If we’re making the rules …

If we’re making the rulesthen where does that leave “obedience?”

Its really a very interesting dilemma.   As Christians, if “we” are the ones that set the rules to live by, then where does that leave us when Jesus makes statements like He did in John 14:15?   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”   It seems to me that God is quite capable of giving His people instructions, in fact we see that all through Scripture.   God giving instructions on how to live, what to do and what not to do.

Then comes the issue of sexuality in the UMC.   I know, I know, Jesus never said anything about human sexuality, but what He did do was to affirm the validity and truth of God’s Holy Word in Scripture.   If Jesus insist on obedience to Himself, and by His affirmation Scripture also, would it be fair of Him not to tell us what to do?   I don’t think so.   In fact, it would be a sick joke of sorts to insist on obedience and then say “you figure it out.”

When the topic of Biblical obedience comes up, ultimately the Old Testament laws that we do not follow anymore are mentioned.   This is a heavy and huge issue that deserves explanation in a future blog.   This issue centers around the culture, the types of laws, such as being civil, ceremonial or moral in nature, and also the issue of God’s requirement of obedience.   I’ll be writing on that soon.

But our dilemma today is one of following the churches interpretation of God’s requirement of obedience and exactly what the rules are.   Do we as human beings have the right to interpret holy laws, or are we simply conforming to the world?   When we earnestly pray and seek God’s Spirit to guide us, and don’t receive the outcome we desired, does that mean that God rejected our plea?   Or are we becoming worldly and simply pouting?

If God can create life from nothing, if God can know me before I was ever conceived, if God can do all of the stuff, He says He can in Scripture, can He not write me a love letter and give me instructions on how to live for Him?   Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t like what happened at the GC2019 either.   It simply comes down to this; God what do You want me to do?   How do You want me to live?   I realize I might not like it, or agree with it, but do You really require me to place Your will over my natural instincts and ingrained human desires?   Is that what You mean when You say to love You with everything I have?

Yes, yes, yes, I remember what Jesus said…

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If love is all that is required and takes precedence over obedience, then why did Jesus have to die for sin?   Is the issue of obedience summed up in verse 37 where Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”   I believe that Jesus is the ultimate example of living a life that honors God and serves Him faithfully.   Jesus didn’t just love God the Father, He died on a cross because of His obedience to the will of God.   I guess that brings up the question for me; what am I dying for in obedience to God?   My will?   My natural desires and inclinations?   My preferences?   My understanding of what “love” is?   Did Jesus not subdue all of His human nature for the sake of an obedient death on the cross?

Today you hear a lot about love and inclusivity.   Jesus was a wonderful example of both.   He accepted everyone, went to everyone and showed His love to everyone.   But in no way did Jesus ever demonstrate that love means acceptance of behaviors that are deemed sinful in Scripture.   I know that this idea is unpopular.   Jesus was constantly telling people to change their hearts, to turn away from sinful behavior, not celebrate it.   This concept goes way back into the Old Testament.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Was Eve totally responsible for her actions that day in the Garden, or was she drawn to the tree because of her God given inquisitive nature?   Was Cain totally responsible for his act of murder against his brother Able?   Wasn’t his nature designed by God?   Was the jealousy in his heart towards his brother a natural aspect of who he was?   And it goes on.   Did Noah have to overcome his human nature to devote his life to such a ridiculous task of building a ship in the middle of nowhere?   What about Abraham?   Did he have to overcome any aspects of how he was created to trust in God and actually raise the knife to his own son?   Then there is Moses, what struggles did he have in overcoming his nature in order to live an obedient life before God?

There are no easy answers.   And to simply say that “loving” everyone means to accept every type of behavior I believe is wrong.  This doesn’t mean that I like it.   In the Christian walk, human nature has to be overcome.   Jesus demonstrated this, in that He included everyone, but never condoned behaviors that scripture deemed as sinful and we might deem at natural.   Can we not follow His example and live according to God’s Word?

Is it …

I’m not a rebel trying to stir up trouble.  I’m not a person who is taking a stand, waving a banner of exclusiveness or a person unwilling to listen to opposing views.   I am though a hypocrite at times, and I do rethink my position on issues a lot.   I am a person who seeks positive criticism even though it at times cuts me to my core.   I don’t have all of the answers, in fact, as I tell people all the time, the older I get, the more questions develop in my heart and in my tenaciously challenging relationship with God.

