We’re all going someplace

Diane and I were in New Hampshire for almost two weeks and we did a lot of hiking. We did a hike on Mt. Kearsarge which is 2,937 feet.  On the one side of the mountain were trails to hike a couple of thousand feet in elevation to the top of Mt. Kearsarge.  On the other side was a road.  When I say we hiked on the mountain, I mean we drove several miles up the mountain and then hiked a half a mile to the pinnacle once we had already driven to the top of the mountain.  On occasion we would see pyramids of rocks.  If you’ve been on popular hiking trails, you more than likely have seen them before.  I was unaware that they served a purpose.  I had always assumed people just piled up rocks.  On one hike I saw this laminated paper that told amateur, car driving hikers like myself that real hikers used these stacked rocks, called cairns, for landmarks and guidance.  When you take the paved road to the top, you rarely need the cairns.

When we were at the top of this particular mountain, we ran across three young men who had hiked to the top.  Everything they had with them they had carried up the mountain in backpacks.  They were going to spend the night up there.  They were talking about waiting for the sunset.  Diane and I walked a half a mile back to the van, got some drinks from the cooler, and drove back down the mountain.  I am sure they saw a beautiful sunset.  The next morning they would hike back down the mountain.  They undoubtedly have stories to tell of their hike up that mountain, their overnight stay, and the hike back down.  To be honest, I envied them a little bit.

Thinking about that day, I am reminded of the Christian walk.  Eugene Peterson has a book titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  In it he writes of the Israelites upon leaving Egypt,

“They worked and played, suffered and sinned in the world like everyone else did, and as Christians still do. But they were now going someplace – they were going to God. The truth of God explained their lives, the grace of God fulfilled their lives, the forgiveness of God renewed their lives, the love of God blessed their lives.”

Whether anyone and everyone believes it or not, everyone is going someplace.  Some are on the wrong path, separated from God and are headed for destruction.  Yet even for them, there is always a way that leads out of the distress of that direction, and that way begins by turning to God through Jesus.  On the other hand, followers of Christ, made right with God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, are all headed to an eternity with God.  Parts of the way we are able to set the cruise control and other parts are tedious and treacherous, and we have to watch our footing.  Parts of the way are sunny and other parts dark and dangerous.  We look for the cairns along the way to keep us on and at times guide us back to the right path.  But one thing is for sure, we are going someplace.  And for those with a faith in Christ, it is indeed someplace special.  We are going to the God who has already come to us.

“Any hurt is worth it that puts us on the path of peace, setting us free for the pursuit, in Christ, of eternal life.” ~ Eugene Peterson

“Cast all your cares upon him; for he cares for you.”~1 Peter 5:7

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The UMC and Chock full o’ Nuts

There is a coffee brand called “Chock full o’ Nuts”.  I had heard of it before and had seen it on the store shelves, but I had never purchased the brand or paid too much attention to it.  Then then we got some Chock full o’ Nuts coffee in our food pantry.  I found myself with a can in my hand and began to wonder about the name.  Had I been ten years old, I would have naturally thought it was a can of nuts.  Even as I type this, I almost seem to recall seeing this as a youngster and thinking it was a can of nuts.  But I am no longer a child.  I know it is coffee with an unfitting name.  So with the can in my hand in the food pantry I noticed the back of the can and in big letters it said, “No Nuts”.  It went on to describe the company history of selling nuts, then selling nuts and coffee, then only coffee which they have done for the past eighty years.  Finally at the bottom of the can it explains they just like the name so they kept it.

They just liked the name, even though it was no longer representative of their product.  That is exactly where I see the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is not united. The name is not an accurate representation of the product.  Sunday the WV Annual Conference finished their business and worship.  A former bishop of the conference was celebrating the progressive voting victory on his Facebook page.  The dozens of comments were applauding his applause for the progressive delegates coming out of our conference to vote in next year’s general conference, which will decide again the church’s official stance on gay marriage and gay ordination.*  Every comment was affirming his proud progressive proclamation of the direction of the church.  I would love to have written a comment on his post, but my voice would not have been welcomed in that echo chamber.  Even writing this blog post, I am trying to be careful so as not to hurt anyone with my words or get myself in trouble with the UMC hierarchy.  (It is also my opinion that only the traditionalists need to worry about voicing their thoughts.)

There is plenty of information out there about the 2019 general conference.  Chris Ritter has compiled links you can explore by clicking here.  I do not usually read all the way through long blog posts so I want to begin to wind this one up.  The former WV bishop also said he did not believe we were facing schism.  I disagree.  The UMC is already in schism, albeit it not in an official capacity.  The progressive part will not give up until gay marriage is permitted and the traditional part can not remain within a denomination that permits gay marriage.  Most of the traditionalist I know want an amicable separation.  I no longer pray for unity:  And if I should be praying for that, Lord, forgive me.  Instead I pray for mercy.  I pray for grace.  I pray that we will be fair and just to each other, not making it a winner take all competition based on who can outwit, outlast, and outplay.  I pray that we would not make one side winners and one side losers.  There is too much at stake.  And I do not necessarily mean the billions of dollars in property and money.  I mean how we treat each other when we face irreconcilable differences.  The way we separate can be our witness to the world.  Can we not do so in love?

