Monday, November 23, 2020

Refreshing

In hard times, in times of strife and in times of confusion it is refreshing to hear someone speak the truth.  During Micah's prophetic work there were many things happening in Judah.  Micah denounced the idolatry and immorality of his people.  He lived and ranged through the country south of Jerusalem and was, like his contemporary Amos, quick to point out the oppression of the poor and the judgment that a Holy God would bring.  He spoke the truth ("this is what the Lord says") during times when truth was hard to discern. 

In the midst of denouncing the behavior and leadership of Judah, Micah also had an important part to play in the story of Christmas.  He writes ... "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2)."  It was surprising because no one would expect a ruler or a leader coming from a country town like Bethlehem.  It was truth because it was God's prophetic voice. 

We can learn a lot from God's true voice, especially in times of uncertainty.  The first thing we can learn is that God always offers hope.  Hope is the first lit candle of the Advent Wreath.  Traditionally the verse for this is Isaiah 9:2 ... "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light."  Hope is God sending light into our darkness.  Hope is God's voice.  Hope is truth when bloviation, conspiracy and disunity fill our social media and our conversation.  Hope is God saying, "the place may be small and insignificant, but I don't need much to work with ... just a mustard-seed of faith!"  Bethlehem, rural, filled with bakeries (thus it's name meaning "house of bread").  Bethlehem, having a regional prophet that faithfully tells the people "This is what the Lord says."  Bethlehem, filled with the people from a subset of the tribe of Judah, who will send out one who will be a great hope for a hopeless people. 

The second thing we can learn from Micah's prophecy is that God has it all under control.  He has planned it from ancient times.  He sends one who will "crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)."  He sends one who will "walk among us (Leviticus 26:12)" and be "Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14).  Our past, present and future are part of the plans of a God who has the whole world in His hands.

I wonder if God, as we enter the season of Advent, is saying to us what He said on the Mount of Transfiguration ... "This is My Son ... listen to Him!"  If there is a year when we need to stop ... reflect ... and listen, this is it!  As we enter Advent, we need the Jesus, who will be our God and we His people, to enter our homes, hearts and nation, and lead us from darkness to light.  He is our Lord and our hope!  Randy


Monday, November 16, 2020

Thanksgiving

When we read the word Thanksgiving, we all have memories and images that enter our minds.  Some of us think about food, family and the fellowship of believers.  Some of us have great memories of family gatherings while others long for and grieve people they have lost.  When I hear that word, I remember my mom's dressing (she cooked the best dressing ever!), cold green beans (she always left them out too long), turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  Our family would travel from wherever we were living to North Carolina and eat 2 meals ... one at lunch and one at dinner.  It was both fulfilling and filling!

This morning I had the pleasure of talking about thankfulness with the ACA kids, and heard the obligatory pledges, songs about turkey and thankfulness, and the beautiful voices of happy children.  My talk was a primer about the real first Thanksgiving here in America which took place in cold New England (Plymouth, Mass.) in 1620.  While numerous worldwide celebrations of thanks took place throughout history, it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed it as a holiday for all states.  You'll have to go to the internet for a more extensive history, but suffice it to say Thanksgiving has been around awhile.

One thing I thought as I was rolling Thanksgiving around in my head is how thankful I should be for God's ever-present grace, Spirit and love.  Romans 8:37-39 gives us this assurance and every reason to be thankful.  Paul says that nothing ... not angels or demons, not depth or height, not any power, not anything in all creation can separate us from God's love expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.  When I spoke to the kids at ACA, I reminded them that one of their pledges was to "hide God's Word in their hearts."  I told them that the Pilgrims, as they spent months on a small ship traversing the Atlantic, needed this assurance of God's presence.  The trip took from May to November, 1620.  About the 11th of November they set foot on Plymouth rock, not their original destination.  They had come so that they could live and worship in their little bubble, in their pristine world, free, happy and alone with God.  I find it interesting that God had a lesson for them, even as they professed love and faithfulness for God.  One of the first lessons they learned is that they couldn't survive without the help, experience and connection with the not-so-pristine (unspoiled) Native Americans.  Without local knowledge they might have been lost.

