Following God’s Commandments

The generally accepted number of commandments, or laws, in the Old Testament is 613. Collectively, these commandments are often referred to as the Mosaic Laws or The Law of Moses. These laws were divided several different ways. One division was laws you should do and laws you shouldn’t do. Another division was ceremonial laws, civil laws, and moral laws.

Several of the moral laws specifically state that homosexual practices are detestable and an abomination to God. Those advocating for the acceptance of homosexual practices are left with two options when discussing these laws:

Use a reformed interpretation to alter the meaning of the words.

Use Jesus’ death as a means to state that we are longer under the ‘law’ so 613 laws are no longer in effect. This option is the one most commonly employed.

It is impossible to follow all 613 commandments 100%; everyone fails somewhere along the line. God acknowledged this impossibility by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die for us. Through His death we are granted salvation through God’s grace and forgiveness. During Jesus’ ministry he stated, in Matthew 5:17:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’

With Christ’s death we are no longer ‘under the law,’ God gave us a new Covenant where our salvation is based on faith in Jesus Christ, not by the works of the law. This is covered in Galatians 3:10-11:

For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.” Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.

This begs the question, if we are no longer under the law,

What sins are we asking God to forgive when saying the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?’

What sins are being referenced in Romans 6:1: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?’

What sin is John talking about in John 1:8: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’

To answer these questions we need to better understand the Mosaic Laws, or the 613 commandments. The section of Mosaic Laws, ceremonial, civil, and moral, had a distinct place within the Jewish life as described in the Old Testament.

The New Testament frequently provides insights about Jesus and his disciples ignoring both the civil and the ceremonial laws.

Jesus speaks directly to the Civil Law in Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Jesus is questioned about ignoring the Ceremonial Law in Matthew 15:1-2: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’

The New Testament provides no evidence that Jesus ignored, or broke, the moral portions of the Mosaic Law. In fact, he stressed the importance of those laws and frequently took time to explain in detail that obedience to them should come from the heart and not a book of rules.

This is seen in Matthew 5: 21-22: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus talks to the lady accused of adultery in John 8:11: . . . Then neither do I condemn you, go now and sin no more.

Jesus discussed the difference between observing God’s commandments externally and following them from the heart in Matthew 23:25-26: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter so the outside may be clean also.

If Jesus talked extensively about keeping the moral portions of the Mosaic Law how do we reconcile this with the fact that He came to free us from the law?

On the one hand we read in Romans 6:14: For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

The answer is contained in Romans 8:2-4: For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The ‘righteous requirements of the law’ are fulfilled in those who ‘walk according to the Spirit’. This is echoed in Titus 2:11-12:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

Jesus talks about obeying His Father’s commandments in John 15:10-11:

If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.

This text from John leads back to Mark 12:29-31:

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

At no point does Jesus say there are only two commandments. In fact, in the last line, He says, ‘No other commandment is greater than these’. This one statement is quite telling in that He indicates there are other commandments below these two. If we go back and read the first line above this passage we have Mark 12:28: One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
In His reply, Jesus does not indicate that other commandments do not count; he answers the question as asked, ‘Which is the most important.’

Through Christ’s death and our acceptance of Him as our Savior the Holy Spirit enters our lives. Our sins are forgiven through God’s grace. As we walk according to the Holy Spirit we reject godless ways and worldly desires and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. As Jesus said, ‘obey my commandments . . . as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments. We read in James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.

Through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior we become free from the legalism of the Mosaic Law and gain an understanding of God’s will through the Holy Spirit acting in our life. By following God’s will we accept His love for us, and are able to show His love, grace, and forgiveness of sins to others.

Civil Rights or Gay Rights?

Many pastors seem to be delivering sermons or homilies attempting compare the Civil Rights movement with the Gay Rights Movement. Our pastor delivered an entire sermon on the Civil Rights movement using the the rainbow colored banner as a back drop in slides.

The Civil Rights movement has seldom been referred to as Black Rights or Negro Rights or African American Rights. It was called Civil Rights because it was all about all individuals receiving the same Civil, or human, Rights guaranteed under the Constitution and by God, our creator.

The right to vote was never based on sexual preference, but individuals were denied the right to vote. The right to sit where you want on public transportation was never based on sexual preference, but individuals were denied the right to sit where they wanted. The right to use any available water fountain was never based on sexual preference, but individuals could not use any available water fountain. The list could go on and on, but hopefully the train of thought is clear. Basic individual human rights were the force behind the Civil Rights Movement.

