Seared Into My Memory

By Jerome Brimmage

I went to seminary with Jerome Brimmage. Jerome was a year ahead of me but we did have opportunities for conversation and fellowship. I can’t remember the churches in Jerome’s early career but in the more recent years he has served in Mineola Texas and Cypress Texas. He currently is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lufkin, Texas. Yes, we are neighbors these days.

It was the summer leading into my senior year of high school.  One of my good friends called and asked me to meet him in the park as he needed to talk. We had gotten to know each other over the previous six years. We had played baseball together, coached a little league team, and gone to school together. He took one of his college days to ride with me to Stephen F. Austin State University. He had no plans to go off to college, but he wanted out of school and he was willing to go with me to see what the future could hold. 

It was late at night on that hot summer night. I did not think twice about driving to the park in our small town. My friend and I pulled up in different cars and parked near a picnic table. We got out and sat on the bench and began to talk. To this day, I do not remember the conversation topic. What I do remember is the police officer that pulled up. He got out of his vehicle and began to aggressively interrogate my friend. He asked for his driver’s license; what was his purpose of being in the park so late; and more. I tried to explain that we were simply talking. The police officer did not want to hear from me and never asked me a question. 

I was nervous and not sure what to do or how to respond. I was taught to respect police officers and do as asked. When the officer discovered nothing out of the normal gab session was happening, he got in his police cruiser and departed. 

I looked at my friend and explained my nervousness. I said something about the way my friend was the one being interrogated. My friend said, “Jerome, this happens all the time in our world. We get stopped and questioned about stuff all the time.” 

You see, my friend was Hispanic. He and his family were U.S. citizens of Hispanic background. 

My friend says, “this happens all the time.” As if he was profiled. We were teens, and he knew racism and discrimination in ways that I didn’t know then and, frankly, have not experienced in my lifetime. 

If  (when) I get pulled over, it’s because I was speeding or something, I know I have done. I have not experienced interrogation for any reason or no reason at all. 

As the news came out about a police officer putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died, I had a flashback to that hot summer night. How can it be? It has been nearly 40 years, and this seared memory of my friend in the park rises again. 

My friend was interrogated and not murdered. Yet, systemic racism is alive. That breaks my heart and I am sure it breaks the heart of God. 

As a pastor, at each baptism, I ask the Methodist liturgical questions: 

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your own sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Each person at their baptism or confirmation responds: “I do” to these questions. 

In the safety of the church, surrounded by the body of Christ that is there to support you, it is easy to say, “I do.” Yet, when the time comes, and we see again or perhaps for the first time the racism, do we recognize it as a spiritual force of wickedness? An evil power of this world?

God gives us the freedom and power to resist this evil, injustice, and oppression. The question is: will we exercise that power? 

Please note I do not believe all police officers are racist. I do not believe that all white people are racist. 

I do believe systemic racism is real and alive. This is not of God and not why Jesus was sent to redeem the people of this world.  

We are all children of God. Paul says it like this: 

26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now, if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

As people who are baptized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, I have the privilege to be made in the image of God. Paul says, “Now if you belong to Christ,… then indeed you are heirs of the promise.” This means we belong to one another. 

I will not lose hope! I believe God is still writing the story of faith and hope in this world. 

I will repent for my silence when I should have spoken up.

I will ask for forgiveness for no action when action was needed.

I will seek the face of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to help be the light of Christ in a dark and hurting world.

I believe, with God’s help, there are better days ahead. 

Come Holy Spirit Come!

Give Thanks Everyday

18 “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, New Revised Standard Version)

While surfing around the internet last night, I ran across a blog post intended for pastors to read. It really wasn’t a long post. The title is 8 Easy Blog Post Ideas for Pastors by Amanda Lanche who owns AGL Creative. The post is on Concordia Technology Solutions (a division of Concordia Publishing). They produce church management software including Shepherd’s Staff and Church 360 degrees.

I hadn’t really started thinking about this post yet. So, I thought I would take a look. I saw that some of them, without prompting from Amanda I was already doing sometimes. But there was one that I saw on her list that not only had I not done a post like it, I had never even heard of it. She called it “The Verse of the Day.” By that, today is May 18 so the verse would come from some book of the Bible, chapter five, verse 18. So, I decided to take up the challenge. I looked at every book if it had at least five chapters and if the fifth chapter had at least 18 verses. There were quite a few to choose from but I finally settled on the verse above, 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

In some ways, talking about giving thanks seems to be a cop-out. I do talk about it quite a bit. But, many of us still think the only time it’s necessary to give thanks is on “Thanksgiving Day.” I know we all have more for which we should be thankful and we shouldn’t be waiting for Thanksgiving Day. That is still six months away.

