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.

“That woman, again?”

John 8:   Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.   “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”   They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.   They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.   When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”   11 “No, Lord,” she said.   And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

 

In this Scripture we see an image of loving our neighbor as ourselves.   That’s what Jesus was doing.   He forgave the repentant woman because of His deity, but in love He also instructed the woman to stay away from her sin.   Don’t do it!   Stay away or you will be right back in the same boat again… sinful before a holy God.   The key to this story is not about the sin that the woman was involved in, even though it was great.   The key is that Jesus gave her another chance.   She was repentant for what she had done and Jesus saw that clearly in her heart.   Jesus chose to forgive her but instructing her to leave that sin behind her.   Does that seem fair?   Is Jesus just wasting His time?   No, He saw in her the same thing that he sees in you and I; hearts wanting to stop sinning but struggling with the temptation of our flesh.   It’s one thing to say we are going to never become involved in a sinful behavior again, but it is a completely different thing to put that into practice.

We all have a problem with the actual application of our desire to stop sinning.   We have a desire to do good and to follow that which is deemed right, but who gets to choose what is right or wrong?   Who is the authority on right, wrong, acceptable and that which is unacceptable?   Hopefully in your life it is God!   If “we” are the authority then that becomes selfish idolatry.   Who are we that we can judge what is right or wrong, especially when our Creator has offered His definition to us through the Holy Scriptures?   Only He who is perfect can give an accurate account of that which is unholy and imperfect.   (Don’t like that statement … get over it!)

Sin is not just sexual.   Sin comes in many different formats.   Sinful behavior can be something that we are doing or something that we should have done.   It can be in the attitude we display to others or simply in the attitude of our hearts.   Jesus saw the struggle in this woman’s life; sexual sin, a culture that made her a second-class citizen with very little security.   But Jesus responded to this lost sheep in a loving nurturing way as opposed to the way the religious leaders of the day would.   The religious leaders didn’t care about the woman; they just wanted to use her for their own benefit.   In fact, they were willing to let this woman die under the Law just to make their point.   But Jesus exposed their attitudes and hypocrisy.   Jesus was in effect demonstrating the basis of the Law; to love your neighbor as yourself.   This demonstration by Jesus was as shocking as it was counter-cultural.   “Really … this woman was guilty!”   “Let her suffer the consequences!”   If Jesus had supported the actions of the religious leaders that day all hope would have been lost for you and me.   If judgement was to be quick, harsh and without mercy in regards to sin, we would have nothing to look forward to except pain, suffering and loss.   But instead Jesus showed mercy, grace and judgement.

“Go and sin no more.”   These are some of the most wonderful words I have ever heard and read!   Stop at this moment, put this down, and give God praise for His mercy and grace in your life!   Amen!

Uncomfortable

Today is May 30, 2018 and it is appearing that the world has gone completely crazy!   ISIS is running rampant; Donald Trump is in the Presidency, who knows what is up with North Korea and most Christians in the USA have become comfortable and “lukewarm.”   I can’t imagine what the world will look like in a few years!   But regardless of the time, the message Jesus gave us regarding doing what the Bible says has not changed and never will. In short, we are to be faithful in serving Christ in the world and into the next.  

 

Ephesians 4:1-3

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

We are to follow to the best of our abilities the call to ministry that Christ has placed on our lives.   This call might include several aspects, some of which are a bit out of the box.   If you remember God calls people like Moses who never felt comfortable or capable of doing the ministry that he was called to.   Why is that?   It’s because he wasn’t equipped to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, but God was!

“Doing What It Says” will most likely entail some difficult, unpalatable choices that you had never thought of before.   Peter never anticipated stepping out of the boat much less being martyred upside down on a cross for his testimony about Christ.   Mother Teresa never thought she would end up in Calcutta watching people die on the street, and John Wesley never thought he would be riding around on a horse preaching to anyone that would listen in a field.   Nevertheless, God does things much differently than we ever would.   We simply have to be ready to accept His call and to the best of our abilities, prepare ourselves for Him to work through us and be open to whatever He wants us to do!   Guess what, I never thought I’d be writing a blog!   But God uses people that are willing, that’s the key.   We have to be willing to be used and ready to relinquish our calendar and agenda for His purposes.

NOTE TO SELF: Wonder what’s next?

