Have you ever felt like your life has been put on hold? You know, like when trying to talk to someone at the utility department; or getting an attorney to call you back AFTER you’ve paid them their retainer (no, I haven’t been charged with a crime or being sued!). Well, that was me yesterday. And I must be honest with you–I didn’t handle it very well. Unless, you consider getting impatient handling it well. And this morning, here is the Passage that The Spirit put me to mind:
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,Luke chapter 2, verses 25 thru 32; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
What? A verse from the Bible that’s all about Advent and Christmas? Preacherman, don’t you know it’s not the right season? Let’s take a quick detour before I get back to today’s reflective thoughts. Where is the rule that states you can’t read about The Incarnation except during Advent and Christmas? It must be some “unwritten” rule because I ain’t found it yet! Talk about how culture influences us the wrong way! Geez, Louise! OK, back to the main highway.
Being put on hold is annoying and frustrating. I don’t know what consultant told them that elevator music would calm the caller down–but they lied. But then there’s that voice: “All of our customer service representatives are busy handling other calls. Please remain on the line and the next available customer service representative will be with you.” Oy vey!!! And there are moments, times, and situations where it seems that life–even God, Himself–has put your life on hold.
Maybe it’s the impending divorce. Waiting to recover from surgery. The upcoming court date. And if you’re a Tribal Member of the United Methodist Institution, it’s the waiting to be set free. Yesterday it felt like I was on hold for hours–but it wasn’t. And that attorney? After 5 calls, she returned my call. But if you are waiting, then think about Simeon. God promised him that he would see The Messiah before he died. Simeon never wavered; at least as far as we know. He was steady and steadfast; being put on hold didn’t change his mind about God’s faithfulness. Let me say this again: The waiting did not change Simeon’s mind nor heart about the faithfulness of God!
Need more than one example? Abraham and Sarah were put on hold 40 years for the birth of Isaac. Rebekah was put on hold 25 years for the birth of Jacob and Esau. Joseph was put on hold 13 years. Moses was put on hold 40 years to lead the Hebrews out of slavery–as a sheepherder for his father-in-law. Caleb and Joshua was put on hold 40 years before entering The Promised Land–even though they believed and trusted God. David was put on hold 15 years to be crowned a king. And even after The Resurrection, the disciples were put on hold 50 days before the Holy Spirit arrived to live in them!
What I’m telling you, and what I had to tell myself again and again yesterday–life doesn’t put us on hold indefinitely, nor forever. God is faithful! Just don’t give up! And if you need a song to sing instead of listening to that God-awful elevator music, try this one on for size:
11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”Judges chapter 12, verses 11 and 12; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Sometimes, I said “sometimes”, I really don’t like some of the ways the Holy Spirit speaks to me. Sometimes it’s when He says, “You shouldn’t have done that!” More often it’s when He says, “You know, you really should have done that!” Well, yesterday afternoon was one of those times He spoke to me in a most unusual way. It was through one of those Hallmark movies. My wife and her sister keep their TV on one of those blessed Hallmark channels 24/7. I mean, surely there are other ways He could inspire and teach me “other than” a Hallmark movie. Am I right? Well, He did just that and it was in a line spoken by one of those characters in the movie: “Be a warrior, not a worrier!” And before I could catch myself I said out loud in front of them and the Lord: “That will preach!”
And this morning I couldn’t get that line out of my head. And immediately I thought about today’s passage and this worrier, Gideon. Don’t you think Gideon was worried? Why else would he have been threshing wheat in a winepress? He was hiding from the Midianites. He was worried that they might see him and steal his grain. When out of nowhere, there was an angel sent from God with the most unusual greeting from God: “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” Remember, context is everything. God spoke those words to a man who was worried! He called this Worrying Gideon a Mighty Hero! Ain’t that a hoot? I mean, how can you call someone in hiding because of his worries a Mighty Hero?
Who does that? God! That’s who!!! And guess what! He is still doing this even today! And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. . . Now, let me speak to you. What are you worried about? If you’re a worrier, then it won’t take a lot of time. When we worry we are declaring that the source of that worry is bigger, more important, and more powerful than God! What I am about to say is to my fellow United Methodist tribal sisters and brothers–but it applies to any and every cause of worry.
There are things that come along that are indeed a cause for, call it concern (which is a coward’s way of not saying worry). Waiting on the doctor’s test results. More bills than money. Job interview. First date. The looming project deadline. And this is for my Tribal members: What’s going to happen to our property if we disafilliate? Now, we cannot stop things that happen to which our initial reaction is to worry. I’m talking about what we do with that worry! You can be a worrier or you can be what God calls Gideon: A Warrior! And to my fellow Tribal members, fight! Not for the Church Property! Fight for the Kingdom of God! That’s a fight that’s worth fighting!
Put your confidence in God, not the worry. Worry is like a vicious and hungry dog gnawing on a bone. It will grind you up. So, whatever it is you are worried about, stop looking at it and for heaven’s sake stop thinking about it. Instead of looking and thinking–I would suggest you listen! Listen to what God is saying. Even if you are a worrier like Gideon, He still calls those who will listen and trust in Him–a Mighty Warrior. You can worry. But what does that accomplish?
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,Psalm 91, verses 5 and 6; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
So, if I tell you will you tell me? What are you afraid of? Me? SNAKES!!! On a plane, on a train, in the lane–I’m terrified of snakes! I hate snakes! Just call me Indiana Jones! If you understand this reference, then you are old like me! I know there are some good snakes out there. But to me, the only good snake is either a dead one or the one I can’t see! When I do see a snake, my heart starts racing and my mind goes wild. Terror sets in. Oh, that fight or flight reaction? Unless I have my shotgun, I always opt for the flight reaction. So, if you have a pet snake, don’t let me in your house if I have my shotgun! And there is no way on God’s green Earth that you can get me to NOT be afraid of snakes. So don’t even go there!
But seriously, what creates in you the same reaction I have to snakes? Fear is a slave driver that takes over and controls your perspective, decisions, and actions. Call fear your social and spiritual influencer. Are you afraid of _____________? (you fill in the blank!) The number of things that creates that terror are more numerous that the stars in the universe. We can’t avoid those things that make us afraid. But we do have a choice in what we do with those fears and terrors.
But making up your mind to NOT be afraid doesn’t really work. So, if this morning you are afraid, I have a suggestion for you. Do what David did. Make up your mind BEFORE the terrors come about the Presence, Power, and Goodness of our Father. Read carefully what David sung about before he started singing about those dreaded night terrors:
1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most HighVerses 1 through 5; from the NLT
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
He is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with His feathers.