I think this story reminds us that we are never an island unto ourselves.  We keep and hold to our faith, for it sustains us in storms.  We hide God's Word in our hearts, because it gives us guidance.  But we also look for God's teaching and grace in our circumstances.  God never quits loving, teaching, sustaining and growing us.  So we watch, learn and give thanks for a God who always cares and always leads us to the land He has prepared for us.  That is Good News and that is every reason for Thanksgiving.  Randy

Monday, November 9, 2020

Just Cats

Hey!  I am speaking to you out of the COVID fog!  If any of you have had COVID-19 you know about the fog, the distracting effects and just the strangeness of symptoms.  There is a thing called COVID Brain, and it it real.  I have had some comical distractions.  Thanks for your prayers and the love you have expressed!

Without being political, it is interesting to look at our history regarding people, issues, events and even movements that have captured people's attention.  What I have determined is in our beauty, our capacity for love, our clumsy compassion, our falling to very low levels and then rising above even the heights we have set for ourselves is astounding.  The song says, "It is true we are as fallen as an angel ... but you and me we're also holy as a prayer, made in the image of a giver and a lover who left His throne to come down here."  Yet, we are easily distracted.

In the 60's there were people called Jesus Freaks.  When you hear this term you may be like me ... "I wanna be one of those!"  I heard a reference to Jesus Freaks during a Wednesday night message and I remember them ... I was there.  I knew some of these people who talked a lot about Jesus, loved songs like "Spirit In The Sky" and "Jesus Is Just All Right By Me."  They were a bit strange, very nice and I liked the Jesus Freaks that I associated with.  That was the 60's.  Fast forward to 2020.  Where are these paragons of belief, following and trusting Jesus?  50 years later, what did the faith, influence, sacrifice and evangelism professed by Jesus Freaks actually do?  Here's what I think.  One of my Seminary professors used a saying ... "that group/movement/event was "a spiritual bubble bath a mile wide and an inch deep.""  The movement lacked depth because the people were nice, did a pretty good job of the love/peace thing, sang good songs, had some pretty big gatherings where folks got baptized ... yet, the ripple effect on our nation, our society and our churches has not seemed to make much of a difference.  Why?

Just a few points here ... 1) They lacked Biblical foundation of what Jesus said and did ... Jesus was an idea and an image of their own creation.  John the Baptist had all of Jerusalem out to hear Him preach, and they went down into the water but came out the same as they went in (Matthew 3);  2) They had passion but the passion was not based on following what Jesus actually said (God says, "This is my son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!" [Matthew 17:5]).  God, in emphasis to Peter's distraction with Moses, Elijah and the hype of the moment, interrupts Peter, saying ... "Hey dude, listen to Jesus!"; 3) They thought they were 'radical' but had no idea of the radical calling of a Jesus who requires us to take up a cross, a yoke, a burden and a Holy calling.

In the end I have found we can learn stuff from cats.  My cats are easily distracted.  My cats are a bit like this all the time.  I got them a flippidy fish.  It is a rechargeable fabric fish that flips and flops around.  Sundae loves it and even Simone will play with it at times.  Whatever Sundae is doing, she will stop and go to the flippidy fish.  I think this is so like us.  We read a Facebook post that stirs us and we go "yea!" and repost (before we think).  We hear a message that inspires us and makes us feel good, powerful, mad, incited, and we begin to equate that false-passion with truth.  50 years pass and we learn, to our horror, that Jesus is real, active, still alive, and that His commands (which we didn't know because we had made our Jesus in our image) were still and always true.  We look down at the flippidy fish that has run out of juice and ask, "Wow, where was I for the past 50 years?"

Let's let Jesus be who He is.  Let's learn and know Jesus' commands.  Let's put away the flippidy fish.  Let's follow, worship, love, learn, grow, serve, forgive and be a different kind of radical ... the kind of radical led by Jesus "The author and perfecter of our faith."  Randy

Monday, November 2, 2020

Jesus 2020 (reprise)

OK ... let's try this again!  Sorry about the chaos at the end of last week with my positive COVID test and stuff.  I am feeling fine today, but life, Church and God's plans move on.

