IDENTITY OR ACTION? OR BOTH?

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians chapter 2, verse 20; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Just exactly who are you? What determines the essence of you? What is the bottom line? Fact Time: Everyone has a, call it, bottom-line identity. It is what you are known by to others. Are you identified by your roles? Dad? Mom? Lawyer? Plumber? Preacher? Son? Daughter? Sister? Brother? Accountant? OR is your bottom-line identity in what you do? Kind? Helpful? Patient? Caring? Friendly? Empathetic? Energetic? And when it comes to your spiritual life (and everyone has one of these), what is the singularity that marks your life?

Do you consider yourself a Christian? Maybe I should ask a tougher question: What makes you a Christian? Is it an identity based on things like confessing and repenting of your sins and saying the sinner’s prayer? Being baptized? That you are a member of a particular church? That you read your Bible and say your prayers? That you avoid certain vices? Or is it because you show love to others? That you volunteer at the local homeless shelter? That you support the local food bank? That you demand justice for animals? That you cry out for equality for all people? So tell me, which is it? What you say or what you do?

That it’s both? Being a Christian is more than a title or a label. It’s more than a statement about what you did. And it’s more than actions we think makes us a Christian! It begins with the recognition that it’s something we are totally powerless to become. It requires that admission that we ARE sinners. And more than admitting we ARE sinners, it’s being honest enough with self to say we are tired of being sinners! It demands a total surrender of heart, mind, and will to Jesus. Then, we trust that what Jesus did on the Cross was done purposefully by Him for us sinners. And that a whole new life is now in front of us!

And as difficult as they may seem for some, it’s only the beginning. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of personal holiness or social holiness. It’s both!!!! (Notice the extra exclamation marks!!!!) This is exactly what Paul was trying to tell the Galatian church. Following Jesus begins with faith. It continues with faith in actions. And to the Church in the United States, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise up from the death to create a Christian nation. He did all this to call us to storm the strongholds of Satan and reclaim the territory he stole for the Kingdom of God. No, actions don’t save us. But our actions do determine if we are or are not saved.

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JUST ONE WISH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

1 Kings, chapter 3, verse 5; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

What do you want? Powerful question, isn’t it? When someone asks that question we may think of something we want, but usually that person can’t give it to us. Like the winning lottery numbers. Now that would be something great to receive. But what if there was someone who had the power and authority to grant you that one wish? Now think deeply about it. What would you want? What you want says everything there is to say about your heart and mind; your priorities; and the ultimate destiny of your soul.

What if I told you there is Someone who had that power and authority to give you whatever it is that you want? Let me tell you a true story. Once there was this very young man, barely out of his teens, who was made King of the strongest nation at that time. His Dad, though he had some issues, was a very good King; was even called a man after God’s own heart. Now he has the reigns of that same nation. Quite a daunting task, wouldn’t you say? At least, he thought so. His name was Solomon.

One day he goes to Gibeon, one of the sacred sites in the nation, and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings to God. Why? Apparently he felt inadequate for the task at hand. (Read the whole story in 1 Kings chapter 3) So he did what seemed appropriate–he sought out God for help. That night, in a dream, God did something that some might think ridiculous! He told Solomon, “I will grant you one wish. Name it and it’s yours!” All I can say is WOW! Talk about taking risks! But God was willing–all because He knew Solomon’s heart. And what exactly did Solomon want?

Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of Yours?

1 Kings, chapter 3, verse 9; NLT; (emphasis mine)

And because God keeps His Word, He gave him that wisdom; and a whole lot more. Why would God give Solomon a blank check and ask him to fill in the amount? Because He knew what was in Solomon’s heart. Remember the last line in the first paragraph? In case you don’t, here it is again: What you want says everything there is to say about your heart and mind; your priorities; and the ultimate destiny of your soul. The goal of Sanctification is to want everything that God wants, and thus, to become everything that God wants of your life.

How you answer that question–says everything about you. Some of my former Tribal members simply want out of the United Methodist Church. That’s all. And wanting just that is robbing them of all the other things God has to offer us. If Solomon had asked for wealth–he would have received it. If he had asked for peace with the other nations–he would have received it. If he had asked for military might–he would have received it. If he sought political power–then that’s exactly what he would have received. But that’s all he would have received!

But. . .BUT because he sought (and I will use his own words) an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong, he received a whole lot more. So, tell me this: What do you want? And be careful how you answer this question because it’s not yours truly asking the question; God is asking the question. It’s not just a once in a lifetime question He asks. It’s that every moment of every day question. So, I’ll say it just one more time for your benefit: What you want says everything there is to say about your heart and mind; your priorities; and the ultimate destiny of your soul.

EXCHANGE RATES

Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mark chapter 8, verse 37; from the New King James Version (NKJV)

Today’s musings are built around something the Spirit put into my mind: Exchange Rates. Most folks know that when you go to different countries you have different currency. Right? Dear Lord, I hope so! Since I live in the U.S. I will use our Dollar for comparison. Say you go to Europe. You need to have Euros to purchase stuff. So you take your Dollar to a currency exchange. If you give them $1 you do not get 1 Euro in change. If you do you got cheated. As of this writing the Euro is worth .93 U.S. dollars. Now, if that were true you just made .07 U.S. Dollars. Not great, but not a bad return. But lets say you go to Argentina. You go to the exchange center, give them $1 and receive 1 Argentina Peso. Well, the manager of that exchange center just made 179.68 Pesos. He did really good. You? You did poorly. Why all this talk about currency exchanges?

Glad you asked that question. Every day we exchange something far more valuable than dollars, euros, or pesos. We exchange time for purpose and the future. Every second of the clock, we have just spent it on something. It may be worthwhile–but then again it may not. And how you spend your time right now, and every right now, is being exchanged for your purpose and your future. That’s what Jesus was saying in today’s passage.

You can spend your time on things you want. You spend your time on what you think you need. You spend your time seeking–well seeking whatever the mind wants. And that pursuit is giving you your purpose in the moment–and determining your future. How you spend your time has consequences–both good and horrible. Therefore, make sure you spend your time seeking what God wants for you and from you. Where do you find that? Easy! It’s right there in The Bible. How you spend your next moment after reading this determines you purpose and directs you to your future.

THE DANGER WHEN WE SETTLE!

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.

Genesis chapter 11, verses 31 and 32; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Today’s musings are some excerpts from this past Sunday’s message and the Spirit told me to share some of it with you today. The Key Theme for this message was all about Faith. The Big Idea I wanted to share was this: The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith. And though I was focused on Hebrews 11 (and what better book and chapter to talk about faith than Hebrews?) and Abraham–I was drawn back in time to Abraham’s father, Terah.

