Sunday, November 10, 2019

FOR

I like this word, especially when we have so much negativity swirling around us.  So many causes.  So many victims.  So much negativity (and I can get caught up in that).  I prayed this morning for God to deliver us from all of the 'isms' that divide us.  And, as I walked with my friends Freddie and Tanner on Saturday I thought of this little word ... FOR.

If you watch talk TV you will quickly find out what people are against.  It seems that shrill voices speak out against almost everything.  Jesus reminded us that one of those things was His followers.  In John 17:14 Jesus says that "I have given them your word and the world has hated them."  Yes ... we are opposed, persecuted and even hated.  This world is against us because powers, principalities and evil forces cannot tolerate who we worship and what we represent.  But as we walked Saturday I am sure people thought we were marching because we were against something.  We weren't!

So we started thinking ... how could we turn this negativity around?  My idea was a T-shirt that said FOR ...  Family Of the Redeemer.  It may not be the best acronym ever, but I hope you can catch on to the general concept.  What if we became known for what we are for?  What if we claimed as family everyone who called on the name of Jesus as their Lord, Savior and Redeemer?  Would that have a power to change our community, our neighborhoods, our State and our Country?

If you haven't figured this out, we have some massive problems, and many stem from our national pension (and respect) for stubbornness over listening and ideology over our Christian faith.  James reminds us that 'faith without works is dead' (James 2:14).  And this aspect of our faith (love as Jesus has loved) is vital if Jesus is going to become an ever growing and positive part of life in America.

What are you for? What am I for?  What did Jesus call us to be for?  What say you?  Randy

Monday, November 4, 2019

Center

In the second half ... after Half Time ... we/I/you must begin to consider what is really central to life itself.  Jesus knew this.  He made several statements that challenged us to decide what is really central.  He confirmed that the most important commandment is to love God, others and (with painful honesty) ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39) LOVE.  He said that if we were to come after (follow) Him we must decide the cross we must bear for Him (Matthew 10:38) LIFT. He said we must look to Him and not look back at other things, responsibilities or excuses LOOK. And He said if we would follow Him we must leave the things that keep our hearts away from Him (Luke 18:22) LEAVE.  Loving, lifting, looking and leaving are central things to the mission God has planned out for us.

There is an interesting thing happening in the rap/hip hop world.  Kanye West, noted for music, bad-boy comments and some pretty bizarre outbursts, has (in his words) changed.  He has decided to follow Jesus and has even published a 9th album called Jesus is King (true whether Kanye says so or not).  On a talk show he was asked whether he was a Christian artist. Kanye replied "I am a Christian everything!"  While I know exactly nothing about West, his music or his passion for Jesus, I truly love this answer.  Kanye West is, at least in words, drawing a line in the sand that describes what is now central in his life.  He expresses love, work (our daily heavy lifting), seeing (what he looks for/at every day) and (in his response to the talk show question) what he is leaving.  Paul summed all of this up in 2 Cornithians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come!"  That is the gist of deciding what is central to our lives.

Over the past few weeks I have shared a few stories of the Iranian Church.  It is an amazing story of visions, discipleship, redemption, danger and God's power in the midst of oppression we, here in America, cannot even imagine.  God's Spirit is changing people in very unorthodox ways.  While doctrine, church polity and the normal process of inviting people 'to' church are largely ignored, people are asked if they would like to learn about a God of love, grace, light and life?  People do not enter as converts but as seekers who may, at a later point, become followers, after knowing the cost of discipleship and the story of Jesus.  They are taught, as Matthew 28 says, to follow and obey the things that Jesus said.  And they are choosing Jesus in droves, even knowing that this God is one who 1) loves all, 2) leads us to lift a cross (a burden He says is an easy, light yoke), 3) points us to a life of looking to Jesus as our center and 4) calls us to leave things that are toxic to our faith.  And, like Kanye West, they are saying "I am a Christian everything" who chooses the inconvenience and danger of meeting with broken people who are different, high-maintenance and hard-shelled.  It amazes me!  How about you?  Randy

Monday, October 28, 2019

Epitaph

"Something by which a person or event will be remembered." That is the definition of epitaph.  It is a good word.  A reverent word.  A word that is sometimes not well-documented in a funeral service.  It is a reminder of goodness and grace and the eternal impact of love, life and God.

November 3rd shouldn't be best known for the day when (at 2 am) we set the clock back and get that extra hour of sleep.  This November 3rd is All Saints Sunday when we remember names, faces, and (more importantly) lives of people who have passed away during the previous year.  It is both somber and celebratory.  The names will be read and at communion we will remember the greatest life ever lived, poured out for you and all who call upon the saving name of Jesus.  We will have lots to remember!

