Nine people got saved last night

Last night our church served and provided food for people Jesus loves at the Union Rescue Mission. I love taking good food.  Last night it was turkey, gravy, biscuits, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and desserts.  I was also privileged to give them some good food in the way of encouragement through the Good News of Jesus at the Mission chapel service.

First, let me clarify that nine people did not get saved at the mission last night.  The blog title is from a tweet I saw from a pastor yesterday about nine people getting saved at the revival he preached (I assume from the tweet that he preached) the night before.  Why did he tweet that?  Was it to allow the rest of us to celebrate nine more souls saved from hell or was it pride?  His tweet seemed self serving.

The longer I am in the ministry, the more I become aware that ministry success and doing the Lord’s work, as a pastor or as a general follower, is a two edged sword.  On the one side of the blade, I brag on Jesus and what He has done and is doing.  Yet on the other side, the enemy can so quickly turn it to pride.

Last night I was testifying to someone in the kitchen of the mission about how God had been training me all my life to reach people for His glory through food.  It seemed like the right thing to share at the right time.  I was certainly not bragging that I had been in the food business half my life.

Yet there are other times I share things and afterwards I wonder if I shared that for God’s glory or for mine.  I hope it is like everything else in my walk with Jesus.  I constantly feel this tension.  For example, I am saved completely by His grace, yet I always feel like I am going to have a lot to answer for in my life.  As long as I have this awareness and tension inside of me and am always examining myself, I guess that is a good thing.  Now, am I bragging about this tension within me?

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith…
                                                            ~ 2 Corinthians 13:5

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Discarding the shell – A new life in Christ

This morning walking over to the church I saw the remains of an egg from which a bird has surely hatched.  As soon as I saw it I knew that God had something of which to remind/teach you and me.  Last night at our Wednesday night church I talked about “Awakened Souls”, using the Road to Emmaus from Luke 24:13-35.  This is a continuation of the theme of awakened souls.

In the Bible, anyone who had an experience with Jesus had two choices.  They could become His follower and find their soul awakened or they could turn him down and remain the same person they were, sleepwalking through life.  It’s pretty much still the same two choices.  When we become His follower it does not mean we go with Him.  It means He goes with us.  And we become a new creation.  And then, if we have truly chosen to become His follower, He will help us understand the Bible and help us live a life for Him.

We need to take that bird’s cue.  That bird has discarded the egg.  The bird is never going to crawl back in it.  As a matter of fact, that bird grows so quickly that in a couple of weeks it would look pretty foolish attempting to get back in that egg shell.  Perhaps the reason so many Christians revert to the flesh and their old selves (or never really leave it) is because they are not outgrowing their shell, making it too tempting and easy to crawl back in it.  And if they (you) are not growing in Christ, it would seem they have to ask themselves if they fooled themselves into believing they chose to follow, but they really turned Him down and chose to remain the same person they were.

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ESPN forgot they were entertainment

I read today that ESPN is going to release 100 “on-air talents”.  ESPN believes the primary reason their viewership is decreasing is because people are getting rid of their cable.  That is certainly part of it, but only a part.  I still have cable.  ESPN used to be my go to channel, but I rarely watch ESPN any more.  I quit watching because, in my opinion, they forgot their purpose which was sports entertainment.  And what I mean is that I felt like too much of the “on-air talent” was pushing or supporting an agenda.  And you may disagree.  I’m just saying that I do not need to tune in to sports programming for my moral guidelines or instruction.  However, I see more and more of our society looking in all the wrong places for moral instruction.  Even much of the church is taking the bait.

I listened to a sermon from John MacArthur today and he said that publishers have told him that Bible Study book sales have plummeted even as the sale of Christian fiction and Christian entertainment books have skyrocketed.  There is a void in Biblical literacy and teaching in our society.  We have a Bible Study group on Wednesday nights after our dinner and devotion and the same dedicated 8-10 people show up.  The rest of us go home to watch television.

I know this is a little convicting and a harsh way to get to the point I’m trying to make today, but it is what God gave me.  He wants us to read more from His word and from His teaching and place less significance on the opinions we hear on Fox News, MSNBC, or ESPN.

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Speaking God’s Word in love

In 1,300 blog posts over 7 years, I have written about homosexuality less than 10 times.  I wrote about it when our government approved gay marriage.  I wrote about it when Burger King rolled out the Gay Pride Whopper.  It is not a cause I lobby against, but one I address on occasion when it is in the news.  This week it is going to be in the news, especially in the United Methodist Church.

