You have been warned

Yesterday I put a post on Facebook telling people we want to get rid of a car. Over two years we had it in the shop six times, and I do not even want to guess how much we spent having it repaired. I was as clear as I could be that it has been a piece of junk. Over the years I have been very blessed with decent used cars. In my entire life, and I am 60, I have only bought two brand new cars. So I have bought a lot of used cars. This one is the worst. I tried to make that clear in my post when I said the car has been “…nothing but trouble, is not currently running, and has all kinds of stuff wrong with it.” I do not think I could have been any clearer.

In spite of that warning, I had different people who were in dire straits reach out to me about the car. I am not talking about people who are handy and want a project. I am talking people who are really in need of a reasonably priced vehicle… one that runs. I said, “You do not want this car”. Having no car at all is better than having this car. Take it from someone who is always looking for a decent priced reliable used car, if you are in need of a used car, you do not want this used car – even if I gave it to you.

I wanted to be clear when I made the post. It is not unlike when I preach. I want to be clear. I can say things like “we are all sinners who need a Savior” or “we are all going to hell for our sins if we do not trust in Jesus by confessing our sin and asking Him to forgive us based on the punishment He took for our sin on the cross.” And yet, I will and do say those very things to people and then they will look me right in the eye and tell me they think they will go to heaven because they are a good person. It is as if they never heard me say that they are a sinner who needs a Savior and they are going to hell for what they have done. No good things we do will outweigh the sin against us, no matter how minor the sin seems to us. It is not the severity of the sin, but the holiness of the One against whom we have sinned. Can I be any more clear? And yet people will read this and still be interested in securing their own righteousness by their own “good works”. Lord, have mercy.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities
his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse. ~ Romans 1:20

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In His Hands

Every time I walk into the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox room at the church I am reminded that God has the whole world in His hands. The shoeboxes, once filled with gifts, go all around the world as a way to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not just that He knows what country each shoebox filled with love is going to, which He does. It is not just that he knows the hands that will hug every doll and scrub up with each bar of soap, which He does. For me, the reminder comes in the room itself.

About twenty years ago a bunch of kids in the church youth group painted the room with broad stripes and bright colors. Nine years ago when Diane and I came to tour the church we were being sent to, upon showing us that room one of the trustees expressed their dismay at the paint job. They said they were not thrilled when it was painted that way and obviously the decade that had passed had not changed their feelings. The seeds of hope were planted that perhaps the new pastor would set things right in the room. thing were indeed set right in the room. Twenty years ago the Lord had a purpose for that paint job that the trustees and even the youth who painted it were unaware of. It was not long before old musty couches and chairs were mercifully discarded eventually replaces by shelving on the walls. For the last seven or eight years it has been the OCC Shoebox room. God knew it all along. He knows when this season for the room will end when the colorful vertical stripes will finally be painted over. He knows this because He knows everything. And He is always doing something.

Every time I walk into the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox room at the church I am reminded that God has the whole world in His hands. Sometimes I really need that reminder.

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When you have messed up

The other day our treasurer told me a check from November had not been cashed. So I sent a text to the person with the check inquiring about it. He is a “missionary to America” and we sometimes support him financially. He had been hospitalized with Covid and we wanted to relieve some of his financial burden. He replied by telling me that he had carried the check in his wallet and the edge with the account information had become frayed and the bank could not cash it. The bank told my friend to simply have us send him another check, which would be easy enough. Except it wasn’t. My friend said he was too embarrassed to tell me that he had been so careless with the check that it had become damaged, preventing him from asking for a new one. He sent me a picture of the check showing me the worn edge. I told him he gave me a great blog idea.

All he had to do was humble himself by admitting he had made a mistake and ask for a substitute. Had he done that, he would have found grace. What he had destroyed would have been immediately restored. Instead, he kept it to himself and almost certainly wondered when he would be found out. And all the while he has unnecessarily had to deal with the burdens on his own. Think about that. His relief was available at his request.

If you see the previous paragraph in a different context, it can easily be a parable of each of us in dealing with our own sin. Here it is again and this time instead of thinking of this person and the check, think of a person and their salvation.