At times I just want to scream out to God; “Are You there?   Do You hear me?   Why can’t my heart find the answers?”   All of this wrestling finds its way into my thoughts throughout each day.   And at night, it is the source of my sleeplessness.   I thought that God’s Word was supposed to bring peace, comfort and joy.     I thought that the “truth” of God would always be evident.   Well it does bring me peace and joy, but it still leaves me with empty anxious spots to be filled.   One of the biggest empty spots in my heart lately has been over the special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that recently took place in St. Louis ( #GC2019 ).   This conference has left me with more to think about than I had before it began.   Some good, some quite distasteful.   It has left me looking to the mountaintop once again yearning to scream out to God; “Hey, what’s up?   Did You see what was happening there?   Were You there where two or more were gathered in Your name?”

Is it possible … that God was present and active at the General Conference (GC2019)?   Certainly, over the past several years, hundreds of thousands around the world have been praying for this special conference and its outcome.   God’s children around the globe have been crying out for a resolution, for a Word of truth and a Spirit that would guide and lead the conference to wholeness in the will of God.   The church of Jesus Christ worldwide has been seeking a way to move forward past an issue that has been smoldering in the background for decades and is now burning the forest down.   Not a way to ignore it, but a way to find God’s will and truth in it and a way to answer the debate once and for all.

As a believer in Christ I have come to believe that when God’s people cry out to Him in earnest He answers.   Is it possible that God did answer the prayers of the church for truth?   Is it possible that we didn’t like the answers we received?   Is it possible that having not received a favorable and supportive answer for our stance on sexuality, that we are now convincing ourselves that “God’s not done with us yet and He is still working on full acceptance of the LGBTQIA lifestyles?”   Man, this becomes a mind-boggling dilemma!   What to do!   Where to turn!   What to believe!

If I as a Christian, accept that God certainly answers the earnest prayers of His children, then why would I believe that God didn’t answer our many prayers for the General Conference 2019?   Matthew 18:20 tells us that where two or three are gathered God is in their midst.   Was God in the hearts and minds of the delegates that voted at GC2019?   Was God’s will manifested through the hearts of those delegates?   I believe that to deny that would be a great way to dishonor God as well as the hundreds of thousands that have died for the truth of Scripture over the last 2,000 years.   He doesn’t abandon His children!   He doesn’t turn a blind eye to their plight!   No, He emphatically states that He will be there in their midst.   He will be there to bring justice, truth, direction and guidance so that we can continue to live out our witness of who He is.   Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things in the Scriptures that I don’t understand, like or agree with, but the question remains; was God there and working through the delegates to bring truth to the surface of the muddy water of the UMC?

Maybe some did not receive the answer and affirmation at the GC2019 that they were looking for, but with all of my heart I know that God was present.   That being said, I have to also say that nobody won!   Nothing has been settled.   This is not a battle between sides, it is not a situation where my way has to be God’s way.   No, this is and should always be a search for Gods truth even if it is contrary to our human understanding, desires or preferences.   As Rick Warren so eloquently put it; “It’s not about you.”

Is it probable … that God showed up at GC2019?   Matthew 18:20 recognizes more than just a statement about Jesus, it represents a promise.   This promise is to be there where He is needed.   To be present and active in the midst of believers calling on Him.   What, would Jesus show up, and watch His kids slide down the slope of error?   Would Jesus show up and do nothing?   I think not!   His promise represents His attentiveness to our needs, our need for clarity and our need for guidance.   But like any loving parent, sometimes you have to tell the kids “no!”   Is that what happened here?   Do we have any substantial reasons to believe that God only answered us partially?   Is He playing with us?   Is He trying to teach us a lesson?

If God was active and in the midst of GC2019, why are we so distraught?   Why are we still so divided?   Why didn’t we accept with joy and gladness the movement of the Holy Spirit at GC2019 and leave as a church united?   Is it probable that our hearts were broken because of several factors?   First, are we looking at the real issue?   Is not what we are struggling with, the question of whether or not God says that any type of sexual relationship outside of a monogamous heterosexual married relationship is sinful?   Are we not struggling with what the truth of God is regarding our sexual preference?   Are we not wrestling with the human desires of our hearts to physically, emotionally and spiritually love a person of the same sex?   Yes, and the issue continues.   The real issue is “what does God’s Word say and mean” not if I like it or even remotely agree with it.

Secondly, I don’t see the issue really revolving around “inclusion.”   Inclusion in the 21st century has become to mean acceptance of all lifestyles and behaviors.   Jesus never excluded anyone, in fact He went out of His way to include people.   What was going on with people in regards to sexuality never stopped Jesus from including them.   Are we?   Jesus ate with sinners, slept at their houses and simply offered them His love.   But one thing Jesus also did clearly was to affirm the teachings of the Scriptures.   That being said, He never excluded anyone, He loved them, invited them in, cared for them, wept over them and affirmed their need for God.   Why is it that we spend more effort on having our beliefs accepted by the church than being invitational to all people?   You might disagree, and this might piss you off, just sayin.