 

*It is of my opinion that the issue dividing the church is much deeper than marriage, actually going to the core of the authority of Scripture and Jesus as the sole means of being made right with God.

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Posted in Obstacles, Opportunity | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Upside down

Diane and I flew back from Houston on Friday from serving with Samaritan’s Purse for a week.  Sometimes it was hard to tell sea from sky.  I could see how pilots could get confused.  I think I remember hearing that is what happened to JFK, Jr that cause him to crash his airplane – that he could not tell which way was up or down.

There is a Scripture that I love from Acts that talks about turning the world upside down.  In Acts 17:6 people are speaking about Paul and Silas and their proclamation of Jesus as King.  Jewish people said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”  What they did not realize is that Paul and Silas were actually turning an upside down world right side up.  Because the Jewish people were so used to the “upside down”, they saw the upside down as true and right.  Paul and Silas ended up in jail for calling the people to turn to Jesus.

It is not until we read the Bible and understand that our own way only SEEMS right that we can truly know that we need to turn.  Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to counsel.”  Our rudderless society has strayed and lost any sense of right and wrong.  We are not just living in an upside down world, it seems to be spinning out of control.  And anyone who calls the world to turn is not going to be well received.  They never have.  And I am OK with that.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. ~ John 15:19

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Does the weed killer recipe work?

For the last few years I have wondered if this homemade weed killer recipe really works.  I understand the concept.  Salt kills weeds.  Vinegar absorbs the salt.  And the dawn dish washing liquid would add a little stickiness to prevent the mixture from rolling immediately off the weeds.  I always say that I am going to try it, but I never have.  I have also never talked to anyone who has given it a try.  All I ever see are these pictures of dead grass on the internet. And contrary to popular belief, you cannot believe everything you see on the internet.  A couple of other home remedy type of things I have wondered about are the ones to keep windows from frosting in winter and ways to clean worn headlights, among others.

Some people look at Jesus the same way I look at the weed killer recipe.  They do not know for sure about him because they have not tried His “recipe”, which means:

  • They have not leaned on Him through a crisis in their lives.
  • They have not asked Him to help them with decisions.
  • They do not nor ever will have peace.

When I say they have never tried His “recipe”, I obviously mean they have never followed the plan of salvation.  This means they do not have a relationship with Him and receive none of the fringe benefits that come with that relationship.  The thing they (and perhaps you – if you do not have a relationship with Jesus) have going for them is they know people to ask to see if it works.  Unlike the internet recipes, which I am unsure about, I am sure of what a relationship with Jesus does in ones life.  I am sure because He has done it in my life.  And I have all the benefits listed above.  You can have them as well.  If you’re interested in the recipe, click here.

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Comparing yourself to others

We were on a mission trip to New Bern, NC last week with Samaritan’s Purse.  Samaritan’s Purse is there helping people recover from historic flooding last fall.  The insulation in the crawlspace had to be replaced.  Fortunately it had already been removed, but it was a tough job putting new insulation in.  The crawlspace was very small and aptly named. All you could do was crawl.  John was our construction site supervisor for the week.  John and I worked on the insulation, which required Tyvek coveralls and masks to protect us from the insulation. Upon seeing a picture of me that Bev took, my wife Diane said to me, “You look like the Easter bunny.”  Later, Diane saw a picture of John in his coveralls.  Enough time had elapsed that seeing the photo of me in my suit was not on her mind, and she said about John, “He looks like an astronaut”.

John is a tall, physically fit 30 year old.  A line from “Field of Dreams” comes to mind.  In the movie, dead people come back to life (at the age they were in the prime of life) to play baseball. When Kevin Costner’s adult character (Ray) saw his dad as a handsome young man, Ray said that he only knew his dad after he had been worn down by life.  It was an epiphany to see his dad as a young man.  John is at a season in his life that he looks like an astronaut.  I’ll admit it.  I showed the photos to a half dozen people in church yesterday morning and they agreed with Diane’s assessment.  John looked like an astronaut.  I did not.  It did not help that John had the suit with the blue patch where the NASA logo would be.  For the record, his patch did not say NASA.

We spend our lives comparing ourselves to others.  It happens at school and at work.  It happens at church and at the mission.  It happens on ball fields and in the stands at the ball fields.  As if it were not bad enough before, now it is infinitely more magnified on social media.

