God gives grace to the humble

Sports fans saw something unusual this week as two of the country’s most prestigious college football schools had their head football coaches resign their positions to take other jobs. Typically, Notre Dame and Oklahoma are the ones that coaches jump ship for. Head coaching jobs at schools like ND, Oklahoma, and Michigan generally only open up if a coach retires or gets fired. Historically, coaches just do not leave schools like that. They will, however, have a much easier job of finding a replacement than mid-level, stepping stone schools (such as West Virginia.) Still, college football royalty Oklahoma and Notre Dame each find themselves in a strange position scrambling to replace a successful celebrity coach that has abandoned them.

Our society is enamored with celebrity. Famous athletes, actors, politicians, TV personalities, musicians, and even some pastors seem to have everything. I read that Oklahoma’s former coach, who left for the University of Southern California, has access to a private jet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, celebrity comes with its own problems. I am not talking about the common problems you may think of like privacy. I am talking about believing all the hype about themselves. I am talking about how difficult Jesus said it was for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

Part of this past Sunday’s sermon was from Mark 12 where Jesus told people to be wary of the Scribes, who were seemingly on “top of the world”, and lifted up instead, as an example to be followed, the life of a humble, sacrificing widow who went unnoticed when she dropped her precious coins in the offering. It is a reminder that God is not impressed by celebrities. His ways are not our ways. He is honored by you who go about your days taking care of kids, checking on your elderly neighbor, or going to work. Some days we honor Him just by dragging ourselves out of bed.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7
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Victory in Jesus

Diane ordered a “Black Friday” laptop to assist her in her health and beauty aids business. I thought she said it was going to be delivered today so naturally when the FedEx van pulled in this morning I met the driver outside, expecting I might have to sign. The delivery did not require a signature. But then again, it was not a laptop. Much to my surprise, it was a regular scheduled delivery of cat litter. Diane was probably expecting the cat litter delivery today. As noted, I was not. I took the cat litter in the house and walked back to the church with another blog post. This one about expectations.

“Expectation” is a tricky thing to maneuver. We must be honest with ourselves that bad things can and do happen to us as followers of Jesus. God’s Word tells us to expect them, so hardships and difficulties in this life should not catch us unaware. Yet, we also know from God’s Word that God will not leave us abandoned in those times. Therefore, as difficult as it is sometimes, we can not let that reality dampen our joy or defeat us when we walk through the valleys of this life. The ultimate expectation that we can and must cling to is that the difficulties of this life are not final. Victory in Jesus is the final Word. For followers of Jesus, remembering that is a great key to making it through the tough seasons of this life. That is an expectation that will be fulfilled.

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calling the power company

This morning I was at the church and the auxiliary lights came on. That’s how I realized the power was out. I immediately got a text from Diane telling me the power was off at home as well. Next I checked to see if the power was off at the Short Gap VFC. It wasn’t. Then I walked around the neighborhood and I could see lights in one of the neighbors windows. That’s when I knew the problem was pretty specific to us. When the power goes out I never call the Electric company. I always assume others will. But this morning I was pretty sure nobody else was going to call. So I did what I had to do and soled and the computer I spoke with said they hoped to have our power back on by 12:30 today. The power is still out and I am writing the blog on my phone (which is difficult.) The problem may be a big tree that fell on to our property, but I don’t see any lines down.

If I ever wrote a book I would title it “And That Made Me Think”. The situation above that I just described did make me think of something. It reminds me that my salvation is up to me. Your salvation is up to you. I will not be in right standing with God based on my grandmothers faith in life. Nobody else can claim salvation on my behalf. It is up to me to make the call. It is the same for you.

The apostle Paul wrote, “How will they know if no one tells them?” That is my goal in my 1,700+ blog posts, in my 1,500+ sermons, and in my life. We tell people that God wants more for them, and has a purpose for their lives. We tell them that He wants them to humble themselves, confess their sin to him, turn from their own ways to His ways. Then they can make the call… or not make the call. It is up to each of us.

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A Day to Be Thankful to God

Satan put a bag of KitKats on the table inside the front door of the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company. Actually, Luke Harrison put them there, but when he did so I told Luke those were my kryptonite. You can have your Reese Cups, Almond Joys, Snickers, and Mallo Cups. I will take KitKats. And I do. Nearly every time I walk into the station, which is pretty frequently. The other day I picked one up when I was working on an ambulance report. That’s a bad time to be snacking or eating because it is thoughtless snacking. I was focused on the report, not paying a lot of attention to what I was eating. That being said, as I was eating it I noticed something different about it. I had already eaten the one half so I broke the second half and saw it was all chocolate with no wafer! I would hate to guess how many KitKats I have eaten in my nearly 60 years. They have been around longer than I have. Perhaps it is more common than I know, but that is the first one I have ever eaten that was total chocolate without a wafer.