At the core of our walk with Jesus is Faith.  Without Faith, there is no walk.  And if we are going to talk about Faith, well, Hebrews 11 is a great place to start—and Abraham is the model we need to understand—and to follow.  Let’s focus on this question:  What Exactly Is Faith?  Dictionary.com defines it this way:  Belief In God Or In The Doctrines Or Teachings Of Religion”. 

That’s the way a lot of people see faith—that we believe God exists, that Jesus is God’s Son and Savior of the world, and what we believe about the doctrines of the church.  If this is the case, then Satan has Faith.  But when the writers of the Bible talk about faith, it’s not in the beliefs about God or Jesus or doctrines.  It’s much more.  For the writers of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, the word they used for Faith was “Pistis” and it means:  Conviction Of The Truth”.  It’s not “doctrine”, not the “what we believe”—it’s all about conviction of The Truth. 

Think of the difference between faith as the things we believe versus faith as conviction of the truth in this way:  It’s Opinion Versus The Certainty Of The Truth.  Opinions are what we hold—all of us have opinions.  Convictions are what grab us and hold us tightly, regardless of what happens around us—and it’s rooted in the Truth. Now more about Terah. It was just a few years ago that I discovered this part of the Covenant Story. For years I hadn’t seen this part. And it was an eye opener for me.

Now get this:  God Gave The Vision To Terah And Terah Set Out Following That Vision.  There’s a tragedy in the life of Terah that’s so very clear when our eyes, mind and heart are open to it.  “He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”  Terah was heading into God’s future, to The Promised Land but Terah stopped at Haran and settled there.  What Have You Settled For Instead Of God’s Promise?  As tragic as it was for Terah to settle for Haran instead of The Promise, the worst tragedy for Terah is Verse 32:  “Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.”  If Terah had died while headed towards The Promise, there would be no tragedy. 

The tragedy was:  He Died While Still In Haran, The Place He Substituted For The Promise.  The Bible tells us that Terah lived for 205 years—more than enough time to settle in The Promised Land.  If Terah had not settled for Haran, then we would have read this morning about the Faith of Terah instead of the Faith of Abraham.  Terah settled in Haran and died there instead of moving into God’s Promised Land.  Let this thought sink in:  He Died Where He Settled

When Terah settled on Haran, God chose another for the Promise—Abraham.  The Vision was now given to someone else.  And I believe God still works this way.  The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us. I would love to give credit where credit is due, but I cannot recall where I saw this:  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting. Faith is expressed through our trust and in our obedience.

And my greatest concern for others, is that they have Settled for their own Haran rather than moving towards and into God’s Promise. Especially my former Tribal Members of the United Methodist Church. Some just want to settle outside the United Methodist Institution. But God has more than just disaffiliation for you. And if you have settled on some other Haran (like fear, addiction, complacency, or any of a million and one other “Haran’s), my word to you is this: Don’t Settle! God has more for you. Do you realize that if Terah hadn’t settled, we would be reading about the faith of Terah, rather than the faith of Abraham? Think about it!

47 YEARS LATER

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Philippians chapter 3, verses 8 thru 11; from The Message (Msg)

This evening I’m finding myself pensive. In 1956 I was blessed to be born into a Methodist home. In 1967 I became a Methodist Preacher’s Kid. In 1968 I became a United Methodist and a United Methodist Preacher’s Kid. In 1972, I became a follower of Jesus. In 1974 at the ripe old age of 18, I began this journey as a pastor to 2 small congregations. And if my recall is correct (because I don’t have a memory problem accord to professor of physiology Dr. Joe Cooney–I have a recall problem), in 1975 I attended my first North Alabama UMC Annual Conference at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. If someone who is reading this has a different recall along with documentation, then please correct me. Otherwise, without documentation, your recall may be wrong. After all, I’m telling this story.

Why this pensive state? In the morning, December 10, 2022, the North Alabama UMC Annual Conference will convene again at the same place. Now it’s known as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. It all begins at 10:00 a.m. The order of business is simple. Approve or deny the disaffiliation of approximately 200 of the 638 congregations in the North Alabama Conference.

In case you haven’t connected the dots, I began my service to Jesus in the United Methodist Church at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center and I will end my service to Jesus in the United Methodist Church at the same location 47 years later. I do so with a very heavy heart. I do not take any joy into Saturday morning. However, I do take confidence–confidence that this is where God wants me. April, 1974 I said yes to God’s call to His ministry; in October of that year I accepted the first step by becoming the pastor to those 2 small churches. I admit I did not foresee December 10, 2022. But then, why should I? So, sometime between 11:00 a.m. and Noon I will count as rubbish my credentials in the Tribe of the past 48 years and embrace something far better–following Jesus!

Though I am not overjoyed at what will happen this time at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center, I am at peace where God is leading. Joshua was 82 years old when he took over for Moses. So, at 66 years old I’m not too old for this new challenge. And with God’s peace, I am excited at the potential for this new opportunity. December 10 is a touchstone moment for me. I cannot tell someone else what to do. I can say what God is doing in this third Great Awakening. Unfortunately, it appears that the United Methodist Institution will not be a part of it.

CUPCAKES!

 “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Matthew chapter 12, verses 34 thru 37; from The Message (Msg)

Cupcakes! We are living in a world of cupcakes! No, not the kind one sees at parties! It’s people I’m talking about. When I was young, I often wondered why “old people” were always so. . .so blunt. They didn’t mince or sugar-coat their words. And now that I’m old, I understand. As I get older I know that my time here is getting shorter and shorter. Thus, my opportunities to speak the truth are becoming fewer and fewer. I realize that I just don’t have the time to draw pictures to explain the things that are really important. It seems my ability and talent to be snarky has come into full bloom. I define snarky as a mixture of satire with a heavy dose of sarcasm. But here’s the thing–I don’t use it very often. Some may say otherwise, but they’re wrong. I refrain from using my snarky more times than Carter has little pills. (You have to be from the south to know what that phrase means!)

My previous post brought out my snarkiness. And as snarky tends to do, I offended at least one person. (click here to see the post) Someone thought my insights worthy of passing along to several people via email. And I am humbled they thought so. Apparently one of the recipients did not like my blunt honesty. And had this to say about my post: It’s insulting and immature to speak to grown people who can think and decide for them self. To point I think it’s low class to say suck it up buttercup.”

Allow me the kindness to pull out one part of that comment for further reflection: It’s insulting and immature to speak to grown people who can think and decide for them self.” Yes, people can think and decide for themselves. Got no problem with that premise. Our problem as a church, culture, and society is HOW people think. I.E.–people are all to quick and easy to be offended–especially with The Truth. It goes beyond the insane concept of political correctness. It’s rooted in how people respond. And the United Methodist Institution is an excellent case study.