The Gay Rights movement is not, and never has been, about an individual’s basic human rights. The Gay Rights movement is all about the acceptance of a specific sexual act:  homosexual practices.

Within the United States, all sorts of individuals have been allowed to marry. Convicts, both in and out of prison can be married. Drug addicts and alcoholics can be married. People of all ethic backgrounds can be married. People with all sorts of mental or physical disabilities can be married. Adults of significantly different ages can be married.  There has never been an issue with people getting married; the issue is where you set the bar between an acceptable or unacceptable marriage.

Homosexual marriage, or Marriage Equality, was all about making the homosexual act acceptable. It was all about moving the bar between acceptable and unacceptable marriage. Not only was it focused on making the homosexual act acceptable, it was focused on forcing others to participate in the homosexual practice. An individual who is homosexual has always possessed the human right to go into a bakery and purchase a cake. Gay Rights was all about forcing the bakery to participate in the sanctification of the homosexual practice.

Civil Rights laws were all about the moral principles that each individual was equal. Gay Rights laws are all about sanctifying a sex act.

Why Can’t We Agree to Disagree?

Recently a delegate that participated in the election of the Western Jurisdiction’s practicing homosexual bishop used that term numerous times to defend his voting position. I must confess that every time he said it my stomach knotted up.

I’m not the fastest race car on the track at figuring things out, so I decided to peruse the internet to figure out why the use of that phrase bothered me. Lo and behold, the internet search yielded some wonderful information from various psychology and conflict resolution websites.

Agreeing to disagree is a form of conflict resolution whereby both parties tolerate, but do not accept the opposite view. Frequently both parties must continue to work together; when this happens the next step involves some type of compromise. Trust is a foundation stone in all relationships. Each party must trust the other to follow through if the compromise is to be effective.

An example:

 Two friends differ on a political issue. Each feels strongly but realizes continuing discussion could ruin their friendship. They now ‘agree to disagree’ but must reach a compromise if they want to continue their friendship. They decide that this particular issue will no longer be discussed.

After a compromise is reached the ‘agreeing to disagree’ remains valid so long as both parties adhere to the compromise. If one party violates the compromise in an attempt to force their viewpoint on the other then there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’.

Back to our two friends:

They decide to meet for dinner, but one bring along a like minded ‘expert’ to show the other person the error of their ways. The compromise is violated because one friend has demonstrated he cannot be trusted. If there is no trust there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’. Most likely the friendship is ruined.

Okay, let’s address the practicing homosexuality issue:

At the United Methodist General Conference two groups had differing opinions with the Book of Discipline’s stance on practicing homosexuality. Neither side to accede to the other’s position.

 

A compromise was reached whereby the top legislative assembly would create a commission to study church regulations (within the next two years rather than wait four years). The compromise vote was passed with a rough split of 51-49 in favor. The compromise was not popular, based on the voting split, however it did pass.

We have now ‘agreed to disagree’ and a compromise has been reached.

Back to the practicing homosexuality issue:

Unfortunately, one group decided to violate the compromise. Rather than wait for the committee’s report, they decided to move forward and elect a practicing homosexual bishop in order to ‘push the issue’. The compromise was violated because one group demonstrated they could not be trusted.  If there is no trust there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’.

From the psychology and conflict resolution websites:

  • If your will triumphs over your partner’s, at first you may experience some satisfaction, but in the process you’ve inadvertently turned your partner into an adversary. So, finally it’s a Pyrrhic victory: the cost to your relationship far exceeding the initial reward of your success.
  • Moreover, when you lock horns in the effort to bait, badger, or otherwise argue your partner out of their preferences, you’re telling them in so many words that your personal wants and needs have higher priority, are more worthwhile, than theirs. And, realistically, how could a secure, loving attachment ever emerge from such a “me first” interpersonal stance?

Personally, I did not like the compromise solution but was willing to abide by it before deciding whether or not I could remain a United Methodist. Unfortunately, the other group felt their needs had a higher priority and their needs were more worthwhile. After demonstrating that they cannot be trusted there is no possibility for me to ‘agree to disagree’.

I finally understood why my stomach knotted up every time I heard the delegate repeating ‘why can’t we just agree to disagree’. It was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Mottoes and Beliefs

There are several ‘mottos’, or ‘beliefs’, or ‘statements’ that have been used in an attempt to justify the acceptance of homosexual practices:

1. Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
2. United Methodists value the self worth of all individuals.
3. John Wesley said that we should do no harm.

