Life Hack #1

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

I will, from time to time, as I am inspired, maybe perspired, add to my writings some Life Hacks. A Life Hack is any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. In other words, wisdom that will better enable us to successfully navigate the muck, mire, and misery of life on this third rock from the sun. Not all of them will be original thoughts from me; some will be something I saw or read. I just so happen to have the first one ready today. Here it goes:

The Greek word Paul used for Scripture is graphē and it means a writing, thing written. Not a feeling. And certainly not an opinion. I’ve said it before and will keep on saying it: If the Bible is inaccurate, it means that God either didn’t care, or was incapable of stopping it from happening. In either case, that’s not a “god” I would want to give my life to. So, if you want to improve productivity and efficiency in your life, then don’t change the Bible, change yourself!

Advertisement

IT’S IN THE DETAILS!

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Galatians chapter 5, verses 17 thru 21; from the New Living Translation (NLT) (emphasis mine)

It’s been over a year and it should be finished by now. In the State of Alabama, it only takes 6 months to probate an estate. But it’s not! And it’s all because this alleged attorney who allegedly specializes in estate law left out some details–important details! I’ve confessed and repented to God, and now I will to you, also. I allowed this alleged attorney to lead me into forgetting the peace of Christ and patience. Please forgive me because I’m the one who is called to live by the standard. But with all my wrong choices yesterday, The Spirit manages to teach me something–something important! IF I am listening. And I was this morning.

Ever heard the expression The Devil Is In The Details? It means the details of a matter create the biggest problems. Am I right? Of course, I am! My former (the United Methodist Church) tribal leaders are, and have been for some time, preaching and teaching that the details, the details of living a Holy Life, are not to be found in The Bible. The only thing that matters is love. And this kind of love can only be expressed in terms of acceptance and approval. And all those details about sin revealed in Scripture and by The Holy Spirit? They simply don’t exist. Thus, sexuality is determined by feelings, which is simply another way of saying sinful nature. Ignoring the details has exploded, making the church impotent, and unleashed gender dysphoria.

Amazing (but not really) how progressive theology overlooks what Paul told this church in Galatia. Read and reflect on the opening line in verse 17: The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. This sinful nature is what is in all of us and controls all of us–that is–until we admit we are a sinner and get sick and tired of being controlled by that sinful nature and ask God to transform us by giving us a New Nature. News Flash: the sinful nature is revealed in the details of sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Disagree with Paul? Disagree with me? Well, guess what??? You’re still wrong! And if you, and my former tribal leaders, persist in this current course of disregarding the details of the sinful nature, then anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday afternoon, and into the evening, I opened the door to my old sinful nature. And it was ugly; I mean pure ol’ ugly, you-ain’t-got-no-alibi-ugly! And the disgusting irony of it all is that while I was grumbling and complaining about an alleged attorney who forgot the details, I had forgotten the details. Yes, the Devil is in the details. But so is God! In this Sacred and Precious Word we call “The Bible” is every detail we need to recognize and live the Holy Life–which is the ONLY life that God wants from us. I leave you with a challenge from Paul, one he gave to another church–and to all future Followers Of Jesus!

Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Ephesians chapter 4, verses 22 thru 24; NLT; (emphasis mine)

THE REAL DEFICIT IN OUR NATION!

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

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

Currently, according to the Treasury Department, the debt of the United States government is over 36 trillion dollars. How is that possible? Well, the answer really is simple. The government has been spending more money than it takes in. It’s called deficit spending. If I were to deficit spend, my bank either charges me an exorbitantly high service charge or they bounce the check or decline the debit transaction. It would seem to me that our government should stop spending more than it takes in. But, then again, I’m not a politician, thank God!

36 trillion is a lot of dough–but there’s an even higher deficit going on right now. It’s called wisdom! I grew up in an era where people were encouraged and expected to develop wisdom, otherwise known as common sense. What I want to know is that if it’s common sense, why is it so uncommon these days, especially in the church? And this morning I know the answer. Would you like to know the answer? Well, I’m going to tell you whether you want to know the answer or not.

The lack of wisdom, or “common sense”, that has invaded this land more than COVID is rooted in where people are looking for and seeking after WISDOM! Wisdom always comes from outside ourselves. Unfortunately, people are looking in the wrong places. They look for it in pop psychology, social trends, egotistical social influencers, political ideologies, or blogs like Hacking Christianity. Yes, I intentionally chose Jeremy Smith because of his over-inflated ego. And his obvious lack of wisdom.

Information alone doesn’t enable us to successfully navigate life and avoid its pitfalls. Here is why: Information tells us things–but wisdom shows us how to use that information in the best possible ways. Wisdom takes information and applies it to real life as it happens. And the only source for Wisdom is the one James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us about. Ask God! In fact, God loves it when we ask Him for wisdom! I love how The Message puts it: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.”

Truth Time, people!!! We don’t know how to live life as God designed it without His Wisdom! We don’t know what we’re doing without His Wisdom! And here’s the thing no one like Jeremy wants to admit: God’s wisdom always runs counter-cultural to what the world says! So, are you confused? In a jam? At a dead-end? God knows what He is doing. So, why not ask Him? The results of asking and applying (since wisdom is lacking in so many lives I have to add applying) His wisdom will get us out of this hot-mess. And it will certainly restore our joy and hope in life. You can be wise if you seek God’s wisdom. Or you can just be dumb, if you so choose. And it is your choice.

HOW LONG, O LORD? JUST HOW LONG?

My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.

Psalm 22, verses 14-15; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Have you ever noticed, noticed that however you are feeling in a moment, there’s a verse in the Bible that describes it perfectly? Last night and now this morning, this particular song of David’s describes me perfectly! Oh, I know that God hasn’t laid me in the dust and left me for dead. He doesn’t do such horrendous things. Nonetheless, it’s how I’m feeling. And if you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I have the tendency to put into words exactly how I’m feeling. And my legacy continues today.

“Whatever could make you, Preacherman, feel like this?” Since you asked, I’ll tell you. My sister, Jackie died August 18, 2021. My Dad died January 14, 2022, which was Jackie’s birthday. And tomorrow, Wednesday February 1, I will settle Dad’s estate at the lawyer’s office. Last night my niece, Christa Lynn, called me about that. But we ended up talking about her Dad who died years ago, Mother who died May 26, 2018, Jackie, and my Dad for nearly an hour. We were sad and hurting. We did manage a few laughs. But we were also hurting.

I had intended to get up early this morning to go hunting, but that desire left me last night. And so did my need for sleep. It was around midnight before I went to bed–still not sleepy. So I took some Melatonin to help. And last night I had that question, and it still lingers this morning: How long, O Lord, just how long will I grieve and hurt like this? And the answer He gave me isn’t the one I wanted to hear: “Until you join them up here!”

Call it grief, sorrow, or loss, it is now a part of who I am. And if someone close to you has died, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I miss them every day–but some days, and nights, are worse than others; like last night and this morning. I really wish He had told me something other than, “Until you join them up here!” I don’t like His answer. Not even a little bit. Truthfully? I don’t like it at all! And to you who are well acquainted with grief, you may feel the same way I’m feeling right now.

And please know that it’s OK to feel this way. Grief is a sign of love. And love is one of those 3 things that Paul said will always remain, always. (Read 1 Corinthians chapter 13) But let us not, myself included, live by that energy of grief. Don’t forget the other 2 things that will always remain: Faith and Hope! It was where David turned to; it is where I am turning to; and I encourage you to do the same. I truly feel like what David wrote in our opening verses. But as with all Scriptures, do what the late Paul Harvey would say: Now you know the rest of the story:

I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.
Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!
Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.
He has not turned his back on them,
but has listened to their cries for help.

