SETBACKS!

Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.

Matthew chapter 8, verse 34; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Sometimes my writings and my sermons talk about things that not everyone has experienced. The old saying, “You just had to be there” comes into play. And hopefully those that were there found something that encouraged them. But today’s subject matter is something I am highly confident that everyone has experienced: Setbacks! You didn’t get that promotion. You didn’t get the job. Someone close to you had a serious medical situation and it looked like they were about to recover–but had to go back into the ICU. Or how about congregations in the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church who were blocked (you can read about it here) from pursuing disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church thanks to the leadership of Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson just before she left town.

Setbacks are agonizing and arduous. They cause a myriad of questions to rise to the surface. Those questions can come at us one right after another, after another, after another–seemingly non-stop. But what if I told you that Jesus understands the ache caused by setbacks? Case in point: today’s epic sage. Jesus had just done the impossible–drove out those demons who had taken over the lives of 2 men. Those 2 must have been at least a nuisance to the community–if not an outright danger. Now their problem had been solved. They should be grateful! Right?

But they weren’t! In fact, they didn’t thank Jesus for helping their community! Instead they asked Him to leave; just leave! Think about it! Jesus teaching in that village and those 2 formerly demon-possessed men standing next to Him; clean, dressed, and in their right mind! Boy! What a right and ripe opportunity for Jesus! If I were one of those original disciples I would be excited about what would happen next! Instead Jesus, and thus His disciples, were persona non grata!

I can’t speak for you, but I can and will for myself–now that would have definitely be filed under the category of setbacks! So what does Jesus do? How does He respond to this setback? Chapter 8 doesn’t say–but Chapter 9 tells us. We see in verse 1: “Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town.” This setback doesn’t derail Jesus. He stays focused on The Mission that defined His Purpose. And what does this teach us when setbacks create painful glitches? Glad you asked.

Though a circumstance has changed because of that frustrating setback, not everything else has changed. Do what the most prolific songwriter of all times did when he had a setback. What did David do? Great question! He wrote songs, and one in particular: Psalm 103. Part of his song goes like this; and I use the King James Version for it’s poetic language:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

KJV

In the middle of that setback you need to remember! Not all those other setbacks! No! Remember all the good things God has done in your life. Remember you are not alone. You’ve never been alone, though it may have felt like that. And you will never be alone, even if you think you will be. God has been preparing you for that setback. Maybe it was a song you heard. Or perhaps it was a book. Better yet, maybe you learned some important principles that at the time, you didn’t understand why the Spirit was teaching you that. I have numerous stories of God teaching me some things that at the time I didn’t know why; but later I did.

In the harrowing and heart-wrenching times of setbacks, when questions and emotions erupt like a volcano, we have two clear-cut and conflicting choices. One choice is to stay focused on the setback with all its pain and questions. But there is that other option; it’s not always easy and requires much, scratch that–it demands a whole lot of self-discipline. It’s what David did; and it’s what Jesus did. They remembered the Faithfulness of God. If you don’t think that God is faithful to you–then you’ve bought the lie of Satan, hook, line, and sinker. I wouldn’t be writing this today if it wasn’t for God’s faithfulness. He led you through other setbacks. And He has been preparing you for this setback, or the next. Whichever the case may be. And His strength and guidance is ready for each and every setback.

When we remember all God’s benefits–then and only then–can we know that this current setback or that future setback is neither final nor is it fatal. So, sing David’s song and as you do–get ready to remember all that God has been doing in your life.

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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!

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.

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.

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!

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!

WHAT’S YOUR IF?

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?  Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? 

Romans chapter 8, verses 31 and 32; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

IF! Some say that this is the biggest little word in all of vocabulary. IF has the potential to change situations, circumstances, and perspective. One thing must be replaced by another. When that happens it could be a game changer. IF this is true, and I happen to believe it can be, then tell me: What Is Your IF? IF you don’t want to tell me your IF, then tell yourself and be honest about it. But for IF to be that positive game changer, then we need to put some time into identifying our IF. I mean a lot of time.

Here are some examples I’ve heard and heard recently. IF my spouse could just understand me.” “IF my children would just listen and do what I tell them.” “IF I could just get that promotion.” “IF I could just get rid of this sinus mess.” “IF the Republicans could get back in the White House.” “IF my spouse would just leave.” “IF my spouse would come back.” “IF the Democrats can maintain control.” “IF people would just show up on time to work.” “IF they would just work!” “IF everyone would just drive electric vehicles.” “IF people would accept that global warming is real.” IF! IF! IF! Oh, one more just for my Wesleyan sisters and brothers, “IF I could just get out of the UMC!”

But my most favorite IF is this: IF a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his butt every time he hopped! Two things about IF. First, they rarely happen. Second, when they do happen, they rarely, IF ever, produce that desired outcome. In short, IF isn’t the solution. Well. . .unless that IF is tethered to the right thing; rather, Person. Look again at this morning’s opening passage and you see that word IF. To be that game changer we need in our lives, then God must be for us. So, how can we know that God is for us?

Well, Einstein, read the next sentence: Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? So just quit looking for all those other IFS because they have NEVER proven themselves to be true over and over again. But God? Well, you try to figure that out for yourselves. And while you’re figuring it out, just think about the Cross. Then know that whatever you are facing, HE if with you and working on you, in you, and for you. And He won’t ever give up on you. Now that’s an IF you can take to the bank!

ARE YOU IN A STORM, OR IS THE STORM IN YOU?

23 Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. 24 Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Matthew chapter 8, verses 23 thru 25; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

My Monday Morning Question is a good one, and a valid one; considering the times we are living in. And it’s not just in the United Methodist Institution, storms have permeated into the fabric of just about every area of life on this third rock from the sun. Storms are everywhere–not the meteorological kind. And these storms are an EF 5 tornado, Cat 5 hurricane, biblical proportion flood, a 50 foot tsunami, and a 7.5 magnitude earthquake all rolled into one! And that’s putting in mildly.

