A loving invitation

This morning I logged on to blog not knowing what I was going to say. When I got to my “dashboard”, there was a reminder that I could monetize my blog. It said I could sell nearly anything from physical items to digital content to “hidden content”. We definitely live in a society where we are bombarded with sales pitches. Sometimes people say that pastors are selling people on Jesus. It seems like some people do try to make Jesus as palatable as possible in order to get people to buy. Some stress the gentle side of Jesus without ever acknowledging the call to go and sin no more.

Every once in a while I read or hear a phrase/term/idea that makes such an impact on me that I will remember it for the rest of my life. Yesterday I heard such a thought. Pastor Matt Chandler said something to the effect of, “Every rebuke on behalf of the Lord is an invitation”. His words were more nuanced, but that was my takeaway. He was pointing out that every call to repentance or every pointing out of sin is not meant to be an embarrassment or finger pointing, but is instead offered as an invitation.

For God’s people to call out sin and call sinners to repent is not meant to be destructive, but meant to save. Anyone selling people on the meek mild mannered Jesus is not likely leading anyone to be saved. To be honest, I like the thought of that version of Jesus as well. A new advertising campaign emphasizes the idea that Jesus understands and is willing to come along side you to help you through difficult times, requiring nothing of you. That is a sales pitch from the enemy of God.

Throughout the Bible, we read of a Savior who constantly calls people to turn from their ways and then gives them the choice. Sometimes the words are harsh and sometimes gentle, but the demand and the offer is always the same: Give up what you were, follow Jesus and His ways, and He will save you and make you new. Every call to turn from sin is a loving invitation.

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When the wife is away

I cannot remember if I am on my second or third tub of french onion chip dip in the last week. I want to say second, but it is probably the third. I naturally eat potato chips with the dip and this is not going to “weigh” favorably for my checkup with my doctor on Thursday. In addition, my doctor will run blood work and the huge influx of chips and dip will not help my blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.

Why all the chip dip in the last week? My wife, Diane, is in Kenya for about 18 days. She cannot stand french onion chip dip, so I only buy and eat it when she is away. When she gets home, all the evidence will be gone. I will even go so far as to make sure there are no empty dip containers int he trash. Jason and Tracy McCoy laugh when I go to Rt. 28 Discount Store and Deli to get dip. They know what I am telling you, that I only have it when Diane is gone.

Early this morning I knew I wanted to post a blog today and was unsure what to write. When I finally settled on chip dip, I was not sure where it would lead. Now, I think where I will end today is the idea of what happens when Diane is not around and relate that to what is happening while it appears Jesus is not around. Believers know that God sees all, the Spirit of God is with us, and we are all accountable for all we do. But non-Believers do not get that while they carry on in their sin, there is a God who is taking it all in and one day they will face Him and give an account. We who have asked Jesus to forgive us and have received the benefit of His payment on the cross will get a pass because our debt has been paid. Those who never repent will be so sorry one day. They will be so surprised to find out that everything they thought they were getting away with, they were not actually getting away with.

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Thank you EMS workers

Last night I watched, as many of you did, a young man fall to the ground in a football game on live television. I saw an ambulance rush onto the field and do what they do. Rightfully so, Damar Hamlin has the attention and prayers of the entire country. Lord, in Your mercy…

My perspective on the event itself comes from a 911 responder’s viewpoint, as I begin my 6th year as an EMS emergency responder with the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company. I have been the one to show up on the scene of cardiac arrests. I have the training to know what to do with all the equipment on the ambulance to give folks a chance. I have performed and sent 12 lead EKG’s to the hospital from the scene so the hospital gets a 15 minute head start to get the heart doctor to the hospital. I have used the AED to shock a heart. I have watched paramedics work above and beyond my training giving life saving drugs. And I am but one of a dozen or so active call runners at our local volunteer station. So when they spoke about what was going on with the player last night, I have been in many similar situations. Tens of thousands of us from across the country watched it from this perspective.

My reach is very small and very limited. 30 or 50 or 100 people will read this today. If it gets a lot of shares, perhaps several hundred views. I do not write this so I will get the “thank you for your service” attaboys. I don’t need them. I have a job as a pastor where I get paid a fair salary to serve Jesus Christ full time. My reward is in heaven, as the Bible states. I write this today because, in the moment last night, we were reminded of what is important. We saw practically minimum wage workers, or perhaps even volunteers, put their training into action to try and help a fellow human being who was in distress.

