Last night they had a youth night at the church. Not the church I attend, but at the church that I’m sleeping in. This week I am volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse in Mayfield Kentucky to assist the community in what will amount to a years long recovery from last December‘s tornado. Even as I watched the news at the time, I knew that I would be here one day.
When I see people from the Mayfield First Assembly of God, I always thank them for opening their church to Samaritan’s Purse and us volunteers. Every time I’m on one of these trips, I always thank church people. It is a very big deal turn your church over to a bunch of strangers for two years. We experience that for one week every summer when a mission team comes in from North Lewisburg Ohio, even though those folks are no longer strangers.
Last night one of the people I thanked said “you are welcome” and then added, “thank you for coming to help us.” I don’t honestly see how Mayfield ever recovers. I can only relate it to the loss of a loved one. You move on, but you are never the same.
I will leave here after a week taking a piece of Mayfield with me. I will take with me a piece of their pain, and I will take with me a piece of their hope. And the words “thank you for coming to help us” will be forever etched in my mind. I have heard them from others before on other mission trips, but this time it hit me differently. This morning I was reminded that that is, simply put, what God has done for us. Like Mayfield, there was no chance of recovery without some kind of outside intervention. God came and helped me when I couldn’t help myself. He came in the form of Jesus Christ and he took the punishment that I deserved. He rose from the dead, overcoming death, so that I to will overcome death. Not only will I overcome death, I have overcome death. The victory is already mine. And it can be yours as well if you will just thank him for coming to help you. Confess your sins to Him, ask Him to forgive you. It is why He came.
Last night I was finishing up in the kitchen and I knew that thing I had been putting off could be put off no longer. I had to mop the floor. Lately, all the rage has been a Swiffer wet jet. I have used it many times myself. You know what that is – the bottle that squirts the liquid and the disposable pads that you use to scrub the floor. The thing about the wet jet is when you have spilled something that gets sticky on the floor, you really have to apply pressure. Sometimes I am afraid to push any harder for fear of breaking the wet jet in half.
I knew what this job called for. It called for a mop; and not just any mop, but a big old heavy mop. And a bucket of water with some soapy lemon cleaner. I would be willing to bet there are a great number of young people who have never used a mop and a bucket of water. I learned to use them when I was 13. As a matter of fact, I had the mop snatched from my hand by my grandmother who said something to the effect of, “Give me that mop. If you are going to do something, then do it right.” She proceeded to mop and all I could do was step out of the way.
Just as mops and buckets of water have been replaced by the convenience of Swiffer wet jets, Christianity has been replaced by a convenient, less demanding false religion. And boy-howdy, do the people love it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called what we are witnessing “cheap grace”. He wrote: Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods… Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
This morning I was changing the church sign taking down the yard sale announcement and putting back up our community dinner announcement. The dinner announcement is a mainstay on the sign, only being replaced on occasion by other things going on. Because it is there so much, I sometimes move the words around so the plastic behind the letters does not get faded or turn yellow in spots. For that reason, this morning I wrote:
Community Free Dinner Every Tuesday At 5:30
Being a bit of a grammar enthusiast, I immediately recognized that some people could misunderstand our intention. Instead of believing there is a free dinner for the entire community, they could read it as a “community free dinner” where nobody from the community is permitted, like a “gun free zone”. We obviously welcome all.
This makes me think of how people sometimes misunderstand what it means for a church to “welcome all.” Does the church welcome sinners? Of course. Otherwise, the church would be empty because the Bible says all have sinned. Where the lost world misunderstands, and where parts of the church have lost their way is when we change the definition of being welcoming to being affirming. The church welcomes people who are in addiction, but we do not celebrate it. We affirm the opposite: that the Bible wants people to be set free from addiction. The church welcomes unmarried couples who live together, even as we affirm marriage. The church welcomes women who have had an abortion, but we affirm life. We welcome smokers… you get the idea.
God, through His Word, calls the church to welcome all. But the welcome is to, “Come. Come and be changed. Come and be saved.” In the light of eternity, nobody benefits when sin is affirmed by the church – not the sinner and not the church.