If you’ve lost your job, a child, a spouse, or inflation has you trying to decide do you buy your medicines or do you eat–these storms can and often are overwhelming to say the least. You feel like you are one of those disciples in that boat. The waves are rough and the wind ever rougher. You know that panic is about to invade your life–if it hasn’t already invaded your space. The fear of drowning hunts you down like a Kodiak bear.

And to my fellow United Methodists, I don’t have to tell you that we are in a storm. And the storm just seems to grow in intensity. For example, recently I’ve learned that Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and the North Georgia Conference Appointive Cabinet removed another conservative pastor from a growing church and demoted him–all without consultation of the pastor Dave Hinson nor the congregation known as Winder First UMC. And hearing these horror stories that even Stephen King couldn’t imagine, it only intensifies our emotions.

With all this in mind, let’s look at the opening Passage. Jesus had another busy day of teaching, healing, and contending with pretenders who said they wanted to follow Him. So, He gets into a boat with the disciples and tells them to go to the other side. So these disciples set sail. And what does Jesus do? He lays down and takes a nap. See! Taking naps are Biblical! But then that storm comes up! The disciples are fighting desperately to keep their boat afloat! And they have entered Panic Mode! And what is Jesus doing? He’s still asleep! Now, picture this: All of them are in a storm–and the storm is in all of them–except Jesus. He’s in the same storm they are in–and they, the disciples, have allowed that storm to be IN them. But that doesn’t mean that the storm HAD to be in them. It’s just that they allowed the storm to be in them.

Now, which would you rather be like? The disciples who allowed the storm to be in them? Or Jesus, who was in the same storm, but did not allow the storm in Him? Storms cannot be avoided. But you still have the choice to allow the storms to come inside you–or not! I leave you with this song I Will Fear No More. And listen carefully to this line: Even thought I am in the storm, the storm is not in me! So don’t give in or give up. Jesus stayed calm in the storm because the storm wasn’t in Him. And He will help you keep the storm from coming in to you!

CAN YOU RECOGNIZE THE SEASONS?

1 For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
5 A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 1, 5, and 11; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Can you recognize the seasons? Here in Alabama, the “Seasons” are just words printed on calendars, especially this time of year. In fact, our state motto is “If you don’t like the weather when you get here, stay around. It’s bound to change soon!” It’s really hard to know how to dress sometimes. We either dress in layers or keep a couple of changes of clothes in our cars. Winter for the morning. Fall for midday. Summer in the afternoon. And Spring in the evening. If you doubt me, then obviously you’ve never been in our wonderful state.

But this morning I’m not talking about “Seasons” on the calendar. I’m talking about the Seasons In Life. I absolutely love the Book of Ecclesiastes. I love it for it’s rawness; the blunt ways that Solomon describes that season in his life where he was living under the sun, or another way of saying it, under heaven. He’s been living without God at the helm of his heart, mind, and life. This man known for his wisdom, left wisdom at home and pursued a life that left him drained and empty. He called it chasing after the wind.

And it is part of his painful journey that spoke to me this morning, and I pray it speaks to you. Chapter 3 speaks about all the events that happen in life; and that’s a lot of different events–opposites, if you would. And this morning I was reflecting and meditating on the end of Verse 5: “A time to embrace and a time to turn away. Discerning when it’s time to embrace and when it’s time to turn away isn’t always easy, and sometimes even more difficult to know that it’s time to turn away.

Such is the saga happening right now in many lives. Do you try to stay and make your marriage what God designed it to be, or walk away? Do you change careers or stick with the one you have? Do you keep bailing out that prodigal child or let them face the consequences of their choices and actions? And if you are a United Methodist, do you hope that things will change. . .and soon? Or do you turn away? And how do we know the WHEN to turn away?

I truly wish I could give you a simple formula that works in every situation. But I can’t. It’s always a matter of personal choice. But to make the wise decision (unlike Solomon) we need counsel; more than good counsel, we need great counsel. And that comes only by looking about the sun, and to The Son. And I can tell you this–that when the pain creates more and more problems, then that is a sign something needs to change. And here in the United Methodist Institution, it’s the season to decide which side you are on. Remember Joshua’s challenge to the Hebrews? I fully recognize as a soon not-to-be United Methodist pastor, this is the season for me to turn away. It’s been a painful choice–but it’s also been the right choice for me. And I am now embracing Verse 11–“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.” I am entering a beautiful time; albeit a little bit, call it unnerving. But I know this is the Right Season for this move.

And as far as the United Methodist Institution goes, you can choose to live with leadership that is living under the sun. Or you can choose to live above the sun. The Season Of Separation or the Season To Stay is upon us. Our choices are very clear: to live under the sun (meaning with human understanding but without God’s Truth) or to live above the sun (meaning a life of faithfulness and holiness as revealed in the Holy Writ). That decision to refrain from that embrace and to turn away can, and often is painful. But it is the right choice. Using a Biblical Image, the handwriting is on the wall. For 48 years I’ve watched an organization trying to live under the sun. And it’s just not working. Can you recognize which season you are living in? Under the sun? Or Under The Son?

CUPCAKES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DO YOU SEE NOW?

When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 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.” 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.

Mark chapter 12, verses 22 thru 25; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Yesterday I wrote about the need to be unloosed from our grave-clothes. And this morning, my good buddy The Spirit, had me thinking about that. Then He asked me a question that caught me off-guard. He asked, “What do you see now?” And in typical fashion I replied, “Huh???” I just love the patience of The Father! And The Spirit said, “You know. . .there was that facecloth on Lazarus!” Then the lightbulb turned on! We can’t see if that facecloth is still there! And immediately I remember today’s passage.

People were wanting to see Jesus do another miracle. Now mind you, they were not really interested in becoming a follower of Jesus. They just wanted to “see” another miracle. Rather than try to satisfy “their need”, Jesus took this man outside of the town, spit on his eyes and asked, “Can you see anything now?” He could, but not very clearly. He described people like they were “walking trees”. He had vision, but what this man needed was CLARITY! And boy, oh boy, does our culture need clarity!

