Sunday, August 2, 2020

Finding Your Niche

Jeffrey Steele, a gifted songwriter from Santa Rosa Beach, is a talented guy.  He has written many songs you would know, including a portion of "Knee Deep" (Zac Brown), "My Wish" (Rascal Flats) and "The Cowboy in Me" (Tim McGraw).  I could name many more, but he has lots of talents in his hands, fingers and mind.  He has been very successful.  He tells a story about how he did things (including songwriting) backwards.  When he took guitar lessons in high school, he was failed because his finger picking was sub-par and he actually cheated a bit by using a pick.  He says he even writes songs backwards.  But it works for him ... it is his quirky niche.

Maybe you are like that.  I am too.  I cord my guitar differently than other folks because I was injured playing football and I am missing a finger ligament.  But I have adapted my style in spite of what could have been a deal breaker.

The point is this.  We have things happen to us all the time.  Someone has an accident.  Someone we love dies.  We get into a financial bind.  Our nation is hit by a pandemic and economic woes.  We lose a friend.  We make a bad choice.  I can go on.  But all of these things, while difficult, are things that God can, if we allow it, redeem.  God has a way of taking these difficulties and somehow turning them into what one writer said was ... "Something beautiful, something good."  One of my Seminary professors wrote ... "God never wastes a good crisis.  He doesn't always cause the difficulty, but He is always able to lift us out of those dark places."  Psalm 40 says, "He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along ... "

Peter was an uneducated fisherman.  Paul was an enemy of Christians.  Matthew was a tax collector.  All of the disciples had flaws that would have disqualified them from being used by God.  David was the runt of his litter, yet God loved and blessed him.  They and we are/were quirky people.  Jeffrey Steele says that his life experience caused him to rethink failure and flaws.  He realized that all of these things are opportunities for his special talents to be used for something worthwhile.  Hillary Scott sings a song that lifts my spirit every time I sing it.  It is called "Beautiful Messes" and it describes us ... people of infirmity ... people with quirks ... all lifted up by a God who wants us to find our niche of usefulness.  And don't think you don't have one.  If you are a Christian you have a gift or gifts and a unique nature that God can and will use.  All you have to do is one thing ... give God the 'yes' He has already given you.  And the beauty is ... after the yes, God does all the heavy lifting.  Never forget you/we are the Church ... the bride of Christ ... the hands and feet of the living God ... ambassadors with a mission and a message.  So, let's act like it and find our place in this world where Good News seems in short supply.  Get up and get going!  Randy


Monday, July 27, 2020

Owed

It seems that everything has been moved, changed, reoriented and modified this year!  It's a little like my mother coming to my house and putting things where she thinks they should go ... not where I had them.  But as I complain, I would love that experience of mom coming and doing her little and wonderful annoying things!  Be careful what you complain about!

I write this blog as I have just finished sending off my tax information.  The due date of April 15th was changed to July 15th because of COVID 19.  True to form, I still had to file an extension.  Habit, I guess!

As I was sending off the documents a phrase from Scripture came to mind ... Mark 12:17 says, “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”  Taxes go off to the government.  We are all a bit reluctant to send them, but it probably beats the alternative.  Even gangsters are afraid of the IRS.  But this verse does beg a question ... "What is Caesar's and what is God's?"

I would like to say what John prays often on Wednesday night as he asks (for self and for others) "Lord ... take my life!"  But I must say I am great at saying those words but not so great at giving with open hands to the God who will take all I give and turn it into beauty.  I am much better at singing the old song ... "Some to Jesus, I surrender, some to Him I gladly give!"  You get the point, I hope.

This little verse from Mark is more deep and more troubling than we would like to admit.  As I sit here writing these words, I am questioning myself.  Randy ... do you give God what is His?  Do those songs of surrender flow much easier than the time, the resources, the love and the life that is all owed to God?