All he had to do was humble himself by admitting he had made a mistake and ask for a substitute. Had he done that, he would have found grace. What he had destroyed would have been immediately restored. Instead, he kept it to himself and almost certainly wondered when he would be found out. And all the while he has unnecessarily had to deal with the burdens on his own. Think about that. His relief was available at his request.

The bank was right. It really is that simple. Except it isn’t, is it? The enemy of God either tries to convince us we do not need forgiveness or that we are beyond forgiveness. Neither is true. Everyone needs forgiveness and nobody is beyond it.

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There is another way to live

This is not my normal light blog post today. As a matter of fact, I am taking a stand as a follower of Jesus, my King, that there is right way to live, which is to struggle with our sins, not give in to them. To seek redemption, not affirmation. I am reading a book* which begins talking about St. Augustine’s The City of God, and pointing out the “enduring relevance of the deeply human and distinctly supernatural themes of sin, struggle, and redemption. These themes are not unique to him (Augustine) but are at stake in the life of every fallen person.”

The author, Noelle Mering, writes just a couple of pages in, “(We are in) a spiritual and religious struggle with origins reaching back to a snake in the garden…Behind every temptation to sin is this sales pitch: that we might, in trading our greatest good for various lesser goods, become autonomous, self-determining, and powerful.” In other words, each of us will be our own gods. She says this tradeoff is a lie which has always failed humanity. Rather than powerful and happy, people end up as slaves to impulse – weak and chaotic. She says our current society is trying to convince us that sin, struggle, and redemption are no longer necessary. Society sees all of our human desires as good and wants us to look suspiciously upon references to (St. Augustine’s passion for) “eternal truth”. However, this life is indeed a struggle between our desire for immediate gratification and our built in yearning for something more, something eternal.

God’s Word tells us the “something more” is Him. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Nothing else will do. We find truth and grace in Him alone. We find redemption nowhere else but in Jesus. And all are welcome to find forgiveness and redemption in Him. This is unlike many in our society who want some to repent, yet remain un-forgiven and see them as irredeemable. While our society has given in all around us twisting truth and celebrating sin, born again Christians are going to look more and more peculiar clinging to the cross and calling others to trust in it for their salvation. We are not going to be popular among a lost world which has already taken over nearly every facet of our society, and now demands the church’s allegiance. They now have their sights set on their last and greatest conquest which is Christ’s church. When we refuse to comply, we who will not bow to Caesar, but who claim that Christ is King above all, will receive all their wrath. Mering says, “A stage is set for a collision between an illusory god of self and the one true God.” Fortunately, we know who wins. If we want to be on the winning side, we know from God’s Word we must choose another way to live: seeking our greatest good, which is found in Matthew 16:24 – “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”” In the end, this is not just another way to live, but is the only way to live. The way of the world leads to death. Everything else leads to death.

We are to shine the light of Christ and call people to repent of their sin, where they will find forgiveness and be brought from death to life.

*Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology

Posted in Hard times, salvation, Walking the Walk | 4 Comments

Dolly Parton at Lakewood Camping Resort?

A year or so ago Diane and I were in the activities center at Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach when I heard a familiar voice from a woman who was working there. I did not know her and at first I could not place the voice. For the record, I think I probably drive Diane crazy always saying, “Doesn’t that person look like…” and this was a similar experience. Finally, it hit me that this person sounded exactly like Dolly Parton. I asked her, “Do people ever tell you that you sound exactly like Dolly Parton?” She told us that, in fact, she was a Dolly Parton impersonator at a local Myrtle Beach show. I told her I knew she must be good because she sounded exactly like her.

Fast forward a year and Diane tells me that this same woman, Karen Hester, was going to be on a television impersonator competition called “Clash of the Cover Bands”. Then yesterday Diane told me that Karen is going to be on the Tonight Show last night because she WON the contest. It is not surprising to me. I am sure Karen is accentuating some syllables while trying to match Dolly’s appearance and movements, but the voice is her voice.