There’s a lot going on regarding homosexuality in the United Methodist Church this week.  Half the denomination in the USA is praying one way and half is praying the opposite.  The UMC equivalent of the US Supreme Court is convening this week to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the election of a gay bishop in the more liberal, western United States.  Aside from that, the council of bishops has called a special meeting of the worldwide UMC (known as General Conference) in 2019 to focus solely on the issue of homosexuality.  The worldwide UMC includes the explosive growth of the UMC in Africa, which is basically keeping the USA from approving gay marriage and preachers and bishops in the UMC.  And finally, there has been and continues to be a small group appointed to meet (and our own WV Bishop is on this committee) to try and find a way to keep the orthodox part (those who hold to historic Bible teaching) and the progressive/liberal part of the church from splitting (this is the perception, even though the leadership would probably say they are trying to find a way to keep the entirety of the UMC working together).  And I have tried to lay out facts in the preceding paragraph, even though it’s difficult not to let my point of view show through.

I’ve paraphrased part of the next line from Richard B. Hays and added my orthodox spin:

In the midst of a culture that worships self-gratification and a church that preaches a false Jesus who panders to our desires, there is still a call for the few who will hear and follow the narrow way.

I’ve been to a few meetings about the drug epidemic in our area.  In every meeting they stress that the people hooked on drugs are not bad people.  They have a sickness.  They need help.  We must not hate on them, but we love them even as we despise the drugs that have an evil hold on them.  What kind of love condones the use of drugs?  What kind of love encourages people to destroy themselves?  The truth is we love the person and hate what they are doing.  No sane person would argue that we are “Opiophobes” because we want to see the people quit destroying their lives with drugs.  On the other hand, there are some people who say people should receive Narcan (the life saving drug) a limited number of times and then we should just let people die.  People who feel that way are in the minority and they are not showing love.

This is the best way I can describe how I Biblically approach the homosexual issue.  I see myself as a rational, loving pastor whose job it is to tell people of the call to turn from their sin, receive forgiveness, and follow Jesus.  Of course, you can still follow Jesus while you are sinning.  The reality is all who follow Him do so imperfectly.  So sin does not preclude you from following Him.  The problem is when we twist the truth into a lie and call sin good.  That is not loving, even if a lie is what people want to hear.  But we must speak God’s Word from an attitude of love.  People who are mean to people who are caught up in the sin of homosexuality are no better than those who want to let people die from a drug overdose.  They do not realize that their sin of hate is on display as well.

…he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it was taught, so that by sound teaching he will be able to encourage others and refute those who contradict this message.~ Titus 1:9

(These are my thoughts and opinions and in no way reflect the position of any agency, conference, or congregation of the United Methodist Church. These words, thoughts, and opinions are my own as I understand the Word of God at the time I write them.)

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When you realize you have idols

Over the weekend I took the Emergency Vehicle driving class that took place at Frankfort High School, about a half mile from where we live.  In October I joined the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company so I could drive the ambulance when there was nobody else to drive it.  I picked up a donut yesterday morning thinking it was white cream filled and it turns out it was “pudding” filled.  It was not as if I could throw it away, but it was not worth the calories.  I was stuck eating it.  I am not particularly fond of custard filled donuts.  I love, love white icing cream filled ones.  Do you ever poke the chocolates in a box of chocolates?  Then you are the type who feel my pain over the donut.

Because I was taking the class, I presented my sermon yesterday on video.  When I did the video on Friday, I had been told by people who were told by people that I would be able to be in church on Sunday.  I did the video as a backup plan and it turns out I had to be at the school and could not be in church, so the video was shown.  I am not sure how it went over.  I know that people were expecting me to be here and I was not.  Some probably felt like I felt with the donut.  I remember one time a group of us were on a mission trip in Dallas.  We went to the Village Church in Flower Mound, TX to hear pastor Matt Chandler preach in person and he was not feeling well so they showed a video from a sermon the day before.  We had even checked to see if he was going to be there for that service and they said yes.  I was really disappointed.  Then I realized I had made Matt Chandler an idol.  I hope nobody felt that way yesterday listening to my sermon on video.  I do not often speak about idols in the church, but we all have them.  For some, it is the same seat.  For some it is the style of worship. For some it is the music.  And sadly, for many it is the pastor.  I am guilty of it, too.  A conference in Cumberland? Who is going to be there? Francis Chan? I’m in.  A guy I have never heard of from a small church in Cumberland?  I will be too tired that evening.