Those proposing the acceptance of homosexual practices are presupposing that only they know what these various statements actually mean. Their position is just as closed minded as the one they accuse others of having. They frequently use these statements in an attempt to make people feel guilty about have a different understanding or bullying the opposition into keeping silent.

All sinners who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be blessed by God with His unfailing grace and forgiveness. The United Methodist Church, as do other Christian churches, invites all sinners to come and learn about salvation, grace and forgiveness.

Unfortunately, some people will never feel comfortable in church. This is unfortunate but must be accepted as fact. Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation is His gift to us. To receive his gift of salvation we must accept Him as our savior, confess our sins, and ask God to help us lead more faithful lives. This is our gift to Him.

Jesus constantly delivered messages designed to make people feel uncomfortable, particularly those people who felt most righteous. Did He do this out of hate or anger? Definitely not! He did this out of love. He wanted people to examine their sinful nature and live more faithfully according to God’s commandments. Some people were so uncomfortable with Jesus’ message that they participated in His crucifixion just to get rid of him. They even offered Him the opportunity to save himself by changing His message so they would feel more comfortable. Jesus NEVER wavered!

First and foremost we must admit that we are of a sinful nature, or we will never feel comfortable in an environment that tells us we are sinners. It doesn’t matter whether it is one sin or 100. Is that God’s fault? Is that the church’s fault? Or are we at fault for trying to alter Jesus Christ’s message so that we feel comfortable sitting in church?

Western Jurisdiction Bishop’s Election

Clergy and church leaders have described the recent Western Jurisdiction’s bishop election using various statements:

o It was a landslide
o Garnered every vote
o There was overwhelming support
o Received more votes than any other jurisdictional candidate

Although some of the statements are ‘technically’ true, they do not accurately reflect the election as it unfolded.

Originally there were 9 nominees for the Western Jurisdiction bishop opening. As the balloting progressed many candidates received fewer and fewer votes and dropped out.

Only three candidates remained starting with the 13th ballot.

The votes received by each candidate remained essentially unchanged on the 14th, 15th, and 16th ballots. At this point in the voting it appeared no candidate would be able to garner a sufficient number of delegate votes to complete the election.

After a 21 minute break in the voting process, two of the candidates withdrew their names. When the final vote was taken, 88 delegates voted for the one remaining candidate, Karen Oliveto, and 12 delegates abstained from voting.

Was it a landslide? Was there overwhelming support? The definition of landslide: an election in which the winner gets a much greater number of votes than the loser(s). In this instance there was only one candidate on the ballot.

Garnered every vote? Technically this is true because every vote cast went to her. Unfortunately, 12% of the voters abstained.

Received a larger percentage of votes than any other jurisdictional bishop candidate: As a point of reference, the bishops elected in the four other jurisdictions received sufficient votes even though multiple candidates were on the ballot.

Withholding Apportionments

As a result of the elections of what many consider an unqualified bishop in the Western Jurisdiction there have been questions concerning the best way to financially support a local United Methodist Church without supporting the Annual Conference and Jurisdiction leadership.

Each local church pays an ’apportionment’, or ‘mission shares’ to the Annual Conference. The apportioned amount is a percentage of the dollar amount spent by the local church on defined expenses. Here is a .pdf on the specific apportionment calculations.

Apportioned money sent to the Annual Conference by each church (will vary depending on the conference):

  • 39.3% – conference office support including staff
  • 24.3% – support of the bishop, including staff
  • 4.5% – retiree health insurance
  • 9.6% – ministerial education
  • 3.9% – miscellaneous expenses
  • 15.8% – charitable contributions
  • 2.6% – new faith communities

There are several ways to limit funding to the Annual Conference:

  1. Place all apportionment payments to the Annual Conference in an escrow account to be held for payment until such time as the bishop and conference leadership conform to the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline as written.
  2. Determine the percentage of the church general fund that goes to the apportionment payment. Allow church members to specify on their donation ‘for local church only’. Reduce the amount of apportionment by the percentage of money specified ‘for local church only’.
  3. Rather than make a tithe, or general donation, to the church, make a specific, or targeted, donation.
  1. Gifts that are targeted, or specifically identified, for purchasing something that the church needs but cannot afford and otherwise would not purchase will not be passed on to the Annual Conference.
    1. An example might be writing a check to the memorial fund in someone’s memory to replace old worn out hymnals which the church cannot afford to do. This would improve the church without providing extra money which could be used as part of the apportionment payment.
    2. Another example might be paying for new ceiling tiles to replace stained ones where the church cannot afford it.
    3. Frequently churches are asked to provide financial support for local or national non-United Methodist groups and agencies but cannot afford the expenditures. Supporting one of these groups is another example of how to help with the local church ministry without providing financial assistance to the Annual Conference.
    4. Directing money to the outreach programs in the local church, such as providing clothes and supplies for school children or providing holiday food and Christmas presents for local families will extend the church ministry without assisting the Annual Conference.
  2. Operating expenses such as office expense, expenses for property maintenance and insurance, and utilities for the church are part of the apportionment calculations. If you provide payment for any of those items part of your money will be passed on to the Annual Conference.
  3. If any money paid to the local church is designated for something the church is planning to purchase, some of that money could possibly end up in the Annual Conference. It is sort of like having a family budget where you have excess money in Item B, but insufficient money in Item A. Therefore, you just move money from B to A and everything is covered.

Letter To The Council

After the recent election of a practicing homosexual bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church I felt compelled to send a letter to the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council.  Below is a copy of the letter that I wrote.

A .pdf copy of the letter and the mailing addresses is available.

*********************************************************

(Date)

(Address for the Council of Bishops, and the Judicial Council.)

Dear XXX;

My name is Rick Stiles, and I am a member of Evangelical United Methodist Church in Billings MT. Coming to the realization that I needed to write this letter has been a very difficult path filled with sleepless nights and hours of prayer.

You have probably received many comments about the recent election of a practicing homosexual bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. The election issue is merely a visible sign of a cancer growing within the United Methodist Church: that cancer is the loss of integrity by many clergy in pulpits and in leadership.

There are four key items I would like to highlight regarding the ordination of elders and consecration of bishops within the United Methodist Church:

1. When elder-candidates are participating in the ordination service the candidate is asked, ‘Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline’, and the candidate responds, ‘I will, with the help of God.’ Later in the service the elder-candidate kneels on the altar before God and church body, with their hand on the Bible, and accepts their ordination with the words, Amen’.
2. In the introduction portion of the bishop consecration service it states, ‘Bishops are elected . . . from the group of elders’, and ‘Bishops . . . share in the full ministry as ordained elders.’
3. When bishop-candidates are participating in the consecration service the candidates are presented to the presiding bishop with the words, ‘we present to you (full name of bishop-elect), an elder in the church. Later in the service the candidate is asked, ‘you are now called, as bishops in the church, to reaffirm the vows made at your ordination as elders’, and the candidate responds, ‘I will, with the grace of God.’ At the end of the service they are given the charge, ‘May the God who has given you the will to do these things give you grace to perform them’, and the new bishop responds, ‘Amen.’
4. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, Article 4.304.3 states: The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

The first three items are taken directly from the Services for the Ordering of Ministry in The United Methodist Church, 2013-2016. Elder candidates agree at the altar before God and the church body, with their hands on the Bible, that they will be loyal to and accept the doctrine and discipline of the United Methodist Church. Bishop candidates are asked to reaffirm their commitment to the church doctrine and discipline. The last item, on homosexuality, is taken from the Book of Discipline.

This is no longer a situation about the acceptance of homosexuality; it has now become a situation about the ends justifying the means. In other words, do the means (ignoring the vows taken at the altar before God with a hand on the Bible), justify the ends (acceptance of a preferred agenda).

So, here is the real question we should be asking, ‘does God believe that lying and dishonesty are justified when doing something in His name?

Lying is a strong word, but when an elder or bishop candidate makes a vow to support the church doctrine and discipline at the altar before God and church body, with their hand on the Bible, while knowing full well that they will not do so, they have lied.

Dishonesty is also a strong word, but when an existing elder or bishop has committed to supporting the church doctrine and discipline and now decides to use their ministry to practice things in opposition to that commitment they are being dishonest.

Nowhere in the Bible do I find God’s acceptance for lying and dishonesty for any reason. Even though there are many passages in the Bible related to those words, two come to mind:

1. Proverbs 12:22: Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
2. Luke 16:10: One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

I fully endorse the Book of Discipline as written, which begs the question, ‘would I still send this letter if I supported the practice of homosexuality.’ Prior to writing this letter I spent a significant amount of time in introspection and believe that I would still feel this way. In part I can say this because of sacrificing significant amounts of money and career advancement as a result of a position taken at work during a similar situation.

