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.


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Jesus meets our needs

Last night was our church’s night to provide and serve dinner for folks in and around the Union Rescue Mission. We fed about 80 people and we had chapel service for about 50 people after dinner. We also took about 100 pair of shoes and 250 pair of socks for anyone to take as they had need.

One young man, who I see on most of my trips to the mission, approached the shoes, picked up a pair, and gave them the once over. I thought he must not have noticed they were obviously too small for him. He had a nice pair of Puma shoes on, but as you can see in the photo, the tongues were able to flap unrestrained because the he had no shoestrings. I was overwhelmed as I watched him patiently remove shoestrings from a pair of the shoes we brought. He then sat down in the chair and began to thread his new shoestrings through his Pumas. He got up, shook his foot to inspect his now “unflappable” shoes, and walked away satisfied.

It would be an overestimation to think that this young man had his life changed last night by a pair of shoestrings. On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus met the fellow where he was, right there by the railroad tracks, by meeting a pressing need. Last night, with all the needs Jesus met through food and through His Word, I was happy to be there to notice Him also met a need in what most would see as an insignificant way… through shoestrings. I am reminded, and reminding you, to never underestimate the smallest acts of God’s grace, either in your life or to others through your life.

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You already feel bad enough

I have been spending a lot of time this month watching videos provided by the West Virginia UMC as an option for our required continuing education. These videos have been offered because in-person continuing education opportunities have been limited over the last 2 1/2 years. Obviously, the challenge in “binging” is remembering. I am counting on my gift of remembering and recalling to retain the most important parts. Obviously, every part of every video and booklet is not equally important. In many of the videos, including the last one I just watched, the presenter has acknowledged this by saying, “…what parts of this program do you wish to remember?”

One of the things I will remember is really a reinforcement of something I think I already knew: Every person has thousands of thoughts every day, most of which are negative. If you can identify, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Everyone else, like you, has thousands of thoughts each day. Most others, like you, find most of their thoughts unproductively negative. The root cause for most of us is that we focus primarily on our critics, our own areas of weakness, and the reality that we must acknowledge our sin in order to be saved.

The difference for followers of Jesus is that, even as we know we are right to acknowledge our sin, we must also acknowledge we have been forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus. While that can make me sad at times, that I caused Jesus to sacrifice Himself for me, I must not believe all the negative accusations of the emeny of God.

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Taking it away

Do you remember odd things from your childhood education? I remember Mrs. Green in the second grade grabbing my arm, lifting me out of my seat, and spanking me with her hand right at my desk. I remember the fire escape at my old elementary school. I remember watching a classmate “getting sick” in his pencil box at his desk right beside me. I remember, as elementary school students, when we had to contemplate the question, “Where is away?” For example, when you flush the toilet or put out garbage, where does it go? As kids, all we knew was it went away. Now I know it does not go away. It just goes away from me. This morning the guys who work for the company that takes our trash came and took it. It went in the back of their truck and will go to a dump somewhere, and there it will remain. As I waited for them to come this morning I thought about that question, along with many other events from my childhood school days.

While I now have a pretty good idea of where the trash goes, there is something else that goes “away” that I still do not understand completely. The most important and most perplexing “goes away” in our lives is our sin. I understand that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). I understand there is no condemnation for us who are His (Romans 8:1). And still, while I know we live forgiven lives, I also know we carry on imperfectly in this fallen world yearning for all things to be made new (Romans 8:18-25).

For now, Lord, may it be enough to know that through our repentance and Your forgiveness, thanks to what Christ has done, that we are forgiven… even as we move forward seeking to be who You would have us to be, until we finally are.

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God is faithful in every season

This morning I saw photos (through our friend Don Hayes) of a couple who had been cooking for Samaritan’s Purse in Alaska. My first thought was, “Diane and I could do that!” We almost went to Alaska in 2010 through my seminary. I had to take a trip to another culture and, while it goes without saying that Alaska is part of the United States, it does have a native culture there that United Theological was going to learn about. Diane and I ended up going to Ghana in Africa, instead, but Alaska had always been on our radar.