People are so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings that it has become more important to be nice than it is to be truthful. Somehow it has become mean and ugly and hateful to be truthful; that somehow if we disagree with someone that we can’t and don’t love them. Where did this idea come from? I KNOW! I KNOW! From the heart and mind of Satan! Yes, Virginia, there is a Satan even if you think there isn’t. Nowadays the only way you can love someone is to approve, bless, and sanctify how they think. And if you can’t–well you are just plain ol’ mean and insulting.

I sigh a deep sigh when I think that it’s more important to make people feel good than it is to be truthful. Did you notice how Jesus responded in the passage I opened with this morning? You have minds like a snake pit! Did I miss something here? If Jesus said that today, people would demand an apology from Jesus! And IF Jesus was present like He was then, then by their views, Jesus should have said afterwards: “Oh, I’m so very sorry I offended you. And so that you can feel better about yourself, I renounce those words and I agree with you. Feel better now? Good! Here’s you a cupcake.

WHAT HAVE YOU DISCERNED?

“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?

1 Kings chapter 3, verse 9; from the New International Version (NIV)

Every day I am more astonished at what thoughts and passages The Holy Spirit prompts in this mind of mine. I never know where He is going to take me. Like this morning. It was when God told Solomon, “I’m not a genie that grants your wishes. But because of your heart, I will grant you one wish. Let me know in the morning what it is.” Who but God would take such a, call it risk? And if you could have just one thing, what would it be? I’m old enough to remember the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalogue that would arrive every year. And for those unfortunate souls who have no clue about this, it was called The Wish Book! And oh, what I would wish for! And one thing I’m remembering about The Wish Book is that every year my wishes changed. I mean, after all, a 10 year old doesn’t want the same things as a 9 year old. I was growing up!

But just imagine with me this morning that God has given you a Wish Book full of all kinds of things–full of everything anyone could imagine. And God told you this same thing He told Solomon: “Pick anything out of here and I will give it to you! Anything!!!” What would you choose? Would you choose to be debt-free? Now that would be great! To have lots of money? A condo on the beach? A cabin in the mountains? The winning lottery numbers? A big house with lots of acres? To be liked by everyone? What would you say in the morning? “God, I want ___________________!

Now, allow me to speak to my “for now” fellow United Methodists! We are in this period called discernment. Some of you have finished it. Some of us are about to finish it. Some of you are just beginning. And those who are NOT in a period of discernment, you are missing a rare and golden opportunity. As I have tried to guide both Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill, I have kept on emphasizing that it’s not about discerning whether you stay or leave. It is about discerning what and where God wants you! It’s not about the new (but ancient) view on human sexuality. It’s not about disobedient leaders. And it’s DEFINITELY NOT about how do you keep your property or pay the amount your conference is asking of you.

Discernment IS all about following the lead of The Holy Spirit and accepting His leading in our life and in our local church. Friends, our task isn’t about denominational tribes or figuring out who’s to blame. And it certainly isn’t about church property. It’s about the Kingdom Of God, and nothing else! My prayer for each of you is that you will have Solomon’s heart: Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. Call me looney; you won’t be the first. But if we ask for that discerning heart, then God will take care of the rest.

WHY WE NEED TO PART WAYS!

36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.  Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas

Acts chapter 15, verses 36 thru 40; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

As you’ve noticed, I haven’t been writing lately. It’s not for lack of material–but I’ve had what we call here “the crud”. Tests revealed I did NOT have Flu A, Flu B, Covid, Sinus Infection, nor Pneumonia. So it must be “The Crud”! All I’ve been able to do lately is preach and teach and a few other things. But writing wasn’t one of those “other” things. Well, after much prayer and medicine, this morning I am feeling a lot better. The Crud is losing, and I am gaining. And so I am back doing one of the things I love and enjoy doing: Writing! And for those who watched Tuesday night’s Facebook Live Bible Study, you’ve heard most of what I am writing about today.

Today’s passage is what has been come to be known as a Paul and Barnabas Moment.  Paul wants to revisit all the churches they planted to see how they were doing—AND to make sure that what happened in Antioch wasn’t happening there.  Paul wants to make sure that the Message of Grace hasn’t been polluted by adding things to Grace. Barnabas agreed AND he wants to bring John Mark with them.  But Paul insists that he isn’t allowed to come—and thus the disagreement.  Paul is stubborn on this issue.  But so is Barnabas.

There comes a moment—a decision has to be made.  The decision made was different than the first decision.  The first decision was about taking or leaving John Mark.  Since that decision doesn’t seem to be an option—another decision has to be made:  What Now?  Both men seem to be immovable on their positions.  So the Holy Spirit moves with another option.  They Part Ways.  Barnabas goes in one direction with John Mark.  Paul goes in another direction with Silas.  And what about the United Methodist Church?

This moment in the early Koinonia should have been put into play at least 22 years ago—maybe longer.  Sadly it wasn’t. While both, I said BOTH sides continue their rhetoric and reasons why we should stay together or why we should part ways, we have been missing our purpose and our mission. Here are the obvious reasons why it’s time to end our debating and move on, in separate directions.

REASON 1

We are in a Paul And Barnabas moment.  In fact, we’ve been here for a long time and no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. The Paul and Barnabas Moment continues to be present, and it will never go away; until we reach the only conclusion that will work and resolve this crisis.

REASON 2

Not talking about this elephant in the room in the past didn’t make the elephant disappear.  Ignoring anything rarely, if ever, makes it go away.  And ignoring it, or choosing not to know anything about it, has made the problem worse, a lot worse.

REASON 3

Sometimes there are principles and truths that demand that Paul And Barnabas Moment.  Some ideas, or call them beliefs, cannot co-exist together.  The idea being pushed by some bishops and others that the United Methodist Church can be a “Big Tent” where there is room for our different views is flawed.  The issues we are facing are so opposite that they cannot co-exist together.  We need to learn the lesson from electricity.  You have a positive current and a negative current.  And those currents cannot exist together.  See what happens when you take a live electric line with 2 wires and touch them together.  Unlike magnets, theological opposites do not attract and stay together.  They repel one another. That just the way it is. It’s time to admit it. And it’s time to stop blaming one side or the other.

REASON 4

The failure to recognize, accept, and move forward in this Paul And Barnabas moment the way they did—is doing nothing but creating tension and even more division—and it resolves nothing.  Folks, the Big Tent, if it even existed, has collapsed a long time ago. UNITED METHODISTS ON BOTH SIDE, WE’RE DOING NOTHING BUT SPINNING IN THE MUD; AND IT’S ONLY DRAGGING US DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO A HOLE!  And we are hurting the Witness of The Koinonia by trying to co-exist.

REASON 5

Everyone is making a decision on which side they are standing with.  Even churches who don’t want to make a decision, have chosen which side they are standing on.  Remember the lesson about positive and negative electrical wires. And while that electrical wire has a neutral wire, there is no neutral position to take here in the United Methodist. Why? It’s the nature of The Kingdom of God; and it’s the nature of our relationship with God. We are either in or out. No middle ground has ever existed when it comes to walking with Jesus!