I always say about my singing, “If God wanted me to have a better voice, He would have given me one.”  I have the voice He gave me and He wants me to sing praises to Him.  And when the “He numbers the hairs on your head” scripture is mentioned, I am reminded there are not near as many for Him to keep track of as there used to be.  Yet, I am reminded in His Word and by His sacrifice, that I am loved and called Beloved by the Creator of the universe.  If we could only lay aside all the comparisons and focus on what God says about us, no comparison would bother us.  And no comparisons would cause us to be prideful!!  We can just as easily compare ourselves to others and look at others as inferior.

Honestly, I do not care that my wife said I look like a bunny.  She loves bunnies.  And I can agree that John looks like an astronaut in that photo.  Being a pastor, I understand that other pastors have different gifts than I do.  Some are more compassionate.  Some are smarter.  On the other hand, most are not as good at preparing a meal for a hundred people.

If you have confessed your sin and claimed forgiveness through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, you are a child of the King.  You lack nothing.  You are beloved.  There is “peace that surpasses understanding” to be found in that.

And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some bidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” ~ A.W. Tozer

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Like a mosquito to a bug zapper

I am often in the church kitchen, so much so that I frequently call it my office.  I will be in there today preparing Chicken Parmesan for tonight’s dinner.  Sometimes a fly will get in to the church kitchen, and I cannot stand flies.  Sometimes I get out a fly swatter.  Other times I turn off all the lights and open the kitchen door leaving the screen door closed.  99% of the time when I do this they fly will soon be buzzing against the screen.  I then open the screen and watch the fly go outside.  The flies cannot help themselves.  It is in their nature to go toward the light.  (It is certainly not the exit sign that attracts them.)  I know how to make the flies do what I want, which is to exit the kitchen.

Just like I know the nature of the flies to go toward the light, the Bible tells us that humans tend to head toward the dark, or what is wrong.  We are drawn to the wrong like a mosquito is drawn to a bug zapper.  And the enemy of God knows how to manipulate us to do what is wrong.  Yet, every once in a while someone breaks free from the snare of the enemy.  AW Tozer put it this way:

Of course, people resent any word reflecting on them, but every once in a while there appears an awakened soul. Some way or another this person got awake. Somehow God Almighty wakened him or her, whether by the crowing of the rooster or by the braying of Balaam’s donkey. This person ceases to be mediocre and somnolent and becomes a blazing, shining light.

To be aware of our natural inclination and to understand that our hearts cannot be trusted is half the battle.  If you can believe that last sentence, then perhaps you are or can be one of the awakened souls.  Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  My prayer for you today is that you are not headed toward the devil’s traps, but instead that your soul has been or will be shaken and awakened and you are headed toward the light of Christ, seeking those things which are above.

I cannot get enough of Matt Maher singing “Awake my soul and sing…”  I offer it to you for a moment of worship.

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

This morning I noticed a flowering weed poking up out of a crack in the concrete in the back stairwell of the church.  I could not help but think of the phrase, “Bloom where you are planted”.  I am convinced that wherever we are or whatever we are doing, God is pleased when we do what we do for His glory.  Pastors, and especially United Methodist pastors can find this difficult.  It was not too many years ago that the average stay at a particular church for a UMC pastor was less than three and a half years.  It may be a little longer now, but there are still some churches and pastors that see an all too frequent turnover.  Diane and I will be blessed to soon begin our seventh year in Short Gap.  When we arrived, we knew our job.  Our job is to live and love like we will be here forever, even as we know we serve at the will of the bishop and are assigned one year at a time.  Diane sits on the board for a couple of local women’s recovery homes, she is a Wellness Ambassador for Western Maryland Regional Medical Center, she bakes special treats for some of her friends at the Union Rescue Mission, she is a graduate of a local university, Frostburg State University.  We are embedded in the community.  Short Gap is our home.  We know God has called us to bloom where we are, while we are here.

Monday nights our church hosts between 40-50 kids, many of whom have less than ideal home lives.  In discussions with the youth leader before the young people arrived last night, and hearing some of her heart hurts over kids not wanting to go home when the youth night is over, we shared with her a phrase Pastor Benjamin Wells shared with us one time.  He is a campus pastor at Marshall University and was sharing about how he just has young college people for a season.  He said his job is to “love them in the moment”.  As I see it, Diane has made that her life’s mission.  Wherever she is, there she is.  Wherever we are, our job is to bloom for God’s glory.  It hurts when the time comes for a new season, just as it did six years ago when we left the Ohio River valley for the mountains of the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.  But there is no other way to live.

We know young parents who would love to go on mission trips with us, but their job is currently to glorify God by raising their kids.  We know more mature folks who are blooming and glorifying God as they care for elderly parents.  One of our financial secretaries is doing some paperwork in the church right now with a toddler and a baby in tow, for the glory of God.

My prayer for you is that whatever season you find yourself in right now, in a growing season or in a tough, barren wilderness, that you would give God the glory by blooming where you are today.  Be a fragrant addition to wherever you are.  I pray that you would find peace as you live for the glory of God in whatever season you find yourself.

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