AND IT JUST GETS UGLIER!

 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans chapter 15, verse 2; from the New Living Translation

You know, I thought I was through writing about the mess in the United Methodist Church. This was because I am no longer a United Methodist pastor. Yet, 48 years of service to the United Methodist Church compels me to pray for the United Methodist Church. But write about it? No way, Jose`! One would think that since the “divorce” is final for many former congregations and pastors, the words about us wanting to leave would be over. Apparently, some think differently than me. Even a friend and brother in Christ. Ron seems to think more needs to be said.

So, I am speaking only to United Methodists who are in the discernment phase and to those who think that as traditionalists they can stay in the United Methodist Church. And from the comments made on Ron’s post and similar posts, there is a prevalent mean and ugly spirit within those remaining United Methodists. He is Ron’s post. I am concealing his last name for obvious reasons.

Let me speak into this statement first: “How many Pastors drove this hatred of the UMC into their congregations?!” OK, Ron, tell us. What was that number of pastors who drove their hated of the United Methodist Church? Was it 1? 5? 25? 50? Of the 198 congregations that disaffiliated December 10, was it 100 pastors? I’m waiting, Ron. And before you give me a number, cite your research and sources.

Let’s look at the next statement: I’m not convinced that all those members had the desire to leave the UMC. OK, Ron. There was a 3 month clearly defined process and procedure. It included first and foremost, prayer. In fact, the entire process was to be covered in prayer. Are you saying those 198 congregations didn’t pray? Refused to pray? This process also required to hear from those who were staying in the United Methodist Church. And the last step was a Church Conference where all full members were allowed to be present and allowed to vote. The percentage required to approve disaffiliation was set at 67% in favor. Did the District Superintendent mislead the congregation on how they needed to vote? Was there collusion in counting the votes? Was there a conspiracy within the Conference Board of Trustees to just get rid of those 198 congregations? If their desire was to stay United Methodists, then why did the outcome of those 198 congregations say otherwise? Again, Ron. I’m waiting for your answer.

Now, let’s take on this next statement: “I blame their Pastors. I feel as if they indoctrinated their people.” So, Ron, it’s their pastor’s fault? Really? Are you saying that laypersons are incapable of forming their own opinions and making their own decisions? Hummmm. Interesting, Ron. I wonder how those laypersons feel about your statement? I wonder if they would agree with your personal assessment that they were incapable of making a factual decision. Or, perhaps, you have documentation to prove your allegation? Pastors have a difficult enough time to implement a simple change with just a simple majority. But a 67% majority? My experiences would find that hard to believe. I know your statement said “I feel as if”, but tell me, Ron, when did your feelings become facts? I’m still waiting for your answer.

Then you said, “It’s painful to let 198 congregations go in one day, not to mention all those Pastors who just quit and gave up their orders. It pains me to see so many of my colleagues just leave our Church.” To your credit, half of your statement is true. It is “painful to let 198 congregations go in one day”. And I wholeheartedly agree with you. But did you ever consider that it was painful for many of them, too? I have witnessed the pain of laypersons who made this decision. They are convinced it is where God is leading them–but it’s painful for them, too. Or is it that their pain doesn’t matter? Or is it your pain is larger and more important than their pain? Still waiting for your reply.

But the other half of your statement simply isn’t true: not to mention all those Pastors who just quit and gave up their orders! Just as congregations went through a discernment process, so have we pastors. I, and my fellow sisters and brothers have determined that God is leading us in another direction. And in an act of integrity, we must surrender our credentials. It’s what the current Book of Discipline mandates. We are not quitting, we are following! Following the requirements of the Book of Discipline. But more important–we are following Jesus to where He is leading us. If Jesus is leading you to stay in the United Methodist Church, then be faithful to Jesus, Ron. No one is accusing you of not following Jesus. I cannot tell you what Jesus wants you to do anymore than YOU can tell us what Jesus wants us to do when it comes to the United Methodist Church. I hate to think this, but you give the impression of arrogance. We haven’t given up. Just because you say we’ve given up doesn’t mean we have. In case you haven’t figured it out–sometimes it costs us dearly when following Jesus. At 66 years old, I could have simply retired, and kept my United Methodists orders. But God is leading me in a different direction. I’m not asking nor expecting you to like it–however it is reasonable to expect from you my friend and brother in Christ, to respect my decision.