To send my taxes I scanned some documents and hit a button.  Away the words went, into the ether of the digital world.  I was trusting that those pages would end up just where I was sending them.  It was as easy as the words to a pretty song.  I heard a friend preach about the act of giving once.  He said that the 'hands raised' with palms up was the appropriate gesture for prayer, praise and giving.  The idea is that when the palms are up one can offer and receive in prayer ... in praise offer and show emptiness wishing to be filled ... in giving offering with no intention of taking back what is offered.  While I didn't find lots of research on this, I do like the idea of giving to God with the idea that God will fill up my emptiness somehow.  That God will send a response to my prayer.  That God will send His blessing down as I lift my hands and heart in praise.  I owe the IRS the taxes they are due.  But I owe my very life and every good thing I have ever seen or felt to God.  So today I will pray with hands lifted, palms up, knowing that God will take my prayer and redeem it so that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Now that's a return on investment!  Randy

Monday, July 20, 2020

Alignment

We have a fair number of hunters in our congregation.  So the subject of alignment should be familiar to them.  To hit your target you must align the sights of the gun with the target you want to hit.  At least that's how it should work.  But there are exceptions to this.  Sometimes the sights of the gun get out of whack.  They must be adjusted and realigned if they are to be useful as a guide to hit the target.  Sometimes our spiritual sights get knocked out of alignment.  Life is a constant process of realigning those sights so that we are aimed in the right direction.  We are individually, denominationally and nationally in need of realigning those sights.  For if what I read on social media, watch on TV and hear in conversations is what people believe, our sights have been knocked out of alignment ... they need to be adjusted to a standard better than the one people have set.  Thankfully, we have God's Word to bring us back to seeing and aiming for the correct target.

There is a story about one of our Vietnam heroes.  His company came under intense enemy fire.  Most were either dead or wounded.  One soldier who was a sniper was able to use his weapon but his sniper rifle had its sights damaged and it was dusk.  He was aiming blindly.  Then, he fired and saw a burst of dust pop up where the bullet hit the dirt.  He adjusted his aim and was able to take out so many enemies that they fell back and his company was able to get to safety.

We need that kind of alignment.  For some of us life has hit us so hard our sights have become misaligned.  Paul, in Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God's standard."  This is alright, and even normal.  But Christ calls us to recognize our propensity to sin and ask Him to realign our sights.  God loves us just like we are but He expects us to allow His forgiveness, grace and teaching to grow us up and align with His plan.

For others, we have allowed society to become our sight.  We have aligned with society.  Jesus, in Matthew 7:14, reminds us that the wide gate leads to destruction.  I see that wide gate in the social media, news media and rumor.  I have seen and heard so many ridiculous stories and statements on Facebook that it has become comical.  I think Jesus would tell us to get out of conspiracy theories ... get out of drama ... get out of narcissistic politics ... get out of the belief that Facebook and other social media has wisdom or advice that we should follow.  God created the rules of nature.  God created how things like science and math operate.  God gave us His Word to follow and trust.  Our nation's currency says, "In God We Trust!"  So ... do we?  "Be THOU our vision, O Lord of my heart."  Align with God!

And at this time many of us are being encouraged to align with politics.  We should definitely be informed and follow the right things in voting.  But, as Paul expressed in Romans 3, we have a standard to follow.  It is not a standard either owned or expressed by any of our political parties.  Parties, 'isms' (conservatism, liberalism, etc.) and even our denominations are made of people who all fall short of God's standard.  Romans 3:23 is about a universal "missing the target."  But Paul continues and reminds us that there are ways we can realign.  Holding on to God's sacrifice, receiving God's forgiveness, and believing in faith are all parts of this realignment.  But Paul's writings also express what John Wesley would call the 'realignment' of God's sanctifying grace, achieved through the disciplines of the faith.  These include prayer, fasting, service, sacraments, worship, Christian conferencing (hanging out together), and learning.  These are the things we must align with first.  Our political leanings must come "under God," not superseding God.  So, as you prepare to vote, sift your politics through Scripture, not society!

