Pure …

The room was dark, and machines worked together in an unnerving melody pumping air where it would not go without help.   The rhythm of pumps and motors combined with the stench of urine and alcohol swabs made her stomach sour.   But still she was determined to see for herself what she knew her parents were holding back.   Her brother Michael was hospitalized with something that she couldn’t begin to pronounce, yet understand.   And all seemed without hope.

As she entered, she heard a few of the prayer cards fall from the shelf.   They were a stark reminder that all hope was about abandoned, it was now totally up to God.   But where was God?   Why wasn’t He doing something?   What would it take for Him to save her brother?   A few more cards fell.   The room was cold, dark and reminded her of a tomb.   She was reminder of the tomb Jesus was in.   Surely, if Jesus could rise from His tomb, He could release her brother from his.

It seemed like hours that she stood there in silent agony.   Her eyes welling up and her lips quivering as she watched him struggle to breathe, she said a silent prayer.   It seemed as they had tried everything, and nothing was bringing the results they were hoping and praying for.  

The next morning, she was there when the medical staff made their rounds.   Her mother broke into wails of agony when they announced that a blood transfusion was his best hope, but his blood type was rare.   So, they suggested that the immediate family be tested for a possible match.   Mother, no.   Father, no.   Brother, no.   After an eternity it was her turn.   Sister, Yes.  

Relief and fear struck the room, like a blast of sulfur on which to breathe.   They were gasping for any air of hope that was possible.   So, she anxiously agreed to the removal of blood for her brothers needs.   She had never done anything like this before, much less been asked to give something so precious.   She looked into his face and found the courage to continue.

In a separate room the stage was set.   All of the medical equipment necessary was wheeled in like a caravan of train cars bringing the circus to town.   The noise of the machines became entwined with the rolling of carts and a commotion two rooms down.   This was not a happy occasion.   This was an occasion where she was being pushed to her limits.   There was no joy, no relief, only anxiety, fear and nervous perspiration.

The nurse tried to make lite of what was going to happen, in fact she calmly said “poke.”   As if that would help.   But it didn’t, in fact it only made things worse.   Now she was pale, ill and ready to vomit, but it had been a long time since she had eaten.   She started to shake and the nurse patted her hand and said; “It’s OK, its almost over.” 

With sadness overtaking her spirit she stared into the nurse’s eyes.   “How long before I die?”   And the room fell silent.

John 15:13 The greatest love you can have for your another is to give your life for them.

Because of her love for her brother, today they enjoy a special relationship, one that most never experience.   Jesus, you’re friend, your sibling, you’re brother, has done the same for you.

In the Greatest of Humility …

On January 1, 2020, the United Methodist Church USA will see a strengthening of the rules and regulations surrounding the issue of sexuality, ordination and the church.   As we all know, a special session of the General Conference of the UMC met in 2019 to address the pressing issue of sexuality and the division it has brought forward.   This issue had been a hotbed of dissension within the UMC for many years.   At that special general conference, the opposite of what was thought actually happened.   The regulations and restrictions against LGBTQI+ individuals were solidified and enhanced.   Not only were the restrictions not relaxed but they will now be held even more accountable come January 1,2020.

Recently the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC has rejected the rulings set down at this special conference.  Five of their active bishops have promised to provide “a safe harbor” for LGBTQI+ clergy.   OK, let me stop and ask a really important question: I though the Bishops were supposed to stand up for our denomination and our discipline, not violate it.   Besides, where do they get the authority to violate the established discipline of the UMC?   If I did it, I’d be out of a job!

In a recent interview Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky stated the following: “We make this statement out of a position of conscience with the clear affirmation that we don’t think the church has the authority or the power to limit the way God works in people’s lives.”  

I agree!    I don’t think we have the right to try and limit the way God works either, but I also don’t think we have the right to change what God has communicated.   He’s God, we’re not!   We don’t have the right to change Gods Word, its meaning, its context regardless of how hurtful or exclusive we find it in 21st Century culture.   Don’t get me wrong, I love all people, and wrestle with what to accept and what not to, but I believe that for the church to manipulate God’s Word for what “it” sees as how God “wants” to work in people’s lives is just plain wrong.   If God can create the universe by His will alone, if God can create life from dirt, if God can create a woman from a rib and if God knows how many hairs I have on my head at this particular moment, then I don’t have a problem with Him authoring a set of text and publishing them in the Bible, in fact, I see it as quite easy for the almighty!