I took a picture of it knowing I would blog about it, even though I did not know the topic at the time. As I was counting blessings today the Lord brought the rarity of that chocolate KitKat to mind. I thought about my life and how good it has been, and still is. There have no doubt been hundreds of good days for every bad day. Yet the good days fly by without notice, much like me eating a typical KitKat doing an ambulance report. By “good days” do I mean perfect days? Oh course not, but most days are good. The bad, bad days stick out in our minds precisely because they are so rare. The good days are so numerous that they are not memorable.

So while today is a day our country sets aside (as George Washington proclaimed in 1789) ‘as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God'”, I am reminded that nearly every day I am not thankful enough on all the other days of the year. May you and I mot only have a blessed Thanksgiving today, but give God thanks on all the other good days of the year… and even the bad ones.

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If you are saved… you are empowered

I was on an ambulance call the other day when our Short Gap ambulance was across the mountain helping out Cresaptown. There was a medic on the scene, but they did not have an ambulance. The patient was having back pain on one side. When we got there we all decided that the person did not require a medic so I would be the provider for the patient and the medic could go back in service. When we got the patient in the ambulance I asked the person if they had ever had a kidney stone and they said no. But, they said, the “other EMT” told her it was too low in her back to be a kidney stone. I asked her to point on me where it hurt on her. She poked me in the flank, the area of the back just below the ribs. I told her the other person had gone to college to be a paramedic and had much more training and a much more diverse skill set than me, but either he misunderstood where her pain was or he was just wrong. I told her that I know this because I have had kidney stones and I know exactly where the pain is and for me it was precisely where she pointed.

To have personally experienced something like kidney stones when dealing with a patient on the ambulance does a couple of things. For one thing, I know where the pain is on the body. And secondly, I have felt the indescribable pain they are experiencing. People can have book smarts or knowledge about things, but we often learn much more through experience. I will never forget Dr. David Watson, one of my professors at United Theological, who said, “We can teach you some things about being at the bedside of a dying person, but there are some things you will only be able to learn by experiencing it.”

It is one thing to stand in the pulpit and preach what the Bible says about Salvation. It is quite another thing to have experienced it. The Apostle Paul spoke as one who had experienced Jesus Christ. There are a whole lot of seminary trained and educated pastors in the church. However, I am reminded there are certain things you can learn in a book and others you have to experience. I write this today not to disparage anyone in the pulpits, but to empower the saved among you who sit in the pews. The extent to which our society is going to be reached with the truth of the Kingdom of God is going to be determined in large part by those who make up the converted part of the church body.

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”

― John Wesley

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Cleaning up my mess

The Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company has been hosting wrestling events. Being that I have 45+ years of food experience, I have headed up the concessions for the events. That is where the department makes their money. After the wrestling, it is always late in a long day so I usually put food away and leave the dirty crockpots and utensils for the next day.

When I walked in the other morning after the wrestling event, the kitchen at the church looked like a disaster zone. There were crocks and dirty dishes across the 15 foot counter and in the sink. My first act was making a pot of coffee. Then I began, one dish, one crock, one utensil at a time until an hour and a half (and a half a pot of coffee) later, the work was done. The mess was cleaned up.

When I first walked in, I knew it was my mess to clean up. Nobody else even knew the mess was there. But I knew. As I was working on the cleanup that morning, I was reflecting on the mess that was, and too often still is, my life. I am thankful that twenty one years ago I came to realize that I was a mess that I could not clean up on my own. Too often people have the idea that they must get right with God before He will accept them. It is as if we think we can make ourselves “presentable” to Him before we approach Him. The truth is, in order for God to accept us, in order to be saved, we must humble ourselves and admit our failings… our helplessness. We are initially made right with God by His grace. We are no longer condemned. Then He begins the lengthy cleanup to make an example of our lives. I will attest it is a lifelong job, not because of His efforts, but because of my nature. I thank God He is still cleaning up my messes until that day this life is over and I am finally made perfect!

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An expert in the field

I saw a head shaking headline about NBC adding a financial guru to give viewers advice. The headline was obviously not from NBC as they would never have advertised it this way: “NBC brings on Robert Smith to offer financial tips, fails to mention he paid $139 million to settle tax probe”. On the one hand, I give the guy props that he apparently had $139,000,000. On the other hand, that’s a hefty settlement for a tax debt. Then I got to thinking he really is an expert because one usually learns more through failures than success. He can probably proclaim the pitfalls people should avoid!