I have had some time to reflect about being "on-board" 100% for Jesus this year and have had a few thoughts that were tweaked a bit by Nicey's Sunday School class yesterday.  By the way, the class, preparation and participation was wonderful.  If you want to join next week's (Sunday the 8th at 10 AM) lesson, click here!  

Yesterday we were talking about Mark's account of the Transfiguration (Mark 8:2-7).  On either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon (there are arguments for both) Jesus and the disciples are met by Moses and Elijah.  This is largely considered the second greatest miracle in the Gospels (after the Resurrection).  The disciples are highly impressed and Peter wants to build three shelters, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus.  This statement indicates their reverence for Moses (representing the Law and Patriarchs) and Elijah (representing the prophets).  It seems Peter is placing Jesus and the other two figures on equal footing.  Then a cloud appears and covers all of them and a voice (God's voice) from the cloud says something profound that we should learn from in our current state of things.  "This is my Son whom I love ... listen to Him!" proclaims God from the cloud.  What should this mean to us?

First, God is saying that Elijah and Moses, the Law, the Patriarchs and the Prophets all point to something bigger than them ... Jesus.  It is not only "Jesus 2020" ... it is Jesus all the time.  I hear often "are you a New Testament or Old Testament Christian?"  At least in Methodism, we are full Bible Christians that believe what Jesus said when he said He had come to fulfill Scripture (Matthew 5:17).  The Sermon on the Mount expresses this in Jesus often saying ... "You have heard ... but I say."  Jesus is expressing, clarifying and amplifying God's Word.  He is making sure our ability to proof-text, fit the Scripture to our agenda and make God in our image has no foothold in what Jesus is saying.  He is clear ... "Do unto others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)."  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.  And a second is like it ... you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40)."  Jesus said the Law and the Prophets "hang" on this commandment.  Are you starting to get the point here!?  Jesus, and what Jesus commands us in primary.

Second, as we enter a contentious election time I hear people invoke Scripture that leads them to aggression, anger, nationalism, hyperbole, intimidation, demonization of others who disagree with them, and all sorts of behavior that are never condoned, commanded or led by the "author and perfector" of our faith, Jesus.  The words and ideas Jesus uses (click here for link) include Follower, Lover, Prayer Warrior (the only kind of warrior I see mentioned), Light (we are to be a city on a hill), Humble, Watcher, Rememberer, Forgiver, Seeker, Giver, Worshiper and Servant.  Compare these to what you are hearing from angry voices and those who are trying to stir you into a frenzy.  Compare these to a Jesus that said "God so loved that He gave His only Son so we could believe and be saved" [John 3:16]) snd "I didn't come into the world to condemn it but to save it" [John 3:17]).  What I am asking is for all of us who follow Jesus and take a transcendent step back (step outside of yourself and honestly look at YOU).  Ask yourself ... Am I following Jesus or am I following a god I have made into the image I like?  Am doing what God told 12 disciples up on a high mountain as they are faced with seeing the real Elijah, the real Moses and hearing the true and living God say ... "This is my son ... listen to HIM."?

It is easy to follow the god we have created to fit our rhetoric.  Jesus faces Pharisees who loved their authority and power.  He faced teachers who knew the Law and Prophetic writings intimately.  He faced His own disciples who were nationalists and zealots for forceful takeback of their nation.  He faced Romans who wanted to maintain their hold on Israel.  He faced familiar people who made fun of this "wannabee" preacher.  He faced the politics of a time of great division and turmoil, and God knew this when He told 12 disciples to listen to Jesus ... not even the most revered people of Jewish history.  Do you see these factions in our political scene today?

We feel self righteous and self justified.  That is because often our God IS self.  God is asking for something better.  He is asking us to do something really hard.  He is saying that we are to follow, worship and serve the God who actually IS!  He is telling us and 12 disciples that Jesus is above all, because He is our Lord ... our master ... our teacher.  And back to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30:20 ... "The Lord is your life and He is the key to living long in the land God has given us." Jesus 2020

Monday, October 26, 2020

Jesus 2020

You might have noticed that this year our church, Abbeville United Methodist Church, has a political sign in the front yard.  Well, to be honest, the sign isn't really political.  The sign says, "Jesus 2020."

