Sunday, January 26, 2020

Alpha and Omega

During funerals we usually read that "Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last."  That statement from Revelation 22 reminds us that God was there at the beginning and God will be there at the end.  It is usually a solemn message as we remember both and ending and beginning.  John Riley likes to quote Dwight Moody who said "If you read that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead, don't believe a word of it.  I will have just begun to live.  I like that thought, because Jesus is truly the beginning for us in that place and time.

For me, the thought of endings and beginnings is a very timely thought.  At the 30 A Songwriter's Festival, David Olney was performing onstage and said "I'm sorry" and then just died.  I am watching the news of Kobe Bryant and his 13 year-old daughter being killed this morning in a helicopter accident.  Both of these events are reminders that we don't know our beginnings and endings ... so, make it count!  Don't say "I'm sorry" ... say, "Thank you Lord for gifting, trusting, tolerating, loving and being there for a "wretch like me!"

While reflecting for the last month about God being the one God above everything and truly the one true and pure thing in life, I return to Deuteronomy 6 to reread verses 4 thru 9.  This verse brings the idea of Alpha and Omega home to the mundane, routine daily grind.  "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one."  The passage says this truth needs a be part of who we are every day.  Place it in your heart.  Impress it on your children.  Talk about them when you are sitting down and when you walk down the road.  Reflect upon this when you get up and when you lie down.  Tie the symbols of this on your writs and write them on your door frames.  In reading this, do you think God holds this as important?

Here is some practical advice.  Maybe keeping this before my eyes and heart will keep my eyes and heart off things that distract me away from God's plan and calling.  Maybe spending time every day just dwelling on this truth will take my heart and mind away from lots of untrue stuff that seeks to divert my walk with God.  Maybe God, in this advice, gives me something that will begin, end and focus my day on good things.  Maybe if I "get caught up" in this I will realize that most of my petty thoughts are irrelevant and unworthy of the time God has given me.  Maybe ... my life would change!  Maybe, we should try!  Randy

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frayed

Watch them on TV.  Observe them in the grocery store.  See them on the road.  They are distracted, disoriented, self-absorbed and confused.  THEY are us!

Paul writes a prayer for the Ephesians (4:14) and for us. "Then, we will no longer be immature like children.  We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.  We will not be influenced by people who try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth!"  Paul says that these things will happen when (4:13) we "come to such unity in the faith and knowledge of God's Son  that we will be mature in the Lord."  Unity?  Faith?  Knowledge?  That is why I believe this is a prayer by Paul seeking God's help to find these holy things!

Hebrews 6:19 says, "We have this hope as an anchor for our souls!" The writer of Hebrews is speaking of God's promises to us, fulfilled and lived-out in the person of Jesus.  How do we allow God to make this prayer a reality? For our frayed lifestyle, how do we allow God's word to lead us here?

My take is we must decide whether our lifestyle is led by Jesus or by our world/society.  I have three short thoughts here.

1. I hear many who profess to seek unity in our world.  Their unity means that we come into agreement with their world-view.  I wonder if Paul's "tossed and blown about" relates to the insanity of this ideology?  If 60 people gather to worship there are 60 world-views, 60 definitions of right and 60 plans for the day ahead.  It would be insane for us to think we could meld all of those into what Paul calls unity.  Paul says we find unity in Jesus.  In the Church that is one thing we should all hold as our point of connection.  If we defer to Jesus, we can let our mishmash of world-views go packing and can get to work on the good things!

2. Hebrews says faith is belief in the sure hope of God's unseen things.  I was conversing with a friend sometime back about the chemistry of the human body.  It seems that when you add up all of the percentages you are just short of 100%.  Maybe the soul has mass, weight, substance.  While I don't know the chemistry, I do know that combining all of those chemicals does not produce life.  There is an unseen, unmeasurable spark that Genesis calls "the breath (ruach) of God."  What if our hope of a better, God-led life is unmeasurable, unseen and very real?  What if our distraction can become focus?  What if we can catch a glimpse of the unseen plan and path of God?  What if Paul is right ... as we come to faith and knowledge of Jesus, faith moves into the realm we can call reality?

3. Paul says knowledge is important if we are to perceive God rightly and maturely.  I believe much of our willingness to follow God and walk with Jesus is our ignorance.  I said Sunday that I meet church people every day that want to tell me what God says and what Jesus is all about ... and they haven't cracked a Bible in years!  Paul understands that when we either don't know what God's word says or simply don't care enough about God's word to be in active study, we are easily victimized by "every wind of new teaching."  Thomas Odin, the great theologian, poses that there are no new doctrines ... only recycled ideas that Satan has found effective in leading people astray.  If we know God, know Jesus' teaching and know our Bible, we can stand firm when the winds of new teaching try to toss us about!  Paul is right.

Hillsong writes, from the song Anchor (and Hebrews 6:19) "we have this hope, as an anchor for my soul, through every storm, I will hold to you."  I love this thought, because I have a tendency to become frayed, distracted, disoriented and disconnected from what is most important.  Randy

Sunday, January 12, 2020

That's The Truth!