He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Remember that when you surrender your heart and life to Jesus, you need to fill out a change of address form. You don’t live where you used to live. Every moment of your life is lived in God’s Presence–the only Presence that can and will take away our fears. And to my fellow Tribal Members of the United Methodist Institution, don’t be afraid if your Annual Conference takes away the church property. It wasn’t yours to begin with–and know that God has already factored that possibility in and He has a plan for you.
Someone telling us, “Don’t be afraid!” doesn’t really help us. But listen to what God told those Hebrews who were so afraid when the Red Sea was in front of them and the Egyptian Army behind them:
13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”Exodus chapter 14, verses 13 and 14; from the NLT
You can’t control what fears you–but you can control your reactions. Just stay calm! After all, that’s what God says! And I leave you with another song. Listen to it!
I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.Exodus chapter 20, verse 2; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
I can’t understand IT. I mean, REALLY don’t understand IT! Is there anyone out there who can help me? Now before you start referring me to therapists or psychiatrists, allow me to define IT! Why Is Religion More Important Than The Relationship? When Did That Happen? HOW Did That Happen? It only took me a half of cup of coffee when the Spirit planted that question in me. See, even the Spirit waits until I have that wonderful “living” water. And so, He and I talked a while about my question.
So, what is a “religion”? Well, according to Google, it’s “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”. If it’s indeed of supreme importance, how does one acknowledge it? How does it manifest itself? Well, here’s a partial list that I’ve come up with; maybe you can add to the list:
- You’ve got to have beliefs/doctrines about it (something there must invoke convictions otherwise it’s not of supreme importance)
- There must be some set of written or unwritten rules (how can it be a “religion” without some rules, right?)
- It’s got to shape your opinions
- It must control your attitudes
- It creates your perspective
- It demands your attention and loyalty
- It gives you priorities
- It must have outcomes ( also known as consequences)
But on the otherhand, A Relationship provides us one thing a religion can never give us. Personal Presence! Religion is cold and indifferent. It can never give us the assurance of that Personal Presence! After God delivered the Hebrews from what He called the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery He assured them of His Presence–in them and among them. I am compelled to tell you something this morning: Verily, verily, give up on religion, thus saith The Preacherman! Religion may tell me HOW to live–But The Relationship shows and helps me to live–to live the life He created for me. Oh yes, there are rules and expectations–we call that Holiness. But because of His Presence, He teaches me and He enables me. A religion can teach you–but only His Presence enables us to live out This Relationship! So, why is religion so important? Until you can convince me otherwise–I’ll stick with The Relationship!
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—Psalm 8, verses 3 and 4; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
“Just who do you think YOU are?” Ever said that to someone, or at least thought these words? Usually these words are uttered at someone who has an over-inflated ego; someone who believes they are right and you are wrong. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of folks afflicted with that over-inflated ego in my Tribe, the United Methodist Institution, especially within much of the U.S. leadership. These knuckleheads (forgive me Lord, for I just sinned–but truth is truth!) believe they know more about God than most folks–even more than the Bible. But I’m digressing from this morning’s thoughts.
As I was sitting on our front porch, listening to my worship music, I looked up at the stars. I do this as a response to my morning worship and conversations with The Spirit. And as I was star gazing, Psalm 8 just smashed me flatter than a squirrel on an Alabama road. “Just who am I? Randy Burbank? Preacherman?” Well, I’m 66 years old. Born, raised, and live in the garden place of the world, Alabama! Married to the most wonderful wife a man could ever have. I have children, grandchildren, and a great-grandson. And I just preached twice yesterday. But still, that doesn’t answer that deeper question: “Who am I?”
In that moment, gazing upwards (is that coincidence?) I was blown out of the water! And I understood David’s Psalm 8 deeper than I ever had before. I am made in God’s image so that I may help tend to God’s creation–and fellow image bearers! Even though I’ve messed up more times than anyone can count–that image remains in me. Therefore, I can’t boast about it. Because I’m not all the titles I wear nor the things I do. I am who God says I am. When He says I’ve sinned, well, I’ve sinned. And when He calls me His son–I’m that, too.
As I try to scrap this flattened squirrel off the road, I am reminded that it’s all because of His amazing grace! Though unworthy–but by following, learning, and applying all that The Spirit is trying to teach me–I am being transformed back into my original design. And I just remembered Who I Am: I am His and I am nothing without Him! If you haven’t tried it lately, try being humble and humbled in the Presence of God. It will give you the perspective you need for today–and for the rest of your life!
1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?Psalm 13, verses 1 and 2; from the New Living Translation
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
Have you ever been disappointed? With others? Sure! With yourself? Absolutely!!! But let’s dig a bit deeper this morning and answer me this: Have you ever been disappointed with God? Now, don’t be afraid to answer my question honestly. No one is listening to your thoughts. Have you ever been disappointed with God? Don’t deceive yourself, or be afraid that if God hears your honest answer He will be disappointed with you. And if it helps you to be honest, David was called a man after God’s own heart; by none other than God, Himself. And he was disappointed with God.
No one knows for sure what prompted David to write this song. It may have been after King Saul tried to kill him. Maybe it was after his son Absalom led that coup` that resulted in David fleeing for his life. But the circumstance really doesn’t matter. Point is, David felt disappointed with God. And your circumstances really don’t matter. Sometimes life happens in a way that results in us feeling like God has abandoned us; even though we’ve been faithful to Him. Your spouse left you. The cancer didn’t go away. The prodigal didn’t come home. The job wasn’t given to you. And pastors, the church announced you weren’t needed anymore. And if your a United Methodist, our leaders continue to lead with apostasy and heresy.
Causes don’t really make a difference when we are disappointed with God. But I want you to spend this day thinking about the disciples of Jesus–at a particular moment. And that moment is Friday evening. You know–that Friday evening after the death of Jesus on that cross. And it’s easy to see why they must have been disappointed. For 3 years they had followed Him, listened to Him (though not completely), watched Him. Surely He must have been The Messiah. But Friday happened. John’s description to the others about how Jesus looked on that Cross must have been appalling to them. From all appearances, life had crashed in a thunderous BOOM! Not the way they thought it would work out. Disappointed would have mildly described how they felt. Maybe you, too.
But life goes on. Ever really noticed that? Life goes on? Then next day was. . . Saturday! But Jesus was still dead. All day long on that Saturday, Jesus was in that tomb! And life went on. It’s a good thing that life went on for them. Because the day after Saturday was, you guessed it, SUNDAY! And Jesus was alive–The Conqueror of Death. And though they didn’t quite grasp it all that Sunday–they came to understand. That Sunday turned their disappointment into great joy and hope–and better yet, it gave them their message.
