EVEN THERE IN THAT PLACE–Tuesday Thoughts 14 January 2020

My Tuesday Thoughts on what to write this morning were running wild–wild as a trio of adolescents on a 3 day binge on candy kind of sugar rush. When my thinking gets like this, I have to really force myself to stop thinking–so that I can listen. Now I have it–it’s Psalm 139 and three words from that Psalm–YOU ARE THERE!

Who’s there? God, of course. Most of us like to consider ourselves Masters Of Camouflage. Like an Army sniper in the field, we think we can hide and no one see us–or see what’s going on inside us. But regardless of how or even where we hide, Even There God finds us. When God asked Adam and Eve, “Hey, guys! Where are y’all?”, He knew where they were.

It wasn’t a question of confusion; it was a question of trust. God was asking Adam and Eve, “Do you still trust me, trust my love and that I am still good even though you did what you did?” Smack dab in the middle of their self-imposed mess, they did trust God. And in this Psalm David seems to be reflecting on his life. He’s known up and downs. He’s been faithful to God and been a rebel against God. He’s hidden in caves from King Saul, and he’s tried hiding from the King of Kings.

And what he could do with Saul, successfully hide, he never could do with God. He found out what Adam and Eve discovered–in the middle of our messes–Even There God Is Present. And in His Presence, He is still trustworthy, He is still loving us, and most of all, He is still GOOD! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why some people think God is out looking for people just to punish them. And if this day you are trying to hide from God because you “think” He’s mad at you, or that He doesn’t want you–Think Again! In your fear, confusion or despair–Even there in that place He is present and He is still Good And Loving On You.

And it’s just not in the places where we try to run and hide from God, but it’s true also in the places where circumstances and consequences have placed us. Problems at work. A “we no longer need your services” moment. Chemo or radiation therapy. A disintegrating family. A nursing home. A funeral home. Even in church.

My beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church, is in utter chaos; or so it seems to many of us. But even there, God is Present. God Is Faithful. God Is Loving Us. God Has A Plan. And God is still GOOD! What I’m saying is this: Wherever you are–whether it’s the result of you poor choices or whether it’s the result of forces beyond your control–Even There God Is Present. Even there He is still Faithful to you. Even there He still Loves you. Even there He is still GOOD. Even there, He will lead you out and back to where you belong!

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

Don't Argue With An Idiot–Tuesday Thoughts

This morning I was thinking about 2 things: Wisdom and Idiots (Proverbs calls them a fool). What prompted these seemingly contradictory things was the controversies in Washington D.C. and in the United Methodist Church. So I turned to a book that has much to say about both–Proverbs, and here is what I found:

We no more give honors to fools than pray for snow in summer or rain during harvest.

Proverbs 26:1 (The Message)

In the book The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews, the second decision needed to be made is this: I will seek wisdom. Here’s a quote that is really speaking to me this morning:

I will seek wisdom. I will choose my friends with care. I am who my friends are. I speak their language, and I wear their clothes. I share their opinions and their habits. From this moment forward, I will choose to associate with people whose lives and lifestyles I admire. If I associate with chickens, I will learn to scratch at the ground and squabble over crumbs. If I associate with eagles, I will learn to soar great heights. I am an eagle. It is my destiny to fly.

“The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews

Yet when I look at our government and my Spiritual Tribe, I see no such seeking for wisdom. What I see and hear are fools, idiots spewing their venom of “I’m right, you’re wrong” perspective. And what “I” want to do is argue with them, showing them where they are wrong! But after the argument I remember this quote supposedly from Mark Twain:

So, today I choose wisdom. Arguing with idiots and fools is just like Solomon said in our Proverb this morning–it’s like praying for snow in the summer; ain’t gonna happen unless you live near one of poles or in high altitudes. It doesn’t make sense. Or like praying for rain during the harvest season–it’s counter intuitive, standing in the way of what you want to achieve.

In the midst of so many fools, take a different route–a “wiser” response. Seek wisdom for yourself. An idiot will not seek nor see wisdom for themselves. But you–rise above the strife of lunacy. Wisdom will help keep you calm, steady and strong. Seek wisdom from God and His Sacred Word. Seek wisdom from those who seek their wisdom from God. Arguing with idiots won’t change anything. Seeking wisdom transforms you–and that wisdom will rise above the dust created by lunacy. Remember, idiots are empowered by our arguing. Seek wisdom, and the idiot becomes impotent.

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

How Do You Let Go?

