Monday, June 1, 2020

Known For?

What do you want to be known for?  What do you think the Church should be known for?  The answers to these questions might be different to different people, which is one reason we rely on a better way to think about these things.  The better question is, as far as the Church is concerned, what does the Bible say the Church should be known for?

I ask these questions in the midst of societal issues that I believe we, as the Church, should have what Acts 1 calls "witness."  We have, if you have spent time watching TV over the past week, been witnesses to some of the worst aspects of humanity.  We have seen a video of police officers killing a black man who was totally unable to defend himself.  We have seen protesters all over our nation outraged at the continued recurrence of these types of events.  We have seen rioters soiling the name of those who have been wronged ,by resorting to violence, looting and property destruction.  We have seen a myriad of reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are witnesses to these things and some of us have been vocal about our reactions and opinions.  But the question I would like to dwell upon today is, how do we witness to our faith in the midst of all of these very real events?  Acts 2 begins the journey of answering this question.

I want to spend the next few weeks on some answers to the question, "What should our Church want to be known for?"  We will go to the end of Acts 2 for answers.  It was the early days in the life of the Church.  People were focused, dedicated and (I am assuming here) excited about this new thing called the Ecclesia (the called-out ones).  Acts 2:42 says "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."  We, as Abbeville United Methodist Church, resume in-person worship (with some restrictions) on June 14th.  It will be different and we will only be doing the one worship service through June (remember that conditions in Abbeville could change this plan).  But on June 14th we will do all of the things mentioned in Acts 2.  We will have teaching and preaching.  We will have fellowship.  We will have prayer.  And we will observe, for the first time in months, Holy Communion within the confines of the Family Life Center.  It will be challenging and different, but we will be (as Acts 2:1 says) all together in one place.  I hope this will begin a season of unity, realizing that we all might feel different about restrictions, precautions and new practices that will be with us for a time.  May we see past all of the things that aren't so important to the things that are vital to how we witness to our faith.  May we become known for being unified, devoted to study, willing to fellowship with people who challenge us, and may the Eucharist bring us together to remember our Lord and Savior that is the one thing we should desire to be known for.

We are at a time in our nation's history when we can become known for putting aside partisanship, childish things, racism (and all of the 'isms' we so easily adopt) and become known for being the Church that becomes a place of healing, love, peace, joy, kindness, self control and faith.  May our witness become so great that it leads our cities and our nation out of the darkness and into the light.  For Isaiah 9:2 calls to us here ... "The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined."  We ARE that light as we reflect our Savior and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Questions or Answers?

In Acts 2 there is a wonderful story about the birth of the Church.  The promised Holy Spirit arrives.  Disciples proclaim the Gospel in languages all in Jerusalem can hear.  Those that have been in a room waiting respond to the wait being over!  Must have been glorious!  But embedded in this story is a thought about who we are in the story?

The Acts 2 story ends with two statements.  The first is a question ... "What does this all mean?"  The second is a statement ... "They are just all drunk!"  The first group is seeking answers.  The second already knows the answers.

As I hear people and read social media I see a lot of that latter group.  People who have all the answers about conspiracies, epidemic statistics, stories about vaccines, success or non-success of treatments and everything you might imagine.  It seems these people will re-post almost anything.  I just move on by, because I want to be in that first group that continually asks ... "What does this all mean?"

Sunday is Pentecost, when the Acts 2 story bursts off the page and into the very DNA of the Church.  We go.  We proclaim.  We use whatever measures we can to follow that early church into our world.

As we change gears yet again and begin to worship together, rethink everything, ask ourselves how we best reflect the love, boldness and life of Jesus in a confused world, we might think we know all the answers.  Your pastor doesn't ... but I will work to find them.  Pray that I will lead well and find the answers Jesus is giving me.  Pray that we, as a Church, will become people who continually ask and seek the answers to ... "What does this all mean?"  And when you meet the person who has all of the answers to that question, run the other way.

I love you all.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for the Church. Pray for our nation.  Pray that we will all be filled with God's Spirit, the Spirit of truth.  Pray!  Randy

Monday, May 18, 2020

What We've Learned

I remember the time I was benched.  I had learned what I was supposed to do in practice but when it got to be game time I decided to be "creative" in how I did my job.  The coach wasn't amused.  I got benched to think a bit!

While I was benched I had a chance to reflect.  All sorts of emotions whirled through my head.  Was I cut out for football?  Anger at the coach.  Anger at me.  And, finally, resolve.

