WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:

This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.

But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.

The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.

Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.

Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.

ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR THE STRUGGLES?

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 18; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Well, I didn’t muse and write yesterday because we were packing up and cleaning up from our recent spiritual retreat on the beach at Pensacola. Then the drive home. A few stops for food, gas, and shopping–then unpacking when we arrived home. And though I usually take Saturday as a Sabbath from writing, this morning is different. As the Spirit and I were talking (for the uninformed it’s also known as prayer) He gave me this thought: Are You Thankful For The Struggles?

So many are in some type of struggle–myself included. Shocker Alert: We all have struggles! For some of you, I didn’t have to say that. Maybe you are struggling with some type of addiction (and surely you know there are more types of addictions than chemical addictions, don’t you?) Maybe it’s a rebellious child at home. Perhaps it’s you are living out the story of The Prodigal Son. Maybe it’s your marriage. A friendship. Your health. The health of a loved one. Perhaps even finding a new job or career. As Forrest Gump said in the movie: “It happens.” Or maybe your struggle is in and with the United Methodist (Alleged) Church.

The struggle, whatever it may be, is literally eating you alive. You’ve tried a gazillion things to end the struggle. Perhaps you’ve resigned to burying you hand in the sand, hoping it will go away–but even Ostriches know that doesn’t work. So, what now? Maybe now is the time to follow Paul’s advice to the church at Thessalonica–Be Thankful! Did you or someone else just think: “What tha’………….?” Yes, I said Be Thankful for our struggles! And I just heard a reader say out loud, “You’re crazy Preacherman! There’s nothing to help me by being thankful! I’m not reading any more of your insane gibberish!”

Hold on, pardner! Try to stay in the saddle just a couple of more minutes. Struggles are ripe moments to grow in both grace and wisdom. Lord knows we need a lot more wisdom in these days. We can be thankful for our struggles when we do 3 simple, yet deeply profound things–and here they are:

Lean Into The Spirit!

Choose in this moment of struggle to get closer to The Holy Spirit. Struggles are loud–VERY loud. And without leaning into The Spirit we will not be able to hear Him.

Lean on the spirit!

Let’s get real! In every struggle we are leaning on something! No exceptions! Either ourselves, another person, our chemical of choice–remember, no exceptions. Instead, lean ON The Spirit. Rely on The Holy Spirit to help you and even carry you when you are totally overwhelmed.

count on the spirit

When struggles seem impossible to overcome, it’s because we have empowered the struggle to be more powerful than anything else. Put your confidence in the work, power, and purposes of The Holy Spirit! ALL of your confidence. It may well be that His Plan isn’t in alignment with YOUR plan. Still, Count On The Holy Spirit to bring Victory over our struggles. The Spirit will never abandon you! So, count on The Spirit in the struggles.

As we do these 3 simple yet profound things, something amazing, maybe even unexpected by us, happens. We become thankful–thankful that God’s plans are so much better, so much more powerful than anything we can ever imagine. For then we live fully confident in God. And when we are living fully confident that God has us AND our struggles, those struggles lose its power over us and we become Victors! Even in this season of pondering disaffiliation!

ARE YOU FIT FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Luke chapter 9, verse 62; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

As you may have surmised from this week’s posts, I had planned to re-post some of my previous musings so that I would have more time to enjoy this brief vacation. When I announced (to myself) this would be my plan, The Father looked at the Son, then The Spirit–and all three of them laughed and laughed and laughed! When will I ever learn? So, what has changed? Glad you asked!

At least in my locale, I’m hearing sad stories about some folks who are beginning to waffle on disaffiliation as the time grows close to make the “official” decision. And I do not know their reason(s) for waffling. I am willing to allow that the Holy Spirit has told them to change their minds. After all, I wasn’t privy to their original nor subsequent conversations with The Spirit. But I can’t help but wonder like Paul did about the church in Galatia: “You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for He is the one who called you to freedom.” (Galatians chapter 5, verses 7 and 8; NLT)

My deepest concern right now for those folks is the same one I’ve had since this Disaffiliation Movement started: That church property, ‘their‘ property, is more important than the Kingdom of God. It’s as if God can’t do something with them unless they have their property. Surely God is capable of handling their future even IF they lose their property. And I will admit it–it’s scary starting from scratch. And what about those founders of their church? Don’t you think they may be been scared of starting a new church? But starting something new with God is also exhilerating because we must trust Him, who never abandons HIS Kingdom, completely and without reservations or hesitations. Following Jesus and The Kingdom is never free of risks–but the rewards far outweigh the risks. Reality Check: It’s always been risky following Jesus. And that’s OK!

