hand, the water is rough, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there.  And if you get out of the boat—whatever your boat might happen to be— Reason And Logic Says You Will Sink And Drown.  But if you don’t get out of the boat, there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. 

I believe there is something—Someone—inside us who tells us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.  You were made for something more than merely avoiding failure.  There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God. 

There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God.

Look, a lot of folks point at the Sinking Peter and say, “Just look at you!  Shame on you, Peter!  Why didn’t you keep you eyes on Jesus instead of the storm?  You’re pathetic, Peter.” 

Let me ask you a question:  Where Were The Other 11?  They were in the boat—the boat that was about to sink.  And this leads me to:  Your Next Step:

Identify Your Boat.  Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God Himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from The High Adventure Of Extreme Discipleship.  

Want to know what your boat is?  Your fear will tell you.  Just ask yourself this:  What is it that most produces fear in me—especially when I think of leaving it behind and stepping out in faith? 

Now, what area of your life do you need to call out to Jesus with the words of Peter:  “If it’s you, call me out!”?  What is one risk you can take in your life that could help your faith to grow? 

I believe that right now, that a Theophany is happening in your life.  Jesus is about to pass by.  Can you recognize Him?  And if so, are you using discernment in discovering his will for you?  Jesus is passing by, right now.  Will you become a Water-Walker?  Will you today, right now, engage in extreme discipleship?  Jesus is passing by—are you going to stay in the boat, or will you experience your own Theophany, and hear Him calling you, “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!”

It Is What It Is. . . And That’s What Hurts So Much

From Sunday, July 28 to this morning, August 4 there have been 4 mass shootings. If data is your thing, then here are the number this past 7 days of mass shootings:
Wounded: at least 68
Killed: Current Count, 34

The reasons for such carnage? Does it make a difference? And who is to blame? Well, it depends on which news channel you watch and who you talk to. Here are some of the conclusions I have heard about where to pass the blame:

  • Guns and their availability
  • Racial motivations
  • Anger
  • The NRA
  • The Republicans
  • The Democrats
  • And ad nauseam other reasons

The one in South Haven, Mississippi is less than 180 miles from me. All this violence has caused me to once again put to use daily my “Concealed Carry” permit. I do so, not out of fear, but my deep concern for those who could be among the next 102.

There are those who think if there were more controls for inanimate objects, there would not be another 102. We are being told all kinds of explanations for this carnage. But most I’ve heard speaks to the symptoms but fail to deal with the real disease.

It is what it is–human violence perpetrated by humans against their fellow human beings. Some of the victims were known, but most were unknown by the shooters. Human violence comes from hearts that have turned away from The Creator. Thus, they lose the sense of purpose we had before the fall. And that is to live in kindness with each other.

More laws can and probably will be passed. But the problem will not go away through legislation. Change of heart is what is needed. There’s an, call it irony, today. It was in the message I shared with the congregations I serve. You can see it here.

Our culture is being fueled by irritation, aggravation, and frustration that is creating the toxic environment of Despair.  And without a radical change of direction, a Divine Recalculating Moment, it will only become worse.

So I appeal, appeal to you who profess your faith in Jesus–to get busy with the work of God’s Kingdom. The work of God’s Kingdom is changing hearts, lives, situations and institutions to reflect HIS Glory, and His love. This is the time for believers to become followers of Jesus. Don’t give up Hope. Share your faith, using words only when necessary. Our culture needs an awakening and a renewal that comes through the Holy Spirit.

And it will to our culture–when you expected an awakening and renewal in YOU. When there is an awakening and renewal IN, then there will be an awakening and renewal THROUGH you!

Let’s be examples of treating ALL people with respect and dignity. Refuse to judge others by any human characteristic or standard. Don’t point the finger of blame at others–instead point the way to Jesus, the Jesus that is clearly seen in you.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Change In Direction

Well, it seems the “change bug” has hit me.  I started this blog because I was passionate about the Kingdom of God.  So I focused on those “Kingdom” issues in life and faith.  However, in reviewing some of my posts, I noticed they were about the current Crisis in the United Methodist Church more than the Kingdom of God.  I had left the heart and the vision that started this blogging journey.

