The problem is not the confederate flag

I’m waiting for the oil to be changed in Diane’s car. Her car just needs this routine maintenance. Other people are sitting here with serious car troubles. While they may be able to use an oil change, that won’t fix their problem.

CNN is on the TV here in the dealership and they are talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds.  I’m not making an argument against that action, but in the big picture that isn’t going to make any difference.  While it may make some people feel better, it’s not going to solve anything. The flag issues, the race issues, the gun issues, the abortion issues, the sexual immorality issues, the drug addiction issues in our country…..  those are all just symptoms. We can remove flags, outlaw guns, make drugs illegal (or legal) or take whatever other actions we consider humane or moral, and they are not going to solve anything.

The root of the problem is one our society is not willing to hear:  It’s a spiritual issue.  As our country turns farther and farther from Jesus Christ, things are only going to get worse.  We have allowed Islam and Wicca to be just as relevant or irrelevant as Jesus. And even most of Jesus’ followers are guilty by diluting the power and deluding the truth of the Gospel.  By doing so, we are diluting and deluding our only hope.

So take down the flag, that won’t remove the hate.  Outlaw the guns, that won’t stop people from killing each other. It’s like getting an oil change when you actually need a new motor. All of these are symptoms of a heart problem. The only cure is to turn our evil hearts over to Jesus.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” ~ Jeremiah 17:9




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Selfies, Selfie Sticks, and the Gospel – change

selfieWhen I was young we had cameras.  Not cameras built in to phones, but actual cameras.  All they did was took pictures.  They didn’t even do video.  But they did have timers.  And if I wanted a picture of Diane and I, I would find a flat rock, trashcan, parking meter, etc, and set the camera on it, set the timer, and run like my pants were on fire to get in the picture before it snapped.

There were so many times I wished I had my camera with me and I didn’t.  Now, of course, most all of us have cameras with us all the time in our phones.  And now they sell collapsible rods to hold phones out far enough to take pictures of ourselves.  And the pictures are now are called “selfies”.  I was taking selfies before, I just didn’t know what they were called and I got exercise while doing it.

Cameras have changed and how we look at the pictures has changed, but the premise is still the same.  You take a picture and you have a memory right there in front of you.  Or today, for the whole world to see.  Our country and world has changed and is changing at an accelerating rate.  The church is also changing.  There are very few people who pick up a hymnal on Sunday mornings here at the Short Gap Church.  They read the lyrics from a projector.

The one thing that will never change (until Jesus returns) is that the world is full of sin because the world is full of sinners.  And sin’s not a popular word any more.  But the church that Jesus began has never been about appealing to the masses and to the world around them…. until the American church today.  The Bible tells of many times when people walked away from Jesus and the church.  Today we act as if it’s not OK if people say no to the church or to Jesus.  Today many believe we must bend over backwards to make sure the Gospel does not offend anyone.  And that’s not the Gospel.  The Gospel calls people to turn from their own ways, from their sin.  And that is going to offend many people.  People will mock us.  But we don’t show love by leading people to a false Jesus.  We don’t show love by leading them to believe that they are OK and don’t need to repent and don’t need to change.  The most sincere love is the love that is willing to be honest with people by telling them of their sin and telling them of the forgiveness available through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.  And that will never change.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:18








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How firm is your foundation?

trayplateEach Wednesday we have a community dinner.  We use cheap paper plates and the plates are not the sturdiest.  Jason, Tracy, and Chase McCoy were able to get us 100 Arby’s trays when we began the dinners and we set them out every week for the people to put their plates on.  You easily carry around the plate without anything on it or you can even put a sandwich on it and it will probably carry it.  But to put a full meal on it without the trays, there is no doubt the plates would collapse under the weight of the food.  We’d be cleaning up messes left and right.

The importance of the trays came to me as I was putting out the plates for the dinner this week.  And as God often does, He used a very common thing like those trays to make a point about Him.  He is like the tray and we are like the plates.  As the plates, we are able to adequately carry a little.  But there are times in our lives when life bears down on us and the weight becomes too much for us to bear.  It’s in those times that we know if we’re living life in our own power or if we have that firm foundation ~ if we have Jesus and His power under-girding us.

I’m reminded of that firm foundation when I think of the people who are dealing with an evil tragedy as a murderer walked into the church in Charleston, SC and killed 9 of Jesus’ followers.  This is one of those times that we, as fragile beings, collapse.  And when we do, when we cry out, when we fall to the floor, when we get angry, when we try to make sense of a senseless act, or second guess a terrible accident, it is then that we find out if we have that firm foundation.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” ~ Matthew 7:24-27




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A bad time to quit as a pastor

A friend of mine (and someone who goes to church here) works for the federal prison.  She sent me an email letting me know that the prison is hiring a “Powerhouse Manager”.  She said if I know of anyone who would be qualified I could let them know.  The job pays between $26-$32 an hour.

powerhouseI think I’m qualified.  I sent her back an email and told her that I have actually been a powerhouse manager for the last 8 years.  And that’s a lot of money.  It would be bad timing to walk away from the church for another job right now, though.  I’ve just been appointed to the church in Short Gap for my third year.  Sunday Appointments were set and it would be difficult for the conference to send a pastor here now.  They’d probably have to pull someone out of retirement.