Thirdly, I hear a lot today surrounding the words “context,” “acceptance” and “love.”    If I love someone, I will accept them they way they are, the way they were created.   Friends, the way I was created is filled with flaws.   Some hard to deal with, others easy.   Regardless, I have a lot of things in the way I was created that need to change!   I think our example of how to love someone should go back to the fall of humankind.

In the Garden, God certainly loved Adam and Eve.   He cared for them, provided all that was needed and was in a loving relationship with them.   But they still had to abide by God’s Word and will, regardless of how they felt, or more importantly, how they were created.   Flawed.   But even though they disobeyed, and disagreed with God’s law, God still loved them and provided for them.   He gave them clothing and lovingly removed them from the Garden so that they would not make another poor decision and be stuck in a sinful state for eternity.   In this account of the fall, God didn’t loose sight of what they needed, no, instead He watched over them as they “learned” to trust in God and His ways.   What about us?   Are we learning to trust in God’s ways, or are we arguing with Him about what He said or how relative it is considering our context?   My dilemma is this; are we arguing with God or truly seeking His will?

I also hear the word “acceptance” a great deal lately.   It seems to me that in order to be in relationship with someone I have to accept all that they say, do and believe.   Really!   All it seems that we are accomplishing with this mindset is the polarization of the Christian church.   Your side, my side.   What a great way to dishonor what Jesus died for!   He called us to be unified and to represent Him and the Word of God to the world.   He didn’t call us to ram our views down each other’s throats but to hold each other in love as we call out to God for understanding, guidance, love and respect.   All of this while submitting our will, our views, our very lives, to the will of God.   Wow, yes, so hard to do.

Is it clear … what God has said on the subject of sexuality?   In Scripture the issues of sexuality and marriage are clearly defined.   I know, you disagree, but hear me out.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find and read all of the individual scriptures regarding sexuality, sexual relationships and such.   Over the decades we have also found many references to support what scripture says through archaeological means and discoveries.   Today, we know exactly what the Scripture says and the meaning represented in it.   We have more information than ever before regarding the words, meaning, situation and context of how and why it was written.   Believe it or not, God’s Word is complete, clear and relative as supported by many theologians over the decades and in our Methodist seminaries.   So why do we argue with it?   I know, now you’re really mad at me!

Is it a hardness of heart issue … Ouch!   I hope not!   Many of the Christian brothers and sisters I know that left the GC2019 disappointed are wonderful, loving people.   They love God, love each other and are truly disappointed and fractured over this issue.   My heart breaks for them.   These wonderful brothers and sisters want nothing more than for others on the outskirts of the Christian faith to develop a loving, lasting, saving relationship with Jesus.   Awesome!   But we are divided, and hurt, and broken-hearted as well as dismayed.   Why would God create me as a sexual being with all sorts of manifestations of that sexuality and limit me as to what is acceptable?   It seems to make no sense, it’s like a cruel joke!   I guess I have to ask myself if I am doing life my way, or God’s way.

Is it possible … that we could all stow away our feelings, our personal understanding and our agendas for the sake of knowing God’s truth?   Friends, someone is right, and someone is wrong.   That’s by the very definition of the word “truth.”   But it should never be a “my side, your side” issue.   With open and humble hearts, we should collectively cry out to God for His truth and Holy Spirit to place it in our hearts, even if that means that we have to admit that we were wrong.   Being right or wrong is indifferent next to a loving saving relationship with a holy and perfect God!   It’s not about me winning, or my way, it should be totally about living for God … regardless.

Is it necessary … that we split?   It certainly isn’t unusual; church denominations have split before.   But if we split does anybody win?   Not really.   I believe that a split in our denomination would only confirm to the world that we don’t really understand what we believe.   It would be a poor and devastating witness to the many hungry hearts that are looking for meaning in their lives.   For the very people we are trying to reach we would be failing them.

This is not a new issue.   How many times in Scripture do we read about how the hearts, true God loving Israelite hearts, were corrected in their understanding of God’s law.   Many.   Repeatedly through Scripture we see God correcting the thinking and understanding of truly wonderful loving devout people.   Might we be any different?   I don’t think so.

Is it hopeless … man, I sure hope not!   So many times, I thought that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do.   So many times, I was wrong, and boy did that knife cut deep!

Both sides of the debate on sexuality are lined with good God loving people.   People who believe that they are right and following the will of God, people who are striving for all to experience the love of God.   That being said, I believe the answer lies in our hearts approach to God.   Are we seeking our understanding and application of God’s position on sexuality, or are we truly seeking God’s?

