Giving thanks for another year to proclaim Jesus in Short Gap

This has been my view on most mornings for the past nine years. Anniversaries are always a time to reflect on the past and often times, to contemplate the future. That is where I find myself this week as it marks the beginning of the tenth year for Diane and me at Wesley Chapel. After serving the Lord Jesus for six years at the Mason UMC in Mason County, He saw fit to send/bring us to Short Gap. In the UMC the Bishop and cabinet prayerfully decide where pastors serve. Pastors and churches can make their desires known, but like making requests to God, you never know when you will receive a “yes” or a “something else” from your prayer. Our request was not granted nine years ago when our desire was to remain in Mason. That is not to say that God was not in it, we know He was. But this system of sending pastors means that every year we hold our breath in late winter and early spring when appointments begin being announced. Moving is difficult physically in packing up and unpacking, and is even more difficult emotionally for the clergy family and the churches. We know we are now officially appointed to Short Gap for at least one more year, which runs until July 1, 2023. At this point in our lives we are praying that we finish out our time in the UMC here in Short Gap. Should God grant us an eleventh year here for the 2023-2024 appointment year, I will turn 62 and will qualify for early retirement from the UMC. I will certainly not retire retire at 62, but would be permitted to officially retire from the UMC.

2024 will be a pivotal year for us personally, for Wesley Chapel Short Gap, and for the entire UMC. A General Conference will almost certainly have to be held and the future of the UMC will hopefully become clearer. Life changing decisions will be imminent for all affiliated with the UMC. What is decided by the UMC General Conference and by Wesley Chapel will not be the only factor, but will influence mine and Diane’s UMC retirement decision. In the mean time we wait. And as we wait, we continue to work.

We work to proclaim Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We proclaim that there is no other name by which to be saved. We proclaim that the Word of God is inspired and perfect, even as we acknowledge there are parts we do not understand. We proclaim that Jesus died on the cross to save people from their sins. We proclaim that He rose from the dead to overcome death for those who follow Him. We proclaim that He calls us to pick up our cross daily. We proclaim that for those who believe this, repent of their sin, and follow Him… that His grace and forgiveness make up for the difference between the lives we live and the holy lives He expects of us.

While we will spend the rest of our lives proclaiming Jesus, we give thanks for the privilege of doing so for one more year in Short Gap.

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Just tell me what you want

Diane saved a cat’s life a couple of years ago when she went to the shelter to get it. The owner had died and the cat had been at the shelter less than 24 hours and was cowering in the corner. She had seen a picture of him on Facebook. They said cats like that often don’t last long if they do not get adopted. They may or may not have just said that just to guilt her into taking a cat. Regardless, we have a cat we affectionately call Mr. Kitty.

He is awesome because when he wants something he will not meow, but simply sit silently near what it is he wants. When he wants ice water, which is morning and bedtime, he sits near his special ice water “bowl”. When it is time for food at the end of the night he sits near his food bowl. When he wants you to sit down so he can have a lap to sit on he will sit near the chair. While he cannot talk to let us know, there is no failure to communicate. There is no question what he wants and when he wants it.

I wish I understood what God wanted as well as I understand Mr. Kitty. If I am being honest, most of my life as a follower of Jesus seems like it is spent guessing what God wants me to do. While I often have affirmations after the fact, the clarity leading up to decisions are less numerous. He knows I want to be obedient. I often tell myself if He wants me to do better, He has to be more clear. Then I wonder if the desire for holiness and obedience is all He wants from any of us. Even if we can only manage to follow in fallible ways, perhaps that is enough for today.

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Painting a picture of the God of Hope

Diane and I have been doing some indoor painting. We got the paint at Ollie’s for $15-$17 a gallon. That’s about half the price as the paint at the paint store or big box hardware stores. The color selections are obviously limited as they offer what they offer. To create our own desired wall color we mixed one gallon of beige with two gallon of white to get an off-white or eggshell color.