Last Wednesday night John spoke about Matthew 28 which says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  As I reflected on this "Great Commission" by Jesus (as He sends out the disciples and us, the Church) I reread the passage.  It says, "Teaching them to obey everything I have commended you."  I think that is pretty clear! So, in light of elections, our "Jesus 2020" sign and our predisposition to only read the commands we really like, I thought I would compile a short list of some of Jesus' commands.  It is truly our responsibility if we call ourselves followers.

I have examined this list (please feel free to compile your own) and found some stark differences from some of the things that we might hear.  I found lots about becoming and believing like little children.  I found out that the greatest among us are to become servants.  I found lots about following, forgiving, loving enemies, not judging ... and I marveled that none of these things are championed by those that are grabbing headlines or calling passion a primary virtue (after all, Judas was passionate about his politics).  I found some good things about being "light" and we sure need that in this time of darkness.

The list I found (I will compile a list this week that includes everything) is so different from the aggressive, negative and zealous rhetoric I hear so often.  During Jesus' life I remember that there were parties and factions.  There were Pharisees, Sadducees and Priests.  There was the very political Sanhedrin.  Judas belonged to a party called "Zealots" and they were known for their passion and nationalism.  Is any of this ringing a bell in your mind or calling to something deep in your heart?  ALL, YES ALL, of these groups opposed Jesus!  Judas sold out his friend Jesus!  The Sanhedrin held an illegal trial and convicted Jesus of blasphemy!  The Pharisees, Sadducees and Priests opposed Jesus both openly and privately!  They didn't want Jesus for their leader!  But in 2020 this doesn't matter.  What does matter is ... do YOU want Jesus to be your leader?  Will you ignore or will you put down your baser feelings and desires to take up your cross and follow Him?  Here's what Matthew 16:24-26 commands ... "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"

If you want revival ... if you desire to become a follower ... if you want to do it Jesus' way ... if you really believe the Great Commission ... if you are down with God's self-proclaimed method of becoming people of God's purpose ... then Jesus says, "teach them to obey all the things I commanded you!"  I'll have a printed list of those Sunday ... then let's sift our politics, our passions, our rhetoric and ourselves through what Jesus commanded.  I, for one, come up way short when I do this ... but it is what He said, so that's my goal!  How about you!?  Randy

Saturday, October 17, 2020

2 Things

One of my seminary professors told us the Bible is essentially about 2 things.  When I heard this, I was both interested and skeptical.  I always thought the Bible contained all of the truth and guidance we needed for daily decisions and for living life in grace and relevance.  How could it be so easily summed-up?  The he said ... "The Bible is about who God is and who we are.  If we understand and believe those two things, all the other stuff will work out."

I gave this lots of thought.  If I know who God is and believe it, that seems to be a good thing.  We live in a world where we are pulled to-and-fro by competing definitions of God and God's priorities.  It is confusing to say the least!  One person says God is all about justice.  Another says God is all about judgment.  If these are true I am in real trouble because I deserve both and next to a holy God I stand no chance!  Bible book after Bible book gives a snapshot of God and the view seem to change according to the writer of the book.  What is God like?

Then, my professor gave this illustration.  If we take pictures of our family and look back over time we find many different views.  We see moments of affection, struggle, anger, laughter and fun ... and all of these things are a part of that family and the members of that family.  None of them are exactly reflective of a one-word description of the family.  Because families and people are complex, ever-changing and sometimes puzzling.  Now think of this as it relates to God and the Bible.  The Bible shows God as constant yet ever-moving to newness.  It says God is not like any of the things we can fit into our heads.  God is bigger, more complex and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  When Moses encountered the burning bush the phrase God uses when Moses asks "Who are you?" can be translated as "I AM the God that is!"  Vast, indescribable and unmeasurable ... we cannot quantify or qualify God.