Integrity is defined as ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’. If the church clergy and leaders cannot be trusted to uphold vows taken at the altar before God with their hand on the Bible can there be trust in anything they say?

Certainly, I understand many church members, clergy, and leaders favor the practice of homosexuality. I have NO problem with people expressing views different from mine. There are many ways to act on your personal views without sacrificing integrity.

The Hindus have a word called ‘karma’, which expresses the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. Are the clergy and leaders teaching people that lying and dishonesty are acceptable as long as you are doing it in God’s name after thoughtful prayer and discernment? That is a very slippery slope to place the cross of Christ on.

In the movie ‘The Confession’, Ben Kingsley said, “It’s not hard to do the right thing; in fact it’s easy. What’s hard is knowing what the right thing is. Once you know that, doing the right thing is easy.”

Based on the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church the Western Jurisdiction does not have a qualified bishop. In failing to be loyal to the Book of Discipline many conference leaders and clergy no longer meet the requirements for being elders in full connection, either.

I ask the Council of Bishops to install a temporary qualified bishop, conference leadership, and necessary clergy persons until such time as permanent qualified leadership and clergy can be appointed and a qualified bishop can be elected. This request is NOT made because of the issue of homosexuality. This request is made because lies and dishonesty were used by a group of leaders and clergy to advance the nomination and election of someone that was unqualified per the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Lies and dishonesty should NOT be tolerated by a church that spreads God’s message of love and salvation through His word, the Bible.

With God’s love and blessings . . . . . . I am,

Rick Stiles

Free At Last

The hullabaloo going on in the United Methodist Church over the new found belief that a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable somewhat reminds me of the song by J.W. Work: Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty I am free at last.

All my life the church leaders had me convinced that I was a sinful creature in need of God’s salvation. The church employed all of these nice folks who were ready and willing to convince me that I needed what they were offering. Why, every Sunday morning they even allowed me to pay them for listening to their sin and salvation pitch.

They said that the Bible was very important, and it was the inspired word of God. God defined those sins that I needed salvation for, and these awful nice church leaders told me how to read the Bible and then confess my sins and ask for salvation.

But I digress . . . .

Numerous sections of the Bible talk about homosexuality being a sin. Let’s see, there are Genesis, Judges, Leviticus, Romans, Corinthians, and Timothy. But now-a-days, thanks to the United Methodist Church leaders, if our shoes pinch a little tight cause of what the Bible says about us being sinful creatures all we got to do is redefine what the Bible really means. Yep! Just a little reformed interpretation here and a little reformed interpretation there and all of a sudden our shoes are a whole lot looser.

All of this seems to have a lot to do with the fact that the Bible was written over two thousand years ago and the times they are a changin’. Society views things differently, and people take a different outlook about our goings on.

Uh, I digress, again . . . . . .

I have never been accused of being real quick witted, so I appreciate these awful nice church leaders for bringing this new philosophy to my attention. Actually, the more that I think about it, I am a tad mad that they didn’t do it a whole lot sooner.

You see, Cindy Sue used to live down the street, and I sure had a hankering for her, but the Bible told me that adultery was a bad thing. Now that times have changed, and I do this little reformed interpretation trick I learned from those nice church leaders, adultery is gonna be okay. Boy, Cindy Sue was sure a looker, and I know my wife would be okay with it now cause adultery won’t be on the sin list anymore. Why, I bet we could remove just about any sin from the bad side of the ledger with this little reformed interpretation trick.

But there I go, digressing some more . . . . .

The more I get to thinking about it the more I realize how grateful I am to those awful nice United Methodist Church leaders. Thanks to them I need no longer be a sinful creature.

Come to think about it, since I am not gonna be a sinful creature any more I don’t need to visit them on Sunday morning anymore cause I won’t be needing what they are offering. I can watch the entire NASCAR race and a few football games or go fishing or sleep in without worrying about my salvation.

Since I don’t need to go and listen to those awful nice church leaders talk about the Bible and the forgiveness of sin I don’t need to pay them anymore, either. Wow! I guess I really am free at last!