When we were camping with the grand-kids, we went on a .7 mile hike around the lake near our cabin.  The boys got out ahead of us and they missed the place where we should have crossed a stream and trekked back toward the cabin.  So we ended up at the BMX course.  They finally stopped and waited for us, and I had to assess where we were and how we would proceed.  I had to realign us.  We set off again following the trail that would lead us back to where we were staying.  After 4.5 miles we got back, tired but safe.  Fortunately, we were able to get back on course, and I believe we (nationally, individually and spiritually) can do the same.  But we must turn (repent) and follow God ... not conspiracy theories, political candidates, denominational leanings, politically-correct talking points or social media.  It is time to get back on course, back to Jesus and back to the path that leads to that narrow gate that leads to life.


Monday, July 13, 2020

But God Can!

In this time of anxiety there are some things we all need.  I talked to Cher Marvel last week and the Boys and Girls Club is reopening ... it is unknown how this will go.  We are continuing to hold 9 AM and 11 AM services, modified as they are ... it is up in the air how all of this will unfold.  I heard of the job turmoil of some of my friends ... none of us know how this will turn out.  And I read of the opposition to rebuilding Jerusalem's wall in Nehemiah 4 ... and I remember that turmoil isn't an outlier ... it is the norm.  We look at all of this and say, "I can't see how this will turn out well!"  But God can!

I heard the story of a cat that was relocated by a nasty neighbor.  The owner looked and looked and finally found out a general area where the cat was taken.  She posted fliers, she rode through the neighborhood, she looked in nearby woods, she put out food, but nothing happened.  Oh ... she did one more thing ... she prayed.  Six weeks passed and it seemed that all, including the cat, was lost.  Then she made one last trip and prayed one last prayer ... "If the cat isn't here I know I have to stop looking ... but Lord, please help!"  She heard a meow and walking toward her was the cat, a bit worn and frazzled, but very alive.  To her the cat was lost ... but God can find things!

Here are the words from Nehemiah 4:1-2 "When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”  People can't see past the rubble, the brokenness, the trouble, the obstacles and the ruins.  But God can!

There is a beautiful song with the words ... "When the mountains fall, and the tempest roars, you are with me ... when creation folds, still my soul will soar in your mercy, I'll walk through the fire with my head lifted high and my spirit revived in your story, and I'll look to the cross as my failure is lost, in the light of your glorious grace ... "  The song is called Glorious Ruins and it reminds me of the walls of Jerusalem, fallen, broken and waiting for a God who can revive and restore them.  It reminds me of a lost cat and the lost hope of a woman.  It reminds me of a nation of people who see ruins and wonder "will the stones come back to life!?"  We can't see the hope, the rebuilding or the restoration ... but God can!  Nehemiah had hope, faith and he told the naysayers ... "The God of heaven will give us success!"  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Adaptation

This week I have been reflecting on several things.  Last Wednesday John Riley spoke on Nehemiah and how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days ... pretty impressive!  In a time when we must restore and rebuild some important stuff, how can we learn from Nehemiah's example?  What are the traits of a nation that allow us to survive and even thrive amid centuries of strife?  What things, in our Church, allow us to grow stronger, better and even more effective in the midst of these same issues?

I will spend the next few weeks talking about the traits of a nation and a Church that has endured through all the things life has sent our way.  The first of the traits is the ability to adapt.

Last week I left Abbeville on Thursday so I could get up at the crack of dawn and fish.  When I periodically make this trip to Florida, there are always things that are in flux.  I have lawn work and chores, so I need to make sure I take the time to get those things done.  Sometimes Lee has things she has planned, so those plans go into the mix.  Weather, especially in the summer, is a moving target with rain, wind and heat.  If I plan to fish, I need to get live bait, and it isn't always available at the bait store ... sometimes I have to catch my own bait.  If I plan to get some down time and make use of my work time, I need to be willing to adapt.

In Nehemiah's day, he entered Jerusalem by the King's permission.  He didn't know what to expect.  He found enemies, stubborn Jews, and other obstacles that blocked him in accomplishing what looked like an impossible task.  This, unfortunately, is more the norm than smooth sailing.  In nature and in life we are often forced to change and adapt to things that happen.  Bad people do bad things.  Good people fail.  We are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Something happens in Asia and we find ourselves scrambling to adapt.  At our best, we do what Nehemiah did ... we seek God, we follow God and we shine our light at the darkest moments.

