WMTM?

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We live in a culture saturated with alphabet acronyms.  Blame it on cell phones and social media if that makes you feel better.  OMG; BTW; IDK; BFF; (some others that, well, just aren’t suitable for a Follower of Jesus blog); these are just a few.  Now add one more WMTM.  What does this one mean?  Glad you asked.  It means What Matters The Most?

Last Monday it seemed that in news feeds and social media there was a lot of ranting against NFL Players disrespecting the American Flag.  (I had a few comments about that.  You can check it out at my other blog Kingdom Pastor if you haven’t already.)  But this morning’s news feed and social media is about something far more serious and even more important.  I refer to the shooting deaths and injuries in Las Vegas last evening.  News about overpaid athletes isn’t worth reading about this morning.  Hopefully the perspective of many more will change, not just today, but for the rest of their lives.

I am appalled at the decision this person reached when he chose to open fire from the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Hotel, but I am not shocked by his decision.  According to MacMillan Dictionary, to be shocked means: “very surprised and upset by something bad that happens unexpectedly“.  The key word is “unexpectedly”.  This and other acts of violence should not be unexpected.  Last Sunday there was a tragic shooting at a church in Antioch, Tennessee.  Stories like these happen way too often.  And I know somewhere that someone is going to blame this on “gun violence”.  To their credit, they are half-right.  The part they are correct in is that word “violence”.  But the cause is much deeper.

Our country is filled with so much hate and to fuel the hate, instigators rely on fake-news, misinformation, and even history to spread those flames.  Many will attempt to “fix” the problem by “fixing” the symptoms but never addressing the real issue and real disease.  The real issue is the hearts and minds of people and not some manufactured product or the dark history when human beings were inhumane to fellow human beings.  The real disease is evil, and until we address the pandemic of evil, more news like this morning’s news will continue; it should be expected.

Changing the Constitution, tearing down monuments, disrespecting all law enforcement officers because of a very few bad apples–none of that changes the real problem.  And Tenured Pew Sitters:  complaining about those haters doesn’t change anything.  It only spreads the disease of evil–being expressed through your hate.  OK, I just heard someone ask:  “OK, Rev. All-Wise-And-Know-It-All, what do YOU suggest?”  Oh, I am so glad you asked that question (even though I’m not “all-wise”, but thanks to the Holy Spirit I do have some wisdom; and though I do not know-it-all, I am intimately acquainted with the ONE who does know-it-all and then some).

Our Scripture this morning gives us the cure and solution for what ails this land.  Look again at that last verse:  “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”  What if we, who allegedly profess to follow Jesus, actually did this every day, all day long?  Now, now; I just heard someone thinking, “Just how in the world is that going to instantly change this country and put an end to all this violence?”  I didn’t say, nor did Paul infer, that doing good would instantly change the world.  But it is the only way to bring both radical and enduring transformation to a culture like ours.

Our culture will change one person at a time.  After all, didn’t all this violence begin with one brother hating another brother?  Remember Cain and Abel?  Complaining and finger-pointing adds fuel to the fire.  Taking your enemy out to lunch?  Offering your arch-rival a glass of sweet tea?  It sounds farcical and daft, I know, but it works–one life at a time.  Saul the Pharisee hated Christians and did violence against them, thinking it would preserve his religion.  But Jerusalem fell and the Temple, so sacred a place to Pharisees, was destroyed.  But Paul, an ambassador for Jesus, saw lives, families and communities transformed by God’s grace.  He saw chains fall off, demons sent back to where they came from, and people finding joy, peace, love and purpose through his decision to give His heart to Jesus, which prompted him to do good to his enemies.  Oh, and that “evil and violent empire” that put Paul (and so many others) to death?  They eventually fell into the dust and became just a footnote in history.  And the Kingdom of God continues even today.

WMTM is YOUR choice, YOUR decision to stop the hate and violence by doing good and lavishing grace upon our culture one person at a time.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but I do know it works because I’ve seen it work.  I remember several years ago an ad by an insurance company that really shows out this works.  It was known as “being responsible, and you can see one of those commercials here.  I am very proud that the congregation I serve, Sheffield First UMC, is addressing one area where hate abounds and doing so much harm to a group; this group is not afraid to address the issue of human sexuality in terms of both grace and truth.  This small group is realizing how our views and words only add hurt and hide the Truth.

When we stop blaming, stop the talking and start doing good to anyone and everyone, it will be as contagious as the measles in a kindergarten class.  Followers of Jesus, this is the greatest time perhaps since the days of Paul, to be an ambassador for Jesus.  Your portion of this world needs to see you do more than complain and blame–they need, in fact, they secretly long to see you put the love of God expressed through Jesus, to see this kind of love in your actions, attitudes and words.  What Matter The Most is YOU putting your love for God into action by fighting evil with good.

