Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the porch, rocking away.

I'm so tired of writing this, but I have pneumonia again (still) and this time we've double-downed as I also have strep throat. I think I have two or three other things, but I'm not sure because I'm so tired to listening to doctors that I quit listening to do them. They are getting together to send me to a specialist, a thoracic doctor, which I believe I saw that movie this summer. Good flick. I like Chris Pratt.

Anyway, I have thought back towards the future, again. The question is whether this is a bump in the road or a landslide off the road around the bend of the mountain. If the former, I'm assured this will come and go. If the latter, I'm so sorry for the churches I lead and the people I attend to. If the latter, leading is the thing I won't be able to do. If the latter, well, we'll see where this takes us, won't we?

Here's my in-nutshell kind of things. Life, I believe, comes at us in seasons. Nothing is stagnant. Change is a part of all we are, all we do. Nothing stays the same. What happened in winter doesn’t last till fall.
There’s a song on the radio as I write this that has a line something like this: The batter swings and the summer flies.
Sure seems that is the way it happened. One day I sat down in the rocker on my porch and the next, the winds were blowing cold and it was almost time to take the rocker in for the dead of winter.
It seems that it was really just a day or so ago that I was young enough to swing a bat and run like the wind. A slow wind, admittedly. The joints were flexible. Summer was fun.
Seasons change.
The summer flies.
And I’m here. Looking back.
God is there through the seasons. There’s the freshness of spring where God works to help us understand our newness in him, where the rains are sweet and we don’t mind being damp one bit.
There’s the white-hot excitement of summer where God leads us into territory with Him we never knew or dreamed of. We long for the mercy that comes with each morning. We long to grow. We want to know him, and we don’t know how to pull that off.
There’s the peace of fall, where the wind is gentle and the air is light. There is no peace, no love like God’s. We begin to understand what the relationship with Jesus really means. How do we live with daily contact with a savior who we can’t see or feel? How do we live with a relationship with the unseen?
And there is the winter of bleakness, where we struggle with death and loss, where things aren’t what we thought they would be, where that relationship we so longed for simply can’t be found.
Each step of the way, there is God. God in the days. God in the nights. God with us in our loneliness. God with us in our joys.
His footprints are easy to see, but more often than not, we see them after we’ve walked through the season.
This blog is my effort, then,  to look at all the seasons through which I’ve, or maybe we've, looked at those around us as we've passed through the seasons together. It covers all seasons, and I suggest that it covers all persons. 

Perhaps you can find yourself in the stories, in the line at Burger King, buying a new car, having kids, grand kids. 

Not everyone has my background, my problems, my worries, my woes.
But everyone has someone or been someone who has had some problem like those in a dark time and come screaming into the sunshine of joy on the other side.
Somewhere in the balancing of the pain of life with the wail of the love of God is where we live, not as stained glass portraits but as flesh-and-blood it’s happening to me today God people.
On the porch, rocking away, watching the summer fly by.

Perhaps you’re in there with me. I suspect you are. Maybe you will laugh. Maybe you’ll recognize God in ways you never dreamed. Maybe you will recognize yourself.

Feel the joy of the Lord, the dryness of a desert, or the warmth of a winter fire as I did when I wrote them over the years.

Heck, it might even rain today, which would be borderline miraculous.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What next, you ask...?