I am blessed to see that nearly every day at the fire department. Most of the volunteers in small communities like ours do EMS paid for a living. When they’re off work, they are volunteering to serve you. And those folks, including dispatchers, are among the most underpaid, most selfless, most important people in every small town across America. I count it a blessing to be personally associated with a few, and with every one across the nation via our connection through the national EMS. I say thank you today to them all. Every one of them was empathetic to the ones from among us that were on that field in Cincinnati last night.

PS… You can always show your support through a donation, buy a raffle ticket, attend a fundraiser, or drop off a case of sports drinks to your local station.

Autumn struggles to plug in
the ambulance after a run.
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My personal hope for 2023

On New Year’s Eve I always stay up till midnight. I don’t stay up till midnight because I want to. I stay up till midnight because Diane wants me to. By 1230 I am zonked. When I was younger we used to go to Walmart back in Mason at midnight because they would mark their clearance for Christmas to 75% off. They don’t do that anymore. Neither do I. But I digress.

This morning I woke up at about 7:15. Sunrise today was at 7:20. But church isn’t until 10:00 here at the beach. It is now 2023 and my first decision of the new year is before me. Do I sleep in or do I get up and go see the sunrise at the beach? I know many of you envy that decision. I’m not playing this as “what a tough decision it is.” But I was aware this morning that I had a choice to make. I don’t always think about the fact that a choice is before me. I usually just make decisions one way or the other without thinking about the actual act of making the choice.

If I hadn’t thought about having a choice, my natural inclination would be to roll over and go back to sleep for an hour. But because I thought about having a choice, I thought walking to the beach to see the sunrise was the better choice. So that is the choice I made.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions anymore, but I think this year I want to be more aware of my choices. Sometimes you and I don’t really have a choice, but most of the time we do. Perhaps if we remember we are making a choice, that God has given us a choice, maybe we will make better choices. That is my hope for 2023.

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God cares about us all

This morning is the foggiest I’ve seen the beach and all my trips here. The beach at Myrtle Beach is sparsely populated on New Year’s Eve day anyhow, and this morning the fog gives the illusion of loneliness. I came upon a woman with two walking sticks. When I saw her the thought came to me that the world doesn’t care if she is standing there or not. The world is indifferent to her presence on the foggy beach. Nature doesn’t care and nobody along the beach cares. Not only does the fog give the illusion of loneliness, it reminds me of the world’s indifference toward us.

The truth is if the world cares about us at all, it is only to use us and to lead us astray. And I know this because the Bible tells me of one who is currently the “ruler of this world”. When the Bible speaks of the enemy of God being the ruler of this world, it’s not a ruler that has total control, but a persuasive enemy that has the power to deceive us. (Think garden, tree, fruit.) This is obviously coming from a deeper place within me. But this my thinking on this dreary, foggy, lonely beach this morning.

Yet, before I have a chance to dwell on the thought, God intervenes and tells me He cares that the woman is there. He tells me He cares that I am here. And God not only talks the talk, God walks the walk. He tells me that He cares, but I know from his Word that He has also shown me that He cares. If He did not care, why would He have created me? And if He did not care, why would He have sent his son to die for me? There are many things that you and I may wonder about God, but we must never let ourselves think that He does not care. To think that He does not care about us is an insult to Him who created us and sent His Son to die for us. Thank You Lord for this reminder that You care about every one of us.

Posted in depression, Hard times, Obstacles, thanks, trust | Leave a comment

My best New Year’s advice

My favorite part of Facebook is the memories page. It’s the first thing I check when I get on Facebook. It’s a primary reason that I post many things. On this day in 2014 Diane took me to the Christmas show at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. That was right after her sister died. In 2015 I was on a mission trip in Andrews, South Carolina. In 2016 we were at home in Short Gap and I made Diane cruellers (fried dough) from her mom’s old recipe. Two years ago we were fairly early in Covid and only days earlier we held our Christmas Eve service in the church parking lot.

The situation at that time led me to write that while we must remember that God is good even in hard times, we are still not to set up camp in the valleys of life. Instead we keep moving through the valleys. It is unhealthy both emotionally and spiritually to dwell on the difficult and undesirable events in life. All the memories from this day, and from every day, help me to put life in perspective.

