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.

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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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Trains and Fire Trucks – A pretty cool job

This morning I saw pictures of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan at the train station and on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad train. He was shaking hands, getting his picture taken with people, and seated at a table in what looked like a dining car. As I looked at the pictures, I thought to myself what a wonderful job to have – going out and riding trains around the state of Maryland. I only thought that for a moment, though. While it had to have been a fun day, (I mean who does not like to ride trains) it occurred to me that this was only a perk of his job. His job is not to go out and ride trains. It is not unlike the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company. Nearly everyone at the SGVFC likes to drive and ride in fire trucks, but their job is not to ride in fire trucks. Driving and riding in fire trucks is a perk of the job. Their job is to put out fires, cut people out of cars on motor vehicle accidents, and get cats out of trees. OK, they do not get cats out of trees. I just want to see if you are paying attention.

My job as a pastor is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is what the Bible commands me to do. If you are His follower, that is your job as well. The UMC, of which I am a part, says we are to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. Matthew 28 not only says we are to make disciples, but it tells us how we are to make disciples. In an often neglected part of the “making disciples” effort, we make disciples by teaching them to obey what God commands. People can pick out this or that and make it their focus and claim they are doing what God commands. A big one is love. People go as far as making love their god, neglecting all the other commands and directions of God. There is one word that I believe God is about as much as any other: transformation.

So as a pastor, how do I gauge whether I am making disciples? I think you can see it in transformed lives. Does it happen often? I think it is rare. Yet, as AW Tozer wrote a half century ago, “Every once in a while there appears an awakened soul.” My job, with all the other problems and perks, is to see lives transformed… to see people brought from death to life through the repentance of their sins, the acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and for the Holy Spirit to help them live more holy lives. The hand of the Lord is upon me to awaken souls with His offer.

Photo from Gov. Larry Hogan’s Facebook post

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Agreement in the UMC

The Bible is clear that God’s people are to love. In the UMC it is probably the one single thing on which every person, without exception, agrees. You might think every pastor would agree on the substitutionary atonement of the cross- that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Nope. Some, even if rare, have remained and do remain in good standing having expressed their opposition to this proclamation, even as it will likely always remain in our official agreed upon beliefs. Some are in leadership as pastors of pastors, in spite of saying we should quit preaching the substitutionary atonement. But I do not believe there are any who disagree that the Bible says we are to love.

That is not to say we are unified in love. While we do all believe God commands us to love, we do not agree upon the definition of love. It is not as simple as “love is love.” I’ll never forget a comment from the UMC 2016 General Conference: “Some show love (exclusively) through acceptance and some show love (exclusively) through correction.” Love, for most of us, is obviously not as polarizing a truth as that. Yet there seems to be a movement afoot that love is all acceptance and no correction. I would carry it further to say that some do not even consider it love to be accepting, but argue that true love must “affirm.” As an example, there was a recent headline stating that some were upset by the way the Chicago Marathon created a non-binary category for participants. Those who were upset were not happy that the marathon added the category too “matter of factly.” Even though the marathon’s inclusiveness went so far as to make the prize money the same as the male and female categories, some expressed dissatisfaction there was no pomp and circumstance from the marathon leadership regarding the new category. Thus is the difficulty in progressiveness. It has been said things begin with tolerance, move to acceptance, and then must be celebrated by all.

For those of us trying to figure out our future in the UMC, we have to decide how far things are going to go in the UMC and how far we, individually and as local churches, are willing to go. While we would like to think things will go no further than our agreed upon doctrine, that line was irrevocably crossed in 2016 with the ordination of a married gay bishop. At the time, some in the UMC wondered if gay married pastors would be as far as we would go. Today, six short years later, the disagreement has moved beyond gay married pastors, to trans, bi-sexual, non-binary, and drag. And just as those lifestyles now facing us were unheard of among the UMC clergy a decade ago, polyamorous relationship are the storm clouds appearing on the horizon. Again, traditional UMC congregants and clergy wonder how far this will go.

While not all UMC conferences have yet caved to the sexual relationship-du jour, the assumption among many is that this is unstoppable. Those pushing this agenda would, just as we agree on love, agree with my assessment that this is unstoppable, even if we do not agree on the reason. They would argue the movement is of God. Others would argue that God is letting wayward people have their way (as in chapters 1 and 2 of Romans). Those of us who hold fast to the official beliefs of the UMC do not have much hope that we will see a course correction and that we will witness a sudden adherence to our doctrine. Bishops who are holding fast to our doctrine are retiring or nearing retirement and more progressive bishops will, without a doubt be filling their shoes. For a denomination which says it wants people like me feel not only welcome, but wanted, the Bishop situation makes it appear that those are empty words. Just as the marathon found mere acceptance unacceptable, traditionalists in the UMC feel like we will eventually face the same.