At the churches we've come to and come to love, we truly have had a great year in 2015.  They had a fabulous year before Mary and I came and a fabulous year together afterwards. It’s because of the work of the congregations and the work of the staff, really. Truly.
I believe next year promises to be greater. I really do. Next year promises to be even more wonderful and my faith tells me that we’re simply just now getting started.
But the true blessing is we’re seeing new people contribute in new (and exciting) ways, by God’s blessings. That’s a sign of God’s leadership and contributions, the leadership above all leaders, of course. Last year (and the year before that and the …) this church has established goals, aspirations, ideas about where we go from here.
Our goals include:
1)       Musically, FUMC is blessed in that we have such talented persons like Florence Bethard and Karen Squires and Francis Ruth Hale. But we continue to plan, dream, hope and pray that we can do even more with what God has provided. We’ve discussed the return of a chancel choir. I continually discuss ideas about establishing a band, and even throw around ideas about two services here at Coushatta First. There’s more to come. I plan to explore how we might budget for musicians.
2)       As we approach 2016, we've need to ask ourselves this, if this church suddenly weren’t here, would the community notice? I believe that it would. We continue to throw out ideas for discussion on what comes next in terms of buildings, youth, children programming, etc. Our Bishop has set our core values as “having integrity, being accountable, having unrelenting love for all people, taking risks and having courage, as it takes new actions to have new times.” Most importantly, she has called us to “hold nothing sacred but the mission,” which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. Jesus simplified that to love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, we need to, we must, remember what we’re called to do – each of us, all of us.
3)    So, we need to pray about what you can pledge for 2016 …  in terms of service, money, time, prayers. It’s hard to talk about money, sometimes. Folks don’t like to bring up money in church, but here’s a fact: Jesus talked about money more than he did love. Eleven of the 39 parables He tells are about finances.
4)       To do proper budgeting, we need to have proper pledges. That’s to make some of our dreams come true, we have to give more money. That’s a fact of life and serving. To make some of our dreams become reality, we need to reach out and touch a heart for God. To make some of our dreams grow into our next great project, we need to simply pledge a tithe and then actually make the pledge real as spring rain.
5) At our two churches, we need to increase the numbers of small groups, increasing the number of teachers or facilitators for those groups. We need two small groups per week at Wesley Chapel. We need three small groups each week at Coushatta First. Now, I love teaching and/or leading groups, but we need to have others doing so, as well. We will.
6. We need to increase the depth of mission work, locally and statewide. We need to fund a summer youth mission trip for 2016 that will help our youth learn about serving beyond ourselves.
7. Finally, I believe we need to establish or perhaps re-establish ourselves as a praying church by having two groups come together each week to pray through our list of ideas, and the persons involved in those missions. I need someone to step up to lead each of those groups.
Other than that, there's no problem at all. None.
But, friends, church, ultimately, we can’t keep doing the same things everyone has always done and keep expecting new results. But if God is involved in all that we do, just watch the church rebound or even start new things – again and again. It can happen.  I’ve seen it happen. We worship a big, big God. We can’t imagine beyond his capabilities.
King David, with great counsel and prayer wrote, “You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. … I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.”
Let’s make the Sovereign Lord our shelter and be prepared to tell everyone we meet about the wonderful things He has done in our lives, and what we believe He is planning for our future. Let’s fan the flames of our spiritual lives again. Let’s get excited, together. Let nothing stand in our way, because God is the strength of our hearts. This is real stuff, and we are capable.
Sunday, we are having our first Pledge Sunday together. They will receive cards at the beginning of the service. I'm asking everyone to consider increasing their pledge from 2015 by as much as five percent, or if they are already tithing, to move to 2 percent above that pledge as we consider ways to make these church not just beautiful physically, but beautiful in terms of being lighthouses to a dark world.
When Jesus shows up, everything changes. This I know.
I love them all,

Pastor Billy Turner

Friday, October 16, 2015

What's the Word?

The Bible says in the Psalms: "There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool? Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin. These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

A man came into my office yesterday, or the day before since people have had great questions for me that I couldn't answer if my life depended on it, and asked this: "Are you supposed to be able to understand all that is in the Bible?"

Yeah, I know that the answer is supposed to be yes, yes, YES. I also know that many of the persons I come in contact, not all mind you but many, don't understand much of it though they read it constantly and consistently.

My own mother, bless her, once said to me -- as she was reading from that epic theological masterpiece the book of Romans -- when I notice and asked her something about it, "I read it every day, but I don't understand it."

I find that the Bible is so rich and so wonderful and so mysterious and so meaningful and so meaningless and never a place to simply address a question and find the answer behind some sort of great golden glowing arrow pointing toward it.

No. Sometimes the answers are hidden behind rock, thousands of years of rocks at that.

But every once in a while, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes when I need it, sometimes when I'm not expecting it, "God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?"