One way God expresses His "oneness" is in the authorship of a concept that is foreign to the world in which we live.  That concept is ... truth.

Dr. Riley Short ends his sermons with the phrase "and that's the truth!"  He is not saying he is owner or author of this truth.  He is challenging himself and holding himself accountable to preach God's truth ... not Riley's opinion.  Other than amazing sermons, this statement is just one of the things I love about Dr. Short.  In the Old Testament this statement was a bit different but I believe it means the same thing.  The prophets would say ... "This is what the Lord says!"  This is true.  This is what you can count on.  This is not a whimsical thought that changes over time.  This is not prophetic opinion.  This is what God is saying through me.

I wonder if we believe that?  When our preacher or teacher is faithfully following God and brings a message, do we think it has, at least, some power of God's word?  Or are we more concerned with the eloquence of the speaker ... the manner of presentation ... whether we like the speaker ... whether we think the speaker likes us ... how the speaker is dressed?  We filter our hearing in ways we knowingly perceive and in ways to which we are oblivious.  But ... my desire is to be able to say what Dr. Short says after every sermon ... "and that's the truth!"

Jesus, on the other hand, has what Scripture says is ... "all authority on heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)."  So we had better listen if we value truth.  In fact, Jesus said ... "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)."  God is all about truth ... and God expresses this truth through Jesus.

How does this relate to the "oneness of God?"  In Deuteronomy 6 the Scripture says that the "Lord your God is one."  We are told that this is a foundational truth to think about in the morning, reflect upon when we go to bed and discuss with our children as we walk down the road.  Moses is telling the people ... "this is truth for everyday life."  And it still is!  For God's truth will give us clarity, freedom and a solid foundation to do life ... and that's the truth!  Randy

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Waves and Castles

I was down at the beach with my granddaughter.  She did what many kids do.  She built a little sand structure, dug out what might be called a moat and played like her "castle" would stand forever.  Of course, she learned it didn't last.  The tide came in, the water seeped under her sandcastle, and it slowly settled into the beach.

I have built castles too.  Places where I have staked my claim.  I have exerted my control and my dominance.  It felt good too!  But, over time, I found that my castles didn't last.  No matter how well I built them they all seemed to fail.  But the tide changed, the waves came in and my perfect little plan settled into oblivion.

Last Sunday we talked about how God wants us to become totally open to Him.  How our little compartments become walls that we set up to keep God out.  I was thinking about this and how I have built life in my little protected and controlled setting.  What if I told you that we can do this all we want, but we cannot keep God out.  God is like the wave on the beach ... the changing tide.  Stevie Nicks writes, in The Edge of Seventeen, about the relentless sea ... "the sea changes colors, but the sea does not change."  God isn't altered by our structures or our plans.  God does not change when I build my castles.  God is even more relentless than the sea, and God's waves (and those that happen because of a turbulent world) crash in.  And the water rushes into our castles and we must either run or stand in God's power and allow our castles, our compartments and our small plans to be changed by the only one who can make something useful out of them.

Thursday we will have an birthday party.  It will be attended by all who have started to see that the wave of Jesus has crashed in on our castles.  I hope none of us will see this as invasion or destruction ... I pray we will see this as needed change.  God will crash my castles one by one, and, if I let Him, He will fill my life with things, people, pastimes, challenges, that will be good for me.  I may not see the immediate positives, but if I get out of God's way, I will see His new and good things in what many may view as calamity.  For seven years our Celebrate Recovery team has listened to those who have experienced waves that destroyed their castles.  We have consoled, comforted and told our new friends "this is happening for a purpose ... let God show you what He can and will do."  If you come Thursday you will hear testimony about a God who makes all things new, sometimes with waves that knock us off our feet.  Come, listen, cry, laugh and hear about the God of the ocean who is strong enough to overcome death and gentle enough to carry, in His arms, a woman who thinks all is lost.  Come ... and let God's waves tear down castles and give you a new and better place to live, in His house!  Randy

Monday, December 30, 2019

Holistic

One of my friends is a doctor.  He has been drifting into the holistic medicine realm because he believes that caring for the whole body and mind will yield the best care for his patients.  While I don't buy in to all he recommends, I do agree that looking at the big picture and seeing the whole person is a good thing.  This brings us to a very Biblical and holistic concept.  It is found in the Hebrew idea of God and in Jesus' affirming the Greatest Commandment.  Both of these ideas are highlighted in the 6th Chapter of Deuteronomy.  "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord, is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:4-5)."

The 1st part of this passage is called the Shema.  It is one of the holiest and most foundational statements in Jewish thought because it encompasses the idea of the oneness of God.  God is not many things.  God is not all of our little compartments,  God is not fragmented.  God is not confused by the complex little parts we try to fit together and call it life.  Because, in Jewish thought (affirmed by Deuteronomy 30:20) "the Lord IS your life."  The Shema is to be carried, worn, posted on the doorframes of houses ... ever present and ever before us.  It is a great place to begin the new year.