Psalm 22, verses 22-24 (NLT)

He didn’t turn His back on David. He hasn’t turned His back on me. And He won’t turn His back on you. He has been listening to our cries.

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.

MY APOLOGIES TO THE GAY COMMUNITY

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Romans chapter 12, verses 14 thru 16; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

I need to begin today’s thoughts with a confession and a recognition. The confession is that I started these thoughts back in 2019, but didn’t finish them; that is, until this morning. The recognition is that I may lose some followers because of what I am about to write. I’m OK with that. After all, I’m not seeking followers of me. I am, however, seeking to help those who will be followers of Jesus. And that desire sometimes causes people to turn away from me. And my heart breaks for them because they have either chosen to follow the god of this world, or in some way I have failed to reveal to them the true Jesus. The later is mine alone to repent of and seek His restoring and empowering forgiveness.

I am reading a book that, well, honestly, I’m having a hard time reading. It’s deep and uses a lot of big words like mahogany. But I find that big words makes me study more. The book is Rules For Reformers by Douglas Wilson. Usually I love books that are easy to read and understand, something that I can read quickly. But this book…it’s making me think deeply. And here is what The Spirit is prompting me to write.

I want to apologize to the LBGTQI+ community. My apology to you comes out of the lies and half-truths that have been told to you. And please remember that a half truth is still a lie because it’s not The Truth! I have been reflecting and meditating on this hot topic issue of our culture and in our churches. This apology has come out of the wrestling arena that looks like a “no-holds-barred-cage match with multiple participants”. The result for me has been a mix of sobering reality and personal heartbreak. It has led me to a place of repentance and confession to God, and now to this culture we all live in.

First of all, I want to apologize on behalf of the Body of Christ. I apologize that some members of The Body have called you an abomination; as if you were one of a few people worse than the rest. It is detestable that you have been singled out for this word. The Truth is that all of us humans do and engage in things that are in fact, detestable to God. It’s called sin. Your sin is not worse than my, or anyone else’s sin. And our sin is just as bad as your sin. WE, you and I, are not detestable to God. We are all equally loved by God–pure, complete, and unconditional love.

However, and here is the other half of the truth, we have actions and attitudes that are detestable to Him. They are, in fact, detestable to Him because they are outside His Intended Design for us. These things, this sin, alienates us from God. He will not, and we cannot have a relationship with God as long as we embrace our sin. Thus, they are keeping us out of the relationship HE wants to have with us. The death of Jesus on that Cross wasn’t meant to take away the abomination of our preferred sin. But to reveal to us how hideous sin is to Him. And through faith in Jesus, He takes away the penalty and power that all forms of sin holds over us. In short, to help take away our desires to sin–and thus deliver all of us from sin’s dominion.

Secondly, I want to apologize to you that culture, society, and even science has taken away your true freedom. You have also been lied to in that culture, society, and even in some scientific circles, are telling you have that you have no choice with your life other than to live within your physical desires. They alone, bear the responsibility for any and all gender euphoria you may be experiencing. The proven science of biology clearly reveals there are two genders–male or female. There is a rare birth defect known as ambiguous genitalia which is a complicated thing. But it is just this: a birth defect. Not a “person” defect–but a biological defect. Something happened as the baby develops that causes this condition. But the 50+ forms of gender identity being passed out like candy? They are nothing but lies designed to keep you from your true God-given identity.

Labels are great for products. When I buy a can of pinto beans, I know I’m getting pinto beans. Not green beans, white beans, or even dog food. But I detest labels being put on people. I understand what it feels like to have the wrong label. Some have chosen to label me a divorced and remarried pastor; meaning I’m disqualified to do what God has called me to do. And if I had not admitted my sin, did not have the desire to never divorce again, and not put my faith and trust in God forgiving me and making me a brand new person, then I am disqualified. But that’s not what I chose to do. I confessed my sin–meaning I admitted it was wrong. I repented of that sin–meaning I do not want to ever divorce again. And I trusted God could and would take my broken mess of a life and transform it back into His image.

To the LBGTQI+ community, my hope and my deepest desire for you is that you find the liberty and freedom that only God provides. I pray that you will finally discover the wonderful person God created you to become. Not the person you feel like you are. Not the person you used to be. And definitely not the person that others say you are. And He provides that liberty and freedom to anyone and everyone who who longs to live life abundantly, joyfully, and fully–fully alive in Jesus–and not the chaos and death of sin. Yes, we are all sinners. But when we absolutely and unconditionally surrender to Him and His will–it just like Paul said it would be:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17 (NLT)

WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5 and 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Let’s talk about TRUST. Synonyms for trust includes words such as conviction, assurance, certainty, dependence, and hope. But before we can talk about TRUST we need to define this word. According to Dictionary.com the word TRUST means: “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.” Look carefully at those first two words: reliance and confidence. Think of these two words like book ends that hold up all the other books. Remove either end and the books tend to fall over–i.e.–lean to one side, depending on which book end you remove.

TRUST can be applied to a myriad of situations. Consumer products, services, automobiles, and human nature are just some examples. Speaking of human nature, my level of TRUST in human nature can be described this way: I look both ways before crossing a one way street. But it’s not human nature I want to talk about with you. Well, then again, perhaps it is. Who can we trust when it comes to living the life that pleases and honors God? This is called The Life Of Holiness.

For centuries people turned to The Bible. But for the past several decades, this view has been challenged by those once identified as liberals and now identifies themselves as progressives. Progressives want us to believe that the established ethos of The Bible is UNTRUSTWORTHY. In other words, The Bible cannot be TRUSTED when it comes to the life of Holiness. So, what can this all mean?

Well, for one thing, God was missing in action. He was missing in action when the words were formed. He was missing in action when those words were copied, by human hands. He was missing in action when the early church leaders were trying to figure out what was reliable and what we could have confidence in when it comes to Holiness. And He was missing in action when it was being proclaimed and taught by countless individuals as being THE BOOK and we could rely on and have confidence in when it came to discerning what God wanted of us.

So, why was God missing in action all that time? Human reasoning and logic offers us some insights. Perhaps He was apathetic, unconcerned of what was being taught. Maybe He was powerless to stop all that false and inaccurate teaching. It could be that He, the Creator, was waiting on the Created to help Him understand Himself. And if we embrace what progressive theology purports as the truth, God was just waiting. Waiting for the time when they would arrive on the scene to set thousands of years of errant teaching straight. For example, that sexuality is determined by our feelings and beliefs. And all that God wants from us is to love others by approving of their feelings and beliefs.

But tell me this, how can anyone rely on and have confidence in a “God” who has been missing in action for all this time? Or a “God” who changes His mind and delivers these changes via a select group who are enlightened to the level of revealing those changes to the rest of us? Progressive theology declares that the missing in action “God” has finally arrived on the scene to set the record straight.

Maybe they think they can rely on and have confidence in that kind of “missing-in-action-until-now-god”. And maybe you think that you can rely on and have confidence in that kind of “god”. But I cannot! And neither should you!

MOODS!

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?  Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be raising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

Psalm 42, verse 5; from The Message (Msg)

Ever given deep thought to the word mood? A friend of mine once told me that he gave his wife a mood ring. I asked him, “Does it work?” He replied, “It sure does! I can tell how bad a mood she is in by the size of the bruise it left!” Don’t be so moody! Ever told someone that? Maybe you’ve said, I wish I wasn’t so moody!”