An Attitude of Giving

Sometimes we feel as if the responsibility of giving rest solely on the shoulders of others.   “How can I give to others when there is so much that I need, or at least think I need?”   Giving is an attitude of the heart.   Giving is a place where we experience the opposite of what is normally expected.   When we “give” we assume that it means it will cost us, we will walk away with less.   Usually that is true.   But it is in the attitude and act of giving that we receive many rich blessings.

What a joy it is to watch a good friend of mine as he “joyfully gives” away the blessings God has gifted him with.   It is a joy to hear he and his wife talk about how money is meaningless to them, and without the opportunity to bless others as they have themselves been blessed, it would all be for nothing.

In one of my small member churches, the attitude of giving was one of generosity as long as “our needs” are served first.   I again want to emphasize, there was no outreach, no evangelism and certainly no sacrifice for the welfare of others going on… it was all about them.   That being said they still were a congregation of loving wonderful people but they had become so entrenched in their own traditions and expectations of what church was that they missed the opportunity to serve Christ.   They felt as if their church was a “victim” of decline, but they as a congregation had nothing to do with it!

 

Mark 12

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

 

She gave to God out of her very need. The others that day were giving out of their very greed, selfishness, desires and agendas.   What about God? How does that honor God who has given up everything for us?   Jesus went on to explain to the disciples that day that it was not the amount that was given that was so important, but the attitude of the persons heart.   Her offering that day to God demonstrated her obedience, faithfulness, trust and love for the God that meant everything to her.  

That brings up an interesting question: “Does God mean everything to you?”

In that small member church, the offering became confused with self-preservation.   They were willing to give to themselves and tell themselves that they were honoring God but they were not willing to invest in what God was doing outside of what they felt “forced” to do through the apportionments paid to the denomination.   They enjoyed church their way, but not necessarily God’s way.  

What did the Book of Revelation say: “I wish you were either hot or cold?”

Do It God’s Way

“Doing What It Says” means taking God at face value.   It means that God is still on the throne, holy and perfect and does not need our help in guiding the world toward holiness; we just need to accept His definition of it.   In becoming devoted Disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to accept God’s guidelines for what is acceptable behavior and what is not.   Just because we “feel” a certain way or because we were “born” a certain way does not give us the right to call it “normal” or “acceptable.”   We were born in sin and consequently many of our feelings, desires, understandings etc. are sinful in nature.  

I’m sure that Moses didn’t agree with God on many things.   Was it fair that God sent all of those plagues?   Was it right that God drown the Egyptian Army in the sea?   How about Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his son?   What about Adam and Eve, after all they had permission to eat of everything else in the Garden!

Regardless of where you stand on the many issues surrounding our obedience to Scripture, you always end up asking certain questions:

Is God’s Word really God’s Word?

Is the Bible really inspired by Him?

Is it relevant for today?

Why do some things no longer apply as they use to?

Would it be right for God to leave us guessing?

NOTE TO SELF: Jesus said that the faithful would experience opposition.   Are you ready for it?

Don’t Ask

I was recently in conversation with a UMC Pastor that held the Bill Clinton approach to the homosexual issue in the United Methodist Church; “” Don’t ask, don’t tell.”   As the lead pastor of a growing church his answer was simply not to address the issue publicly, and in fact to skirt around it if need be.   The difficult part is that taking a stance on one side or the other could fracture the core of the church causing many to leave.   It can also fracture our family structure, especially when the issue involves a loved one in our own house.   It is an issue that sharply divides our hearts and culture.   So, to go back a few years and approach the issue; “what would Jesus do?”

Let’s break it down into bite size chunks: first, yes, God wants all of His creation to be with Him in an eternal loving relationship for all of eternity.   This includes all people, young, old, black, white, straight, homosexual, bi-sexual, questioning, whatever.   God never created one person that He didn’t want to include in His heavenly family forever.   Let the record show that God loves all people, through all time, in all states of existence.     But there is a condition called sin, or rebellion, or pride, and this condition separates us from a holy and perfect God.   God loves us but due to our sinful nature we are eternally separated from Him.   So now what?  