All that being said, it doesn’t resolve a thing.   My opinion verses your opinion.   So where will it all end?   It appears that 2020 is going to continue to be a year plastered with strife.   There will be arguments, people violating rules and church law, and yet we wonder why the church seems to be so disjointed and ineffective.   This coming year promises to be a year of church disaffiliation with the UMC and continued struggles.   In my lifetime, I’ve never seen the Christian church in such need!   Let’s all pray and ask God for the wisdom and attitude of heart to get through this as faithful witness for Christ.

Remember, its not about right or wrong, its about what God has ordained.   Its not about what I want or think really, its about God’s responsibility to make His creation aware of what He says is holy and what is unacceptable.   Especially since He is holding us accountable to live as holy a life as possible.   Again, I ask you, pray with me for God’s resolution to this dilemma!

The Elevator

Sometimes we have the weirdest experiences in elevators.   They can be like movie screens, displaying the hardships of a person’s life before a varied audience, or they can be like a silent film, leaving the viewers to “fill in the blanks.”   Elevators in hospitals are the most callous.   They don’t care if you are rich, poor, healthy, hurting, overly emotional or totally indifferent, they just don’t care!

The other day I was at a hospital to visit a friend that was struggling with life.   On the way up to their floor I was riding with a lady that seemed overwhelmed and quite anxious.   If it were even possible, I think she would have jumped out of the elevator even before the door finally opened.   “What’s the matter” I asked?   She looked at me like I had an alien sitting on my shoulder sticking his tongue out at her.   “Nothing that a few million bucks wouldn’t fix!”   “Really, let me see what I have.   It can’t be that bad!”   At this point she went on to tell me that her husband was getting ready to be released but the hospital bills were piling up faster than she could add them up.  

Over the journey of just a few floors I saw what should have been a grateful heart over the healing of her husband turn to stone over the worry of money.   I told her; “your husband gets to go home!”   Too many times I witness the husband or wife, or child or infant that will never leave that hospital floor.   Too many times I am reminder of the brevity of life and the fragile balance between fear and gratitude.   But life goes on.

When I reached my destination the anxieties, I witnessed on the elevator were simply washed away by the scene I walked into.   There was death and hopelessness circling the room, and there seemed no clear way out.   All hope for this room was encapsulated in a prayer to Jesus that ensued.   This prayer was a living testimony to Christ presented in a way that was without selfishness or fear, it was simply a cry for a holy moment, a moment when Christ would fill the room with His presence.   It was beautiful and hope was found abundant.

On the way down I met a father who had just become a dad for the first time.   He was filled with excitement, joy and gratitude, even though he was also exhausted.   He spoke words of affirmation and blessing and was openly praising God for the blessing of new life.   Yes, elevators can be a strange thing.

I’M A CHRISTIAN, BUT DON’T ASK ME TO …

Yes, I love all of the promises that scripture tells us are in the heart of God for us.   God has wonderful plans for each one of us, and in scripture we read that we can trust in Him regardless of how unusual or out of the box those promises are.   God has offered us His best, forgiveness, eternal life, perfect purpose and relationship with our Creator.   Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?

It sometimes seems strange to me, that the Creator God, who really needs nothing, would sacrifice all that He did to save me!   Why?   What the heck did I do to deserve this?   If anything, I’ve done things that would make me less worthy of God’s rich blessings!   But God is a strange and mysterious God.  

When I read the Bible, God’s love letter to humanity, I read about all of the wondrous things God has planned for me.   A life without pain, without suffering and without tears.   Eternal life encapsulated in perfect purpose and fulfillment.   Joy unspeakable and contentment with all things.   God offers to me an eternal life that is beyond human comprehension and explanation, and is a life that He always intended me to have.  

This should motivate me to extreme enthusiasm and excitement.   I should be climbing the walls with this realization, chomping at the bit to tells others what good things await me in the future, all provided by God who paid a price extreme just to get me back home.    Wow, just let that sink in a while.

All of this is what God has done for me, what God has provided for me, what God offers to all that will trust in Him explicitly.   But I’m called not to just receive these unearned gifts from God, but to respond to them in ways that honor Him.   I am supposed to cross the street of priority, setting my agenda aside, to help someone who is less fortunate that me.   I am called to be attentive to the strife of others around me, and to freely and joyfully respond to their needs because of what God has done for me.   I am called to share my abundance with others, not by writing a check and disappearing into the shadows again, but to actively engage others witnessing to them my joy, faith and trust in who God is.  I am called to relinquish my sense of control and ownership of God’s resources for the sake of allowing others to expand their horizons of faith.   I am called to be humble, considering others above myself, so that the body of Christ may be continually built up and supported.   I am called to remove gossip, haughtiness’ and pride from my heart in order to help others see the glory of God.   Like John the Baptist, I am called to become less so that Christ can become more in the lives and hearts around me.