REASON 6

We have reached critical mass in reality, not theory.  In the realm of nuclear bombs, critical mass is a chain-reaction that results in more neutrons being generated by fissions per second within that mass than escape per second to the outside world.  In other words, a deadly explosion is about to happen.  And the explosion about to happen within the United Methodist Church—if it remains under that non-existent Big Tent—will leave about as many survivors as the detonation of a nuclear bomb. United Methodists, I ask each of you: Are you really willing to push that button and destroy the Wesleyan Movement? I hope not. I pray not! Say it isn’t so!!!

REASON 7

It is better to have that Gamaliel Solution rather than to self-destruct.  Remember early in the formation of the Koinonia when all of the disciples had been brought up on charges before the Sanhedrin?  They were trying to figure out the best way to deal with them.  Some wanted to kill them.  But Gamaliel had a different idea.  We read in Acts chapter 8, verses 38 and 39:  “So my advice is, leave these men alone.  Let them go.  If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You may even find yourselves fighting against God!  I make this plea to our Bishops to implement the Gamaliel Solution, sooner than later. By doing this we can stop pointing fingers and laying blame at each other’s feet. Tell the Judicial Council to go to Antarctica, and let us depart in peace. Then we can go to either Cyprus or to Syria and Cilicia.

This is where we are, folks. It is what it is and all this caterwauling isn’t solving or resolving anything. Failure to part ways is hurtful. Please Bishops, Please! The Gamaliel Solution sounded good back then. And it sounds even better today. Let’s leave the results to God on who’s right and who’s wrong! Failure to do so is just wrong. . .just plain wrong!

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

Matthew chapter 11, verses 2 thru 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

What Are You Doing? That’s the question a mom asks her child as she’s reaching for the cooking jar, or as her son has permanent markers about to become the next great artist on the wall of the hall. Or it’s the question a wife asks her husband when she catches him looking on Facebook Marketplace at motorcycles. It’s a question about desire and intent. And it’s a question that all of us really need to spend a long and deep time thinking about: Desire and Intent.

If you overlooked today’s passage, please go back and read it; if you did read it, read it again! John the Baptist, who was in prison. . . John is in a dark place–literally and it seems also spiritually. Two of his disciples visit him and he sends them on a mission: Go find my cousin Jesus and ask Him: Are you really the Messiah or should we go looking for someone else? I find this story to be another one of those I classify as This Gives Me Some Hope story! I mean, if the man Jesus called the greatest one who ever lived struggled with doubts, then there has to be hope for me, too.

So off they go on their Mission. They find Jesus and present Him with John’s question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Now, I would call this a Yes Or No question. Many times when I ask a Yes Or No question I get a “War And Peace” answer. Look, just answer my question Yes or No; that’s all I need from you. I don’t need to hear a Macbeth soliloquy, thank you very much. Jesus could have answered their question with a simple Yes. But He didn’t.

Instead, Jesus says much more; and it’s a great thing that He did: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” See and hear the power in Jesus’ answer. It’s not a Yes Or No. It’s all about what He is doing! He knew Cousin John needed more than a simple Yes Or No! He needed assurance that would build up his confidence.

The Question about Messiah is more than a one word answer. It’s about what The Messiah is doing. And it’s also a question about us and directed toward us. The question Jesus is asking us isn’t: “Are you a Christian?” The question that He is asking, and by the way, so is the world, is “What are you doing?” Are you mad at what is happening in the world? Are you mad at what is happening in the United Methodist Institution? Disappointed? Fearful? Worried about the real estate of your church? If so, then it’s time to do what the GPS does when we miss a turn: It’s time to recalculate!

What are you doing? If you are serious about being a disciple and follower of Jesus, (notice I didn’t say if you are a Christian) then you and I should be doing the very same things that Jesus was doing when John the Baptist sent his question to Jesus. the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” We need to focus on where people are hurting, where people are broken, and the places that desperately need The Good News.

So, What Are You Doing, Right Now? Make sure it’s what Jesus is doing Right Now! Oh, one more thing for my fellow Wesleyan Tribe. Don’t overlook Verse 6: And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” Don’t worry about things like money and buildings. Just remember what Jesus added to His answer to Cousin John: “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

CAN IT GET ANY CRAZIER? yOU BETCHA!

I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about my Tribal Chaos, but it’s time to get back to the rest of life. And for those who read my insights into our Tribal Chaos, don’t worry. I’ll get back to that later. But for now–let’s talk about this crazy culture. While checking up on the news I came across this–this–delirious, deragned, dippy, and diggy story. It comes out of Mountain View, California no less. A local principal called the police on a 4 year old because he came to school without a mask! (You can read the article here)

This young boy had what was described as developmental issues. The father was told to take his son from the school campus immediately or the police would be called. In spite of the father’s attempt to describe why his son could not wear a mask, the principal called for the police in the person of the School Resource Officer. Who, by the way, was very understanding–but he (the police officer) was handcuffed as to what he could do. So the father had to take his son back home–all because of a facemask, or lack thereof.

I don’t know about you–but this is absolutely bonkers! School is no longer a place to educate–but to indocrinate! Can you say Solyent Green? Maybe, George Orwell’s 1984? Listen, folks! As long as craziness like this is allowed to continue–it ain’t gonna get no better! Our law enforcement officers have more important things to do than act as bouncers for the latest wacky trend. There are real problems that need their attention. The assinine leaders of education have turned, and been allowed to turn because not enough spoke up, classrooms into indocrination camps. What’s next? Calling the police when a student rejects CRT? Or revisionists history? Let’s put education back where it belongs! A place of learning the 3Rs! And not the political BS! Shame on that principal! And a bigger shame on those who sit quiet on the sidelines like sheeple! This attempt at educating our kids is mediocrity at its worst form!

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!

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.

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

Thanksgiving In The Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountains And Floods!

What mountain is between you and the kind of life you deeply long to have today? At this exact moment, what flood is sweeping you away from the life you once knew? Where does your hope come from that says you will get over that mountain? Who will rescue you from that flood? IS there a source of hope AND strength that will simply get you through today without being crushed and broken? IS there even hope for a better tomorrow? What source of help has been tested and proven true over and over? IS there such help?

Image if you will, a new car manufacturer comes up with what they claim is the best, safest, and most reliable car ever. Imagine if you will, they claim it will get 60 miles per gallon of gas and go from 0 to 70 in 4.6 seconds. But then they also say, “We haven’t tested it yet. Heck, we haven’t even tried to crank it! But we just know it will do what we claim!” Would you be the first in line at the dealership to buy one?

