Monday, March 30, 2020

Deployed

When you read this word you think of the military.  I have friends, family and loved ones who are or have been deployed.  They have left their safety net and have entered the fray of life in unfamiliar territory.  One of my members sent a graphic that said ... "The Church is not empty ... the Church is deployed!"  I love that!

On that 1st Palm Sunday Jesus had left the relative safety of traveling in rural Israel, away from Jewish leadership and Roman governance.  He had entered the place where a major battle ... the battle for our very souls, would take place.  He and 12 disciples were deployed, and they began to get an idea of what the real Church is like.  It is the Church that stood outside the very gates of hell, ready to claim Jesus' promise that it would somehow not be overcome.  None of the 12 really understood.

In one of my favorite movies, The Return of the King (J. R. R. Tolkien), Aragorn talks to his troops who are about to battle the enemy forces at the Black Gate.  He tells them about the fear he is feeling and his total faith that they will not faint or fail in the face of that fear.  They have been deployed for this purpose and this is their time to shine.

Over the next few weeks we will all have a chance to shine in this battle that is more spiritual than you think.  Maybe the battle is seeing past the enemy to blessings that are happening ... victories we don't even see.  One friend said, "I hope we never forget this time where cell phones and computers became tools for ministry ... where we recaptured the beauty and blessing of the outdoors ... where homes became places where we prayed daily ... where our children became real people to us again ... where a phone call wasn't an annoyance but was a meaningful connection ... where checking on a friend became urgent and appreciated ... where Scripture became real to us ... where we remembered the sacrifice of our Savior ... where every moment of life became precious."  Add to this list what you will!  But remember ... we are deployed into the territory of the enemy.  We have been given many tools to overcome, taught to us by our Master.  Jesus is teaching us to 1) get past our fears ... 2) embrace those Jesus has given us to love ... 3) rely on Jesus' example of sacrificial love ... 4) use this time to grow ... 5) allow Jesus to teach us the lessons of life, love and grace ... 6) remember that we are deployed to do Jesus' work ... 7) never forget that the very gates of Hell will not overcome us if we trust and follow Jesus!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sacrifice

The word "sacrifice" is an oft-used and little-understood word in our culture. We use it in that flippant way we also use the word love, as if nothing is really holy anymore.  In the Cambridge Dictionary it says sacrifice is "the act of giving up something that is valuable to you in order to help someone else."  In the biblical sense the idea is that true sacrifice is an act that transforms what is offered into something that is "holy" or "sacred."

So ... how do we redeem this time when we are prone to watch too much TV, worry too much or just melt into little heaps of tearful flesh?  We consider and apply sacrifice.  Here are a few points:

1. None of what is happening is about us.  It will affect us.  It could even be devastating to some of us.  It will certainly impact our world.  In my lifetime I have never seen anything change life in such a short period of time. We must realize that this is a time and place in history when our individual actions impact people beyond ourselves.  It is not about us ... but our sacrifice can help others.  Our behavior can, in how we love others more that our "wants", become our sacrifice to do our part to help.

2. A question.  When, in life, do we as God's people have more of a chance to change the world and make it better than when we have the chance to "make sacred" something that (if left alone) spreads evil throughout our world?  This is in our wheelhouse as Christians!  This is what we are all about ... doing stuff that helps people beyond ourselves and telling people (through our actions) that we care about them!

3. We are in the season of Lent, the 40 days before Holy Week.  It is likely that our Easter will be impacted by what is happening around us.  But isn't Easter and every Sunday morning all about a God that loved us so much that He gave His life as a sacrifice for us?  The holiest being in the universe acts in a way that makes possible a heavenly destination for all of us who live, struggle, work and strive in this place we call the world.  As sacred as His life was (and is) Jesus makes it even more sacred by giving up Himself for the forgiveness of sins.  "For God so loved the world [this means all folks] that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life."  Because our leader was a person of sacrifice, so must we be!