It occurs to me that God often has the same “hiring” mentality. He hires people who have faced their failures. When the Apostle Paul called people to turn from their sin and be forgiven, he knew exactly what he was talking about. Paul said he was the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15) and the greatest of sinners (1 Tim 1). So when Paul called people sinners and gave people advice about turning from their sin, he was an authority on the matter. Every sinner saved by God’s grace who calls others to repentance is an expert on the matter. On the other hand, one has to wonder about people who proclaim that God loves them just the way they are and does not desire them to change. Do they really know what they are talking about? Have they experienced the forgiveness found only through repentance? Or have they bestowed upon themselves the cheap grace that Deitrich Bonhoeffer warns about:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Only forgiven people know the meaning of the Good News. So when you hear me or any other preacher preaching and sin, repentance, and forgiveness, you can rest assured that we know what we are talking about.

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Things that mattered then

Yesterday I was the EMT on an ambulance call for a 90 year old woman who was injured in a ground level fall. When caring for folks in the back of the ambulance, there are EMT assessments and protocols I have to follow and perform. Sometimes on shorter rides, getting them all done is a challenge. Other times on a little longer rides there is some extra time. On this particular call it was a 20 minute ride to the hospital so we had some extra time.

I almost always ask the patient if they would like for me to pray with them and they almost always answer in the affirmative. Yesterday after I prayed with this person they began crying. Upon my inquiry,the patient told me of a family member who was having some serious medical problems and procedures. We prayed again, this time for the loved one.

The entire situation, with the person’s fall and age, and the health problem of the loved one, made me think about the possibility of living to an old age. When I do, I am reminded that the things that stress me so today will not be worth remembering then. I am certain that this patient was not at this time, not probably ever, thinking about a dispute they had at work 30 years ago. They were not bothered by an article they read in the paper 10 years ago. And really, whatever age any of us are, we can say the same. That “D” in my WVU chemistry class in 1980 was so demoralizing (and deserved) at the time, but 40 years later does not matter.

Yesterday’s ambulance ride was a reminder that one day, there will be no more tears and no more pain and every trial and tribulation any of us go through on earth will fade away. As the new Casting Crowns song (about the death of a loved one) goes, “There’ll be no such thing as broken and all the old will be made new. And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down, is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now.”

Even as the patient’s tears fell yesterday, we both remembered that we have this hope…. scratch that. We have more than hope… we have this promise that as we go through the trials of this life that one day we will see Him face to face and every tear will be wiped away. And at that time we will realize what Paul writes in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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Settling in

This week was a pleasant break from the sudden onset of early winter temperatures a couple of weeks ago that had forced me to put the plants I want to save through the winter in the garage. One day this week I left the garage open to get the plants a little sunshine. In the afternoon I went in to the garage to find a bird had already started a nest in an empty hanging basket. It would have been a great spot if the garage door would remain open all winter, which it obviously will not. As a matter of fact, I closed it after the bird flew out so the bird did not get settled in.

As I was thinking about a blog post about it, my first instinct was to talk about all the work the bird would do only to have the door closed and the work to have been in vain. I would have talked about people trying to earn their way to heaven only to find the door to heaven slammed in their face. But in my sleepless overnight hours last night I realized the bird getting settled in where it was not supposed to be is a parable of the devil building “nests” in our lives. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:27 “not to give the devil an opportunity” (ESV). You can bet that the devil is always looking for an opening. And like the bird, give him a chance and he will quickly begin setting up shop, ultimately leaving you with a mess.

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Calling In The Big Guns

I have a friend who lives in the south who I texted today for the first time in five months. I wrote, “How are you doing?” And he wrote back, “Hello God’s calling in the big guns good to hear from you.” It was one of those texts that made me wonder if he had perhaps replied to me thinking he was writing to someone else so I asked again, “How are you doing?” It turned out he had not made a mistake and I was the intended recipient of “God’s calling in the big guns”. He told me that yesterday he was admitted to the hospital with Covid. He has pneumonia and was even writing telling me he knows what is waiting on the other side when he dies. I told Him that I knew he was not going to die yet. Now, to be clear, I rarely give guarantees like that. But I told him I knew that because I was writing in the first place to tell him that God made it clear to me that he was going to help me with a project at our little Myrtle Beach beach house in the spring. Myrtle Beach is about the midway point between us. So as you pray your prayers, pray for my friend David.

When David was talking about the big guns, he was talking about me and one other person who had contacted him today. He told me there was a guy he has not spoken to for two years that called him today at God’s insistence. This guy who called also did not know our mutual friend was in the hospital with Covid. David said it gave him peace to know that God had led the two of us to contact him today to encourage him and to pray for him.

I texted Diane and told her the situation and about our conversation. I told Diane I did not feel like one of “the big guns”. God knows how I feel. I would use words like: Insufficient – Unfaithful – Incompetent. And then I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul:

Each time God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

To God be the glory that He gave me the motivation to text my friend today. His grace is all we need. His power works best in our weakness. So when my friend said of me “the big guns”, he obviously meant I was among the weakest of his friends. I will claim that.

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