But this morning I want to speak into my fellow Wesleyan-hearted sisters and brothers who are in the process of discernment or have finished it and are now ready to leave the United Methodist Church. And if you aren’t one of us, there’s a lesson here for you, too. In the last few years, decades of the recalcitrance of our leaders and teachers in many seminaries is now a boiling cauldron of sedition and anger. And like Elisha, we have reached that point of either being faithful to God or to just go back to plowing with that team of oxen. And if, like Elisha, you have decided to be faithful to God, then we need to have a change in focus.

We can continue to complain. But tell me truthfully, What does all this complaining accomplish? I mean, other than keeping us angry or filled with angst, what does this complaining really do to advance the Kingdom Of God? Complaining is just like what that blind man first saw, seeing trees walking around. I want to encourage and challenge my fellow Wesleyan-hearted sisters and brothers to stop complaining and to seek clarity. Clarity reveals that God is on the move redeeming and restoring broken folks!

We are serving the God who makes everything new! We can either talk about The Mess, or we can talk about The Message! Once you can see clearly where God is leading, then we don’t have to or need to talk about “walking trees”! Our Message is profoundly and powerfully simple:

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 19 and 20; from the NLT

So, just what do you see now? The Mess or The Message? Let’s keep all our talk about The Message! And oh, what a Message we have!!!

WHERE ARE YOUR ROOTS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 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.

BUT WHICH ONE WAS IT?

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!”

CLARITY!

22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 23 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?” 24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” 25 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. 26 Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”

Mark chapter 8, verses 22-26; from the New Living Translation

This morning I was thinking–and those of you who know me, know this isn’t always a good thing. Nonetheless, fasten your seatbelts because we are about to take off. President Biden just signed a check for our government to spend another $737 BILLION. Purportedly this is going to get us out of inflation and help solve our economic problems. One would think, or at least I do, that after spending gazillions of dollars over the past several decades all the problems would have been solved. And then I was thinking about this mess in the United Methodist Institution. After saying gazillions of words our problems should have been solved by now. But in both cases, it ain’t happened and it ain’t gonna happen!

Yet, the dollars flow freely, and words flow even more freely! Politically, some are looking to Trump; and some are looking to Biden. They are looking for political salvation in parties that have neither the ability nor the skills to provide such a hope. And it appears at times that neither party wants to solve the problems; it seems that they just want to add fuel to the fire. Yet, people are tenaciously running down the path that leads us nowhere. And in our Tribe (the United Methodist Institution) it’s not any different. Some says it’s all about progressive theology and some say it’s all about orthodox theology. The view and perspective that both issues (in both the political and spiritual problems) have created is what I term perspective astigmatism!

Now, for those unfamiliar with astigmatism or do not live with this malady like I and so many others, here’s the medical definition: “a refractive error of the eye in which parallel rays of light from an external source do not converge on a single focal point on the retina.” And here’s the down-to-earth definition: “everything looks blurry!” And then I also started thinking (thank you, Holy Spirit) about this morning’s passage. A man was brought to Jesus for Him to heal. The villagers were just looking for a show; some entertainment and fodder for the dinner table conversations. But Jesus took this man outside the village and. . .well, you can read the rest of the story.

Here’s the point! After Jesus spit on this man’s eyes, he could see–but there was no clarity. He described people as, They look like trees walking around.” I understand that, and so do you who have astigmatism. And be it in the political arena or the spiritual arena, the dominant views are creating and spreading perspective astigmatism. Neither side seems interested in getting to that focal point where everything comes clearly into focus. And as long as were are focusing on the wrong point–be it political or spiritual–everything remains hazy and blurry.

The problems–both politically and spiritually–are deep and complicated; complicated by years of living in perspective astigmatism. So what is one to do??? Live each day with nothing seen with clarity??? Give up and become a stoic??? Well, that is an option; but it ain’t a good one. May I suggest something different, using the analogy of visual astigmatism? We ALL need to do 2 things: first we need to admit that what we’ve been trying and looking towards just ain’t working to bring us the Clarity that we need. Second, allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit give us the lenses we need to see life with Clarity! The “eye chart” that Jesus and the Holy Spirit uses is the Bible. They will never contradict what The Word says. They may (and usually will) contradict what WE say about The Word. But They will never contradict That Word.

What’s Your Synergy?

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians chapter 3 verse 14 from the New Living Translation

Think about this: Energy produces synergy; and synergy produces energy! Perhaps I should take a step back and share the definition of synergy: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Maybe I’m the only one this morning thinking about that word synergy. But YOU, think about it. Synergy is producing the energy that keeps your house with light, a/c, and such going. Think about hydroelectic energy. Water flows throw a turbine, the turbine spins against that thingy, and electricity happens. Or think about your vehicle. The gas (or diesel as the case may be) in the fuel tank is drawn up to the engine–then that computer kicks in pulling all the components together–and off you go to wherever. Remove just one part of these processes and the energy ceases to exist. What does this have to do with The Kingdom Life? Good question! Great question!!!

There is a synergy in every person; it comes from seeking and wanting life as they want it to be. That’s the point: Wanting life as they want it to be. They know they can’t get there by themselves so they seek other sources to cooperate with them to that goal. That energy forms synergy and that synergy forms more energy. When it comes to the human life and human heart, where we seek cooperation or help matters. For that source ultimately determines success or failure.

Some are seeking cooperation with the world’s value system; allowing the world to tell them what they need. It might be money, power, fame, or even sex. We see this synergy happening within my beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church. Many believe that the Bible needs to be changed–or at least how we see the Bible–so that some might achieve what they believe will give them life. Cooperating with the latest pop psychology, the latest cultural trends is what many in our leadership believes will produce that synergy and energy that will reduce decades of decline.

The synergy that will produce the energy for the life we are created for is as Paul declared in today’s passage: through Christ! The synergy is found as we cooperate with Him through The Bible and with The Holy Spirit. For this synergy to work we must cooperate with God. You see, God doesn’t cooperate with us. He works ON us; IN us; and THROUGH us–never, never does He COOPERATE WITH us. WE cooperate with HIM! HE shows us what we need to achieve real and abundant life. And it’s all found in The Bible. But we also need the Presence and the Power of The Holy Spirit! Without The Spirit we end up with the form, but it’s void of the substance.