When we are convinced and overwhelmed in the power of Love and Grace being lavished on others, one person at a time, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray…

Dad, more than being sick about all this hate and violence, I am tired of the fact that I am NOT overcoming all this evil with the good You have so freely done for me.  Please take away this blindness that is making me the person who complains but does nothing, the person who, when all has been said and done, has been only talking and doing nothing.  I know there is evil out there and it is destroying so many lives, and though it may not make any sense right now, I know Your word says it is defeated by ME doing good for others, even my enemies.  So open my eyes to the many opportunities to overcome this evil with YOUR good.  And Lord, comfort those who are hurting and grieving this morning in Las Vegas.  Amen and Amen!

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Have You Listened To Yourself Lately?

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10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.  Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!

11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?

12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs?  No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.  (James 3:10-12)

Early this morning I was watching the news and it was a segment on last night’s Emmy Awards.  Instead of acknowledging the talent and skills of actors, it was a political tirade against the current administration right from the beginning.  And I must confess before you (as I already have to God) that I wanted to break out into my own tirade about and against those Hollywood Elitists.  Who do they think they are, living in those excessively opulent mansions anyway?  And just when I was getting started with my own tirade (and it was going to be good, I promise!), the Holy Spirit whispered something, but I couldn’t quite make it out.  It was a whisper after all.

So I stopped and said “Huh?  What did you say?”  Now I was focused and I’m sure God smiled at that point.  And I must admit to you (I already have to God) that I had to repent of those thoughts and words, and it was all because of what The Holy Spirit whispered into my mind and heart.  Oh, you want to know what The Spirit whispered into my mind and heart?  Are you sure?  Well, Okey Dokey, here it is:  “But Randy, what about the words that are being said every day by those folks who are supposed to represent Jesus?  What about your words?  Are those words right?  Fair?  True?  Compassionate?  Encouraging?  I’m not talking about those ‘Sunday morning’ words.  But the words spoken on the other days of the week.  Have you listened to them?  Are you listening to your own words?  Think about it and get back to me.”  Sigh…heavy sigh on my part.

So, rather than rant against those Hollywood Elitists, I want to probe into the minds and hearts of those who profess to follow Jesus.  I began thinking about all the words I have heard spoken by the Sunday Morning Saints.  Now, I believe there are followers and churches who are seriously committed and dedicated to the work of the Kingdom of God and they are doing wonderful things for Jesus.  But some things are, well, have you listened to yourself lately, Church?

You criticize every thing wrong in the culture, and trust me, I know there is a lot wrong.  Your words are bitter and filled with the (un)spiritual gift of tearing people down.  For example, I hear the word “abomination” being used at the LBGT community and they quickly quote Leviticus 20:13, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”  But what about Deuteronomy 17:1, “And don’t sacrifice to God, your God, an ox or sheep that is defective or has anything at all wrong with it. That’s an abomination, an insult to God, your God.”  OK, so we don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore, BUT the meaning is very clear:  “If you don’t offer God the FIRST and VERY BEST of YOUR life, then YOU are an abomination!  The truth is, ALL acts of sin are an abomination, not just your neighbors sins.

We are also quick to criticize our church leaders; what they are doing and not doing.  But what about you?  What are YOU doing to bring the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom of Grace, Mercy, Love and Truth, into the world?  Do you ever pray the Lord’s Prayer?  What about that line, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?  You’re on earth, so are YOU doing His will as it is done in Heaven?  Or are you just picking and choosing which parts you like and fit into your personal agenda?  Or are you picking up your cross every day and dying to the world, a living sacrifice to show the world God’s outlandish love and how that love transforms every life through your transformed life?

Have you listened to yourself lately?  Are your words Ephesians 4:29 words?  It goes like this from God’s Word Translation:  Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed.  That way, what you say will help those who hear you.  Not much that was said at the Emmy Awards show could be classified as Ephesians 4:29 words.  But that’s not what matters.  If you say you are a follower of Jesus (i.e. a “Christian”), do your words build up and offer hope?  Do your words make your community better, or just plain bitter?  Do your words on Monday through Saturday match up with your words on Sunday morning?  Only you can answer that question, so go ahead, answer the question.  I have this, call it hunch, that The Holy Spirit may be whispering to someone else right now, “What about your words?  Are those words right?  Fair?  True?  Compassionate?  Encouraging?  I’m not talking about those ‘Sunday morning’ words.  But the words spoken on the other days of the week.  Have you listened to them?  Are you listening to your own words?  Think about it and get back to me.” 

When our Sunday words are reflected in our Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday words, then we can say, “Good!  Lord it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

Lord, help me today, every day and all day long to listen to my words more than the words of others.  Forgive me when my Monday through Saturday words sound so very different from my Sunday words.  Help me speak Ephesians 4:29 words.  Amen and Amen!