And one last statement you made and I do not know if you thought about how it sounds: I say to those 198 congregations, “Go ahead and Leave, do whatever it is you need to do. We will continue to stand in the light of God and do our part to spread God’s Kingdom! This will not stop and Jesus will be our guide and Lord!” Ron, I hope and pray you will continue to stand in the light of God. Know what, Ron? We who left are going to continue to stand in the light of God and do our part to spread God’s Kingdom, too. Is that so hard for you to comprehend? Surely you are not so–what’s the word–presumptuous as to think we are incapable of making the same decision! Are you? That’s not the Ron I met and thought was my brother in Christ and friend.

You ended your post with these words: “May our tempers be calm, God’s grace prevail, and by the mercy of the Holy Spirit help us all to move forward.” By us all, do you mean US ALL–or just United Methodists? Ron, if you are just frustrated, I can relate to that. But the accusations you made against 198 congregations and us pastors–well it doesn’t sound like moving forward, it doesn’t sound calm, and it certainly isn’t grace-filled words. Contrary to your statements, I am capable of listening to God and following Him where He wants me to go. Your words, my friend, didn’t form my decision. However, they did confirm I made the right decision.

So, to current United Methodists who are traditionalists/conservatives that think there’s room for you in the United Methodist Church–I can’t tell you what to do. But know that the voice of my friend isn’t the only voice offering ugly words and a lack of grace. You are held in contempt until you agree with progressives. If you can live like that, then by all means, stay United Methodist. I am not abandoning the United Methodist Church. I’m not quitting the United Methodist Church. I am following Jesus, Ron. I’m follow Jesus–even if you think I’m not!

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WHERE ARE YOUR ROOTS?

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him.  Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

Colossians chapter 2, verses 6 & 7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

What is your favorite place to “get away from it all”?  No, I’m not talking about that place where you have to save and save or max out a credit card to get there.  I’m talking about that place that is just a short walk or drive away.  My “fortress of solitude” (remember Superman?) is the woods.  It doesn’t have to be an enormous National Forest; just a place where there are enough trees to keep the view of the real world at bay for a moment.  It is there I take a deep breath to regain my composure, or seek insights into what I should preach (or write), or simply but powerfully reconnect with my Savior.  Perhaps I am drawn to the woods and trees because The Savior–my Savior, your Savior, and the world’s Savior–BECAME that Savior by dying on a rugged wood cross. 

Not long ago I went for a walk in a new stretch of woods.  I was not seeking to resolve any issues or find something to write about.  It was one of those mornings when I just wanted to take a walk with The Savior.  At the moment, I needed nothing from His hand; just to hold His hand was all I wanted.  I was walking up a slight hill and I came to a level place, so I stopped for a moment just to take it all in (which is another way of saying I needed a rest).  It was then I noticed it.

There was this tree I had stopped beside.  Oh, I know there were lots of others trees around, but this one caught my attention.  At eye level, it looked as if it were dead.  Its trunk that should have been straight was bent and twisted.  Obviously this tree, at some point, had encountered a severe storm and that storm had changed its shape.  I also noticed that about half of its trunk was missing from near its base upwards to about 4 feet.  Insects and perhaps disease had moved in after the storm that changed its shape.  From my viewpoint, looking straight ahead at eye level, this tree had died and would soon fall and eventually rot away.  And I also knew that process was a part of the cycle of life.  This dead, decaying tree would provide nutrients for new life.

It was at that precise moment that I looked upward.  I do not know what made me look up; perhaps it was The Savior who knew I was looking at the wrong part of that tree took his hands and made me look up.  And I am glad He did because it changed my perspective about this twisted, bent tree.  Right over my head, exactly over my head, there it was:  a limb growing upward with green leaves.  I am not a horticulturist by trade and I have never taken a botany class, but I knew enough to know that dead trees cannot produce green leaves.  That limb was growing upward toward the sun and this happened because the tree was still alive even though at eye level it looked dead. 

I took this experience as something the Savior was trying to teach me.  The very first thought that entered my mind was, “The roots of this tree are still alive, so this tree isn’t dead!  It’s alive!”  (I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to amuse me!)  At eye level there was not a single sign of life but below the surface life abounded, the roots were still working and there was still a connection in that bent and diseased tree to those roots, sending that life giving substance upward to that limb that was reaching up to the sun and producing leaves, that sign which said, “I am still alive!  I am bent and damaged, but I AM alive because I am still connected to my roots!”