If you are one of those “second-guessing” the decision to disaffiliate, remember the words of Jesus I opened with today: But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” Back to my original question: Are you fit for the Kingdom of God? I didn’t ask if you were worthy! None of us are worthy. But are you fit for the Kingdom of God? If you waffle and look back, Jesus says you aren’t. But if you keep looking forward, disregarding the price of following Jesus, it makes you fit for the Kingdom! And least you think I’m only trying to shame the ones looking back, I end with these other words from Paul to encourage all of us not to look back after we’ve put our hands to the plow:

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians chapter 6, verses 8 and 9; from the NLT

So, keep plowing straight by looking forward, and don’t give up. Just don’t give up!

SIX YEARS AGO

I’m still on our spiritual retreat at the beach. My plan was to share some of my previous posts rather than writing new ones. And as I was praying and looking, and yes, thinking, I found this post from six years ago. Honestly, in 2016 I didn’t have a clue of how true it would be, especially this line: “I foresee the time coming of a “split” or “divorce” within the United Methodist Church, and coming much sooner than many anticipate.” And no, I do no consider myself a “predictor of the future”.

At that time, a ‘commission’ was formed to ‘find our way forward’. And in 2019, a called General Conference was convened in St. Louis to settle “that” issue once and for all. But read this in the context of 2016. Oh, and when I mention my age, add 6 years to it. Here is that blog:

CAN THERE BE UNITY WHEN. . .?

THE WRONG PRONOUN! (and maybe the wrong noun)

28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Luke chapter 18, verses 28 thru 30; from the New Living Translation

This morning’s passage comes on the heels of what is commonly referred to as The Story Of The Rich Man. He came to Jesus looking for real life; and if you remember, this man decided the price was too high. This passage came to me when I was reflecting on some posts in a “clergy” page on Facebook of which I am a member. There was a group of folks whinning about the fact that THEIR (the wrong pronoun) church they were in before they answered the call to ministry, had voted to disafilliate. In their view it was just WRONG for THEIR CHURCH to do such a thing. For the uninformed, it took a two-thirds majority vote to disafilliate. THEIR emphasis was on the one-third that would were being left out in the cold.

I’m remembering now a story when one of our granddaughter’s, Caroline who was about 4 years old, had been staying with us. When it came time to go home, Gramma laid her out some clothes to wear home. Even gave her a choice between two outfits. But Caroline wanted something different. Gramma insisted, and finally Caroline put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, whose clothes are these anyways?” And many seem to feel the same way about their church name and church buildings.

There is an unhealthy pronoun being thoughtlessly being tossed around: OUR CHURCH! MY CHURCH! Spoiler alert! It’s not YOURS, OURS, NOR MINE! And it doesn’t matter which side of the fence one stands on–it’s still the wrong PRONOUN! It is unhealthy to use such pronouns when talking about CHURCH! Way to much emphasis is being put on buildings and names on the sign.

Jesus says to Peter, (and to the rest of us today!) that one has to give up EVERYTHING in order to follow Him! And offers the positive promise that we gain much more now–and even more later–when we stop using those nasty possessive pronouns. Friends, it isn’t OUR church. We didn’t buy it! Jesus did on the Cross! It was never OURS to begin with–and it will never be OURS!

If what we have to offer this world is inseparably tethered to a building and a name–then we really don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. There’s a bigger story out there–it’s the story of The Kingdom Of God! After Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness, he came back with a single message: “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark chapter 1, verse 15; NLT).

Friends, our story isn’t connected to a building–but The Movement! The Movement of God’s Kingdom that is storming the strongholds of the one who is trying to steal it, Satan! When our story is anchored to The Kingdom Of God, there’s something bigger and more powerful at work than a building or a name. Every church building has a beginning point, and even a name. And THAT name may have changed over the decades. But The Kingdom Of God doesn’t have a beginning point–it is eternal and everlasting. And this message is the one–the only one–that can and will change cultures, nations, and people.

There’s not doubt about this: that when we use the pronoun MY, it’s the WRONG pronoun. And perhaps when we use the noun, CHURCH, it’s the wrong noun. It’s all about The Kingdom Of God! And that’s a much bigger story than the one about our buildings and signs!

it’s exam time!

1 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.  You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God.  For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God:  If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God.  Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

1 John chapter 4, verses 1 thru 3; from the New Living Translation

The days of business as usual for what is commonly called “the church” are over.  Truth of the matter is, those days have been gone a long, long, time.  But People Still Are Trying To Operate The Mission And Ministry Of Jesus As “Business As Usual”.  Some may not be happy with me that I am bring this up.  But I would rather they be unhappy with me because I’ve brought this up—than for God to be unhappy with me for NOT bringing it up.