In that time of resolve I thought.  What was really important?  What do I need to learn about me, my team, my coach and my part in what is happening?  You see ... I found the time on the bench as a time to learn and grow so that I could return to the team better than ever!

A few reflections:

1. We really haven't been benched ... we are still the Church.  But we are definitely having that time to reflect and think about what is important, what team means, what our coach is teaching and what we can learn from all of this.

2. We are far less active than we would like to be.  We are impatient to get back on the field.

3.  But what can we really learn from this period of inactivity?
  - Maybe we can think about what has and hasn't worked in the past?
  - Maybe we can ask, what practices and traditions need to be changed or discontinued?
  - Maybe we can ask Jesus, "How can I follow You better?
  - Maybe we need to look at things like our practices and traditions and ask, "How do these things edify the Church (1 Cor. 12 ... the reason we have been given gifts for ministry)?

For the last few weeks we have talked about Jesus' post-resurrection appearances.  During this time Jesus is shown as still doing miracles (including the miracle of forgiving wayward followers).  He has given advice and instruction.  He has told of a day when His Spirit will come and all of the disciples will be sent out into the world to do great things.  Till Pentecost, they are benched. 

I have a friend who has been working from home.  She has saved money on gas, child care, wear-and-tear on her car, and she has been getting her work done.  I saw a special in which India's urban areas have actual clear air rather than their usual haze of smog.  I have heard people talk about how they have learned to see life differently during this pandemic.  And I have heard impatient voices that want everything back like it was.

I am totally in agreement with our getting back to work and productivity.  And I long for worship with each of you as we share, sing, and do life together.  But as we all go through this process, wouldn't it be wise ... even 'Christian' ... to think about what Jesus has been teaching us?  Wouldn't it be a good thing to clean the barnacles off the good ship of Zion so that when we return we can sail with the speed and direction that we were designed for?  Wouldn't it be great if we let God do what God is very good at ... bringing order to our chaos (rather than returning to the chaos and 'business as usual')?  Wouldn't it be holy to allow our great coach to teach us and lead us back into a better life?  Whatever your political perspective, please take a moment and pray that we will be teachable so that we learn, grow and become better through all of this.  It is our Christian responsibility.  It is our American heritage.  It is our personal privilege.  Let's re-enter the game better than ever!  Randy

Monday, May 11, 2020

Authority

There is a lot happening regrading the word "authority."  In the Webster's 1828 Dictionary, authority is defined as "Legal power or a right to command or to act.  As the power of a prince over subjects and of parents over children.  Power, rule, sway."  The Greek word is exousia, and the Greek definition is similar, except that it defines this legal power as operating in a jurisdiction.  Both words are good for my thoughts today.

Matthew 28, the great commission, is one of Jesus' last appearances before His ascension.  His meeting with His disciples in Galilee is all about what we would call change, a passing of the torch and imparting of power/authority.  It is an important meeting and it is foundational for us to understand who and what we are as disciples.

Seeing this word amidst protests, a totally divisive new media, a rise of blind partisanship, people taking sides on seemingly every issue, totally illogical statements in social media and many asking the question, "Who and what do I follow?" makes the idea of authority both relevant and important.  Who do you follow?  Upon what ideology do you base your decisions?  If Jesus came to town today and He entered your home, your workplace or your church, how would He classify you?

In Matthew 28 Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me."  It is a short but telling statement.  Jesus is saying that he has exousia over pretty much everything we think we have control over.  John Riley often quotes Psalm 24:1 which (paraphrased) says God owns it all ... the earth, the people, all the stuff.  Jesus says He is the one who has authority over what Psalm 24 calls "the fullness thereof."  Jesus' authority is universal.

It is interesting that even Jesus gets His authority from somewhere, apparently God expressed in the trinity.  Authority is both given and accepted.  It comes from somewhere.  In a world where my neighbors are having post-COVID parties, protests talk about freedom as if it is the power to do whatever I feel like doing (i.e., I am my own authority), I wonder if we operate under any authority.  As we plan for beginning of services (modified of course) we operate under authority.  The Bishop has an opinion.  The Governor has an opinion.  Our leadership has an opinion.  The public has an opinion.  I have an opinion.  But to whom do we report to?  Who is our authority?  Remember ... authority comes from somewhere, even if it is self.