You will always be moody! Moods are something that you have always had–and always will! Does that encourage you? Mood is defined as an emotional state of mind or feeling. See! I’m right! As usual Since we always have a mood, the question isn’t about how to get rid of the mood you are in–it’s about having the right mood. And herein lies the problem. We place the blame for our mood on other people or our circumstances. But. . .

You are in control of your moods because you choose which mood you are in. Nothing controls or changes your mood but YOU! My ESPN just kicked in and one or more of you just thought: Preacherman! You are crazy! And my response? You are so very WRONG! You could argue with me until you’re blue in the face, but you would still be wrong! Have I made you mad? Changed your mood? Then you have just proved my point about you being in charge of your moods! Thank you for proving my point. No one or nothing determines nor changes your mood but YOU!

Every moment of every day you are in some type of mood. Go back to the definition of Mood: an emotional state of mind or feeling. It’s a part of who we are. Though we cannot control what happens around and to us, we are in complete control of our response to life-as-it-happens. There’s a great article about moods on the World Wacky Web by Jon Bloom entitled: Lay Aside The Weight Of Moodiness (click here for the link). In it he writes:

“God means for our emotions to be gauges, and not guides.”

Jon Bloom

If someone or something affects your mood in a positive or negative way, it is because you have given it or them the permission to produce that effect. Now, since you get to choose who controls your mood, why not do what David did when he found himself in a bad mood? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be raising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. The process is really, really simple. It’s just that most folks have made it really, really complicated and difficult. Do what Paul said:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews chapter 12, verses 1 thru 3; (Msg)

Keep your eyes on Jesus and nothing nor no one can change your mood! So, be in a good mood. Remember, God is in a Good Mood when He looks at you–IF you have surrendered to Jesus and are following Him every day. Since Jesus (not our good works) is our righteousness, He always sees you through Jesus and His blood. Need a Scripture to prove it? Well, here’s your sign:

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 NLT

And in case you need another reminder, here’s a song. And remember, if you are in a bad mood, you chose that mood. Why not choose a good modd instead?

WHEN IT GETS HARD AND HEARTBREAKING!

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

Psalm 143, verse 10; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

This morning is one of those morning’s I don’t like! No, the coffee pot didn’t fail me, thank God! Yesterday afternoon was busy for me. I packed my bags for a trip I don’t want to make. My wife Debbie’s cousin, Michelle, is in a hospice center in Auburndale, Florida. She is dying from a rare and rapidly advancing form of cancer. We are leaving this afternoon for that 12 hour trip to be with the family. A little background here. Michelle’s Dad, Wiley, has been and is more of a Dad to Debbie than her own Dad. So Wiley’s daughters are more like sisters to her. So they are like sisters-in-law to me. We just need to be there.

We are in a very hard moment of life. And though I am “just” an in-law, some may say “outlaw”, they are my family, too. And their friends are our friends. I’m trying to process all this pain, and yes some anger, and it’s. . . well it’s just plain hard! So I’m reminding myself that sometimes life IS hard. It’s the nature of this fallen world we all live in. And even after 66+ years of living here, I still don’t like it.

And is it OK with you if I’m honest with you? Well, I’m going to be honest with you, like it or not! I am struggling right now. More than struggling, I’m in a quagmire. Now I’ve got a choice: I can wallow in this quagmire like a pig wallows in mud. Or–I can do something different. Being covered in this muck isn’t desirable for me. I’m not the brightest person in the world, but I sure ain’t the stupidest either. So, the only option is to do something different. And what would that be? I’m so glad you asked me this question.

I can do what the most prolific song writer ever did when he found himself in the mud hole of life. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. I know this thing called cancer isn’t His Will. Sorry fundamentalists and Calvinists. Not everything that happens in life is God’s will. It’s OK to disagree with me on this point. But you’re still wrong. And I am going to be blunt with you: I haven’t a clue as to what God is teaching me in this hard and difficult season!

But there is something I do know. I know that God is Good! I know that He loves me. I know that He is faithful to me. He proved it to me on that Cross and a gazillion times since then. And I know that whatever it is He is teaching me, it’s good, good for me, and will bring Him honor and glory. What am I doing right now? Checking the list of things we need to pack, making sure they will get into the car, and I am saying the very same prayer David did when he was in the muck and mire of life as it happens: May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. God, I sure need some firm footing right now! And if you can spare the time, please pray for our family and that I will be a good student of Jesus–paying attention to Him and applying what He is teaching me!

REVERSE ENGINEERING GOD!

Who is like Me? Let him step forward and prove to you his power. Let him do as I have done since ancient times when I established a people and explained its future.

Isaiah chapter 44, verse 7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Class, today’s lesson is on Reverse Engineering! One of the best definitions of Reverse Engineering I’ve found comes from Wikipedia©: “Reverse engineering (also known as backwards engineering or back engineering) is a process or method through which one attempts to understand through deductive reasoning how a previously made device, process, system, or piece of software accomplishes a task with very little (if any) insight into exactly how it does so.” Maybe you know it as the government taking apart extraterrestrial flying objects to figure out how they work. The former Soviet Union was notorious for doing this. Some companies have allegedly done this with some of their competitors’ productions.

But today’s lesson isn’t about flying saucers or corporate espionage. It’s about the attempt made by what is now known as Progressive Theology (or my favorite term is Pro-Aggressive Theology) to Reverse Engineer God. In simplest of terms, Reverse Engineering is taking something apart, trying to figure out how it works, and then to reproduce it. I love how Wiki puts it: to understand through deductive reasoning how a previously made device, process, system, or piece of software accomplishes a task with very little (if any) insight into exactly how it does so. Read again at the last part of that sentence: with very little (IF ANY) insight into exactly how it does so. It’s trying to make something without any clues as to Who they are looking at reproducing.

But Progressive Theology (Pro-Aggressive Theology) begins with a False Premise: We are made in the image of God. Therefore, whatever WE look like is what God looks like. So Progressive Thinkers (now there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one) want people to understand God by first understanding themselves. Look no further than their errant conclusions about human sexuality to see this reality. How can I put what I want to say next??? YOU’RE WRONG! YOU’RE WRONG! YOU’RE WRONG!

We do not understand God by looking within; we understand God by looking at God! And just how do we see God? Great question! And it just so happens, I have a great answer. It’s found within The Bible. Bear in mind this fact: Not how humans have defined and used The Bible. Using how “others” used The Bible to justify their views is being just like the Pharisees when Jesus was fully in human form. And we all know how Jesus felt about Pharisees. At the risk of sounding like the famous police detective Sgt. Joe Friday: Just The Bible, please.

Leave the human element of what others, or even yourself, say about The Bible locked in a closet with a steel door and triple locks. Maybe even weld the door shut. And then read. Wow! What a novel idea. Read The Bible for yourself without the clutter of the human element. We cannot understand God by looking within. Yes, we are made in God’s image. No doubt about it. But His Image has been covered over by Sin! Yes, Virginia, there is this thing called sin.

And the best news of all is that Jesus, the Son of God, became an exact human being, born to Joseph and Mary, took OUR SINS upon Himself and died on the Cross to forgive, redeem and transform us; transform us back into HIS Image. His image is not even close to our image of Him. When anyone tries to Reverse Engineer God’s image here is who they end up with: Satan! You can’t Reverse Engineer God. You just can’t!

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.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, He laid His hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark chapter 8, verses 23 and 24; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Jesus and his rag-tag band of disciples arrived in Bethsaida and almost immediately a group of people brought this blind man to Jesus and said, “Heal him!” You do understand, don’t you, that they weren’t trying to help this blind man. They just wanted to see another miracle. In other words, “Entertain us Jesus with something spectacular!” But Jesus denies their request. Instead He takes the man outside of town and then proceeds to spit in the man’s eyes. What? Doesn’t spitting on someone a sign of contempt and disgust? It can mean that; but did you know that it is also a sign of getting rid of the bad stuff, the evil? And Jesus proceeds to get rid of that “bad stuff” in this man’s life.