Further, we Christians should not be the only people saying thank you but in our society today, we receive from others and all too often we don’t say thank you for them either. No matter what our faith or if we are one who says they are “none of the above,” we have someone or something for which we are thankful.

This morning, the congregation I serve as pastor, Huntington United Methodist Church in Huntington, Texas, had our first face-to-face worship service in more than two months because of the Corona virus. After worship today, before I even ran across Amanda’s blog post I was thinking about how thankful I am to all the people who made that first service back possible. I certainly didn’t do it alone. There was Jamie, Cindy, Dianne, Janet and Byre and I haven’t even begun to think hard on the subject. I am so grateful to them, not only for their part in making this all possible, I am thankful for all they do to keep our church running and assist me in the tasks of ministry. Though they are the ones who were central today, there are many others who play vitally important roles in our church.

Over the past few weeks I have come to realize just how thankful I am for my barber. My hair is getting pretty shaggy and while I am completely comfortable going to church, I am not ready to go back to the barber. Still, I am thankful for my barber.

There are so many things for which we should be thankful to someone, if not God, a person or group of people. We are not islands unto ourselves. None of us can say we made it totally on our own. There were parents, teachers, spouses, friends, and so many more.

Recently I encountered a book that makes a pretty bold claim, expressing gratitude by giving you positive emotions. Shouldn’t it be that having gratitude should make the person on the receiving end have positive emotions? Of course they will likely feel positive emotions when they receive your thanks. Still, the book makes the claim that we will feel better because of our act of thankfulness.

The book is title A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik. He said his life was pretty messed up. He had an Epiphany while hiking on New Year’s Day. He said he would write one thank you note every day. That is 365 thank you notes in a year. Were there that many things for which he could say thank you? He discovered there were reasons for thankfulness right under his nose.

Keep in mind, we don’t write the notes for the feeling we receive. John says we write them because it’s the right thing to do. I would say, we write the notes because we are thankful and we (well I do for sure) need to act that out for a hurting world.

Since that time he has both written and received thousands of thank you notes. It has all been enough for him to say, “Gratitude presses outwards and that creates good feelings in the universe. A lot of that comes back to you eventually.”

So, I want to challenge you to be thankful. That doesn’t mean copying John’s idea of a thank you note a day though it is a good way to exercise thankfulness. Find a tangible way to state your thankfulness. If each of us can do that, we will be well on our way to giving, “…thanks in all circumstances…” and making the world a better place.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Prayer 101: Breakthrough Prayer in My Church

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through him among you. You yourselves know this. 

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” 40 With many other words he testified to them and encouraged them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.  (Acts 2:14-22, 38-41, Common English Bible).

In June of 1991 we moved to a church outside of Midway, Texas. It was culture shock. We were 9 miles from Midway. There was only one consumer business in town a convenience store closed at 6:00.

I loved Elwood. They taught me and loved my family. It was the best place to begin ministry.

It was a sad day in 2012. I had a Conference Trustees meeting. The agenda included selling property.

The first property hurt. We quickly voted to sell Elwood. Elwood wasn’t a church now. Over 150 years of ministry archived. I’d closed churches. This one was different.

I once took youth on a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe, Dallas. The Hard Rock’s home was odd, the former McKinney Avenue Baptist Church. It was a beautiful building but they replaced the original stained glass with Elvis, The Beatles, and others. The bar was, in the back of the former sanctuary. I wondered what happened.

Things don’t stay the same. The world changes. Things changed for Hard Rock. They moved to a former Mercedes dealership, the church is gone. A high-rise took its place.

Was anyone praying before the church’s demise? At Elwood ? Others? Equally important, besides members, did anyone notice they closed?

Years ago, Sue Kibbey spoke at Annual Conference. She talked about breakthrough prayer defining it as asking God to break through, working where we can’t.

Yesterday we talked of God breaking through in our communities. Today is about praying God will break through in our churches.

Our lesson saw the disciples praising God, for 3000 converts. This story is soaked in prayer. It had to be for that to happen. We must be people of praise and prayer! They praised God and God showed up!

They prayed and God responded with 3000 people saved in one day! Can you imagine if God broke through our communities?

We may believe there aren’t unchurched around us, statistics say differently. Some say “We like our churches like they are.” If we don’t grow, we die.

Jesus said make disciples. He didn’t add “If you like your church as is don’t worry about it.” We are in the disciple business, but not doing it well.

God wouldn’t have made the Pentecost breakthrough without praying. God will breakthrough when people pray. Peter quotes Joel saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.” Visions and dreams change lives.

Churches must be known in the community. I’ve discovered too many churches are secrets, sometimes even in plain sight.

Ask people to tell you where your church is located. Ask, “Could you tell me where I can find ABC church?” Don’t ask friends. They likely know. Ask strangers. For our churches to not be Elwood, they can’t be secrets.