Today is Ralph Ross’s birthday. Ralph and Sally Ross are two of the people I miss most from the six year season of our lives that God had us walking with the folks in upper Mason County, WV. There are a lot of people we miss from that time. I cannot mention names without leaving others out, but let me just say I worked a lot with Beth Foreman at the Good News Club and Lew and Vicky Nazarewycz at the food pantry who are others that I miss dearly and cannot wait to spend eternity with. You who know Ralph, Sally, Lew, Vicky, and Beth surely agree. I could go on and on about others like my neighbors Lew and Irma Gilland, but I have to stop. (Lew, who lived next door and had a pool in his back yard told me if I promised to stay that he would pay to have his fence moved to include my back yard so we would share back yards and their pool would be in our back yard, too!)
On the other hand, there are others I do not miss. We all have experiences with people who talk behind our back or work to undermine us. I remember one person who started attending the church back then and someone asked me if I knew that person. When I said I did not, the person who did know them said: “Let me just say they have never been a problem SOLVER at any other church they have attended.” Strangely enough, that is one of the people that a decade later I now remember fondly.
All of this comes to mind from my interaction with the garbage men this morning. Some of you know I like to leave snacks out for them. I never mention this to brag, but to perhaps inspire you to do something similar for others, and it not necessarily be the sanitation crew. You can take cookies for the nursing home staff when you go to visit, etc. Anyhow, I helped them fling our garbage bags this morning and handed them some chocolate chip cookies and waved as they drove off waving back and yelling out their appreciation. As I walked away I almost felt as if God were whispering to me, “They are going to miss you when you are gone.” (Not that I plan on going anywhere right away, but I know I am closer to the end of this season of ministry in Short Gap than the beginning). My kindness to them is my witness to them of the love of Jesus. Sometimes my witness of the love of Jesus is hard words like “repent of your sins and be forgiven”. If folks are not thankful for those words now, at the judgement they will know they were said in love.
We have friends from Arkansas who are missionaries to Haiti. It’s been a tough few years for them with Covid and chaos. In three days it will be a year to the day that Haiti’s president was assassinated. One time one of them told me that what Haiti really needed was a “Benevolent Dictator”. My friend said nothing could get done because the system was so corrupt. It was impossible to make decisions to benefit the Haitian people. The people pulling the strings of the politicians would not allow it. He said they needed someone with total power and decision making authority, but who was willing to make decisions based on what was best for the people of Haiti.
That brings to mind the formation of our country. The people of the American Colonies were subjects of Great Britain, and the decisions and actions made by the leaders were not considered fair by the colonists. This led to the fight for independence and ultimately the formation of the United States of America. For 246 years, our goal has been to live up to the Preamble of the Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Neither the citizens nor the leaders have been perfect in the years since, but there is no other country on earth that more people outside of that country want to move to. I believe the way we run America is just about as well as humans can do. We have spent 246 years attempting to “form a more perfect Union”.
I thank God for those founders who had the idea of independence and freedom. I thank God they risked everything for it. I thank God for America. We are blessed to live here.
The other day Diane, our son Matt, and I took Pastor Brian Smith out to eat breakfast at Wilma’s Diner to treat him on his birthday. Brian is working at the Short Gap VFC a few days a week in the daytime to help us get the ambulance out. We were able to take him out while he was working by taking the ambulance. When we tell the 911 center we are out of the station we say we are on “company business and available”. Brian and I made up a crew so if we got a call we would respond from the restaurant. Diane and Matt met us there.
With the ambulance outside and Brian and me in our “Short Gap VFC” shirts, we ordered and ate. When we received the check, I went to the register to pay. It was then that the waitress, who just minutes earlier had brought us our check, told me that we did not owe anything because our check had been taken care of. I was in shock. I went back to my seat and commenced in conversation about it. We surmised that it was because Brian and I were in our fire department shirts and had the ambulance with us.
As I reflected on that blessing, I thought about how ironic it was that we had intended to pay for Brian’s meal and someone had ended up paying for all of ours. Then, as He often does, God gave me a Kingdom of God perspective. Assuming it was intended to bless us as first responders, I thought about how Diane and Matt were blessed simply by being with first responders. While Diane may be deserving of the blessing from all the nights over the last few years she has been awakened from 100 sound sleeps by the heart shocking wailing of the alert on my phone, still she is not a first responder. But just as Matt and Diane received a freebie because they were with us, we receive a freebie when we are with Jesus. We did nothing to deserve salvation. We can not earn it with good works, loving our neighbor, or anonymously paying for others’ meals. We obtain it when we agree to receive the free gift of Jesus on the cross. And we who will enter heaven one day will do so solely based on who we are with – Jesus.
If you want to know how to be saved, you can click here.
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.
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.
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.
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…”