In Bob Buford's book Half Time the word epitaph is used as a reflection.  Buford invites each of us to ask the question, "What would we like to be remembered for?"  I think of two passages when I mentally stroll down the path of reflection of my life and the lives of others.  They are 1 Peter 2:5 "you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." and Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."  Both have lots to say as we reflect upon life and love.

We often hear these passages and apply them to the living, and I believe this is a good practice.  Both verses are guidelines about how we do life.  None of us fully achieve them.  None of us perfectly reflect them.  But all of us who claim Christ are called to these lofty life-practices.

In a private reflection I called "Left Unsaid" I reflected on a person who left us about 2 years ago.  The words below never made it to the funeral and I am sad and disappointed at my inadequacy there.  While in the life of David Hearndon there was incredible pain, severe depression and daily struggle, there was a goodness that transcended these debilitating difficulties.  Our community was and is blessed by David's kind generosity that sought to make us all better.  David loved and sought peace and loved that theme in the song Imagine.  I think he struggled with the 'whys' of life but persisted through the hurt as he was a faithful friend and business partner, a person who acted with fairness and a man who loved his children and grandchildren, even when he was in unbearable pain.  I remember the gentleness he expressed one evening as we sat across the table and ate fresh-caught bass and, for a few moments, escaped the struggles of life.  And every time I play a song on my guitar I remember David and Maribeth's generosity as they helped significantly in replacing my guitar that was stolen (a little part of every song contains that generosity).  So while that 'joy' did not come easy, David bore much fruit and he was and is a beautiful 'living stone' here in Abbeville.

In 1 Peter these two words 'living stone' are often glossed-over.  But the meaning of these two words are expressed in monuments marking milestones ... even grave markers.  In 1 Samuel 7:13-14 Samuel uses a stone marker to commemorate the Lord's help in the battle.  God's Word says, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and named it ebeneezer saying, 'thus far the Lord has helped us.'"  When we live life expressing the fruit of the Spirit (even when we doubt and even when life hurts) we are a living stone saying that in spite of a lost world, in spite of evil, in spite of pain, in spite of infirmity, in spite of loss, and in spite of all that evil sends against us, love, beauty, good, family, friendships, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and God's good things can and will persist. In this life and past this life our gravestone becomes an 'ebeneezer' that God has been there to help us.  For as Romans 8 proclaims, nothing (even death) will ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  AMEN

Monday, October 21, 2019

Belief and Blindness

The Bible is full of stories and examples of belief.  Most of these stories present some sense of struggle as people wrestle with the many aspects of believing in God.  Jonah struggled with a God who would send him to proclaim the demise of Nineveh and then forgive the entire bunch.  Jeremiah struggled with the depravity and idol worship of a people who he knew God still loved deeply.  Isaiah struggled with describing the bigness of a God who became small enough to become a suffering servant that gave His life for people like you and me.  And in the Gospel of John we find the struggle to understand blindness (physical and spiritual).

In Bob Buford's book Half Time Buford reflects about how belief and sight are essential to being fully engaged in the game.  If you watch sports you will find the talking heads speak about belief.  They don't always know they are doing it, but they talk about a team that has lost its way.  Yesterday they said this about the Atlanta Falcons (now with a 1-5 record).  I apologize for bringing this up to any of my Atlanta fans, but being real and honest is part of seeing and believing.  In the case of the Falcons, they have talent, maybe the best receiver in football (Julio Jones) and a great quarterback (Matt Ryan).  But as the announcers talked about the overall team they said two things ... "the coach has lost the locker room" and "they have lost their belief in the teams leadership."  So ... let's talk about belief and blindness.

First, belief is important to Jesus.  John 3:16 says ... "For God so loved the world that He gave His only, begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  Belief is important.  The words here don't refer to a shallow, passing whim of belief.  They mean belief into the plan, the purpose and the power of God.  If you are struggling with belief, do you trust, rely on and truly believe in God's leadership going forward in the person of Jesus?

Second, sight is important to Jesus.  In John 9 Jesus restores the sight of a man born blind and Jesus is clear to describe why this healing happened.  The disciples are told that the man is not blind because of something he or others had done.  Jesus restores the sight of the man so the 'works of God will be displayed.'  God is doing works in our midst.  Sometimes these are hard to see.  Other times we are just not looking.  God desires us to see His works on display.  Some of you might say that a beautiful sunset or a stark mountain view are manifestations of the 'artist' that painted those wonders, and I would have to agree.  But I think we most often marvel at natural beauty and miss supernatural beauty.  We miss the miracle of a young man saying 'I'm all in" to God's program ... 'put me in coach!'  We don't view the miracle of interactions with friends, family and our church as 'beauty,' 'grace,' 'presence' and 'power' of God.  We somehow place Jesus somewhere off in the future and don't see God's kingdom in the next pew over.  In John 9, Jesus is expressing God's plan for us to have restored sight!

