BUT WHAT ABOUT SIN?

When anyone fails to recognize sin, they set themselves up for failure! More than just failure, but a life of misery. I know, I know! The topic of sin is considered taboo today. It’s also considered mean, hateful, and phobic to even mention sin. Yet, here I am using that word: SIN! SIN! SIN! If you’re still reading this, then I conclude that you either are contemplating my opening line is TRUE, or you know it to be true!

And when anyone in leadership fails to recognize sin, they set their entire organization up for failure! This is where my long-beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church, is at. And because I am a United Methodist Clergy (and I might add, still faithful to my ordination vows, unlike many in my Tribe) I am qualified to speak into our current crisis; a crisis created by the failure to recognize sin. Our recent outgoing leader of the Council of Bishops, Cynthia Harvey (who took the same ordination vows I took, but has chosen to violate them) gave an interview with the Washington Times about the inevitable and impending separation in the United Methodist Church. (Click here to read the entire article) But want to speak into only one portion of her interview. Here it is, and I quote:

“We are the United Methodist Church right now and forever, a church confident in what God has done in Christ Jesus for all humankind, committed to personal and social salvation and transformation, a church that is courageous in dismantling the powers of racism, tribalism and colonialism.”

Bishop Cynthia Harvey

It’s that last line that is a burr in my saddle: a church that is courageous in dismantling the powers of racism, tribalism and colonialism.” But what about sin? Why shouldn’t our leadership be courageous in dismantling the power of sin? Alas, she only mentions 3 sins: racism, tribalism, and colonialism. Yes, racism is a sin. To draw conclusions about anyone based solely on their race–is SIN!

And she mentioned tribalism. I looked up the definition of that word and this is what I found: “the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group.” I’m guessing, mind you, she’s talking about us Orthodox folks. But within the LBGTQI community, is where we see the strongest movement of tribalism. They not only want us to approve of their chosen sin, they want us to repent of even calling it a sin! Geez, Louise!

And then she mentions colonialism. Here’s the definition of colonialism: “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” I haven’t a clue what she means by this. I suspect, though, she’s talking about the new movement of Methodism reaching out to other countries to join in. Now, the only colonialism I see happening today is Russia and Islamic extremists.

Stopping these 3 sins will definitely improve the world stage, no doubt about it. But if we want to see The Kingdom Of God on earth, then we have to address and dismantle every form of sin! Anything less plays right into the strategy of Satan. And that’s the way it is, May 5, 2022!

I Say, Hold On For Just A Cotton Pickin’ Minute!

Are you on hold? Maybe you’re calling that alleged “customer service”, only after you’ve been yelling at a computer or punching in 3,678 numbers, and you’re on hold. Maybe you just answered the call about your car warranty about to expire and you’re on hold. Maybe you just called about the latest electronic innovation but you’re having issues getting it up and running, so you hear “Your call is very important to us. Please wait for the next available ‘customer service’ agent.” You’re on hold.

Waiting is not a new human experience, though some treat it that way. We don’t like to be put “on hold” because we see it as the obstacle to the resolution we most desire. Being put “on hold” isn’t enjoyable! And the music you are forced to hear. . .geez where do they get that stuff? Musicians and composers who couldn’t sell a single record? “Alleged Experts” say that elevator music is calming down the person on hold. Really? Who did they interview? Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum? Being “on hold” is annoying and frustrating to the point that no amount of elevator music is going to calm us down–regardless of how they hope it will! So what’s a person to do?

May I make a suggestion–with no elevator music involved? When life feels like you are on hold, switch those 2 words on hold. Now it reads “hold on”. Now, YOU say those 2 words out loud: “Hold on!” Why are you reading my next words when you haven’t done what I asked you to do? . . . I’m waiting! . . . I’m still waiting!! . . . Now you’ve got me “on hold”! OK, you’ve said it. Now I want you to shout it loudly: HOLD ON! Is that as loud as you can scream? Come on, try it again, this time even louder!

Hold on are the two most important words to shout and scream when we need help! But don’t say it to yourself or any other person. Say it to God! Shout it out to God! Scream it to the top of your lungs to God! When everything seems to be falling apart–and when you’re loving it because the plan is coming together–and in every moment between these 2 extremes–we need to allow God to hold on to us. When we are at our best–and especially when we are at our worst–we need to ask God to hold on to us.

God wants to–longs to–hold on to us in the most loving way possible. But He will not–until we allow Him. This is what I learned in this morning’s worship time–and it came through this song. Listen to the words–and when you are not “someone you believe in”–well just listen to the song!

Sighs Of The Times

Not a misprint–I said SIGHS of the time. I hear of lot of sighs around me. And for some time now–I’ve been SIGHING a lot.

  • I sigh when I hear people say we don’t need to talk about racism–though nearly every day I hear a racist statement or two or three or four…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that anyone younger than them “ain’t got a clue” about life–though they never try to teach…
  • I sigh when I hear people whine and complain that they are not getting their fair share of life–though they are unwilling to apply themselves to the challenges of life…
  • I sigh…when I hear employers complain they can’t find decent employees–though they regularly reject applications of people they think won’t fit in…
  • I sigh when I hear church folks wonder why people don’t come to their church, after all, they are a friendly church–though they take neither the time nor the effort to get to know others…
  • I sigh when I hear people complaining about the government–though they keep putting career politicians back in office…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that Democrats are the answer to our problems–though they have helped create those problems…
  • I sigh when I hear people say that Republicans are the answer to our problems–though they have helped create those problems…
  • I sigh when I hear people complain about the culture–and that’s all they do: COMPLAIN
  • I sigh when I hear people speak hate about other people today because of what other people did 175 years ago–as it they were the cause of poor decisions…
  • I sigh when I hear when folks point out the sins of others–why they ignore their own sin…
  • I sigh when I hear the researchers throwing out their fake science that is ruining so many lives–and vainly believe they are helping…
  • I sigh when I hear self-identified Christians say they want Jesus to come back right how–not thinking about all those who will not be ready for His Appearing…
  • I sigh when I hear me confess my sin–knowing I had the power of The Holy Spirit to successfully resist…
  • I sigh when I hear hate and anger catapulted at those who wear the badge–and don’t seem to care they are human beings who want nothing but to help others and keep us all safe…
  • I sigh when I hear nothing but silence–when it comes to the Truth of God and His Word…

What makes YOU sigh today? I could go on and on and on; and on some more about what makes me SIGH. But I am hit–and hit hard–by the Holy Spirit this morning. He asked me: “Randy, can you kindly tell me what all your SIGHING has accomplished? I mean other than made you feel sad, even an unhealthy bit of despair? After all, any amount of despair ain’t heathy for you.” So, I let that thought sink in a little bit. I refrained from that knee jerk reaction of: “I’m justified in this because that’s the way it is!” As His question marinated in my heart and mind, I finally answered Him: “It would be better for me, and my world, if I prayed instead of SIGHING!” And I could swear that I heard The Spirit say, “Mm-hmm.” Instead of SIGHING today, I’ll pray today, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next, and the next… Will you join me in giving up SIGHING and replace it with PRAYING?

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.

RECALL ALERT!

Recall Alert! No, not your vehicle. Not some baby product. Not your C-Pap machine. Not the food in your pantry or freezer. Not your coffee maker. Not your hair dryer or curling iron or flat iron. Not some power tool. Not your washer, dryer, refrigerator, or freezer. It hasn’t been on the news, but it should be. Are you wondering what I’m writing about this morning? Well, let me first tell you a short story.

One Sunday morning at my previous appointment, I was talking with someone about something (I forgot what it was), but as I was talking, I forgot some key point of the story. The person I was talking with was Dr. Joe Cooney, a physiology professor. I told Joe, “Oh, man! I can’t remember! I’m losing my memory.” And in his usual calm manner, Joe told me, “No, you’re not loosing your memory. It’s up there. You’re having a RECALL problem.” God bless Joe! I wasn’t loosing my memory, and he’s spent his whole life understanding and teaching about the human body, including the brain!

Recalling that episode this early morning got me to thinking–about Recall! And what does Recall have to do with this thing called the Journey of Life? Sometimes I forget. Do you? It acts like memory loss–but it’s a Recall issue. As a matter of fact, life can be, scratch that, life IS difficult to say the very least. You don’t need this old preacher to remind you of this reality.