So, if you are finding your life missing some things–maybe even void of life–then do what Paul did–develop the synergy by cooperating WITH HIM that creates the energy which in turn produces the life, the ONLY life that fills us with peace, joy, and hope. And so much more. So VERY much more.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STARS LAST NIGHT?

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

Psalm 139 verses 7-12 from the New Living Translation

Last night, as is often my habit, I went outside and looked up to see there stars. But I couldn’t see a single star! Not one, mind you! What happened? Is the apocalypse happening? Has there been a tear in the space time continuum? I tell you, there were all gone! Yes, I was sober; and yes I was outside! But not a single star. Oh, and there were no clouds anywhere; so don’t even think that it was because it was cloudy. I know this because the Weather Channel App informed me there were no clouds! So what happened to the stars that I love to watch?

Could it be where I was at that particular moment? Hmmmm. . . I wasn’t at home; I was in Huntsville, Alabama for our Tribe’s Annual Conference. The problem seeing the stars was that the lights of the city obscurred the view. They were still there and still shinning; but all the other lights made it nearly impossible to see the stars. And here’s a very human story. Sometimes we think we can’t see God, that somehow God has abandoned us. He hasn’t. It’s just our perspective. When we allow other things to override our relationship with Jesus, it “looks like” Jesus has hit the road and left us.

He hasn’t! Last night I had to remind myself that the stars were still there, even if I couldn’t see them. And God is still here with you and me–even if we can’t see Him. We cannot escape or hide from God’s presence. This is the point David is making in this Psalm. And nothing on the third rock from the Sun can get in the way of God’s presence and love for you. So remember, if you can’t see Him it doesn’t mean He ain’t there! Just be confident He is there for you even when–especially when–it seems like He’s disappeared. He hasn’t! So stay calm!

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

JUST THROW IT AWAY AND FORGET ABOUT IT!

For my fellow United Methodists, I don’t have to tell you we are nothing but The Denominational version of the Titanic. If you are a United Methodist and don’t know what I’m talking about, “SHAME ON YOU! GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE SAND!” Why? Because this problem isn’t going away. And we cannot remain true to our Wesleyan heritage as long as This Problem exists. They (meaning Progressives, or as I prefer to call them, ‘ProAgressives’) want–nay DESIRE–nay again–they are DETERMINED to throw out the Bible and our Orthodox faith like yesterday’s trash. They “know” more than what The Bible clearly says–and for more than the Saints who sought and fought to preserve the Orthodox Faith. In case you may not be familiar with the word Orthodox (because it is a big word like mahogany), perhaps these synonyms will help you understand it better.

from http://www.thesaurus.com

Three of them in particular fit the bill to understand what I mean by the Orthodox Faith: authoritative, buttoned down, and by the numbers! But. . . there are those in this Tribe I have been a part of for over 66 years who are convinced (or should I say deceived) that the tried and proven truth about sexual ethic of the Bible is. . .well. . .just plain wrong. Jesus was all about the love, they claim. And they claim that only 2 genders, male and female, are way too restrictive for people to really be who they are. So, they’ve added 72 additional gender designations. Forget the science, forget the biology, and forget Genesis chapter 2. And forget how our stance on sexuality has been unchanged since 1972. It states that all people stand equally in need of God’s grace. However, the practice of homosexuality is incompatable with Christian teachings–i.e.–the orthodox faith. Homosexuality is not any worse than any other sin–but it is outside God’s design and thus it is a sin–along with that long litany of stuff that puts all of us outside of God’s Desgin.

And now to this past week–and it shows how far my beloved Tribe has wandered. According to our approved procedures and rules, no self avowed practicing homosexual can be licensed, commissioned, nor ordained. To assure fidelity to the Bible and our procedures, we have this group called The Board Of Ordained Ministry. Some call it the BOOM or BOM for short. In the most recent session of the Florida Annual Conference, their BOOM recommended 16 candidates to be commissioned on the path to full ordination. Of the 16, two admitted that they were self-avowed practicing homosexuals–clearly in violation of The Bible and our rules. However, the Florida BOOM approved them. But they still needed 3/4 of the ordained clergy to give final approval. And the stuff hit the fire.

What Bishop Ken Carter and the Florida BOOM did was to put all 16 candidates in a single vote. As a group, vote up or down. Now, in fairness, I do not know that the other 14 candidates met the requirements. However, we do know that 2 did not! And the resulting firestorm has been aimed at the 27.3% who voted against the 16 because Bishop Carter would not allow them to vote on the candidates one by one. 27.3% voted according to their ordination vows and the Bible, and now they are the villians. So, the 27.3% who acted in the same spirit as Joshua and Caleb (see the story of the 10 spies) are treated with great disdain and anger.

And a fellow blogger joins in the disdain and anger, Rev. Jim Harnish. You can read his blog here. Jim asserts that the orthodox faith is invalid because, well because we are such more enlightened. And during the eventual commissioning and ordaining service, Bishop Ken Carter apologized to that group with these words:

“I grieve the harm you have experienced.
I am committed to the support of your callings …

I would have gladly commissioned each of you, and gladly appointed each of you …

Bishop Ken Carter

So, Bishop Carter would have gladly thrown away both the Bible and our Discipline. Whether that’s what he meant or not, this is exactly what he was saying and doing. And to my fellow Brother Jim I say that simply because you have changed your views about The Bible and our Discipline, a Discipline you promised you would faithfully follow when you were ordained, doesn’t mean you are right. I am grieved that you would allow culture to define your faith rather than allow God’s Word to Transform the culture. And thus, we see the 21st Century version of the Titanic raising her bow in preparation for sinking. I am not angry–I am sad–and I am disappointed that there are those who will abandon John Wesley’s passion to be people of “homo unius libri.” (a people of One Book!)

To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be “homo unius libri.”