Finally, the spiritual is important to Jesus.  We are (as one author said) spiritual beings having a human experience.  John 9 is as much about the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees as it is about restoring the sight of a man born blind.  At the end of the story the man born blind sees just fine, while the Pharisees remain sightless to the presence of the Son of God (the one in whom our belief brings everlasting life).  How is your spiritual vision?  Do you see beyond the black and white daily routine to the beautiful colors of God's kingdom?  Have you gone to the pool of Siloam (the word means 'sent') and returned seeing, sensing, seeking, serving and shouting the praises of the God who gave you that sight?  Will you respond to those who see you have changed in the same way the blind man responded ... "I was blind, but now I see!."

In Scripture belief and blindness are two sides of the same coin.  They are way too close for comfort.  Do we buy into the plan of the coach, or are we lost and blind, wandering through the game of life with only our wits, our wisdom and our own way?  That is the question in John 9 ... and that is the question for you and me.  As for me, 'put me in coach ... I'm ready to play!'  Randy

Monday, October 14, 2019

Taking Stock

Chapter 7 of Bob Buford's book, Halftime, is about taking stock of life.  He recommends several actions which will help us take stock by getting our heads and ourselves out of the rat race and into Hebrew's (12:1) "race God has set before us."   Buford says make peace, take (and value) time, be deliberate, share life, be honest, have faith and be patient.  All of these are good and worthy of a morning or two to reflect and process.  But I think Dennis Kinlaw (professor at Asbury Seminary) hit the key to being able to do all of these things in a reflection about life and evil.  Kinlaw said, "Satan disguises submission to himself under the ruse of personal autonomy.  He never asks us to become his servants.  Never once did the serpent say to Eve, 'I want to be your master.'  The shift in commitment is never from Christ to evil.  It is always Christ to self.  And instead of his will, self-interest now rules and what I want reigns.  And THAT is the essence of sin."  WOW!!!!

So ... here is my advice to me, you, all of us.  Let go of self, ego, my way, my heart, my direction, my control ... what I have defined as me. Remember how evil operates (Genesis 3:1-7).  People are portrayed as smart and self-reliant.  God is portrayed as being a liar desiring control of 'our' destiny.  Satan is portrayed as being 'wise.'  Satan turns Adam and Eve toward self and toward finding THEIR destiny.  God, knowing the answer already, asks Adam a question later in the chapter ... "Where are you?"  He might have asked ... "Adam, are you still here, living in My garden that I have provided, or are you off finding YOUR destiny?"  "Do you want to be LIKE Me (master of all you see) or do you want to be like you (a being created for God's glory and God's purpose)?" Let go of your/my ego!

Kinlaw's observation is interestingly relevant to some cutting edge science being used to deal with anxiety.  Several researchers are using psychedelic means to deal with anxiety are finding that losing anxiety is accompanied by a loss of ego.  It seems that the loss of ego (through very chemically-technical events in the brain) might result from having an experience that takes the person totally out of control, ensuring that they see their own smallness in how things really work.  I am certainly not condoning using psychedelic drugs but I have known people who would try anything to get rid of anxiety and depression.  For most of us, however, we might just be able to learn from the example of Adam and Eve.  If we want to truly take stock of where we are at halftime, we must lose our ego.  We must be honest with ourselves.  We must trust in something/someone bigger than our meager self.  We must see our smallness and how God's bigness is our path to significance.  We must embrace, see, shout and celebrate one of the most freeing things we can learn in life ... "It's not about me!"

Those 4 words (with one contraction) are the key to taking stock.  If God is the master and I am the follower, I now have a Scripturally-defined, important purpose.  In Genesis 2 God places Adam in the garden to 'tend it' and 'watch over it.'  Take stock ... how are you doing this?  Is it YOUR garden or God's garden?  Lose the ego ... grab on to all God has for you!  That's my advice!  Randy

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Realm of God

It is halftime and you realize you haven't really been engaged in the game.  You thought you knew what the scoreboard signified ... success, winning, attention, money, recognition.  But as you reflect and honestly ask 'how am I really doing?' you realize that the game, the score and the assessments might be very off target.  This is the scenario Bob Buford faced as his beautiful, successful and promising son was lost in an accident in the Rio Grande.

Albert Einstein said, "what is incomprehensible is beyond the realm of science ... it is in the realm of God."  And this realm ... the realm/kingdom of God is where we (God's people, His children, His treasured possession) are called to live.  It is the most beautiful and dangerous place ever!