Our congregations must be breakthrough prayer centers. We need to pray God will break through our churches .

Every Sunday, Walter opened the church. In cold weather, he lit the stove. If it was hot, he opened windows and put out cardboard fans.

He read the Scriptures and prayed. He prayed God would remember his church.

This story is unique. Each Walter worshiped alone. Why? Epworth was on property that reverted to the original owners if worship stopped

So? Let it go. That wasn’t an option for Walter. He had a vision. But Walter had to patient.

One Sunday a family visited. After meeting Walter they stayed for worship. They thought the church was special. They came back and the children brought friends.

Epworth is still small. Many have died or moved away, but the miracle Epworth is alive. On the first Sunday of August, people come to relive the story of Walter.

Families walk to the cemetery. Parents tell children the story of Walter.

Be Blessed,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Prayer 101: FLASH

58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. (Acts 7:58-60, New Revised Standard Version).

When I think of the word “Flash” I think of my Navy days. Being a communications guy, a signalman, meant knowing the priorities used for messages. The classifications are routine (the lowest), priority, immediate, and flash (the highest priority).

To see a message with “FLASH” on it was rare on the signal bridge. When we saw it, it was always important.

Flash prayers are important as were yesterday’s breath prayers. For some people, a flash prayer and a breath prayer are one in the same. I disagree.

Today’s lesson has Stephen, as stones are flying at him and he is dying, saying flash prayers for others. He paraphrased Jesus’ flash prayer on the cross. Stephen says, as he is about to die, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

As I see it (others may define them differently), but yesterday we said, a breath prayer is often used for centering or settling. I see breath prayers as prayers we say primarily for ourselves. These short prayers us carryout Paul’s instruction to “Pray without ceasing.” When we see something, we stop and pray.

A flash prayer is generally prayed for others. When I drive down the road and see an ambulance with lights and sirens going, I will pray, “Lord be with them.” I am praying for the patient and paramedics. The same holds true for law enforcement and fire fighters. What they do is important. What they do is also dangerous. If I see a man or woman in a military uniform, I try to pray with them. If that isn’t possible, it is time for a flash prayer.

The term “Flash Prayer” is an allusion to a camera’s flash. Missionary Frank Laubach gets credit for the term Flash Prayer. These are quick prayers for guidance, strength, protection, etc. such as “O God, help me to tell the truth,” or “God, help me not to lose my temper.” In 1952 Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking. Laubach believed that power came in prayer. One of his methods was walking the street and “shoot” prayers at people. He called this “flash prayers.” He “bombarded” people with prayers of goodwill and love. He said people passing him “shot” prayers at them often turned around and looked at him. https://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

I happened on a story from Guideposts I want to share with you today in closing.

Lenore Else was worried about her son Eric who was driving 150 miles home in a terrible storm. Like many mothers, she worried about all her children but she especially Eric since he was a sales red and drove a lot of miles. She also liked knowing others prayed for Eric too and everyone in the family did, even 15-month-old Parker.

The phone rang. It was Eric, sounding rattled, he said, “My car’s been hit by lightening.”

“Are you alright?” asked Lenore asked.

Lenore and her husband Bob found the hospital where they took Eric. He seemed alert and fine. “Lightening flashed across the windshield and hood. The hair stood up on my arms. I felt an electrical surge go through me. With a boom of thunder the engine and power steering died. I skidded off the highway. When I came to a stop, electrical sparks bounced over the hood…”

“He is fortunate,” the doctor said. “Someone is looking out for him.”

Lenore said she started thinking about the prayers Parker prayed for his Uncle Eric. For two months, every night, Parker prayed for everyone as three-year-olds do. Those prayers changed regularly but the prayer for Eric was always the same. They tried to get Parker to pray differently. Parker wouldn’t have it. He continued to pray, “God, keep Uncle Eric safe.”

Flash prayers matter. I know Parker’s prayers mattered. His and ours still do.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

On Corporate Prayer

Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard and said: “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you…
21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-18, 21, New International Version).

Several years ago, after worship, as was my habit before the virus, I greeted people at the door, shaking hands with people as they left.

It was fellowship lunch Sunday. Most church members were staying to eat. After greeting a few who were not staying, there was a person hanging back wanting to talk with me.

I don’t remember the conversation but only a few minutes passed when the first interruption came. A youth was sent to tell me I needed to come say the blessing. My response, “Go back and tell the adults, I am in a conference and I will be there as soon as I can.”

I thought someone would say, “OK, pastor is out of pocket. We can wait for him to say the blessing or I will say it and we can eat.”

