Who we are when nobody is watching

Photo Credit:              Diane Knowlton

My friend and fellow pastor Tom Beckette is moving to another church in the next couple of weeks.  I know he has been to the new church a couple of times to meet people.  I know he has been slowly saying good bye to many in the church and community he is currently serving.  And I also know he spent some time at the UMC annual conference this past weekend with some people from the new church.  I got a nice note from a friend of mine from his new church telling me what an enjoyable time they had with Tom and how likable he was and is.

 

I know Tom as well as I know any pastor, and I will not bore you with the details other than to say we spent 6 years together in seminary and residency and have been to Africa together.  And what I can tell you about Tom Beckette is that he is the same guy in Africa, in seminary, and at the church.  He is the same guy at the fire station in Logan as he is at a bar in Dayton, Ohio.  (Hahaha – Four of us went to a bar/grill to eat at seminary.  I had a coupon.)

He is a servant of the Most High God and a follower of Jesus Christ.  Tom has the Spirit of God within him.  And the person the people in the New Haven UMC have seen in his couple of visits there and the person they spent some time with in Buckhannon this past weekend is the same person who will likely spend the rest of his pastoral days in New Haven, WV.  There will be no surprises after the “honeymoon” period.  He does not have to go into his new appointment on his best behavior until he knows them well enough to reveal who he truly is.  Who they met is who he truly is.  He is the same person when anyone is watching as he is when nobody is watching.

I’d like to think I am that way, too, even though Tom and I are very different in many ways.  Not the least of which is that he is a hugger.

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Oh, to be missed

I will be in the church I pastor tomorrow for the first time since May 21.  It’s the second time in my 10 years as a pastor that I have missed church two weeks in a row.  Diane and I took two weeks for a retreat/vacation.  Two Sundays ago we were in a church in Jacksonville, FL.  Last Sunday I attended two worship services on Anna Maria Island, FL.  One was in a typical high church at 8:30 a.m. with pastors and robes, and the second was at 10:00 a.m.Harry’s Grill & Bistro (think neighborhood bar) with about 18 people.  At Harry’s, we ate breakfast, drank coffee, and praised Jesus as we listened to an 18 or 19 year old talk about the challenges and the thrills of obedience to Jesus.  She will be going to a Russian orphanage next month.

Tomorrow, I will be back in the pulpit.  Last night I saw someone from the church and I mentioned it was strange being gone from this church for two weeks.  The person (jokingly, I think) said, “Oh, were you gone two Sundays?”  Most people notice when I am not in church because I usually stand at the front and it usually does not start without me.

I also have not blogged for the past two weeks.  Any time I miss blogging for more than a week, I always appreciate an email from Lisa Ohlinger in Montana asking me if everything is OK.  After several years and over 1,300 blog posts, it is unusual if I go more than a few days without writing something.  I understand that the internet, the church, and the world can and will go on with me or without me.  But it is nice to be missed.

One of the problems I have as a pastor that preaches three worship services on Sunday mornings is trying to keep up with people who miss more than a couple of weeks.  If everyone came every Sunday, it would be easier.  But most people only come half the time so their absence is not uncommon.  And then weeks go by and nobody has sent them a note or given them a call.  And many become upset that they could miss that long and nobody seems to miss them.

I always joke that if Jacob Kneeland misses church everyone notices.  Jacob runs the computer for the projector on Sunday mornings at 8:30.  When Marjie & Galen Whitacre miss a Wednesday night, I miss them because they often do the dishes.  When Nicole Reed misses Sunday morning she is missed because she teaches Sunday School.  When Beth Foreman misses the Good News Club, she is missed.  When Marvin Funkhouser misses church for very long I miss him because he always tells me that he and his family all pray for me and my family every day.  Do you see the pattern here?  People who answer or seek out a way to serve Jesus, even if it seems they are taken for granted, even if it does not seem to be a big thing, and I would add even if it is not always in the church, are definitely missed when they are absent.  Part of the way Lisa Ohlinger serves the Lord is by keeping me accountable to blogging through her cards and emails. (And I mean that in a good way.)  She lets me know that she misses my blog.  My advice to you and the purpose of today’s blog is to encourage you to make yourself available and valuable to Jesus.