I do play the fool. I do stumble. I do fall. I do so willingly. I do so completely unwillingly. I do.

But I also know what I've done is wrong by that same word, which I suspect is its purpose and reason.

The point is this: reading from the scriptures is like pouring honey on toast. It's sweet. It pours out slowly when it's cold. It pours out quickly when it's warm. It covers. It gives till it's gone. It is my morning. It is my evening. It is all and all.

But the Word is not a bunch of words in Hebrew, Greek or various and sundry English translations. No, sir. The Word is one man who came to explain it, to fulfill its promises. He came and it was done.

That's the Word that needs no explanation. That's the Word that John wrote so wonderfully about when he said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning." Meet Him where He is, and He will walk you through the word of God. 

"These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

He's not finished with us yet

The startling fact is He's not finished with me yet. That's epic. And scary.

The Bible says it this way, though. "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."

Eugene Peterson's the Message says it this way: "I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears."

If today you fall, you get angry, you get rubbed the wrong way, you think that Democrat over there or that Republican over there or that straight person over there or that gay person over there or that gun owner over there or that pacifist over there is absolutely dead and buried to you then remember this ... oh, remember this ... God is working on them and GOD IS STILL WORKING ON YOU. 

You have no more right to condemn them than you have the right to think you're (or ME) is there, all the way there, all the way perfect, all the way fixed, all the way righteous.

It's just not that way.

God, who began the good work, is still working on the good work.

There's a story about Michelangelo at the unveiling of his statute of David, when asked how he did it, he supposedly said, "It was easy. All I did was chip away everything that didn't look like David. A little here. A little there."

I suspect that God has been doing that to me for 20 years or so, if not longer. A chip here. A chip there. Anything that doesn't look like Billy in His eyes is being removed. There is much to work with, I'm sorry to say.

But He won't quit, if I won't. He's not finished with me yet.

Singer/songwriter Brandon Heath wrote it this way (I'm changing Tennessee to Mississippi to make it my own story)
"I was born in Mississippi
Late July humidity
Doctor said I was lucky to be alive
I've been trouble since the day I got her
Trouble till the day that I disappear
That'll be the day that I finally get it right
There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me
I have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet
Still wondering why I'm here
Still wrestling with my fear
But oh, He's up to something
And the farther on I go
I've seen enough to know
That I'm, not here for nothing
He's up to something"

Amen. And Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Transformational grace

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

So, uh, er, what does that mean? If it's a Wednesday morning and the air is gentle on my mind, how in the heck does it get transformed?

And what's the world? And how am I conformed to it?

Let's go at this subject this way: 

Say someone became a Christian in mind and heart two months ago. He attends church, he's making new friends, but anger is still a constant challenge. Irritation starts when people don't treat him the way he thinks they should. He prays, but he still gets angry.

Say someone else has been a Christian all his or her life. But he grew up with a father who verbally abused him. He still hears his father telling him he would never amount to anything. The damage is hanging on even though he or she is a grand parent and loves God with all they can muster.

How many Christians are caught up in these battles, major battles at that, in their own minds? We hear a lot about being new creations and about how the old has gone. But we look around and there are bits and pieces of the old us hanging on.

Temptation remains. Effort remains. We know that to be what others say is a "successful Christian" means to follow Jesus, to obey what he taught, to love others, even to grow spiritually. But our minds still are battle fields.

Well, folks, join the crowd of humans.

But this morning, with a touch of coolness spreading like Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire, there is Good News. Heck, it's great news at that.

The Bible says that even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For us. All of us.

What that means is grace is available for the newby and for the ancient ones. 

Grace that can't be bought.
Grace that can't be explained some of the time.
Grace that is mind-boggling, even transformational.

Grace that extends to us when we need it most. I've seen incredible movements of the Holy Spirit that began with a drip of grace to someone who was so broken that it seemed we would have to get some Monkey Glue out and do some patching. Instead, God reached a mighty pinky out and said to that person, "I love you...despite."

Despite covers all our stuff. He loves us despite what we've done, thought, been. He doesn't love us ... because. There is NOTHING we can do to make Him love us more, or less for that matter.