Problems at work. Problems at home. Problems with our health. Unexpected deaths. Failures. Divorce. Abandonment. Loss of job. Foreclosure. Depression. These are just a very few of the moments in life that will cause us to question–question the Only One who loves us and takes care of us no matter what happens. Or am I the only one who has ever questioned the faithfulness of God? Felt abandoned by God? Felt like He just doesn’t care? When those moments overwhelm us–we act, think, and feel like there are no memories of how faithful God has been to us. But He has been–we just need to Recall those memories of other overwhelming moment when no doubt, God was with us!

One of my favorite memories was in July of 1971. At a youth service the Holy Spirit moved in my heart and invited me into this relationship with Jesus. I fought so hard that I held on to the pew in front of me–and I said NO to God. Why is this a good recall for me? Because a year later, that same Holy Spirit spoke that same message to me–and this time I said YES!

In September 2003, another of my favorite memories happened. I was a total train wreck, and the darkness was strong in me because of my divorce. I had performed a wedding ceremony for a very good friend’s nephew. A friend called me that next week and told me I really impressed one of the wedding directors and that I really needed to call her for a date. Debbie became God’s Gift to me in my darkest times. And on November 13, 2020 we celebrated our 16th Wedding Anniversary.

It’s not easy–but if we stop focusing on what we have forgotten–and start to Recall, well–it just changes everything. We recover the Truth that God hasn’t abandoned us or forgotten us. Recall is a good thing–an excellent thing. May I suggest, as I did this morning–to Recall moments when God overwhelmed us with love, mercy and grace.

Don’t wait until the crucible heats up–every day Recall something that God has done for you. And if you are having a Recall Problem and can’t remember–then think about Jesus on that cruel Cross. Look at the Cross–and the Recall Problem is resolved!

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:10 (NLT)

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 DANGEROUS ELMER FUDD

Yesterday I said I would be back with God helping me. Well, He did and here I am. Not all of my reflections are on God’s Kingdom, but they are influenced by His Kingdom. So today I must issue this Disclaimer: This isn’t a spiritual subject I’m addressing today. It is, though, a very human subject that penetrates to the core of our culture in the good old U.S. of A. And if other alleged “experts” can speak into this mess, then so can I; so here goes!

I’m 65 years old. As a kid, I watched Elmer with a gun. But I never shot anyone. I saw Bugs Bunny doing all kinds of violence against other Daffy Duck and others. Yet I never acted violently against anyone. I watch Yosemite Sam’s outbursts and shooting his side arm. But I never went ballistic, shooting up any place. I watched Wile E. Coyote try to catch the Roadrunner. And amazingly, I’ve never ordered dynamite, missiles, or traps from Acme.

Now, if I listen to the dribble being purported as the truth–by now I should be a raging man of extreme violence. According to the “experts”, my wall should be mounted with all kinds of trophies of the people I’ve killed. But the only things I have killed is some squirrels, a few rabbits (NOT Bugs), some game birds (NOT the Roadrunner or Tweety), a few coyotes (NOT Wile E.), and a healthy parcel of deer (NOT Bambi).

We are being told, on a frequent basis, that gun violence is to blame for all those tragic shooter situations. I cannot remember the exact number of guns, both handguns and long guns, that I have owned over the past 65 years. But I do know that not a single one of them ever committed an act of violence. It’s hard for me to believe that of the dozens of firearms I’ve had in my possession, all of them were defective. They must have been, and my current stock of firearms must also be defective, because not a single one of them has ever committed an act of violence. The deer might disagree with me–but the gun didn’t act on it’s own. I had a hand in it; actually my left eye and finger.

And this gets me to my point this morning. Why are people no longer being held responsible for their choices and decisions? Be it violence with a stick, a pipe, a fist, a bat, a knife, or even a firearm–what has happened to personal responsibility? They want to blame everything for this violence–except the person who commits it.

These “experts” want to blame it on cartoons. I refer you back to my second paragraph. And have you ever watch “modern” cartoons? My Dad had a conniption when Clark Gable said “damn” in “Gone with the Wind”. Today’s language is far worse. And the plots of these “kid’s” cartoons promote stupidity to infinity and back. (Sorry, Buzz Lightyear, no offense intended to you.)

And then these “experts” want to blame lifeless, inanimate objects for exerting undue and unnecessary influence on people. This is what the term “gun violence” declares, not implies. What is causing so much violence? Here are a few ideas, maybe some will think the novel or new, but they are tested and proven over the centuries.

  • There is this thing call consequences for choices and actions–and each person makes their own choices–so own those choices
  • Kids not being made to be kind, respectful and courteous
  • Kids being allowed to make decisions that they are neither mentally, emotionally, and intellectually equipped to make (such as what gender they are)
  • Being recognized for just being present; we call them participation trophies (see this previous blog of mine)
  • Giving kids everything but morals and values which put others first instead of themselves
  • Disrespecting the most vulnerable of the human race; it’s called abortion. I mean if they see that babies can be eliminated because they are unwanted or their gender (yes, gender selection is a reason for some abortions)–how can anyone respect the life of another person?
  • And above all these (and the many more I could add to this list), is that this world owes them absolutely nothing–but that they owe the world hard work, compassion, to dream of what builds people up rather than tear them down.

Our problem in this nation and world isn’t a gun problem but a human problem; it’s not gun violence but human violence. Now, you can disagree with me if you want–you have that freedom and are free to make that choice. But disagreeing with me doesn’t make we wrong. You can believe are you right–but you’re still wrong.

2021 Pharisees!

Well, I’m back–along with my sense of humor and snark. Being 64 years old has it’s advantages. Besides all those Senior Discounts, I’m too old to beat around the bush–and play nice. My years are counting down and I want these remaining years to count. As I shared yesterday in my message, I’ve been intending to get back to writing. But intending doesn’t make the baby a dress–and a highway to a certain undesirable location is paved with the good ones.

The Spirit has finally moved me from intentions to actions–and I owe it all to the events of last week in Washington, D.C. I want to speak to those who profess to be–call it “Christian” or “disciple” or “church member”–and were either involved with last week’s chaos in D.C. or supported and liked what happened. If you want nothing to do with Jesus, the church, and what has been labeled “Christianity”–I’m not talking to you. You can continue to pursue whatever it is you are pursuing. Only you who say you are “Christians”, yet are tying your “Christianity” to U.S. politics. It’s you who are in the crosshairs of this Kingdom Pastor.

I’ve seen your posts on social media. I’ve heard your rants against Democrats and a corrupted election process. I’ve heard your hate against Antifa. And I’ve heard your disdain about Black Lives Matter–something you insist isn’t necessary. Your disdain contradicts your assertions. Now, if I haven’t rattled your chains enough–allow me to raise your hackles. YOU who claim to be “Christians” and are involved in this mess or encourage this mess or say you support this mess–YOU are the 2021 Pharisees.

The reason you are a Pharisee is that you have connected Jesus with U.S. Politics and the Republican Party. The Pharisees in the days when Jesus was human wanted and promoted a Military Messiah. 2021 Pharisees want and promote a Political Messiah–who also happens to be a Republican and Trump Supporter.

Now, I’m not suggesting there was not any voter fraud or voting irregularities. I’m from Alabama where legend has it that a certain county has had over 120% of registered voters cast ballots in elections. What I am saying is two-fold. First, leave the allegations of voter fraud in the hands of proper investigative authorities and YOU stay the heck out of it. You have neither the legal authority nor the mental abilities to make such a determination.

Second reason: You need to cease and desist because you are doing great harm to the church, the Good News of The Kingdom, and making a mockery of Jesus as the Real Messiah–who has neither military nor political aspirations. Like the Pharisees of old, 2021 Pharisees are twisting God’s Promise into an action point that just so happens to coincide with their personal opinions. And you know what is said about personal opinions: they are like anuses; everyone has one and they usually stink.

So, to all you yahoos out there crying, moaning, and declaring the end of America, you need to do something more. Drop the name “Christian” from your posts and rants. Many of us are out there bringing the Good News of the Kingdom–News made for difficult times like these. We offer people a relationship with the Real Jesus who is Sovereign and needs neither political party to achieve His desire of redeeming and restoring fallen human beings. He is capable of doing such an enormous task without the help of whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. He doesn’t even need the political party controlling the Senate nor the House of Representatives.