I am working on plans to remember Jesus' sacrifice in a very special way.  Those plans are moving forward with the help of many wonderful workers.  While our nation, our state and our community asks for us to make some hard sacrifices, maybe we should view this as a chance for God's people to shine, be a solution and be light in our current dark circumstances.  This is what we were made for! It is our destiny!  Randy

Monday, March 16, 2020

A God Like That


The old song says “People Need The Lord” and, at times like these, that is an understatement.  We need Jesus every day, but I believe the number of people looking up at Him at this time in history is vastly multiplied.  On Sunday I said, “What a week!”  I think every week for a while we may be saying those words.  We are in the midst of a storm.  The storm is medical.  The storm in financial.  The storm is emotional.  The storm is filled with scary things.  And no matter how you try, the storm seems to thunder with a new twist multiple times every day.

I want you to, as we share the stories of Jesus, remember some things Jesus said and did regarding storms.  The first thing is pretty simple.  In Matthew 8:23-27 there is a trip planned.  The disciples get into the boat and Jesus gets into the boat with them.  Lesson 1 is, Jesus is in the boat with us.  His Spirit is living in us.  His presence is with us.  There is nothing about the experience of the storm that Jesus doesn’t see, feel and encounter.  He knows what is going on!

The second thing about the storm is that Jesus is calm.  He tells His disciples, “why are you so afraid?”  I love the way Matthew states this.  He doesn’t say “why are you afraid?”  Storms do scare people.  Storms are loud, unpredictable and dangerous.  There are reasons for at least some level of fear.  But don’t be so afraid that you lose faith in the God that created the heavens and the earth.  We are all concerned … but we don’t have to be irrational.  I am in conversation with several of our church leaders who are helping me plan for the days ahead.  Some have ministry ideas.  Some have creative ideas on how our services will continue.  Some want to make sure people are aware of their responsibility to give.  Some are asking, how can we take a missional view of the storm?  We have many good and faithful people, and I am thankful for them.  I would like to say I could sleep through the storm like Jesus did, but I will be able to sleep tonight because Jesus is right here in the boat with me.

Finally, I take heart in the knowledge of the ending of the story.  Jesus calmed the storm.  He has calmed storms for centuries, including storms far worse than the one we face today.  The disciples said, “What kind of man is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him?”  In the song, So Will I the writer says …
if the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
We worship a God who commands the wind and the waves.  We can trust Him.  We will weather the storm and maybe, just maybe, we will be able, as Jesus’ warriors, to stare the evil forces at work in all of this and say … “We are the storm!”  Randy

Monday, March 9, 2020

Do Likewise


These seem like benign words.  Jesus uses this phrase to end the parable of the good Samaritan.  But they are only slightly less difficult than when Jesus said … “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect! (Matthew 5:28)” But Jesus says clearly, as instruction to followers and those who believe they perfectly understand God’s laws … “Go and do likewise! (Luke 10:37)”  What could He possibly mean?

When I was a layperson in the church we attended in Ooltewah, Tennessee, I was using Warren Wiersbe’s “BE” series commentaries.  They were wonderful little thoughts about the Gospels and gave a clear and active perspective of how to take God’s Word and apply it.  So, I am going to channel pastor Wiersbe for a bit and give you a few “BE” ideas about the parable of the Good Samaritan.

1.      Be observant – Every day I find myself in a very bad place of focusing on my stuff and ignoring the needs of others.  The Good Samaritan saw.  He saw a person … not a hated Samaritan.  He saw a need … not something that ruined his plans for the day.  He saw hurt … not a violation of the law.  Be observant!

2.      Be compassionate – It is hard, in this busy world, to be compassionate.  We are tempted to rationalize that the needy person is needy because of their flawed lifestyle.  We are tempted to see the ethnicity of the person and walk on the other side of the road.  We might even be looked down by others because we have helped another person that didn’t meet our community standards.  Still, there is that command … “Go thou and do likewise!”  Be compassionate.
3.      Be helpful - The movement from compassionate to helpful is the move from passive to active.  It is moving from our ability to see and transcend ourselves to our ability to act on that transcendence and do some good for another person.  Be helpful.

4.      Be invested – Helping is sometimes costly.  It takes time, effort, money and a little bite out of our life.  That is annoying unless you realize where that “life” came from.  Your life is, if you are called Christian, given to another.  It is the person who said … “Go thou and do likewise.”  Be invested.