What did Nehemiah do?  He prayed for success.  He planned for the work ahead.  He assessed the work in real time.  He expected opposition and was prepared.  He persisted in spite of obstacles.  He 'got er done!'

As I thought about Nehemiah's ability to adapt, I thought of how many people have found new and effective ways of doing their work in the midst of a pandemic.  Many are working from home and have found it efficient, cheaper than the alternative, much better for the environment and often better for their employer.  They adapted.

I hope each of you will help me do a better job of adapting to our current situation.  While I have received advice ranging from the extreme of business as usual to total closure, we, as a congregation, have chosen to adapt.  We prayed.  We planned.  We assessed what needed to be done and made some changes.  We expected opposition and got what we expected.  We hope we have persisted.  We pray we have and will continue to 'get er done.'

I received a note from one of our people about 2nd service resuming last week.  The person was grateful for the resumption of 2nd service and complimented the music and the service.  I am thankful for all who were part of this restart.  I know we will need to be ready to tweak what we are doing and adapt to the situation on the ground.  But if we pray, plan, assess, expect, persist and proceed, I believe God will bless our actions.  And, of course, nothing ever happens like you plan it ... so you adapt!  Randy

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reset

A few weeks back, Lee had a problem with our water heater in Freeport.  I remembered it had happened before, and thought I knew what was wrong.  A storm had caused a power surge and the water heater had shut down.  The solution (the last time this happened) was to hit the red reset button on the unit.  Sure enough, it took longer to move the washer and dryer to access the water heater, than it did to hit that little button and have hot water again.

I think many of us would like to hit the reset button on 2020.  Chaos, vicious partisan politicians, political correctness, people destroying things that they do not own (anarchy), bipartisan narcissism and (not to be forgotten) that little pandemic, have all caused our world to be changed.  We need a reset button, but who is worthy to push it?

Yesterday our praise team sang He Is Worthy, which tells the story of the lamb (by the way, even God isn't embarrassed to refer to Himself as a sheep) who is worthy of opening the scroll in heaven (Revelation, Chapter 5).  The song is moving and beautiful.  The words from Revelation reminded me of something that needed to reset in my brain, so I write the words below more as an essay than my usual blog.  I hope you will be patient with me!

First, on the eve of our nation's birthday, I believe we do need a reset, but who is worthy of hitting that button?  Not arrogant politicians who use every calamity for their political leverage to further divide us.  Not people who try to use the mask issue to divide even the church.  Not angry mobs who just want to destroy and be angry.  Not wanna-be statesmen who use angry words and call them 'passion' to get our attention.  I believe that there is only one chosen, ordained, worthy entity that can push that little button.  That entity is the Church ... the same church that many are co-opting for their shallow political purposes.  Let's not allow that to happen!  Let's be worthy of hitting that button in the name of the lamb who is worthy of opening the scroll!

Second (and I am hoping to shear the sheep here ... not slaughter them) I think there is a way we can enact this reset.  I plan to try this plan on Wednesday and Sunday as we do something very traditional to reset our anger, redirect real passion toward good things, rethink our idea of what Church ought to be, and restore our love for one another ... all of us!  That plan will be simple ... we will remember the sacrifice of that worthy lamb from Revelation, and we will re-say that liturgy that brings us down off our high horses and onto our knees.  We will remember the mystery of faith ... "Christ has died ... Christ has risen ... Christ will come again."  We will remember the one who gave us great advice when he said ... "Remember me!"  We will think of the night he took bread, broke it and gave it to all the people in the room.  We will reflect on Jesus taking the cup and offering a new covenant of His blood, poured out for all of the misbehaving sheep ... for forgiveness and the grace God offers us (even me!).  We will commune with people who come in submission to a God smarter, higher and more forgiving that we ever deserve.  We will ask God to lead us to be worthy of His trust as we follow the Good Shepherd to a place our souls can be restored.

