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."  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Childish Things

Do you ever read a Bible passage and wonder why it appears in the place it does?  There is such a passage embedded in the "love chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13.  Yes ... that's the passage that talks about how love is beautiful and difficult.  Beautiful because it is forgiving, non-judgmental, enduring and eternal.  Difficult because it requires the lover to be forgiving, non-judgmental, persistent, faithful and long-suffering.  In the middle of this wonderful expression of what love is like, Paul seems to 'chase a rabbit' about seeing clearly and growing up.  Why does this suddenly appear and why is it relevant to life on June 15th, 2020?  Here's my take.

There are at least three things happening here. The first thing is Paul's reflection about how we see and have knowledge in this world.  In the midst of people shouting protests, their politicized solutions, their reactive actions, I wonder if Paul is reminding us how we don't naturally see things like we should.  We don't see as clearly as our partisan politics imply.  We don't understand as clearly as our ideologies profess.  We must learn and be taught to go beyond our reactions to reflection and response.  What does God's word say about this?  Would God be honored if we react out of passion or would God be more honored if we loved Him with our mind and actually stopped reasoning like a child (1 Cor. 13:11)?  All of the people I see on TV and many who I meet in community are plenty passionate about their position.  If passion is the litmus test for solutions and reasoning, why are so many of God's people reaching such vastly different solutions?  The first four verses of 1 Corinthians 13 tell us that expressing life vigorously and passionately without the motive of love are only empty sounds meaning nothing.  Maybe passion that is not informed by Jesus' words isn't the be-all-end-all we have been told?  Philippians 2:5 says to "put on the mind of Christ!"  That mind will not be divided, divisive or destructive!  Realize we don't see as clearly as we think.  Suppress reaction. Engage reflection.  Implement a God-led response!

The second thing Paul's word reminds us is that we must actively give up the things that lack Christian maturity.  "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor. 13:11)."   Maybe Paul is saying that growing up takes energy, effort, long-suffering, non-judgment and faithfulness (did you see how I cleverly connected this to the 1st part of 1 Cor. 13 ... or maybe that's why these words are together).  Childish ways come naturally and we see it reflected all over the nation today.  Maturity takes actively giving up our childish reasoning so we can go deeper into a love that endures.

The third thing is to acknowledge that we only know in part.  We are not experts on solutions.  So ... how will we love, endure and keep our perspective during the difficult days ahead?  We look at some last words in John's Gospel that remind us that we will have frustrations about what happens to others, but that we have a solid foundation upon which to base our actions.  It is not feelings.  It is not passion (all of the people spouting their pet philosophies are very passionate).  It is not politics.  In John 21 Jesus tells Peter ... "Follow!"  In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul expresses/warns us of a world that will profess wisdom and call Christ's words "foolish."  Paul says that "The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25)."  One of the childish things we must give up is the reliance on thinking and reasoning as children.  That is what the world does ... what we do is follow, put on the mind of Jesus, and we (in humility) struggle toward a mature love for God, others and ourselves.  That's my take ... what do you think?  Randy

Monday, June 8, 2020

Failed, Forgiven, Fit

I was listening to a message from one of my favorite pastors this morning.  It was Dr. Tony Evans from Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.  Dr. Evans has always been a person I could go to for a good word in times of crisis.  Some of you have even seen him on video at our first service when he has appeared to give us some wisdom or perspective.  His voice has always been an eloquent but powerful path to the heart of issues we face.  We need that voice today.

As I listened to Dr. Evans' message I thought about next Sunday.  We will have our first official "all swim" (everyone can come) service since services have been suspended due to the pandemic (some of you don't like that word, but bear with me here).  This Sunday we will not only meet, worship, pray and fellowship in a physically-distanced atmosphere ... we will embrace a time of communion together.  I am praying it will be a blessing, and I am sure that blessing will come if we all remember 3 things.

First, we need to, in humility and reflection, remember that we are broken.  Paul said (Romans 3:23) "we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  I think Paul is reminding us what we will say in our communion liturgy ... "we have failed to be an obedient church and we have not heard the cry of the needy."  Dr. Evans is consistent that he believes the Church must be the front line in inviting the kingdom of God into our society.  We do this by becoming known for how we love others, how we invite people of all walks of life into the life of the Church, how Sunday morning becomes less culturally/racially/politically/doctrinally divided and more focused on life together in the Kingdom of God.  We say and see this phrase of brokenness in our communion liturgy because Paul was right ... we fall short of God's glory that He has planned for us.  His plan is for the Church to be a place and agent of unity.  And when we fall short of God's plan, we must strive to correct, instruct, pray, interact and change.

Second, in order to grasp and grow into God's Kingdom people we must agree with God that we are forgiven.  "For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 14:24)."  We will hear these words Sunday, but until we allow them to happen, we miss the confidence and boldness of living in God's Kingdom.  When the early church gathered those first days, they were excited because they heard Jesus' words from the upper room and from the cross.  "Father, forgive them!"  If we desire God to come into our lives, our churches and our communities, we must grasp that our newness of life is based on the foundation of forgiveness.  We receive Jesus' forgiveness.  We allow forgiveness of ourselves, though it is humanly difficult to do this.  We pass on this forgiveness to others as we become the Church ... new creations ... different than we were ... and better than we were.  Because we are living in a new Kingdom!

Finally, we must accept that we are fit for God's work.  This is hard, and this takes giving up some things that are precious to us.  When we receive God's forgiveness, when we allow us to forgive ourselves and when we become Christlike and pass that forgiveness on to other folks, we become fit to be the Church that can (and I believe will) change the world.  Dr. Evans rightly believes that our nation, our communities and our world will not change because we elect "better" or different leaders.  If we have not grasped that then we are blind to the recurrence of the same social issues for (at least) my lifetime.  Political, governmental, social and economic systems have come and gone.  Dr. Evans believes that until the Church begins to live in God's Kingdom, all of those systems will not change.  And we live in that Kingdom by knowing God, loving God and loving people in a way that sees them as created in the image of God.  ALL of them.  ALL of us.

I hope to see you Sunday.  We will be instructed by God's Word.  How we will arrive is fallen.  What we will learn is we are forgiven.  How we will leave, I pray, is fit for the work God has planned.  May we go as those willing to live in God's Kingdom.  Randy

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