If you want to be a Political Animal/Beast–then drop all the references to Jesus. See how that works out for you. For me, it’s heartbreaking to see all of the uproar, chaos, anger, and hate. But all of that doesn’t lead me into despair. Times like these are made for The Good News of God’s Kingdom. In all this darkness–it’s really great to know The Light–and to have The Light living in the hearts of those who truly are Christians.

WHY, GOD?

This is the first in the most recent series of messages I have been sharing
1 This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision.  2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help?  But you do not listen!  “Violence is everywhere!”  I cry, but you do not come to save.  3 Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?  Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence.  I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight.  4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts.  The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

I have said at other times that no message or series has been more difficult for me than the one I am sharing.  And this new series is proving itself to me, to be the most difficult one ever.  I’m calling it Why, God?  Notice the use of the comma.  It would be much easier for me to talk about Why God?  Why God speaks about our need for God.  But that pesky comma, Why, God? speaks into the season we are in today.

We are living in a season like none other before.  We have this Pandemic of Covid-19 and we are seeing a lot of racial unrest.  I also see that the core of this season of racial unrest is a symptom of something else that has been going on for some time now— and that is Social And Political Unrest.  The fabric that is meant to hold us together in a common society is being cut and ripped apart. 

I am compelled to speak into this chaos.  I would rather not and tackle an easier word.  But I Firmly Believe This Mess We Are In Has A Message.  Unfortunately, it may not be the message that people inside and outside of church want to hear.

We are going to begin this series with an honest discussion around the question that many are asking out loud, and many more that are wondering about inside their hearts and minds but are afraid to ask.  Why, God?  Why Are Things Like They Are Right Now?  Why This Covid-19, This Racial, Social, And Political Unrest? 

I believe this is a question that needs to be asked and explored.  So be prepared for some hard or difficult things I will share with you.  And at the risk of losing some of you—I will honestly say upfront that I may not have a neat answer to the question—I may not even have a good answer for the question.

And let me be upfront and honest with this disclaimer:  I Am Not An Expert On The Ways That God Thinks.  My answers may not be your answers as to the Why Question.  Know that I am not expecting you to agree with anything I say.  I won’t be disappointed with anyone who disagrees with me. 

My personal goal, and the goal of this Series, is that you will not be afraid to ask God questions, and that you think through your own answers—without using the standard issue replies that are dressed in a Polly Anna or The Born Loser view of life.  I am convinced that oversimplified answers to the Why Question are only adding to the frustrations and fears. 

Posting things on Social Media with the line “Repost if you believe in Jesus” aren’t helping.  Reality Check folks: Reposting And Quoting Scriptures Isn’t Going To Help!  So What Will Help?  I believe raw honesty helps more than posting and quoting Scriptures.

Look, it’s not that life Could Be difficult and hard.  If you can handle the truth, then here it is—The Truth Is That Many Times Life IS Difficult And Hard.  None of us are exempt from the troubles and pressures of life.  And if anyone tells you that you can live a happy and pain-free life as a Christian—they are lying to you and they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving you. 

I have been a pastor for nearly 46 years, and in those 46 years I have read and studied the Bible extensively.  In that same 46 years I have had a lot of personal experiences and I’ve been a part of other people’s experiences.  I have seen joy—and I’ve seen the doubt and deep pain brought on by life as it really is—the fear and hurt that comes with those difficult experiences. 

I am going to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be totally Honest with you.  And sometimes coming face to face with Honesty is not very easy.  And know ahead of time that my Honesty may not fit in with The Truth.

If anything, the writers of the Bible are Honest—more than Honest, they are Painfully Honest.  There is page after page, story after story, which speaks Honestly—but not always be The Truth.  Think about Job—not everything in there is The Truth—but everything there is Painful Honesty.  In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes Honestly about His Feelings—though some of his conclusions about God are not true.  But His Conclusions About The Pain And Difficulties Of LifeThey Are Most Definitely True

There’s the book of Lamentations—where Jeremiah blames God for everything that happened to Jerusalem.  And there’s this passage we begin with from Habakkuk.  Habakkuk, this prophet of God, Honestly believes that God isn’t listening and that He has forgotten all about him.  And true to human nature, it’s easier to blame God than accept responsibilities for our choices. 

That’s exactly what Adam did—he blamed God.  And here’s the truth that many will disagree with me—God Didn’t Destroy Jerusalem.  God didn’t point His finger at Babylon and manipulate them into doing what He wanted to be done.  The blame for the destruction of Jerusalem lies squarely at the feet of those who rejected God by choosing another way.  God didn’t have to punish them—they punished themselves by rejecting the ageless truth of God—and that rejection reaped them a whirlwind and a hurricane of consequences.

And all of this that’s going on all around us?  I am about to say something that many may disagree with—and remember I warned you.  I want you to think deeply.  This is it:  God Is Not Causing Any Of This To Happen.  Covid-19 Is NOT God Punishing Our Nation And World.  God Is Not Pointing His Finger To Manipulate People To Create This Hate And Chaos. 

What I see happening here in the U.S. with the unrest, what I see happen in the U.S. and around the world with Covid-19 is The Consequences Of Generations Of People Abandoning God’s Principles For Another Way.  We are reaping the same whirlwind and hurricane that Habakkuk and Jeremiah were seeing in their day.

One of the blogs I read is Walking With A Limp.  Here’s what the writer, Joe Misek, had to say about his title:  “The reason why I title my blog Walking With a Limp is because I believe our faith and our humanity is meant to be lived out not hiding our brokenness.  In fact, the Bible even has an entire genre of literature dedicated to expressing pain, grief, anger, and brokenness:  Lament.” 

In a recent blog he wrote:  “We don’t do Lament well in the modern American church.  In fact, we often arrange our entire experience of corporate worship to be happy.  Lament sounds dark and depressing; it is uncomfortable if you hear it and you are in a ‘happy place’ in your life.  But the Lament is not in the entertainment business and doesn’t appeal to consumers.  It is reality.  It is healing.” 

Joe is right—unlike Job, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk we don’t handle Lamenting very well.  We either hold all our pain, doubts and questions in—or we adopt a lifestyle of being happy all the time while masking what’s really going on inside us.  Many often chastise others and themselves for even thinking about that question of Why, God? 

I don’t really know all the whys about why we aren’t truthful with ourselves and with God in this time.  Maybe it’s because we’ve had long years of comfort here in the United States.  We have forgotten or never really learned how to Lament.  It seems we would rather find someone or something To Blame than to become broken over our own lives and the world.

The Ability To Lament Comes Out Of 2 Things:

  1. The Pain Of Realizing Something Isn’t Right.  It’s being broken over what’s wrong to the point that makes us restless and deeply hurting.  And here is another hard truth:  We Don’t Like To Hurt—we avoid pain as if it were some sin.  But it’s not.  Many today are trying to make their hidden pain go away by not admitting something isn’t right and then justifying themselves.  In the LBGTQ community, they blame their pain on those who will not agree with their justification.  Racial Unrest is the result of blaming history for their pain and the reality that some still hold on to racist views.  Political Unrest is the result of blaming those who don’t see things their way.  And the Social Unrest is the result of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our own choices.
  2. Then It Takes An Honest Vulnerability To Express That Pain Of Being Broken And Living In A Broken World.  I’m talking about raw emotions—like the raw emotions we see in the lives of Job, Solomon, Jeremiah and Habakkuk.  I’m not talking about finding out who or what is to blame. Blaming isn’t the same thing as Lamenting

I’m not talking about moaning and groaning, whining and complaining—God knows we are good at that.  Many have taken this to an art form or made it a science.  Whining and complaining, moaning and groaning are cheap substitutes that help us avoid confronting the real issues—issues that are eroding our culture, our own hearts, and are hurting others.  It takes little effort and even less thoughtful reflection to moan and groan or whine and complain.  It just gushes out of us without any effort.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  The Only Way To Find Our Way Forward And Navigate This Broken Culture Will Only Begin When We Recover The Ability To Lament.  Lamenting requires a different focus for us. 

This week I came to a most unusual, perhaps unorthodox view about LamentingLamenting is another learned Spiritual Discipline.  Spiritual Disciplines never happen automatically.  They require both intentions and diligence.  I can’t remember ever studying about Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline or reading a book that taught Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline.

I’m not saying I haven’t—maybe I have and it these times that are bringing it up in my spirit and heart.  Quoting Scriptures and motivational phrases will not change our culture.  The Key is to become broken, and then Lamenting—about ourselves and our world.  Do you need an example?  Good, because there is the best example ever.