There is a game that has been and is being played by a lot of folks.  It’s called Kick The Can Down The Road.”  Some have been intentionally playing the game, and even more have been playing it because they haven’t been told the truth—or have simply ignored the truth.  And here’s the 2 things we need to know right now about that can: 

  1. The Can That’s Been Kicked Down The Road Has Been Disintegrated By All That Kicking It Down The Road.  Piece by piece, atom by atom, the can doesn’t exist anymore.  Ever noticed how a can will eventually cease to exist?  Either by wear and tear or rust?
  2. Even If There Was Any Can Left To Kick Down The Road, There’s No More Road Left To Kick It Down.  All roads end somewhere.  And this road has reached that end!

We did not reach this moment overnight.  It didn’t happen because of the past few months, years, or even decades.  It’s been generational.  We can also say that it’s been happening ever since The Koinonia came to life.  But now it seems to me that it has intensified.  Maybe it’s because it’s happening in my time.  But for generations now we have neglected John’s Most Important Words For The Future Of The Koinonia:

You Must Test Them To See If The Spirit They Have Comes From God.

False teachings have been a part of what you might call “the church” and what I love to call “The Koinonia” ever since its inception.  Satan is at the root of it all because he knows that The Koinonia is all that is standing between him and the people in the world.  And now for generations, he’s been having a party—at the expensive of human lives.

This Season Of Discernment May Well Be Your Last Opportunity To Discern What Is Being Promoted And Taught.  And to discern exactly what you are going to do!  You have to “test the spirit” of those who want to lead you in a different direction from where you started.

It’s interesting that in writing his letter, John chose the Greek word “dokimazō (dah-key-mah-zo)” that’s translated “test” or “try”.  It means:  To Test, Examine, Prove, Scrutinize (To See Whether A Thing Is Genuine Or Not), As Metals.”  If someone offers to sell you some gold jewelry, are you going to buy it just because it’s color is gold?  I don’t think so.  If you would, then see me tomorrow after the Dollar Tree opens, and I will be glad to sell you some gold jewelry.

The only accurate way to test a teachingis to compare it to The Bible.  And all of the Bible.  For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have misused and misapplied the verses of the Bible to support their own positions.  I’m talking about using the whole Bible. 

Those in our Tribal Leadership are promoting ideas and a life that contradictions thousands of years of the teachings in the Bible.  They are leading a movement that in essence—and at its core—is saying that God has been waiting for a long time for some people to finally get the Bible right.

Now, if you’re OK with that kind of leadership—or if you believe that leadership—then there’s no need to discern anything.  However—I said However!!!—if you think and believe that God’s Word is true and reliable, then you must discern whether you can follow God and align yourselves with their leadership. From the very beginning—I’ve been very clear.  This Is YOUR Decision About The Future Of This Place.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about the decision Debbie and I have already made. 

It’s About DiscerningTestingTryingThe Teachings Of Your Leadership To See If It’s Really Of God Or NotAnd If You Can Live Under That Kind Of Leadership. I can say so much more—but this morning is the time for you to seek, ask, and yes, especially pray.  And I want to leave you with some words from Paul.  This is why it’s necessary that NOW you determine which way you will go—Because The Way You Go, Determines The Future That Awaits You.

6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.  You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all.  You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. 8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before:  If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

Galatians chapter 1, verses 6 thru 9; from the NLT

YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER, BUT YOU CAN’T MAKE HIM DRINK!

12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Romans chapter 12, verses 12 thru 14; from the New Living Translation; emphasis mine)

God’s grace is always amazing and mind-blowing! Not only does He love me, He saw fit to let me grow up in the South; where life moves at a different pace. I was blessed to be surrounded by people with a lot of common sense. I’m not saying you can’t find that North of the Mason-Dixon Line–I’m just talking about where I grew up. There are lots of colloquialisms, one of which being, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Simple meaning: Everyone has a choice. It’s their’s to make or not make.

And that got me to thinking this morning about Romans chapter 8; specifically verse 14: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. As a child I remember playing the game Follow The Leader. If you don’t know about this game, you had a deprived childhood; Google it if you need to. And just about everyone wanted to be the leader. And that childhood desire to be The Leader continues on into adulthood. Uh, Houston, we have a problem.

The chaos in culture, politics, and yes, even the church, is the result of either US wanting to be the leader, or worse, following the wrong leader. Let me speak now about the church. There is only one “Leader” to follow when it comes to the church. And that’s the Holy Spirit! Reality Time: We are all being led by something or someone! And we choose that Leader. Not heredity. Not politics. Not culture. Not our circumstances. Nothing chooses who we follow but WE!