As a perfect God, he does not leave us alone in our fallen state, He offers us redemption.   The first step of taking God up on His offer of redemption is to admit that we need it!   If I don’t see or admit that I have sinned then how can I do my part which is simply to accept His sacrifice and repent?   To repent means to have a change of heart, to want to have not sinned, to desire to not sin if we had the opportunity to live those moments over again.   It would be absolutely wrong of God to create humankind in His image yet imperfect and not offer humankind the opportunity to be forgiven.   In reality, our decision to accept His sacrifice and repent is part of the creation process.   God is still “creating” you!

But where do we get our sense of what’s right and wrong?   What determines what is acceptable or not?   In other words, where is truth?   Where is the dividing line of acceptable behavior and sinful behavior?   Is it left up to each person, society or culture?   Has God given us the principles of righteousness and holiness somewhere or are we left in the dark to figure it out for ourselves?

For centuries Christianity has accepted that the Bible is God’s holy and perfect Word for humankind.   We have accepted the authorship of the Bible as being God inspired through various writers and have taken God’s Word at face value when it has told us of its perfect harmony with the holiness of God.   So why all of a sudden has our stance in the church changed?   Is it not telling us what we want to hear?   So, as an example, if the Bible is no longer correct when it comes to sexuality what else needs our attention?

NOTE TO SELF: decision time

Mike

Mike was a young man with a new family.   His wife and he were building the American dream and literally had the small house, two kids, a dog all surrounded by a white picket fence.   Mike was a builder by trade and very meticulous about his work.   Many of his houses were listed each year in the Parade of Homes due to his eye for quality and detail.   Life was good and the family seemed very happy and secure, but one day that all changed when Mike enrolled in school to become a Pastor.

This was only somewhat of a shock at the time as Mike had been growing in his faith for many years.   He became more involved at his church, started attending small groups and spending more and more time in the Scriptures.   While Mike felt that his life was flowering into something new and beautiful his wife did not.   She felt abandoned and like she had lost her husband to something else.   As time went on the arguments became uglier and the time they spent away from each other seemed to fuel the fires even more.   Finally, the camel’s back broke.   Mike’s wife felt that her marriage was going down a path that would be unrecoverable.   She felt ordinary, not appreciated, abandoned and empty.

While Mike was becoming more and more involved with his faith, growing and now going to pastoral licensing school, his wife was also becoming more involved at her work.   She was starting to sense the attention and affection of a co-worker.   Over the months, Mike missed the signs of a deteriorating marriage until the day she finally told him she was having an affair.   This rocked his belief in God to the core.   “After all I’m doing for God how could He let this happen?”   Mike felt that since he was following the path God had carved out for him that God was left with the responsibility to keep everything else “in order!”   Wrong!   Really, Mike was putting God to the test!

While we are to “Do What It Says” (follow the call of Christ in our lives) we are not to ignore the other responsibilities God has entrusted to us.   Mike had family responsibilities that he had walked away from.   He ignored those that he loved because of his enthusiasm for his new-found life direction.   In essence he had replaced his family with his ministry calling.   In his subconscious, Mike was also looking forward to “God owing” him because of his service in Pastoral Ministry.   Mike’s enthusiasm got the best of him!

To be faithful to the calling of God we have to remember that God will never ask us to do something that is wrong.   God is good and the plans He executes in the world through us are good too!   These plans are many times difficult, misunderstood and laden with hardship, but they are always good.   We have to remember that “good” in God’s eyes is much different than “good” in humanities eyes.   God is always moving forward toward the eternal redemption of His creation while our attention is many times very temporal.  

In the fall of 2015 I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mike at a seminar we were both attending.   Things had progressed in his family situation to a full blown ugly divorce that included using the kids as pawns.   Mike was extremely depressed.   One day in the middle of a class Mike turned to me and said; “I really blew it!   I mentally and emotionally walked out on my family …. now it’s just done.”  

As the months went on Mike did his best to become the father and husband that he knew God wanted him to be.   He found out that he could serve God as a pastor and be a loving father and partner at the same time.   It was difficult, as most things God calls us to do are, but he prayerfully started to seek God’s help and guidance to do them all.   The good news is that on now Mike and his wife “dating” once again.   Truly God is healing their marriage.

As in all situations where we are torn between living out God’s plans in our lives, we have to remember that those plans do not include abandoning the loved ones He has giving to us or expecting God to clean up our trail of broken commitments.  

NOTE To Self: Don’t abandon those lovely people God has give to you!