And can He do the same thing when you are disappointed, even with God? You bet He can! Yes, He can! Better still, He does!
8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.Philippians chapter 3, verses 8 thru 10; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
In the beginning of the Koinonia (that’s what it was called before it was called “the church”), one of the bedrock beliefs was that in order to be saved, and in order to be filled with The Holy Spirit, one had to empty themselves. Without emptying everything inside, there was no room for Jesus. Simple. Right? Ever heard the term “hoarders”? Maybe you’ve seen an episode or two of the TV series known as “Hoarders”. And from those who have, I’ve heard the question asked multiple times: “How do they live like that?” Hoarders’ homes are messy; some might say even disgusting. But hoarding isn’t limited to homes.
There are those I call “Spiritual Hoarders” and their daily lives are just as messy–and just as disgusting. Yes, even in some churches. I’m not talking about that space where members want to get rid of stuff and think, “The church can use this!” I’m talking about what they are hoarding in their hearts and minds. Here is just a very small sampling of what people hoard in their hearts and minds:
- Church Traditions
- Selfish Desires
- False Humility
- Their Own Way Of Thinking
And the melancholy results are just as messy and disgusting as those you see in that TV series. None of this, or a billion other things can remain in us if we want Jesus to live in our hearts and to fill us with His Presence, The Holy Spirit. Some hoard “that’s the way we’ve always done it”! Some hoard “I want to keep my sexual desires”! Some hoard “I am capable of understanding God without what the Bible teaches”. And all that and other “stuff” keeps filling up the spaces of hearts and minds until there is no room to get around.
That’s what Paul was writing about to the Philippians. He hoarded a lot of stuff! Read what he was hoarding in his heart and mind:
5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.Philippians chapter 3, verses 5 and 6; NLT
But on his way to Damascus, he came face to face with the hoarder he had become! In his blindness he saw that his only need was for Jesus. So he took out all that garbage–all of it! He knew without a doubt, that The Holy Spirit couldn’t–WOULDN’T–live in him until he got rid of all “his stuff”. And what about you, dear reader? What stuff are YOU hoarding? What have you not got rid of in your mind and heart? If you want to see our culture change, if you want to see a revival break out across the land–it’s simple! Just remember that YOU gotta be emptied in order to be filled. Stained glass windows nor how you feel won’t get you into God’s Kingdom. But Jesus will. But you gotta be emptied before you can be filled!
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.Acts chapter 16, verse 25; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Where do you sing? Maybe in the shower? If it’s the shower, then remember that singing leads to dancing, and you might fall in the shower. Then the paramedics will see you naked! Don’t sing in the shower! But seriously, not WHEN do you sing, but WHERE do you sing? Music and singing are necessary for a healthy mind and soul. I mean, look at WHERE Paul and Silas are singing! They are in a dungeon. Not a jail cell. It’s a dungeon. And why are they there? For doing the right thing!
Perhaps this saga describes your life. You are in a dungeon. Maybe you did what was right and you were thrown into that dungeon with mighty force. Or maybe you did what wasn’t right (it’s called SIN!). Maybe it’s the diagnosis of cancer–for you or a family member. Maybe it’s dementia. Or perhaps divorce. The utilities are about to be shut off because you don’t have the money to pay the bill. Or if you are a United Methodist, it’s dealing with the chaos. For whatever reason, you feel like you are in that dungeon; complete with chains and shackles. So, what can you do?
Well, you can moan, whine, and complain. You can moan that you don’t deserve being in the dungeon. And maybe that’s true. You can whine and make yourself into the victim; and throw the biggest pity party ever seen. Or you can complain about those responsible for throwing you into that dungeon. Oh, yes! Complaing about others does seem to be the popular option; but complaining about others leads to hate–and how is that helping us in that dungeon? But there’s another option available.
This option is only for those who trust God implicitly and completely! Do what Paul and Silas did–pray and SING! Some of us are good at the praying part–asking God to get us out of that jam. But don’t overlook what else they did: They Were Singing! Not the blues, but praises to their Savior! And look what happened! NO! Not the part about their chains falling off. That first part–and the other prisoners were listening! It’s not natural to be singing in the dungeon–but It Should Be Normal! Dungeons are dark and stinky places. It’s just not natural to sing in dark and stinking places. But for the followers of Jesus–it’s the normal thing to do!
Sing like no one is listening! But they are! The hosts of Heaven’s Armies are listening. Our Triune God is listening. And even if those chains and shackles do not fall off and the door swings wide open–others in the dungeon ARE LISTENING! So sing, my friends. And don’t worry, you won’t slip and fall thus causing the paramedics to see you naked! And who knows, this may be that powerful testimony someone needs to hear so that they can take their leap of faith–and land in The Father’s arms!
6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:
This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.
But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.
The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.
Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.
Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.Luke chapter 15, verses 11 and 12; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
The other day, The Spirit planted this thought in my mind and heart: But Which One Was It? Out of nowhere (actually it came directly from the Throne of Grace and HE who sits on it) I started thinking about what is commonly referred to as The Story Of The Prodigal Son. And I got to thinking, “Did Luke, who wrote this letter, really put a heading on this section that read The Story Of The Prodigal Son? Well, don’t most preachers give their message a title? It just goes to show how our thinking is influenced by HOW we think. When a writer sits down to write, they always put in chapter numbers and often titles. But Luke, and the rest of the writers didn’t write that way back then. In fact, (this may be a shocker to my fundamentalist friends), not only did they NOT put in chapter numbers as they wrote, they didn’t put in the verse numbers. These were devices added later on by editors and translators to assist the readers find a particular passage. Which only makes it a wonderful miracle that day Jesus opened the scroll of Isaiah and found the exact passage He wanted to use that day.
OK, OK, I’m turning into a professor of biblical studies. Let me get back on track. At some point, an editor added this heading for today’s passage: The Story Of The Prodigal Son. Notice, no “s”! Therefore, people assume only 1 of those sons was the Prodigal. Notice carefully what the Father did in this story: So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. Now notice that there’s an “s”. This means the youngest and the oldest received their portion of the estate. Are you clear on this point? Good! So, answer my question: Which one was the Prodigal? Write down your answer. Got it? Good! If you said it was the youngest son:
Did you assume that because the youngest left home that he is automatically the prodigal? Well, doesn’t the word “prodigal” mean “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”? As a matter of fact, it does. But listen very carefully–Jesus never used the word “prodigal”. This is a story about a Father who had 2 sons–neither of which He identified as “prodigal”. WE and others have given that designation–but not Jesus. So, what’s my point?