It’s Jesus!  In Luke 19:41-44 we see:  But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.  But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you.  Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.

It was too late for Jerusalem, but it’s not too late for us and the world.  And because WE can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, we need the Next Step. 

In Our Hearts And Minds, Replace The Idea Of Blame With The Truth  That We And Our World Are Broken And Hurting.

Are you really broken over our world?  Or are you frustrated?  Are you angry?  And are you wanting to escape by desiring the return of Jesus more than the return of people back to Jesus?

For the next few weeks, I want us to look at how we can reclaim the Art And Discipline Of Lamenting.  Admit it, nothing we are doing now is making a difference.  Maybe, just maybe, a good old fashioned Lament will make a difference.

And The Verdict Is. . .

As of last night the CDC reports there are 122,653 of confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported to CDC or tested at CDC since January 21, 2020 in the United States. This number is up from Saturday evening’s number of 103,321. People in the U.S. are panic buying. It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer and now it’s milk, bread, eggs and God knows what else. People are scooping up self-rising flour who have never made a biscuit in their life! And the jury has reached a verdict.

Most people in the United States are found GUILTY of Having No Common Sense And Are Acting Stupid! It took the jury only 3 seconds to reach this verdict. When you consider the evidence it is no surprise at all. Just look at the evidence:

  • You ask a student “You have 3 apples and give 1 apple to your friend, how many are left?” and rather than the student imagine 3 apples, take away 1 and count what’s left, which is 1 then 2, 2 apples left, they have replaced it with common core math. To find the answer you take the circumference of Saturn, divide that by the number of species of ducks, multiply that answer by the temperature on the surface of Mercury, then subtract the number of Wal-Marts in the world, divided by 7.68345690 and subtract the number of people who will buy eggs today and Voila! The answer is 2!
  • Participation Trophies! You have achieved greatness by simply being present. Forget effort. Forget skill and ability. Besides, it’s plain meanness to reward success!
  • Entitlement has become the norm. Who needs perseverance? What’s the value in trying and learning from failure? You exist therefore you deserve!
  • Administrators tell teachers, “You have to teach for the state tests. Forget knowledge and wisdom–it’s the scores on those tests that matter most. NOT the students needs, but OUR need to score high on those tests!”
  • Many school systems have taken out vocational/technical schools because it’s more important for the students to go to college in order for them to ask “Would you like a fried apple pie with this order?” The number of high school students who receive a college degree looks great on the paperwork!
  • Speaking of college, OY VEY! Professors have concluded that they are the experts in their fields and are the sole depository of knowledge, and expect their students to be their little minions who perpetuate their jabber and twaddle. (if you don’t know the meaning of twaddle, look it up!) Cemetery Professors, excuse me, that should have been Seminary Professors, are the absolute worst!
  • And parents? OY VEY! OY VEY! OY VEY! They want to be their child’s friend! Great gobbledygook! This is enough evidence by itself to arrive at that Guilty Verdict!
  • Morality, what is right and wrong, good and bad, is determined by the individual rather than proven standards, such as the Bible. They even encourage their children to find their own gender rather than accept what nature gave them.
  • Consequences? What’s that? People are protected from the consequences of their choices and actions. There is always someone else, something else to blame. Oy gevalt! Bupkes! That’s mishegas! It’s bupkes! Go ahead and kvetsh if it makes you feel better! (I love Yiddish!)
  • And finally, it’s more important to be kind than truthful–especially when truth hurts. A president once challenged this nation to be a kinder and gentler nation. Well, people accepted the challenge, and look at the mess we’re in!

Look at this nation now. More and more people are thinking more and more about themselves while thinking less and less about others. I heard one story of a shopper who was buying up milk. The business only allowed 2 gallons to be purchased. So she bought 2 gallons; then went back in a went through the self checkout with 2 more gallons. This continued until she had her minivan full of milk. Another shopper was doing the same with toilet paper until an astute associate saw what she was doing and cut her off!

There was a time when you didn’t need a declaration from the government to stay at home if you were sick. It was called Common Sense and Decency! There was a time when people cared more about others than themselves. There was a time when valor and restraint were considered virtues. There was a time when hard work was noble and the dream people held dear. And there was a time when it was appropriate to call out, in a kind way, stupidity in others. Well. . . what can I say? Too many people are null and void when it comes to common sense–and are stupid, I say, absolutely stupid! They make the 3 Stooges look like clones of Albert Einstein.

The Real Cause Has Been Identified

The prevalent question among the sane and those of us blessed with common sense is, “Where is all this fear, panic and hoarding coming from?” I know the answer. But before I share it with you, a little bit of perspective from me. In previous times when we’ve seen this kind of behavior and I’ve been asked “Why is this happening?” My answer was, “They don’t have any perspective.” Well, I was wrong.

Everybody has a perspective. Each person’s perspective is never chosen for them by someone else; each person chooses their perspective. And in these times they may want to blame the Chinese, news media, health care system, pharmaceutical companies, the Illuminati (yes, I’ve heard this as to blame for the current fear and chaos), or the ever favorite scapegoat, President Trump. Not so fast, Buckaroo! NO ONE CHOOSES YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND NO ONE FORCES YOU TO HAVE YOUR CURRENT PERSPECTIVE! It is never chosen for you. People may, and in fact do make many of your choices for you. But perspective? ONLY YOU CONTROL YOUR PERSPECTIVE.

What? What’s that you say? Someone just disagreed with me. You said, “No! It’s the fault of the Chinese, news media, Trump that’s causing me to fear!” No it’s not and just because you say it’s the reason why doesn’t make it the reason why. You have taken life as it happens and have chosen your perspective. That’s a fact, Jack! You can disagree with me but…

The mass fear, pandemonium, and chaos comes from the perspective of, guess what? The Perspectives of Fear, Pandemonium or Chaos. And the wonderful thing about perspective is that it can change–for the better or for the worse. Allow me to share some “different” perspectives in these times:

If you have an autoimmune disease, respiratory issues, or are on chemo or radiation therapy, choose to stay at home. Your perspective in this time is to prevent you from becoming sicker than you already are. Call a friend, family member or neighbor to go shopping for you. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus that you should be concerned about, but Type A and Type B flu is a threat to you. More people have died from Type A & Type B flu than from cornavirus.

If you have a sore throat, coughing, fever or sinus issues, get diagnosed by a doctor. Your perspective in this time is to make sure whatever it is, you don’t share it with anyone. Sure, it may be just allergies; but let a doctor make that call. And if you are diagnosed with Coronavirus or the Flu, stay out of contact with anyone until the doctor declares it to be safe for you to go out. And follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you. Don’t stop taking any medicines just because “you feel better now”.

And if you are healthy, no flu or other symptoms, carry on with your life and respect the space of others. Your perspective in this time is to be hopeful and upbeat, kind and encouraging. Now, I’m a hand-shaker and a hugger. It’s just who I am–I love and care about people. And I admit it’s a challenge not to extend the hand or arm for a hug. But it’s a challenge I’m up to–and so can you. Not only is the flu virus and coronavirus contagious, but so is a smile, as well as kind words. Greet people with a “Hello, how are you doing?” or something similar. Choose to be cheerful, optimistic and encouraging. You will be amazed at how social spaces are changed by a smile and kind words.

So, remember, you get to choose your own perspective in these times. In fact, every day you get to choose your perspective–and you DO CHOOSE YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVE. Just remember this scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

You can choose your perspective poorly or you can choose your perspective wisely…

PCP–HEAVEN’S TO BETSY! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?–Tuesday Thoughts, 11 March 2020

Our world is having a serious issue right now with PCP. I’m not talking about phencyclidine, an illegal narcotic also known as Angel Dust. An interesting side-note about phencyclidine–it was introduced as an anesthesia in the 1950s. It took them until 1965 to ban it as anesthesia because of it’s side-effects of hallucinations. If you were given phencyclidine as anesthesia before 1966, you may be entitled to compensation; call 800-shy-ster for more information.

No, the PCP that is quickly becoming the worst PANDEMIC yet is PANIC, CHAOS and PANDEMONIUM. I am not about to make light of the serious nature of the COVID-19. Nor am I making light of those who have COVID-19 and am not diminishing the grief of those who have lost someone close to them because of COVID-19. My comments today are directed to those who are promoting and spreading PCP–PANIC, CHAOS, PANDEMONIUM, which is proving to be more dangerous and damaging than COVID-19. In reviewing this before I posted it, both forms of PCP, the chemical form and emotional form, create hallucinations–things that simply are not real.