John Wesley (June 17, 1706-March 2, 1791)

Footnote: Though I am saddened, maligned by others, accused of quitting and giving up–I am still praying and hopeful that this blight and disorder–this cancerous lie–can be put in it’s rightful place. Back to hell where it came from and where it belongs! Furthermore, I am confident that the Wesleyan desire for renewal and revival is not dead on this earth. The signs are everywhere. And if our leadership in the UMC doesn’t have a change of heart–it will happen with another people–NOT in the UMC!

LET’S ALL GET CONFORMED!

There’s definitely this movement (more like bowel movement) to get the masses to conform to the prevailing winds of philosophies, ideologies, and beliefs. And the thing is this (bowel) movement promises love, joy, and peace–IF we would only conform to their way of seeing and thinking. It’s all about conformity. Has anyone out there ever read George Orwell’s fictional book (it’s looking more like a prophetic book) 1984? Those who resist conformity are considered to be mean, narrow-minded, and phobic. Will conformity really solve the complex problems in our society?

Not hardly! When I was in high school we didn’t have classes on computers, but we did have Typing! In our school, it was a fight to get to the electric typewriters rather than the manual ones; and we only had a few. My point? Oh, yeah! On typewriters, and computer keyboards, you have this thing called “home keys”. It’s where the 4 fingers of each hand are to be before you start typing–it’s the same 4 keys, always! Now, this morning I am going to do an experiment and ignore where the “home keys” are and type the next sentence. Now, here’s the results:

Yjr wiovl gpc ki,[rf pbrt yjr ;sxu npe ;sxu ntpem fph.

Now, that’s really intelligible! That makes as much sense as this (bowel) movement towards conformity. Even in theological circles, the push to conform is rampant. Here’s the thing, though. Even God doesn’t want conformity. Jesus never offered nor promoted a process where we could all be conformed. To acquiesce to the prevailing winds of ideologies and beliefs goes contrary to God’s design and His desires. So, what is the alternative to being conformed? Here’s a thought:

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

2 Corinthians chapter 3 verses 17 and 18 (New Living Translation)

The Greek word used for changed is metamorphoō and it means “to change into another form, to transform”! It’s where we get our word metamophosis. It’s both radical and unique! God doesn’t want us to be conformed so that we think alike, talk alike, and act alike. He wants us to be transformed–into the image of our Creator. And there’s no way for one single human person to show the glory of God! Now, the (bowel) movement towards conformity thinks so. But they are sooooo wrong! So, my friends, RESIST CONFORMITY! And let God be God! I am confident He knows what He is doing!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! AND DON’T YOU DARE CONFORM!

HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR DECISIONS?

Making decisions is the most important decision you can ever make! But to make more than good decisions–you need to make GREAT decisions. But to make a decision you need a source that will shape and form that decision. And it needs to be a tried, tested, and proven source; unchanged by time. An ever changing source leads, always leads, to poor choices. This scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade bears it out.

For example, the Supreme Court of the United States. They are preparing to undo a flawed decision made 22 January 1973 with Roe v. Wade. The SCOTUS at that time ruled that abortion was a constitutionally guaranteed right. But there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees it. So, it is about to be overturned. Now, before my Fundamentalist friends declare that abortion is unconstitutional, that’s not what this Court is about to declare. Their decision, and a right one I might add, is that abortion is a state and legislative issue, not a constitutional issue. Bravo, SCOTUS, bravo! About time the Tenth Amendment is recognized. Enough about the SCOTUS.

Today’s culture wants to make decisions based on feelings and how they think. Forget the proven science–each decision is a matter of personal preferences and how one feels. If you feel a certain way, then you make your decisions based on that feeling or that thinking. Remember my earlier comment about having a source for making great decisions? That source needs to be anchored to an unchanging truth. Feelings are subject to change more than the weather. And about our way of “thinking”? Well, thinking is always influenced by information. Unfortunately many are using flawed and untruthful information. (Go back and watch that scene from the above and what happened to Walter Donnovan)

What about you? What is the source for your decisions? Anything that is tethered to human logic and thinking is flawed. Always flawed. Think about it. Have you ever bought something and when you got home and opened it up, you discovered that it didn’t work! Why do you think there are so many automobile repair shops?

What you need to make GREAT decisions is the most reliable and greatest source ever: The Bible! Not what people say about The Bible. But what the Bible really says. The Apostle Paul reminded young Timothy of this by writing in 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 16-17: “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.”

And when (not IF) you can’t or don’t understand The Bible, God has an app for that! It was developed by James, the biologically half-brother of Jesus and the full brother of Jesus by faith. He wrote in James chapter 5, verses 5 and 6: If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Remember the words from William the Lion, Duke of Brittany in the movie The Last Crusade: Choose Wisely! And yes, the picture is of my Go-To Bible!

THE FAMILIAR

Normally The Familiar isn’t a good thing because it keeps us from experiencing the Adventures God has for us. It denies us the wide open spaces where we uncover and discover the greatness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. It hides and denies us the truth that we can do anything through Christ who strengthens us. The wide open spaces teaches us how to hold on to God in every situation and throughout all seasons.

But. . .but sometimes we need to go back to The Familiar–the good Familiar. I’m talking about those times and places where are reassured of God’s faithfulness to us–even when–especially when–we have been unfaithful. Or maybe it’s a season of doubt where we struggle to embrace our future. Even David, the mighty King and Warrior, needed to go back from time to time to The Familiar. Psalm 23 places were essential for David. Before he became a mighty warrior and long before he became the Mighty King, David was a shepherd. And when life as a Warrior or as a King became difficult, I can easily imagine David singing this Psalm to himself–maybe even out loud.

As a shepherd in the wide open spaces, David experienced the faithfulness and provisions of His Heavenly Father. Imagines of green pastures and still streams helped him remember the Faithfulness of God. I have my places where I am reminded of God’s faithfulness to me. Sometimes all I can do is go there in my mind. And sometimes I can literally visit those places. Each time I find myself renewed and refreshed, and enabled to go forward into “my” unknown future, but a future that is known to God–and a future where I know He is right there with me. What are The Familiar places for you? Places where God’s amazing love and grace overwhelmed you? The Familiar isn’t a place made to live in–but it is the place to visit where we find the reassurance we need when the Journey becomes difficult.