I think I’ve decided against applying.  While it would be a substantial pay increase, it would also be a significant reduction in the amount of power available to the “powerhouse” I manage.

It’s a funny play on words, but the truth is I am a “powerhouse manager”.  Each person who goes to our church who has been born again through faith in Jesus Christ has received the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1:8 promises “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  And as a pastor, it is my job to help all of these people realize their power potential.  There are so many people who don’t realize the power they have.

I can keep going with this.  Don’t believe me?  Here goes – I deal with some who need a “crank start”, some who need primed, and some who need some gasoline thrown on their burning bush.  OK, that’s enough.

The truth is, there is a church full of people who don’t realize the power they wield and I do see it as my job to empower them.  For example, I have one person right now who is praying about doing a Bible Study (I asked them to pray about doing it at a local laundromat while paying for everyone’s laundry who came in on those evenings).

Pastors have many jobs in the church, perhaps none more important than being the “powerhouse manager”.  I think I’m overqualified to work as the prison powerhouse manager.




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Taming wild animals vs. the call of the wild

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard relays a true story about some geese that one winter, instead of continuing to fly south, had settled on his farm which was only the midpoint of their trip.  They stayed there for the winter.  For the next couple of years, as other geese were honking on their flight south, the geese on his farm were squawking and getting all riled up.  Yet they never took flight to continue south, but instead made the decision to stay on the farm.  After a few years the geese on his farm became oblivious to the honking overhead.  They would just keep pecking at the earth as other geese overhead honked on their way south for the winter.

Several contemporary books tell the story of the geese and make the case that this is a parable of the American church.  While there is a calling on our lives as followers of Jesus, we have become oblivious to it.  We have settled at the trough enjoying all our blessings, unconcerned about, or unaware of, our purpose.  We are too comfortable.  We have it made.

Kierkegaard ends his story with this warning:  while a wild goose can be tamed, seldom does a tame goose become wild again.

Erwin McManus, in his book The Barbarian Way writes (as I paraphrase) that somewhere along the way a movement of Jesus Christ became civilized and called Christianity.  And in this man made type of Christianity, God’s desire is that we live a safe life risking nothing, sacrificing nothing, and losing nothing.  We must find our way out of this comfortable “Christianity” and become wild again.  We have become the geese who have travelled just far enough to become comfortable.  Very few will return to the skies to continue in The Way.

I never want to be tamed.  And it may or may not cause those around me to squawk ;)





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The church is more than a civic organization

I just returned from the meeting of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  There were about 1,000 people who attend the UMC from across WV (and Garrett County, MD) who met to be inspired to go back to their communities and “make disciples.” Our 1,100 UMC’s are looking for 2,400 people in the next 18 months to become disciples by joining our churches.  If we take the teachings from the conference to heart, what “making disciples” requires is for each of us to go back to our respective neighborhoods and love people and help people who are in need of assistance.  They will join the church and we will have “made a disciple.”  Our Annual Conference could have almost been the convention for any good civic organization.

A civic organization is defined as, “a type of organization whose official goal is to improve neighborhoods through volunteer work by its members.”  Places like the Lion’s Club do great works to help improve communities (and the world) and help people who are in need of assistance.  I’m thankful for their goal and their efforts.

But the church is more than a civic organization.  It’s good advice to send people back to their homes wanting to love and help people.  That’s very Biblical.  Christians are instructed to do that.  In the beginning of our country, the church started most of the hospitals and founded most of the universities. But the church is so much more than a civic organization.

What many in today’s church fail to realize is that while Jesus never turns anyone away, people always have and always will turn away from Him.  And the reason is that there is a cost to being a disciple.  I believe everyone in the church can agree that our desire is to see none turn away from following Jesus – He certainly won’t turn them away.  But the church is now officially offering “cheap grace”.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ““cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance”.  Likewise, he says, “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit…”

We offer cheap grace when we want the world to love us.  We offer costly grace when we want them to love Jesus.  It costs them nothing to love us.  It costs them everything to love Him.

I worry about which kind of disciples the leadership of the WV UMC has sent their people home to make.




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Too many slackers in the Kingdom of God

This morning I read something that Bill Easum wrote: “The role of the pastor is to equip God’s people for ministry, not to do all the ministries himself or herself.”  He was paraphrasing Ephesians 4:11-12 that says (as I paraphrase):

Some people are called to be pastors, whose job is to equip each of Jesus’ followers to do their own work that will build up the body of Christ and help the world come to faith in Jesus.

In other words, there are to be no slackers in the Kingdom of God.  The pastor is neither designed nor meant to do it all.  Every follower of Jesus is meant to be a participant and have a ministry.  1 Corinthians 12:12 puts it this way,

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” 

That was the initial design of the church.  And the church flourished.  Every follower of Jesus had purpose.  But somewhere along the way we began to believe that if we paid people to do ministry on our behalf, all the rest of us have to do is show up on Sundays – or every other Sunday.  And what we are left with is entirely too many “purposeless people in the pews.”

One of the great challenges today’s church faces is not only to help the spectators in the seats find purpose, but to convince them that they truly are designed to play a vital part in the Body of Christ.  God knows the plans He has for you.  He has a purpose for all of His children.  He has a purpose for you within the Body of Believers that He calls the Church.





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