We also had some doors that needed painted, but we did not want to paint all the trim. We painted the panels light gray which was the same color as the wall. Then we painted the rest of the door a dark gray. The dark gray paint was a few inches of Sherwin Williams that we had leftover from 2017. I have to tell you the Sherwin Williams paint is twice as thick and goes on much better than the paint we got from Ollie’s. Being that we bought about 20 gallon of paint, I am pretty sure we saved quite a bit of money. I am also convinced that the money savings cost us some more work in painting extra coats.

At first I thought I was going to make the “moral of the story” the difference between the paints and point to the truth of Christ. But every time something from the past is made relevant or is used in the present, I always think about the way God knew back then what He was going to do with things in the future. Five years ago when we used the dark gray paint we had free will to keep or throw away the little bit that was left, God knew what we would do and knew when and where we would use it. We had no clue. I guess I always think this way not only because it is true, but to remind myself that there is nothing that goes to waste in God’s Kingdom. No pain, no strain, no rain, and no gain goes without purpose. Sixty years ago when I was born and twenty-two years ago when I got saved, God knew I was going to be sitting in Short Gap, West Virginia about lunchtime today typing on this keyboard. Twelve years ago when I began this blog, He knew of the trying times that I would go weeks without feeling like writing (or having the time to write) a blog post. And He knew I would keep returning to write.

Because of this truth, you and I can trust Him that whatever it is we are going through, He has a plan. He is always doing something… and it is always something that works for our good and His glory. It is in this God I place my hope. And I hope you do as well.

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Through the ups and downs… God is doing something

This morning I was watering some plants that have recently been neglected in my office. I usually use two pitchers and fill them one by one in the men’s room lavatory across from my office. This morning after years of filling pitchers one at a time in the men’s room I looked in the ladies restroom and noticed they have two sinks! I took the pitchers in there and put one under each faucet. I wondered how in the world it took me nine years to notice there were two sinks in the ladies’ room. I find it inconceivable I just now realized this. As one not to waste time, I thought of all the time wasted standing there waiting in the men’s room for a second pitcher to fill up. It sure is going to change how I fill the pitchers in the years I have remaining here. What will I do with all those extra minutes? Maybe more blog posts, lol.

Sunday I preached about the calling on Peter’s life to follow Jesus from John 21. I thought about the ups and downs that had been in Peter’s life even as I spoke primarily on the ones that would come to pass. Looking back, Peter had to have seen things he missed at the time. He probably put two and two together and realized why Jesus asked him three times if he loved Jesus, coming to the conclusion it was once for each time Peter denied Jesus. Without a doubt Peter would come to understand, and more importantly, to experience the “Promise of the Father” that would be the Holy Spirit.

God reveals things in His time. Sometimes we see good things that come from the bad. Sometimes we look back and find ways God has prepared us for this season of our lives. Sometimes all we can do is trust that one day we will look back on a valley we are presently in and realize how He carried us through… even if we cannot see it today from the valley. God reveals things in His time. Hang in there and wait for it… wait for it…

Then I said, “My lord, what are these?”
And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you…”

Zechariah 1:9

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Potato Candy Recipe

I recently stumbled upon a potato candy recipe. I have never made it before and have perhaps tasted it once or twice in my life. Potato candy does not sound appealing. I know those words have already elevated the blood pressure of the potato candy lovers. However, after seeing the recipe I am less opposed to the idea of potato candy. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out potato candy has a meager 1/2 cup of a mashed up potato compared to 6 cups of powdered sugar! In a way it seems wrong to call it potato candy because there is so little potato in it. The white part of the potato candy is 7.7% potato and 92.3% powdered sugar. It makes me think of the old phrase, “What’s in a name?”

Concerning that phrase, the online free dictionary web site says, “What someone or something is called or labeled is arbitrary compared to their or its intrinsic qualities.” I like the idea that what something or someone is called is less important than the intrinsic value, or what someone or something is. This idea of intrinsic value, or what something has within, is more important than ever in our society as it seems like words have no longer have shared meanings. Rational people go about their lives pretending that things are what they are not, so as not to be called names, called out as hateful, or upset people. At the risk of alienating some readers, which in itself proves my point, I will give you just a few examples examples: baby, woman, man, Christian.