So, when I find myself willing to do certain things for God, but not all things, especially the ones I hold on to that make me feel good, I have to reconsider my Christian walk.   Am I on the right path?   Am I hearing God’s Word and applying it to my behaviors?   Or am I lying to myself?

When God Created …

When God created human beings, He created imperfect life in a perfect setting and existence.   He created flawed human beings that started experiencing trouble from the very get-go.   Let me explain.

First, God created Adam from the dust of the earth.   A miraculous feat!   He created Adam during the time He was creating the earth and sky.   However, there were not any trees or grasses in the land until after Adam had been created if I read the Garden account correctly.   I wonder if Adam had any input into the kind of garden that God was going to plant?   Colors, design or texture.   Regardless, God planted a garden that grew and was beautiful and He placed Adam in the midst of it for a purpose.   Adam had certain responsibilities and a reason for his life.   He was to “work the ground and keep it in order,” as we read in the Message version of Genesis 2.  

So, God has Adam continue His work in the garden while plants were growing, being created and being designed.   God also established something for the first time in Adams life: things you cannot do.   Do this and that, but don’t do that one thing!

Genesis 2:16-17 God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”

I wonder if Adam knew what God was talking about?   What experiences had he had that would give him an understanding regarding the concept of being “dead?”   Had Adam ever seen anything dead before?   How did Adam react to this, it certainly must have been a bit out of character in their relationship?   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying God didn’t do everything perfectly, I’m just wondering what kind of learning process Adam must have gone through prior.   Whatever the process it appears that Adam was not completely content in his heart.   Something was missing.   He had purpose and relationship with God, but something was still missing, or was he looking in the wrong places?

Immediately after placing Adam in the Garden of Eden to care for it, God recognized the need in Adams heart for a companion, a helper, a mate, another human being with different characteristics.   Adam needed another person for relationship.   So, Adam was put to sleep and God formed a woman as his helper.   What a beautiful picture this represents.   Evidently God was quite familiar with Adams need for companionship and purpose, therefore the reason for working in the Garden and the introduction of a helpmate.   God knew, that all of humankind, beginning with Adam, was in dire need of purpose and meaning through relationships, and that those relationships needed to be sought out carefully.

Where do I find them?   First and supremely, we need a relationship with our creator to know and understand our purpose and worth.   Nowhere else do we find that other than through our relationship with God.   Yes, we might look in a lot of other places or even in other people, but nothing can complete the human existence as an intimate relationship with the Creator, the One from whom we receive our value and worth.   Secondly, we need relationships with others around us.   It’s the way we are wired.   The key here is to choose wisely.   Chose God, and chose godly people for close intimate personal relationships.

The emptiness that Adam was experiencing in the Garden of Eden left him with that choice.   He could search to fill the emptiness through his relationship with God or he could look elsewhere.   But as we see, his choices were a bit limited.   He had God, Eve and lots of animals!   Why in the world were they drawn to listening to a serpent, a snake?   In a moment of weakness and deception Adam and Eve made a series of bad choices.  They listened to the serpent.   Not a godly choice but a flawed one!

As relational human beings it appears, we are all still on the same journey towards contentment and purpose.   We are searching.   Searching everywhere and inside the strangest places.   There is an emptiness found in the human heart that causes us to look outside of ourselves at times for purpose and value.   The problem we run into is that the solution is not found in the world or other people, its only found in a loving relationship with our Creator.   He is that answer!   It is God that has established our worth, our value, which He has placed on a scale where we are found valuable enough to die for.   Just sayin …

Salvation has left the building …

I can’t help sometimes but wonder if we as a church are on the right path.   Or more importantly, if we as Christians are pursuing our faith in the right way.   I think the Christian journey of faith has become somewhat convoluted and dysfunctional and has been corrupted like a battery found in a flashlight after many years.   It feels like something is broken.   It feels empty of some viable ingredient.   It doesn’t taste right!

The other day I was in a conversation with a friend about his church.   It was a church that I’m totally unfamiliar with, yet I was interested in what they were all about.   For the next thirty minutes I heard about all of the regular events the church puts on, the bible studies and book reviews, and the beautiful choir they have, with new robes!   I was invited to come and listen one Sunday!

This got me thinking, in fact I spent the entire next day praying, reading and considering what the Christian church overall has become.    More importantly, what have I become as a follower of Jesus?   That day, I searched web site after church web site looking for identity markers that would explain just who they were as a church and how they were getting there.   One after another I read about the many traditional events they participated in, as well as the regular studies and small groups they have.   In a way, it seems like our journey of faith has become extremely “mechanical” in our approach to Jesus.