Imagine if you will that you see an ad for a used car; the picture looks like that car is in immaculate shape. You go to see it and the first thing the salesperson says is “Well, sometimes it runs great, and sometimes it won’t run at all.” Would you pay Kelly Blue Book full retail price? Maybe even throw in a couple of thousand extra, just because? As nonsensical and preposterous as this sounds, yet this is what many do when facing mountains or when being swept away by some raging flood.

You will never be able to climb that mountain, and that flood will sweep you away–unless and until you trust God enough to surrender completely into His hands. He may not do it in the fashion you want–but He will do it. Trying to conquer that mountain or trying to be rescued from that flood by any other method (see my pun? I’m a Methodist!) will always end in disaster. Cry out to Jesus in this moment–and He will help you climb that mountain. And He will rescue you from this flood. This is His promise:

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

Isaiah 43:2-3 (NLT)

What’s Your Motto?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

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

The Wrong Dwelling

According to dictionary.com dwelling, as a noun, is defined as “a building or place of shelter to live in; place of residence; abode; home.” This morning I wasn’t thinking about nouns, I was thinking about verbs. And from the Cambridge Dictionary, as a verb, it is defined as to think or talk about something a lot of the time”. And as I sitting here thinking about that word as a verb, the above picture is my mental image.

I mean, how many people are dwelling in the wrong dwelling these days? And this is not a unique phenomenon for our times. It’s been around for a very long time. The particular dwelling I’m dwelling on this morning is that venomous, noxious, and vulgar eyesore called The Past. And though I was thinking about the verb form of dwelling, the noun form also fits.

Living In The Past is choosing to live each in a dilapidated house. Think about living in a dilapidated house. It’s cold in the winter; hot in the summer. It’s filled with critters and creatures that will make the skin crawl. I mean, who would even want to live in a house like the one pictured above? Of course not! Yet mentally, emotionally, and spiritually this is the kind of dwelling people live within when their focus is on The Past.

Dwelling on their own sins. Dwelling on someone else’s sins. Dwelling on the wrong someone did to them. Dwelling on being passed over at work. Dwelling on being betrayed by someone who we thought was our friend. Dwelling on how someone else’s life is great while yours is the pits. Dwelling on a harsh word spoken in the heat of a moment. Dwelling on missed opportunities. Dwelling on being denied a loan. Dwelling Dwelling Dwelling in places that are not healthy for us at all. So, how do we change our Dwelling?

It’s simple; so simple that we make it difficult. Change your Dwelling! You just move out and move into! Out of the past and into the new present and new future. The move has already been provided and paid for–you just need to do more than decide–you gotta act right now! It’s just like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17:

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges!

From The Message

Dwelling on the past never changes the present; and it never offers us a future. On the other hand, Dwelling in and on Jesus–now that’s the kind of Dwelling to live in. It’s a great neighborhood, too! Regardless of how difficult you think it will be to make this kind of move, remember that God will take care of you. He has taken care of your Past–He has your Present–and oh, what a Future He will have for you!

Today’s Forecast For You

Used car salespeople. Politicians. Late night infomercial hucksters. Major news outlets. Weather forecasters. What do the aforementioned persons have in common? They are capricious and dubious at best–especially the last one. I remember in 2014, I was living in metro Birmingham. There was snow in the forecast–but all the local forecasters said it would all be south of us and for us not to worry. That should have set off alarms! Our vacuous and insipid state highway department sent all their equipment to where the weather forecasters said it would snow. Not long after midday, metro Birmingham was turned into the world’s largest parking lot.

And yesterday. Here in lovely Mount Vernon, we are in a dry spell–very dry spell. Yesterday’s forecast, by these alleged experts, were only predicting a less that 20% chance of rain. So our expectations were another dry and very hot day. However, despite the forecast, we GOT RAIN! Six-tenths of an inch, Praise God! So where am I going with this rant against forecasters?

I can’t help but wonder how many people are getting their–call it Life Forecast–from unreliable sources? “They” say “There’s not a snowball’s chance in you know where you could ever do that!” They give up and capitulate that their life will ever change. They life in subjugation to a Life Forecast that crushes their hope and thus–live in defeasance to a Life Forecast that is inaccurate–like yesterday’s weather forecast.

When you are leaning towards and into that dark abrogation of the life you were created for–remember Abram and Sarai. This was their names before God changed their future. Before Isaac was born–God changed their name to reflect a new future. From now on, they would be known as Abraham and Sarah. The change happened before the reality of The Promise.

A short time later, Abraham received some visitors (sent from Heaven by God) with an important announcement: You are Sarah will have a son! Both are past their prime and the Life Forecast for them was they were too old to have children. When Sarah overheard the conversation she laughed–she believed the wrong Life Forecast! And my last word to you today is what God’s Messenger asked:

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Genesis 18:14 (NLT)

It may seem too hard to your Life Forecasters to see a different future for you. But it’s not too hard for God!

What’s Your Sign?

Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

“Signs” performed by Five Man Electrical Band, written by Arthur Thomas

If you were not singing along with the above lyrics, you are NOT a part of the best and coolest generation ever! Yep! I’m thinking about signs today–and the messages they disclose. When I’m on my motorcycle, I absolutely LOVE this next sign! As I recently posted on Facebook, sometimes you need a really crooked road to get your head straight!

There are more signs that just highway signs. Signs of summer:

Signs of fall:

Signs of winter:

And the ever popular signs of Spring:

But I am aberrating. There’s a road sign I’ve seen a few times, and today I started thinking about that sign. Can I be honest with you? It’s a sign that bemuses, bewilders, and stupefies me. And here it is:

I realize that a lot of churches are indeed slow, but I wonder what are the qualifications to receive such a designation? If I was the pastor of the church that had this sign–I would seek a new appointment. If I was a member, I would insist that the highway department take it down immediately. I mean, who wants to lead or attend a slow church? Apparently, there’s a lot who will fit the bill.

I call them Tenured Pew Sitters. The church has been SLOW to realize it doesn’t exist to serve it’s members. The church has been SLOW to accept people who don’t dress, think, or vote like them as people who need God’s grace. The church has been SLOW understanding that our story isn’t the story about the church, but the Saga Of The Kingdom Of God. The church has been SLOW recognizing the it isn’t a building but supposed to be a people.

It seems the church has been SLOW in responding the Great Heresy Of The 21st Century–that of progressive theology. This started back in the 1960’s. Yet Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters refused to believe it would ever gain traction. So…they remained silent.

And now it threatens to ripe apart the fabric of many churches. It’s a theology that depends and relies on human intellect and logic. And that is a train wreck about to happen, the likes of which have never been seen before. In it’s carnage will be victims of both sides–you see falsehood and heresy doesn’t care who it hurts–it will even hurt it’s most ardent supporters. The wake that will be left by progressivism will be a bloody mess of anger, doubt, fear, and broken spirits.