As of right now, we (I and the church I serve) are hanging in there to see what 2024 holds. We are all praying that my wife and I get appointed here one more year for the 2023-2024 appointment year so we and the church can decide our futures together after walking for the last 10 years together. One reason we are staying for at least another year and a half is that the WV Annual Conference has maintained its covenant by honoring our Book of Discipline. And frankly, another reason is the anticipated cost of exiting in the WVAC. The last reason is that we know that we serve a God who can do all things. After a years long discernment process, the fact that “God can do anything” is the main reason Wesley Chapel UMC in Short Gap is not leaving and not necessarily resigned to leaving the UMC in 2024. God still does Miracles. We pray He performs one in 2024 with the UMC. Progressives and traditionalists probably agree, as well, that we are all praying for a miracle, even though we do not agree what that will look like.

***Just to elaborate on my disclaimer page: These are my personal thoughts on my personal blog (even as I give my opinion about the UMC and Wesley Chapel Short Gap here) and I do not speak on behalf of the UMC or any local UMC. I have written 1,782 blog posts dating back to 2010, obviously, there will be people who disagree with some of the things I write.***

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We hope they are not finished with Knobley Road

Knobley Road is a highly traveled winding road in Mineral County, WV. People who have lived out that way for years will tell you stories about walking it. They would advise against walking it today. It has been a paved road for the last 10 years I have lived in the area, as I am sure it was long before that. Everyone was shocked when they recently spread gravel on in. Some are calling it tar and chip, but it y seems like gravel. They even have a sign, “Loose Gravel”. The rumor is they are going to put some kind of coating over it, but nobody I know seems to know exactly how it is going to turn out. Right now those same people who would advise you no longer walk on it might just advise against driving on it, especially if you have an expensive car. For you who clicked on this to learn about the road, I understand have not given you any new information about the road. But I do commiserate.

For you who always read my posts, you know I take something normal and make it a Jesus lesson. Therefore, you you are expecting the pivot now. If the road were a parable from the Bible, it could be the parable of, “The Lord is not finished.” It could also be the parable for, “You never know what the Lord is going to do.” Those two thoughts are really one in the same. I know them both to be true. I know that God is not done. I also know He is a God of Wonders. Being that He is a God of Wonders, I am glad He is not done. he is not done with America, He is not done with His Church, and He is certainly not finished with you and me.

I am sort of anxious to see how it turns out.

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Feral Cats (and people)

Diane and I know a couple, Greg and Sheri Anderson, at Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach who has been trapping feral (untamed) cats in the campground. They, along with a non-profit, primarily provide them with surgeries (so they will not continue to have kittens) and release them back into the campground. As I understand it, the cats are a benefit as they tend to keep the rodent/snake population under control. However, sometimes they have cats that are too young to have the surgery, who have a chance of being tamed and becoming a pet. They have been asking people on Facebook to consider adopting these younger cats. In the last week or so I have noticed that they have been posting pictures and videos of their new cat, “Sails”. They are trying to get Sails tamed and are putting up with many scratches in the process. I am praying it works out, but as my faithful readers know, this is not a blog post about adopting a cat.

There is this old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”. That is NOT what the Andersons are doing. There is another saying, “Put your money where your mouth is”. That IS what they are doing. They are not only asking others to consider adopting a cat, they themselves have adopted a cat. Their desire is to make Sails an inside cat, but Sails will decide that.

Sometimes as followers of Jesus we too casually rely on the “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” mantra, basically using the “Do as the Bible says, not as I do” testimony. That is not to be our witness. Are we forgiven in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? Absolutely. But our goal is always to live lives that are evidence of being changed. The Apostle Paul said on the one hand, “Why do I keep doing these things I know I should not do”, and at the same time putting himself out there as a Christian example when he said, “Follow me as I follow Jesus”.

When I began today, I thought the neatly tied bow on today’s blog was going to be the Anderson’s leading by example. As it turns out, there is another point. Did you already get it? Here it is: I was once Sails. We all were: Living however we wished, doing what seems right in our own eyes to survive – scratching, clawing, attacking, protecting, etc. until love showed up in the form of the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus Christ to us. We were justified (forgiven and fit for heaven) the moment we received Jesus as our Savior. Then, day by day, until the day we die, we are being sanctified (made to look more like Jesus). I pray Sails keeps a little of that spunk, but quits attacking the ones from whom the love flows.

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Do not loot in Florida after Hurricane Ian

I saw a 30 second clip of Governor Ron DeSantis answering a questions about looting in Florida after Hurricane Ian. He said he has heard that people in boats might be coming upon the battered islands trespassing upon peoples’ property taking things that do not belong to them. He said he advised against that because in Florida you never know what might be hiding behind a pile of rubble. At first it sounded like he meant alligators and the like, but he continued by stating that Florida is a Second Amendment state. He was making it clear that while there could be other dangers, it also just might be someone with a gun protecting their property. Whether people heed the warning or ignore it, the warning has been issued: Do not loot in Florida after Hurricane Ian.

Warnings come in all forms. Sometimes it is a sign that roadside mowing is just ahead. Sometimes lights and siren warn of an approaching ambulance. Sometimes it is a warning to evacuate. I could quickly come up with 100 examples of warnings.