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

THE GARDEN

This morning I’m a little sore. All yesterday afternoon, I worked in The Garden. Not the vegatable garden, but a new Flower Garden. Around here, we love all kinds of flowers. Debbie had been wanting one in a particular spot of our yard between and around 2 forsythias. So, I worked on preparing it. Can’t really plant any flowers just yet. Though it’s Spring, in Alabama, you never know what kind of weather we will have in March. Heat is on in the morning, and the a/c in the afternoon.

In order to have this flower garden I needed to till up the ground and get rid of the grass. It’s too small for my tractor, so I had to use the good old fashioned tiller, garden rake, wheel barrow, shovel, and a lot of scooping up and bending over. Thus the sore muscles and aching bones this morning. And I’m excited for what lies ahead. Sure, we can’t eat what will grow there–but we can still enjoy them. And not just us, but others who notice it as they travel down Alabama Highway 18. And–have you ever heard the expression, “Take time to smell the roses.”? What’s the purpose of my musings about a flower garden? Glad you asked!

We live in a time when the simple things of life are both ignored and neglected. So many times we are obsessed with what we want, what we think we need, that we fail to enjoy life. And agendas seem to be drive by what’s next. Sometimes what we need most of all is to stop and take it all in. Perhaps this is why David wrote in Psalm 23 this verse: “He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams.” It is so important for our emotional, mental, relational, and physical health and well-being that we stop and take in the beauty that does exist in this world. Yes, feed the belly–but also make sure you feed your heart and mind with the beauty of God. Yes, there is beauty to be seen in this broken world, and you never know where it will be. I know some of it will be seen along Alabama Highway 18. Right now in our newest flower garden there’s only brown dirt and a couple of forsythias, but more is coming.

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

BIGGER OR SMALLER?

Once upon a time, at a tractor dealership, there were two tractors–Billy and Franklin. They couldn’t possibly be any more different. Billy was a used Kubota L180 and Franklin was a brand new, shiny John Deere 8345R. It was truly a Mutt and Jeff kind of difference. Franklin’s paint was green and pristine–not a scratch or dent anywhere. But Billy, well his orange pain was faded from decades of use. And their sizes? Just one of Franklin’s tires was taller than Billy.

Everyday Franklin would tease and torment Billy because of his small size. Franklin would say things like, “You only have 17 horsepower, but I, I have 345 of them bad boys! I have 4 wheel drive and you–you’re just a pitiful 2 wheel drive! I can do 1000 times more work than you! I can work 100 acres in less time that you could do just 2 acres! Look how clean my lines are–and just look at your faded paint and those scratches. I have a cab with an air conditioner for the summer and a heater for the winter to keep my owner comfortable! You don’t have a cab–and if anyone DID buy you, they would be forced to endure the heat and cold! Who in the world would want you?” Well, Billy just couldn’t help himself–next to Franklin he was indeed small and he believed he was useless. No one would want him.

One day a customer walked across the lot and was checking out Franklin. Franklin whispered to Billy, “See! I told you no one would want you.” The salesperson and the man talked a while and Franklin was so proud. The customer climbed up into that awesome cab and fired him up. The roar of power was something else! He gave that look of gloat in Billy’s direction. But to Billy’s surprise another man walked up to him, checking him out carefully. Billy thought, “He doesn’t want ME!” The customer climbed up on his seat and Billy also fired right up–but he didn’t sound anything like Franklin!

After the sound of their engines ended, Billy heard the man look at Franklin and say, “Oh, yes! I’ll take it!” Franklin had a smile as big as the Big Dipper as he looked at Billy. Billy was even sadder than before, though he was glad he wouldn’t have to hear Franklin’s boasting anymore. And he almost missed hearing the man looking at him say, “This is perfect and exactly what I’m looking for and need! I’ll take it!” Billy was confused; “How could I be perfect when Franklin, well, Franklin is everything I’m not?”

Customers and salespersons headed for the office. In just a short while, the man who said he wanted Billy came out with a smile bigger than Franklin’s. Franklin said, “I bet he’s changed his mind and wants a tractor like me!” As the man got closer, he saw he had some papers in his hand and said, “OK, let’s go home!” The other man was still busy filling out paperwork and arranging financing. Billy’s new owner climbed onto the seat, fired up his engine loaded Billy onto his trailer and went to Billy’s new home.

The man soon begin to put Billy to work, preparing a garden. Franklin eventually made it to his new home and began preparing the man’s crops. As Billy worked, he thought, “You know, I’m not doing near as much ground as Franklin. How can I be useful?” Harvest time came, and the ground Billy worked, though small in comparison to Franklin’s gound, did look good and bountiful. His owner gathered in those vegatables, and those vegatables fed his owner’s family, and even had enough to share with others who didn’t have any! He watched as people gratefully accept what Billy had helped to grow.

Now when Franklin’s crops came in, it took big trucks, lots of big trucks to haul off all he had helped produce. Those crops went to places where they were processed and prepared for people to buy. Franklin was very contented knowing he had produced far more in that one season than Billy could produce in years. But Billy–well, he was thankful that he had a part in helping some people enjoy fresh vegatables, and even enough to put up for later. Billy knew it wasn’t as much as Franklin’s harvest–but his little harvest meant a lot to those who enjoyed the fruits of his labors.

And the Moral Of Today’s Story is this: Our contributions to the Kingdom may not be as big and impressive as those in the limelight–but they are important, very important, to those who benefit from our contribution!

WHAT NOW?

Ever noticed what comes up when you start to make a post on Facebook?? It’s “What’s On Your Mind”. What’s on my mind this morning is a mish-mash of a lot of stuff. If I had a hot tub, that’s exactly where I would be this morning. But I don’t have one so I settled on an “as hot as I could stand it” tub bath. And it was there I regained some of my missing perspective. And I owe it all to Joel White. I know, how weird is that?