As I was thinking about the impeccable impersonation my mind went to a sermon I heard one time from Ephesians 5 about Satan being a counterfeiter. For everything God offers, Satan has an imitation. And the devil’s counterfeit version is so good, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The Scripture tells us to “…be imitators of God…” and warns us about the tricks of the devil. There is no doubt society and much of the church has been fooled by Satan calling bad things good and good things bad. We know that God is not the “author of confusion”, but we know who is.

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The water is fine

Sometimes people pick a word for the year, as I have done in the past. I do not know that I have a word for 2022, but this morning I got the feeling that “water” was going to be a key theme for me for 2022. I do not know what that means. I think is began without me noticing it on New Year’s Day when my wife Diane did the “Polar Plunge” in the ocean at Myrtle Beach. This morning I was looking over one of the written sermons on my blog that many people are accessing this week because of the Lectionary preaching schedule. This week’s Scripture is John 2 where Jesus’ performs His first recorded miracle which was turning water into wine at a wedding. A little later I was looking for a book and noticed the 2021 West Virginia United Methodist Church conference journal from summer conference and saw the title “Building Bridges” with the drawing of a bridge over a stream.

As I saw the bridge over the water, I thought of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou” when the character goes in the water and comes out baptized saying “Come on in boys, the water is fine”. When I got to this point in the post I wanted to shelve today’s post and save it for the Sunday morning sermon because there is so much I want to say and I like to keep these posts short. But I feel like I am supposed to post this because this is going to mean something to someone who will read it. I am still leaning toward using this as a springboard to my sermon on Sunday. We will see. Wherever the Spirit leads. And sometimes the Spirit leads us not over a bridge, but right into the water.

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The certainty and uncertainty

If you’re going to see a beautiful sunrise at the beach you gotta have some clouds. Clouds we have this morning at the beach. What is less certain is whether it is going to be a beautiful sunrise. You just never know. Sometimes there are so many clouds that it blocks the sun. Other times the sun lights up the plentiful clouds in cotton candy colors. This morning I await the results.

Most of life seems like we are always waiting for something. We wait for appointments ands then we wait for the test results. All of us are waiting for Covid to subside. We are always waiting. And most of our waiting is waiting in uncertainty.

When I begin to write this morning I thought I was going to and with the idea that waiting implies that the present is not worth celebrating. I thought I was going to end with “waiting robs us of today.” But along the way, as I waited for the thoughts to come to finish this post, the thought came into my mind that some of us are currently are waiting for Spring. And I remembered that Spring is one of those things that we wait for with certainty, as in we know exactly when it is going to be. We even know how it will be. There will be some warm days and some cold days. There will be some rain and some snow. That is Spring in West Virginia.

I can now report to you that it was a pretty average sunrise. I didn’t get the colors I hoped for even though the sun did break through the clouds. I can also report to you but there is another certainty. The Bible says that God, who began a good work in you, would see it through to completion. It also says that all things work for good for you who will trust God, even as you wait… often with uncertainty about most things. We can be certain that He is always doing something.

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The right focus – Happy New Year

This morning as I sit at the beach I noticed a couple broken chairs that were sitting next to the trash. I took a picture of them thinking that would be something to blog about. When I uploaded the picture, I saw recent pictures I’d used in my blog posts. I realized that most of my blog posts have been about my failures. I made cheesecake that didn’t turn out right, I lost the church coffee maker basket that you put the grounds in, I forgot to put the liner in the crockpot for the meatballs, I made an ugly cake for the mission… You get the picture.

Yet in nearly every situation, God did some thing that said failure was not final. My messed up cheesecake became delicious cheesecake balls. Once sliced, the cake at the mission presented beautifully on the plate. While I never found the coffee basket, the Lord did provide another one that very day.

While the devil draws my attention to the broken down chairs, the Lord reminds me that no failure is final. When the devil wants me to focus on the negative, the Lord provides miles and miles of sand, surf, and sea oats… or some other light in my life. This New Year’s Day the broken chairs, the fog that hides the beautiful sunrise this morning, and the dreadful year that has just passed cannot steal my thankfulness for what God does with broken things… and the hope I have as a child of God. and rather than show you a picture of broken down chairs next to a trashcan, I’ve included a picture of yesterday‘s sunrise.