As ones who proclaims truth in love as best I can to a society that has gone haywire, sometimes I cannot remain quiet. I also try to resist fighting every fight. In the middle of Matthew chapter 7 there is a warning that some people who say they speak the Word of God are liars. I do not want to be a liar. How do others know? Matthew says in 7:16 – “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” I remember Paul Washer saying the only question you have to ask yourself when he said something people found objectionable was, “Is this man a false prophet?” If he is, then be wary of anything he said. But if he was not, then be wary of ignoring what he said.

I know this post got deep, but for those still curious:

For the recipe:

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The author of confusion

Over the last 12 years I have written over 1,700 innocuous posts about how an earthly thing reminds me of a heavenly, Kingdom of God thing. Of course, “innocuous” means unlikely to provoke an adverse reaction. This may or may not be one of those.

I read a lengthy Billy Graham sermon in the last couple of days describing good and evil, and specifically, of how it comes so naturally for sinful societies to confuse good and bad – to call what is bad good and what is good bad. It was a remarkable sermon that society would have received without much argument at the time. When the Bible says that God is not the author of confusion, we know who is. Causing us to conflate and confuse good and bad is among the devil’s most used weapons. It started in the Garden of Eden with a tree and a piece of fruit and that old serpent is just as cunning today as he was then.

One of the worst things about a society unhitched from any truth differentiating between right or wrong, good or bad, holy or unholy, is that it just keeps devolving. When, what was once considered undesirable is now accepted as good or normal, the devil always has a new undesirable or unaccepted confusion waiting in the chamber to fire into the society. This new “flare” fired into the crowd begins as unacceptable by the society, but will soon be seen as discriminated against until it becomes accepted and eventually demands the rest of society’s celebrating.

You know what I am saying is true. You see it happening. Somewhere, God’s people are going to have to speak truth in love to a lost and dying society that is being led astray by the devil’s destructive confusion. Will the majority turn to God? Probably not. Will someone? Certainly. Is it worth being despised by many to speak God’s truth to see one saved? Absolutely.

How can we get our values straightened out? How can our warped judgment be brought into line? How can we stop calling evil good?
Some tell us that education is the answer to these questions. Others say that science is the answer.
But the Bible, which has withstood the ravages of time, tells us a different story. It says that we possess a nature that wars against us, that seeks to destroy us. Evil is present in us disguising itself as good, controlling us and deceiving us. That is why some people love evil and hate that which is good—they are still in their sins. For them, life’s values are confused. Sin is why the atonement was necessary. Jesus died on the cross to make us one with Him—dead to sin and alive to (His) righteousness. ~ Billy Graham

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For one’s benefit or destruction?

This morning I was texting with someone about ambulance coverage for the day and the conversation spilled over into a little philosophy. They said they hated to see me stay home from the mission today in case we get an ambulance call because they know how much the mission means to me. I told the person that getting the ambulance out does, too. I told them that I remember reading in a book that it is often easier choosing between good and bad than choosing between two good things. I think that was Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church. The person said they usually try to break things down to “will this serve for someone’s benefit or destruction”. That’s my paraphrase and is pretty sage advice from a 21 year old. I immediately texted back that her words gave me idea about a blog post, so here it is.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, who believes that the Bible teaches that people are destined for hell apart from being spared from it through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I believe it with all my being. I believe the Bible when it says sin separates us from God and the only way to be made right with Him is through confessing our sin, accepting God’s gift of Jesus paying for our sin, and doing everything within our power to turn from sin. Do we stumble along the way? Of course we do. And we mourn it and try again. Do you think I write and say that for someone’s benefit or destruction? I believe it is for the benefit of anyone who reads it or hears it from me. Can telling people that hurt their feelings? Absolutely.