Friends, my intention here is not to piss you off, alienate anyone or take any sides.   I am struggling in my own heart with what to believe, and I’m willing to admit it.   The last thing I ever want to do is to represent a church that excludes people based on some aspect of their lives.   Nobody is perfect except God.   I want all to be lovingly included, but I earnestly want to seek God’s truth … regardless of how easy it is for me to apply.

A heart that seeks God through intense struggle can be found all throughout Scripture.   Moses gave it all up to follow God’s will and ways.   He lost family, goals and the future he had hoped for.   Abraham, the same deal.   He sacrificed it all for something unseen, unexpected and almost impossible to follow through with.   He even literally gave up his only son.   And the list goes on, many who had to sacrifice their human nature and understanding of things in order to follow the will of God.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done … to love all people … be open to God’s correction … to truly have a humble heart … to admit when I’m wrong … to give my entire life to God and mean it … I guess I could say, to be a fool for Christ …

How did we get here?

In just a few weeks the United Methodist Church will be holding a special General Conference to discuss, vote on and possibly determine the direction the denomination will be heading in the future.   Will we be maintaining our traditional values and uphold the Word of God as it has stood for centuries?   Or, will we be changing our stance on sexuality dramatically?   Will the future of the UMC include same sex clergy couples, ordination of openly gay candidates or maybe even same sex weddings being performed with the cross and flame in the background?   At this point, its hard to say what is going to happen.   But there are quite a few issues that are being brought to the forefront that will definitely change the landscape of our denomination forever.   I guess the real question is: “Will Christ be pleased with what we have done?”

There are many forefront issues being addressed at this conference but it is the precedent that will be established that will really determine where we are going.    One of the challenging background issues is this: if we establish that something other than a “man and a woman” can be married in a sexual relationship, what do we do with those that insist that being bi-sexual is just as valid?   Another vote, conference?   Does it mean that a bi-sexual person should be able to explore a sexual relationship with partners of both sexes?   I know, you’re going to tell me that “no’” they would have to choose one or the other partner.   But let’s get real, that’s not the stance of the many bi-sexual people I have encountered.   They insist that the freedom to explore both sexes and those experiences are “who we are” and therefore “God instituted.”   It would be wrong to deny anyone the opportunity to be all that God has created us to be!   And if they are supported when they explore a sexual relationship with a man and a woman, does that mean it’s still “God instituted, ordained?”   Does God want me to have two partners, two lovers, two best-friends, two relationships to fully experience “who” God created me to be?   The water is getting murky.

Again, there are a host of “sub-issues” surrounding the topics to be addressed at this special conference of the United Methodist Church.   But how does everyone outside of the U.S. feel about all of this?   From what I have been reading, and I have not read everything, the overall stance of the UMC in other nations appears to be on the traditional platform.   God’s Word is God’s Word.   Leave it the way it is!   I have found it discouraging that in the background of the issue the church has been looking at ways for churches to leave the denomination, to keep the money available for the church overall to utilize, to allow everyone to believe what they want and stay united.   Is this really what Jesus had in mind?   What did Satan say to Eve? (Genesis 3:1)

There is one word that constantly appears in the many articles, videos and discussions I have been involved with surround the issue of the church and sexuality; “unity.”   It seems like being a church unified is the ultimate goal, that together we can accomplish so much!   This leads me to ask “what are we trying to accomplish?”   “Are we all in agreement on that?”   “What is the church here for?”   Its always nice to be a part of a larger goal, a bigger effort, and to see those efforts come to fruition.   It’s a wonderful thing to see our donated resources go to help people around the globe.   One of the wonderful parts of being in the UMC is a global effort known as UMCOR.   Such wonderful work has been and continues to be done by this group.   And I have to say that there are many other efforts sponsored by the UMC that I am a proud partner of.   But is it the goal?   Is benevolence, caring for those in need the aspiration?   Is providing needed resources what we have been called to do by Christ?

Certainly, we are called to serve those in need, and there are many, and in no way am I discounting the efforts of the UMC in regards to providing aid and resources where needed.   But as Jesus said; “you will always have the poor with you.”   It doesn’t make it any less of a goal, but it is not “the goal.”   In my search for truth I am drawn back in time to our heritage, our roots in Methodism.   During the Reformation benevolence and care for the poor was upheld but “relationship and obedience” to God were identified as primary.   I can give resources to the poor, but if I really don’t care about the poor, what good does it do for me?   As Jesus identified many times, I can “look” Christian, act Christian but it is what comes out of my heart that makes me clean or unclean, in a Godly relationship or not, Christian or a “wanna-be.” 