The older I get the less likely it becomes that we will go to Alaska to cook for Samaritan’s Purse. Whatever our desires, all that ever matters is what God wants for us. If we forced it and it was not what God wants, in the end I do not believe it would turn out well for us. Looking back on the seasons of our lives, I can say that as we have trusted God, He has not failed us. I remind myself of this as we continue in this season, even as I dream of what a season in Alaska would be like.

I share this with you today to assure you that wherever God has you,and whatever season He has you in, He is faithful and He will not fail you. And while it is OK to dream, we cannot neglect to serve Him in this season. Which reminds me, it is time to go meet Diane so we can get some shoes ready to give away for Jesus in Short Gap.

(photo from Facebook of Glenn and Donna Quarles)

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I Gave You Everything I Had ~ Vince Gill

Last night it was nearing bedtime and I was flipping through the TV channels. Do we still say flipping? I got caught up in a tribute to Vince Gill on Country Music Television. I know he was once the front man for Pure Prairie League who had the song Amie. In the four years Vince Gill was with them they had a hit with the song, Let Me Love You Tonight. The premise of the CMT show was Gill would sit off to the side of the beautiful auditorium at Belmont University in Nashville while he watched people sing the songs he wrote and recorded. Vince Gill was sitting there watching Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and others sing his songs. At the end of the show, Gill sang I Gave You Everything I Had, a new song that sounded like a goodbye.

When I began to write today I thought I was going to make the transition to “we are to sing Jesus’ songs to others and we sing them in front of Him.” However, after finding the song on YouTube and listening to it a couple of times, I got a little emotional. It was not because I finally figured out that the song was for his daughters. It was the many reflective lines written by a guy whose life, like mine, was at least 3/4 behind him.

I spend the hours remembering
The sands of time are a precious thing
Life looks different through an aging lens
I’m just more grateful than I’ve ever been

The first half of my life was for me. The second half has been for Jesus. Since I began living for Jesus, the Gill line, “This Gypsy life ain’t been so bad” meant more to me (and Diane) than it would to most. God moved us from our home in Tyler County to Mason County to Mineral County. Like my life, I know our time in Mineral County is at least 3/4 over… closer to the end than the beginning.

Christians always say at the end of our lives we want to hear Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I say that about people at funerals. How will we hear that? It is if we can say, “I gave you everything I had.” I am getting emotional again as I draw this blog to a close and it sounds like a goodbye as well. It is not. Yet I know, another of Gill’s lyrics say, “I don’t question, it will end.” I pray when it does, I can say to my wife, to my churches, and most importantly to my Savior, “I gave you everything I had.” That is my prayer for you as well.

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Changing course

I was working on the Sunday worship this morning on the computer in the sanctuary and I saw this picture of Russian President Putin with the words, “Moscow Officials Urge Putin to GTFO: Everything Went Wrong.” I was going to make a joke that GTFO must be Russian for something. If you do not know, let me save you the Googling: “Get The F-word Out”. I was a little shocked to see it on the Microsoft News web page. Probably no more shocked as you are to see it in my blog post. However, when the Lord inspires me with a word, I try to be obedient. I want to run with this idea of where things are headed and the willingness for course correction, specifically in the United Methodist Church. I realize many of you will pass on today’s post as it is not my standard offering.