That's mind-transforming.
That's heart-bending.
That's spirit-renewing.
That's life -- with Jesus.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Bible clearly says

Today's verse from my devotional is one of my absolute favorites lines in Scripture.

The prophet Jeremiah whipped out the laptop and wrote, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."

I've had a remarkable week. Folks have come to me asking question after meaningful question about their lives and where they might be going.

I've answered, as I'm afraid I must, in stilted cliches and chin-dipping mumbles: I don't know, but I know who does.

Ever heard that one? That's another way of saying, "That's a tough question and I have no real idea of how to answer it."

So, I grab a cliche or two down from the shelf.

How about "Everything happens for a reason?" Really? So you think God causes birth defects or there's a reason behind the recent growth in school shootings that God sanctions or that time you fell and broke your leg and it healed and nothing spiritual happened at all? God was causing all that? He had a plan for your femur?

Fact is, I reckon, things just happen sometimes. Sometimes they're bad. Sometimes they're good. Trying to decide where God is in those things, or why he saved me and let Rich Mullins die, for example, is mind-blowing.

Now, does God have plans for us? Absolutely. I believe that. But let's not get to far ahead of ourselves about what those plans are. Let's not add our thoughts to His. Bad principle.

So, in our efforts to help others, sometimes we say, 

No. 1: "The Bible clearly says..."

Clearly, huh? How about this one Jesus said in Mark 4:  To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they many not turn again and be forgiven."

And to that scholars say, "Huh?"

And you say, "Huh? Jesus is hoping others don't get it?"

And you slowly back away from the "Bible clearly says," statement. Seriously, don't you?

Or "God needed another angel in heaven."
Or "The Lord never gives someone more than they can handle."
Or "The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it."
Or "God doesn't make garbage."
Or "When God closes a door, He opens a window."
Or "God helps those who help themselves."
Or "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."
Or "God is causing (whatever) to get my attention."
Or "(So and so) is a good Christian."
Or (*you fill in the one that haunts you at night when you stop to think these things through."

Now, some of you might be saying, "wait. What's wrong with .....?"

Let's examine a couple, just for the heck of it. Don't say God needed another angel in heaven for a couple reasons. First, humans don't become angels. Second, God has no needs. Third, none of us know the eternal destination of anyone. Fourth, simply say, "I'm sorry for your loss," and shut up. Don't try to think of some new way to help someone that is not in the Bible.

Or, "The Bible clearly says." Clearly is the word that stops us in our tracks for what I've learned over time is that clearly to me is not necessarily clearly to you. Second, even the verse above from Jeremiah that I love and have tried to shoehorn into my life at various times was written about the nation Israel not necessarily about me.

Quickly now, No. 3: what about those persons with mental illness; 4. The Bible says a lot of things that we don't believe or at least don't apply any longer, such as Paul's statements about slavery or Leviticus' stoning statements, etc; 5. Whatttttt? 6. Some folks have such terrible circumstances they never get out of till they cross the River Jordan (which is another cliche); 7. Not in the Bible; 8. Not in the Bible; 9. Whattttt? 10. There are, strictly speaking, no bad Christians. By definition, Christians are good. There are, however, suspect Christians (that's my cliche being birthed), which is everyone that we think isn't doing it right.

Here's my point. Most of our arguments between the brothers and sisters are about who is right. And even in our desire to say and do the right thing, sometimes we reach too far for the right thing to say. The best thing to remember is the Word of God is a living thing. It speaks to us, moves us, teaches us, motivates us, and sometimes it is just hard to get because God's ways are not our ways.

Bottom line: In our efforts to help, don't accidentally hurt. Oh, and don't ever tell someone in pain of any kind that you know what they're going through. You don't. Ever.

Or at least that's my opinion.  Which might be as warped as a vinyl record sitting in the sun.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Modernism and such

Wisdom cries out in the street;

    in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.

