Blank receipts

I often put receipts in my wallet. Sometimes I need them, such as for my reimbursement account from the church. Sometimes I do not need them, but they have a $5 Dollar General coupon attached to them, lol. I was recently cleaning out receipts from my wallet. It had been a long time since I had done so.

The problem with receipts in this society is that they are printed on heat sensitive paper. There was a day when we would get ink receipts that would last for decades. Such is not the case today. I had a receipt that had been in my wallet long enough that it just appeared to be blank paper. I know when I put it in there that it was not blank.

When I thought about that, I thought about how God sees my sins. I know what I have done. In Psalm 51:3 King David said, “My sin is ever before me.” The memories of my sin are not taken away from my recollection. Earthly consequences also do not disappear. However, when I ask God to forgive me through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I am made right with God and my record is expunged… or wiped clean, much as this receipt is now clean.

The Apostle Paul says after we are forgiven we should not use God’s grace as an excuse to keep doing the things that offend God (Romans 6:1-2). Do we often do these things? Obviously. Paul admitted as much when he admits he sometimes keeps doing things he does not want to do. (Romans7:15) But we can take solace in the fact that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and seek to follow Him and His teaching, our record with Him is wiped clean. Praise God.

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Enjoy helping and learning

Yesterday Short Gap VFC EMS Chief Lauren Trenter Simpson was on the county chase car and came to help us out on a call that required a paramedic. On the trip home I was driving and she was riding shotgun. She was telling me about some advice she gave to one of the new people at the fire department. She said, “Just enjoy helping out the community and the department by running 911 calls, and learn what you can learn.” I do not know the circumstances under which she gave that advice, but it is great advice. In the 10 years I have been involved, first as the chaplain, then as a chaplain/driver, and finally as an EMT/driver, I have literally seen dozens of people come and go. Lauren is one of the few that were there before I go there and will undoubtedly be there when I am gone. Her advice is great advice for every person, new or old. My experience has shown me that most people are only there for a short spell… a short season. Trust me, you can learn a lot from the people there. It has a highly skilled, highly experienced core with all the tools needed to be a volunteer EMS company that would rival the best of them.

It is not just good advice for new and old people at the station. It is good advice as a follower of Jesus Christ when connected to a church that proclaims the whole truth of the Gospel. The Short Gap station is to EMS what a historic Christian church is to the Christian faith – a good place to learn and work out your faith. The whole truth of the Gospel is that Christ died for your sins and if you confess and repent, you will be saved. And if you deny yourself and pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus, you will know you ARE saved. When a Believer is connected to a church like that, that Believer can help out the community and the church and learn to be an obedient follower of Jesus by being around other like minded followers of Christ. A “big tent” church where many varied theologies are welcome is not any different than an EMS station that believes there are no hard, fast, rules when it comes to EMS care – where everyone can do what they want. I am happy to be in both a department and a church that qualify. In this season, I will help, and grow, and have joy.

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And God made a helper

My wife Diane likes to tell people that you need to pray specific prayers, not just generalized prayers. She will tell them that when I was a wanderer with no relationship with Jesus, she was praying for me to become the spiritual leader she knew God desired me to be. She will then laugh and say, “I meant of the home, but I was not specific and God went and made him a pastor.” It is amazing what God has done in and through my life. It is nothing short of a miracle.

But today, on Diane’s birthday (as much as this post will be difficult for her – I mean it is difficult to read and hear kind things about yourself) I want to give a shout out to God for the partner He has given me to make the ministry possible. Artificial Intelligence puts it this way:

God created man from the dust of the ground and gave him life by the direct breath of God (Genesis 1:7), but He knew that His creation of one solitary man was incomplete due to the animals being unable to provide companionship and help on his level (Genesis 2:19-20). Therefore, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18).

I am blessed to have a “job” where I make a living serving God. But the truth often comes out when our advocates in the church are arguing for a yearly raise, “We’re getting two for the price of one”.