When one is in the middle of a tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, 8.5 earthquake and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one, cute and easy doesn’t cut it; at least for me.

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How do you let go? Of the past? Of your growing up children, your grown children? The persistent pain? The chaos? That bitterness? The fear? The inundations of the current political climate? The uncertainty of the future? How do you let go of WHAT IS RIGHT NOW? Allow that last question to sink in a bit.

Well, some would say (and perhaps cheerfully say) “Well, you just gotta LET GO AND LET GOD!” And I reply, “Exactly what does that mean?” And some, maybe you would reply, “Silly, it means let go of it and let God take care of it!” And my response will be, “Yeah, but. . .what does it mean when I’m right smack dab in the middle of the storm?”

Some may chastise me (even flog me) for my next thoughts: “That sounds real cute and easy–but right now I don’t need or even want cute and easy. I need HELP!” When one is in the middle of a tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, 8.5 earthquake and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one, cute and easy doesn’t cut it; at least for me. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. . .but I suspect I’m not the only one.

In my spiritual journey, I started out as a “Methodist”. Then in 1968 I became a “United Methodist”. This has been my Tribe since 1956 when I was born and God said, “You better watch out for this one!” I had always thought I would die as a “United Methodist”. And now, at 63, it’s not going to happen. I am literally watching the Tribe that nurtured me, helped me see Jesus, find grace, explore and affirm God’s call on my life, implode and disintegrate before my very eyes.

For some, it’s not about their Tribe, but for some other horrible reason, they are in that tsunami, Cat 5 hurricane, and an EF5 tornado all rolled into one moment. Whatever was, and currently is–that “feeling” comes upon us with a weighty realization–It’s time to let go! It may be living in a harmful relationship, the rebellious child hell bent on destroying the lives of people around them, overwhelming grief, that crushed dream; even that bitterness of soul that comes from the wound no one sees but you. . .and God. It’s this question: How do you let go?

This is the question that is haunting me, and perhaps you, or maybe someone you know. As one struggling with this, and speaking on the behalf of fellow strugglers, don’t give me, or us, cute sayings or post on our FB page some “inspirational quote”! This only tends to exacerbate our inner turmoil by either making us feel like we are failures in faith; or that you haven’t really listened to us. How do you let go? I’m really asking, millions are really asking, “Can you do something to help me let go?”

The answer is No! And Yes! Wow! You’re thinking (I know you are because I have the gift of espn!), “Preacherman, you’re a world of contradictions! It’s gotta be Yes or No; not Yes AND No.” I guess I need to explain myself, and hopefully lower your blood pressure, and keep you from chastising me for my lack of faith.

No, you cannot help me let go because this is my choice, and the choice of all who are in the WWE Smackdown Steel Cage Match of our lives. We who are wrestling with this question are not unlike those battling some type of addiction. We can be clean and free for a season because you give us cute phrases or simply nag at us; but if it’s not our choice, then we relapse into that vicious cycle. We who are in the alligator grip of seeking to trying to decide how to Let Go must decide to Let Go for ourselves, not for any other person–just to release whatever it is that has filled our minds, and our hearts with all this smog. Not that this gator from hell is going to let go of us, he won’t; but now he knows he’s losing, even lost, the battle.

And Yes, you can help us Let Go; and here is how:

  1. Listen to us. Fight your personal urge to “fix” us. Many times we just need to talk and know someone has heard us, who doesn’t have on their agenda to “fix” us. We’re not asking you to agree with us. Remember Proverbs 18:13–“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” And in case you didn’t get my message, hear how The Message puts it: “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Got it?
  2. Love on us without trying to fix us! It’s called “unconditional” love. The Biblical word is Grace! Remember the mark of a follower of Jesus. John 13:34-35–“Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Yes, Jesus wants to change us–but never before we know we are loved by HIM. Do the same!
  3. Pray for us! Pray that God puts a person or 2, maybe 3 or 4, in our path today who will share with us God’s wisdom. Pray that our eyes will see a surprise from God, who is always at work to heal us. Don’t pray for God to give YOU the answer we need; pray that WE see God’s answer, however it comes to us.
  4. Be an example for us! Don’t “tell” us what to do; SHOW US what it looks like to Let Go! And you can’t do that for us if you haven’t been there! After my divorce I got a lot of “counsel”; and honestly–not much if any at all helped. But when I found (I think someone was praying that I find it) my Divorce Support Group, I found how to Let Go from a small group of those who were in various stages of Letting Go! Show me your scars and I will first watch you, then I will listen to you. Otherwise, either pray for us or bug off!