(Words from Dr. Riley Case) Nearly 100 years ago, in 1921 to be exact, Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Princeton University wrote his classic Christianity and Liberalism. It was written during the height of what was then known as the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy, though Machen himself did not want to use the term “fundamentalist.” Machen’s argument was that Christian faith has been defined by Scripture and tradition and is based on facts and doctrine. Why was it necessary to qualify that faith by adding the descriptive label fundamentalist? What was known as “modernism” or “liberalism” was willing to abandon fact and doctrine in deference to modernity. If that was the trend so be it, but the resulting ideology was better identified by the label “liberalism” and not “Christian.” 
The modernists believed, of course,  they were on the “right side of history.” Within five years after Machen’s writing, the Christian Century declared that the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was over; “fundamentalism” had lost; modernism had won; it was time to leave behind the old battles and work toward creating the brave new world. 
Of course the Methodists back in the “cricks and hollows” didn’t know the theological battle was over yet, but programs of re-education and institutional flag-waving would bring these common folk into conformity and acceptance of modernism. Methodism, once a populist movement, would now be led by the mediating elite of the sophisticated ruling class. All across the land “fundamentalism” was so berated that it became a derogatory label. By the late 1920s every single seminary of the Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church and the M.E. Church South, had declared themselves for modernism (the situation in the Evangelical Church and United Brethren Church seminaries was a bit more complicated). Methodism’s social conscience was turned over to an unofficial self-appointed elitist group, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, which had an affinity, at least for a while, for economic socialism. 

Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism is still relevant. 
The question should still be asked: Is there a point at which a religious ideology is so far afield from the faith "seemingly" (my insertion) defined by Scripture and tradition that if it has integrity, it should no longer label itself as Christianity? The modernism of Machen’s day has morphed and reconstructed itself and faded away and resurrected itself as something different so many times–process theology and liberation theology and neo-orthodoxy and existentialism and feminist theology and womanist theology and Sophia worship and progressive theology– that one struggles at times to understand how it pretends to call itself Christian.
Well, it seems to me that the greater question, for which I have no ready answer, is who determines what Scripture and tradition means?
When we all get together, all this high muckity mucks and such and us little folk, maybe we can settle all this.
I don't think there's a meeting scheduled....

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bout with the Devil

Well, there you go.

"It was a very real devil that came into the Garden of Eden to seduce Adam and Eve. It was a very real devil that tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He is still in business. He goes to church every Sunday. And if you don't know how to recognize him and take authority over him he'll destroy your life, your marriage, your children, your church, your hopes, your dreams. That's what I want them to take away," Cornerstone Church Pastor John Hagee said during a recent television discussion about his latest book.
Therein goes my peace.
Actually, that sort of talk doesn't turn me completely off. I believe, for what my beliefs are actually worth, that we have enough problems we create fully on our own that the devil doesn't need to do much to push us.
But I get it that he could if he wanted. My question is, though, since the devil is not omnipresent, how he makes his decisions on which church to attend. I suspect he goes to megachurches quite often, because over the years I've notice the devil doesn't pay attention when things are going poorly. Why waste the effort? But success is like a moth to a flame for the devil.
The question, then, becomes for each of us, for each church and its leaders, are we doing enough to attract the devil's attention? 
It's a very real, and very terrifying question. Are we doing enough, working hard enough, giving enough, being the church enough to attract Satan or are we just fodder? I'm not saying we need to hope that he'll take enough interest to destroy our lives, our marriages, our children, our churches, our hopes, our dreams. 
Hagee is too much out there for my tastes, but I suspect he's hit the nail on the head with these thoughts.
It's what we do about them that becomes the issue.
In Ephesians Paul writes: Put on the whole armor of God, that you might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The Message paraphrases those verses from Ephesians 6: 11-12 this way: And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
This if for keeps. A life-or-death fight to the finish against the devil and his angels.
I find it instructive that Eugene Peterson translates that line and puts Devil in capital letters. One Devil. One master enemy. One liar. One fight to the finish.
So, how do we win?
Peterson uses the 13th verse of Ephesians through the 18th to tell us this: Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
In other words, stop worrying about the Devil. Instead, seek truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation through God's word and keep prayer at the forefront of our existence. 
That'll get the Devil's attention, but it won't give him a way in.