Did you notice the first word in Verse 12: Therefore! It’s the word that speaks about consequences! And in chapter 8, it’s about being justified (made right with God) by faith in Jesus and what He did for us in His life, death, and Resurrection. And Paul writes in Verse 2: “And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Yet so many today want to think, nay, even BELIEVE, that are now free to live the way they want to or feel like.

To be a son or daughter of God, there’s only one way–be led by The Holy Spirit. And always, always, ALWAYS remember that The Holy Spirit will never lead us outside the boundaries of The Bible. And for my fellow Tribal Members of the United Methodist Church, I urge you to follow the lead of The Holy Spirit. Don’t leave the UMC just because many of our leaders aren’t following The Holy Spirit. Follow that same Holy Spirit that they are not following! Disaffiliation is your opportunity to put the Holy Spirit right back where He belongs–out front and leading us! And remember that childhood game of Following The Leader: you do what He tells you to do, say what He tells you to say, and go where HE is the one out front! The Holy Spirit will always lead you to The Truth! But He won’t make you drink. That, my friends, is your choice!

WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Same book, same chapter, same translation)

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

CLARITY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SELECTIVE SEEING!

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

John chapter 14, verse 8; from The Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEANWHILE (Back at the ranch)

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

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

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

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

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

1.  We Lose Our Direction

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

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

2.  We Lose Our Perspective

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

3.  We Lose Our True Purpose

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

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

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

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

DEAR BISHOP GARY MUELLER; an open letter

Dear Bishop Mueller and fellow servant in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A servant of the Lord, Jesus,
Randy Burbank

Wanting One Thing, But Doing Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready To Be Amazed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

The Lost Art Of Disagreeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Exactly What I Had Planned

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

Proverbs chapter 16 verse 9, from The New Living Translation

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs chapter 16 verse 9, from The Message

What’s Your Synergy?

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

Philippians chapter 3 verse 14 from the New Living Translation

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE’S THE CONNECTION?

Connections are important; very important! For example, if one is building a house it needs electricity, right? What if the electrician only ran the wire to the junction boxes but never connect the plugs and switches to the wire? Or, considering our current drought here, what if we ran some garden hoses to water the yard, flowers, or garden but never connected those hoses to a water faucet?

Connections are also essential for what today is being called “The Church”. Interestingly, in the beginning followers of Jesus weren’t called “The Church”; it was The Koinonia! It’s a Greek word that means a life that is shared together with commitment to each other and to our Lord, Jesus Christ! Connection is also an important word to us of the Wesleyan Family. But. . .what is it that needs to connect us? Alas, the answer to this question is what has broken my beloved Tribe and created this current hot mess in The United Methodist Church.

For our more progressive sisters and brothers, our connection is that God loves everyone. Sounds innocuous enough. How would we, or anyone, have hope without that unconditional Agape Love? But for our progressive sisters and brothers, this Agape Love means that if someone feels they need to live outside God’s Sexual Ethic (man/husband and woman/wife), then that’s perfectly OK. This belief and conviction they hold is framed around an unproven concept–that God created some of us to be gay, binary, or some other gender that our plumbing contradicts. Progressives want us who are convinced that The Koinonia is framed around The Truth of God’s Word (found in the Bible) to ignore The Truth and embrace this “new” understanding of human nature.

So, for the progressives, this situation and moment is framed around the LBGTQI community. But is it really? As I guide the two congregations I serve through this season of discernment, I am very clear to these congregations that our discussions are not to be about the LBGTQI community. And I refuse to be “in charge” of this season. I am not leading them to stay or to leave. Their decision isn’t about me, it’s all about the vision, ministry, and mission of these congregations; about where they can live faithfully to the God who has saved us and is calling us in His Mission!

So, what will we frame our future around? Progressives believe our connection is love. Us Orthodox folks believe our connectionion is The Truth. Consider what Paul told the Corinthian Koinonia as we frame our future:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers [do not make mismated alliances with them or come under a different yoke with them, inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial [the devil]? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 14 and 15 from the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition

Now, Progressives will quickly say, “Hey! I’m a believer, too! You’ve taken Paul completely out of context. That doesn’t fit our situation!” But have I? Framing a connection outside of The Truth is like framing a house without nails or screws. It simply cannot stand. Read again the latter part of verse 14: For what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness?” Light and darkness do not, can not have a connection. It’s either one or the other.