So, this morning I launched a new blog, A Wesleyan View In A Post Christian Culture.  My direction changed isn’t in a new direction, but getting back to what God started in my heart and mind.  To my followers and friends here, I invite you to also follow this new blog but don’t feel obligated.  This gift of writing The Spirit is giving me is helping me to be a more faithful follower and disciple of Jesus.  But I need to get back to the Vision of this blog because God gave me the Vision, so I need to be faithful.  I will probably write more here than at the other blog–but who knows?  Well, God knows, and I’m very comfortable with that truth.

Here is my first post in my new blog.  I will continue writing here about the Kingdom of God and anything about my Tribe, will be at the other.

The Times, They Be A Changing

Well, good morning y’all.  Hey, I’m from the south.  Arnold was truthful when he said:

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Our new home is set up, well, sorta set up.  Nearly a month into this new journey, and I’m finally able to sit down and do what I enjoy and is my personal therapy:  writing!  Truth is, I’ve been putting it off for a few days because, well, because I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about.  I guess I could say I had writer’s block–but Papa would probably say I’m just being a Blockhead!

Life is full of lessons–lessons worth sharing.  Change is a part of life–and there are lessons to be learned.  In reflecting on the lessons that I am learning, there is one big lesson that The Spirit is trying (notice, I said ‘trying’) to teach me and I want to share with you.

New people and places are different but the Good News of the Kingdom is the same.

Because people and places are different, it requires different ways to connect those places with the Good News of The Kingdom–and most of all–different ways to connect those places and people in a relationship with the King of that Kingdom.  This doesn’t happen overnight–nor is it easy.  I’m discovering that it requires the same approach that He uses on me:  Building A Relationship That Will Lead To THE Relationship.

Jesus was the Master at this approach–finding ways to connect with people where they were BEFORE He connected them with where they COULD be in Him.  The way you connect with people where they are is to BE where they are.  So, I’m taking the time to learn people and about life as it happens in Fayette and Lamar Counties.

So many, too many churches are failing to reach new and different people because they want to make them like they are BEFORE they get to know them.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  So, I’m learning about different people and places because that’s the way to find a different way to help them grow into the person God’s designed them to be.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to Jack’s in Vernon and then McDonald’s in Fayette.  Those are 2 of the local watering holes–sometimes known as “The Liars Table”.  It’s fun, interesting, but most of all, it’s real–real life!  And remember….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

A Moving Journal-Day 8

 

Day 1 of clean-up.  Another trip to our local storage unit for “stuff” we’re not moving.  My son and my best friend came to help.  Loaded up my personal pick-up.  And another trip to the local thrift store.  As I was unloading our “actually good condition stuff” I noticed something.  And then I remembered noticing the same thing.  People bringing junk to the thrift store.  Clothes that were dirty and obviously worn out.  Sofas and chairs that were either ripped, worn out, filthy or all of the above.  Lots of broken junk.  People either too lazy or too inconsiderate (meaning extremely selfish) to properly dispose of the junk.  Now this thrift store has the added expense of disposing of someone else’s junk.

And to those who think, “Well, they’re poor, they won’t mind.  They will be thankful to have my junk.  I know it’s better than their stuff.  After all, I made the effort to bring it over here.”  The lesson the Spirit taught me wasn’t about transitions and moving, but about life as a follower of Jesus.  And here is the lesson I learned today:

Treat all people with kindness, dignity, honor and respect.

Those whom society has label “The Poor” are no less human than those who consider themselves Middle Class or higher.  As humans, they deserve to be treated with the same courtesy and respect shown at social organizations or country clubs.  When those who are in poverty, of which nearly all would love to be out of, see the kind of junk dropped off at thrift stores and “mission” centers, it sends out a clear message to the poor.  It says, “This is all you are worth–no more or no less.”

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, I have been active in disaster response and relief.  Some people clean out their attics and the stuff that didn’t sell in their latest yard sale, pack it up to “help” those poor victims of that disaster.  While at Waveland, Mississippi, when bags and boxes of “very-used-clothes” arrived, we added them to the “levee” behind our operation center.  I kid you not, one box was full of men’s leisure suits.  Give me a break!