“Can you see anything now?” That’s a great question Jesus asked of that man. And it’s the same question He is posing to us. It’s not like the question an optometrist asks about that eye chart. No, it’s much deeper; it’s about perspective. And this man shares with us his perspective: “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” Now on to my point this morning. I have 2 questions for you, the reader.

Question 1: Can you see people? Unless you are literally blind, your answer is clearly a YES! Now that’s just surface stuff. I’m talking about really seeing other people. Are you seeing them as people of worth? With potential? Do you see their pains? Problems? Despair? If not, then they simply look like trees walking around. Face it, it’s easier to look away from a homeless person that it is to see them clearly.

Question 2: Can you see God? Do you see clearly how He longs to make you whole and complete? Do you see how sad He is when you follow after your wants and desires? Do you see how heartbroken He is when He gives you that opportunity to let another person see Him, but you just walk away? Do you see the wonder and power of His Gracious Love and all that He has to offer you? Or does He look like trees walking around?

My friends, thinking we are right, we can be wrong. Thinking we have it all together, we could be falling apart. Thinking we are on the right path, we may be walking farther away from The Father. Maybe it’s time we got honest with God, and ourselves. Admit where we aren’t seeing things clearly. If we will, then Jesus will do the same thing for us that He did for that man so long ago: “Then Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly.”  Oh, that WE would see people, things, and situations the way God see them: Opportunities For The Greatest Hope Of All!

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.

WHO TOUCHED YOU?

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

Luke chapter 8, verse 45; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Most are familiar with what happened before Jesus asked this question. There was this woman who had enough faith that if she could just touch the hem of His garment she would be healed. And she was. But she got more than just healing; she got the attention of Jesus. Right? Well, this morning I got to thinking again. What about us? No, not us touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Rather, when Jesus touches us. Does He have our attention?

Think about it. Jesus is always reaching out and touching us. We call it Prevenient Grace. It has nothing to do with our cognition. HE is the initiator for relationship. And here’s the thing: Even after we accept His offer for this relationship, He doesn’t stop reaching out for us and touching us! You are not someone to check off His list of who has and who doesn’t have The Relationship! You are important to Him! Deep inside you is His Image–and He wants that Image to come out and be seen.

So, each and every day, Jesus is reaching out and touching you. He has something for you that you need. And He often has something for you to do! So He touches you. Question is: Do you recognize that Touch? Unfortunately, lots of others are reaching out and touching us. And too often our response sounds like Peter’s response: What do you mean, “Who Touched me? I’m in a crowd. What do I expect?”

To recognize those moments when Jesus is Touching us, it requires intentionality from us. We have to retrain our thinking when we start this Walk with Jesus. One way to do it is to spend alone time with Him. Reading, praying, and praising are great things to do with you are alone with Jesus. And another great way to recognize His Touch and give Him your attention is to have what is called situational awareness. Look around and see those places, people, and situations where Jesus is needed. Yes, He still touches us! Touches us to get our attention. So, my friends, does HE have your attention? He always knows when you touch Him–now return the favor and know when HE Touches YOU! To help you remember this, I leave you with a song:

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS!

What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?

Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 3; from the New Living Translations (NLT)

Sitting on my front porch this morning, I had a memory about one of our grandkids, Ethan. He’s a senior in high school now and has set his sights on being an Air Force pilot. The memory I had though was when he was about 3. We were in the garage when he pointed at something and asked, “What’s that, Grampa?” Then we proceeded around all 4 corners of the garage with the same question. When we finished going around, he started it all over again. “What’s that, Grampa?” And when I had to leave, Ethan took his Grammaw by the hands and asked: “What that, Grammaw?”

What’s my point? It’s about how we as human beings learn things. We can learn by listening. We can learn by observing. We can learn by reading. But one of the most effective ways we learn is by asking questions. The Good Book is full of illustrations of men and women, young and old, rich and poor of people trying to learn things by asking questions; to others and most importantly, by asking God. Even the wisest man to ever live also asked questions. (See the above verse)

Questions are a great way to learn. But.. . .BUT if we ask the wrong questions–well that’s what I want to talk about this morning with you. Wrong questions will give us information–but they won’t give us the wisdom we need to navigate this life on this third rock from the sun. In the search for life, people are asking the wrong questions. Thus, they are not getting the information they really are needing. Here are some examples.

1. How can I find happiness?

In other words, What will make me happy? Sounds like a good question. But that’s all it is–it sounds like a good question but it doesn’t produce what the heart is looking for. Don’t think for a moment that I am a gloomy Gus. It’s great to be happy. But happiness doesn’t last. Happiness is rooted in the emotions and desires; not that emotions or desires are a bad thing in and of themselves. It’s what we do with those emotions and desires that are either good or evil. Sin works within our emotions and desires. And the purpose of Sin is to crush and to kill us. Since happiness is rooted to the fallen part of us, it directs us to the very things that will ultimately make us unhappy. The real question that needs to be asked is this: How Can I Find Joy? Where happiness is tethered to our physical circumstances, Joy is anchored to our relationship with God. And there are times and situations where we have to give up what WE want for what God wants in order to find Joy.

2. WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT OWE ME?

Somehow, these “Woke” (but really asleep) Folks somehow think that the government owes them certain things. And if the government doesn’t give it to them, then they won’t ever have it. So they demand things from the government all in an attempt to be a “whole” person. They tend to see government as this vending machine that doesn’t require money from us. Push a button and then dispense what we want. And when it can’t, then throw a temper tantrum. For those who are asking this question, then listen to this quote and it’s the question we need to ask: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?” This is from President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address. Government doesn’t owe you one red cent. I call your attention to this statement:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Notice it says “We the people”, not “We the government”! Government isn’t the answer to finding wisdom that leads to real life. It cannot give you what it is incapable of producing. It’s like asking a persimmon tree to produce oranges. It just ain’t gonna happen! To be an effective and just nation, then we must do those things and act in that way which adds to this nation, and not take away.

3. WHAT DOES THE CHURCH OWE ME?

Many believe the church owes them something because. . .well because they are there. There are those who want the church to make them feel comfortable. There are those who think the church exists for their whims and whines. And there are those who think the church owes them–not just acceptance of their lifestyle–but to endorse and to bless them. In other words, the church is to be the producer and they are to be the consumers. But long before the word “church” even existed, there was another word to describe what was happening. That word is Koinonia. In simplest of terms, it’s the shared life. We all have a part in it and something to do–even produce in this concept called church. It’s not about what the church produces–rather it is about what WE produce in this life of grace. For each other, and for the rest of the world. The question that needs to be asked and answered is: What Do I Owe The Body of Christ? We call those membership vows. Though there are many other wrong questions, allow me to share one more.

4. WHAT DOES LIFE OWE ME?

We call a certain generation the The Entitlement Generation. I have been noticing and therefore must conclude that the sense of entitlement has nothing to do with which years a person was born in. Those living with that horrid sense of entitlement can be found in Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, and Gen Alpha. They are walking around thinking, acting, and believing that simply because they exist--existence exists for them! Life owes them a fine house, car, prestige, appreciation, power–you name it! The question that should be asked is this: How can I add value to life–mine and that of others? Taking and taking doesn’t add value. It only takes away. Life is indeed like a checking account. You can make withdrawals, but only what you have deposited in it. You withdraw more than that–and it becomes a debt you owe. And if you don’t take care of that debt–then it comes a crime.