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Celebrating before the final victory

Sunday after the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 7-0, the Ottawa coach said, “We know they’re a better team. Everybody knows that on the planet. They’re the Stanley Cup champions. They’re the best team in the league. That’s no secret. We know to beat that team, we need to be at our very, very best. And we were not.”  If the Penguins win tonight, they win the series and go to the Stanley Cup championship series which begins next Monday.  The Senators coach was not just being honest, but was already looking to motivate his players for tonight’s game.  And perhaps he was trying to help the Penguins feel as if they already have the series won.  If the better team is too confident, sometimes that is an advantage for the underdog.

As I almost always do in my writings, I’m going to pivot us to Jesus and our situation as Christians.  The truth is that we who have put our faith in the resurrected Christ, we who have confessed our sins, and been forgiven by and made right with God, do not have to wait to celebrate.  We do not have to wait until the day Jesus comes back, nor do we have to wait until this life is over to do a “touchdown dance”.  We already have the victory. There will be no comeback from the devil.  Oh, he still wants to fight like he has a chance to win.  However, we know he loses in the end.  His goal now is to take others down with him.  Don’t let him accuse you or convince you that God does not love you, you are not worthy of love, or that God could not forgive you.  That is the devil lying to you.  The truth is that if you will or if you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, your victory is assured.  You are free to fight the good fight and finish the race, knowing that thanks to Jesus, you win.  And the feeling of victory does not have to wait until your life is over.  Let your attitude of victory begin today.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:57

I invite you to listen to “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave.  “Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.”

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Does God want me to do it?

I remember about 15 years ago when our church was thinking about spending a lot of money.  The administrative board was talking about not having the money. Our pastor said,

“The question for the church is never, ‘Do we have the money?’  The question for the church is, ‘Would God have us do this?’  Because if God would have us do it, the money will be there.”

I have found that to be true over and over.  In 2010, Diane committed to go to Africa with me, not knowing how we would pay the $2,800, or whatever it cost.  With the help of the Mason UMC, the money was there so we could afford for her to go.  I have seen another person commit to a mission trip to Africa this summer, and the money for that trip has shown up.

Our church just committed about $40,000 to put a new gabled roof on the education wing.  And we have had two people already give a total of $15,000.  (In the photo, Denise is our finance person, not the donor).  Would God have us put a new roof on the church?  I believe He would.  If you already have all the money when you say yes to God, you do not need God to move in a mighty way.  Sometimes we must say yes, then trust Him.

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Forgiving and being Freed

I knew a guy once who told me that when he prayed the Lord’s Prayer he would pray, “Forgive me as I should forgive others.”  I told him I did not think he was allowed to change the Lord’s Prayer.  I also do not think God would answer that prayer.

This morning while reading 2 Timothy, verse 4:16 stood out to me: “No one took my side at my first court hearing. Everyone deserted me. I hope that God doesn’t hold it against them!”  Another translation says, “May it not be charged against them.”  Paul was writing to Timothy after being abandoned by nearly everyone.  And Paul was forgiving them. 

I think we forget why God desires that we forgive.  Sometimes we act as if it is a punishment to forgive.  He wants us to forgive, not necessarily for the benefit of the unrepentant offender, but because when we forgive we free ourselves from the chains that bind unforgiving hearts.  You know people who hold grudges.  Are they not the most miserable people you know?  He commands that we forgive to give us peace.  You are not doing the person you forgive a favor as much as you are blessing yourself.  When we forgive, the person that is freed is ourselves.  You know this.  I know this. 

Oh Great God, Help me.  I want a clean heart.  I love the freedom of forgiveness.  Help me understand that freedom comes both when You forgive me and when I forgive others.  Help me.  Forgive me and allow me to feel Your peace as You make me able to forgive.  Thank You Lord Jesus, in Your powerful Name I pray.  Amen.