We would normally be at the beach this week for her birthday, but she is doing what she does. Serving the Lord by shining her light, and boy howdy, does she shine. Anyone who is my Facebook friend knows she is helping out her friend Jenna as a server at The Corner Bistro in Fort Ashby. Jenna’s other daytime server is out of town this week, so Diane stayed in the area to help her friend. I do not say this to bring glory to Diane or make Jenna feel bad that Diane is not at the beach. I say this to bring glory to God as I point out that all she does is try to live a life worthy of her calling as a redeemed child of the King. She lives out her life not only as my “helper” (partner), but as a compassionate and selfless child of God spreading His love everywhere she goes. I know many of you, like me, are grateful to God that He thought it was a good idea for her to be born. Today, I say to her, Happy Birthday. And thank You God for this helper, not just for me, but a helper to all of those she comes in contact with.

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The purpose of the church

Last night Diane and I took advantage of the beautiful evening by walking three miles around the church parking lot. Not only is our time spent walking good for exercise, but it is also a good time to talk and reflect. One of the things I mentioned last night was the freedom I have to proclaim the truth and grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not need to look at public polls and attitudes when it comes to proclaiming the grace and truth of God’s word. On the contrary, the Bible clearly tells us that anyone who preaches God’s word must not be swayed by public opinion.

I read an opinion piece today in which someone from Wisconsin argued that churches must adapt their beliefs if they are to survive in this society… that “the long term health of the church” requires the church to be accommodating to the ways of the world in order to attract the younger generation. The problem in the opinion piece begins by assuming survival is the goal of the church. Then it compounds the problem by stating that compromise is the key to achieving survival.

The purpose of the church is to see people brought from death to life, from rebellion toward God to a child of God, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Whatever so-called “successes” the church has in any measurable means, including finances or attendance, matters not if people remain dead in their sin and trespasses. The church offers nothing useful to humanity if it rubber stamps the ways of the world and does not offer people the choice to be saved from their sin. Any church that is affirming the opinions of a lost world is itself lost.

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Can we do this again next Wednesday?

Something happened in me as soon as the Asbury revival took off on February 8th. I heard about it right away through some social media pastor friends. I do not know how to explain it. I never felt a pull to go there, but God sent a breeze to set ablaze the smoldering embers of my spirit. And as I was reminded in my chapter from Encounter with Spurgeon this morning, that means everything to the congregation. Spurgeon points our the obvious: the people of God are not awakened by the preaching of sleeping pastors. I always think about Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire when he he says

“I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God showing Himself mightily on our behalf. Carol and I didn’t want merely to mark time. I cried out for God to change everything – me, the church, our passion for people, our praying. One day I told the Lord that I would rather die than merely tread water throughout my career in the ministry… always preaching about the power of the Word and the Spirit, but never seeing it. I abhorred the thought of just having more church services. I hungered for God to break through in our lives and our ministry.”

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire p. 22-23

I am not saying that I have not witnessed God’s mercies and miracles in my life. I have. But I know what God is capable of, and it is so much more than what I have witnessed thus far. For the last several years I have longed for more and feel like I have gotten less. Yet, I know the wilderness is not for naught.

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the easy thing for me, the thing I have done the last few years, was to have an hour in which people can come and go as they please to receive an imparting of ashes on their forehead. “Remember from dust you came and to dust you shall return”. But this year, because of the Asbury revival and the fresh wind and fresh fire in my innermost being, I knew we had to have worship. And we did. It was informal and I had no idea what I was going to say going into it. And God moved… so mush so that toward the end someone asked, “Can we do this again next Wednesday?” I didn’t even know what she meant. I asked, “What do you mean?” And affirmation came when someone else responded, “Can we gather for worship again next Wednesday.?” My first thought was “I don’t need another thing to do.” But I felt like I had to say OK, which I did. My next thought was, God is willing to break through if we will have Him do so. So not only did I say yes to next Wednesday, but for the next six Wednesdays through Lent. And perhaps that will be something we do for the season of Lent. Maybe it will start something we do every Lenten season. Or perhaps God has bigger plans. Time will tell if perhaps God is going to change everything.