Then, if God is all of this, who are we?  The song "Who am I" says "I am a flower quickly fading ... a wave tossed in the ocean."  I think we can all identify with that these days!  The Colossians could too!  Paul writes to them with encouragement.  Paul, in Chapter 1, says ... "I Thank God for you daily."  Then Paul reminds the people of some other aspects of who they are.  He says 1) You are created (V:16), 2) You are held-together (V:17), 3) You are reconciled to God through Christ (V:18), 4) You are no longer enemies of God (V:22),  5) You are holy through the redemption of Christ (V:23), 6) You are free  (V:23), 7) You are called to continue 'in the faith' (V:23), 8) You are called by the Gospel and 9) You are servants of Christ (V:23).  The song concludes ... "I am Yours."

God is big, unfathomable and beyond our understanding, yet God calls us to know Him as much as we can.  We are servants that are also children of the King.  I think if I were to sum up Colossians in a few words, they might be ... God loves you ... show your love for God by letting Him lead and change you.  What do you think?  Randy

Monday, October 12, 2020

Greater Than

Nostalgia is defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past."  We have lots of nostalgia in Abbeville, even being fine with being "stuck in the 50's."  It is not necessarily a bad thing as many things from past years were good, wholesome and worth preserving.  I am good with all of those things ... but God's Word seems to want us looking, up, forward and onward.

We spent last Sunday in Chapter 1 of Haggai.  Haggai, speaking God's words, told us to focus on the things important to God, specifically His temple.  It was sound advice.

In Chapter 2 of Haggai, the prophet reminds us that God has some great plans for us that will be better than past plans.  The people are rebuilding the temple and they, naturally, are in the nostalgia of past temples and past glory.  God says ... "not so fast!"  "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house! (Chapter 2:9)" What does this mean?

I think this means 2 specific things.  First, God is always cautioning us to remember He is into newness.  Revelation 21:5 says ... "See, I am making all things new!"  Isaiah 43:18 and 19 also reflect this attitude of newness.  Personally, I think God wants us to always retain the good things of the past, but leave the bad things behind.  He is refining, growing and purifying us as we live life and process life's experiences.  I love walking the streets of Abbeville, listening to 50's music, seeing the really good things that remind me of wholesomeness and values that were good and noble.  But as I remember, I also think of things we should and must leave behind.  History is filled with attitudes, ideologies and wrongness that we must see as non-Biblical and non-Godly.  I believe God wants His new temple and His new Church to learn, grow and become better every day.  He is doing a new thing.

Second, let's always remember that it is God's glory we seek.  Through all of the prophets God expresses that His glory and His presence is what we seek.  In verse 2:5 God encourages us by saying, "Do not fear ... My Spirit remains among you!"  God's glory reminds us that we can come boldly into the presence of God.  Hebrews 4:12 says, "Let us come boldly to the throne of grace!"  When we are all seeking the glory of God, we can come, pray, sing, serve and live in boldness, knowing that we all want to glorify God.

I think our "newness" in our present situation is similar to the newness experienced by Isaiah as he began his ministry.  Isaiah enters the temple and realizes, as he offers his prayers and worship, that there is a presence that has a life, consciousness and purpose of its own.  Isaiah becomes aware that this presence is pure holiness, power, goodness and perfection.  It is the glory of the Lord that fills the whole earth.  Isaiah says, "I am a dead man ... I cannot survive this encounter!"  The newness is both pure and terrible to an unholy person (like you and me).  Then God, in His mercy and grace does something.  God purifies Isaiah and puts him to work.  The story is a parallel to what God is trying to do with us.  Isaiah is not sent into some old system, a nostalgic pattern of worship or the "good old days."  God, instead, changes everything and tells Isaiah to speak truth to a people who don't want to listen or hear that truth.  "Take my glory out to the people, and shout it to the mountains and the valleys!"  It is new because God is vastly beyond anything we can imagine.  Yet, we seek God's glory ... we pursue God's plan ... we enter the dangerous, beautiful and terrible presence of a holy God ... and we trust Him to do what is necessary to bring us to His place.  So, "Thank you Lord for Your mercy, grace and presence!  Come and fill the hearts, lives and worship of Your people." Maybe we, like Isaiah, can't survive the presence of the Lord, because we need to die to some things.  It sounds like salvation, transformation and new life to me!  God's plan is for us to be greater than before!  Randy