It seems like everything has been going wrong with the United Methodist Church ever since I became a pastor, with nobody willing to course-correct. I do not think the two churches I have served would say they had a dry season while I was their pastor. On the other hand, if the UMC had a “Smokey Bear” fire danger sign, it has been on “Fire Danger: Extreme” due to the “UMC dry season” since I became a provisional elder in the UMC in 2010. From the time I began paying attention at the 2012 General Conference, it has seemed to me that those guiding the UMC have been taking the denomination further and further down the progressive path. I found it to be more subtle at first, and now the majority have pushed all their chips to the center of the table placing their bets on “cultural Christianity”. Conservative and centrist Bishops are retiring and undoubtedly more progressive ones will be chosen later this year to replace them. Understand, Bishops do not get votes, but they lead the conferences and many call on the right people at these meetings who can shut down conversations or who can make motions… and much of the time they know exactly who they are calling on and what they will say. Bishops also hold the power of enforcement of our covenant, and that is very selective enforcement for way too many of them. Every pastor who writes or speaks out stating such runs the risk of repercussions. I would be remiss if I did not add that my own WV Bishop and District Superintendent have been very gracious to not interfere or coerce me in my efforts to keep people informed of my views of how and where things are going. I hope that is because I try not to be inflammatory. That being said, I also have no doubt I am on their radar.

I also acknowledge that, even as the UMC lurches forward casting their lot with a lost society, much of the official doctrine of the UMC will likely never change. The Virgin birth, Jesus is the Son of God, the resurrection, salvation through Christ alone… those official beliefs are not going anywhere. However, there will also be more acceptance under the “big tent” for those who oppose those, and other, foundational tenets of the faith. In the name of inclusivity, the UMC leadership says not only will they have a place for the most liberal theologies, they will also have a place for traditionalists who believe wholeheartedly in the official historic doctrines of the UMC. The question for both progressives and traditionalists is whether they are willing to tolerate the antithetical views. Are progressives willing to allow, and be associated with, the “-isms” of traditionalists? Are traditionalists willing to do the same for what they see as the “live and let live” theology of non-traditionalists? The other question, primarily for traditionalists is, do we believe them when they tell us there is room for us?

In “The Case for Christianity”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

Many traditional, UMC doctrine supporting pastors and churches have to decide if The United Methodist Church is “going nearer to the place they want to be.” I do not think progressives have any question. With or without the blessing of General Conference (the only group that sets doctrine for the church), progressives know where the UMC train is going and it is where progressives want to be. I think most traditionalists would say it is not. For the ones who would like to “do an about turn” and “walk back to (what they view as) the right road”, the problem becomes, “How do we best get off?”

I’m on this train, I can’t slow down, and the
Brakes are gone and I’m running out
Of reasons to even try to stop me now
And it seems to me no matter where I turn
I fall off these tracks and I get burned
But someday, I’m gonna finally make it home

On This Train (Zac Brown Band)

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Mistaken for a firefighter

This morning I saw a story that said actors filming a TV show were dressed as firefighters and they were mistaken for real firefighters on the streets near where they were filming. I thought to myself, “Of course they were.” If you see someone wearing a fireman’s pants, suspenders, coat, boots, and a helmet, what are you to think? However, I know that just because someone is wearing the gear does not make them a firefighter. How do I know? I have every one of those items. I even have a locker at the fire station that holds them all! And I am not a firefighter. The Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company provides me with these items because I am an EMT. Occasionally I will go out on the road at the scene of an accident and hold a sign that says “Stop” on one side and “Slow” on the other, but that does not make me a firefighter. Sometimes I will take the ambulance to a fire and hand out water in my fireman’s turnout gear, but that does not make me a firefighter.

The firefighters have training that teaches them to run in to burning houses, drive fire trucks, hook hoses together, and run pumps on the fire truck to provide water for those who hold the hoses. There are many people who have lockers and gear, or hang out at the fire station, but that does not make them a firefighter.

Now, for the pivot.

This brings to mind a popular phrase that people sometimes say about the church. Coming to church does not make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car. With all of our society’s insanity of people claiming to be something they are not, the saying may be losing some of its pop as some would argue you can be a car. While it is confusing to rational people how someone can claim to be something they clearly are not, and even more confounding that society goes along with it, it would be very dangerous for someone who is not a firefighter to walk around believing they were a firefighter. On occasion, trained and experienced firefighters sacrifice their lives in a fire. A fake firefighter would stand no chance and would almost certainly eventually die in a fire. The irony is, the Bible says the same fate awaits fake Christians. Do not be deceiving nor be deceived yourself. Your life depends on it.