My friends in the United Methodist Church–this is our moment to frame our future. What I am about to write will get me kicked out of the circle of fundamentalists–but I’m saying it anyway! I am strongly opposed to any discrimination against LBGTQI persons in the secular places. They should not be discriminated in the workplace–nor in their Constitutional Rights. If they want to be “legally” married, I will defend their right to do so. But I will not perform the ceremony. Besides, in Alabama all one needs is a notary public to sign and to put their seal on a document; if your state laws do not allow this, then all a person has to do is get online, fill out a form, and become qualified. You see, I’m this weirdo who doesn’t mix up or confuse my patriotism to my Walk with Jesus.

And while this should be allowed (not to be discriminated against) in our legal system, it does not mean that it should be OK in The Koinonia! Trying to frame our Connection around accepting any sexuality outside of The Biblical Ethic, just doesn’t work. It hasn’t ever worked. Nor will it ever work! So, if you want a better future, make sure your frame that future around the Unchanging Truth Of God’s Word. You see, there is NO Connection between right living and wrong living.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

John chapter 1 verses 35 through 39 from the New Living Translation

After a week of painfully describing the contention which exists within my beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church, it behooves–nay, it COMPELS me to explore the options before us. Thus, the song, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”! The “word” being thrown around is DISAFFILIATION. I thought it was a suitable word until I looked up the synonyms for it:

Even though many in leadership positions, (as well as many in the pew because leadership means influence), have broken away from the core beliefs, vision, and dream of John Wesley, we who are being called by God to return to those roots are being accused of creating schism and are the splinter group. The rift occurred and rupture happened a long time ago; it was fueled by the silence of the majority who sat in silence, or simply chose to complain about it, as the foundation began to crumble.

So, we who are being called to return to our first love must live with that inaccurate term: Disaffiliation. We are leaving our beloved Tribe–but I must ask the question: Leaving to what??????? If your choice is to simply leave one Tribe for another Tribe, to jump ship as it were, then maybe–just maybe–you are jumping off the Titanic onto the Britannic. Ever heard of the Britannic? It was the Titanic’s sister ship. Know what? It sank, too; and in less time than the Titanic.

Now hold on there, partner. I am NOT saying that the Global Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, Independent Methodist Church, Nazarene Church, Wesleyan Church, or any other Wesleyan group that has left the “Methodist” church is the Britannic. What I AM saying is that simply leaving the United Methodist Church for another group ISN’T the solution. Friends, we are in a rare and unique moment in time; much like October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Our choice, your choice and mine, must not be built around DISAFFILIATION–rather is must be built around AFFILIATION! The burning question for every United Methodist and United Methodist Congregation must be this: What is it that God is wanting me/us to do? It must be about rekindling the fire that John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and so many others experienced that propelled them out into their world with The Good News Of The Kingdom Of God. Friends, this moment is all about the Dream and Vision of God. It’s about how can we show our world the Risen Lord in ways that they can see and want to experience for themselves. This is our moment to decide what is our true purpose and what should our mission be in this messed up world.

The issue isn’t like that classic Rock-N-Roll song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”! Nay, my friends. This is our moment to step out of the story about a church and step into the epic saga of The Good News Of The Kingdom Of God! It’s not about how much money will it cost us to leave. The cost of this moment isn’t defined in dollars. It’s defined by human lives going into eternity without Jesus. If we believe our buildings are too important to be given to an Annual Conference, then we’ve missed the boat.

Go back to the first paragraph, the passage when Jesus notices two men trailing behind Him. Jesus asked them (and He is asking us right now!), What do you want? But don’t overlook their answer to Jesus. Rabbi, where are you staying? Their question wasn’t about a specific residence. In their culture the question meant: Where are you teaching? And what was Jesus’ answer? Come and see! And what they saw wasn’t a synagogue, school building, or seminary, or even a church building. Jesus’ classroom was out there where people were.

So, tell me friends: What do you want? Do you want to get out of the United Methodist Church? Then the word disaffiliation is your word. But. . .if you want to step into the epic saga of The Kingdom of God, then your word is AFFILIATION! This decision is too important, too critical to make in an instant. Tomorrow evening one of the congregations I serve will begin the process of discerning. Thursday evening the other congregation I serve will begin their process of discerning. Our answers need to be more than staying or going to another Tribe. It must be about our Mission And Our Purpose! Failure to understand this will result in you jumping from the Titanic and onto the Britannic. Disaffiliation isn’t the quick fix. But Affiliation is what will lead us into God’s desirable future. For you or your congregation it may be through the Global Methodist, Free Methodist, Congregational Methodists, or being “independent”. That decision will come after you have decided to Affiliate With The Kingdom Of God!