WHAT WAS I THINKING? Five or ten minutes later a different youth had the same message. I said, “Go find Mr. Smith (lay leader) or Mr. Jones (Chair of the Board) and ask one of them to pray.” Yeah, that didn’t happen either.

A third youth showed up. I just put up my hand and said, Go. I wrapped-up my conversation and went to the fellowship hall. I walked in saying, “There are at least 50 Christians in here. That there is no one to pray so you can eat, I have no sympathy.” I prayed and we ate but Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones came up too me saying, “Preacher, praying in front of everybody is your job.”

That is the way many people are about being the voice in corporate prayer. People with a solid prayer life, will not pray in a group.

Some folks question if such prayer is Biblical. I am not sure where that idea comes from. Our lesson today is part of a corporate prayer. Much of Judah gathered to pray.

In Genesis 9 Noah and his sons pray together. God talks, Noah and sons listened. Flip it over and the same is true. Corporate prayer has been part of God’s people’s experience from just about the beginning of creation.

Corporate prayer is powerful and every believer can and should participate. When I was in seminary a group of Native American United Methodist pastors were also in school. During corporate prayer, these men and women all prayed vocally throughout. They knew corporate prayer.Someone began but everyone joined in. People spoke at once, all over the room. If you listened closely, you might here the Holy Spirit.

Corporate Prayer teaches us about prayer. Some of my earliest memories of prayer had someone praying out loud.

When we are involved in corporate prayer, we NEVER pray alone. Equally true, when we pray we never pray alone. God is with us. It is corporate prayer with the Holy Spirit. Paul’s says in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:28, New Revised Standard Version).

Prayer: corporate, personal, written, intercessory, flash, breath, all are prayer. If our words aren’t enough, the Spirit intercedes for us. We are people of prayer. It should serve to remind us of this, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, New Revised Standard Version.)

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Prayer 101: Why Pray?

“…as you help us by means of your prayers for us. So it will be that the many prayers for us will be answered, and God will bless us; and many will raise their voices to him in thanksgiving for us.” (2 Corinthians 1:11, Good News Translation).

Several weeks ago, I was asked the question, “Does it matter if I pray when others are already praying?” Much of the time, when I get these kinds of questions, it is from someone searching for an argument they can use when attempting to defend their agnostic or atheist point of view. That was not the case on this day. He continued, “And if it does matter, if it does motivate God to action then isn’t this all popularity contest?”

The person I was talking to really wanted to know, if someone is already praying for “Joe,” what difference does it make if I pray as well? They are not an atheist or an agnostic. I have known this person all his life. I know this man is not an atheist or agnostic. He just wanted the answer to this question.

Prayer, no matter how many people are praying in a given situation absolutely makes a difference. I don’t have all the answers to prayer questions. But I can talk about what I do know.

First, I know God desires for us to pray. I see this one much like the church fellowship dinner. How do we fellowship with God? We, me and God, sit and we pray. That is why we often ask God to bless our fellowship together. Our fellowship should always include God.

Next, when we pray we invite God to join us in the relationship we have with another person. For whatever the reason, be it health or a strained relationship, there is more involved than you can do, so you ask God to enter into this relationship between you and someone else.

We often pray for people we don’t know. Most of you know, I have a new granddaughter. Sydney was born, came home from the hospital and in less than 48 hours, she was back in the hospital and spent more than a month in NICU. There were people all over praying for that little girl. I have clergy friends in various parts of the world, many of whom I barely know, who were praying for our little girl. Sydney is doing much better. She still isn’t where doctors would like for her to be but she is improving at home. If we didn’t have so many people praying, would God have healed her? My answer is a resounding yes but I would invite you to check in tomorrow and I will talk about the ways God heals us.

So doesn’t that take us back full circle to where we are back to asking the question does God treat things differently when more people pray?

Today’s lesson does speak to this idea of more people praying. Let me repeat this again. “…as you help us by means of your prayers for us. So it will be that the many prayers for us will be answered, and God will bless us; and many will raise their voices to him in thanksgiving for us.”

When we pray, many of us join in one accord, Paul says we celebrate together. We give God the glory together. We unite in support during times of grief. Even when our prayer seems to go unanswered, God is sill with us. God still walks with us. And, I say this often and will continue to say it, where God is there is always hope.

Another consideration is, prayer changes things. As we pray situations change. As I pray about a relationship that is strained, God is at work but one of the ways God is at work is to open my eyes to the wrongs I am doing and where I need to repent and change. If both people involved repent and change we could find ourselves well on the road to reconciliation and restoration. God is doing it but God is doing it by working on both of us. Prayer changes things.

I don’t claim to know it all, but I do know this. Prayer works because God is in every situation where we call on the power of God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Prayer 101: Do I Really Need to Pray?