(If you wonder about your salvation, click here.)

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Shot to the heart…

I had not really been on social media yesterday until last night. Last night what I read was a shot to my heart. I began crying when I read that Pastor Matt Chandler had stepped aside from his pastoral duties at the Village Church in Flower Mound TX for breaking the Village Church’s moral and ethical policy. Matt Chandler is one of my favorites. I appreciate his teaching so much that I and some of my friends, went to the Village Church when we were on a mission trip. All we know right now is that he was having inappropriately casual banter on Instagram with a married female who goes to his church. The Bible warns about “coarse jesting” in Ephesians 5, placing it right there alongside sexual immorality and greed.

I stood at the front of the church yesterday either inside or outside where I preached about “virtue signaling” and said that when I preach about sin that I am not virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is when someone presents themselves as something they are not. I readily admit that I do not deserve to preach the Gospel. When I preach about sin, I am telling people what God says about all of us – that we all fall short and that He is willing to forgive us. I quoted the Apostle Paul when he says he was the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, but for the grace of God. We are all imperfect and do the best we can each day, knowing every day is not good enough. Yet we also know that being saved means that God has not only forgiven us our past, but makes up for our shortcomings every day.

Hours later, one of my favorite Bible teachers confesses to the church that he has made a mistake which has led the church leadership to ask him to step aside for a season. Our reactions to events like this say much about us. AW Tozer wrote, “Anyone who looks at another’s sin as worse than our own does not understand the depth of our own sin.”

Those whom have been offended by his Bible teaching will revel in his failure. But as for me, a sinner saved every day by the grace of God, I pray for Matt Chandler’s restoration. The church universal is better with Matt Chandler. I not only Pray for Matt Chandler, but I pray for me. I pray for all the pastors who are willing to proclaim the whole truth of God, who know what a target that puts on them as they speak life to people who love the ways of a dying world.

I could write a much longer post, but I try to keep these short. For a great writing on this, you can read Peter Heck here. Peter Heck is one of the greater topical Christian writers you will find.

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Roll with it

Todd Beamer became one of the more famous passengers of Flight 93 when he rallied with other passengers in an effort to re-take the plane and ended up thwarting the hijackers efforts to crash the plane in Washington, D.C. He is famous for the phrase, “Let’s Roll” which legend has it was overheard on the phone when the passengers revolted. Let’s Roll indicates that one is about to make a move. Sometimes it is time to roll. Other times, we have to “Roll With It”. Steve Winwood had a hit song with that title in 1988. The song begins with the line, “When life is too much, roll with it, baby”. And don’t get me started on Alabama’s “Roll On”.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning someone I know texted me at 8:30 and told me they were sorry to hear that our church lost our organist. I am always at a loss to put to words someone’s death. Our organist Betty Gough died last Sunday, but I am reminded of the line Billy Graham used when he said, “One of these days you are going to hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. At that moment I will be more alive than I have ever been in this world.” The person expressing their condolences in the text also offered to come play for us yesterday morning. She said she had been filling in for churches here and there. I told her we would love to have her. I also told her that whatever happened in the following weeks and months, we would roll with it. When I say the church will roll with it, I do not mean it as Steve Winwood says “when life is too much.” I mean we will roll with it in whatever ways the Holy Spirit leads. Yesterday the Holy Spirit led this person to offer to play music for Wesley Chapel the Sunday after the Sunday the church suffered an immeasurable loss of one of the saints.

The Spirit made known to my heart that He did indeed send this organist when, after she played the opening hymn and as she prepared to hear the sermon, she sat in the second pew. Betty always sat in the first pew. The Spirit honored Betty by leading the organist to not sit in the front row by the organ, as would have been expected. I messaged the person later and told her that. I also told her if she fills in any more and sits in the first pew that it is OK. We do not need to keep an empty seat for Betty. She would prefer that it be filled.

But whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, whatever ways the Spirit leads, we will roll with it… with our “Let’s Roll” and “Roll On” attitude!

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