However, if you see someone on their way to destruction, do you not agree that feelings become secondary? If you tell someone with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or gambling that they need to turn from that, or if you tell a friend ready to cheat on their spouse that they are going down a path that will cost them way more than they want to pay, is that loving or unloving? What is the most loving thing you could do? It is for their benefit that you tell them to seek help – counseling, AA, NA, or something. It is unloving to tell them “I hope you slay those machines tonight”. It is terrible to tell someone, “Make sure you do not get caught”. That is destructive.

This is where I find myself in our society today. While society is encouraging peoples’ destruction through things like gambling on one’s phone, abortion, talk of legalizing drugs and prostitution, and many other means, I am called by the God of Creation to stand in the face of it all and call people to life. It is not an envious position, but there is no greater calling.

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A Bible Story

A couple of days ago I went to pick up a new chair that someone gave to us. We still have some furniture that is 36 years old from when we got married, including a sleeper sofa. However, in general, we are always looking to upgrade if something is available. The friend who was giving us the chair was not home. She told me the chair was in the garage and two pillows for it were in her home, both of which were unlocked. When I went in the house to get the pillows I saw a Bible on the table. It was a month earlier that she told me we could have the chair, so I know she had not set the Bible out to make her pastor think she was reading it. Going to get the chair was a last minute decision. She had obviously been reading it.

I want to tell you a Bible story. The Bible has the name, “Carol Browning” printed on the front of it. It is no longer Carol Browning’s Bible. When I was the pastor back at Mason UMC (I left there in 2013), Carol gave me the Bible. I do not remember how she came to have it extra, but she did. It was a study Bible and she gave it to me. I used it some, but it was not my main Bible. I write in my main Bible and had not written in this one. Seven or eight years ago this friend who goes to Wesley Chapel here in Short Gap mentioned wanting a nice study Bible. I said, “I happen to have one if you do not mind the name of one of the saints of the church I have met along my journey on the front of it.” This friend said she would be honored to have the Bible with Carol’s name on it. So since 2014-2015, this Bible has been helping to form this Believer who is now the next generation of Saints.

It did my heart good to see that Bible on the table. It reminds me that God has a purpose for everything. There is nothing He does not have a purpose for. When Carol gave me that Bible in Mason County, God knew He was going to send it to Mineral County on a U-Haul. He knows what He is going to do with every pain, every dry season, every loss, every apparent defeat… everything. This is a good word for all of us who have felt like we have been wandering in the desert for the last couple of years through Covid, or for whatever it is that you are going through. God has a plan and He is doing something to fulfill His plan, for His glory and for our good. Amen.

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An open letter to Wesley Chapel UMC Short Gap

This is one of those of those long posts that will not appeal to everyone, but is meant to be an informational post regarding my own understanding on the United Methodist Church, another postponement of General Conference, and the recent announcement that the fledgling Global Methodist Church will officially be founded May 1, 2022. (I can already hear those who love me cringe that I wade into these waters.) This is certainly not an all encompassing post as it would have been way too long. I pray that you from Wesley Chapel and others like you will find this foundational information helpful.

My wife and I have been attending a United Methodist Church since 1985. We chose Sistersville First United Methodist Church because of the people, not the theology. Honestly, I was 23 years old and did not know the difference between the Church of Christ, the Baptists, the Mormons, or the Methodists. Fast forward 15 years and I got saved and a few years later the church was telling me I was being called to the ministry. By this time I knew the difference between the Mormons and the Methodists, but was still pretty ignorant of all the national and international affairs of the UMC. It really was not until 2007 that I began to see “how the sausage was made”. That was that year I attended local pastor’s licensing school, was appointed full time to a church, received my bachelor’s degree, and began seminary at United Theological Seminary. Like picking out a church, my seminary choice had less to do with their theological leanings than it did that it was a fit – this time for my location and schedule. I went to United because they had a weekend program on Fridays and Saturdays and was a 3 hour drive from my pastoral appointment. In 2010 I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity and became a commissioned elder in the UMC. In 2013 I became fully ordained as an elder in the UMC. Obviously, along the way I learned a lot more about the UMC, allowing me the perspective to write for you who feel like I used to feel. Even though it lengthens this post, that is why I gave you my background.