10 “For this is what the Lord says: ‘When Babylon’s seventy years are completed, I’ll take note of you and will fulfill my good promises to you by bringing you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for well-being, and not for calamity, in order to give you a future and a hope. 12 When you call out to me and come and pray to me, I’ll hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. 14 I’ll be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I’ll restore your security and gather you from all the nations and all the places to which I’ve driven you,’ declares the Lord. ‘I’ll bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29:10-14, International Standard Version).

So, why do I need to pray if God already knows what I want before I ever ask?

Well, the short answer is, “Because God said to pray.” OK, I answered the question, lets move on. No, just kidding though God did says so.

When our boys were younger and still at home, they wanted a Nintendo and their own television. Cindy and I talked about it and decided they needed to buy them for themselves. They set themselves to the task they had in front of them. They worked hard, saved then pooled their money and bought both themselves.

Cindy and I felt it was important for them to learn. They did. We were quite proud of them. We bought them both a game or they would have had a television and a Nintendo that looked really good sitting there but could do night.

Sometime in the last year I attended something and a speaker said, we should never ask God to give us something or do something that we are capable of obtaining ourselves. That spoke to me at the time. The more I have thought about it, the more enlightening I found the statement to be.

As I think about our situation during the midst of this pandemic. I am not capable of coming up with a vaccine to further prevent infection… I am not capable of arriving at a treatment plan so people get better and the sooner that happens the sooner we can get ourselves back to something closer to what we know.

I am so impressed as I watch the news and travel around town to see the number of people who are out there doing what they can to make a difference. And, I have thought about it this way. What people are doing, just may be using them to make a difference for someone else in this difficult time.

Have a blessed day in the Lord,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Who Made the Move?

Today is Saturday and that means this is the day I bring you a new song. I haven’t written it yet, but I have an original tune in mind for this. Hopefully I will get the tune done quickly.

Earlier this week I ran across something I had heard before, “If God seems far away, guess who moved.” At least to me, what makes that work is the word, “seems.” When I had heard it before I understood completely what was implied in with the question. If God seems far away, we are the one who moved.

I started out with that end in mind. After working my way through the song, I finished with a different idea.

People say that God-is all around.
If you look, God can always be found.
God was not here, when things fell apart.
God is with us, let the laughs now start.
I am lost but making my own way,
I wander but to God I won’t pray.
I think I know but I cannot prove,
Let me ask you, did God make the move?

It was God who made the move?
It was, God who made the move?

God was right here and I did not go.
God drew near and I refused to show.
God is out there, but what does that prove
God doesn’t care and God made the move?

I had it all friend that is no lie.
God took It and left me high and dry.
Left behind, alone, but couldn’t prove,
Stuck in it all, and God made the move?

It was God who made the move?
It was God who made the move?

God was here and still, I did not go
God drew near, and I refused to show
God is out there, but what does that prove
God doesn’t care and God made the move?

I know, God did this to me.
Even now, God won’t, leave me be.
God gave but soon it was gone.
I am God’s small lowly pawn….
Stop, Wait, give me time to think.
I’m who got life, out of sync.
There is nothing for me to prove.
Now I know who, made the move.

I’m sure I know now, who made the move
I’m sure I know now, who made the move

God is here, and will not let me go.
God draws near, and grace on me will flow.
God is out there, but what does that prove?
God loves me and always makes the move?

God is out there, but what does that prove?
God loves me and always makes the move?

*****

I pray you have a blessed weekend.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Are We Pretending?

An Opossum playing (pretending) possum

He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far away from me.
Their worship of me is empty
    since they teach instructions that are human words.

You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” (Mark 7:6-8, Common English Bible)

A few weeks ago I happened onto a website I had not known before. Medium.com claims itself as a publishing platform that features articles from writers from various perspectives in theology, politics, and more. I have opinions about its various perspectives but that is not what this post is about.

Yesterday I read an article that has given me cause for thought and concern. The article’s title is, “Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity Is Even ‘Christian’ Anymore.” The author’s name is (and beyond this article I know noting of him) Benjamin Sledge. The title got my attention.

In the article Sledge says Western Christianity has become a modern deism. He calls it, “The Cult of Feel Good Deism.” He argues that modern, western Christian beliefs have become “whatever makes you feel good or makes you happy.”

I haven’t really looked at deism since graduating from seminary 20 plus years ago. And considering most of my books that would be useful on this subject are at the church and I am not, I have tried to use the internet to be a quick refresher course. I was looking for a dictionary definition but before I found that, I found the following definition on the deism.com website (something else I learned today, I had no idea such a site existed).

Deism is the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation (https://www.deism.com/deism_defined.htm) (Italics mine)

There was a great deal I found on the website that I find troubling but I will save that for another time. I did find a dictionary definition.

“A movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deism?src=search-dict-box).