Have we become so “enlightened” that we now have the right and duty to interpret Scripture for God?   Has this enlightenment taken 2,000 years to come about?   Wow, lucky us, huh?   What about the centuries of oral tradition, historical writings and archaeological finds that all support what Scripture teaches us?   I have yet to receive an answer about how we have received the right and enlightenment to alter God’s written Word.   Someone help me here, because I’m sinking like Peter!

In this short discourse we will never settle anything.   Maybe all I will accomplish here is to offend the few that will actually read it to the end.   That is not my intention.   But I have to tell you that I am compelled to write this short article and to post it so we would all take a break from our personal feeling and emotions and just “think!”   Does what we are doing make sense?   Sense for us, the church?   How has God revealed that this is His chosen path for us?   Are we satisfying ourselves, family relationships or the culture?   One thing I know for sure, and that is that God loves all of us, yes, all of us.   But the question is; does love mean condoning all types of human behavior?   And, how do we as the church respond to a culture that is dividing our church?

Pray hard for the coming General Conference, please pray…

Sometimes All You Can Do is Cry

I’m not a bigot!   I don’t hate people, I love people.   I don’t oppress individualism but instead I celebrate how God has created all of us to be unique, made in His image.   I realize that you are different from me, and I from you, but that is all part of the kaleidoscope that God is forming in human history.   It’s a beautiful thing!   As far as being children of God, coming together in His name and for His purposes, I revel in the diversity that He has instilled in each of us.   We are a most unique and beautiful garden of creativity and life.  

Yes, I am unique, an individual and I have my natural God instilled characteristics.   But the church today is telling me that my God instilled desires can be sinful if I follow through on them. Even though I am God-created in His image, I am not allowed to follow though on my natural tendencies and desires! The church is saying that we were all created in His image but all are also infected with a cancer of the heart called sin.   This “sin-cancer” comes in the form of free-will.   This is a trait of God that He has gifted us with.   We can choose our own way, make our own path, decide what is right and wrong as well as accept or reject God and His ways.

Free-will, or this doorway to blessing and sin, originally got Adam and Eve into big trouble, that is if you believe in them.   You see, created in the image of God, Adam and Eve were still imperfect.   They had faults.   Big ones! One day the temptation to disobey God’s instructions to leave a certain tree in the garden alone finally overwhelmed the couple.   They gave in.   Even though they knew that God said not to touch it, they buried that knowledge, gave into the temptation and acted, and it was in that act that sin separated humankind from a holy God.  

But hey, they were wired that way from the beginning!   They saw that the tree looked good!   It didn’t hurt anyone else, come ‘on God!   It was ingrained in them to be inquisitive and to try new things, they weren’t hurting anyone!   But still God saw the act as disobedience and removed them from the Garden of Eden.   Why?   To punish them?   No, to save them!   It was an act of love.   More on that later.

So again, I wrestle with the fact that no one else was hurt, only Adam and Eve were affected, at least at that time.   So, what, all of a sudden, they knew what the difference between good and evil was.   OK, cool, but is that a reason to get all huffy about it?   The issue here is one of “obedience.”   Its not so much that all of a sudden, they knew the difference between good and evil, but that they disobeyed God willfully.   In the garden they had only one thing to stay away from, but what if there had been ten things?   What if they had moved a forbidden stone, or said a forbidden word?   It still would have been the sin that separated them and us, from God.   Again, the issue is obedience, not just the act of plucking an apple and being enlightened regarding God’s edict of right and wrong.   The issue of sin is totally centered around willful disobedience to God.   That includes things you understand, and things that you don’t!

I used to think that the forbidden fruit in the garden was never to be eaten and experienced by Adam and Eve.   But Scripture reminds me that all of God’s creation is “good” and that all things are in obedience to Him.   When we fall short in that area, we sin and separate ourselves.   I wonder if one day God had planned, when they were ready, to let Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?   I believe He did.   Why?   Because He has held nothing back from humankind, but God is a God of order and purpose.   As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything under heaven.

So, was it fair of God to create humankind imperfectly, knowing we would fall into disobedience and suffer for it?   Why would He allow me to have certain yearnings, desires and inclinations ingrained in me from birth, not of my own doing, and then tell me its sinful if I disobey His edict not to proceed with my desired physical activities?   Seems like a sick joke, or maybe a trap!   Really, the issue is also one of taking God at face value.   Believing in Him and His Word.   God wants a relationship with children that “choose” Him and desire to trust in Him regardless.   Look at Abraham, was it fair of God to demand that he sacrifice his son by killing and burning him?   Its all about trust and obedience, not about understanding and agreement.