The money markets, stock markets, and supermarkets are all in free-dive hysteria. Context and proportion is essential to navigating life when things get a bit dicey. Currently, if China is releasing correct data now, less that .000002 percent of the population has COVID-19. The percentage for the rest of the world is less than .0000002 percent. This morning there are 647 cases in the U.S. The percentage is less than .0000002 percent. The odds of contracting COVID-19 are about the same as winning the big lottery. It is more likely that you will be struck by lightning that to get the COVID-19 virus. You don’t see people clearing shelves of water, sanitizer, and toilet paper.

Yet people, and news organizations, are making it sound like the plague of the dark ages is upon us again. They make it sound like people are dropping dead everywhere because of COVID-19. The Markets are in free-dive hysteria not because of what COVID-19 is doing to the world–but what it, now get this, what it MIGHT DO. And now get this–There’s a shortage of toilet paper because of this report that somewhere someone allegedly found the COVID-19 virus growing in toilet paper. I noticed one church posted on face book all the things they were doing extra, and changing some things–because of Panic, Chaos and Pandemonium has taken over HOW people think.

Gee Whiz, people, get a grip. I remember other so-called pandemics that created PCP. Don’t you remember H1N1, West Nile Virus, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Legionnaires disease and SARS?

Here’s the Main Point: DON’T LET FEAR RUN YOUR LIFE! I’ve heard people complain about FEAR, yet they run towards it faster than someone running to the toilet who has intestinal issues. When FEAR rules one part of your life, it will take over and ruin the rest of your life. And the way, THE ONLY WAY to keep the Wolf of Fear away from the door is to become a follower and disciple of Jesus. When you make the choice to follow Jesus the Holy Spirit comes to live inside your heart. And here is what the Holy Spirit living in you does IN AND FOR you.

For God will never give you the spirit of fear, but the Holy Spirit who gives you mighty power, love, and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 (The Passion Translation)

The Greek word used for fear is deilía and it means “timidity, fearfulness, cowardice”. If you are a follower of Jesus and you are fearful, you have made the choice to believe fear over believing the Holy Spirit. Someone reading this just thought, “Wait a minute preacher! There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s frightening. COVID-19 being one of them.” OK, granted there’s frightening stuff out there–but your reactions to that stuff is YOUR CHOICE! You choose PANIC, CHAOS AND PANDEMONIUM. Remember this song:

Since FEAR is a liar, what should you do? What can you do? Apply common sense:

  1. Listen to and believe what the Holy Spirit tells you. He never lies and He’s told you that you don’t have The Spirit of timidity, fearfulness, or cowardice Simple enough. But if that’s not enough common sense for you, wait there’s more.
  2. Wash your hands, using soap and water. It’s like a post I’ve seen a lot on Facebook: It’s 2020 and we are supposed to have flying cars but instead we’ve having to teach folks to wash their hands.
  3. Use hand-sanitizer, and if the store shelves are empty, rubbing alcohol does the same, and it’s a lot cheaper.
  4. If you have the sniffles, a cough, fever or body aches–STAY AT HOME. This applies to your spouse, children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles. And though your preacher loves to see you in church, she or he would rather you stay home until you are symptom free.
  5. Go see your doctor at the first signs of any flu-like symptoms. Essential oils won’t help. Medicine will.

If you think yourself a follower of Jesus, having the Holy Spirit living inside your heart–AND insist that sterile face masks be issued with the bulletins by the greeters, if you insist that the church janitor sign a notarized document that the restrooms are so clean that a surgeon could operate in there, if you are afraid to take Holy Communion and that the servers wear sterile gloves, masks and gowns, putting the garb on in front of God and everybody else (same attire for those who take up the offering), then you have either forgotten what the Holy Spirit is giving us–or you never were a real follower of Jesus. And that’s the way I see it!

Double Down–Monday Musings 10 January 2020

When playing blackjack, there’s a certain set of conditions when you want to “double down”; or so I’m told. The reason is to have an opportunity to double your winnings, or so I’m told. Today’s Monday Musing is about doubling down but not at the blackjack table–but in one’s spiritual life. Now here’s the passage I’m looking at this evening–James 3:10–12

10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

The context of these words of James is about our words. And I would never take Brother James out of context. But. . .there is a principle that is also present. Principles work in every situation. The Principle that Brother James applies to the “tongue” is verse 12. It’s a basic principle from nature: Something designed to produce only one thing, cannot produce something different.

Yet, there are many today who have forgotten this most basic Principle. So they have doubled down and actually think it works. We are seeing a culture of people who are trying to navigate life by doubling down. Unlike in blackjack where there are certain card combinations you would NEVER double down on, there are those who double down with the wrong “cards”. They live and operate with a double heart and a double mind.

They do this by mixing Biblical Truths with Cultural Values, with Cultural Values being the “Wild Card” that overrides Biblical Truths. They embrace their Cultural Value and then find a Bible verse to support it. And the verses that don’t support that Cultural Value–they either find an excuse why the Bible is wrong, or they simply ignore it altogether.

Truth is you cannot follow Jesus by trying to align the Bible with Cultural Values. Remember Brother James’ Principle: Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. You simply cannot align Biblical Truth with some Cultural Values. But you can do this: You can transform Cultural Values by faithfully living by Biblical Truths. You can try to Double Down with Cultural Values AND Biblical Truth–but The House will win every time, and you will lose.

THROW IT OUT THERE THURSDAY-IS IT THE RESULT OF DNA OR ‘OTHER’ SPIRITS?

Well, it’s time for another “Throw It Out There Thursday”. Remember that no idea, thing or person is exempt from Throw It Out There Thursday. I do not expect everyone to agree with any conclusions I may reach. Enough disclaimer crap. On to the the subject at hand: “Is It DNA, Or The Result Of ‘Other’ Spirits?

This week I came across a “blow-your-mind-can’t-be-true” post on the infamous Facebook. I had to research it and follow the links to see if it was true. Sorry, Virginia, not everything on Facebook is true. If I burst your bubble. . . oh, well. . .toughen up buttercup! The story involves…read it for yourself:

Here is the synopsis:

  • Jamie Bruesehoff gave birth to a son
  • At some point he decided he was transgendered
  • Jamie Bruesehoff supported his decision
  • Who is now “Rebekah” has had a hormone blocking implant, twice, to prevent “her” biological gender from developing
  • Jamie is a Lutheran’s pastor’s wife and their group insurance plan payed for it.

So, at some point this “child” decided that God really wanted him to live out his life not as a biological “he”, but as a transgendered “she”. Now comes the fodder that will probably bring me a lot of “negative” feedback. Oh, well. Since when does an adolescent have the intellectual, emotional and mental wherewithal to reach such a decision? “Rebekah” Bruesehoff has none of the prerequisites for such a decision, neither does a teenager. I know this is not an isolated case. It is a scene that happens often in today’s culture; too often.

To empower a child the right to pursue such an idea is an act of, for lack of a civil word, an act of sheer incompetence by adults, especially parents. So, I have to wonder and ask out loud, how does an adolescent form such a thought? It had to come from somewhere. Including the unproven DNA hypothesis, how would a child frame such a thought?

Oh, and here’s some more on Jamie Bruesehoff, right from her website:

Yep, you read her bio correctly: “a openly queer woman married to a Lutheran pastor”; whatever “openly” means. She has also put her “daughter” in front of audiences, including youth audiences, promoting this “happiness” that God told “her” to have in life. It’s as plain as the sun shining in the daytime, that even in a fish market, this smells “fishy”. This Mother is more than an underlining influence; she is an overwhelming influence.

And this leads me to what I am going to “Throw Out There”. It isn’t a “feeling” nor is it God wanting this child to be what he “feels” like he is. No, this child is being influenced by ‘other spirits’. Now wait a minute. I didn’t say that transgendered people are victims of demonic possession. What I am throwing out there is that there are other spirits contrary to the Spirit of God influencing many, even children. These other spirits are from the realm of Satan, himself.

In my humble opinion, those other spirits are influencing the mother of this child. I happen to believe that these other spirits out there while not “possessing” people, certainly influence how people think and see life. Furthermore, I believe that adults who allow those other spirits to influence their thinking opens the way for those unequipped and unprepared to handle the thought influences of these other spirits; and children are the most vulnerable to their influences.