So, we have a deity who went to the trouble to create the world but has since taken a hands-off approach to everything that happens here? Deism claims to have its basis in pure reason, but that does not seem reasonable to me at all.

Back to Sledge’s post. Sledge references the writings of Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton after interviews with 3,000 teenagers. They found that when it comes to views on religion and Christianity the following four criteria seem to be present in their core beliefs.

  1. God wants people to be nice and fair to one another.
  2. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  3. God doesn’t need to be involved in your life, unless something is going wrong and you need it resolved
  4. Good people go to heaven when they die

The article has a great deal more in it, but this is more than enough for this post.

“God wants people to be nice and fair to one another.”

OK, this first one I won’t argue with, except that it doesn’t go far enough. If we love our neighbor, I would say that being nice and fair to each other is probably a minimum requirement. But really, I can be pleasant to people I don’t care for. I can avoid business transactions with people I don’t like or even to say, that I don’t love. If I avoid certain people it becomes easy to not be mean to people and not treat them unfairly. Love is more than that. Love says I am not just going to be nice. Love says I am not just going to be fair. Love says I am going to place myself and and what is good for me behind what is best for you. That is more than being nice and it is more than being fair.

The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

First, let me get this out of the way. There is nothing wrong with being happy in life. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with feeling good about oneself. Now that I have that out of the way, what is wrong with that statement of words two and three, “central goal.” When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment he said:

28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions (Mark 12:28-34, Common English Bible).

The only statement Jesus makes about how we should feel about ourselves is in how we love our neighbor. We should love our neighbor as ourselves. In the story of “The Rich Young Man,” an argument can be made that Jesus was saying the opposite to this young man:

16 A man approached him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”

17 Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”

18 The man said, “Which ones?”

Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. 19 Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

20 The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?”

21 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22, Common English Bible)

Sell whatever you own, and give the money to the poor vs. be happy and feel good about yourself??

Well, I will say that when we serve others we do feel good about ourselves and it is in doing what Jesus says that we find joy, but I don’t really think that is what the deists mean.

God doesn’t need to be involved in your life, unless something is going wrong and you need it resolved.

Wait a minute. On the one hand, God created the world and has since taken an hands-off approach. On the other hand, God doesn’t need to be consulted unless you are in a bind and then you can ask God to intervene. I know we all have holes in our theology but I can’t help but think, some folks just walked off into a gigantic hole.

On the other hand, too many of us, who claim to have a faith rooted on orthodox Christian understandings, are much the same way. We pray. We tell God all the things we want God to do for us, but too much of the time we don’t stop and listen to what God may want us to do.

Good people go to heaven when they die.

“I am a good person, I just don’t believe all that stuff about Jesus. But, I am a good person. I am kind to people. I don’t cheat people. I don’t cheat on my taxes. I don’t… I don’t… I don’t… I am a good person. God won’t keep me from heaven.”

That is part of a discussion I had many years ago with a co-worker shortly before entering ministry. As we talked further, it became clear there were many things missing.

Number four on Sledge’s list shouldn’t surprise me but it does. When Jesus had his encounter by night with Nicodemus, Jesus did not say, “Nick, you’re a good guy. You don’t need to worry about such things. Just keep being a good guy, have yourself some fun, be nice to people and it will all be OK.” If Jesus would have said something like that he probably wouldn’t have said anything about passing through the eye of a needle. What Jesus said was:

16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son (John 3:16-18, Common English Bible).

14 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7).

In both these passages, Jesus tells us it isn’t about being a nice person. If that was the case, it would be about us. What it is about is, God wants a relationship with us. To have that relationship isn’t something we can beg, borrow, steal, buy, or whatever other verb you want to place on it. Grace is a free gift from God and to get that grace means we accept Jesus Christ.

Before I bring this to a close, Benjamin Sledge’s point in his post was not to speak in favor of deism. He simply believes that Christianity in an orthodox understanding is, if not dead, at least on life support. Is he right? I would like to think not but there is plenty of evidence to say such ideas are at least nearer than many of us have thought.

In his 1987 book, To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Spirit, George G. Hunter says (and I am paraphrasing as my copy of the book is at the church), people have come to church seeking their booster shot of faith and it has served to leave them immune from a full dose. Could this new deism be the result of the insight Hunter gives in this book?

It is a deep subject for this Friday but I also believe it to be an important understanding for our consideration.

What should the traditional Church have to say to this new deism?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

In search of the genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Believe – The Correct Meaning of the Words

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37, New International Version).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me (Romans 16:1-2, New International Version).