Finally, I will pray for some things to happen that will enact our acceptance of this great responsibility to be the agents of resetting us back on the path of God's Great Purpose (Exodus 19) ... "to bring us to Himself."  We are the Christ-followers that can lead here!  So many are asking why government can't get a handle on the chaos, the pandemic, the fighting within and without our great country?  They ask why their lives are filled with anger against even those fellow Christians who are more or less cautious in these times?  Then ... I remember Jesus' love, grace and power that can and (if we allow it) will bring us to our knees in unity and purpose.  That Jesus is the God of the preaching martyr Stephen who gave his life for his faith ... the God of the arrogant Saul who sat blind and stunned at God's accusation that Saul was persecuting God and God's Church ... the God of cautious Ananias of Damascus (part of the scattered Church that hid for awhile and wanted nothing to do with Saul) ... the God of John Riley, Randy Greene, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, and even those nasty Democrats and Republicans.

Who is worthy of hitting that reset button and calling each of us to accountability for how childishly we have behaved during this time?  The Lamb, through the Church that He has given authority and power and His Spirit.  Let's all ask forgiveness.  Let's all claim grace.  Let's all share the beauty of these gifts with a nation who asks God to "shed His grace on thee!"  Let's follow the commission to take Jesus' message everywhere.  Let's not forget God's overreaching purpose to bring us all "to Himself."  AMEN

Monday, June 22, 2020

Followship

There are presidential election politics.  There is chaos at the national and local level.  Law enforcement is under fire.  You don't need me to tell you any of these things ... they have been shoved into our faces for months.  But today, I want to embark on some good news ... something we/you can do.  I want to talk about a 'ship' we fail to stress.  It is called followship.

It seems Jesus said 'follow me' around 23 times.  It must be important.  While we hear people talking about a dearth of leadership, I think one of our greatest failings is lack of followship.  Why is this?  Glad you asked!

First, we must choose whom to follow.  Ezekiel 34 says "woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves ..."  It also says "they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field."  Jesus was said to be moved with compassion because (Matthew 9:36) "they were distressed and dispirited because they were like sheep without a shepherd."  I have watched people follow their favorite political figures, conspiracy theories, football teams, actors, musicians and charismatic speakers.  All the while I believe Jesus is beckoning, "Follow me."  Paul said that the only truth he could preach is Christ and Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  Paul's ability to write, lead and plant churches was based on his focus on knowing who to follow.  He lived in a world of false shepherds.  We do too.  Jesus says, "Follow me!"

Second, we must choose the right voice.  Jesus told His disciples ... "My sheep listen to my voice.  They know me and they follow me (John 10:27)."  There are lots of voices.  Many are passionate and committed to their cause.  But Jesus says we should listen for HIS voice in the ever-changing chorus of messages.  We know Jesus' voice by knowing Him.  We know Jesus' voice by learning about the things He did and the things He taught.  Many of these things are wonderful and beautiful.  Many of these things are hard and counter-culture.  But they are Jesus' voice.  We are the sheep of His pasture.  In the mess of this world, listen for Jesus' voice.  It will "lead you beside still waters and it will restore your soul."  Choose Jesus' voice.

Finally, we must actually follow our Good Shepherd.  We say we choose Him.  We sing "Where He leads me I will follow!" But we find ourselves focused on false shepherds and ideologies that are not the voice of the Good Shepherd.  In Ezekiel 34 God makes a promise.  God says, "They shall know that I am the Lord when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hand of those that enslaved them (Eze. 34:27)."  When we put one foot in front of the other, when we listen, and when we embark on the journey led by the Good Shepherd, we are promised a blessing.  I believe that blessing is the very presence and leadership of God.

We live in a land of false shepherds.  They have long lived off the sheep.  They have, for political, economic and cultural reasons, been willing to feed us to the predators that fill our land and our TV screens.  It is time.  Time to choose to follow Jesus.  Time to listen to Jesus.  Time to take those steps that will lead us to the still waters, the restored soul and to follow our leader.  We have lots of leaders, which John Riley says are people with influence over others.  We have directions and voices galore, all experts in telling us how to do life.  We have passionate and emotional pleas that touch us and woo us to react.  And we have Jesus who says, "Follow me!"  Twila Paris sums it up ... "I don't know where to go from here, but I've already made my choice.  So this is where I stand, until He moves me on, and I will listen to His voice."