And this casual “for no particular reason” stroll though the woods became a classroom where I discovered an important lesson straight from The Savior.  I reflected on the many storms that had happened in my own life; things which threatened to destroy me which were not my fault.  I also reflected on the things I had done which allowed the insects and diseases to come into my life and start to destroy me.  By the way, these “insects and diseases” are better known as “SIN”!  I looked back and I knew there had been times in my life when at “eye level” I must have looked dead, to myself and certainly to others.  But The Savior had another view, and that was at the roots of my life.  HE is where my roots grow that holds me tight and gives me nourishment.  He does this faithfully, even when I may not even be aware of His gracious work.  In that bent and damaged tree, I saw my life, and in that limb reaching up toward the sun, I remembered my roots.

Paul, in writing to the believers at Colosse, gives us words to live by and certainly words to give any and all of us hope.  The life of a tree is not in how straight its trunk is, but in how deep and how strong its roots are.  Paul told the Colossians, and us, to let our roots grow deep in The Savior.  We do this by being faithful to our private devotion times, by being faithful to worship and service as the Body of Christ, we do this by a daily persistent prayer life, and so many other ways.  Our roots grow deep in The Savior when we focus on Him, His love and grace for us.  And nothing makes our roots grow deeper than when we spend time at the foot of The Cross, The Cross made from a large straight growing tree.  The more time we spend kneeling at The Savior’s Cross allows our roots to be stronger and deeper.

Perhaps there have been times in your life when storms, by no fault of you, have come along and bent and twisted your life.  The dreams you held have now vanished like the early morning fog.  The urge to throw in the towel on those dreams may be strong.  If this is you right now, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.”  The storms do not change God’s purposes for your life.  If anything, the storms you weather adds purpose to your life.  Just as that tree taught me a lesson, so your life can teach others life changing lessons about the power of relationship–the relationship with The Savior because your own roots are growing down in Him.

Perhaps the disease and insects of sin have invaded your tree.  You look eye level at yourself and may sincerely think that you are finished.  You may feel that you have lost your usefulness in the Kingdom.  If this is you this morning, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.”  Allow your roots to grow down into The One who still speaks those same words to every broken sinner, “I will not condemn you.  I will release you to go and have a new start.”  Grace and mercy are always available when we admit our inability to save our self and we intentionally choose to grow the roots of our life in Him.

And I discovered another lesson that revealed something about me that I thought I had managed to conquer, and it just hit me.  (See, learning is not over just because you leave the classroom.)  You may be familiar with this expression:  “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well, God taught me a new expression:  “Don’t judge a tree by its trunk at eye level.”  I hate to admit it, but I must, that from time to time (and even once is not acceptable to The Savior) I judge people at eye level.  I allow a bad experience, a moment of mistreatment, that eye level experience, to continue to shape my opinion of that person.  I cannot see their roots, so I have to look up toward the Son and remember that there is still hope when there is still a connection to the roots.  And by the way, if you have not figured it out yet, there is no way I or you or anyone can see the roots.  Father, forgive me for my judgments and thank you for reminding me (again) that you are the judge, not I.

Let us pray:  Father, above everything else, I want my roots to grow deep in you.  I need the life giving substance of Your Spirit.  Help me engage my life in those practices and disciplines that will keep me alive in You.  Thanks for keeping this bent and diseased tree alive with new growth.  And Lord, help me to stop making eye level judgments, not about trees, but about people.  Amen and Amen!

Sighs Of The Times

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

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

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

7 Things God Finds Disgusting: A Heart That Plots Evil

16 There are six things the Lord hates—
    no, seven things he detests:
18 a heart that plots evil,

Proverbs 6:16, 18 NLT

Today’s disgusting thing to God is a heart that plots evil. And this is one that most folks say is easily identifiable–in others. Isn’t it amazing that it is so easy to identify evil in others–but fail to see it in ourselves? I remember what a friend, Ronnie Wicks once said in a small group: “My sin is not as bad as your sin.” Ronnie wasn’t being self-righteous–simply stating the attitude that so many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have.

Have you ever taken one of those surveys that asks you to rate your experience? People tend to follow that same format when looking (which is a polite way of saying judging) at others. We rate them on this scale: Very Good (which are those folks who go the extra mile to be good)–Good (which is simply another word for mediocre)–Bad (typically those who aren’t like you)–and Evil (this is the elite of the Bad who do unspeakable things). And most folks would never see themselves as Evil.