In the human realm sin is born out of the choice of one’s heart to turn away from God and follow our own will.   I know, it sounds selfish of God, but His reason for putting limitations on us is not to be mean, but to protect us out of His love for us.   God knows what we are ready to experience and what we are not.   Surely, we can clearly see from the garden experience of Adam and Eve that God’s desires for us is to live joyful fulfilled lives, not lives of inadequate experiences.   But just because we feel like we are “ready” it doesn’t mean that we are.   That’s where God’s will, direction and Word come in, they are there to guide us into a perfectly heavenly life with Him, one that does not encompass disobedience.   But as demonstrated by Adam and Eve, it takes obedience even when you don’t agree or feel like it.   Period.

So, in the United Methodist Church (UMC) the hot topic of the decade is sexuality.   Is same sex attraction normal, God given and acceptable?   What does the Bible say?   Is it still relevant, or is it outdated?   Who gets to make that determination and why?   How can it be wrong if I was born this way?   Part of the answer to these questions resonate from what our definition of God’s Word is.   Is it the Bible?   Is the Bible God inspired and perfectly filled with God’s directions and wisdom?   Or is the Bible simply a God inspired book that was once more relevant than it is today?   About God you have to choose, just like Adam and Eve had to chose as well as Abraham.   These choices do not come lightly and without challenge though.   Is it really God speaking truth to me?   Do I need to sacrifice what I don’t want to in order to be obedient to Him or can I find some flexibility somewhere?   Am I going to be intolerant of others and homophobic if I don’t accept the cultures definition of natural sexuality?   What about the UMC?   Am I going to be seen as an outcast if I hold onto the inerrancy of Scripture? There doesn’t seem to be an equitable way out!

Even more importantly, what about my relationship with God?   Is it going to be deemed null and void just because of this one issue if I reject it being sinful?   How do I handle it when my family members disagree?   What if my loved ones are LGBTQI?   Am I being put into the same position as Adam, Eve and Abraham?   Certainly, if God is a loving God He would not condemn people for simply being who they are, right?   Ask Adam, Eve and Abraham, maybe.

If two people love each other surely their acts of love cannot be seen as vile to God!   Again, we as His children are not to judge others, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.   But Jesus also said that if we love Him, we would obey Him.   Its that simple.   Man, I don’t like hearing that!   I don’t have to like it, believe in it, understand it, condone it or anything else, it is simply an issue of obedience and trust in Scripture.   Everyone, at some point, has to decide of what they hold as truth regarding God and His Word.   Is He real?   Is the Bible really His Word, and if so what am I going to do with it?   Do I trust that even though I am asked to sacrifice what I see as acceptable, normal and fulfilling today, that God will abundantly reward me for my obedience and that one day I will understand that He was right?  

As the UMC sets the stage for a vote in February 2019 on the issue of sexuality, ordination of LGBTQI persons and same sex marriage, I sense that I am at the same crossroads as Adam, Eve and Abraham.   Oh my, what to do?   What to believe?   How to weigh the consequences of the choices?   Its clear that the post-modern culture in the United States is supportive of the LGBTQI community.   We live in a free society of personal freedoms and free thinking.   More and more things are becoming acceptable in the world today and many believe that Scripture will only hold us back from experiencing the abundant life God has willed for us.   I’m not so sure.

Is it fair, or even reasonable, that God should want me to make a choice that would potentially alienate me from many in the culture, my community and even my own household?   How can I live with myself when the choice will ultimately lead me to alienating either God or a loved one?   There is no way out!   I’m trapped because I will be choosing between those that I love with all of my heart.   At least, that’s the way I feel!   Is that fair?   If God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes, then I’m supposed to accept that this choice, as harsh as it is?   Whoa, God I don’t want to make this type of choice!   Isn’t there another way?   Isn’t there a way forward, where we can all have what we want?  

That’s the problem.   Unless we challenge the inerrancy of Scripture there is no way forward for all to be satisfied.   While we all want to say that God is never wrong, God is holy and never makes mistakes, we can say that Scripture is relative and must be processed to see what still applies to us in the post-modern world.   If that’s not enough to get the job done, we can no longer believe that God writes His timeless Word in a way that would be relative in all cultures, all times and all sets of contexts.

So, in February of 2019 a vote will take place at a special session of the UMC General Conference that could bring unity or division to an already fractured church.   But before that time, each one of us must make the choice of what side of God’s holiness and the inerrancy of His Word we will stand on.   These are life changing choices!

