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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Whatever it takes to get to Jesus

At a recent church function I was walking through the hallway and came upon a little girl who would not be denied a drink at the water fountain.  I know kids like to drink at water fountains.  This particular little girl was going to do whatever it took to sip from it.  She was perched on the dehumidifier getting a cool drink of water.

Today is Easter.  In the pre-dawn hours there were some women who were going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not know how they were going to get to Jesus.  There was a stone too big for them to move blocking the entrance to the tomb.  But they went.  They were not going to be denied.

In my prayers for friends and family who are far from Jesus, my prayer is always, “Lord, do whatever it takes to cause them to turn to You, but be as gentle as You can.”  It often takes a valley for us to seek the light.  My prayer for you this Easter is that you would be constantly seeking Jesus today and throughout the rest of the year.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. ~ Hebrews 11:6

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We’re all impacted by the cross

It has been over a month since my last blog post.  And typically my blog is taking an everyday thing and putting a Jesus spin on it.  Today it’s not cute, but rather a simple warning.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” ~ Mark 8:34-45

The above Scripture is frequently discussed and preached from the perspective that we decide whether to pick up our cross.  I read a Bonhoeffer devotion this morning that put a new spin on it for me.  Bonhoeffer said all of humanity lives under the “death-sign of the cross”.  He implies that you either despise/ignore the cross, which leads to your destruction, or you accept the cross which leads to your salvation.  The way he explained it, it is almost as if each of us has no choice but to pick up our cross.  We can pick it up now, give up our life to Jesus and actually save our lives, or we can pick it up at the end of this life and hang on it ourselves (proverbially) at the judgement.  We are all marching toward life or marching toward death.  You can bow to Him now and be saved, or you can bow to Him in the end and be condemned.

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