While I may grieve what may appear to be the end of my Tribe, and while I may wonder what to do next, I know the ONE who can either CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY of this current mess–OR–who is prepared for what happens next, always prepared for what happens next. Only HE can help us Let Go WHEN we are ready to let go.

So, when you think of me, and when you see someone in different circumstances but still is wresting with the question, How Do I Let Go, remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others (even us who are wrestling that gator) the way Jesus loves you. And please make sure that all the glory goes to HIM!

The Toxic Sludge Of The U.S. Church

Reactions are not only ripping apart my Tribe, but it’s ripping apart this once great nation.

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(Pic from http://www.vintagenews.com of Romanian church swallowed by toxic sludge)

I am going to be careful not to mention groups based on ideologies or theologies. This is not about conservatives or liberals; progressives or orthodox. Dear Lord in heaven, there’s been enough of that–actually too much of that. Therefore, be it known unto all, whether earthly or in the spiritual realm, that I am not blaming, accusing, or naming any person or group as being the cause of the toxic sludge that is consuming the U.S. church, and in particular, the United Methodist Church. This being declared and verified (soon I will be a notary public so I’ll consider this my first unofficial notarization) of my own free will.

After carefully reading a recent post by Shane Bishop (click here to read “Know What You Are Going To Do”) a realization that had been on the edges of my mind came into clear focus. The problem in my Tribe, and in the U.S. church as a whole, is that we have become a culture that values REACTION over RESPONSE. Let’s see if I can describe the difference between what is toxic and what is healthy.

Response is the result of careful thought, reflection, and honest conversation about the facts at hand and what to do with those facts. Response is always controlled because it contains that essential element of time. Response is sometimes easy to calculate–but more often than not it requires a lot of time…I mean a lot of time. Response is about the true issue, not human personalities, and not about human beings or groups. Response reflects both courage and compassion; conviction and kindness.

Reaction is what happens without much if any prompting. We sometimes call it “gut-reaction” or “knee-jerk reactions”. Personally, it’s more like the second description, minus the word “knee”. Reactions seldom if ever require much thought or preparation. It reminds me of that day in chemistry lab storage area at the high school I attended. Someone found a container of sodium metal and showed a few of us what would happen when it was exposed to water. He extracted a small amount and threw it out the window when it was raining. (Click here for a YouTube about that chemical reaction, and no, that wasn’t us). When we got bored, which was frequently, and it was raining, we did that experiment again and again. Someone, I won’t say who, decided it would be fun to throw a big chunk of it and flush it down a commode. Somehow that bottle of sodium metal was removed from the lab never to be seen again, and thus, an end to our “experiments”. Let’s get serious again.

That chemical Reaction produced produced hazardous results. When we React to each other, the Reaction is even more hazardous. It is dangerous and damages–damages relationships, people, communities and systems–when Reaction becomes our response to the myriad of issues facing the U.S. Church. Sometimes in the realm of science reactions get out of control and the results are…..does anyone remember the place called Chernobyl? Reactions to what is going on in my Tribe are quickly becoming another Chernobyl. Soon the name of my Tribe will become synonymous with Chernobyl and it will be as empty and vacant as Chernobyl is today. And as I reflect. . . and think lovingly about my Tribe. . . I silently wonder if it’s not too late. . .I pray it’s not so. . .but. . .

Reactions are not only ripping apart my Tribe, but it’s ripping apart this once great nation. It’s on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C., it’s even permeating Main Street, Small Town, America. Let’s see if I can put down my Response to all these Reactions in my Tribe and nation. I want to express my Response in way that you will feel the passion and intensity that is in me:

STOP IT! I SAY AGAIN, STOP IT! REACTION IS THE EASY RESPONSE AND IT IS THE WRONG RESPONSE! STOP TALKING AT EACH OTHER. AND PLEASE RESPECT EACH OTHER BY THINKING AND THINKING HARD SO THAT YOU DO NOT REACT!

Randy Burbank, KingdomPastor

I think that the use of Bold and All Caps is how one does that nowadays. Shane Bishop is on target with his thoughts; and his questions are worth pondering. . .for a long and serious time. Reactions accomplish nothing–but destructive explosions. Remember what happens during extended and uncontrolled reactions: CHERNOBYL!

And still . . . love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him. And stop reacting to everything. . . and anything. . .