It’s rather simple: This “Father” had two sons, neither of which understood their Father at the beginning of the story. Both sons were lost; but only one ended up knowing he was lost. We know this because of the ending of the story:
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’Luke chapter 15, verses 28 thru 30; NLT
The eldest son did not share the heart of his Father. Instead of being thankful for all the money that had been given to him at the beginning of the story, he chose to be ungrateful because his Father didn’t kill and bar-b-que a goat for him and his friends. Can you see it now? We can be lost in the “foriegn” land, wasting our resources on things that doesn’t fill us with life. Or we can be lost right here at home, lamenting that we never had a party with bar-b-que goat. So, which son–the youngest or the eldest–was the Prodigal?
Sure, the youngest “wasted” his inheritance of money. But the oldest wasted his inheritance of the values that his Father had tried to impress on them both. And in case you’re not connecting the dots–we can be just as lost at home, sitting in a church building every Sunday morning, as the person who goes out on Saturday night and parties like there is no tomorrow. If we waste what God has given us on the things that don’t really matter when it comes to The Kingdom Of God–then WE are just as much a “prodigal” as the youngest son in the story. I’ll end today’s musings right here. But be warned, I may take this thought about “wasting what God has given us on the things that don’t really matter when it comes to The Kingdom of God” at a later date. But for now, let me say: “Be very careful who you label as the prodigal!”
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 18; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Well, I didn’t muse and write yesterday because we were packing up and cleaning up from our recent spiritual retreat on the beach at Pensacola. Then the drive home. A few stops for food, gas, and shopping–then unpacking when we arrived home. And though I usually take Saturday as a Sabbath from writing, this morning is different. As the Spirit and I were talking (for the uninformed it’s also known as prayer) He gave me this thought: Are You Thankful For The Struggles?
So many are in some type of struggle–myself included. Shocker Alert: We all have struggles! For some of you, I didn’t have to say that. Maybe you are struggling with some type of addiction (and surely you know there are more types of addictions than chemical addictions, don’t you?) Maybe it’s a rebellious child at home. Perhaps it’s you are living out the story of The Prodigal Son. Maybe it’s your marriage. A friendship. Your health. The health of a loved one. Perhaps even finding a new job or career. As Forrest Gump said in the movie: “It happens.” Or maybe your struggle is in and with the United Methodist (Alleged) Church.
The struggle, whatever it may be, is literally eating you alive. You’ve tried a gazillion things to end the struggle. Perhaps you’ve resigned to burying you hand in the sand, hoping it will go away–but even Ostriches know that doesn’t work. So, what now? Maybe now is the time to follow Paul’s advice to the church at Thessalonica–Be Thankful! Did you or someone else just think: “What tha’………….?” Yes, I said Be Thankful for our struggles! And I just heard a reader say out loud, “You’re crazy Preacherman! There’s nothing to help me by being thankful! I’m not reading any more of your insane gibberish!”
Hold on, pardner! Try to stay in the saddle just a couple of more minutes. Struggles are ripe moments to grow in both grace and wisdom. Lord knows we need a lot more wisdom in these days. We can be thankful for our struggles when we do 3 simple, yet deeply profound things–and here they are:
Lean Into The Spirit!
Choose in this moment of struggle to get closer to The Holy Spirit. Struggles are loud–VERY loud. And without leaning into The Spirit we will not be able to hear Him.
Lean on the spirit!
Let’s get real! In every struggle we are leaning on something! No exceptions! Either ourselves, another person, our chemical of choice–remember, no exceptions. Instead, lean ON The Spirit. Rely on The Holy Spirit to help you and even carry you when you are totally overwhelmed.
count on the spirit
When struggles seem impossible to overcome, it’s because we have empowered the struggle to be more powerful than anything else. Put your confidence in the work, power, and purposes of The Holy Spirit! ALL of your confidence. It may well be that His Plan isn’t in alignment with YOUR plan. Still, Count On The Holy Spirit to bring Victory over our struggles. The Spirit will never abandon you! So, count on The Spirit in the struggles.
As we do these 3 simple yet profound things, something amazing, maybe even unexpected by us, happens. We become thankful–thankful that God’s plans are so much better, so much more powerful than anything we can ever imagine. For then we live fully confident in God. And when we are living fully confident that God has us AND our struggles, those struggles lose its power over us and we become Victors! Even in this season of pondering disaffiliation!
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”Luke chapter 9, verse 62; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
As you may have surmised from this week’s posts, I had planned to re-post some of my previous musings so that I would have more time to enjoy this brief vacation. When I announced (to myself) this would be my plan, The Father looked at the Son, then The Spirit–and all three of them laughed and laughed and laughed! When will I ever learn? So, what has changed? Glad you asked!
At least in my locale, I’m hearing sad stories about some folks who are beginning to waffle on disaffiliation as the time grows close to make the “official” decision. And I do not know their reason(s) for waffling. I am willing to allow that the Holy Spirit has told them to change their minds. After all, I wasn’t privy to their original nor subsequent conversations with The Spirit. But I can’t help but wonder like Paul did about the church in Galatia: “You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for He is the one who called you to freedom.” (Galatians chapter 5, verses 7 and 8; NLT)
My deepest concern right now for those folks is the same one I’ve had since this Disaffiliation Movement started: That church property, ‘their‘ property, is more important than the Kingdom of God. It’s as if God can’t do something with them unless they have their property. Surely God is capable of handling their future even IF they lose their property. And I will admit it–it’s scary starting from scratch. And what about those founders of their church? Don’t you think they may be been scared of starting a new church? But starting something new with God is also exhilerating because we must trust Him, who never abandons HIS Kingdom, completely and without reservations or hesitations. Following Jesus and The Kingdom is never free of risks–but the rewards far outweigh the risks. Reality Check: It’s always been risky following Jesus. And that’s OK!
If you are one of those “second-guessing” the decision to disaffiliate, remember the words of Jesus I opened with today: But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” Back to my original question: Are you fit for the Kingdom of God? I didn’t ask if you were worthy! None of us are worthy. But are you fit for the Kingdom of God? If you waffle and look back, Jesus says you aren’t. But if you keep looking forward, disregarding the price of following Jesus, it makes you fit for the Kingdom! And least you think I’m only trying to shame the ones looking back, I end with these other words from Paul to encourage all of us not to look back after we’ve put our hands to the plow:
Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.Galatians chapter 6, verses 8 and 9; from the NLT
So, keep plowing straight by looking forward, and don’t give up. Just don’t give up!
I’m still on our spiritual retreat at the beach. My plan was to share some of my previous posts rather than writing new ones. And as I was praying and looking, and yes, thinking, I found this post from six years ago. Honestly, in 2016 I didn’t have a clue of how true it would be, especially this line: “I foresee the time coming of a “split” or “divorce” within the United Methodist Church, and coming much sooner than many anticipate.” And no, I do no consider myself a “predictor of the future”.