The 2nd part of this passage from Deuteronomy 6 is what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment.  It is a beautiful expression of what God desires from us and what we owe to a God who loves and sustains us.  It says we are to love God with all we have and all we are.  God says 1) invest your life completely, 2) give me free reign in all of the parts of your life, 3) like the unity of the Trinity, I want you to be one beautifully-complex person.

I can't think of a better way to begin a new year!  When my vacuum cleaner got all filled with cat hair (go figure) the motor got too hot.  I had to clean it out ... get rid of all of the obstructions ... purge the dust balls ... clean out the filter ... let it cool down and push the reset button.  My life gets all clogged with things that don't belong.  I get anxious ... I worry ... I let the fear of the future and the failures of the past become present realities.  God says ... "Get rid of that stuff!  Let me help you clean out the junk.  Let me lead you so that your heart, soul and strength are spent on a worthwhile pursuit ,,, the one, complete God.  Knock down the walls.  And let's get busy ... I want you closer to me and I want others to be brought closer because they know you and Me through you!"

How's that for a plan to begin our new year?  And let's learn, love and live together.  God's plan is perfect and good.  Hey ... we've tried our way ... let's try God and see if Deuteronomy 30:20 is true .. "The Lord IS your life!"  AMEN

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Here!

In the Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) God's sign of love, fidelity and power comes in the virgin birth of a baby Isaiah calls Emmanuel.  The word means "God with us."  Another way to say this is to say, "God is present ... here!"

For those who love the darkness, revel in evil and thrive by taking life from others, this is bad news.  Because God is light, life, justice and good.  But for those who seek God's kingdom, God's plan, God's purpose, God's mission and God's leading, this is very good news indeed.  In fact, that is what Gospel really means in the Greek ... the good news!

Isaiah spoke the words God had given him when he used the word Emmanuel.  The God that is here is in stark contrast to a God that is distant or disassociated.  For us this should tell us something about both the nature and purpose of God.

God's nature is to be part of the ongoing drama of life.  His presence with us should lead us, comfort us and embolden us as we do life.  If God is here, I am never alone!  I have spoken to many who are serving our sentences in jail who have told me that they feel and experience God's presence.  Many say that they know God is there and that His presence is greater than when they were outside.  Good news indeed!

But God's presence is also manifested as God's purpose is sent into the world.  Moses said God was bringing people "to Himself."  God draws, leads, drags (with me I have personally felt this), invites and beckons His children.  The Wesleyan belief is that God is doing this to everyone ... not just an entitled few.  And we, as the Church, are one of the ways God "sends" His purpose.

My urging to you, as Christmas is upon us, is to be ready to be called and used by the God that is here.  We will celebrate this with a trip to Tent City (NOON till 2 pm) on Christmas Eve.  We will invite all Christ followers to Come-And-Go Communion from 4-7 pm on Christmas Eve.  We will sing and enjoy music and message as we gather for the beauty of the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 7 pm.  But we will remember that events are not our purpose ... our purpose is to be used by God so that people will be led to God ... into His perfect and relevant presence ... into being sons and daughters in His Kingdom.  For God is with us ... present ... here!  AMEN

Monday, December 16, 2019

According to Your Word!

The words above are powerful words.  They set into motion all of the vast and life-changing possibilities that God sees and imagines for your life.  They are submission.  They are trust.  They are giving to God everything including self.  They are uncomfortable.  And, they are beautiful.

In Luke 1:38, we hear these words from a teenager that is filled with fear and expectation, terror and awe, unworthiness and honor.  She is wise beyond her years as she responds to the calling of God, spoken through the angel Gabriel.  I might have bolted out of the door.  I might have been incapacitated by sheer terror.  But Mary says those beautiful words ... "Behold the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38)."

Let's see how these words can lead us to both obedience and the full blessing of God.  First, they are words of submission.  To follow God, we must allow God to be in control.  We must not ask "what do I want?" or "How can this benefit me."  We must, instead, ask "What does God want?"  or "How can I react to benefit God and God's Church?"  Daily decisions, large and small, are entwined with these questions.  How will I answer them?

Second, these words imply a trust of God's direction.  Last Sunday at the 1st service I had planned a short homily that I was ready to deliver.  During the music and preparation time God was speaking and leading in another direction.  I threw those notes away and hopefully followed where and how God was leading.  It is always about God's message, direction and God's Word.

Finally, on a very musical note, Mary's words express the tune (attitude) of her life.  In the 1st service we discovered that the weather and humidity changes had caused the piano to be about 1/2 step low.  Since we can't tune a piano on the fly, all the guitars, the cello and the bass had to tune down a bit so that all of us were tuned together.  Often, we ask God to change to accommodate our "tuning."  God does not do that.  Mary's words here are all about the tune of her life.  She wants to be in tune with God and asks God to change her to conform to the perfect plan God has in mind for her.  Maybe I, our church, our denomination and our nation can learn something from a little, scared teenager ... "Behold the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38)." AMEN