A final point ... authority goes somewhere.  It would be wonderful if our choices and decisions only impacted us.  I hear a lot of people talk about how they should be able to do whatever they choose ... after all, it only impacts them.  I remember a few years ago a woman (Kaci Hickox) was clearly exposed to ebola, a highly contagious and deadly virus.  She refused to be quarantined.  The civil liberties people said she shouldn't be quarantined against her will.  Medical experts said that ebola, with a 90%+ mortality outcome, was so dangerous, the woman should be forced to self-isolate for a specified period.  Who was correct?  These issues are the very ones we will be wrestling with at a Zoom meeting with our church leadership tomorrow.  These are the issues that 2 Zoom meetings (one Monday and one Tuesday) will address as hundreds of pastors discuss returning to worship.  Pray for us!  These meetings and the decisions that follow are not easy, simple or popular.  Our authoritative decisions will go out into our community and out into our congregation.  They will impact me, you, our older folks, our children, our workers, our ministries and life at Abbeville UMC.  So I will end with a prayer today ... "Lord ... you have imparted your authority to us, passed on through the Father, the Holy Spirit and You.  It is a huge and grave responsibility.  You would not have given it if you didn't think we could handle it.  So, we ask you.  Keep that promise you made at the end of Matthew 28.  Be with us now and even to the ends of the earth.  Help us make our little part of the world better because we are here.  Help us become the Genesis 12:12 "blessing" that we, as Your Church, should be to all the earth.  Grant us both the authority and the wisdom that comes from knowing you, from becoming selfless, and from being your princes and princesses, with Your imparted authority to make disciples and teach people about You.  We need your leading and guidance.  We need Your Spirit.  We need you!  Thank you, Jesus, for everything You are and all You do.  In Jesus' name, AMEN."  Randy

Monday, May 4, 2020

Nets

I have to confess to being possessive about fishing spots.  I have fished Choctawhatchee Bay for a fair number of years and I have found a very productive fishing spot.  Only a few people know the place I fish, and I keep that secret well.  The footprint of the spot I fish is relatively small.  But I usually catch fish, last week 20 redfish and trout.  I know where the best spots are.  I know the tackle that works.  There is often unseen abundance under the surface of the water.

But I am just an amateur.  In John 21, Jesus encounters His disciples on a fishing trip.  Even though they know fishing they have fished all night and caught nothing.  Jesus comes near and tells them to throw their nets "on the right side of the boat."  They caught so many fish the nets are ready to break.

We are in a time where our fishing has been hampered.  We keep fishing and we keep going on, but we feel like things aren't being productive.  It is a struggle to serve virtually, do Bible study on Zoom, preach to the few workers who help out on Sunday morning, have little or no interaction with the public during office hours and generally feel like we are 'stuck' in the mud of this pandemic.  Then, I read this passage.

None of us have lost our giftedness.  We have gifts for ministry that God can use at all times.  We might have to be more creative than usual, but we have talents.  We can use them! 

We have a Master that knows the right place to fish.  He is saying, "cast those nets in places that are out of your comfort zone."  Sunday morning, and hopefully this week, Nicey will cast her net differently as she hosts a Zoom Sunday School Class.  She fished there last week and I am pretty sure they were biting.  Jackie, Janet, Emily and Freddy cast their nets on the right side of the boat as they plan Senior Moment Sunday (May 17 from 2-4 PM in front of the church).  You can drive by, see them and their parents, and drop notes, gifts and well-wishes into their baskets (maintaining physical distance).  There will also be special video clips that week at worship.  Jesus knows where to fish as we use our obedience and creativity to serve where we are planted.

And remember ... Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are in charge of our abundance.  We join in the harvest, but the Lord of the harvest delivers the crop.  We cast our nets where we are directed.  We use the abilities we have been given.  And we trust that God will and can do great things if we follow Him.  It is a good fishing story but a better ministry story.  Thanks be to God!  Randy

Monday, April 27, 2020

Seeing is Believing?

We have all heard the term ... "Seeing is believing!"  But in these times of struggle and difficulty I have seen and heard much that I have not chosen to believe.  Belief is important, and knowing the right things to believe can be crucial, even life and death.  I was listening to a report today about a heartburn medication that is being studied as a therapy for COVID-19 patients.  I expect that people, who are grasping for what to believe, will hear this report and clear the shelves of various treatments for heartburn, without knowing the science, without considering possible side effects and without sending the news report through any cogent mental process.  Heartburn medication will go the way of toilet tissue, spray disinfectant, hand sanitizer and Clorox.  I have wondered about people often over the past few months ... we can be shepherd-less sheep.