Slowness is killing the church in the U.S. of A. Elsewhere in the world, where the church isn’t SLOW, the Body Of Christ is Alive, Vibrant, and bringing new citizens into the Kingdom of God. Perhaps in the U.S., they should change words to a familiar hymn: Like a little snail, move the U.S. Church. But that’s just how I feel.

The Eyes Have It

Good morning! It was William Shakespeare who wrote “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Maybe so if one is looking from the outside in. But eyes are designed to look outward. . .provided they are functioning as they should–which leads me to this morning’s reflections.

Since the seventh grade, I wear glasses–if you haven’t done the math, that’s 53 years. Other than that, and cataract surgery a few years ago, they have served me well. . .until recently. For the past several years I’ve noticed these things called “floaters”. At first I thought I was swatting at a gnat. My previous optometrist informed me that it was just little bits of something in the vitreous fluid in my eyes, and were common with people of a certain age. Oh, God, how I hate that term!

Here’s the thing about those floaters, I don’t notice them until I do notice them–and then they keep hanging around–until I forget about them. They are still there, I just don’t notice them. Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to a new optometrist since my old one was a couple of hours away. After he dilated them, he spent a lot of time–I mean a LOT of time–looking into what Shakespeare called the windows to the soul. It was more time than I thought he needed.

He then showed me something abnormal about my eyes–in particular–in the back of my eyes–left and right. There was a bulging at the back. It wasn’t a detached retina–Praise God!–but, it was something that concerned him, and told me I needed to see a specialist to see if my eyes needed surgery to fix and prevent future problems. I could say I didn’t have a clue about this condition–but I remember a few months ago having this sharp pain behind my eyes–but passed it off as a sinus headache–something I have from time to time.

So, this morning at 8:15 CDT I will see the doctor for a further diagnosis. I want to say I’m not concerned–but we are talking about MY eyes and MY future vision. But then I remember the prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby who wrote tons of hymns about the glory of God–though she was blind. So, I’m thinking to myself, “Self, what’s your issue? If Fanny could see God’s glory though she was “blind”, you need to keep your eyes on Jesus.”

And here’s my point for today. Whatever comes your way in life, keep your eyes, your spiritual eyes, on Jesus. The Bible has something to say about this. It comes in Hebrews chapter 12–right after that long list of people who experienced many difficulties but maintained their faith. Verses 1 and 2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

When life throws you a curve ball or a change-up, just keep your eyes on Jesus–like Fanny Crosby did. And everything will ultimately be good–God promises us this. I will SEE all of you tomorrow!

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

(Picture at Fort Morgan Beach, Alabama)

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

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

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

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

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

I Need Help!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 121 (NLT)

JUST 3 PLANTS

As long as I can remember, Dad had a garden. I mean a BIG garden. I think it came from his growing up years when times were hard. In spite of those hard times, he absolutely loved planting a garden! I remember him coming home from an 8 hour day at the local Reynolds plant and working until dark. His Saturdays found him working in the garden. And when they decided to build a new home in a subdivision he purchased 2 lots–one for the home and the other for the garden.

Even after my sister and I grew up and moved away, Dad continued his garden. After he retired, I remember my Mother fussing because he was working so hard in that garden. At first I suggested he slow down; but then I realized if he died working the garden, he would have died happy. Lord knows I’ve seen enough people die in misery. But as the years passed, he made his garden smaller. The only way he could do that was to plant some fruit trees so there wouldn’t be room to plant something else.

Finally, time did catch up with Dad and he just couldn’t garden the way he wanted. So he would plant in buckets and the inside of a washing machine tomato plants, squash and sometimes a cayenne pepper. But this spring, I was worried about him. Recently I asked him about his tomato and squash plants he told me, “I don’t think I’ll be doing them this year.” Understanding my Dad, I knew this wasn’t a good sign.

A bit of context. Dad just turned 94 years old. My Mother, his wife of 72 years, died 2 years ago come May. He still lives in that house he had built in 1962. It is filled with many wonderful memories, for him and us. He sounded tired, and I know he is; at times his grief is almost overwhelming. And for him not to plant at least 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants meant he didn’t see a future for himself here on earth. I know he longs to go home to be with The Father.

But this week, 3 plants changed everything: 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants. When I called him he proudly told me that he had put out his “garden”. That, my friends, is what is known as hope. Hope doesn’t blossom and become fruitful in the best of times–but in the most difficult of times. My Dad’s hope has grown. I realize that at 94 years old he may not eat a single tomato sandwich or fry up a skillet of fried squash–but he is planning on it. That is when hope becomes visual.

And the lesson, my dear readers, is clear in these days. COVID-19 is scary and there are many, maybe some of you, who have ONLY hunkered down and you do not see a future filled with hope. Let me ask you this question: What are you doing right now to plan for the future? I’m not talking about hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What are your plans WHEN this pandemic is over? And are those plans simply a reflection of what you are doing now? Where’s the hope in that?

So start “planting” now how to enjoy life more than ever. “Plant” those plans of spending more time with family and friends. “Plant” those plans of reconnecting with the Body of Christ. “Plant” those plans of being kinder in public. “Plant” that plan of a special trip with your family. Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to “plant” your hope. Do it now! Otherwise, your current mindset will continue to control your life. Three plants changed Dad’s perspective. It doesn’t take a whole lot to change your perspective. After all, only you can determine your perspective.

One Resolution: One Spirit!

New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life.  The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment.  So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are.  I surfed the web and here is what I found:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read More

Here’s what else I found:  It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point.  Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions.  And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them.    Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions?  I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment.  When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:

  1. Most People are not content with their lives.  In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
  2. Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives.  According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.  This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%. 
  3. Every human heart longs for contentment.  Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.

But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life?  And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life?  Does that sound good to you?   But wait!  There’s more. 

What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested?    Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make.  Want to know what it is?  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  “Oh, is that all it is preacher?  Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics?  I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel!  Thanks for nothing!” 

And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel.  We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving.  And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel.  But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do

The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us.  It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ.  We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct.  But remember Paul didn’t write in English.  He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word:  Live As Citizens of Heaven. 

This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace.  And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength.  And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse.  For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us!  Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.

And this process is found in ONEOne Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret.  And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year.  So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit.  And here’s The 1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit. 

Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit.  What Is Your Spirit?  The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.”  And it is, but I want you to go deeper.  Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process.  And this is the real problem.  Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit.  Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained.  Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit:  One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart!  So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.

And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions.  He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit.  Here is how to develop this One Spirit. 

1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace

Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace!  And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace?  Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace:  hungering and thirsting.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled. 

It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God.  It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray.  It is about all that God offers.  And trust that God will provide His grace.  When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God.  When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God.  And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.

2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion

Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material.  Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily.  But that’s not Devotion.  The Dictionary Defines Devotion As:  Profound Dedication.  It is moving your life in the direction of God.  This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 

Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to.  Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion.  If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football.  If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self.  Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence.  It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere.  Make God your greatest passion.