I started to consider the Gospels where much of the character of Jesus is displayed.   Did He seem to care about the “events” the religious community sponsored?   No, not really.   What were the priorities that He favored, in fact insisted upon?   It seemed like Jesus was always talking about “knowing God” and not just doing stuff!   He focused on the “relational” side of who we are before God.   He held high the relationship that He had with God the Father, and was constantly inviting others to instill that priority in their lives.   What was He saying?

When I think of “relational” stuff, I first think about marriage.   Is marriage more than just going to work, coming home to a family and then going to sleep?   Is marriage a routine that you get into while doing “married” things?    If married couples eat together, live together, save money together and have kids together, is that it?   The Gospels show that Jesus was much more concerned about the intimacy of relationships, not sex, but actually knowing the heart of the other person.   Afterall, I can live with someone and play house with them and still not know them, right?

In the Christian church today, we seem over focused on the things we do for God instead of knowing God Himself.   I know, I know, that’s a broad and controversial statement, but its true.   So many churchgoers today have bought off on the lie that “service” is the way to salvation.   They feel that if they are “serving” or “doing” Christian things it means that they have a saving relationship with their Creator.   If I serve at the food kitchen and go to church, what else is there?   I’m good, right?

Christian service is not the way to a saving relationship with Jesus.   No, its not.   It’s a lie that the culture has produced.   Let’s face it, saving is what we need, yet we long for value in our lives too, meaning and a purpose.  

Everyone needs to be valued, it’s the way we were wired.   In the culture we place value on various things.   The more that something is valued, the more it shows up in our agendas.   If I find my value as a hockey player, I find myself playing it on a league every week and spending endless hours in practice.   I receive value from it so I indulge myself in the activity.

But in a relationship with Jesus the opposite is true.   If I spend all of my energy “doing” stuff for Jesus, and not spending time with Him, the value I place on my relationship with Jesus is false.   Jesus doesn’t need me to do anything.   After-all, He created the heavens and the earth!   What He is looking for is people that will chose to know Him and through that relationship find their value, worth and purpose.  

So how many people in the church today understand that to have a saving relationship with Jesus is much more than doing stuff to earn points or participating in a churchy tradition?   Jesus said something that should stop us in our tracks.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We always seem to focus on the “doing” part, keeping the commandments.   But Jesus first identified the relational part, “If you love me …”  

Loving Jesus involves spending time with Him, listening to His voice, feeling the Spirit speaking to our hearts.   Too many Christians feel that the busyness of the church equates to a saving relationship.   It does not.   It simply makes us “feel” valued or accomplished.   Jesus also said something else quite challenging.

Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

In this decision to “come after me,” it involves a deep intimate understanding of who Jesus is and a willingness to be with Him, everything else follows …

Rejoicing …

Jesus said some strange stuff!   In fact, I’m still trying to figure out some of the statements and stories that He told, and how they apply to my daily life.   Why does it have to be so confusing, so mysterious?   What was He thinking?

One of the most difficult parables Jesus told is the one from Matthew 18.   In this parable Jesus contrast an earthly version of personal worth to a heavenly version.   Isn’t a bunch of faithful people more valuable than one rebellious loner?   Don’t we need to protect the safety and unity of the majority over the one that might never “get it?”   How far do we stretch ourselves for a lost individual?

Matthew 18:12   What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?  13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  14 In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Recently I started a new ministry at my church: “Bibles & Beer.”   Yup, Bibles & Beer!    This group meets on Monday evenings at a local bar for food, refreshments, conversation and God.   So far, this effort has been very successful and we have seen many new faces at our tables.   At this gathering we join each other in Christian conversations while eating and yes, if chosen, drinking a beer.   The idea is simple, in fact it comes from Matthew 18:12-14.   Leave the safe harbor of the church in search for that one person still trying to make heads or tails out of what life is all about.   Maybe, just maybe, we might even get a new person into the fellowship of Christians so that we can build each other up and fulfill the command of Jesus to reach others.   It really is not difficult!

This new ministry has become challenging in several ways.   First, can I really take my Christianity into such a public place as a bar?   I think we’re supposed to if I read Scripture correctly.   Secondly, am I willing to follow Jesus into uncharted territory?   Am I personally willing to put my own ideals and prejudices aside for the simple sake of reaching someone new in Christian conversation?   Am I willing to build a relationship with a sinner?   (That’s a loaded question!)   Jesus did.

According to Jesus, God the Father rejoices more over one sinful person being turned back to God than a whole bunch of other people who are already there.    What’s He saying?   Being motivated to bring one person at a time back to God is the greatest motive you could ever have in life!   No kidding!   If you have to “buy em a beer” in order to do it … buy it!