If you want to know what the Kingdom of God is 'like' you can dream, imagine, make up your own truth, or you can ask an authority on the subject ... Jesus.  In Matthew 13 Jesus provides 6 Kingdom Parables.  They are provided so we can learn and know about where God desires us to live ... but if you think they are easy, they are not.  If you think they are cute stories, they are not.  They are insights that Jesus provides so we can work, think, reflect, ponder and struggle our way to understanding.  They are not science, but they are expressions of truth.  Five of the six begin with "The Kingdom of Heaven is like."

This week we will only take a snippet of truth from these parables.  Matthew 13:33 is the one-verse parable of the yeast.  There are three truths about the yeast.  First, it must be placed into the dough.  Second, a little goes a long way.  Finally, that little bit of yeast permeates the entire batch of bread.

The Kingdom parables all relate to God's action/activity in the world.  We are not deists who believe God is distant and disassociated with the world.  God claims this world (and everything in it, [Ps. 24:1, Matthew 28:18]).  God is active, baking the bread of life ... steering us and the entirety of existence toward His ultimate good purpose.  That is probably a challenging statement when we are confronted with a loss like the one Bob Buford faced.  But God is ultimately concerned with His Kingdom which, for God's people, is where we live now and later.  God is the 'baker' here.

I am really glad about the second part of this parable ... 'a little goes a long way.'  This morning, after a very bust week of Moonlighter-Madness I am pretty spent.  I don't have much to give, so my 'yeast' is pretty minimal.  I think the yeast in this parable represents our efforts, our goodness and our gifts we bring to the table.  For me this is not much.  But thankfully, the baker doesn't need much.  Because the Kingdom of Heaven (here and when we are with God) is a place where seed multiplies, wheat is grown among weeds, good fish are caught among bad fish, buried treasure is found in a field and pearls of great value are identified.  When we live in the kingdom our 'little' goes a long way.

Finally, the overall purpose of the parable is found in the treasure of how yeast works.  A little is placed in the dough.  It reproduces and multiplies while it is unseen.  The baker's design is that it permeates the entire loaf (the whole world).  It is not science.  It is incomprehensible that something that small will make the entire loaf beautiful, appetizing and perfect.  But it is how God works.  And it is our purpose as the 'yeast.'

"The Kingdom of Heaven is 'like' the yeast a woman used in making bread.  Even though she only put a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough. Matthew 13:33).

Monday, September 30, 2019

Paying Attention

Our 2nd week looking into Half Time activities will be spent paying attention.  In the book Half Time (Bob Buford) he said something that resonated with me.  Buford said, "I've not always paid attention to my life."  Sounds like a simple statement that could be made about most of us.  It sure fits me!  But shame on me for being so flippant about the beautiful gift of life!

In Matthew 16:2-3 Jesus comments about how we are concerned with the 'signs' that foretell the weather (which we can do little about) but we don't look around and pay attention to the signs of the times.  Maybe it's time we look around.

A new film recounts the underground church in Iran shows Muslims fleeing radical Islam and joining Christianity as the most rapidly-growing church movement in the world.  The church is mostly led by women who are observing and reacting to oppression, discrimination and gross-misinformation promulgating their plight.  These are the signs of our times.  And by the way ... the Church has always found a way to thrive in the depths of persecution and oppression.  I wonder if these places and times are where we shine our light most brightly!

Teachers and professors tell me that an increasing number of students cannot string together a series of sentences that form a coherent thought.  Interviewers tell me that people routinely show up for job interviews in shorts and t-shirts.  Parents tell me about young adults that are content to stay home, smoke pot and play on their phones and computers, rather than seeking work that will pay housing and living expenses.  Many cannot write a check or balance a checkbook.  These are the sings of the times.

Country concerts and even Justin Beiber events are being interrupted by overt and blatant worship of Jesus, about whom Beiber said, "Having trust in Jesus at your worst times is the absolute hardest, but He is faithful to complete what He started!"  These are the signs of the times.

People are complaining about politics, the environment, the medical industry, racism, self-help and depression, all of which are very real and very misunderstood.  Almost none of the information we receive about these societal issues are accurate and/or helpful.  Jesus was moved with compassion as He looked out on the multitudes (Matthew 9:36) and observed they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  These are the signs of our times.

Well ... we cant do much about the weather.  We can't control the flow of information from biased sources.  We CAN control our actions and choices.  And we CAN trust and rely on those places where God's Spirit is moving, working and doing great things.  We CAN even invite God's Spirit into our lives, our church, our homes, our actions and our community.  Sunday we will talk about ways this CAN happen right here in Abbeville!  Randy