The UMC is a global church, meaning that all United Methodists around the world have a say in what we say we believe… our doctrine. This happens every four years in a setting called General Conference. Elected representatives called delegates gather from around the world here in the United States to set our beliefs, procedures, etc. This is the only group of people who make policy for the UMC. The membership of General Conference is based on church membership. Because the church in the Philippines and Africa is exploding, almost as in the early days of the church, and the American UMC is shrinking, the American representation of the UMC does not have the votes to change official UMC beliefs as America changes. Because the vote is taken from representation from around the world, the official stance on marriage, abortion, and historical church teachings about Jesus have remained pretty much the same since the UMC was formed in 1968. The adherence to the teachings, however, has not weathered the change in America as well.

One of the main acts of disobedience in the church today comes as the result of the UMC stance on marriage. All people are welcome in the church and loved by God, but we believe the Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is a gift of God to be shared exclusively between a man and a woman and only in marriage. Therefore, the official teaching of the UMC does not permit same sex weddings in their churches and does not allow gay pastors, unless they agree to remain celibate. The same prohibition would keep either member of an unmarried man/woman couple who were in an intimate relationship from being a pastor. The reason gay persons in sexual relations are mentioned specifically in our beliefs as not being qualified to become a pastor is because at the time the language was inserted, nobody was advocating for heterosexual persons in sexual relationships outside of marriage to be permitted to be pastors. Even that has likely changed in the American church, but not in the UMC official beliefs.

Maintaining the status quo means the General Conferences of the foreseeable future are only going to strengthen the consequences for disobedience to our agreed upon teachings, including the centrality of historical Biblical teachings such as the virgin birth, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the view of historic Christianity affirming God’s plan for biological male/female monogamous marriages. This is because those who believe our current teaching is Biblical are an expanding majority in the worldwide UMC and are supportive of the current teachings of the church. On the other hand, there is a vast swath of the American church (certainly not all of any category including pastors, UMC leaders, and/or bishops) that disagrees with the official stance on various issues and believe that our current teaching is discriminatory and hurtful. Those who agree with the current beliefs find it logical for those who cannot abide by the teachings to depart the UMC to join or begin a new/another denomination. But the progressive American United Methodists have drawn the line in the sand. With few exceptions, they are not leaving the UMC. Instead, with their frustration building with each passing conference, they believe disobedience is required to fight what they view as injustices, particularly to the LGBTQ community. This began to impact the church in irreversible ways in 2016 when, against our rules, the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC elected a married gay bishop. The UMC Judicial Council (our version of the US Supreme Court) ruled that was in violation of our agreed upon rules. Like the Supreme Court, those making the ruling were not in charge of enforcement of their ruling. The other bishops in the Western Jurisdiction are the ones in charge of the enforcement. Rather than abide by the Judicial Council decision, they instead disregarded the ruling. There is nothing anyone can do. Little by little, the flood gates have been opening and more and more gay pastors are being sent on to become pastors in the UMC. While all pastors have taken a vow to uphold church teaching, the bishops are given the responsibility of enforcing our doctrine and holding those in violation accountable. The rest of the church can only watch as the official church teachings and Judicial Council rulings are ignored and disregarded by many bishops and boards.

Most parties had hoped the 2020 General Conference would bring a solution as the traditionalists were willing to leave the denomination since the progressives were not. A compromise had been reached by an unofficial diverse group working with Kenneth Feinberg, the mediator who had been the Special Master of the U.S. government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He volunteered his time to help us come to the agreement. Most believed the proposal to allow the parting of the traditionalists would be passed and an amicable separation would occur in 2020. Had the conference been held and the agreement passed, the traditional denomination would have received $25 Million to begin their denomination and churches would have received the UMC’s blessing to leave with their church property. Enter Covid. Now, after three cancelled General Conferences, we have learned the next General Conference will not be held until 2024. Unwilling to wait two more years, the leaders of the traditionalists who organized seven years ago and have been waiting patiently for a peaceful resolution, even encouraging traditional churches to wait, finally announced they were launching the new Global Methodist Church on May 1.