Our problems as a culture, a nation, and the world are deep and powerful. But we don’t have to live in the messiness that is in existence now. All we have to do is ask the right questions, then listen for God to give us the answer. Wrong questions produce wrong outcomes. But the right questions will lead us to the right answers. And those answers will give us the wisdom to know what to do and how to do it.

MAKING COMPARISONS

For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord?
    What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord?

Psalm 89, verse 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

One of the favorite pastimes for many is making comparisons. Some turn it into a sport. Others have made it an art form. By definition, comparison is a consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people. One thing is like another because of… Another thing is unlike another because… But unfortunately, most comparisons are made based on opinion, not facts. For example, the selection of the 4 college football teams to play for the national championship. Comparisons were made on the teams selected, and teams not selected. And though the process is projected as being unbiased and nonpartisan, it’s still the result of of opinions. And some people even compare opinions to a certain body orifice–everyone has one and most of them stink.

Seriously, comparing is quite common. We compare one product to another. One person to another. And especially comparing ourselves to others. We look at another person and think, “I could never do what they do.” Or, “Well, I’m not as bad as they are!” We compare political ideologies, theological perspectives, churches, and you name it. Compare! Compare! Compare! Some even do “taste” comparisons. Which cola tastes the best? Which cheese is cheesier?

But there is One that there is really nothing to compare with. And that is God–revealed in The Bible–affirmed by Jesus–and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, some want to compare God by their traditions; their opinions; even worse–to the values of this world. Truth Time! Nothing and no one compares to God. And this is why we need to stay close to Him, to know Him through the Scriptures, and listen to Him. Attempts to comingle Him and what the world says will only lead to disaster and destruction. Sure! He will contradict everything the world says is right. But He IS God. And there’s just no comparison between the two!

A HOUSE OF CARDS!

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew chapter 7, verses 24 thru 27; from The Message (Msg)

Think about this:  We Get To Choose Our Own Morality!  This is important; very important.  We get to determine what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad; what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior.  Now, there are some who declare that you cannot legislate morality!  But yes you can!  In fact, it has been happening for eons and it will continue to happen until time ends.  Legislation, or the term laws if you prefer, is by definition establishing morality.  Someone may disagree with me here, but they would be wrong.  Every law enacted is a declaration of what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad; what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior.

And now this question demands to be asked:  Who or what determines morality?  And this is where the problem began.  Everyone has an opinion about this.  And those opinions are as varied and different as the people who form them.  Quite the conundrum, wouldn’t you say?  Many want us to accept that everyone should be free and allowed to form their own morality.  Yet society cannot exist unless there is a single source that is consistent throughout for determining what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad; what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior.  Without that single source, the guaranteed result is chaos, hate, anger, and all of their cousins and in-laws.  Look no further than the United Methodist Institution, or Washington D.C.

Progressive (or as I call them: Pro-Aggressive) theologians and thinkers want to dismantle the tried and proven true morality of The Bible.  Just flush it all down the toilet.  Well, all except that part about love.  They see love as God giving us permission and the empowerment to determine our own morality and call it good–as long as you love.  They tell us that Jesus came to show us how to love.  Well, I can’t dispute that.  But that’s not all He came to show.  Case in point:  this parable about house builders.

This particular lesson is best presented in the rawness and bluntness of The Message translation. The very idea, and then acting upon it, that God has given us limited in thinking human beings the power and authority to determine what’s right and what’s not right in The Bible is. . .is. . .is. . . like building a house of cards. Listen again to what Jesus said: These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. And at this point I must add this thought: Those of you who can quote and throw Bible verses out like throwing rocks, you haven’t reached the standard that Jesus set. We have to work these words into our thoughts, attitudes, words, AND actions. Listen again to the rest of His words: But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach.

And for those who have flushed down the toilet the Morality of the Bible for a more pleasing-to-you form of Morality, you are building that proverbial house of cards. All it takes is a good sneeze to blow it down. And the problems of life are much more than a sneeze. But we, the followers of Jesus, cannot change others view about Morality by our words. They must see it in our day-in-day-out life. Denominations that have adapted to the world’s Morality continue to be in decline. The solution to this morass we are in will not be found by hanging the 10 Commandments in government buildings, putting Bibles back into classrooms, and opening each school day with prayer, and having prayers to Jesus in public events. This is akin to using watered-down paint to cover over graffiti. No–we need to build the Morality of the Bible into our day-to-day life. After all, that’s what Jesus did!

GOING NOT KNOWING

(A request was made for the entire message I drew from for this morning’s post, so here it is for what’s it worth!)

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents.  And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

Hebrews chapter 11, verses 1 thru 3, and verses 8 thru 10; from the NLT

This new year begins today.  Remember I see Irony.  And isn’t it Ironic that the first day of 2023 falls on Sunday—Resurrection Day!  New Year’s Day often produces a sense of a new start, where things will be different from last year.  If Changing The Outcome Of The Future Were As Easy As Changing Calendars, Now Wouldn’t That Be Great.  But changing calendars will not bring about different results. 

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 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.

That word translated Faith comes from the root word “peithō (pi-tho) which means—To Trust, Have Confidence.”  In other words, faith is trusting and having confidence in Jesus.  Ask yourself this question:  Which Kind Of Faith Do YOU Have In God?  Do you have your answer?  OK, let’s check your answer against God’s description of what faith as trust and conviction looks like—it’s all here in the story of Abraham.  Look at the story of Abraham:  What are the requirements of real faith?

  1. Faith Requires Appropriate Action!  Look at that pattern:  Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  Abraham’s action verified his trust in God.  God said “Go” and Abraham went.  Abraham’s faith required the appropriate action—doing what God wanted.
  2. Faith Requires Us To Surrender Control!  Abraham could not be in control of the future.  Look again at today’s passage:  He went without knowing where he was going.  Can you imagine that conversation between Abraham and Sarah?  If I could have Doc Brown’s Time-Traveling DeLorean, I would love to have heard that conversation.  Because Abraham was operating out of faith, he didn’t need to be in control.  He knew who was in control of the future—it wasn’t him and He was more than OK with that.
  3. Faith Requires Confidence In God’s Trustworthiness.  OK, so Abraham leaves everything he has known behind.  He doesn’t have a clue of where he is going, but he goes anyways.  When God finally says, “You have arrived at your destination”, what Abraham does next is critical, and pay attention:  When He Reached The Land God Promised Him, He Lived There By Faith—For He Was Like A Foreigner, Living In TentsNo eviction notice for the Canaanites to move out.  It’s Abraham who lives as an immigrant.  Why?  Because Abraham is held by the conviction that God is trustworthy.  Listen again to Verse 10—Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.  For Abraham, it was all about what God is doing.

I need to make a confession to all of you this morning.  As many times as I have read and studied the story of Abraham, there’s a part of his story that I have missed.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave Haran and head out to the Land of God’s Promise.  The part I have been missing is from Genesis 11, verses 31-32.  It is a connection I never made until just a few years ago.  Here are the verses:

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.

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

And here is Today’s Big Idea:  The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith.  Terah missed it all. 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.  If we refuse to follow God’s Vision by settling down at our Haran, then God is going to take the vision away from those have settled for some Haran, to those who are willing to trust God, who will live out the Going Without Knowing Faith in God. 

The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us.  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting.  Faith Is Expressed Through Our Trust And In Our ObedienceWhen I read this passage from Hebrews, there are 3 questions that challenge me, and should challenge you:

1.  “Will I Give Up Everything To Follow Jesus?”