I kinda feel like I’m standing in the garden with Adam and Eve.   Which way do I go?   What should I choose?   If I understand God’s Word, is it right for me to question it?   But what if today’s culture and understanding are completely different than what existed 2,000 years ago?   Certainly, the overall context is different, and people are much more educated etc.   God has given me an ability to comprehend, understand, experience and figure things out, so deciding if the Biblical view of sexuality is correct is good, right?

Ultimately, I believe we all come back to the same overall issue, is God’s Word found in the Bible, and does it still apply today?

Don’t cry … choose …

Leonard

Leonard lived with his wife and daughter in a small worn out dilapidated trailer on the outskirts of a small town in Michigan.   Throughout his life he worked at various jobs.   He worked in factories, small businesses and for himself doing odd jobs and lawn care.   Leonard never accomplished a great deal in his life from a worldly perspective, but he did the best that he could.   While his life was simple and less than earthshaking he knew he had to provide for his family and he did it regardless of the difficulties each situation presented. Leonard was not a wealthy man when it came to the material things of this world, but he was rich!

I met Leonard one day after his daughter appeared at the free clothing store my church was operating. Her name was Lauren and she possessed a quite meek and unassuming spirit.   One day at the Free Store Lauren came in quietly and spent a few hours shopping and going through the racks.   She was amazed that the clothing was “free” and that it was of good quality and without blemishes.   As I approached her she quietly gazed at the floor because she was embarrassed.   She was very aware that her dress was shabby and that her hair was un-kept and tangled.   As Lauren and I talked I quickly realized there was a deep pain and sorrow in her heart.   Her dad, Leonard, was dying a slow death because of a lung disease.

Several days later I gathered some food from our food pantry to take to their home.   Lauren had told me that they were struggling and didn’t have any food in the house.   When I found the small trailer, I knew I was in for a shock.   There were piles of “stuff” all around it as if someone had moved in and there was not room in the house for their belongings.   When I went in I entered into a situation of utter despair.   Leonard was on the couch, TV blaring and you could tell that he was almost unable to breathe at all.   Leonard had one lung that had quit working years before and his other lung was filled with cancer.   With every labored breath he took you could see the agony of pain in his eyes.

The amazing part of this visit was that in the midst of all of their poverty, strife, dysfunction and pending death I found an amazing level of faith in Christ.   As I sat with Leonard he would struggle to tell me about his faith in Jesus, but always the light of his face would beam as we talked about Jesus.   It became obvious during my visits that Leonard had for many years enjoyed an abiding relationship with Christ, one that I envy to this very day.   Leonard had transferred this relationship to his wife and daughter as they too were filled with joy and faith in God.   That faith in God had rescued them from the clutches of despair even though Leonard would soon be missing from their presence.  

As I talked with the three of them we talked about how “searching for God” was the one single most important thing Leonard had ever done in his life, and it would be the same for the family.   Astonishingly that day, I saw one of the most powerful sermons of my life played out before me.   From the lips of a dying man, and from the mouths of a daughter and wife that would soon be experiencing a great loss, I heard about the hope that we have through Jesus Christ in a life changing way. The bottom line: “Seek God First!”

Psalm 14:2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.   (Just one of Leonard’s favorite verses)

Veneta

She was a dear old soul who greeted you with a warm hug, smile and a story. You could see by her demeanor that her heart was open to all that came into her life and her smile was one that would be engrained into the memory forever.   She was a champion of hospitality, not just the lonely old lady yearning for someone to talk to, Veneta was inviting and truly enjoyed all that she came into contact with.

I remember the first time I met Veneta.   It was a warm summer day and I was looking at her house which was for sale.   My wife and I wanted to sell our home in Grand Rapids Michigan in hopes of finding a home that we could enjoy near the Michigan lake shore.   As a child, my wife was introduced to the Michigan lakeshore and it had become a staple of fun, relaxation and enjoyment over the years.   As we took off on the search process for a Lake Michigan home we were deluged with obstacles that constantly got in the way.   That one is too expensive!   This one is too ugly!   That one smells!   I can’t believe they really want to sell that dilapidated old money pit for that much!   And the list went on.   Finally, we settled on a cute little yellow home in the village of Pentwater Michigan.   This was a find, but not without issues!

Pentwater is a beautiful little vacation community on Lake Michigan in the central part of the state.   We were quite familiar with the area and knew that homes here would only escalate in price.   It would be a great investment!   It was a small cottage, only three blocks from the shore, but it would be ours!   Woohoo!   So, I made the offer and within twenty-four hours we had an accepted contract that was contingent on the sale of our home.   Now all I had to do was sell our other home in Grand Rapids.   “That’s OK, God is in control!   It’ll happen if He wants it to!”