It seems at times of crisis we are willing to grab on to almost any glimmer of hope.  But not Thomas!  "Seeing is believing" said Jesus' doubting disciple.  Read it for yourself.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus appeared to the disciples in a closed room, so Thomas said, "I won't believe unless I see the nail marks in His hands and feel the holes the nails made ... unless I put my hand where His side was pierced."  We are all down with a run on Pepcid and Clorox but when it comes to Jesus, we want to see Him in the flesh ... like Thomas.

A few thoughts on this passage.  First, Jesus reminds that the greatest blessing of true belief comes when we believe even when we do not see.  All Job saw was turmoil, trouble and unfaithful "friends," but Job said he would put his trust in God and that he was sure of a living God in the midst of all he faced (Job 13, Job 19)!  Really, our hope for revisiting our dead friends/family, our hope for true redemption of this world, our hope for true justice and our hope for final and eternal victory rests in a God who, so often, is beyond our vision.  This is so evident that the writer of Hebrews (in Chapter 11) says "faith is hope in things unseen."  In John 20, Jesus says that when we hope in these things, when we believe in a God we don't see clearly, we are blessed.

The second hopeful note from John 20 is that Jesus seems to go out of His way to seek out and find Thomas.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.  But Jesus cares about the individual.  He expresses, in this little story, His desire to be personally known and believed by each of us.  Jesus met Thomas where he was ... steeped in doubt and disarray.  Maybe that is where you are today.  Maybe the things you held as unshakable have been shaken.  Maybe your friends are acting strange because of world events.  Maybe government isn't the solace and guidance you need.  Maybe jobs and finances are uncertain.  Maybe you don't know what tomorrow brings.  But the old song plays in your mind and gives you a warmth and certainty ... "Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."  Blessed, indeed, are those who believe in a God they cannot see, for God is here and God is there "at the ending of the rainbow, where the mountains touch the sky."  Randy

Sunday, April 19, 2020

On To Pentecost

If you watched our worship on April 19, 2020, you heard about one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Jesus meets two men travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  He teaches them, corrects them and travels with them to Emmaus where He reveals Himself to them.  This is the first message in a series I am calling On To Pentecost

In an historic sense, these moments of Jesus' appearing to the disciples is true revelation of God's nature.  God wants to teach us (the April 19th message).  God wants us to have peace in troubled times (this coming week's message).  God wants us to know so much about His nature and about His calling and purpose.  The post-resurrection appearances are truly windows into what God is like and how much God wants to be known and experienced.  It is great stuff!

In Luke 24:36-49 Jesus appears to His disciples.  They are gathered together, probably talking about the events of the day. It a very personal and human appearance of Jesus as He enters rooms through walls, seeks nourishment, and tells the disciples He is fulfilling and empowering even as He moves toward ascension.  The words that come to me from this story are grasp, grow and get ready.

Grasp the magnitude of what has and is happening.  The resurrection is a big deal that will forever change the world.  In our lifetimes few things have changed the world.  Most of us remember 911.  We will all remember the coronavirus pandemic of (at least) 2020.  But Jesus' resurrection and related events changed the very fabric of society then, throughout Church history, and even today as we gather (currently digitally) to pray, worship and express our faith.  The man that changed history is also the man that can move our mountains, break down our walls and give us strength to overcome this world.

Grow in faith.  The time between the resurrection and Pentecost is a time to understand just who we are.  We are those people who will, under the power of God, be agents of change in the world.  We will (Matthew 5) become the light of the world, made into that light as we are transformed into the image of the risen Lord.  Jesus gives us His glory and strength of faith (He is the author and perfecter of faith) so we can light this world.

And this is a time to get ready.  I have been thinking about this idea for the past week.  What will ministry look like over the next year?  How will we fund missions?  How will we connect with the children in our community?  How will we improve the new building across the street?  How will we feed school children, send resources to Red Bird, help with community needs, help our friends in Belize, distribute food from the food pantry and what will worship look like?  I think Jesus would say to us what he is saying to the disciples.  Grasp what is happening ... grow in faith ... and get ready because I am about to do something that will open your eyes and open the world!

In John's version of this story, Jesus opens the minds of the disciples and they have immediate understanding of the Scriptures.  "Lord ... I pray that you will open our minds so that we better understand you.  I pray that we realize the power you gave us at Pentecost.  I pray for creativity, energy, passion and knowledge that you go before us always, preparing the way ahead.  I thank you for all of this and will seek to express that thanks in a way that tells the world of your glory.  AMEN."