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Heaven’s Overflow

There is a revival taking place in Wilmore, Kentucky. When church people hear this, we typically think about how churches schedule revivals. They bring in special speakers, schedule special music, set the location, and all the rest. Once all the details are worked out, they advertise their “revival” to get people to come. This is not the type of revival that is taking place in Wilmore, Kentucky. Last Wednesday, “on the morning of Feb. 8, a chapel service took place in Hughes Auditorium on the Asbury (University) campus. The message was about confession and repentance and after the service was over, a group of students stayed behind to worship. Then more joined them. And then more, and more.”* Entering the sixth day, there are apparently no signs of slowing. Being that this was not planned, the staff and leadership are doing their best as they deal with the needs of an influx of people from all over the country. In addition, the school was in the midst of midterms and classes have had to be canceled. I have not followed it too closely, but have watched a couple of videos and read a couple of posts from witnesses there. A couple of posts were from folks who went there skeptical and left convinced that “Something special was happening and it was more than an emotional stirring of college students.”*

Like many others, I have been praying for years (in ebbs and flows) for revival. I say that admitting I have no clue what I have even been asking for. In 16 years as a pastor, I have never scheduled a revival. While I will raise an occasional hand, all who know me know I am not a hands in the air, dancing in the aisles charismatic. I love giving Bible teaching sermons and having a manuscript in front of me when I preach, even if I only refer to it to regain my path in a sermon. In spite of my love for a manuscript and my hesitancy in emotionally directed services, I do feel I am Spirit-led.

I write the two previous paragraphs for myself perhaps more than my readers today. I write today as a way of processing yesterday’s worship. It was perhaps the second most memorable Sunday morning worship service that I have been the pastor for. The other one was at the Mason United Methodist Church when we had a three hour Sunday morning service. Nobody left in the entire three hours and I did not even preach! Yesterday, I was in the sanctuary at about 6:30 a.m. and I knew God was going to do something special. And He did. It was as if the outpouring of His blessing being poured over Wilmore was overflowing and somehow pouring down on us at Wesley Chapel UMC. There were no special speakers, no special music, no special time, and no advertising. And I have given better sermons. But God… The question I have is, “what happens now, Lord?” As far as I know, that worship in Mason 14 years ago was a wonderful moment of God’s special favor that appeared and then was gone. I guess time will tell what, if anything, “heaven’s overflow” will mean to those at Asbury. Time will tell what, if anything, Wilmore’s overflow will have in our little church at the upper end of a small West Virginia County. If it was just to remind us that God is present and on occasion He “shows up and shows off”, then so be it. I thank Him for this “memorial stone” along my spiritual walk with Jesus. But, I pray He is not finished. I will be at the altar every morning this week praying that He shows Himself mightily again this coming Sunday. Where I must be careful is that I do not try to orchestrate it. Yet, I will prepare as if He will. We appreciate your prayers as well. And if you attend, come expecting. I know I will.

*From the article about the Asbury revival you can read here.

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A loving invitation

This morning I logged on to blog not knowing what I was going to say. When I got to my “dashboard”, there was a reminder that I could monetize my blog. It said I could sell nearly anything from physical items to digital content to “hidden content”. We definitely live in a society where we are bombarded with sales pitches. Sometimes people say that pastors are selling people on Jesus. It seems like some people do try to make Jesus as palatable as possible in order to get people to buy. Some stress the gentle side of Jesus without ever acknowledging the call to go and sin no more.

Every once in a while I read or hear a phrase/term/idea that makes such an impact on me that I will remember it for the rest of my life. Yesterday I heard such a thought. Pastor Matt Chandler said something to the effect of, “Every rebuke on behalf of the Lord is an invitation”. His words were more nuanced, but that was my takeaway. He was pointing out that every call to repentance or every pointing out of sin is not meant to be an embarrassment or finger pointing, but is instead offered as an invitation.

For God’s people to call out sin and call sinners to repent is not meant to be destructive, but meant to save. Anyone selling people on the meek mild mannered Jesus is not likely leading anyone to be saved. To be honest, I like the thought of that version of Jesus as well. A new advertising campaign emphasizes the idea that Jesus understands and is willing to come along side you to help you through difficult times, requiring nothing of you. That is a sales pitch from the enemy of God.

Throughout the Bible, we read of a Savior who constantly calls people to turn from their ways and then gives them the choice. Sometimes the words are harsh and sometimes gentle, but the demand and the offer is always the same: Give up what you were, follow Jesus and His ways, and He will save you and make you new. Every call to turn from sin is a loving invitation.

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When the wife is away

I cannot remember if I am on my second or third tub of french onion chip dip in the last week. I want to say second, but it is probably the third. I naturally eat potato chips with the dip and this is not going to “weigh” favorably for my checkup with my doctor on Thursday. In addition, my doctor will run blood work and the huge influx of chips and dip will not help my blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.