In the meantime, another offer was submitted that was not contingent.   We had lost our place in line and the home of our dreams was fading off into the sunset before our very eyes!   It was then that I realized I was in pursuit of “my dreams” and not “God’s will” for my life.   I had forgotten the topic we addressed early on in this blog: It’s not about me!   How difficult a lesson that is to learn, comprehend and actually apply to our individual lives!   Surely “my plan” is the same as “God’s plan?”   But through the failures and struggles of selling our home and inspecting others, somewhere in the midst of that we turned our future hope over to God.

As I stepped onto the porch of Veneta’s house I encountered the sign: “Do NOT let the cat out!   Wow, this old lady really loved her portly old fat cat!   Charlie had been her sole housemate since the death of her husband and her love for him had been expressed in the constant feeding him of treats!    He was a pretty cat but had a “roly-poly” belly that spread out like butter in a hot pan wherever he plopped.   In fact, whenever I saw Charlie he was sitting!   Nevertheless, he was loved.  

Veneta’s nature was to care for everything around her and to see the good inside of it.   “Come on in honey” she said as our realtor made the formal introductions.   “Oh, I’ve been praying that God would send someone to buy this house!   You need this house!”   So, looking the house over we determined that the entire thing needed to be gutted and remolded, all the way down to the walls, plumbing, electrical, yup, pretty much everything!   As we considered this home as our lifetime investment and future residence the Spirit of God kept nudging us forward.   This was the place that He had planned for us.   But the thing that was so encouraging was the absolute faith of this old widowed woman.   In her faith, she was nothing less than staunch and unwavering!   Truly she had invested her life in the words provided by James 4:8.

James 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Ever since the day I first met Veneta I have been amazed at the faith of this woman that had every reason to doubt and become bitter.   Her health was frail, she didn’t really have enough money to move closer to her daughter to be cared for and she was like a leaf in the wind without her husband of many decades, yet her trust and faith in God was built on the foundation of Jesus: The Rock!   Veneta had sought God first!   “Hmmmm, Lord I want to have faith like Veneta!”

China Buffet

We spent the day in Pentwater Michigan working on a house I have there that is well over 150 years old.   It needs a lot of work!   This home is one I hope to retire in someday but until then it has turned into a “mental health” project.   I can go to this house, plan, build, tear out and make ready for the day I will call it “”home.”   As the day got away from us we started the two hour trip back to the parsonage where we live later than expected.   Along the way the kids were restless and hungry, imagine that!   So we decided to stop at the “China Buffet” at the half way point.  

There was one other family there eating but they were busy with carry out orders.   After getting our food we decided to eat there as Chinese food is a little “iffy” to eat while on the run.   While eating two men came into the restaurant and were very loud and obnoxious.   It quickly became evident that they were probably homeless or destitute as their clothes and hygiene was exceptionally disgusting.   There was a stench to them but all they wanted to do was talk; and they wanted to talk to us!   They were not asking for anything other than a friendly open comfortable conversation.   As they kept trying to engage us my wife was kind and considerate and talked with them in a compassionate manner.   But not me, I was turned off and honestly just wanted them to go away, leave us alone, get outta my face, let me eat in peace!   On the car ride that followed I felt as if Jesus was telling me that I was a good Pharisee!   I had cast the first stone through my hearts attitude toward these two men and had passed by them “on the other side of the road.”   I quickly became heart-broken as I realized my mistake.  

At this point my sin was overwhelming.   I hadn’t been Jesus to these two men; I had been the face of a careless person who deemed himself a “Christian.”   In my sadness over my response I again asked Jesus for forgiveness.   It was evident that my sin was not in what I was doing, but in what I had refused to do.   I didn’t want to respond to these men in love but in rejection.   I had no idea what the circumstances of their lives were and quite frankly I didn’t care.

Jesus tells us in this Scripture story that all of God’s children are priceless, even the “smelly” ones.   The sin of our lives starts in our hearts, not our heads.   Hearts have to overrule the consensus of our minds and the primary motivation of our hearts must be “love!”   Jesus always turned the tables toward bettering people rather than rejecting or punishing them.   He many times warned us that the judgment would come but until then all had the opportunity to repent and to restore their relationship with God.   Jesus always reflected a heart of love for everyone regardless of the situation.   Even when He called the religious leaders “vipers” it wasn’t out of hatred, it was out of love and trying to force them to see their hypocrisy.   To this day, I still regret my shameful attitude and inaction toward these two men.   Thank you Jesus for Your example, forgiveness and the example of a wife that modeled You.