At that time, a ‘commission’ was formed to ‘find our way forward’. And in 2019, a called General Conference was convened in St. Louis to settle “that” issue once and for all. But read this in the context of 2016. Oh, and when I mention my age, add 6 years to it. Here is that blog:
As I shared yesterday, we are doing a “Jesus” thing by withdrawing from life as it happens; at least until Friday. So I decided I would share something from the past. This post was written 3 years ago–and it’s even more true today! Hope you get something from this:
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.Matthew chapter 14, verses 22 and 23; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Sometimes you just gotta get away from it all; all of it! And this is exactly what me and Debbie are doing this week. We are at Pensacola Beach, Florida for the rest of the week. WHAT?????? With the mess our culture is in and the mess in the United Methodist Church, you’ve gone AWOL? Missing in Action? Yes, Virginia, I’m on vacation–but I’m not AWOL, nor am I missing in action. The Master gave me a week’s pass and I’m taking advantage of it!
Look carefully at today’s story. Jesus had been teaching all day. Fixed lunch for thousands of people. Taught some more. Then notice what He did. BEFORE He pronounced the benediction and sent the crowd back home, He MADE the disciple get in that boat! This tells me they didn’t want to leave. He MADE them get in it. I would imagine it was like trying to get first graders get in a straight line and be quiet. Difficult task to do. And I imagine that when He pushed that boat away from the shore, He breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, they’re gone! So He turns his attention back to the crowd. Pronounced the benediction, and sent them home.
Another sigh of relief! Now, take notice and pay careful attention to what Jesus does next! He gets away from EVERYTHING! In case you missed it, I’ll say it again: JESUS GOT AWAY FROM EVERYTHING! Just Him and Dad. No lesson plans to give to the disciples. No great messages for the crowds. No miracles. None of that! For a season, Jesus withdrew. Were there still things to do before His death? Absolutely! Were there miracles still to be performed? Yep! Did He need to spend time with the Disciples to prepare them for what was ahead of them? You betcha! Still. . .Jesus got away from it all.
And what about you? Do you take time to get away from it all? No, not for just a few minutes. But really get away from it all? Think about it: could Jesus have still done everything He needed to do without that away time? Absolutely! But remember–Jesus is modeling for us the life that God is offering us. He’s showing us how to live–even in the midst of so much chaos and turmoil. Don’t you think there was chaos and turmoil when The Master walked this earth as one of us? Sisters and brothers, in times like these, follow the example of Jesus and remember: SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA GET AWAY FROM IT ALL! And that’s exactly what we are doing!
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 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 12, verses 1 and 2; from the New Living Translation
Do you ever think about your “thinking”? Maybe you should. Some say thinking is important. But I would say “No so! HOW you think is what’s important!” God created us to be thinking beings. He didn’t design us like computer software that processes zeros and ones that produce a predictable outcome. No, He took the risk and gave us a mind that is both capable and designed to think. Everyday is another day of “thinking”.
We think about the weather, work, family, ballgames, and the beat goes on. Thinking! All the time we are processing life through our thinking. Even the person who does some bonehead thing and when asked why they did that, replies, “I wasn’t thinking!” Oh, yes you were. It’s just that you were involved with what American psychologist Albert Ellis called “stinking thinking”. What makes stinking thinking, or thinking that’s stinking? Ever done some thinking on your thinking?
Thinking comes out of who or what we allow to influence us. Influences influence thinking! Real profound stuff, right? But it’s the truth! And there’s the thing: We Choose Who Or What Influences Us! Sorry, but when it comes to thinking, there is no victim card to play. When I think about thinking, I think about the parable of The Rich Fool (found in Luke chapter 16). He had the best year ever farming. It was so good, that he didn’t have enough silos to store it in. The pivotal moment that revealed what influenced his thinking happens in Verse 17: “He said to himself”!
Look, people! Yes we can think for ourselves. But remember, our thinking is always under some influence. Paul understood this and that’s why he wrote: “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.“ Without being born again–without the New Heart–without experiencing conversion–our thinking remains under the influence of SIN! There I said it! Some think I’m a bit crazy for talking about SIN! But sin is a reality.
But even after conversion, Satan and sin doesn’t give up working against us. Therefore (I love this word) we must continually think about our thinking! Our minds do not come like Ashley Home Furnishings furniture. We are more like Ikea–not so easy to assemble. It is easy, so very easy, to be influenced by the way this world thinks. But there’s a way to avoid the stinking thinking that is in the world, and invaded so many churches. Read again the rest of Verse 2: “but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.“
Loving God is more than what is in your heart. Loving God is also about how you think. And how you think is determined by who or what you allow to influence you. Think about that. Just think about it!
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”Luke chapter 14, verse 16 thru 24; from the New Living Translation
If you were planning a formal dinner and extravagandza, who would you invite? Suppose there would even be that proverbial “red carpet” and the paparazzi. And suppose the menu was prepared by a famous chef from a 5 star restaurant. Add to that champaign and wine from the world’s finest wineries. I ask you again, who would you invite to such a merriment? Oh, and add to that, your reputation would be on the line. So I ask again, who are you going to invite?
Being invited is a big thing! It’s important. No one likes being left off the guest list. When an invitation is given to someone, it’s telling them they have value and worth. This is especially true when it comes to being the Body of Christ. We have been given The Invitations to pass out by The Party Host. Now, our Party Host really knows how to throw a party. He provides the best of everything. He’s already proven that no price is too high.
But church, can I be honest with you? We haven’t done a good job at all of passing out The Invitations. Unfortunately, whether unconciously or consciously, we’ve passed out The Invitations to those we think are worthy, those who will fit in. We’ve readily given invitations to those who look, act, andd think like us. But the house isn’t full. The Master of The Party wants His Venue full of people, all kinds of people. In the story He sent them as far as the byways and hedges.