(As always when I speak of forgiveness, forgiveness does not mean we allow ourselves to be abused again and again.  A few verses earlier in verses 14 & 15 Paul is warning Timothy to watch out for Alexander the coppersmith who did great harm to Paul.  We are watchful, but not hard hearted toward them.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Changing with society

In a New York Times article I read that there is a road that crosses Nevada that just raised the speed limit to 80 mph.  For me that brings back memories of driving from Montana to Utah in 2012.  We traveled on roads with the 80 mph speed limit.  And of course people (including me) still drove 5-10 miles an hour over the limit.  That meant you could be driving 87 mph and of course there were still people who would zoom past you.  The speed limits have risen with the advance of auto technology.  As cars, tires, brakes, and roads have become safer, the speed limits have risen.  The article says in the 1960s the national traffic fatality rate was above five per 100 million miles driven. In 2014, it hit the lowest level ever recorded, 1.08 per 100 million miles.  It also talks about speed limits for horse drawn carriages back in the 1800’s, but it was difficult to monitor without speedometers.  Times have certainly changed.

I know I am getting to be what I once considered “an old man”.  I understand things change, have seen many changes, and know we have to change with them.  I held on to a flip phone as long as I could, and I’ve had my first smartphone, the iPhone 5c, for going on 4 years.  Usually resisting change is seen as a bad thing.  But can resisting change ever be a good thing?  The Apostle Paul wrote that sometimes we must resist change.

Paul warned Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago, and perhaps the warning was as much for us as for Timothy.  I believe God surely preserved it for me and others as an encouragement as a pastor in the early 2000’s.  To paraphrase Paul in 2 Timothy 4:15, we must be faithful in preaching the Word of God, lovingly and patiently confronting and correcting people who do not wish to be confronted and corrected.  The difficulty today, as other times in the history of the church, is we have two sides who both think that God is leading them to confront and correct the other side.  One side thinks times are changing and the church must change with them, and they see their mission as a social justice issue of which God approves.  The other side thinks this is exactly the type of thing Paul was talking about when he said people will “turn their backs on the truth and turn to myths” not willing to hear sound teaching/doctrine.

And both sides will even say “there is be a price to pay for doing the right thing”.  American society has definitely changed much in the last 50 years.  A good question to ask yourself is this one: Is this a society drawing closer to God or drifting further away?  Another way to ask the same question is this: Is God doing something new and better or are many simply being deceived?  And once you have answered that, you should patiently and lovingly live your life accordingly.

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Self Validation

I am involved with a program to help WV UMC pastors be more active.  I have a pedometer and I can actually receive up to $160 a year tracking my steps.  The other day I entered a walking challenge thinking I would get some extra points.  I did not know how it worked.  I received an email that said I was the winner!!!!  I finished #1!!! (My first name is Paul).  There was a link to check the leaderboard.  It turned out that not only did I finish first, but I also finished last.  I was the only one in the challenge.  It is a good feeling to win.  But we must ask ourselves what we have really won.  What was the criteria?  Who was the judge?  What was the prize?  I obviously do not understand how it was supposed to work.

Many in our society go through life looking for validation.  We want to be told we are awesome, that there is nothing wrong with us, and that we do not need to change.  There was a great line I shared the other day from Catherine Marshall’s book The Helper.  It said that even the church is guilty of this.  She claimed that all great outpourings of God’s Spirit and power begin with our repentance. And she said since most of the church meets the call to repent with bitter hostility, God is unwilling to do great works through the church today.

The truth is when we humble ourselves and admit our need, when we confess our sins to God and ask Him to forgive our sins through the shed blood of Jesus, that is when we are validated.  That is when we are victorious.  Anything other than this is like the challenge I entered.  You may get an email telling you you are a winner, but it is really a worthless, “feel good” pat on the back that gains you nothing.

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