So as we end 2022 and begin 2023, and as people are making New Year’s resolutions, consider this advice: when problems arise, and they will, talk to God, turn it over to God, and trust God. Once things are in His hands, we must allow ourselves to move through the valley. The famous Psalm says, “I walk through the valley of the shadow…” Keep walking. Keep talking to friends. Keep going to church. Go get your hair done. Take a purposeful shower symbolically “washing off the past.”The only way the enemy wins if we let a bad day or a tragic loss define us. God is there for us and will use the dark times for good if we will allow Him.

Talk to God. Turn it over to God. Trust God. Keep your feet moving until God brings you out of the valley. And He will. Whatever you do, do not set up camp in the valley.

Posted in depression, Hard times, Obstacles, peace, trust | Leave a comment

I keep burning cookies

This morning I was making chocolate peanut butter Ritz cookies that do not require baking. I was also baking cookies. When my timer went off I checked the cookies and they needed one more minute. So I went back to the Ritz’s and about eight minutes later I went back to get the burnt cookies out of the oven.I cannot tell you the number of times I have done this. I walk away from the oven thanking I will go back to it in a minute and the next thing you know I am taking burnt cookies out of the oven.

In Romans 7 the apostle Paul complained that he kept doing the same things over and over… things he did not want to do. He also said that the things that he DID want to do, the good things, he failed to do. He then asked the question, “what am I to do?” What are any of us to do when we keep doing the same things over and over that we know we are not to do, and we fail to do many things that we should do.

Paul goes on to say that as wretched as he is, as unable as he is to get himself out of that repetitious disobedience, that hope is not lost because God will deliver him. And God will deliver us. I only wish God would help me to quit burning cookies.

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When God speaks to you

Yesterday I preached about good news. The Scripture I used was the angels coming to tell the shepherds that they had good news for all people. We talked about those for whom the angels came to proclaim the Good News. They proclaimed it for all. We then had some audience participation about who is in the “all”. Those in addiction, living under a bridge, millionaires, prisoners and their guards, and the list went on. The Good News of Jesus is good news for everyone, as the Scripture said. I thought the word yesterday was a powerful gift for the people and for myself. However, I ended with the need to receive the Good News. Forgiveness is not automatically bestowed on people. People must choose to turn to God and turn from their sin. Then, when we receive Jesus as our Savior, we have received the Good News into our lives.

Yesterday I was talking to someone in a difficult season of life. They had spoken with me previously and this was a follow-up conversation. I told them they should watch the sermon. (You can find it here on the church Facebook page. The sermon starts about 20 minutes in.) They later told me they watched it and they felt like I had directed it to them, based on our previous conversation. The person was not upset that I had, but just wanted to verify that it was about them… directed to them. I told them that they were not on my mind when I wrote it or spoke it. Yet, I also told them I was pretty sure that, as a result of their response, God did indeed have me speak it directly to them. Do you see what I am saying? While this person was not on my radar when God gave me the words to write and speak, God gave me the words to reach this person.

When Jesus says, “They know not what they are doing” He is often talking about me… and not always in a bad way. I never know God’s intended impact on people from what I write in a blog, speak in a sermon, or say in a devotion at the mission. While I do not know what I am doing, God knows what He is doing. I simply try to be obedient in what I do and say. God will do with it what He will. And sometimes, it is a blessing when you know He is speaking directly to you.

Posted in depression, Hard times, salvation, sermons, Walking the Walk | Leave a comment

What is going on right under your nose

This morning someone on Facebook posted pictures and a video of a Wallops Island (VA) rocket launch that could be seen locally. When I saw that the picture and video was posted 44 minutes previous, I realized that I had missed seeing it myself. I was even more discouraged about missing it because I was already awake. Not only was I awake, I was doing some things outside! It is very likely that I had to do was turn around and look. Being that the launch could not be heard, there was nothing to draw my attention to the sky.

This stands in stark contrast to last night. Last night I was out walking circles around the church parking lot when I heard a car crash. It sounded like one vehicle hitting something solid. It did not sound like two vehicles. Moments later the fire department siren sounded and moments after that a fire truck and ambulance were on scene. I did not see the wreck, but I could not miss hearing it.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. I saw a guy say on 60 minutes last night in a segment on social media that surveys show that people on Facebook do not want to be bombarded with political ads. I get it. The person being interviewed said people primarily want to stay connected with loved ones. I would argue they also like to watch funny videos. Nobody prefers controversy. I do not prefer controversy, but I will also not avoid it to achieve a false peace. I never have avoided it. I am old enough that I have written my share of “letters to the editor” of local newspapers. I wrote my first one in 1979 when I was in high school. I got a ticket for parking in a no parking zone outside of Sistersville High School. None of the teachers parked there got a ticket, but I did. I wrote a letter to the editor to express the unfairness of being singled out for a ticket.