Today is just a friendly reminder to all of us that we all need to be careful about who or what we worship.  Whatever you do, do not schlep this off believing you do not have any idols.  We all do.  We have to be careful we do not place them above Jesus.

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Something worth protecting

There is a robin who has had a nest on top of the light at the front of the church for the last few years, raising her family there.  I put a picture of her eggs on social media a week or so ago.  Yesterday I found out the eggs have hatched.  There are fuzzy babies, eyes yet to open, in the nest.  Where before, the mother would fly away and watch from a nearby tree when I walked on the front porch, now she is a “helicopter parent”.  The nest is high enough that I have to hold my phone over my head to get a picture and see in the nest.  Yesterday when I did that, the mother came over hear me squawking in an attempt to drive me away from the nest.  When she had the eggs, they were valuable, but not valuable enough to die for.  Now that they have hatched, she knows how truly precious her possessions truly are.

I think the Bible teaches that most people who consider themselves Christians are going to be the kind of Christians with the unhatched eggs in the nest.  It’s worth something to them, but not valuable enough that they would make any kind of great sacrifice for it.  In 1 & 2 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy over and over to hold on to his faith and stick to the Truth.  He warns that people claiming to be followers of Jesus were going to teach false things.  And it is surely happening.  And it’s all manufactured by God’s enemy.  One of the greatest misconceptions in our country is giving people a false sense of assurance that they are living a good life and God loves them for it.  They are like the robin who has the eggs.  They do not yet have the faith and devotion to God, because they do not see what could be if they could only bring themselves to trust in Jesus.  On the other hand, people who have confessed their sin, are saved by the blood of Christ on Calvary, and have received the promise of the resurrection, they are like the robin with the babies who now understand what they have and they give it everything they have including all that they are.  Are you the kind of “Christian” with the eggs or with the babies?

What if only one of them is truly a Christian and the other is the Lukewarm imposters John speaks of in Revelation 3?

…you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth! You say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.…

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The deal you get when you follow Jesus

I am a bargain shopper.  I always get the sale items, use coupons, and so on.  Yesterday I went to a local grocery store to pick up a few things.  There was a buy one get one free deal on one of the items.  I also got 50 cents off per item when you purchase 6 items from one sale, meaning I got $3 off.  I also had a couple of $1 off coupons.  When I go to the store nowadays, I find it nearly impossible to look at the cash register ringing things up and know if I’m getting the deal they advertise.  It is no easier when I look at the receipt.  Sometimes I look through my cart and figure out what the total should be and then when they tell me the total, I know if it all rang up correctly and I got the deals I expected.

One time at Martin’s Food Market I had forty packs of 500 count napkins in two carts.  They were on clearance.  When I got to the register only some of them were ringing up right.  I had made a mistake.  We finally figured out that the plain white ones were the regular price.  It was only the ones that had a printed design on them that were on clearance.  So I put the white ones back.  Sometimes we act as if dealing with God is like trying to get the deals at the local market.  Sometimes we do not get the deal we thought we were getting.  You might say we question if things are “ringing up right” with God.

There is a missionary from West Virginia, Marilyn Uhl, in Africa right now from our WV Annual Conference of the UMC, who is very sick.  She is a 60 something woman who sold everything a few years ago and moved to Kenya to start a school.  She has been diagnosed with both Malaria and Brucellosis.  What kind of deal is that?  She needs your prayers.

One of my best friends in the ministry, Tom Beckette just lost his 61 year old wife to cancer.  He’s been serving a church in Logan, WV, doing community dinners to feed the homeless, started a chaplaincy program at the local hospital, was instrumental in opening homes to help people get off drugs, and so much more.  And He loses his wife and ministry partner.  What kind of deal is that, God?  Something did not ring up right.

Medina Tucker, one of our good friends from back in Mason, just lost a brother.  Her mother is very sick.  Her husband lost his job with the power plant a couple of years ago.  She loves Jesus with all her heart and she is and has been going through more than anyone can bear.  That is not the deal we expect when we follow Jesus.

“Look!” Peter replied (to Jesus). “We have left everything and followed you. So what will we get?” ~ Matthew 19:27

Here is the difficult truth.  There is no promise of comfort, wealth, or health when you give your life to Jesus.  The deal is not a fairy tale, “happily ever after” in this life.  When you sign up to follow Jesus, you get Jesus.  He does not keep you from the pain of this life.  He walks with you through the pain of this life.  And He uses the pain of this life to make you more than what you were.  He makes you more like Him.  And that is the deal.  And what a deal it is.  It is the deal of this lifetime, and the next eternal lifetime.

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