I would challenge you to do 2 things. First and foremost, show the kindness and gentleness of Jesus to ALL people. ALL means ALL. You will never influence others in a positive way by spewing verbal acid at them. Second, and just as important–engage in spiritual warfare against Satan and his minions. Become aware of their influences in your own thinking. Pray, study God’s word, and seek the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit.

Our culture is being attacked from all sides by the other spirits by influencing the thoughts and perspectives of people. And when those people who succumb to their influences are adults, and those adults have influence over children, they are putting those most vulnerable at the highest risk of grave danger. That’s how I see it….

The Missing 11th Commandment

Yesterday we went to spend Thanksgiving with my Dad. He lives about 2 hours away. Debbie and I went in separate vehicles; NO, we weren’t having a disagreement. She was going further to spend the weekend with her daughter and granddaughter. In moments where I am alone in the car, I listen to podcasts–in particular Andy Andrews’ “In The Loop”. (You can get them on i-Tunes or from his website–click here–and they are FREE!)

In the episode I was listening to, Andy brought up the 10 Commandments. He said he had no issues with them and used them as boundaries for his life. But then he mentioned something about being glad there wasn’t the “11th Commandment”. Well, being a preacher-type, I leaned in (figuratively, of course) and wondered was this something else they failed to teach me in my cemetery classes–excuse me–that should have been “seminary”. And after he shared it, I joined Andy in Thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day there wasn’t that “11th Commandment”. Want to know that “11th Commandment”? Here it is:

XI “THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!”

I have to confess (confession is good for the soul they said, but not so good for the ego), I wondered, “Did Moses leave the mountain too soon? Did he nod off at some point? Was he doodling on the bulletin? Did he have to slip out for a bathroom trip?” Unlike “some” people, I know I’m NOT God, though at times I try to give Him some sound advice.

And while thinking about all those people who have been out there since last night acting like total idiots at those “Black Friday” sales, I want to find a computer hacker to hack into those store intercoms and shout to the top of my lungs: THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!

If there has ever been a culture that needs the 11th Commandment, then it’s this 2019 U.S. culture. I mean, really–watch the news–watch Washington D.C.–watch your neighbors–and look in your own mirror. When law enforcement has to be in store parking lots, even inside stores–because of the spirit and attitude of many shoppers–ya’ gotta’ say: THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!

Go back to my earlier comment: “Confession is good for soul–but not so good for the ego.” Are you tired of the chaos and madhouse? No, not the Black Friday Sales–I’m talking about the day to day environment we struggle through most days. Want to see a more calmer and peaceful neighborhood, community, town, city, state, nation and world? Then, I highly encourage you to do this:

XI “THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THYSELF SO SERIOUSLY!”

Then make sure you love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure God gets ALL the Glory. Oh, one more thing:

Is It Time To Change The Rules?

Recently I entered a strange world–it’s called Twitter. Oh, I’ve had a Twitter account and these musings here show up in my Twitter feed. But instead of just “tweeting”, “liking”, and the occasional “retweet”, I decided to dive in to a thread that, well, got my attention.

It was about doing away with the Electoral College because it wasn’t . . . fair. I was amazed at the number of people wanting to abolish the Electoral College all because “their” candidate wasn’t elected. The theme of being unfair rang throughout the rants.

And I was dumbfounded by those who didn’t understand it. I made a simple comment, excuse me, “tweet”, that the U.S. is a Representative Republic and not a democracy. One “twit” (I know my snarky is coming out) corrected me by saying that Google corrects it to “Representative Democracy”. I tweeted that just because Google said it doesn’t make it true. Right now I’ve drawn all the curtains and regularly peek outside to see if the mob armed with torches and axes are approaching the house. And I wept that so many were being educated by Google rather than knowledge and common sense.

I could go on about what I encountered, but another thought came over me. It was the question that is the title of this post: “Is It Time To Change The Rules?” It seems to me that our culture is being driven to accept only the results that it desires in the moment. If rules gets in the way of achieving those desires, then the rules need to be changed in order to achieve the wanted outcome.

Now, those who know me knows that I can be a rebel by breaking some of the rules. And there are some rules that indeed need to be changed. Our nation has a history of changing rules, rules that are unjust, rules that demean human life, or make it impossible for citizens to reach out for their potential. Some rules have taken a long time, too long of a time, to be changed.

It has happened even in the church. Wrong and sinful things were justified and approved. People were segregated by social status and the color of their skin. Women were denied the opportunity to pursue God’s call on their life. (Some still deny them that right. And for those who sincerely believe I am wrong on this, it’s OK for you to be wrong. And if you take Paul’s “let women be silent in church” out of context, then I’ll take it out of context and say that women can’t sing in church! Yes, that’s me being snarky.)

Yes, rules have been changed. Those changes happened because there were rules that needed to be broken, urgently needed to be change. Why? Not because a group decided those rules were unfair. The rules weren’t changed so that some group could get their way. They were changed because those rules were unjust.

It’s the desire to change the rule in order have one’s own way at any cost that disturbs me most. There is an attempt in my Tribe to change the rules on Christian conduct; to change the definition of God-Approved Marriage. And when the rule won’t change, they live in open disobedience, with little or no consequences. And this desire to change the rules in order to get one’s desired outcome has led to chaos and anger; anger and chaos; and it’s ripping apart both our nation and church.

Yes, some rules need to be changed. But never, ever, ever simply to achieve some personal desire or wish. Rules that need to be changed are those of justice and keeping the doors of opportunity open to anyone and everyone. Changing the rules needs to be done through discernment, deep thought, and focused on the issues of justice and human dignity. The Electoral College is about as fair as it gets–so it’s not about justice. The Electoral College doesn’t take away human dignity. And this is for the cupcakes–when your candidate isn’t elected, it’s NOT a matter of dignity; it just that you act so UNdignified. So why change that rule? Changing rules to achieve one’s personal (and often selfish and void of common sense) desires, will only devolve into chaos–and that chaos will invite tyranny into the U.S.; something the Founding Fathers worked hard to prevent.

Sometimes They Got It Wrong, So Do We; And That’s A Problem!

There is a crisis in our culture. Duh! The cause of this crisis? Well, that’s where things get dicey and heated. I may loose a few “followers” (that’s OK, just keep following Jesus) with the next few thoughts; but I believe I have uncovered the roots of this present crisis. To overcome a crisis one cannot deal with the surface issues but get to the root cause. Failure to get to the roots is like breaking off a dandelion on the surface but never extracting its roots. The dandelion will come back and bring all its cousins.

We read the Bible through a set of lenses provided by opinions–both our own and those of others. The result is we do not see Truth. We accept that it is true, but we never Discover THE Truth. And the results of such a view is. . . chaos, discord, disarray, turmoil, pandemonium, and anarchy. People are muddling through life angry, disappointed, unruly, distressed, disillusioned, disgruntled and add your own synonym here. So how do we unsnarl this mess of yarn? See the Bible for what it truly is; not what we think it is!

The Bible is a book full of human stories. Each story is unique; each story is the same. In these very human stories we find people who sometimes get it right–the rest of the time they get it wrong. But we read it is as though they were perfect saints issuing to us perfect edicts. But sometimes they got it wrong.

Abraham and Sarah got it wrong when they came up with their plan.

Moses got it wrong when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it.

David got it wrong when–where do I begin with this guy.

Solomon got it wrong when he tried to find the purpose of life outside of God (See Ecclesiastes). Just a small sampling from the Old Testament.

Even in the New Testament, some got it wrong; I’m not talking about Judas or Peter’s denials. Yes, even Paul got it wrong sometimes. Now that I’ve raised the hair on your neck with such a statement, I’ll show you some examples (This is where I may lose some followers, but I’m OK with that because I’m a “Follower” of Jesus) where Paul got it wrong. Paul, who had been the champion of the Gentiles and insisting they did not have to be circumcised, had Timothy circumcised. Paul who claimed citizenship in the Kingdom of God, played his “Roman Citizenship Card” in Philippi and insisted on an apology from the city officials. In Athens, at the Acropolis he preached without ever mentioning the name of Jesus. Enough about Paul’s getting it wrong.

Now, I am not revealing these character flaws to diminish their accomplishments; truth is, I find hope in their flaws because if God used them in spite of those flaws, He can use me. No, my purpose is to make this point:

Humans, even those in the Bible, sometimes gets it wrong–But God Never Does!