Everything means, well, everything—nothing held back, all in. But when we say, “I trust you God, but I’m not doing that; I trust you God but I’m not giving up this; I trust you God but I’m not going there; I trust you God but I’m not changing what’s important to me”—Then it’s no longer a trust relationship.  It becomes a negotiation; and God is not a negotiator.  You cannot know the depths of this relationship until you stop negotiating with God and begin trusting Him.

2.  “Will I Give Up What Makes Me Feel Comfortable And Secure?”

All of us have things that make us feel comfortable.  That’s why it’s called “Comfort Zones”.  There is little risk and no challenges, in our Comfort Zones—and neither is Jesus.  What things are in your Comfort Zones?  Better yet, when it comes to the direction God is calling us into, what makes you uncomfortable?  Jesus does provide us Comfort—but it’s never meant to make us Comfortable. 

It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, even uneasy, when following Jesus because Faith is never found in our Comfort Zones.  If we wait until it feels safe or we feel like we can succeed, then it’s NOT faith NOT trust, NOT love.  It’s just another one of our projects.  Jesus isn’t interested in our projects—only our absolute surrender.

3.  “Will I Choose Today To Go Deeper With Jesus?”

Trust is like a swimming pool.  I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m the only one who could come up with that analogy.  If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense—and it’s the truth.  Most swimming pools have 2 ends—shallow and deep:

First, There’s The Shallow End.  It’s the end where our feet touch that solid bottom and our head is above the water.  It takes no effort on our part to keep our heads above the water.  Unfortunately, this is where many seem to want to live their faith—where it takes no effort to keep their heads above the water.  It’s safe on the shallow end, but here’s the truth:  Jesus Is Not Found On The Shallow End.

Then There’s The Deep End.  The deep end is where trouble may happen.  It takes effort to keep our heads above the water.  It’s not always safe on the deep end.  Things may happen, and we go under.  But here’s the other Truth:  Jesus Is Always Found On The Deep End.  And Jesus isn’t interested in helping us just keep our heads above the water.  He wants us to walk on top of that water—like that night when Jesus called Peter out of the boat. 

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I could walk on the water at the shallow end of the pool, too.”  You could, but you won’t—because you know your feet will touch bottom and your head will stay above the water.  God called Abraham to the deep end, where he would drown unless he held on tightly to God.  Faith is Trust, and Trust only happens in the deep end.  Which end of the pool will you live in starting today?

And since we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, Here’s Our Next Steps:

  • If You Have Settled On Haran, Move On!
  • Model Unconditional Trust In God By Doing The Right Thing—Following His Vision.  Don’t Be Like Terah

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!

WHEN THINGS JUST AIN’T RIGHT!

1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.

They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth.
10 And so the people are dismayed and confused,  drinking in all their words.


11 “What does God know?” they ask. “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
12 Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 14 I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain. 15 If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people. 16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!

17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. 18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. 19 In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.
20 When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.


21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. 23 Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.


27 Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. 28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
    and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

Psalm 73; from the New Living Translation

Have you ever felt like David did here? How can those who do wrong get by with it? They even seem to prosper while doing what is absolutely wrong! Maybe it’s your boss. Your neighbor. Some family member. Or the politicians in Washington D.C. Perhaps these thoughts are your thoughts about the United Methodist Institution. When things just ain’t right there are a number of ways to react to them. I’ve seen them all. But worst of all, I’ve done them all.

We could just ignore it and go on. You know, “Out of sight, out of mind!” But this rarely work for any length of time. Sooner or later, and usually sooner, it comes back into our minds with a vengeance. And we get even madder. We could scold the ones perpetrating this just ain’t right thing. It may make us feel better for a while–but nothing rarely changes. We would blame the ones promoting that just ain’t right thing! You know, like United Methodist Bishops. Placing blame at the feet of someone else nearly always fails to change the outcomes. We could scream and rant about that just ain’t right thing. We might even gain a few fellow like-minded screamers and ranters who will join in with us. We’d have a choir, but again–no resolving the just ain’t right thing! And we might even wish that the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits and various body orifices.

David understood these desires we have when things just ain’t right! But listen again to him in Verse 21: “Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. Bitterness, vengeance, and even the desire for justice doesn’t change anything–except out heart, mind, and soul. All of this erodes the calm confidence we had in the beginning with God. So, what can we do when things just ain’t right????

Remember! That’s right! Remember! Not the just ain’t right part! Remember what David wrote in Verse 28: “But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. Stay near to The Father. Make Him your shelter. And then tell everyone about the wonderful things that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do. Don’t slip and by all means, don’t lose your footing! Stay and stand on The Rock!

WHAT HAPPENED TO INTEGRITY?

You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

Matthew chapter 5, verses 36 and 37; from The Message (Msg)

Seriously! What happened to Integrity? Along with many other virtues, Integrity has been given the boot in our culture; and yes, even in some churches. The United Methodist being the epitome of giving Integrity the boot. If I ever doubt my decision to leave that Tribe, then it seems that Tribe does something to remind me, “Hey! You made the right decision!”

Case in point: the recent action by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and the North Georgia Annual Conference. Where Arkansas only denied 3 congregations the right to disaffiliate, she and her minions have denied EVERY church in their Conference the opportunity to discern where God is leading them. If you doubt the word of this former tribal member, then I direct your attention to what the leadership of the North Georgia Annual Conference sent to their congregations. You can read her letter here!

In their Annual Conference Session in 2021, and affirmed in 2022, a process for discernment and disaffiliation was clearly laid out. And according to these minions of the North Georgia Annual, there has been too much misinformation being presented to churches in order for them to make the right decision. However, their letter doesn’t give any specific misinformation that is being spread among the churches. Just that it’s misinformation! And their conclusion?

After lengthy periods of discussion and consultation involving the cabinet, the board of trustees, and appropriate conference leadership, we have agreed that our Annual Conference cannot rely upon such votes for purposes of negotiating a gracious exit.

So, what she’s saying is that congregations within the bounds of the North Georgia Annual Conference are incapable of discerning whether they should stay UMC or not. But get this: They Are Capable Of Making Decisions For Them! Is this not the embodiment of arrogance? I double-dog-dare you to find any better (perhaps the word should be worst) example of arrogance than this! She reminded them that in 2024, the General Conference will meet, and perhaps things will get better. Never mind that Paragraph 2553 will cease to be in existence at that time.

Then she has the audacity to say, and I quote: “We stand beside you knowing that pause and uncertainty are hard. We pray for you and your ministry daily as together we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” She and her minions are NOT standing beside those congregations. They are towering over them waving a club over their heads. I doubt that Eugene Peterson and his group of translators foresaw this mess. But their rendition of today’s passage certain fits the description of the spiritual conditions in North Georgia: You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.

The Minions of North Georgia have indeed embellished their words with religious lace. And their words are less and less true. Lord, have mercy on their souls and may their eyes be opened to The Truth. Before it is too late for their souls!

ARKANSAS HOSTAGE SITUATION: DAY 27 UPDATE

(This piece is entirely satirical with a dose of sarcasm. This is written expressly for Traditional Orthodox United Methodists who have not yet disaffiliated and/or believe there will be room for them in the Post-Separation United Methodist Church. Any resemblance to the underlying truth is strictly intentional.)