5.      Be complete - I have a tendency to only help people a little … only as much as it makes me feel good or justified.  Remember that the person asking Jesus the question here (the expert in the law) asked the question to justify himself.  The Good Samaritan went the full mile in helping the man attacked by robbers.  He picked him up, nursed his wounds, gave him what he needed to heal, put him up in a hotel, paid for his room and board, and made sure that the help carried on till it was complete.  This man was NOT a quitter.  He was truly the GOOD Samaritan.  Be complete!

Be observant, be compassionate, be helpful, be invested and be complete.  Then you can say “I did it!” to Jesus who said, “Go thou and do likewise!”  Randy

Monday, March 2, 2020

Pardoned While Powerless

I have often marveled that Jesus comes to me at those times when my options have run out.  This may be because I tend to look for Him when I have no other options ... my bad!  It also might be because I am too often self sufficient (a lie I tell myself) and too seldom not God-sufficient.  In either case, I am resolving that this year's Lent will be a time when I rely on God and seek him, even when I feel particularly powerless.

Fact is, I am often quite powerless over the things going on.  I can wash my hands, refrain from touching my face, and take hygiene-related precautions, but I can do little else about the coronavirus.  I can turn off the TV when political ads invade my privacy, but I can't stop the candidates from using disgusting tactics in their campaigns.  In all of these things I feel powerless.  But there is a person in Scripture who was so much more powerless!

In Luke 23:43, Jesus hangs on a cross between two criminals.  One of them (verse 39) insulted Jesus and shouted "save yourself and us."  The other said, (verse 42) "remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Both were powerless, far beyond my lack of power and influence.  They were about to die, and were in the process of dying a horrible death.  They had lost all rights, all dignity and almost all hope.  They were powerless.  What can we learn from them?

First, we can realize that we are powerless just like them.  We can make good choices.  We can take every precaution.  We can go to church, read our Bible and say all the cliches.'  But we cannot save ourselves.  Only one has the power (Matthew 10:28) to cast eternal souls into hell.  And only one has the power to save!  The second criminal understood his hopelessness.

Second, we can reach out to one who has power.  When death is at the door, our options are played-out.  We can't write a check or throw a hail-Mary.  We can only pray, seek and trust.  Last week we prayed for a little baby named Lydia.  She had bacterial meningitis, and the lab tests said the infection had entered her blood stream.  All of us were powerless, but we prayerfully reached out to the one who could do something.  None of us know why, but her results, her health and her life changed in a positive direction.  The second criminal did something that was redemptive ... he sought Jesus in his time of powerlessness.  "Remember me when you come into Your kingdom!"  He sought the only one who could save him!

Finally, we can rest in Jesus to take us the rest of the way, whatever that is.  Jesus responds to the criminal, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)."  That is really all any of us ever need for living life ... Jesus.  My eyes fix on two parts of this verse that give me great comfort.  The first is "truth."  At death (and really anytime) truth is a great thing.  John 8:32 says ... "the truth will set you free."  In a life of bondage to many things, this criminal is set free because of God's truth.  He is free from his sins, free from his earthly shell, free from his past and free from all of his struggles.  He is "resting" in God's truth.  And he is "with Jesus."  That is truly enough.  I can get caught up in so many things.  In this election year we will be told all manners of junk.  National and international crises will threaten our sanity and our security.  But we don't need to be blown about by every wind of fate ... though we are powerless over most of it.  We can rest in Jesus and live with Jesus.  And even if our very lives hangs in the balance, that is enough.  And that's the truth!  Randy

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Very Best Question

Some of the greatest teachers in my life have been the people who could ask the best questions.  Some of these are ... "What is your personal mission?"  ... "What would you like written on your epitaph?" But Jesus was the greatest teacher ever, and in the third year of His ministry Jesus travels far north to the headwaters of the Jordan where He and His disciples stop and reflect on some important things.  It seems very appropriate to me that Jesus chooses this time for this particular question.

1. There was opposition - The third year of Jesus' ministry was called the year of opposition.  Many people left the movement that followed Him.  They didn't like the talk of drinking His blood and eating His flesh (John 6:53) ... there were literalists in Jesus day too!  They didn't like that the authorities were gunning for Jesus ... they didn't like the risk.  They didn't like stories that were confusing ... they weren't willing to go deep into their relationship with Jesus.  The time to learn who you really are is when you are facing opposition.

2. There was opportunity - Jesus and the disciples had stopped outside of Caesarea Philippi, a place where they would see lots of sin, lots of temptation and lots of decadence. The time to ask great questions is when you face great struggles.