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When you cut an ugly cake

My wife Diane is a sprinkle-loving master decorator when it comes to cakes, cookies, and cupcakes. The other day she was very busy and I told her I would cover the desserts for our night of serving at the mission. I had some thin frozen cakes that needed used, so I got them out and iced them. I am obviously not a sprinkle-loving master decorator. But a funny thing happened when we cut the cake and served it. It turned out beautiful. The people being served had no clue how ugly the cake was before we cut it. They only saw the end result.

I took pictures knowing the Lord would give me a word about it. It occurred to me that the messy and unattractive cake is a parable for our lives. All we can see are the rough edges, broken corner pieces, and crumbs in the icing. It is hard for us to imagine how it is going to turn out in the end – once the master does His thing. I believe that is why He tells us over and over not to worry. As bad as it looks right now, we must remember He is not finished. When He is, I know what Isaiah says He will do:

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:3

When He is done, I know it will be beautiful.

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The Yeast of Christmas

For 33 years of our marriage Diane’s mom always made the rolls for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Diane’s mom is in her late 80’s so last year, to lighten her load, someone brought store bought rolls for Christmas. They were fine, but this year I tried a few recipes for a good roll. Diane found a recipe from the “Pioneer Woman” and that was the winner that I made and took them to Thanksgiving. They were apparently OK since everyone agreed we would bring them for Christmas. There will be 15 for Christmas so we need more than one batch of rolls. I made them yesterday and the first batch (34 rolls) was perfect. The second batch did not seem right. They were not right. Diane said the 34 would be enough, but I know people like their bread and like to take some home. I decided to make another batch this morning. They take about 4 hours, so they are rising right now. When I made them this morning I realized what I had done wrong in the second batch yesterday, which I made overlapping the first. I forgot the yeast in the second batch!

It is amazing what 4 1/2 teaspoons of yeast will do to 9 cups of flour. The rolls still baked without the yeast, but they were no good. If those had been my trial batch I would have thought it was a bad recipe, but I knew better. As I thought about that this morning, I thought about how most people across the country are waking up this Christmas morning and will do what they always do: gathering with family, opening gifts, and eating til overstuffed. I understand some people live under bridges and some are at work in the ICU right now, but most of America is “celebrating Christmas” as Americans do. I also know that many people are celebrating a secular holiday called Christmas, which has nothing to do with Christ. It looks the same, but something is definitely different. It is as if the yeast is missing. I feel sorry for them. And it is not because my life and their lives are any easier or harder that the other’s. It is that I have this hope in my soul, a “yeast” if you will, that comes from the knowledge that the God of Creation entered the world He created to save the people He created – and He saved me. It is amazing the things that truth will get you through. It truly is a Merry Christmas when you have Christ.

*********************************

Here’s the recipe:

4 cups whole milk 

1 cup canola oil 

1 cup sugar 

9 cups all-purpose flour 

2 packages (2 1/4 teaspoons each) active dry yeast 

1 heaping teaspoon baking powder 

1 scant teaspoon baking soda 

1 tablespoon salt 

Melted butter, for the pans (I spread soft margarine in the cups)

  1. To make the dough: Combine the milk and canola oil in a large pot. Stir in the sugar. Scald the milk by heating it almost to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool until warm.
  2. Add 8 cups of the flour and the yeast to the milk mixture and stir until combined (it will be super sticky!). Cover the pot with a lid or dishtowel and let the dough sit until risen, an hour or so.
  3. Sprinkle in the remaining 1 cup flour and the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir gently to combine; it takes a while to get it stirred together.
  4. To make the rolls: Drizzle a small amount of butter into 36 muffins cups (3 standard muffin pans). Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into neat balls. Place 3 balls in each muffin cup.
  5. Set the pans in a draft-free, slightly warm place; cover with a lightweight dish towel and allow the rolls to rise until light and puffy, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
  7. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/no-knead-cloverleaf-rolls-2651206

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