The problem is that today, a letter to the editor is almost pointless. Social media is now the modern day “letter to the editor” if you will. I share things so people will know, even if they are afraid to share these things themselves. I share things so people will “hear” and “see” the things that are going on right under their noses, just as the launch and the wreck went on right under mine. How will people know if nobody tells them?

How will people in the UMC know what is taking place in the United Methodist Church if nobody shares things with them? Is anyone else letting people know? I do not see it happening in my circles. I feel like I am the only one in my sphere of influence. Is everyone happy about it? Of course not. Do some people have me blocked and others unfriend me? Absolutely. Am I a thorn in the side to some in the UMC by exposing what is going on? I am. When conference leadership is telling churches that they do not need to worry about what is happening in other churches, other conferences, or other jurisdictions “because they are not happening in our church or conference”, this is not true. It is coming. In addition, when they implore churches to pay their fair share, they stress connectionalism – that we are a world wide church and our giving sends ripples throughout the world. I can tell you that same connection brings ripples right back to our little local church. What happens in the Western Jurisdiction matters to United Methodists in Short Gap, West Virginia, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Do not let them tell you it does not.

For the record, I recently told my District Superintendent that my current personal plan is to wait for Spring 2024, which is a year and a half away and see if the UMC General Conference is able to do anything to hold people accountable for breaking their vows to uphold the UMC Book of Discipline. Or if General Conference becomes obsolete in our current ungovernable situation. I will have a decision to make once I have more information. I do not have much hope. Some people have decided they can wait no longer, and I get it. But God can move mountains. At the risk of being melodramatic, I also told my church yesterday that any Sunday could be my last Sunday in the pulpit here. While I have a little more security as an Elder than a local pastor has, I also know that posts like this can put a target on your back when there are so few pastors sharing information.

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In You, Lord, I place my trust

Most who know me know I have been going through a retinal problem for the last 6 months or so. I was playing basketball with some kids in the church parking lot when one tried to steal the ball and hit me in the left eye with his head. That led to a partial retinal detachment and two tears, which the eye doctor fixed with laser surgery. It was not long before I had another partial detachment which required surgery. He put a silicone oil in my eye for about 4 months to hold the retina in place and to allow it to heal in the right place. Last week I had a surgery to remove the oil and an air bubble was placed in my eye. Tomorrow I have a follow up. There is much more to all of it, but for the purpose of today’s post the other details are unnecessary. I am not sure how close to normal it will get, but my vision in the surgically repaired eye is improving daily. The doctor has been telling me what he is doing throughout, and I have no option but to trust him. So far, I think my trust has proven beneficial.

Everyone places their trust in someone or something. Some people see a doctor and are wise to seek a second opinion. Some people trust themselves. Some people trust MSNBC and others trust Fox News. Nobody trusts them both, lol. Some people trust in their own goodness. Some trust science. I trust science, but we have learned that science is often manipulated. Some trust fact-checkers. Some trust their feelings, which we know are ever changing. The list goes on.

It makes me think of God and how I trust Him. The disciples trusted Him, except for the times they did not. Once Jesus said to the disciples, “Are you going to leave me, too?” They rightly answered Him, “Where else would we go? You have the words of life.” That is where I find myself. There is so much chaos in the world. It is a strange time we are living through. But as James Earl Jones said in the movie Field of Dreams, “throughout it all there has been one constant…” He was talking about baseball. I am talking about God. I will continue to proclaim Him. I will continue to trust Him. I will continue to speak for the unborn. God loves them. I will continues to speak for kids who are being abused and confused with all the sexual propaganda. God loves them. I will continue to pray for those who think it is right to expose kids to sexual propaganda.

God is the one constant we can trust. He is never changing and He is everlasting. And one day, we will all face Him and give an account to Him for the things we said and the things we did not say. In His mercy, through Christ, we will be forgiven. Yet, that does not give us permission to live in disobedience in the meantime.

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