In 2011, I was put in charge of a distribution center in the small town of Hackleburg, Alabama where in that small community 18 people died and over 100 were injured.  I started sorting and organizing donations and I cannot tell you the disgust of the “used” clothes dropped off before I took over.  There were some that had 25 cent yard sale stickers, some that had mold, and some that were dirty–I mean D-I-R-T-Y!  These people suffered unimaginable horror and pain from the tornadoes, and  now were being dumped on by people thinking they were helping.

Well, I digress to my other Kingdom work, so let me get back on track here.  When junk is given to thrift stores and organizations designed to the poor, it is treating the poor as if they were junk.  How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great.”  This is a quote from Bill Bennot, church planter, leader and author of the book:  Unstoppable Kingdom: An Apostolic Leadership Culture And Transformation.  Remember that your actions speak louder than your words.  If you wouldn’t wear it to go out in public for lunch or supper (that’s ‘dinner’ for those unfortunately not from the South), then don’t give it to the poor.  If it’s broke, don’t give it to the poor.  If you kids won’t play with it because it’s broke, don’t give it to the poor.

Here is the truth:  we are all poor somewhere in our lives.  There is some type of poverty in all of us.  So let’s start treating the poor like we should be treated, because, somewhere–there is poverty in each of us.  Don’t pass on the inferior and pretend you’re acting like Jesus.  You’re not.  If you want to act like Jesus, get to know them and how they feel.  And instead of giving them a handout, offer them a Hand-Up.  They need to know their true worth–in God’s eyes.  And passing along your junk, isn’t helping them see their true worth.

Well, I guess that’s all for now.  Maybe tonight I will sleep beyond 3:50 a.m.  So I say, “Goodnight John Boy!”

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A Moving Journal-Day 7

Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack.  And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped.  Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving.  I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed.  OK, I WAS overwhelmed.  But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.

The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed.  The food pantry hadn’t been touched.  So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away.  The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes.  This to pack.  This to move out of the way.  Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load.  The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded.  My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck.  Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday.  I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.

Now it is early evening.  My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore.  Honestly?  I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor.  At the age of 17, that was my plan–until….  So what other lessons did I learn today?

  • There is still much to be done.  The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work.  It is an ongoing work inside of me.  And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
  • We can do more than we think.  Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
  • Stay focused on the main thing.  Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time.  As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.

A Moving Journal-Day 6

Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive.  Well, no more trips to the curb.  This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare.  Timing is everything as they say.  Packed some more.  The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst.  While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes.  I still have some more to pack up.  While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations.  Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.

While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years:  “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”.  What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think.  He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend.  In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons.  Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch.  With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.  Amen.”

Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms.  Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart.  Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart.  Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled.  Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them.  They will be going with me, not the movers.

Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more.  So what lessons did I learn today?

  • I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”.  By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work.  And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart.  We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up.  I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
  • I learned that self-care is necessary.  The trip to the dentist was long overdue.  I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself.  I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
  • You can’t prevent the inevitable.  Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning.  Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome.  Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow.  Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences.  Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us.  However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them.  Fighting is a losing battle.
  • Vision needs to be handled care.  The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me.  If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting.  So I take care of them.  And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care.  If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
  • Memories are a part of life.  This was the big one for me today.  When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me.  In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones.  Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter.  But there are situations and people who create bad memories.  And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones.  I choose to focus on the good one.  The bad memories will just eat you alive.  And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.

Well, it’s time to wind down the day.  Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7.  Say, “Good night, John Boy”.  Good night John Boy.

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A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

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Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!

A Moving Journal-Day 3

OK, Day 3 is in the books.  In 4 more days the moving company will arrive to pick up our belongings.  Then, on Monday afternoon we will meet them again at our new home.  I guess you could say this is entering “crunch time”.  At least it feels this way.  Here was my day.