3. Live With Total Determination

It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight.  It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough.  Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome.  To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About. 

It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 

Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin.  But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross.  Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life.  Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him. 

Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  So here’s your Next Steps:

  1. Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
    • Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
    • Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible.  Begin with Philippians
  2. Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
    • Find a person who has a need, and meet that need
    • Find something happening locally
    • Talk with me about starting something new
  3. Dream of something that only God can do

THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from 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.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

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

Timid And Intimidated!

Dale Earnhardt, Sr.–THE Intimidator

This week as I was preparing for the small groups I lead, a “not-so-random” thought hit me. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I have a severe case of “random thoughts”. But this time–it wasn’t so random. I’m leading the 2 of the 3 churches I serve in a weekly study and we are looking at the book of Acts. By the way, the third church I serve is at the local McDonald’s–a diverse group of employees, regulars, and the frequent visitor.

Here is where this “not-so-random” thought hit me:

About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 

Acts 12:1-4 (NLT)

It’s Verse 4 that deserves our attention, if we are followers of Jesus. “Then he (Agrippa) imprisoned him (Peter), placing him (Peter) under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.” Can’t you see it?????

Well, allow me to explain this for the less informed. Agrippa was a king-granted, placed their by Rome-but he’s a king. Because he’s a king and endorsed by Rome, he has a ton of power and authority. His authority reigns. Anyone who disagrees with that authority faces the might of Rome. Agrippa is indeed a powerful man. Got that part? Good!

Then, there’s Peter. Peter grew up to be a fisherman in an obscure village. He wields no great authority. He has no mighty army behind him. He has no endorsements from Rome. He’s just one person. OK. Got this part? Good!

In case you haven’t gotten my point, maybe this picture will help you understand, FROM A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE, the difference in the two men.

In human terms, Agrippa is the Great Dane, and Peter is that little Chihuahua. And there’s another group involved: 16 Roman soldiers, and there’s nothing sweet about this 16. Agrippa orders 16 highly trained, battle tested soldiers to guard this one man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Can you see it now?

Agrippa is intimidated by none other than Peter. I mean, why else would he order Peter to be guarded by 16 soldiers 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As bad as Agrippa is, he recognizes that Peter is a dangerous man to him. As much power and authority as Agrippa has, he senses that his power isn’t enough to contain Peter. Thus, the 16 soldiers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Man, that little Chihuahua is intimidating the Great Dane.

My Point? Glad you asked. Why are so many followers of Jesus being intimidated by our culture? Why are so many followers of Jesus afraid to speak up and out against a culture that is determined to undermine the ethics and authority of God and His Word? Why are so many pastors silent when confronted with the false ideology of liberalism? Why will Tenured Pew Sitters complain rather than engage?

It’s rather simple, the why that is: We, who should be The Intimidators, are being The Intimidated! Let’s end this now! I’m not telling, or even suggesting, that we become the new bullies on the block. The church tried that back in the Dark Ages, and it did NOT work.

Let’s be full of Grace, Love AND Truth. Don’t apologize for standing with The Word of God. Let’s become a Force for Good. Listen, followers of Jesus–the Devil is more intimidated by you when you follow Jesus as The Truth, than Agrippa was intimidated by little old Peter.

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.

1 John 4:4 (The Message)

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him….Dale, Sr. wasn’t intimidated by all those other drivers…and don’t you be intimidated!

Surviving Your D-Days of Disillusionment

Thursday, we marked the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, the day that marked the beginning of the end of WW 2.  Nonetheless, it was a horrible day.  German casualties on D-Day have been estimated between 4,000 to 9,000 men.  Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead on just that first day.  Stories of those from that day were stories about survival—just to get through those initial first hours—and the days that followed.

Today we’re beginning a new series called “Surviving Your Personal D-Day Invasion.”  This series addresses some of the tough issues that many of us have to face from time to time.  These Invasions Are Designed To Enslave You.  There Are No Vaccinations Against These D-Day Invasions, And No One Has Natural Immunity From Them. 

We’ll journey together through God’s word as we talk about these D-Day Invasions.  I want you to know something about this series.  I’m not teaching theory here—I’m teaching from the scars of my experiences.  I’ve learned that everything Jesus promises is absolutely true. 

The invasion may be happening right now, but it is not a battle that you have to lose.  In this series, we’re going to learn that surviving our Personal D-Day Invasion will take complete trust—and it will take complete hope—in God alone.   I want you to discover that through Christ we have overwhelming victory—no matter what we face.  This morning our passage is found in one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible.  Job 1:13-21 (NLT)

13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news:  

“Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided us.  They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news:  “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

17 While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news:  “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

18 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news:  “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. 19 Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides.  The house collapsed, and all your children are dead.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

20 Job stood up and tore his robe in grief.  Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.  The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.  Praise the name of the Lord!”

Today’s topic is Disillusionment.  I’m not talking about disappointment or discouragement.  These emotions are painful, but disillusionment is much, much deeper—and so much darker.

  • Disillusionment comes when what we thought was going to happen seems to be impossible.  It is losing the ability to dream and vision about your future. 
  • Disillusionment is what causes us to feel despair—the feeling that we will not survive. 
  • Disillusionment is what makes us cynical—and cynicism always makes us bitter. 

We say, “Oh, I’ll never become disillusioned!”  So we turn to motivational speakers and posters.  But they don’t really help.  In fact there is a website called http://www.despair.com operated by a company called Demotivators.  Here’s their mission statement on their website: 

No industry has inflicted more suffering than the Motivational Industry.  Motivational books, speakers and posters have made billions of dollars selling shortcuts to success and tools for unleashing our unlimited potential.  At Despair, we know such products only raise hopes to dash them.  That’s why our products go straight to the dashing.  Enjoy!

The fact is that there will come a day when you will experience the D-Day Invasion Of Disillusionment.  When things start crumbling around you, you will need something to hold onto, something that’s steady and constant.  And what you may have thought you could count on—evaporates before your very eyes. 

So here’s the one thing you need to remember: The Only Way You’ll Be Able To Survive Is If You Have Learned To Put Your Trust And Hope In God Alone.  True survival for now and for eternity comes when you know God personally in a deeply intimate and personal way. 

There is classic story in the Old Testament—nearly everyone is familiar with Job.  It’s the story of a man who suffered much during his Personal Invasion, yet he was able to survive.  We’ll look at his story and others during the course of this series and learn how they did it and how you can do it, too. 

You need to understand that it wasn’t easy for Job nor did his victory come instantly.  Job was a man who loved God deeply and had life going his way.  Then comes Satan, who accuses that Job only loves God because of his blessings.  The eternal conflict between good and evil is revealed once again.