(From the WHY News Network) On November 19, 2022 a hostage situation happened as the afore unknown terrorist group calling themselves The Arkansas Annual Conference took and held hostage 3 congregations in Arkansas. These churches, Jonesboro First, Searcy First, and Cabot United Methodist Churches, are now known as The Arkansas Three. After meeting all of the requirements to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, they were denied the right to exit. Not much as been heard since then. (You can read our previous news article here)

Yesterday, December 16, a dramatic and forceful turn of events occurred that leaves this reporter wondering if The Arkansas Three will ever know freedom again. Ayatollah Gary Mueller, head of the terrorist group, released a Weapon of Mass Destruction on Jonesboro First called Paragraph 2549.3. Ayatollah Mueller declared “exigent circumstances” and seized all property and assets of Jonesboro First; effectively taking control away from the congregation and its leadership.

In an attempt to maintain control, Ayatollah Mueller also released another Weapon of Mass Destruction known as Paragraph 362.1d against their pastor, Rev. John Miles. This weapon not only removes him as pastor of Jonesboro First, but denies him the right to function as a United Methodist pastor. This weapon was unleashed against Rev. Miles by 5 of Ayatollah Mueller’s clerics known in the terrorist organization as District Superintendents. There will be an impending trial against Rev. Miles.

This reporter has learned of the events that have led up to the escalation of this crisis situation. Leaders from within the congregation approached Rev. Miles with a request to hold a public meeting concerning this hostage situation. Apparently, upon learning of this meeting, Ayatollah Mueller informed Rev. Miles that no such meeting should occur and ordered him to announce the cancellation of the meeting. Rev. Miles allowed the meeting to occur. During this meeting, the congregation selected an ad hoc committee to represent all of the church to negotiate a resolution to this hostage situation and allow Jonesboro First to be set free. Instead of dialogue, Ayatollah Mueller unleashed those weapons of Mass Destruct the day after the Forbidden Meeting. Questions from this reporter have gone unanswered. However, Ayatollah Mueller did send out this press release.

While seeking the rationale for this decision, someone close to the headquarters of the Arkansas Annual Conference, and to Ayatollah Mueller, was willing to talk freely about the unleashing of these Weapons of Mass Destruction on the condition of anonymity. This anonymous source said: “It is the belief and conviction of the Ayatollah that we just can’t allow congregations to think for themselves. It’s crucial to “The Cause” to maintain complete and absolute control over both the situation and the narrative. WE know what God wants. Jonesboro First is just a bunch of ignorant and uninformed group of trouble makers. WE had spoken a resounding NO to their disaffiliation and they just needed to get in line. And because they were unwilling, it became necessary to use these Weapons of Mass Destruction. We are hopeful now, that any other congregation, including the other 2 of what you call The Arkansas Three, considering disaffiliation will shut down the process immediately. These exigent circumstance were necessary since the provisions of Paragraph 2553 cease to exist after December 31, 2023. After then, we will have absolute control.”

When asked why the Ayatollah had not sought that other groups within the United Methodist Church abide by and enforce the Book Of Discipline, the anonymous spokesperson replied, “Those paragraphs are old and obsolete. They needed to have been removed a long time ago. Ayatollah Mueller and other Ayatollahs have determined they need to be removed. So, there is no need to enforce those rules. Those rules hurt other people’s feelings. And we just can’t allow that.”

The irony of Ayatollah Mueller’s press release is that he stated: “I want to ask you to pray that hearts of peace will prevail and a positive way forward will be found.” Apparently the only positive way forward for Jonesboro First, and other like-minded congregations, is to bow in submission to his agenda. He opted to release upon Jonesboro First Paragraphs 2549.3 and 362.1d rather than find a positive way forward. Then Ayatollah Mueller signed his declaration with the words peace and grace. It is rather obvious to this reporter that his actions, and those of his Always Agreeing With Him council offered neither–to Jonesboro First nor any other congregation under their control. It is indeed a sad day when dialog is denied. What happens next? Personally, I shudder at the thought. I will be watching this hostage situation closely and will inform you of any changes. This is Randy Burbank, reporting for WHY News Network.

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!

NEW HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION!

I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters,
    making a dry path through the sea.
I called forth the mighty army of Egypt
    with all its chariots and horses.
I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned,
    their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick.
“But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah chapter 43, verses 16-19; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

I can’t speak for you, but I loathe those signs which declare “Road Construction Ahead”! It means I’ve got to slow down. I never know if they are going to stop traffic. And then there’s those who slow down to 3 miles per hour because they want to look at the equipment, or what the workers are doing. I rarely consider if it’s making the road better and safer. It’s just an annoyance to me. Not exactly a healthy attitude. But today’s musings aren’t about Highway Construction on physical roads. It’s about what God is doing.

To say that our world, and even some churches, is in chaos qualifies for the response, “Well, duh!” But even in the chaos, count on God being at work. He doesn’t post dozens of signs like highway construction crews, but He is at work; even if we doubt it. Admit it! Sometimes we wonder how God can make a way through this mess! But He does. And He is!!! Think about the Way Jesus made for Paul. Or how about the Way He made for John the Baptist? He made a Way for David to become King. He made a Way for the Hebrews to cross the Red Sea; a way which included eliminating their pursuing enemies. He made a Way for Moses to become the leader. He made a Way for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. He made a Way for Abraham to become the one to open the door for The Messiah to enter the world. He made a Way for Adam and Eve to be reconciled back to Him.

And know what? He did it for them and more than you can count. And He made a Way for me. And He’s making a Way for you. Say it out loud about yourself: “He’s Making A Way For Me!” He made THE Way for you to be forgiven, redeemed and restored. He made THE Way for you to be set free from the dominion of sin. AND He is Making A Way for you and I to move forward through all the messes in this world. And to those who have went through, are going through, or about to go through the mess of disaffiliation from the UMC, He’s busy making a Way forward for you.

It takes too long, way too long, in Alabama to build new highways. But God is at work right now. This is one of the most unique times in the history of the church. And God is making a highway–the highway that will transform everything and everyone! I leave you with this song that spoke into me the Hope that is building confidence that Revival is at hand! I believe He’s doing it again!

SOME REFLECTIONS AFTER LEAVING THE NORTH ALABAMA ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 & 32; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Saturday was–well–a day of mixed emotions as I attended my last session of the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. At the end of the session, I surrendered my credentials as a United Methodist Pastor. Over the past decades, I have had friends and colleagues who left with great joy. Not me. Even though my decision has been saturated with prayer and God has very clearly led me to that point, still there is heartbreak. The Tribe that I have lived in for over 66 years has made it clear that there is no room for someone like me. And I admit that I was concerned with how The Conference would handle the disaffiliation of 198 congregations, and what looked like even more pastors.

I must say that I was impressed with the way our Bishop, Debra Wallace-Padgett designed and led the Conference in this unfortunate moment in time. Bishop Debbie has been a shining example of how to lead and respond in times like these. We opened with Holy Communion–that Great Reminder of our utter dependence on God’s Grace. As we entered we were given a lava rock, a sign of the abrasiveness that has been happening. When we came forward to receive those sacred signs, we were asked to drop that abrasive stone in a basket as a sign we were letting go of our painful emotions and harmful words. Then the vote took place, with only about 4 or 5 voting to not allow this to happen. And as we exited, we were given a smooth stone to remind us of God’s healing power that overcomes our differences. (You can see that entire session here)

But it seems to me that some of those who took that smooth stone as the reminder of God’s Healing Grace–well they just didn’t get it. By this I mean they got the smooth stone but not the message. At 1:19 p.m., barely 2 hours after those 198 congregations left the North Alabama Annual Conference, a group calling themselves StayUMC that has been encouraging and promoting folks and churches to stay United Methodist, put up a post in response to this event on their Facebook Page. I invite you to see their entire post HERE. I do have a good friend who is active in this group. And this prepared response has some troubling points that I need to speak into. These will be the bulleted statements:

  • We sincerely want the best for those who wish to leave the UMC. In order for all of us to find healing, however, it is important to be honest, speaking the truth in love.