You have to know Joel. He’s my brother from my other set of parents. Joel teaches math–so he’s all about the details. Furthermore, Joel has a very weak filter when to comes to thinking before he speaks. For Joel, thinking and talking are synonymous terms. Yesterday Joel gave me some sound advice filled with wisdom–even stranger, right?! (Just kidding Joel!) Joel told me to NOT think down the road; simply live and accept each moment as it happens.

This morning I woke up thinking ahead–too far ahead–of what needs to be done. So, I’m doing what Joel told me–and it has given back to me what I needed most in this moment–perspective. I’ve remembered all your words of care, compassion, and encouragement. Last night I got a call from a cousin that I haven’t talked to in years. A friend of Daddy’s, another pastor–Ray Lathem–also called last night. I’ve tried to read all of the tributes to Dad on Facebook. All of this put together has helped me focus on Dad’s legacy–and it’s a great one!

So starting this morning–I will live in each moment, one at a time, as they happen. But unlike some of my promises in the past that I broke–this promise I must keep–I WANT to keep. So pray for me that I maintain this course, as Dad taught me by his example. The dam holding back my emotions hasn’t broken–yet–but it’s cracked–and I know what’s coming. But I have Dad’s legacy–your prayers–and The Father’s love, the promises of Jesus, and the strength of the Holy Spirit. These will get me through–of this I am confident.

ARE YOU DRIVING WITH YOUR EYES OPEN, OR CLOSED?

Do you drive with your eyes open or closed? I’ve seen people drive like their eyes were closed–but I’m talking about driving all the time with eyes that are closed. The newest vehicles will now help you drive–they will sound warnings if you get out of your lane. They will even apply the brakes for you if you don’t. You can just “point and go” when you get in vehicles so equipped. Me? I’m not ready to trust my life to an onboard computer. Over the years I’ve had too many personal computers crash to trust them to be my chauffeur.

What’s my point this morning? My point is this–if you won’t drive with your eyes closed, then why try to navigate life with eyes that are closed–closed to God? The Spirit and I were just sitting and talking on the front porch bench. I started to pray about the churches He has given to me to pastor in the light of what I wrote yesterday (click here to read that post). Then the Spirit nudged me in the ribs, and asked, “Why are your eyes closed while you’re praying? You gotta’ see it and you can’t if you’re eyes are closed!”

Now, I’m not preaching against praying with your eyes closed. What the Spirit was trying to teach me (and you) is that we must be open to what God is desiring to do. Elisha saw the same danger that his servant saw–but Elisha saw more. This morning I needed my eyes open in order to see all that I was praying for. Know what? It worked! Don’t drive with your eyes closed–PLEASE DON’T! And don’t drive your vehicle AS IF your eyes were closed. Pay attention to your surroundings! You can’t if your eyes are closed. Open them! Open your eyes as you pray. Open them as you intercede for people and our culture! And you can begin to see what God is doing!

It’s A Whiteboard Kind Of Day!

Here’s my thought for today: This Is A Whiteboard Kind Of Day! Truthfully, I first thought about A Blackboard Kind Of Day. People my age know what a blackboard is, but if you’re younger you may not understand the analogy. So, I changed it to an image any younger than me reader can comprehend: A Whiteboard Day!

Every morning I listen to my music–and as I listen–I seek to hear the Holy Spirit in order to know what to write today. I admit it! Sometimes it’s hard to find something to write that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Those days I simply want to NOT write a thing. But God gave me this gift–and a couple of times (maybe more than a couple of times) I made a promise to you readers not to ever stop writing. This morning my mind was blank. And no comments from the peanut gallery, please!

Then this single word hit me: Blackboard–which I quickly changed to Whiteboard. Today is a brand new day. Nothing has happened YET. And it is up to me–and to you–what we will do and how we will respond to the other things that happen to us. We are free to make of this Day whatever we want it to be. Today is a brand new Whiteboard Day and we have the markers to imprint on it whatever our heart desires. It can be a Great Day or it can become a Miserable Day. It all depends on what we put on This Day. And regardless of what this Day throws in our paths, we are free to leave Our Mark on this day.

It depends on what you desire to achieve in This Whiteboard Day. There are more options than you can shake a stick at. Some marks are not so good. Some marks are even worse than not so good–they are mediocre marks. Today my guide for the marks I will leave on this Whiteboard Day is being formed by one verse from the Bible:

But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Micah 6:8 (The Message)

Here’s the Song that solidified my thought for today:

Looking For. . .

Tell me. Tell me the honest truth. More importantly, tell yourself the honest truth. What exactly am I asking you to be honest about? What are you looking for? You see, we are all looking for something–every day–every hour–every minute–every second. Granted, we may forget what we are looking for at a particular moment (I do this more frequently than I like!), nonetheless, we humans are always looking for something.

It may be the keys to our car; an ink pen; the scissors; a tool; and the worst one of all–OUR CELL PHONE! We not only look for things that someone else moved from where we put it–by our nature–we are inquisitive beings. From our birth–our eyes are probing the environment around us. Not only our eyes–but our minds are inquisitorial. And it’s a good thing our eyes are inquisitive–otherwise, we can’t find what someone else moved from where we put it down. But the mind–that’s where we can get into a whole heap of trouble, as we say down here in the South.

And it’s that inquisitorial mind that I am speaking into today. Have you ever heard the expression, “Your mind can play tricks on you!”? It’s true. But sometimes…sometimes we see exactly what we are looking for! If you are looking for something to complain about–you will find it! If you are looking for something to be angry about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something to be sad about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something that will offend you–guess what? YOU WILL FIND IT! It’s become a contagion in our culture and an infestation to the mind–looking for things that disrupt–disrupts our peace, our relationships, our attitudes, and our spirit.

When are looking for the wrong things it takes away the joy of this inquisitive nature that God placed within us. It’s a deplorable misuse of a very good gift. The inquisitive mind has done great things–eliminated some diseases–created treatments for others–solved engineering problems–and so much more. But the misuse of our inquisitive nature has also made us suspicious–doubtful–resentful–and bitter. It causes us to say hurtful things. And even worse–it makes us see things that just aren’t there. You do know the classical definition of insanity, don’t you? It’s doing the same things over and over and over and over while expecting different results!