You see, the hedges were the walls around vineyards. Often the workers would have to live there. Back then it mean us Gentiles. That’s those people who don’t look, act, or think like they did. And the application is really clear for us today. We need to be going to where the people are and giving them The Invitation. That means even those who don’t look, act, or think like we do. That girl with all those body piercings. That man whose arm is covered in tattoos. That person who is struggling with addictions. That person who would rather party than anything else. Those whose skin color is different from ours. In short, we are to give The Invitation to everyone out there. And why? Because The Master of The Party wants us to. He wants the Venue for THAT Party to be full! And trust me, if there’s room for someone like me–then there’s room for someone like “them”. So, church–get out there and start passing out those Invitations. Not to a church building–but to THE Relationship and THE Life
28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”Luke chapter 18, verses 28 thru 30; from the New Living Translation
This morning’s passage comes on the heels of what is commonly referred to as The Story Of The Rich Man. He came to Jesus looking for real life; and if you remember, this man decided the price was too high. This passage came to me when I was reflecting on some posts in a “clergy” page on Facebook of which I am a member. There was a group of folks whinning about the fact that THEIR (the wrong pronoun) church they were in before they answered the call to ministry, had voted to disafilliate. In their view it was just WRONG for THEIR CHURCH to do such a thing. For the uninformed, it took a two-thirds majority vote to disafilliate. THEIR emphasis was on the one-third that would were being left out in the cold.
I’m remembering now a story when one of our granddaughter’s, Caroline who was about 4 years old, had been staying with us. When it came time to go home, Gramma laid her out some clothes to wear home. Even gave her a choice between two outfits. But Caroline wanted something different. Gramma insisted, and finally Caroline put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, whose clothes are these anyways?” And many seem to feel the same way about their church name and church buildings.
There is an unhealthy pronoun being thoughtlessly being tossed around: OUR CHURCH! MY CHURCH! Spoiler alert! It’s not YOURS, OURS, NOR MINE! And it doesn’t matter which side of the fence one stands on–it’s still the wrong PRONOUN! It is unhealthy to use such pronouns when talking about CHURCH! Way to much emphasis is being put on buildings and names on the sign.
Jesus says to Peter, (and to the rest of us today!) that one has to give up EVERYTHING in order to follow Him! And offers the positive promise that we gain much more now–and even more later–when we stop using those nasty possessive pronouns. Friends, it isn’t OUR church. We didn’t buy it! Jesus did on the Cross! It was never OURS to begin with–and it will never be OURS!
If what we have to offer this world is inseparably tethered to a building and a name–then we really don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. There’s a bigger story out there–it’s the story of The Kingdom Of God! After Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness, he came back with a single message: “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark chapter 1, verse 15; NLT).
Friends, our story isn’t connected to a building–but The Movement! The Movement of God’s Kingdom that is storming the strongholds of the one who is trying to steal it, Satan! When our story is anchored to The Kingdom Of God, there’s something bigger and more powerful at work than a building or a name. Every church building has a beginning point, and even a name. And THAT name may have changed over the decades. But The Kingdom Of God doesn’t have a beginning point–it is eternal and everlasting. And this message is the one–the only one–that can and will change cultures, nations, and people.
There’s not doubt about this: that when we use the pronoun MY, it’s the WRONG pronoun. And perhaps when we use the noun, CHURCH, it’s the wrong noun. It’s all about The Kingdom Of God! And that’s a much bigger story than the one about our buildings and signs!
3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4 I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives.Jude, verses 3 and 4; from the New Living Translation
If you desire to be deemed mean, ugly, and phobic, then deeply study the Bible, and share what The Spirit reveals in the Bible. At least, that’s how it works in my United Methodist Tribe. I always believed that God watched over the entire process from writing and rewriting those sacred books, all the way to the Canonization that led to our Bible. Turns out I was wrong. Or so my progressive counterparts insist. According to them, God has just be waiting and waiting for folks like them to straighten everyone out on where the Bible just got it wrong. Now, I haven’t heard any of them use the exact words I have used.
But it is clearly seen in how they have conveniently correct the errors found in the Bible. And it’s all because Jesus told His followers to love others. Love erases the sinfulness of sin, and sanctifies it. Thanks to them, we now know that God Himself, created homosexuality. Oh, and the New Testament never used the word “homosexual”, so that makes it OK. Well, the New Testament never uses the word “pornography”, so by their logic, that makes pornography OK.
When anyone approaches the Bible with the attitude that they are right, then the results are clear–that God’s Grace justifies just about anything they want. Because of their contention, I am amazed and perplexed how this Bible has lasted so long–seeing that its writers didn’t really understand 21st century people. So, whenever the Bible gets it wrong–it’s up to sin-stained but enlightened people to set the record straight. Boy, I can just hear Jude going off on them!
Now, that’s the logic of progressive theology. They can disagree with my observation and conclusion. I’m OK with that. If they want to be wrong, that’s their right. The Bible doesn’t exist to justify our opinions. The Bible exists to tell us the greatest saga ever. It starts with perfection–but takes a turn when Adam and Eve believe Satan’s lie that they can know as much as God. (Sound familiar?) And it continues with the Saga of God trying to restore them and their descendants back to their rightful place by showing them how much they need Him to break free of the slavery of sin.
Finally, God showed humanity how ugly the sin was in them when Jesus was nailed to that Cross. That death didn’t put God’s Seal Of Approval on our preferred choice of sin. It shows us just how ugly sin really is. And with the Resurrection, God showed everyone how that He can and will deliver us from sin’s dominion and power over us. Unfortunately, too many don’t want to be delivered from sin’s power over them. They just want to think that if they love others, then the rest doesn’t matter. And what the Bible says about Holiness of Heart and Holiness of Life–well, that’s just wrong. But the Bible isn’t wrong
1 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.1 John chapter 4, verses 1 thru 3; from the New Living Translation
The days of business as usual for what is commonly called “the church” are over. Truth of the matter is, those days have been gone a long, long, time. But People Still Are Trying To Operate The Mission And Ministry Of Jesus As “Business As Usual”. Some may not be happy with me that I am bring this up. But I would rather they be unhappy with me because I’ve brought this up—than for God to be unhappy with me for NOT bringing it up.
There is a game that has been and is being played by a lot of folks. It’s called “Kick The Can Down The Road.” Some have been intentionally playing the game, and even more have been playing it because they haven’t been told the truth—or have simply ignored the truth. And here’s the 2 things we need to know right now about that can:
- The Can That’s Been Kicked Down The Road Has Been Disintegrated By All That Kicking It Down The Road. Piece by piece, atom by atom, the can doesn’t exist anymore. Ever noticed how a can will eventually cease to exist? Either by wear and tear or rust?
- Even If There Was Any Can Left To Kick Down The Road, There’s No More Road Left To Kick It Down. All roads end somewhere. And this road has reached that end!
We did not reach this moment overnight. It didn’t happen because of the past few months, years, or even decades. It’s been generational. We can also say that it’s been happening ever since The Koinonia came to life. But now it seems to me that it has intensified. Maybe it’s because it’s happening in my time. But for generations now we have neglected John’s Most Important Words For The Future Of The Koinonia:
You Must Test Them To See If The Spirit They Have Comes From God.