3. There was openness - When things are getting dicey, it is a great time to sort out who you are, where you are going and who you will follow.

So, as they stop for a breather, Jesus asks the best question ever ... "But what about you?"  he asked.  "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15).  This is a loaded question if ever there was one.

1. "What about you?"  This is meant for the group (in the South, "You'all).  It is also meant for Peter, the individual (You).  On the 1st Sunday of Lent, what about you?  As the disciples speculated on what others were saying about Jesus ... as people all around you speculate about Jesus, the Church, faith ... what about you?  What about your faith?  Who do you believe in?  When the bullets start flying and the sky is falling, who/what is your god?  Is your god all-sufficient or is you god metal, wood, paper, digital, recreational?  What about you?

2. "Who do you say that I am?"  Muslims say a great prophet.  Mormons say a great person we can attain.  Add whatever you want to this.  It doesn't matter what others say about Jesus.  It matters what YOU believe, because that belief will flow out into how you live life.  Here are a few ways I process this question.  Is Jesus (to you) who He said He was, or have you tried to create a different reality?  How does Jesus fit into your life-priorities?  Is Jesus King everyday or does He get placed in one of your compartments?

You see where I am going with this.  These are the questions of reflection, self-examination, faith, following and discernment that have, for centuries, been part of the Lenten season.  If you want to know something, ask a great question ... and this question is the greatest.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Humans "Being"

In the Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren said ... "God is more interested in why we do something than what we do."  I think this is why we are called human beings rather than human doings.

I will admit to being a bit oriented to the doing side of things.  This orientation is probably due to hearing "great sermon" on Sunday morning while seeing people go through another week unchanged and unmotivated by God's word, Nicey's prayer or my message.  And it is due to the two extreme elements of our society I often see battling in the world of rhetoric.  One side simply doesn't care about people who are hurting and the other side embarks on angry rants about societal wrongs but wants to use other people's resources to accomplish their goals.  I think both are wrong.  I ask myself, "how would a human being deal with the many injustices we hear bantered about on the news?"

As usual, I would like to walk through the Bible as we reflect.  So ... let's start at the beginning, Genesis 1.  In verse 27 God's word says, "and God created human beings in His own image.  In the image of God He created them.  Male and female He created them."  We, above all of the created creatures residing permanently on earth, are given something special ... the image of God.  This creates great consternation in our hearts because this allows us to step outside (transcend) self and even our own flesh and look at things 1) from another perspective, 2) from another's perspective, or 3) even as Jesus would look at something.  It is a beautiful and terrible ability that pulls at our heart of stone, rends it from our body and replaces it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  It is perceiving God's image that is inside us.

But that is not where this ends.  Recognizing this ability is like believing in Jesus.  We can believe Jesus is a real person, believe in His story, and still not believe into Him.  All of us have this ability to transcend ourselves.  But not all allow that ability to take hold.  There is an Old Testament term "hardened heart."  It is used to describe Pharaoh's refusal to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.  It is also used when the people of Israel are ignoring God's call on them.  Our free will allows us to resist or refuse God, always to our detriment.  But when we listen to God and allow ourselves to be moved by compassion and hurt for others, we have perceived and participated in this part of God that is so much a part of us.

Finally, there is a third thing.  We can perceive (see) our transcendence, we can participate (feel) God's pull upon our hearts, but still fail to practice transcendence.  When I pull up at the office I see 3 to 4 cats.  They act hungry (and they are little liars sometimes because I know they have been fed).  I can acknowledge God's imparted image that asks me how God would handle this situation.  I can even place myself in their place, feeling the pangs of hunger they might feel on a cold, wet day.  Both of those things move me.  But, I fall short if I don't practice the image of God.  In the case of these cats, I feed them (if I know they haven't been fed).  I have taken this a bit further and I adopted a little girl cat named Sundae who sleeps at my feet each evening.  These last two things are important because they give feet, substance and life to my compassion.  Jesus fed the 5,000 ... healed the lepers ... gave wholeness to the woman with the issue of blood.  Maybe, as human beings, we apply the transcendence we have been given so that God is glorified and people are healed, helped and made whole.  Because God cares what we do and why we do it.  We have an image to uphold ... God's image!  Randy