A few weeks ago I told you that I am not “that guy.” I am not a car guy. Yes, I want a reasonably nice car. I want a car that will let me ride and not feel like I am being squeezed into an egg carton. And, I live in Texas. Air Conditioning is a must. But, I am told every guy needs to have his mid-Life crisis car, though I’m not sure why. I have never even looked seriously at it but every year for the past 10 or 15 years, I update the mid-life crisis car. It started out as a Dodge Charger but it is currently the 2020 Shelby Ford Mustang GT 500 Fastback. This Mustang is one bad car. It has a 5.1 L fuel injected engine and a six speed manual transmission. This car is “hot!” It has 760 horses under the hood and can go 0-60 in 3.4 seconds and 0- 130 in 11.2 seconds. I’m not really sure why I would ever need to go from 0-130 in 11.2 seconds, but with this car it can be done! The top end limited speed of 180 miles-per-hour make this a machine of pure American muscle that makes me want to rush out to Al Myer Ford and buy mine right now. But the thing is, with a sticker price north of $75,000, if it takes this car to resolve my mid-life crisis, I will just have to remain in crisis. In truth, I don’t even know what I will just have to be satisfied with my Kia Soul and drooling from afar. Besides, I think I am a few years past “mid-life.”

I feel pretty certain that one paragraph into this message some of you are wondering what my mid-life crisis and accompanying halfhearted car dreams could possibly have to do with a post advertised to be part of a series of posts about The Apostle’s Creed. Never fear, I am now ready to tell you. Absolutely nothing! But, buried within that first paragraph are three words I intentionally misused according to the standard definitions of the English language. “Oh, Great! First we hear about his mid-life crisis and now he is going to give us an English lesson.” Well, sort of, but bear with me. There really is a point to all of this. First, I said, “The 2020 Shelby Ford Mustang GT 500 Fastback. This Mustang is one bad car. Now here’s a question for you, “Why in the world would I EVER be willing to pay over $75,000 for a ‘bad’ car?” If we look online at the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and look up the word “bad” the following are the definitions, “low or poor in quality, not correct or proper, not pleasant, pleasing or enjoyable.” You actually have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the slang meaning which is the opposite of the definitions I already gave you. 

Second, I said, with its engine and transmission this car is hot. Well, that’s the general context anyway. Mr. Webster had many definitions for this word, most of which had something to do with temperature. I am not going to bore you with all the definitions. The dictionary does come up with a definition that says, “Of intense and immediate interest, currently popular or in demand, and very good” but you have scroll almost to the bottom, number six to see it! 

And third, “With a limited maximum speed…” Again, consulting the dictionary, muscle is defined as, “a body tissue that can contract and produce movement, physical strength, power and influence.” I guess physical strength and power could fall into the definition, but let’s face the facts, in any other context, if you are talking about muscle, you would never think of a car. 

Therein lies the problem. Words have meaning. At times, when we assign words new meaning, it can leave others puzzled. It can leave them with wrong ideas. If you were to say the term, “American muscle” to a person whose native language was German and who was attempting to learn to speak English, they might walk away completely frustrated thinking, in German of course, “Where on the human body is the ‘American muscle.’” That doesn’t even begin to talk about the confusion with the word ‘bad’ whose definitions can be completely contradictory. 

When I was in the Navy there was a guy I worked with on the signal bridge. We didn’t work together very long as his enlistment was up shortly after I reported. I can’t even remember his name. He loved the word “dubious.” For those who may not know, dubious means, “likely to be bad or wrong.” It didn’t matter much whether it fit or not. He would come back up to the bridge from lunch and ask him, “How was chow?” His response, “dubious.” Well, that example doesn’t really make my point. I knew the food was likely to be bad before I ever ask. But, you could be below decks and not outside yet, he would come in from watch and you ask, “How’s the weather?” His response, “dubious.” Then, when you walk out on deck it is a beautiful morning, 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. He would take a look at my mid-life crisis car, love everything about it, and instead of saying he liked it or calling it cool or something like that, he would say, “dubious.” If he was trying to start a new trend, it didn’t take. 

Today we are continuing our posts on The Apostle’s Creed. We began last Wednesday I think. We started talking about how all of this, the world and all that is in it was created by God. It didn’t happen by accident the way many believe. As people of faith we believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 

Thursday we looked at the line “in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord…” we continued to the end of that section “from whence he shall come to judge quick and the dead.” As Trinitarian Christians we believe that Jesus is both fully human and he is fully divine. In other words, Jesus is God. 

Friday we said we believed in the Holy Spirit. As the third person of the Trinity we believe the Holy Spirit is God’s guide for our lives. We believe the Spirit is our comforter and our advocate. We believe the Holy Spirit is Christ, is God present, active and working in our world. 

Today we are moving on to the most misunderstood section of the creed. “I believe in the… …holy catholic church, the communion of saints…” There is a reason for that. Like my use of the words bad, hot, and muscle or my Navy shipmate’s use of the word “dubious,” people might really misunderstand and become confused. 