False teachings have been a part of what you might call “the church” and what I love to call “The Koinonia” ever since its inception. Satan is at the root of it all because he knows that The Koinonia is all that is standing between him and the people in the world. And now for generations, he’s been having a party—at the expensive of human lives.
This Season Of Discernment May Well Be Your Last Opportunity To Discern What Is Being Promoted And Taught. And to discern exactly what you are going to do! You have to “test the spirit” of those who want to lead you in a different direction from where you started.
It’s interesting that in writing his letter, John chose the Greek word “dokimazō (dah-key-mah-zo)” that’s translated “test” or “try”. It means: “To Test, Examine, Prove, Scrutinize (To See Whether A Thing Is Genuine Or Not), As Metals.” If someone offers to sell you some gold jewelry, are you going to buy it just because it’s color is gold? I don’t think so. If you would, then see me tomorrow after the Dollar Tree opens, and I will be glad to sell you some gold jewelry.
The only accurate way to test a teaching—is to compare it to The Bible. And all of the Bible. For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have misused and misapplied the verses of the Bible to support their own positions. I’m talking about using the whole Bible.
Those in our Tribal Leadership are promoting ideas and a life that contradictions thousands of years of the teachings in the Bible. They are leading a movement that in essence—and at its core—is saying that God has been waiting for a long time for some people to finally get the Bible right.
Now, if you’re OK with that kind of leadership—or if you believe that leadership—then there’s no need to discern anything. However—I said However!!!—if you think and believe that God’s Word is true and reliable, then you must discern whether you can follow God and align yourselves with their leadership. From the very beginning—I’ve been very clear. This Is YOUR Decision About The Future Of This Place. It’s not about me. It’s not about the decision Debbie and I have already made.
It’s About Discerning—Testing—Trying—The Teachings Of Your Leadership To See If It’s Really Of God Or Not—And If You Can Live Under That Kind Of Leadership. I can say so much more—but this morning is the time for you to seek, ask, and yes, especially pray. And I want to leave you with some words from Paul. This is why it’s necessary that NOW you determine which way you will go—Because The Way You Go, Determines The Future That Awaits You.
6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. 8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.Galatians chapter 1, verses 6 thru 9; from the NLT
12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.Romans chapter 12, verses 12 thru 14; from the New Living Translation; emphasis mine)
God’s grace is always amazing and mind-blowing! Not only does He love me, He saw fit to let me grow up in the South; where life moves at a different pace. I was blessed to be surrounded by people with a lot of common sense. I’m not saying you can’t find that North of the Mason-Dixon Line–I’m just talking about where I grew up. There are lots of colloquialisms, one of which being, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Simple meaning: Everyone has a choice. It’s their’s to make or not make.
And that got me to thinking this morning about Romans chapter 8; specifically verse 14: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. As a child I remember playing the game Follow The Leader. If you don’t know about this game, you had a deprived childhood; Google it if you need to. And just about everyone wanted to be the leader. And that childhood desire to be The Leader continues on into adulthood. Uh, Houston, we have a problem.
The chaos in culture, politics, and yes, even the church, is the result of either US wanting to be the leader, or worse, following the wrong leader. Let me speak now about the church. There is only one “Leader” to follow when it comes to the church. And that’s the Holy Spirit! Reality Time: We are all being led by something or someone! And we choose that Leader. Not heredity. Not politics. Not culture. Not our circumstances. Nothing chooses who we follow but WE!
Did you notice the first word in Verse 12: Therefore! It’s the word that speaks about consequences! And in chapter 8, it’s about being justified (made right with God) by faith in Jesus and what He did for us in His life, death, and Resurrection. And Paul writes in Verse 2: “And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Yet so many today want to think, nay, even BELIEVE, that are now free to live the way they want to or feel like.
To be a son or daughter of God, there’s only one way–be led by The Holy Spirit. And always, always, ALWAYS remember that The Holy Spirit will never lead us outside the boundaries of The Bible. And for my fellow Tribal Members of the United Methodist Church, I urge you to follow the lead of The Holy Spirit. Don’t leave the UMC just because many of our leaders aren’t following The Holy Spirit. Follow that same Holy Spirit that they are not following! Disaffiliation is your opportunity to put the Holy Spirit right back where He belongs–out front and leading us! And remember that childhood game of Following The Leader: you do what He tells you to do, say what He tells you to say, and go where HE is the one out front! The Holy Spirit will always lead you to The Truth! But He won’t make you drink. That, my friends, is your choice!
16 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.2 Timothy chapter 3, verse 16; from the New Living Translation
The most popular and familiar verse of the Bible is easily John 3:16. Right? But what about the most unpopular verse of the Bible? That’s easy, too. It’s another 3:16, but so many just don’t like it because they choose to ignore it: 2 Timothy 3:16! Speaking for my Tribe (and I see it a lot in other Tribes, too), someone needs to be holding a sign at their gatherings which reads: 2 Timothy 3:16! You know, like they do at ballgames! If I understand Paul, and I do have a depth of understanding of him, when Paul wrote ALL that’s exactly what he meant. But gee whiz, so many today think of the Bible as a Cafeteria Of Suggestions. To reject any of it is to declare that the rest of it is Uninspired By God! And thus, it’s meant for the dung hill of life.
And as Paul prepares to pass the mantle on to young Timothy, he reminds Timothy of the importance of the Scriptures–that inspired, God-breathed word! The Greek word that Paul used was graphē which means a writing, thing written. And notice–carefully and with deep intentionality–why exactly The Written Word, A.K.A. The Bible, cannot be treatly lightly–nor is it up to us to decide what works for us and what doesn’t work for us!
- to teach us what is true–not beliefs or opinions, but what is TRUE! About God and about us!
- to make us realize what is wrong in our lives–and yes, there is much wrong in our lives; the Bible is the standard and measure when it comes to living a life that God desires and demands from us!
- It corrects us when we are wrong–no one like to admit it, but sometimes we are wrong! Remember Leroy Jethro Gibbs Rule 51!
- teaches us to do what is right–Like it or not, believe it or not, but we are all tainted somewhere by sin. Our views and opinions really don’t matter when it comes to what is right!
Now, I’m not a fundamentalist who thinks that God treated Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest like stenographers. “Write this down word for word. Type it up and let me review it before you mail it out!” But I do believe that God inspired them because He knew not only what the people at the time needed to know, but also for us today. And I know that a bunch of men with a lot of different viewpoints got together, argued and debated before they produced what we know today as The Bible! And I am confident that God was present and overseeing that process so that WE can know God and what He expects from us! Whether those men realized it or not (and I hope they did), God was present in that process insuring that HIS Word would be both accurate and reliable for His Image Bearers! I once made this same statement to a person of the progressive persuasion, and they laughed at me.