The stories of those “saints” in the Bible are that, stories; stories that reveals their ups and their downs. But they also reveal the faithfulness of God who never gave up on them.

Progressives want to take the fact these “saints” were sometimes wrong, so there must be other places where the Bible is wrong. Thus, we are free to figure out, on our own (boy, is this a disaster waiting to happen!) where else the Bible is wrong; especially in the realms of the role of women in the church, drinking, marriage, divorce, the meaning of church, politics, nationalism, and sexual ethics, just to name a few.

We need to see The Bible for what it really is: Stories of flawed human beings in the process of being restored by the Flawless God. There are things in the Bible that humans said that are sometimes Truth; and sometimes flawed. BUT. . . whatever God says is NEVER flawed. Look at the example of the Bereans in Acts chapter 17. They looked, studied, talked and did all that again and again. And Luke called the “Noble People”. Man, do we need some Noble People today!

Think about the California Gold Rush; how many people walked by looking in those streams but never saw that there was gold just lying there waiting to be discovered. It was there all along but you needed to work to get it; sifting through all the other “stuff” to get those nuggets. Now, more than ever we need to become Bereans and Gold Prospectors who will take the time and energy to sift through the “stuff” to find the nuggets of Truth. And that Truth will not be found through the eyes of others nor even through our own eyes.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us “see” the difference between the human flaws and His Eternal And Unchanging Truth! There are standards God has clearly given; but we may never see them using the wrong lens. But we can find The Truth even in the middle of this muddle of 21st Century Culture. This is possible if we commit to the effort through our time and energy under the direction and authority of the Holy Spirit to “pan for the gold” that is always there.

If I have made someone mad with this post, oh well. But. . .if this post is prompting and prodding you to open that Bible in a new light, with different “eyes”. . .you’re welcome.

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

Recalculating: For Such A Time As This!

Today I want us to look at another Old Testament story to see what happens when we Recalculate Our Heart To Move In The Direction Of God’s Heart.  If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It:

God Is Looking For People Who Will Live Each Moment As If They Were Born Such A Time As This—Because You Are.

Today it’s the story of Esther.  It’s around 470 BC in Persia.  King Xerxes is throwing a wild party for the leading men of his nation.  On a drunken whim, the king orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself before all his guests.  She refuses, creating panic among the men:  What if their wives heard about it and followed her example?  Terrified at the prospect of such a thing, they convince the king to get rid of Queen Vashti.  But the king gets lonely.  Seeing his misery, the king’s advisors devise a plan. They will host a beauty pageant, gathering the most dazzling women from the kingdom, so the king can have “the pick of the litter”.  Enter Esther!

Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to enter the Beauty Pageant.  But he wants her to hide something important—that she is a Jew—numbered among the people of God.  If the promoters of this beauty pageant find out she’s a Jew, they won’t ever consider her.  And he was right in that analysis.  If she wants to win the king’s favor, it will come at the price of hiding who she really is.  She’ll have to act just like everyone else.  And we know she wins.

Something happens, though, to throw all of this into jeopardy. It happens because of Mordecai’s resolve to be God’s Person.  There is a man in the kingdom named Haman, who is second in command to King Xerxes.  That’s a lot of power, but it’s never enough for men like Haman.  

He not only wants power; he wants others to flatter him, and inflate his already oversized ego.  That’s Haman—powerful, insecure, and a threat.  Whenever he passes by, everyone must bow down to him in an elaborate tribute.  But there’s Mordecai—so insistent that Esther conceals her true identity—decides this business with Haman has gone on long enough.  It was time to stand up and be counted.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.

Haman is furious with his actions and he hatches a plot.  He goes to King Xerxes and informs him of a people—God’s people—who are causing problems.  He convinces the king that it’s in the king’s best interests to completely annihilate them by genocide.  He even offers to finance the project!  Without blinking an eye, the king gives a nod of approval.  Posters are soon plastered all over the kingdom, saying:  Kill all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on March 7 next year.  When Mordecai hears the news, he does what any good Jew would do—he repents.  

He puts on sackcloth and covers himself with ashes—the clothing and gestures of repentance, and goes through the city, weeping and crying.  Why offer repentance?  Hasn’t the wrong been done by Haman?  Mordecai repents because he knows he has wronged God by trying to hide.  To borrow the words of James 4:4, Mordecai realizes that “If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

When Esther hears about her cousin’s behavior, she is concerned. She doesn’t care what’s going on; she just wants him to stop it.  She sends him a message to stop it.  But Mordecai refuses to turn away from his repentance.  So she sends another message.  Let’s pick up the story in Esther 4:13-17

13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther:  “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die.  Who Knows If Perhaps You Were Made Queen For Just Such A Time As This?”  15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will do the same.  And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king.  If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther 4:13-17 (NLT) (emphasis mine)

At the risk of racing through this amazing story, let me sum it up quickly.  She gets her opportunity and invites both Haman and the king to 2 special banquets.  Haman is delighted—proud and puffed up to know he is the only person chosen to attend the gathering alongside the king.  His spirits are quickly cooled because he saw Mordecai again and again he refused to bow down before Haman.  When he came home, he was complaining to his wife and family, “I’m the only one invited to the banquet the Queen has prepared for the King, and this, this heathen Mordecai dishonors me.”  So, his wife suggests he erect a tall pointed pole and impale Mordecai on it.  Well, Haman is happy again.  Haman thinks life is good again.

But the King couldn’t sleep the night before the banquet, so he had some servants read to him from the archives of his life as King.  I don’t know if he was wanting his ego stroked or if he thought the reading would be so boring he would fall asleep.  But then he hears about how a Jew named Mordecai had saved his life by revealing an assassination plot. 

Then he found out he had never properly recognized Mordecai for this, so he decides to honor him.  What happens next is pure irony—God is the Master of Irony!  The King sees Haman who is about to ask permission to kill Mordecai, and asks Haman how should someone really special be honored.  Haman, thinking it’s himself the King wants to honor says, “Give him one of your royal robes, give him one of your horses to ride and have a parade to tell everyone how wonderful this man is (wink-wink).  The king says, “Great idea!  Go get Mordecai ready for the parade, and you lead the parade telling everyone what a great man Mordecai is.” 

This humiliates Haman, but that evening it gets worse.  Esther then pleads for her people’s lives and reveals Haman’s evil plot and this angers the king.  Xerxes storms out, Haman falls on Esther’s couch to ask for mercy just when the King comes back in.  He gets the wrong idea, and has Haman impaled on the same pole he had built for Mordecai. 

Since the King cannot undo his decree to have the Jews killed, he gives another decree—they can defend themselves and their families.  Mordecai is then promoted to Haman’s position.  Let’s see if we can learn why The 21st Century Church needs a Change of Direction and Change of Heart, For Such A Time As This:

1.  We Are Living In A Time Of Moral Confusion.

If I or any preacher were to say:  “We are living in a time of immorality!”, there would be a loud echo of “AMEN!”  And we could cite instance after instance of why this would be true.  No doubt about it, immorality is in overabundance.  But I’m not so convinced the real issue of our culture is the immorality—as much as it is the Moral Confusion which exists.  The Crisis of our culture is the way it defines morality. 

The word definition of morality is simple:  “It Is The Principles That Mark The Distinction Between Right And Wrong Or Good And Bad Behavior.”  Our culture defines morality in contextual ways, rather than by Truth.  Here’s what I am trying to say.  Our culture defines right and wrong based on context, on the settingIf it’s OK in one setting, then it’s not immoral.

And it’s frustrating for us who identify as followers of Jesus.  Our culture needs to see a Morality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, in us.  I’m not talking about is it right or wrong to have a drink or divorce or the lottery or cut grass on Sunday—I’m talking about us living a full and joyful life by the standard God has given us. 

You and I are born for such a time as this—To Show How Meaningful Life Is When We Live It By God’s Standard.  This Chaos Is Alienating People—And We Can Be The Ones God Uses To End This Chaos.

2.  We Are Living In A Season Of Instability!

Without a solid foundation to define morality—the end result is that instability of character within people’s lives.  The Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary defines Character this way: 

“The Way Someone Thinks, Feels, And Behaves; A Set Of Qualities That Are Shared By Many People In A Group; A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.

Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary

Focus on that last part:  A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.  The instability of our culture is the direct result of the lack of being different from other places and things.  Most people don’t follow Jesus say that it’s because they don’t like the church.

And when they ask what the church is, they identify us by things we are against.  Character of heart and life isn’t measured by just what we are against—it is measured more by what we are for

  • We are FOR unconditional love. 
  • We are FOR people being treated with respect and dignity.
  • We are FOR values that build people up. 
  • We are FOR kindness. 
  • We are FOR compassion—love in action. 
  • We are FOR Grace and Mercy expressed as Forgiveness And A Commitment To A Life Of Holiness! 
  • We are FOR eliminating human distinctions. 
  • HOPE For A Life That Is Meaningful, Fulfilling And Abundant! 

This is why you are born for such a time as this.  To bring all this and so much more, through the Kingdom of God—as seen in you.  And this leads me to my last point:

3.  We Are Living In A Time Of Despair.

The Lack Of A God-Centered Morality, The Absence Of Christ-Like Character Fuels The Despair That Is Consuming Our Culture In The U.S. 

Watch the news, look at Washington D.C., look at what’s happening in the streets.  It’s not the fault of the Democrats, nor the Republicans.  It’s the despair that’s fueling all of it.  No one sees or senses any hope for anything better.  So they argue and fight and point the finger of blame.  They become fearful and angry at each other. 

All because of the absence of one thing:  Hope!  Democrats can’t create hope.  Republicans can’t create hope.  Socialists can’t create hope.  Government can’t create hope.  And the hate, anger and frustrations of the people can’t create hope.  These only intensify the despair.  Hope is missing.  Why?

It’s the failure of so many in churches who have either forgotten, or never understood, That WE Have Been Born, WE Have Been REBORN For Such A Time As This. Despair is ripping apart the fabric of our nation and world. 

We Need A Recalculating Moment To See That We Are Born And Reborn For Such A Time As This.  To Bring Moral Clarity, Lasting Character And Living Hope. 

A Day Comes When We’ve Got To Stand, Be Counted, And Fight To Proclaim What We’ve Been Entrusted With.  Today Is That Day. 

We should know we will never win a pagan culture by mimicking it and all it values.   The strongest influence we can bring in these chaotic and desperate times is to simply be peculiar—to be, with neither pride nor apology, followers of Jesus. 

Our call, God’s vision for this place, will reveal the character of Jesus—a character saturated with love, mercy, grace and compassion—a character that just doesn’t point out what’s wrong with others, but sees their hurts and their needs—a character that does more than see their needs, but does something to meet those needs.

Your Next Steps is to accept these 3 truths and live them out:

1.  The People Of God Do Not Succeed In A Pagan World By Hiding Their True Identity.

2. You Can Win Admiration By Conforming To The Standards Of The Age, But It Will Take You Further Away From Having A Heart For God.

3.  We Have An Enemy Who Is Out To Destroy Us, And No Amount Of Hiding Will Save Us.

Did you catch Mordecai’s last warning to Esther?

“Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive.  If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, Help And Deliverance Will Arrive For The Jews From Someplace Else; but you and your family will be wiped out.”

God is at work bringing help and deliverance to this vast spiritual wasteland.  The issue for you and for all of us, will it be through some other people, or will we rise For Such A Time As This?

An Open Letter To Young Clergy In The North Alabama Conference

It has been nearly a month. I have had time to process it, so now I will write.

Well, I have just been to Dante’s 45th Level of Hell. Excuse me, I meant to say my 45th consecutive North Alabama UMC Annual Conference. For those unfamiliar with my Spiritual Tribe, it’s that annual gathering of pastors and laity to “do” the “business” of UMC congregations within the boundaries of the North Alabama Conference. The italics and bold font indicates it’s alleged purpose. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how much we really do and how much of what we do really is the business of the Body of Christ and the Tribe known as United Methodists or the business of our personal opinions and beliefs.

To the young clergy and and young Christians, I want you to know I heard you cries of despair; of your feelings of being neglected because you felt your voice wasn’t important. It is important, but not in the way you may think. I also heard your anger because…well…because you did not obtain the results you wanted.

It appeared that you felt like BECAUSE you are young, your voice and your beliefs are the most important one. You were disappointed that none of you were elected to attend our General and Jurisdictional Conferences…and thus you assumed we weren’t listening. Au contraire, my sisters and brothers. You were heard, and there were many times when your voices did not sound like our Head, Jesus Christ.

With youth comes many advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantages of youth are qualities and virtues we all need to reclaim. We need to reclaim the excitement of the sense of unlimited possibilities. We need to reclaim the excitement of new discoveries. We need the stepping stones of fresh perspectives. These are just a few of the things you youth can teach us old fogies.

But there are also some disadvantages to youth, disadvantages us old fogies also had. The lack of depth of wisdom comes to mind. Wisdom doesn’t come from the surface of information, but from the depths of God’s heart and mind. This takes time…a lot of time. You lack the scars of battle with the Enemy. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I know you have faced and done battle with the Enemy…otherwise you would’t be here.

Allow me to give you the image of my son, now retired from the military. He has been in many literal battles. And when the battle was intense, he did not look to that fresh out of West Point or ROTC second lieutenant for guidance and courage, he looked to the seasoned officers who had more experience in battle. What I want to say is that experience trumps youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience helps steady the ship when the storms are intense.

Young clergy and laity, you bring much to our Table. We need what you offer. But you also need what we old fogies bring to the Table. We bring years of failure and success. We bring hearts and minds deeply rooted in the Truth of Scriptures (well most of us anyway). We also bring a knowledge of our processes.

Do not think you are unimportant because you did not get your way at the North Alabama Annual Conference 2019. The anger many of you manifested at Annual Conference did not serve your purposes at all. Take a moment to breathe, and reflect in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And for a moment, set aside all that your seminary professors told you–and simply seek the Holy Spirit–then listen.

I do not blame you for feeling disappointed. I do blame those who told you that you have the only answer for the problems ad issues of the church in the 21st century. The Body of Christ has many parts, and you are one of those parts. Bring your energy and insights to the body of Christ.

But also listen…listen to the scars of us old fogies…listen to the wisdom from above that we have because we have been on the front lines for a while. The, when it’s time for decisions to be made, contact those delegates elected, and with the spirit of grace and kindness, share your views and opinions. Those will be a part of the mix that helps us ALL, regardless of age, to move forward with the Kingdom of God.

And most of all remember Paul’s words to young Timothy. Study…learn…seek wisdom from Above. Rejoice in your successes but also learn from your failures. The scars we bear are the most fertile ground for spiritual maturity…

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

Slide5

A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming:  “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.  Isn’t this also your experience?”  Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison.  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.  He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

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

A Moving Journal-Day 9

Well, yesterday didn’t end like I had planned it.  I even forgot to publish Day 8 until this morning.  Everything was supposed to be finished with just our dirty clothes, bedding and toiletries to pack.  This morning was supposed to be a “chilling-out” day.  Well, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Oh, and good old Murphy!  How I despise that guy–you know–Murphy’s Law.  If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible moment.  I know he’s not on that moving truck because he’s still around here.  I hope we don’t pack him in our vehicles.  But I suspect he will find a way to get to Fayette.  He always seems to know where I am.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t go back to sleep because all those best laid plans of mine went awry.  An hour or so later, I finally managed to go back to sleep.  The turning point in my mind was when I said, “Jesus, you’ve got to help me!”

So this morning, it was back to the plan that wasn’t completed.  Now it is.  Had a representative from the church inspect the parsonage–it was in great order.  After the last thing, I cleaned up, and spent some time with my Dad.  He was obviously sad, but at the same time, encouraging.  That’s what he does–I know a lot of people who need to learn that lesson.  Stopped by my very good friend Dennis’s home for just some good conversation between friends.  Now, I am home–ready for some sleep.

So, what did I learn today?  I love it when y’all ask that question.  Here goes:

Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!

My plans didn’t work out the way I wanted.  But God’s plans always works out.  Sometimes people get in the way.  Sometimes WE get in the way.  But neither situation will stop God’s plans.  He just chooses another route to accomplish His purposes.  I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!

Elizabeth:

Good night, John Boy.

John-Boy:
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.

John:
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen:
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.

Olivia:
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.

Jim Bob:
Good night, Mama. Good night, Erin.

Erin:
Good night, Jim Bob. Good night, Ben.

Ben:
Good night, Erin. Good night, everybody.