At about 5:30 a.m. I boxed up some more of my stuff in the garage.  Now it’s trying to figure out which box will work without any wasted space.  Back to the office to finish all the filing and paperwork.  Filing and sorting was something I was going to get to, eventually.  But it is evident I never got around to it.  So now it’s sorting through documents; filing them chronologically–something that wasn’t done before I arrived, but it will be done before I leaven.  I began preparing notes for my successor of things, people and situations he should be aware of in the beginning–again, something I wasn’t given much of upon my arrival.  I’m finding duplicate documents so I am properly disposing of them.

I arrive at home and after supper, it back to “seek and ye shall find” the right size box.  I’m finding some more “stuff” that I was going to do something with eventually.  Now it’s at the curb for curb shoppers and the street department to pick up on Thursday.  I need to get everything out to the curb by Wednesday night so that my successor will arrive without “stuff” stacked by the curb.  And now, I am writing.  So, what lessons have I learned today?  To the casual observer, it might not seem like much, or worth mentioning.  But I have come to realize that the greatest bits of wisdom most often come from lessons learned; even the smallest lesson.

  • First, I learned that organizing is essential for the long run.  I mean, by putting things that will go together in the same space at the new home will make the unpacking go much quicker; not that it’s all that quick.  But if I put things from 3 different spaces in just one box, I will be spending more time going between spaces that putting those things up.  Forward thinking is either an art that is being lost in people and churches; or it is a skill that is about to become lost upon the general population; or it is a gift that no one wants anymore.
  • Second, I learned that I need to quite practicing the art of procrastination.  There you have it, the one thing that keeps me from being perfect.  I know I just heard someone I know who is reading this fall to the floor laughing.  One of my constant struggles is putting off until next week what I should have done yesterday.  I gotta work on this problem with better results.
  • Third, there are still things to be done here before I leave.  One thing I started doing today that I haven’t mentioned is I’ve been praying, listening and thinking of what to say at our friend’s funeral on Wednesday morning.  Another thing I did not mention is that I’ve been working with our financial manager and volunteer accountant on an accurate financial statement.  This church has been using a system that had 2 not so slight issues–it never balanced with the bank statements and it never balanced at the end of the year.  I made a commitment that the financial picture would be clear as a bell before I left.  And after today, I believe it is.
  • Fourth, I need to be thinking about our next place of Kingdom work.  About midway through the day I realized I have not been praying nor thinking about our new appointment.  I had not been taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit who I believe is guiding us to these 2 wonderful communities of Jesus followers.  Even in crunch time I need to also be thinking about the most immediate future of next week.

 

 

Moving Journal–Day 2

Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move.  Today I preached my final message at this church.  It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness.  Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back.  Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future.  Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine.  This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.

This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman.  I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull.  I challenged them with this question:  “What do you do with broken people?”  The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman.  Maybe I will post that message here some day.

At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness.  I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life.  So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.

And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today.  And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him.  It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother.  It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me.  Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.

So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2?  So glad you asked me:

  • Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life.  At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service.  And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette.  In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
  • I learned that God moves in different ways at different times.  He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message.  Instead, He had a timely and timeless message.  I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time.  God loves to surprise us.
  • And I learned today the value of friendships.  It is our friends that are holding us up at this time.  It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy.  And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles:  “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat.  The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night.  I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread.  But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.

A Moving Journal: Day 1

Last night I was prompted to start a journal of this journey we are facing.  It’s called “Moving”!  One would think that as a pastor, I would eventually get accustomed to it.  But I’m not.  Since the Spirit has been developing this “writing thing” in me, I might as well use it.  So each day I will post something–not just the stresses and  events of moving–but the spiritual lessons He is teaching me–excuse me–trying to teach me.  I admit that at times I am not always the best student.  I would rather teach–but I know I can’t teach unless I also learn.

Today is Saturday, 16 June 2018 and this coming Friday, 22 June 2018, the moving company will be here to pack up our belongings.  At 62, I’m not going to load a U-Haul.  Then on Monday, 25 June 2018, we will move into our new home and to our new appointment to serve Jesus and The Kingdom at Mt. Vernon (near Fayette, Al.) and Oak Hill (near Sulligent, Al.).  We’ve been packing up all along, and now it is at the stage of “when we’ve used it, it’s time to pack it up”.  My current office is all packed up.  It’s just the things here at home.  This the timeline.  Now, to what’s happening today.