The Bible is 100% accurate and reliable when it comes to God, us, and our relationship with God! THERE!!!! I SAID IT! And at the risk of sounding like Dr. Seuss’ character Horton the elephant: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” I close with the next line Paul wrote to Timothy:
God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.2 Timothy chapter 3, verse 7; from the NLT
Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17; from The Message
6 Come, let us worship and bow down.Psalm 95, verses 6 through 9; from the New Living Translation
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
7 for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!
8 The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
as they did at Massah in the wilderness.
9 For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw everything I did.”
I was nearly 7, I think, when my Papa Burbank died. I remember they called it “hardening of the arteries”. Today we know it as plaque buildup in the arteries. Now they can do things to help open up the flow of blood and avert death. Back then there wasn’t anything they could do for it. My reading for this morning, Psalm 95, and it’s verse about hardening of the heart, got me to thinking about him and his cause of death.
And though the miracles of modern medicine helps us today avoid the same outcome as Papa Burbank with our biological heart, it’s the spiritual heart that is in danger today. Spiritually speaking, we are at our Meribah. In case you’re not familiar with Meribah, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version. God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt and a life of slavery. He provided food in the form of manna every day. And when they complained about Heaven’s Food, God provided them with quails. Now there water supply is all but gone. I compare this to having nothing to drink before a procedure or surgery. You’re not really thirsty until you can’t have anything. So they turn against Moses and whine and complain, complain and whine, because they are so thirsty. Remember that God delivered them and has provided everything they needed up to this point. Now, why in Heaven’s Name would they start doubting God? Simple, it was what was in their hearts and it was hardening those hearts.
It’s said that you are what you eat. And that’s so very true. And here is something even more true: You are what you allow into your spiritual heart. And this is where our culture, and our United Methodist Tribe are at. Too many have allowed the bladerdash and flummery of progressive theology into their hearts. Our culture has jumped in Doc Brown’s Time Traveling Delorean and arrived before The Fall (that’s when Adam and Eve messed up) and bought lock, stock, and barrel into Satan’s lie that we are capable of being our own god. That given the right information (that’s what many call the “forbidden fruit”), we are free to choose our own path by determining our very own version of what is right and what is wrong.
The result is that the life-giving flow of “blood” has been blocked and denied access to our spiritual heart. And that heart has become hardened. And without treatement, that heart will cease to function and we will die. Remember my Papa Burbank! And there is no medicine or medical procedure that can restore that flow of life-giving blood. And there is no hope that neither progressive nor liberation theology can change this outcome. There is only one way, one source to prevent our hearts from this inevitable outcome.
If only you would listen to His voice today!Psalm 95 verse 7
His Voice will never, I mean NEVER, contradict His Word that we know as The Bible. Our hearts are like Jeremiah (chapter 17, verse 9) described: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” That’s the Bad News, folks. But now for the Good News. Ezekiel said (chapter 36, verse 26): “ I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Like those poor, pitiful Hebrews, so many have forgotten how that through the ages God has been faithful to lead us to the life that sin has stolen from us. Physical heart transplants are amazing. But what’s more amazing is Spiritual Heart Transplants. So, if your heart has become hard, then there’s only one place to go–and that’s at the foot of The Cross!
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 19 and 20; from the New International Verse
Well? Which are you? A Not? Or a Knot? Me? Well, I guess I need to be truthful. Sometimes I’m a Not and on occasions I am a Knot. A Knot is someone who is tightly held by their own stuff. A Not is someone who is liberated from that and all other stuff. Speaking only of here in the good old U.S. of A., so many–too many–are held tightly to their stuff. And many of these knots also want Jesus–but still be connected to all their stuff.
Progressive theology wants people to believe that they can have Jesus AND their Knot! But clearly Paul had other ideas when he wrote this letter to the Corinthian church. You see, they were tied to a lot of their stuff–and that stuff was contradictory to both God’s design and what it means to be holy. The Greek word translated NOT means ABSOLUTELY NOT! We are NOT our own. We are NOT in charge and certainly NOT in control of our lives. And, my friends, that is NOT a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a great thing to be a NOT!
Listen again to verse 20: You were bought at a price. And that price was paid on that cruel Roman Cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem. If we are, call it “a Christian” or as I prefer, “a follower and disciple of Jesus”, then we are NOT any longer under the control and influence of anyone or anything–other than God! We can’t do what we want, be what we want, and still follow Jesus! NOT at all. NOT at all! So be a NOT and not a KNOT! Are you clear on this?
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,Psalm 121, verse 8; from the New Living Translation
both now and forever.
Have you heard about any miracles lately? In this age of technological developments, many tend to think that miracles don’t happen anymore, if they ever really did. Well, sit right down and let me tell you a true story! Hunter is one of the grandsons of my very good friends, Greg and Pat. Greg is also my double-Brother; first my brother in Christ, and then my Fraternal Brother. Hunter is a great young man. Unlike so many of his generation, Hunter already has his career and is doing great in it.
Well, it was this past Saturday morning, Greg and Pat received a call that no parent or grandparent wanted to receive. Hunter had been in a serious wreck and was in the hospital emergency room. They didn’t know how bad he was injured. So they quickly left for the 45 minute drive. As they were driving they saw emergency vehicles ahead–as they slowed down it was then they saw Hunter’s truck. Honestly, it didn’t even look like a truck. So they started praying harder.
Here’s what happened. The best they can tell, the wreck happened around 3:30 a.m. He fell asleep, went into a ditch, and then proceeded to hit some trees. He was thrown through the windshield into a ditch. Oh, and this was one of those typical Alabama heavy fog mornings. No one could have seen his mangled truck. Hunter lied in that ditch for over 3 hours, best guess estimate, until 6:50 a.m. when someone arrived to open a country store heard him and called emergency personnel.
Doesn’t sound like much of a miracle thus far, does it? Well, let’s get back to this true story. After extensive x-rays and diagnostic testing, Hunter had NO internal injuries or broken bones. He did have a concussion, and lots of cuts and bruises–but before noon that day, Hunter was released and headed home. I don’t know about you–but I would have to classify Hunter’s story as a miracle. I have worked as a first responder and I have been at accident scenes where someone was thrown through the windshield and I can testify that was never a good thing.
See! Miracles still happen and they happen every day. I will close with what Greg had to said about that day. He says it much better than I can because he shared it out of his experience that day: “Praise the Lord! Hunter is going to be OK, a miracle from God. Bruised up. Cut up. No broken bones. He will be able to go home. Tell me we don’t serve a mighty God!” Indeed, Greg, we serve a mighty God!