Keyboards Don’t Hug

If you are reading this post you must be either at your computer or on your cell phone. It seems like everything has some type of keyboard now. It may be a touch pad keyboard, or a push button keyboard, or a voice activated keyboard, but we are all tied to one in some form or fashion.

Now, take a moment, reach down, and touch your keyboard. Go on, really touch it! Grab it, and give it a great big hug! Look at it and say ‘Hi, keyboard. Are you having a good day?’ Hopefully nobody was watching you, but never mind. Did your keyboard hug you back? Did you feel anything even close to warmth coming from it. Did the old keyboard tell you it was doing fine and then ask how you were doing? Didn’t think so.

Internet statistics tell us that people under 30 reported that they are connected to each other and the world more than any other age group. They also reported that 70% of them felt lonely. That number was astonishing to me, but it also confirmed my gut instinct: the warmth of human relationships doesn’t come via remotely reaching out and touching someone. It doesn’t even come from videos or SKYPE.

The warmth from a human relationship comes from the touch and smile and laugh from someone close up and personal to you. T.S. Elliot made an astute observation some years ago, “The remarkable thing about television is that it permits several million people to laugh at the same joke and still feel lonely.” Today, we are way past the television stage.

Facebook, email, SKYPE, Twitter, text messaging, and other social networking tools have their place, and I am not saying they are bad. But up close and personal contact with people has its place, also. There needs to be a balance, and I am afraid so many of our younger people do not have any balance.

Have you ever been to a social function where the older people are all talking, laughing, and joking with each other? Sure you have. Next time, look around at the number of younger people with their cell phones out texting. How many times have you tried to engage someone in a conversation, and they are constantly interrupting the discussion while they ‘check’ an incoming message or phone call?

I have delivered Meals On Wheels; there are some absolutely wonderful people on the route. Many of these people are dying for someone to hug them, or touch their arm, or shake their hand, or laugh and smile with them. I asked one person if they got to see their grandchildren often. Her reply was rather sobering, “He comes by sometimes but plays with his phone the whole time he is here.”

God designed us to live in close fellowship with him and with those around us. Christian fellowship helps to develop a feeling of belonging, of trusting, of hope. It also helps us with patience, selflessness, and unconditional love. Actors talk about the entirely different experience between working in from of a live audience versus working in front of a camera.

It’s all about balance. Right now I am going to check my balance; am I doing too much in the virtual world and not enough in the real world? I don’t know, but I am going to pay better attention to the people around me. Are you lonely? Maybe you should check your balance, too?

Stirring The Pot

Cream of chicken soup is just about my favorite thing on a cold day. Have you ever noticed what happens when you leave a pot of soup on the burner and forget to stir it? A skim coating develops on top, the soup gets a bad taste, and the good stuff ends up burning on the bottom.

 

If the pot isn’t stirred on a regular basis it is difficult to get the soup back to the right consistency. Sometimes it is ruined, and the pot has to be scrubbed to get rid of the mess. I speak from experience. Sometimes I don’t stir the Holy Spirit in my body enough either, and the outward appearance ends up like the soup I my pot: thick coating, bad taste, good stuff settling on the bottom.

 

When reading the Bible I find that Jesus was constantly stirring the pot. He associated with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and adulterers. He constantly talked about the actions of the Pharisees and Sadducee. He preached on the Sabbath and tailored his stories to make the most impact on each particular type of audience. His good stuff didn’t settle on the bottom and burn.

 

There was some discussion the other night about what ‘church’ is. Some people thought of ‘church’ as a building or institution where Christians meet. To me, church is the Holy Spirit working within me, and how I choose to live reflects the Holy Spirit’s results.

One question we discussed was: What do think ‘church’ should be? I want ‘church’, or the reflection of the Holy Spirit working within me, to be vibrant and exciting. I want to be alive with a love for God and a love for all of his people. I want the good stuff swirling around so people can see it.

The second question we discussed was: How can you make your vision of ‘church’ happen? I want to use the talents God has given me to present Christ’s message of LOVE and HOPE in as many different forms as I can to all different types of people. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious. When trying something new I try to remember that God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

We all get tired of food presented the same old way and are always searching out new restaurants with different menus. Why do we insist that Christ’s message always be presented in the same old way? Doing the same things in a different way can be exciting; it can keep the spirit alive and our attitudes fresh.

Are you stuck in ‘the same old way’? Do you resent new ideas and people that are a little different? Is your pot in need of a good stirring?