More packing of course, and in a bit, I will assist at the funeral of a long time family friend, and personal friend.  I met Benny, I think it was in 1968, when my Dad was sent to Mhoontown for his very first appointment as a pastor.  Our families stayed close and through the years, Benny was always encouraging me as a pastor and preacher.  And I consider it a great honor to be there; to remember him and to remember what he always told me:  “Randy, keep telling them about Jesus!”

And something else is happening today.  Tomorrow will be my last sermon here.  I know, I know that Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow, just take care of today.  But I’m not worrying, so I Jesus is OK with me simply thinking about it.  Isn’t it amazing how we can justify our own sins!  God has a vision for this place–to transform it from a typical downtown “first church” into a Kingdom Church.  Signs of this transformation have been happening the past 4 years.  I had dreamed of being here long enough to see it come to full fruition.  But we are not.

And this is what I am struggling with.  Though I am convinced that I still had much to offer in this process of transformation, the powers that be thought otherwise.  This belief stung my heart like a simultaneous swarm of yellow jackets and hornets.  The wound is healing, thanks to God’s grace and those who have are instruments of that grace.  I promised this journal would also be about what I am being taught by Him.  So here is what I am learning so far.

  • The Kingdom of God is much bigger than me.  It is His Kingdom, not mine.
  • God is sending me, not a group of people.
  • God still has Kingdom Work for me at Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill
  • God still cares about us and will take care of us wherever we go

I have always viewed my appointments as Divine Appointments–not my Tribe sending me somewhere, but God sending me somewhere.  There was one appointment where I was absolutely convinced that the Tribe wasn’t listening to God.  I had no idea why I was there–the chaos was crushing.  But on my last Sunday there, 3 people were saved and one of them, was a hard case.  Joe only went to church when his kids were in some program.  He had no desire for God.  But then the Spirit did an amazing thing–He connected me and Joe through fishing and hunting.  A friendship developed and on my last Sunday, Joe rushed to the altar, tears in his eyes and said, “If anyone is going to show me how this happens, it’s going to be you!”

And now looking back, I see so many “Joes” who are taking their relationship with Jesus much deeper.  Many of us have laughed together, celebrated together and cried together.  I truly hate to leave behind these friends.  But I know that our friendships will continue on, deeper and better than ever before.

And I also know that there are more “Joes” in Fayette and Lamar Counties who need to know the real Jesus and others who need to grow in that relationship.  It is what some call “Mixed Blessings”.  And what is hold me together now, is that this moment and this new journey is in God’s hands and HE is charting the path for me.

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And makes sure all the glory goes to Him!

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Do You Serve Before God’s Altar?

OK, since God calls us to be a Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2:9) I ask you:  Whose altar is it?  Priests in the Old Testament served before the Altar of God, meaning God owned that altar.  If the altar is yours then the Fire of Revival will never fall on it.  The fire from Heaven didn’t fall on the altar of Jezebel’s priests because it wasn’t God’s altar.  As long as we try to control the altar, God’s fire won’t fall on it!

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Ultracrepidarianism Is Killing The Local Church!

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Do you know what an expert is?  Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words.  The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was.  The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure.  Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure.  So know that I am not an expert.  But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.

As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation.  I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories.  I am sure you might could think of other categories.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.

First there are the “Noobs“.  It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance.  I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.

The other group is the “Kabitzers“.  Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada!  They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky.  They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right.  So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.

Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay!  Entrenched, Nay!  Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye!  Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose.  Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!

I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location.  We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design.  What is that original design?  Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.

It is to be a Kingdom of Servants.  Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture:  The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago.  It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator.  And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people:  Life As God Intends!  That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:

I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

(and my personal favorite)  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions.  He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of.  Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other.  To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant.  Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires.  And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them.  It begins when we accept them unconditionally.  Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them.  Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King.  And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life.  The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.

If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read.  If they are hungry, we feed them.  If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment.  If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them.  If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.

And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us.  When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move.  But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card.  But if they do not, then we need to persist.  We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants.  And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him.  Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!

A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.