This brings us up to date on the crisis in a nutshell. The headlines in the media the last few days read, “Conservative group to split off from UMC over LGBTQ rights.” If you have read this far, I hope I have adequately, and as briefly as possible, helped you to understand this is not true. The denomination is in turmoil and the splintering off is taking place because of the anarchy, the lack of obedience and accountability to our rules. As many attempt to remain faithful to UMC doctrine, others feel justified in disobedience to our agreed upon teaching. This will undoubtedly go on for at least two more years. Kicking the conference can down the road may or may not lead to a mass exodus of either traditional or progressive UMC churches. Obviously, if nothing changes the odds very good that it will be difficult for the American progressives to pass their agenda in 2024. And if nothing changes and the traditionalist voices take the day, we have already seen how little that means. However, there seems to be significant interest in the Global Methodist Church. The bishops have even asked for a ruling as to whether an entire annual conference can leave without General Conference approval. There is only one reason to ask for this ruling – there must be rumblings. The disaffiliation of many traditionalists to the GMC, to another denomination, or to become independent would naturally increase the odds of the progressive agenda finally passing UMC General Conference.

All churches, traditional and progressive, have a difficult choice to make. One option is to hang in there two more years and see what happens, continuing in the status quo, financing the UMC, and either tolerating disobedience or cheering it. Another option is for churches to work within the current framework to seek their bishop’s and conference’s blessing to buy their way out of the UMC. This is necessary for multiple reasons, including benefits owed to pastors from 35 years ago (that the money is not there for) and the UMC Trust Clause which says that the church belongs not to the local congregation, but to the UMC as a whole. The buyout would pay the local church share of what the older pastors are owed, and would give the local church the deed transferring ownership to each local congregation, free to follow their own callings and chart their own futures.

As I said when I began, this barely scratches the surface on what you need to know. I have written this to inform/remind you of some basics and to point out that Wesley Chapel Short Gap has a rapidly approaching choice coming over the horizon. Wesley Chapel is not being caught unaware. Our church has had a lay leadership group meeting for about a year that has been following this closely and will be able to help advise the congregation. Please be in prayer about the future of the UMC, the GMC, and Wesley Chapel Short Gap.

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Jehovah Jireh – The God who provides

Someone graciously left a bunch of Ty Beanie Babies at the church for the church’s shoebox ministry. We are one of 3,200 churches across the country that work with Samaritan’s Purse by sending shoeboxes filled with stuffed animals, shoes, toothbrushes, soap, wash cloths, coloring books, crayons, cups, and whatever else you think kids in need could use. Samaritan’s Purse distributes them around the world as an avenue to open doors to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. They have been collecting about 10 million a year the last few years. Yesterday it was announced that 660,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes will be going to Ukraine and Ukrainian border areas. You can click the gold “give” tab in the upper right hand corner of the page on their OCC web site to financially support the shoe box ministry or here to support their work in Ukraine as they provide hospitals with supplies and prepare to take a field hospital.

The Beanie Babies in shoe boxes always make me smile. I remember as a young parent buying them for our kids. I remember everyone saving them because the Ty company had convinced people they were going to be worth a lot of money one day. Boy howdy, did people buy them and save them. Things do not accumulate value just because people say they will. As a matter of fact it only makes sense that they are not making anyone rich today because the value is partially based on scarcity and they are not scarce, but are instead plentiful. However, the value to the kids in war-torn Ukraine who receive a small stuffed animal will be priceless.

Now, think about this: The God of whom the children and families will hear when they receive a box is the same God who knew the purpose for the Beanie Babies in our shoebox room when they were purchased 30 years ago. The person who donated them had no idea when they were purchased that they would indeed be of value, but not in the way they intended. Rest assured, God knew. And He knows the little hands that will hold them one day. He will also use them to draw people to Himself.

Our God is amazing.

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