We don’t like that word Evil; it’s rarely used nowadays, and it’s used to describe something out there. But Solomon is very clear that Evil exists–and it exists in the human heart. There are 2 words Solomon uses: machăshâbâh and ‘āven. Machăshâbâh is a contrivance–which is a ruse or scheme. āven is used for the word Evil or Iniquity. But here’s something interesting about that word–the proper meaning is to pant, to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught.

What’s my point? Here’s my point. Evil is everything we do to avoid living under God’s rule–the way we are created to live. It’s the plans, schemes, devices, the machinations (another strong word) we conspire with to avoid the life, the only life we need. There is no difference between bad and evil. Rebelling against God, choosing our own way–is simply Evil.

Now, let’s get back to that word machăshâbâh. Remember that its proper meaning is to pant, to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught. Whatever we do that fails to produce the life of holiness, as God designed it–all the different spins we put on The Gospel to justify ourselves and our views–are only exertions of our imaginations that leave us exhausted and produces nothing!

There is not difference between Bad and Evil. Exerting our own ways over God’s way is Evil–and God finds this Disgusting!

And Today The Blame Falls On____–Monday Musings 3 March 2020

Who would deny that the current state of the church, politics and society as a whole is in a state of unabridged and unequivocal chaos. Even the most self-deluded would have to admit this is our current reality. And when it comes to placing the blame…its not any better. On any given day and all day long, the long finger of blame is pointing somewhere. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune or Price is Right–there are lots of options on where to place the blame.

Conservatives are to blame. Progressives are to blame. The Democrats are to blame. The Republicans are to blame. Guns are to blame. Wussy-minded folks are to blame. Millenials are to blame. Baby Boomers are to blame. Professors are to blame. Parents to blame. Spin the wheel and find who to blame. Oy, oy, oy! It’s giving me a headache and makes me want to puke. It’s all Mishigas and Shmegegge. (I love Yiddish!)

But what would happen if we would do what David tells us to do? What would happen if we stopped spinning the Wheel Of Blame and took a long, hard and serious look at our own life?

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

Are you willing to allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s wrong in your own life? The Wheel Of Blame isn’t helping; so why not give this a full-on try. If we want things to change, then remember President Harry Truman’s personal mantra–THE BUCK STOPS HERE! Start and end each day with this Psalm. Allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s going on with you. Don’t just do it to fill your heart and mind with guilt–but do it so that the last line in this Psalm becomes true in you: And Lead Me Along The Paths Of Everlasting Life. Just in case you’re so dense you haven’t figured out the Monday Musing Theme, allow me to put it succinctly–Focus on what God wants for your life, then allow HIM to lead you along The Path!

Does God Ever Do The “Eye Roll” At Us?

The other day I was listening to Andy Andrew’s podcast. I love the guy because he thinks differently–and I love it when people think differently. I guess it’s because I think differently than most folks. Just ask some of my parishioners and former parishioners. I can’t remember the exact comment, but Andy said something to the effect: “Don’t make God roll his eyes at you.”

This got me to thinking: Does God ever roll His eyes at us? You do know what “the eye roll” means, don’t you? It means: “Who ties your shoelaces for you?” “Who brushes your teeth for you?” “I’d give you a penny for more of your thoughts, but you wouldn’t have enough money on you to give me back my change.” So, this morning, IF God does roll His eyes at us, here is a small partial list of things that would make God roll His eyes:

  • “This church isn’t meeting my needs”
  • Blaming the homeless for being homeless
  • Enjoying Thanksgiving meal while planning Black Friday Shopping
  • Expecting the church staff to be responsible for ALL the mission and ministry of the church.
  • Judging someone because of what they wear
  • Being rude to a cashier, or anyone for that matter
  • “My sin isn’t as bad as their sin”
  • Going into church looking mad and leaving church looking relieved that it’s over
  • Saying to someone at the funeral home, “God needed them more than you.”
  • “The Bible needs to be updated to match our culture.”
  • Giving the International Sign Of Displeasure because that driver wasn’t driving fast enough in the left lane to suit you.
  • Putting labels on others because of their past
  • Saying to the preacher, “I know a lot of people who needed to hear that sermon!”
  • “That’s NOT my responsibility or job!”
  • “Well, it must have been the will of God.” (spoken after some tragedy or disaster)

Oh, I could go on and on. So in the comments section, tell me what else might would make God roll His eyes at someone.