The Bible also gives us all kinds of warnings. It says, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” (Proverbs 30:12) Then there is, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things are worthy of death, they not only continue to do these things, but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans6:21)

The warnings are all over the Bible that there is a way that seems OK to us, but we know better. When we try to justify our desires and make excuses for our wrongs, we are flirting with disaster. We have been warned that one day we will face our Creator. He only cares whether you and I have repented of our sins and received the one and only means of forgiveness available to be made right with Him and, one day, be received into His presence – Jesus.

Anyone can be saved.

Image credit.

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A little love

Last night we had our weekly dinner. People who do not come to our dinner have no clue what they are missing. I do not necessarily mean the food, although they did miss some great lasagna last night. It is just a great night. Last night there was laughter and there were also a few tears (over a story I told about a touching prayer.) At the end of the evening there was even a little work when everyone picked up all the chairs and tables to prepare the room for the blood drive taking place here on Friday.

The most touching part of the evening for me was seeing someone bend over and tie a shoe… not their own shoe, but someone else’s. When nearly everyone else was gone, one the women at the dinner bent over to tie someone else’s shoe. The special needs community is very well represented at our weekly dinners. They teach us so much about authenticity, acceptance, and love. One of them apparently had a shoe that come untied. There was a woman (who had been in the hospital the day before) who knelt down and tied the shoe. I thought it was so precious I took a picture. However, she did not just tie the shoe. She asked, “Do you normally tie it in a double knot?” You may be asking yourself what is so special about a double knot. Well, a double knot is special because it helps keep your shoe from coming untied al the time, but that is not what I mean. It was the question itself. The woman tying the shoe simply talked to the special needs person as a person. She is a person. She gave her answer about the double knot as I got pulled away by someone else for something else.

My takeaway/sendaway from today’s blog is not what I thought it was going to be when I began. I am reminded by the interaction from last night that, at our core, we are all the same. While we are all uniquely created by God, we are all human beings on a journey through this life. And we are all the doing our best to live our earthly lives. There are times we all need a hand. There are also times we all have the opportunity to lend a hand. We all have our moments of doubt and fear. We all have our opinions about things. We all come in to life the same way and will exit the same way. We all need a Savior and we all are welcome to receive that Savior. There is only one, and His name is Jesus. When we receive Him, He calls us to love one another. Sometimes love is kneeling down to tie a shoe. That is an obvious form of love. Other times love does not look like love: like when we call people to get off their path of destruction and on the path that leads to life. The path that leads to life begins at the cross of Christ. It is love to tell it.

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Do you love me more than these?

Please share this after you read it.

In the Spring of 2020, through a series of unfortunate and eventually fortunate events, Diane and I were blessed to obtain a beach house in Lakewood Camping Resort. Today’s post is not about our vacation home, which is now, God willing, our vacation home until it becomes our retirement home. This post is about the folks from whom we bought it. We knew they were special. Days before the closing, our friends Greg and Kim Roush, who live at Lakewood, saw Roger Griggs washing the roof. Who does that? He was washing the roof of the home that he knew was already sold to someone else… to people he did not know. At the closing, I felt as if Anne Griggs was selling the home against her will. Looking back, I finally know she was not. Do not get me wrong, I still believe her heart was hurting over the sale of the home they had owned, if I remember correctly, for 14 years. But because she believed it was the will of God, it was her will. They sold the home they loved because the Lord had called them to focus all their time and energy on the Community Kitchen, a non-profit in Bennetsville, SC, that feeds between 150 and 200 people every day. On the day of the closing, I remember her telling us that they knew the Lord was having them get the house ready for someone special. That is a humbling thing to hear.

Diane and I became friends with Anne on Facebook. Every day she writes things like,

“Thank you Bruton Fork Baptist church team for serving 153 people today at the Community Kitchen. Chili dogs, chips, baked beans and pudding. Great job. May God bless you all!

When things go on every day, you sometimes take them for granted. I pass by her posts thinking how sweet that Roger, Anne, and their community are serving people Jesus loves. But she never takes a day for granted, always giving thanks to God as she acknowledges the group who serves a meal that day. I confess that when it comes to Facebook, I have had to quit scrolling. Yet, I often look for Anne’s posts to see the ways she and Roger are serving the Lord. This morning I noticed them advertising a 2004 Cadillac Deville for auction this weekend (or skip the auction and purchase it for $10,000). It is being auctioned off to raise money for a friend of theirs who lost an arm and a leg from sepsis. They are trying to raise $80,000 for medical expenses. I finally figured out it is Roger’s car when I read a conversation.

I immediately began to weep. I wished I had $10,000 to give them so Roger could keep the car. However, I know that would not work. He would just auction it off again. Like their sale of the beach house, they are letting go of something they love because they love God more. I am reminded of Jesus asking Peter if Peter loved Jesus “more than these”. I believe we all have trouble putting God first, placing things, and even people, ahead of Him. Well, maybe everyone else has this problem. It seems like Roger and Anne Griggs are winning that battle.

I know everyone is raising money for so many things. However, if you would feel like God would have you donate to their fundraiser, you can do so here. You can also learn more about their friend. https://www.gofundme.com/f/glen-smith-medical-expense


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