Are you experiencing disillusionment in your life today?  The disillusionment of being in a dead-end life?  Of struggling financially?  Of a crumbling health?  Of rebellious children?  Of broken dreams?  What’s disillusioning you?  Job faced his Personal D-Day Invasion.  Let’s take a look at three survival tactics Job used to survive—these same tactics worked for me and they will work for you.  Here are 3 things that Job did that you need to do in the face of Disillusionment

1.  Be Open And Honest About Your Grief.

Job didn’t try to hide the pain in his life—he grieved openly and admitted his suffering.  In order to get beyond pain and experience healing in our lives, we have to grieve

Too often, we try to mask our pain through denial, through superficial spirituality, through a drink or pill, or some other thrill.  Job doesn’t do this.  And he doesn’t resort to clichés, “Hallelujah; I’m just going to let go and let God.  I’m just going to claim my victory.” Instead, Job Grieved.  He tore his clothes, he put on sackcloth, covered himself with ashes, and he began to mourn. 

This is how grief was expressed in his time and culture.  And in doing this he was telling everyone there that he was grieving—he was being open and honest about his suffering.  It’s normal to grieve

In fact, it’s abnormal not to grieve.  Through grief we can express our feelings about the situation.  This is what Job did—He expressed all his feelings about the situation.  Through grief, we are able to gripe and express our desire for the circumstances not to be true.   

Job was brutally honest with God, and when we go through struggles, we can be brutally honest with God about what is going on in our lives.  Grieving helps us to express the effects that we’ve experienced from the impact of The Invasion.  We can begin to tell God and even other people how we really feel. 

Grieving has a purpose.  It Forces Us To Become Honest With Ourselves So That We Can Begin Making The Necessary Changes In Our Lives.  Grieving gives a chance to ask the hard questions that we need to ask—“Why did this happen?  Is it God’s will?  Did God do this?  Is it my fault?”  As we ask the questions, we can then begin to discover the source of our disillusionment. 

Like Job, sometimes it’s the result of evil, like planes flying into buildings.  Sometimes, it’s the result of wrong choices on our part.  Through either situation, there are lessons to be learned, and we can’t learn them until we Grieve, until we ask the tough questions.  That’s the first tactic to handling disillusionment.  The second is:

2.  Choose To Put Your Complete Trust In God.

We don’t know how long Job grieved, but we do know there was a day when he stopped.  He grieves, but he doesn’t stay in grief

Did you notice verse 21?“Then Job fell to the ground and worshipped God!”  Real trust comes only through a personal relationship with God.  I want to make sure you understand this. 

We can do a lot of different things to feel good once in a while—but true faith, true trust comes only through a personal relationship with God.  When we trust or value anything more than God, guess what happens?  We’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment

You can’t trust in your money; money can be lost.  You can’t trust in your skills; there are some things your skills can’t get you through.  You can’t trust in your relationships; relationships can unravel.  Where do you put your trust and hope?  If you put it anywhere else than God for here now and for eternity later, you will become a disillusioned person.

I Have Learned That I Can Trust In God Because He Loves Me Unconditionally.  It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’m doing, or what I will do.  God loves me unconditionally and I cling to this truth.  And so can you!  I discovered that I can cling to this truth and I can trust God because He’s always in control.  In your D-Day Invasion, you need to know who’s in control.  God is—and you can trust in God. 

Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but God is still in control.  I can trust God because He loves me unconditionally.  He is in total control.  He knows what’s going to happen.  Most importantly—He promises to never leave me and to always be there.  Here’s a third tactic to help you through the invasion of disillusionment:

3.  Restate Your Eternal Hope In Jesus.

We all need to believe in dreams—to believe that we have a purpose and can achieve great things.  We should desire to be effective and successful.  We should want to be the best that we can be and drive hard towards it.  However, when these positive thinking traits are not balanced with the real world and real life and the sovereignty of God, we can become Disillusioned

When we develop unrealistic expectations, we’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.  There’s a hard truth we have to face—The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You And It Doesn’t Revolve Around Me.  Sometimes we have a hard time believing that, but it’s true. 

Believing that the world revolves around you is a sword that cuts you down.  We have these expectations that we should shoot for but when we don’t balance it with reality we become Disillusioned.  It’s great to dream, and we need to work toward those dreams.  Just remember:

Jesus said that life would be hard sometimes.  But he also promised to help us overcome.  We can walk around angry and disillusioned and wish things could be different, or We Could Stop And Take Responsibility For Our Own Stuff.  We Can Stop And Re-Evaluate Our PrioritiesAnd Focus On What’s Really Important

Really, what’s more important to you—to have a big house and a new car, or to play catch with a child?  It’s your choice.  It’s perspective, isn’t it?  This sword cuts us down when we’re not honest with ourselves about our passions, our purpose in life, and about our time constraints.  Re-Evaluate Your Expectations.  Prioritize Your Life.  Set Your Face, Values And Priorities With God And Continue To Move Forward.

The economy can crash, relationships fall apart, health declines, but God is always the same.  Our hope is in Jesus.  It’s the confident expectation that God is willing and able to fulfill the promises that He has made.  Christian hope is based on Who He Is And What He Can Do, not on you and me.  It’s not based on our circumstances. 

With Christ, we are able to rise above our circumstance no matter what they are because of who God is.  Do you need that kind of hope?  That firm foundation of trust?   Are you wondering where your hope can be found? 

It can only be found in the one who knows your past and loves you anyway.  He Promises To Hold Your Hand In The Present And Has Your Eternal Security In His Heart And It’s Secure In Him.  Hope and trust in God alone is the backbone of this whole series.  It’s how we can survive and even learn to thrive in our D-Day invasions. 

Next Steps

  1. If You Are Hiding Your True Feelings, Be Honest With God.  You need not be afraid of telling God how you really feel.  He already knows and He’s so full of grace and love for you, He can handle whatever it is you are feeling.
  • When Your Life Is Invaded By Disillusionment, Talk It Out!  I am always available to you.  But find someone who will listen as you grieve, and at the right moment, offer you hope.  Make it someone who won’t say “Let go and let God” or some other cute phrase.  Make it someone who will listen to you, AND the Holy Spirit.

A Moving Journal-Day 10

Well, the day has arrived.  Usually I’m sharing this at the end of the day–but at the end of this day….well, I might be a bit too tired to write.  But already this morning I have learned “another” lesson.  What is it?  Glad you asked!

Sometimes, many times, it’s not that we need God to teach us something new–but to remind us of what He has already taught us.  

The lesson I learned Saturday night and Sunday.  And it’s this:  Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!  That lesson taught me that He has control, even though I don’t have control.  So for the rest of this day, and hopefully for the rest of my life, I will remember this lesson:  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!  The Lessons We Learn At The Feet Of Jesus Are Timeless And Timely!

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.

A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

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

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

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

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

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

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

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

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