May I suggest looking for something different? Let’s go back–back to the beginning when we were first created in the image of God. Let’s once again become inquisitive about the wonders and beauty of creation–and the mysteries of God. Let’s start looking for God in places, situations, and people–even the most unlikely of people and places you might expect to see Him. After all–He was found in a feed trough just outside of Bethlehem. And a few years later, He was found just outside Jerusalem–dying on a cruel Roman Cross. And He freely did this just so we would begin looking for Him! So I ask you again: What Are You Looking For?

When We Need To Slow Down!

I am nearly always up long before the sun. Sometimes it’s the alarm clock; most of the time I just wake up. I reckon it’s part of growing older; at least that’s what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. I do it because I both need and want some quiet time with God. Even this early in the morning, there is some traffic on Alabama Highway 18. I suppose it’s people on their way to work.

Most mornings the vast majority of the drivers are in a hurry, exceeding the posted speed limit. Highway 18 is a two lane road. And the battle is between those who observe the posted limit and those who think they are in a NASCAR race. This morning it’s foggy–really foggy. An advisory has been issued. And between songs and talking with Papa, I noticed this: Most vehicles were driving slower because of this fog. But then–some were driving like the visibility was unlimited–even though it was severely limited. And it got me to thinking. I know, it doesn’t take much for me.

Here’s what I was thinking: It’s dangerous to keep moving at the same speed when we can’t see clearly what’s ahead. I’m not just talking about cars–though around here, deer have a tendency to be moving at this time of morning–and if a car hits a deer, the outcome isn’t good for either. No, I’m talking about life!

Fog isn’t just a meteorological phenomenon; it happens in Life; and sometimes it happens frequently. There are events that happen that hit us hard–so hard that the visibility of what is ahead is limited. And some people, like some cars I witnessed this morning–keep driving fast as if everything will be OK. And when it happens in Life, the results can spell disaster.

So what should we do when the road ahead cannot be clearly seen? Slow down–both our cars and our lives. And to remember, that when we can’t clearly see what’s ahead–our Heavenly Father sees with clarity. All we need to do is heed the advice of David:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.

Psalm 42:1 (NLT)

One of the meanings of the Hebrew word translated “waited patiently” is “to wait for, linger for”. Indeed, Life often moves at a fast pace, but it doesn’t mean we have to move at that pace. Linger for a moment, and God will hear your cry. It’s safer for you–and everybody else.

Emptiness, Frivolousness, Measliness, Paltriness, and Triviality

I chuckle a bit when looking at the above image. One would have to be an electrician or electrical engineer to get it–I’m neither, but I get it. It’s the symbol for resistance. So, it means Resistance Is Futile! And in case you were wondering about the title of today’s musings–they are synonyms for Futility! Today’s culture has many issues; even more problems. Among those is Futility; more accurately–the failure to recognize Futility.

Allow me to share what a certain author once wrote. This particular author had the means to do anything he wanted–without anyone telling him he couldn’t. Ever imagine winning the biggest lottery and what all you would do? This author lived his life doing anything and everything he wanted. And after the fact–he writes with brutal honesty about that experience. Here is what he had to say:

“Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless!  What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes.  The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again.  The wind blows south, and then turns north.  Around and around it goes, blowing in circles.  Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description.  No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.  History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before.  Nothing under the sun is truly new.  Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!”  But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.  We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” A few lines later, he adds this: “But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.”

Do these words sound like a cynic? Do these words sound like what is in your own heart, but you are either too stubborn to admit it; or too afraid? Our culture is that proverbial hamster on a wheel. Running as fast and as hard as we can, spinning that wheel, but going and getting nowhere. People try and try to make their own way work. They live by the opinions of others. They live by their feelings. And they live by their own sincere beliefs–be they ever so ineffective. No wonder there is so much hate, frustration, anger, distrust, resentment, and yes–Futility.

It’s going to take more than getting the hamster off the proverbial wheel. When the hamster gets off that wheel, he’s still in a cage–imprisoned. So he gets right back on that wheel hoping it will free him from his prison. So he runs a little faster; tries a little longer; hopes a little more. And when he finally gets too tired to run anymore, he’s still in that cage. Rest a moment, then try again. Rest again. Try again. Listen again to the thoughts of the aforementioned author: The wind blows south, and then turns north.  Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. And the resulting sensation after all this? Try these words on for size: Everything is wearisome beyond description.

If you listen very carefully you will hear that Sigh Of Futility when we writes: Everything is wearisome beyond description.  No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.  History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before.  Nothing under the sun is truly new. Is that how the world looks to you? Is that how you feel about your life? Sounds like he wrote this just this morning.

Oh, would you like to know the name of this book and the author? Get your pen and paper; write it down so you can get on Amazon and order the correct book. Here it is: Ecclesiastes is the book and the author is King Solomon. And to think, some believe the Bible isn’t relevant for what we are face any and every day. Granted, this all sounds like doom and gloom–because it is. Without understand the Key to what he writes, it seems like we should all give up and live in loud desperation.

I am thankful to Chuck Swindoll for helping me see and understand exactly what Solomon is writing about. I give credit where the credit is due. The key phrase that makes sense of all this Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless” wretchedness is this repeated phrase: UNDER THE SUN! It comes from living a life completely detached from God–the God revealed in the Bible through The SON.

Life without surrendering to God always feels like, using Solomon’s image, we are chasing the wind. Chasing the wind only gets us winded–and gives us that tsunami of Futility. The Futility of life without The SON isn’t God punishing us for ignoring Him. It’s the reality of life without the Lordship of Jesus over us–how we think, what we say, and what we do. It one of those moments of true cause and effect. Until we quit living under the sun and start living under the SON we will be plagued by Emptiness, Frivolousness, Measliness, Paltriness, and Triviality–which means Futility!

And if you doubt this Wise Man’s opening remarks, then listen to this: “We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us.  And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Futility ends when we kneel at the Cross and surrender everything under the sun and begin living life under the Kind Rule of The Son!