Why all the chip dip in the last week? My wife, Diane, is in Kenya for about 18 days. She cannot stand french onion chip dip, so I only buy and eat it when she is away. When she gets home, all the evidence will be gone. I will even go so far as to make sure there are no empty dip containers int he trash. Jason and Tracy McCoy laugh when I go to Rt. 28 Discount Store and Deli to get dip. They know what I am telling you, that I only have it when Diane is gone.

Early this morning I knew I wanted to post a blog today and was unsure what to write. When I finally settled on chip dip, I was not sure where it would lead. Now, I think where I will end today is the idea of what happens when Diane is not around and relate that to what is happening while it appears Jesus is not around. Believers know that God sees all, the Spirit of God is with us, and we are all accountable for all we do. But non-Believers do not get that while they carry on in their sin, there is a God who is taking it all in and one day they will face Him and give an account. We who have asked Jesus to forgive us and have received the benefit of His payment on the cross will get a pass because our debt has been paid. Those who never repent will be so sorry one day. They will be so surprised to find out that everything they thought they were getting away with, they were not actually getting away with.

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Thank you EMS workers

Last night I watched, as many of you did, a young man fall to the ground in a football game on live television. I saw an ambulance rush onto the field and do what they do. Rightfully so, Damar Hamlin has the attention and prayers of the entire country. Lord, in Your mercy…

My perspective on the event itself comes from a 911 responder’s viewpoint, as I begin my 6th year as an EMS emergency responder with the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company. I have been the one to show up on the scene of cardiac arrests. I have the training to know what to do with all the equipment on the ambulance to give folks a chance. I have performed and sent 12 lead EKG’s to the hospital from the scene so the hospital gets a 15 minute head start to get the heart doctor to the hospital. I have used the AED to shock a heart. I have watched paramedics work above and beyond my training giving life saving drugs. And I am but one of a dozen or so active call runners at our local volunteer station. So when they spoke about what was going on with the player last night, I have been in many similar situations. Tens of thousands of us from across the country watched it from this perspective.

My reach is very small and very limited. 30 or 50 or 100 people will read this today. If it gets a lot of shares, perhaps several hundred views. I do not write this so I will get the “thank you for your service” attaboys. I don’t need them. I have a job as a pastor where I get paid a fair salary to serve Jesus Christ full time. My reward is in heaven, as the Bible states. I write this today because, in the moment last night, we were reminded of what is important. We saw practically minimum wage workers, or perhaps even volunteers, put their training into action to try and help a fellow human being who was in distress.

I am blessed to see that nearly every day at the fire department. Most of the volunteers in small communities like ours do EMS paid for a living. When they’re off work, they are volunteering to serve you. And those folks, including dispatchers, are among the most underpaid, most selfless, most important people in every small town across America. I count it a blessing to be personally associated with a few, and with every one across the nation via our connection through the national EMS. I say thank you today to them all. Every one of them was empathetic to the ones from among us that were on that field in Cincinnati last night.

PS… You can always show your support through a donation, buy a raffle ticket, attend a fundraiser, or drop off a case of sports drinks to your local station.

Autumn struggles to plug in
the ambulance after a run.
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My personal hope for 2023

On New Year’s Eve I always stay up till midnight. I don’t stay up till midnight because I want to. I stay up till midnight because Diane wants me to. By 1230 I am zonked. When I was younger we used to go to Walmart back in Mason at midnight because they would mark their clearance for Christmas to 75% off. They don’t do that anymore. Neither do I. But I digress.

This morning I woke up at about 7:15. Sunrise today was at 7:20. But church isn’t until 10:00 here at the beach. It is now 2023 and my first decision of the new year is before me. Do I sleep in or do I get up and go see the sunrise at the beach? I know many of you envy that decision. I’m not playing this as “what a tough decision it is.” But I was aware this morning that I had a choice to make. I don’t always think about the fact that a choice is before me. I usually just make decisions one way or the other without thinking about the actual act of making the choice.

If I hadn’t thought about having a choice, my natural inclination would be to roll over and go back to sleep for an hour. But because I thought about having a choice, I thought walking to the beach to see the sunrise was the better choice. So that is the choice I made.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions anymore, but I think this year I want to be more aware of my choices. Sometimes you and I don’t really have a choice, but most of the time we do. Perhaps if we remember we are making a choice, that God has given us a choice, maybe we will make better choices. That is my hope for 2023.

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