So, StayUMC, you want the best for those who leave, then you put in that however. Now, since you are speaking to those who want to stay UMC, your statement “In order for all of us to find healing” means your only concern is those who want to stay UMC. OK, you can’t experience healing until you have that however. Really? And then you dare say you want to be honest and speak the truth in love. Well, when us Traditionalists spoke the truth with love you accused us of being misogynists, homophobic, angry, and mean spirited. You want your views listened to and respected. But you are unwilling to listen to and respect views that are different from yours. If you are hurt, it’s not the fault of those who are leaving. STAYUMC, if it makes you feel better about yourselves to blame us for what is happening, then blame us. Yet, there isn’t much love nor truth in your words.

  • We rise to speak frankly about this schism and the costs exacted upon us all.

As aforementioned, your phrase “costs exacted upon us all” refers only to those who stay UMC. And what did it cost you for people to follow their hearts and convictions? No, really, what did it cost you? Not a cent. The financial costs of disaffiliation has been borne solely by congregations who left. Why does StayUMC think that it cost them anything for congregations to follow a path different than yours? Well, I’m waiting: Tell me, how much did it cost you? And what if they had stayed instead of leaving? What about the cost to them of abandoning their spiritual discernment and compromising their convictions?

  • We lament some local churches were made the site of bitter fights rather than being shepherded through conversations that deepen understanding. We lament that at times, instead of relying on common values to do the work of discernment, cues were taken from a polarized society, and outrage was stoked to pave the way for disaffiliation.

Evidence, please. I keep hearing those on the StayUMC caucus saying this over and over. I admit I haven’t talked to every congregation. But, I have heard from several congregations. The scene you described has never been described to me by those I know. Besides, didn’t you hear Bishop Debbie say that the time for healing has come? It sounds like you don’t want healing. You appear to be bitter, and are happy to be bitter.

  • We lament that the UMC was maligned by some as being unorthodox and accommodating to culture, and misinformation was spread freely about the future of the United Methodist Church’s essential doctrines.

You keep saying nothing else is going to change. Did you forget that the Council of Bishops promised that the 2019 Called General Conference Special Session would be the United Methodist view and stance from that moment forward. They did not keep their word then. So why should be believe them now? You want us to trust the leadership of the UMC, a leadership that does not keep their word. Just because you say essential doctrines won’t change doesn’t mean they won’t change. That’s a proven fact in the UMC.

  • We lament the reports of some of our laity who experienced bullying, fear-mongering, and half-truths that lead congregation members astray.

Again, cite your sources and present the evidence of alleged bullying. Now, if you want to talk about fear-mongering, bullying, and half-truths, here are some comments from your page:

  • Who knew we had so many closet Baptists among us!
  • Don’t let the door hit your derriere on the way out, bigots.
  • Very charitably put. I find it exceedingly hard to be so charitable.
  • 198 new avowed “Traditional Incompatibalist” congregations in our midst…😢
  • I still can’t believe these folks have left our beloved UMC! The church we transferred our membership to after moving to be close to son and family (8 years there)voted to leave! My family could not leave that place fast enough! With help from former Pastors of ANNISTON FUMC where we were members for over 45 years before moving to the Huntsville area guided us to where we needed to be and PTL we are at our new UMC home!🙏🙏🙏

These are not new words directed at us Traditionalists. We have been hearing them for a long time. And since 2019, the frequency of these bullying remarks have only increased. So, who’s the bully here?

  • We lament because we are not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God.

OK, you’re not ashamed of the gospel. Neither are we Traditionalists. What’s you point? Is there a point? If you are making a point, it would seem you are saying that Traditionalists are ashamed of the Gospel.

  • We do not believe that those who are leaving the denomination are in a season of standing and contending for the historic faith that has been professed for 2,000 years, as they claim.

Excuse me. How do you know that we are not standing and contending for the historic faith that has been professed for 2,000 years? Do you know what’s in my heart? Have you been listening to my conversations with The Spirit? Who are you to tell me that I haven’t listened to God? If you think I haven’t listened to God, I’ll tell you what you are. You are the new sanctimonious Pharisees of the Twenty-First Century! YOU telling me I haven’t been discerning and listening is the epitome of spiritual arrogance. And last but not least

  • Nevertheless, we yearn for those seceding from the United Methodist Church to return one day and live into this vision with the main body of the church. In the meantime, we send you with love and hope for the very best for you.

Really? You want us back? I’m sure you do, if we will compromise our faith and values and kiss your ring. You hope the best for us? Based on the comments on your “prepared statement”, the best would be for us to just die and go away. You’re still holding onto those coarse stones when you should have followed the example of your Bishop. You are still being abrasive. Did you not take that smooth stone as a sign of God’s healing? After Holy Communion, THE Sign of Grace, this is your response???????

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.

WHEN TEACHING GETS IT ALL WRONG!

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.

Galatians chapter 1, verse 8; from the New Living Translation

Does it matter what one teaches? You bet your Sweet Bippy it does! Look at what’s happening to kids in public schools! Look at the outcomes of that teaching and you know, whether you admit it or not, false teaching produces heinous outcomes. And when pastors and seminary professors get it wrong–the outcomes are even more nefarious. Case in point–the progressives in the United Methodist Institution. The person in the pew counts on the person in the pulpit to get it right–as well they should. And when that person in the pulpit get’s it wrong? Dear, Lord!!!

Case in point. The United Methodist Institution has an arm that is supposed to feed people spiritually on a daily basis. It’s called The Upper Room. It’s been published for over 88 years. For the December 7, 2022 reading, I found this:

I direct your attention to the second paragraph. She relates the passage to what the person in the pulpit taught. That person said: “What if this wasn’t just a divine miracle but also a human one?” What the what??? “Just a divine miracle”? Really? Jesus needed a human miracle in order to accomplish just a Divine Miracle? I’m not shaming the writer–she is only applying what she heard from the person in the pulpit. But I am shaming the person in the pulpit who fed her that idea. And where did that pulpit person get that idea from? It must have been from some person that taught them.

Progressives in the UMC (and other Tribes) insist they are not going to change the orthodox bedrock beliefs of the church. But what is so very obvious is that they intend to whittle away at that foundation until their beliefs are fully embraced by everyone in their Tribe. Progressives have been whittling away at the Biblical Sexual Ethic, and have caused numerous folks to think that the Bible, and God, approves of this Social Sexual Ethic. Gay, bi, binary–the terms do not matter. What matters is that God’s Design has been circumvented for a more convenient view.

For decades, the morons in their hollow Ivory Towers of education have debated the Virgin Birth–as if it did not, could not happen. In their finite swill called education they have challenged the validity of the Old Testament prophets. Whittle here, whittle there. Now these Empty Skulls are saying that the Biblical View of Sexual Ethics is wrong. And add to all this and so much more, that the miracle of Jesus feeding over 5,000 folks was more of a human miracle, than just a divine miracle. Now, if you are one of those who believe that traditional orthodox folks WILL have a place in the New United Methodist Institution–it’s time to re-evaluate your position. It matters what one teaches. It matters for your heart and soul. It matters for all those who also inhabit this third rock from the sun. Just a divine miracle? A human miracle? This just confirms my commitment to Jesus is right as I disaffiliate from the UMC. And after Saturday morning, December 10, 2022 I will no longer be a United Methodist. And I’m good with that–and at peace with where The Spirit is leading me.