In the remainder of this post there are three words in this section of the creed that confuse many of us. These words are catholic, church, and saints. 

First, catholic. This is probably the single most misunderstood word in the entire creed, perhaps among the most of the documents of the early Church. I think there is a reason for this. 

The earliest evidence of The Apostle’s Creed is from the early eighth century. Many people believe this creed dates back the twelve apostles with each apostle contributing a different section of the creed. There is, however, no real evidence of this as truth. The earliest known creed of the Christian faith is the Nicene Creed, coming from the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Still, even if written in the eighth century A.D. without question, the Apostle’s Creed is old. Our language has changed over time. Words have developed new and/or different meanings. When I was born 62 years ago, the word gay meant something completely different than it means today. Beyond that, for whatever the reason, there are words that didn’t exist 1700 years ago and words that were used 1700 years ago that are no longer used today, or at least not in the same context. 

When The Apostle’s Creed was developed there was, for all intents and purposes, one

When the Apostle’s Creed was developed there was, for all intents and purposes, one Church. This was before the division of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. There were a few splinter cells around, but for most Christians, there was one church. It was a universal church, or at least it was a universal church for the known universe. That is the meaning of the word catholic. If we go back again to Merriam-Webster we can see there is a definite difference between the word Catholic with a capital “C” and the word catholic with a lower-case “c.” You actually have to look down the page as well to find “Roman Catholic.” 

When we stand and recite The Apostles’ Creed and we say we believe in the holy catholic church, we are not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, at least not them alone. We are talking about Christ’s universal church that includes believers of every Christian faith tradition, including United Methodists and Roman Catholics. 

That second word that is often misunderstood is Church. Again, there are many definitions for the word church. Often it is the building. I have made such statements before. “Hey Honey, I need a book from the office. I am going over to the church.” At other times we are referring to a particular congregation, as in, “I am the pastor at Huntington United Methodist Church.” But, in the context of a creed, we are saying we believe in the entire body of people who claim belief in Jesus Christ are the Church. We are saying we believe in Christ’s universal Church. 

The third often misunderstood word is the word saints. It is actually part of the next clause of the creed, “…the communion of saints…” Again, oftentimes when we think of the saints we think of those whom the Roman Catholic Church has canonized. They would include people like the disciples, minus Judas. The saints of this context would include people like St. Anselm and St. Augustine or in a more modern context St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) and St. John Paul II (Pope John Paul II ) Let there be no doubt, these people are saints. 

At other times we might refer to saints as some person living who we think is a remarkable person. We might hear someone say, he or she is or was such a saint. If either of those fits your personal meaning of the word saint, while both are correct, Biblically they don’t go far enough. According to the Bible, you are a saint. I am a saint. Anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ is a saint. Now isn’t that a hoot and a half. If you stand and recite this creed and you believe what you are saying as divine truth, YOU ARE A SAINT. 

In our understanding as United Methodist Christians it doesn’t matter how good you are or have been in your life. It doesn’t matter what sins you have committed now, in the past, or in the future, because you have faith in the God who came to earth, who lived as a human and who died that our sins might be forgiven (We will discuss these later this week), you are a saint. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians. When Paul wrote each of these, he was far from being a happy camper with any of these folks. At least at times in these letters Paul is angry. Yet he still called these Christ followers saints. You are a saint first by your baptism and then by the faith you profess. 

When we speak of the “Communion of saints,” we are talking about the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, both the living and the dead, those on earth, and in heaven. We are all part of a single mystical body, with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all. 

The communion of saints simply means, friends we are all in this together. We help to build each other up in love. We are united with people of faith in all times and places. We are united together in this life, cheered on by the great cloud of witnesses of which the writer of Hebrews speaks so eloquently. 

Over the years I have heard many people say, “I don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed.” When I ask why, I almost always know the answer before they ever say it. Their problem is a problem of words. But friends, there is nothing to fear here. As United Methodists, as faithful Christians of just about any denomination, we are part of, and we believe in, the church universal. We are a part of, and we believe in the communion of saints. 

When you get down to it, mid-life crisis or not, I don’t need that car. Contrary to what one commercial of a few years back said, the point of a car is to get you from point a to point b and it is not the point itself and the car I have serves that purpose fine. 

What I do need is the holy catholic Church. I don’t need the capital C catholic church but I do need the universal church of Jesus Christ. I need to be a part of the body of believers in Jesus Christ. And, I also need you and all the rest of the communion of saints. I need you to build me up. I need you to pray for me. I need you to hold me accountable. I need the Church of Jesus Christ and I need the saints of that church because, I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. 

Have a Great Day in the Lord,

In Search of the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved