Monday, September 21, 2020

Children of God

A preacher met an old man in a restaurant.  It was a normal kind of meeting since preachers like to eat and talk.  The two men struck up a conversation and they talked awhile.  On into the discussion the old man asked, "What do you do?"  "I'm a Christian minister," the pastor replied.  The old man said, "I owe a lot to a man of that profession."  

When the old man was a kid he had been born out of wedlock and his father had run away before he was born.  As he grew up he had learned to hate one question, "Who is your father?," since he didn't know the answer.  The bitterness in his heart, the anger in his mind and the emptiness in his soul had sparked quite a few fights and arguments as he grew older.  "Whose child are you?" became a reason to hate, fight and distance himself from other people.  His mother was a church goer and he endured the usual church life in the south.  One day the church got a new pastor and he prepared for the inevitable.  Sure enough, as he tried to leave the church before the pastor could get to the back door, he felt that hand on his little head and the preacher asked, "Who is your father?"  Then, after a pause that seemed eons, the insightful preacher said, "I know whose child you are!  You are a child of God!  I see a striking resemblance!"  That little boy's life was changed that day, and he went on to be elected twice as Governor of Tennessee."  It was all because he finally realized whose child he was!

Paul spoke truth to the Galatians who had been told they could not become children of God's promise unless they followed the customs and law of the Jews.  Paul writes, "So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27)."  Paul is saying, "I know whose child you are. You are children of God."

September is recovery month.  Really, each month and each day is recovery time, because recovery is something that is constant and ever-present.  This week we will be blessed by a cardboard testimony from our Celebrate Recovery brothers and sisters.  There won't be lots of speaking, but there WILL be lots of substance.  You will meet people who have spent much of their life being told they are misfits, defective, ne're-do-wells and flawed.  There are two errors in this thought process.  First, these folks are not the outliers ... they are the norm.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't have a hurt, habit or hang-up they need to face and (with God's grace) correct.  Second, all of these people are children of the Living God!  For "in Christ we are all children of God through faith ... there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female" and we could add black or white, liberal or conservative ... you get the point!  We are all God's kids ... so let's all go and claim our eternal inheritance, and stop arguing about whose inheritance is bigger, better or more valid.  Let's keep to remembering our Father loves all of His children, and let God sort out the things above our pay grade.  Randy

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dead or Alive?

In Galatians 2, Paul makes a bold statement about law and grace and life and death.  Paul's concern is simple.  If the law (the Torah and the Talmud) could save anyone, there was no reason for Jesus to die.  His message to the Galatians is ... "if you keep returning to the law, seeking to meet its requirements, you will be condemned by the law."  Paul says, "I died to the law!" (v. 19b).  "So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless." (v. 20-21)

Three issues here.  First, are you just existing, dead in the law?  Let's all be honest.  If we are living under the law of Moses and the Talmud (legal requirements) of the Jews, we are all guilty and worthy of the justice of death.  I hear people say, "I'm an Old Testament Christian!"  Sadly, there is no such thing, for Jesus said "I have come to fulfill the law (He took our sins upon the cross)."  He said, "I give you a New Covenant by water and the Spirit."  Jesus brings life abundant.  Jesus brings us newness of life.  We are full-Bible Christians who should learn to see the pre-Jesus Bible as preparation for the life, death, resurrection, newness and return of Christ.  Our part of this story is to die to the law, ourselves and our sin, so that we may do what Paul preaches ... "live for God" (v:19).

Second, is Christ alive in you?  Galatians, Chapter 2 is about how Christ lives through us.  Lately I have heard people (I think as an excuse for their nastiness) say things like, "Jesus didn't come so we would be good ... He came to save us."  While, on the surface, this is true, Paul reminds us that we carry in us (in our brokenness) a treasure placed there by Jesus (2 Cor. 4:7).  While Jesus didn't save me because I was good or to become a good person who keeps the law, I rather think Jesus living in me should produce goodness (one of the fruits of the Spirit).  Paul's rant about Peter in Galatians Chapter 2 reminds us that if God lives in us, if Christ dwells in us then we express the life of Christ to the world.  My challenge to those who try to defend nasty attitudes by claiming Jesus didn't "save them to be good," is this ... defend that position when Jesus prayed for unity in His last prayer ... defend that position when Paul (Gal. 5) describes the fruit borne of Christ-filled, Spirit-filled people as goodness, kindness, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, patience and self-control ... defend that position when 1 John 2:7 given us the new commandment to love one another ... defend that position when Jesus said, "I am giving you a new commandment ... to love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).  Please do not delude yourself or those you claim to lead by this false and dangerous teaching!

Lastly, realize we (Christians) represent our leader, Jesus.  When I was confronted by 4 thugs, one with a visible gun in his pocket, and he asked me who was the leader of our church, I answered, "I am the preacher but our leader is Jesus."  He considered this and asked me about coming to service.  When I made this same statement to a friend recently, he looked at me like I had 2 heads.  Martin Luther King rightly preached that negativity breeds negativity and darkness breeds more darkness.  We have enough of that stuff going on around us.  1 Thessalonians 5:5 reminds us "You are the children of the light.  We are not of the night but are of the day."  So ... my charge to you ... my prayer to God ... my "telling the truth in love" is this.  If you are alive in Christ, and Christ, as with Paul, lives in you (v:20), then represent ... re-present the Jesus who saved you, who loves you and who wants you to do good in the world because He has chosen you and you have chosen Him.  That's all, my fellow children of light!  Randy

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Liberty of Grace

Galatians is a book about 1) Paul's authority to preach, 2) the insidiousness of false gospel teachings and 3) grace.  Paul says stay away from false gospels and false teachers, follow those whose teaching flows from Jesus and honors God and focus on grace as a foundation for life.  One of my friends loved to say that justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting something wonderful we, in no way, deserve.  I like that.  So today let's talk about grace and the things that oppose grace.

Paul says legalism ignores grace.  Legalism led Paul to react to Christianity by putting down this Christ-centered nonsense.  Paul's mantra was "follow the law and align yourself with its principles."  That teaching led Paul, according to Jesus, to persecute Him.  "Paul, why do you push against Me?" Jesus asked.  I want to ask today's reactionary legalists that same question.  Do we really all want when we deserve?  Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind!"  Paul reminds us in Romans 12:17, "Never repay evil for evil."  I could go on with many Biblical instructions regarding this, but I hope you get the point.  Legalism leads to conflict, persecution and becoming enslaved to the very law you say you uphold.  I find it interesting that in today's world legalism has a solid foothold in ideologies that claim tolerance and ideologies that desire for everyone to get what they deserve.  Try saying something politically incorrect (either too conservative in a liberal region or too liberal in a conservative region) and see what happens.  You will be crushed!  Legalism isn't our way, Paul says.

There is another extreme.  It is license.  Everything goes.  In 1 Cor. 10:23. Paul says, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is constructive."  Wesley struggled with this theme of living life.  He battled antinomianism.  If you parse the word it means, "against the law."  The antinomianists were caught up in the theology of election, and since the elect and the reprobate were "pre-determined" they believed that they had license to do whatever they wanted.  The result was moral and societal chaos with a dash of anarchy.  Since everyone basically did as they pleased, evil, self-centeredness and chaos thrived.  Sound familiar?  Read Judges 19-21.  It begins, "In those days Israel had no king."  It ends (21:25) with "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."  Between those verses we see cultural decay.  There is dismemberment of bodies, a myriad of sexual sins, civil war that claims almost 100,000 men and anarchy.  It is God's way of warning us about the devastating effects of license.  When there is no standard, there is social, political, theological anarchy.  That is not the Church Paul is planting, nurturing and promoting.

Then, there is liberty.  The liberty flows from the grace of Jesus (1:12-24) and is by the divine revelation of Jesus.  That grace is affirmed by the leadership of the Church (2:1-10) and is part of who we are and what we do.  That grace is founded on the love taught to us by Jesus Christ when He reminded us that His greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as our self.  It is a grace that looks to the good of others ... not to our rights or our own desires.  It is grace Jesus taught the disciples when He told them that His leaders would not lord over others but would serve others.  It is the grace of our nature as Christ-followers who profess the message that we are no longer slaves (Gal. Chapter 5) to sin, the law or societal pressure.  Unlike the people of Judges 19-21, there is a King in our land.  His name is Jesus.  His law is the law of love that leads us.  His grace leads us to do things that lift up people, heal blindness and edify the Church that He has called His bride.  We are neither slaves to the law or bound by the human desires of license.  We have liberty, freedom and life from Jesus who is our King of Kings.  We could do as we please ... but we choose Christ, who writes our story and is perfecting us with sanctifying grace.  Thanks be to God!  Randy

Monday, August 31, 2020

From Christ, Toward God

Over the past week I have had several theological discussions with folks from AUMC and people from other places.  In those conversations it was very easy to find reasons to pigeonhole people, preachers and even music into our categories of good, bad and indifferent.  I have a tendency to do this very thing.  It sometimes helps me to sort out theology that is not in keeping with the life, word and work of Jesus.  But sometimes I can "throw the baby out with the bathwater," so to speak.  All of this is treacherous ground.  On one hand, I want to make sure that we are within Christian orthodoxy.  On the other hand, I love lyrics and music that honestly examine our relationship with God and praise all of His works ... not just those I like.

In Galatians 1 Paul gives a good guide of how to sort out the good from the bad.  He sums it up in 2 statements.  The first is from Chapter 1, verse 12.  Paul reminds the Galatians that his preaching and authority to preach do not come from a human source ...  "I received it from direct revelation from Jesus Christ!"  While Paul is reminding the Galatians of his apostolic authority and source, it is a reminder to me that my preaching and teaching must come from the Scriptures given to me (and us) by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.  Be very concerned if you hear of preachers, teachers and denominations that say they have special revelation beyond God's Holy Word.  Likewise, be careful that your beliefs accept all of the Scriptures ... not just the ones you particularly like.  Our belief structure comes from God.  It is one reason we say the creed.  The creed reminds us that there is an umbrella of Holy Spirit revelation under which our theology must fall.

The second statement is from Chapter 1, verse 24.  Paul reminds the Galatians that because of his preaching, teaching and witness, people praised God.  This is vital to our belief structure!  We have a very human habit of loving things like charisma, flashiness, sword rattling (a guy thing), brashness, prosperity-promises and me-focused theology.  Paul exhorts the Galatians and us in his final statement of the chapter ... "they praised God because of me!"  Paul is not placing himself on a pedestal.  Paul is reminding them (and us) of the point of teaching, preaching, theology and even my daily grind.  It is to praise God and to point to God.

This thought process came about because of several discussions (and some internal pondering of my own) about denominational and musical theology.  It IS truly important.  But Paul's 2 points cause me to ask 2 questions about what I teach, what we sing and what we can all say we believe.  Does it (the teaching, preaching, singing) flow from Christ?  Does it also point to God?  Great questions to ponder.  And before you "throw out the baby with the bathwater" this question happened very early in the Church when priests were found to be sinful.  Some wanted to say that the sacraments administered by those priests (baptism, communion, etc.) were not valid.  The early Church decided that the sacrament was sacred, not because of the priest, but because of the presence of God.  Good call, early Church!  Maybe what we should do is ask, about theology, music and preaching ... is it from Scripture?  Does it point to God?  That's what Paul told the Galatians.  Randy

Monday, August 24, 2020

Other Gospels

Over the next few weeks, we will travel through the book of Galatians.  Paul writes this book relatively early in his ministry.  He is clarifying both his calling, his authority to write and the centrality of the one true Gospel.  I hope it will be fun for all of us ... but I get to have the most fun ... I get to study and prepare!

This Sunday we will look at Chapter 1 of Galatians.  In this Chapter Paul affirms his apostolic credentials and provides a clear purpose for the epistle.  One of Paul's major concerns is that the Galatians have been swift to follow other gospels.  Paul writes ... "You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News! (Gal. 1:6)."  As I read this I couldn't help but think about the day in which we live and what Paul would say to us.  There is the prosperity gospel that tells us that God's purpose is to make us prosperous.  There is the liberation gospel that tells us that God is always for the causes of social justice (by OUR definition).  There is the warrior gospel that leads us to fight everything (including each other).  There is the angry gospel that says all of our infirmity is God's punishment of a wayward world.  There is the conspiracy gospel that points us to conclude that we are definitely in the end times and that government, opposing political parties, other groups of Christians and other ethnic groups are methodically conspiring to destroy the planet.  There is the environmental gospel that recoils at any of us who think economics might be a valid consideration in decision making.  There is the socialist gospel, the LGBTQ gospel and the legalistic gospel.  And my list doesn't even include our denominational differences!  Paul's message to the Galatians is spot-on for our world today!

So ... here we go!  Paul reminds us that when we preface the Gospel with anything but Jesus and Jesus crucified, we make it gospel-light at best (note I didn't capitalize the g).  In our walk through Galatia I am hoping we can clarify the Gospel and amplify the message of Jesus.  As Paul says in Chapter 1, verse 6, the one true Gospel comes through "direct revelation from Jesus Christ."

This week we can do 2 things.  First, we can watch for how we are being taught by a myriad of sources to connect human goals with Gospel truth.  Don't buy in!  God's word is all about leading (and being led) to God's place, God's truth and God's way.  Second, we can transcend the mire of messages that lead us astray and see the truth of a Gospel that confronts, convicts and converts (that involves change folks).  In a song by Susan Ashton called You Move Me she sings, "I can't go with You and stay where I am ... so You move me."  If your gospel affirms your personal desires/feelings and doesn't challenge you to be better, you are probably following one of those "other gospels" Paul is speaking of.  Let's look at them together and find joy, challenge and life in the journey!  Randy

Monday, August 17, 2020

Call Back

I had a harrowing experience last week.  Each year I have a stress test to make sure all heart-related things are in good working order.  I did my prep and took the test as scheduled.  On my way back from Crestview (the doctor's office is there) to Freeport I was driving on the interstate, minding my own business, and I got a call from Crestview.  I answered the call and the stress-test technician says that there were issues and could I come back to Crestview.  I, of course, complied.  On my trip back I thought of what this could mean and was dreaming of all possible worst-case-scenarios.  I asked, "Why would they call unless something was horribly wrong?"  When I got there the technician said, "Oh ... nothing wrong with you ... the imaging machine had some glitches."  Why didn't he tell me earlier?

As I played back this situation, I had a thought.  What if God gave me a call back?  What if God said ... "I need you to come back so I can take some pictures of your heart.  There are a few glitches that need working-out!"

This thought brings two passages to mind.  The 1st is Psalm 139:23-24 ... "Search me and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."  I wonder if God is giving a call back to His Church.  Can we ask David's sincere questions?  Are we willing to ask God to search ... test ... lead us?  I believe, for sure, we need this as individuals, as a Church, as a nation and as the body of Christ in the world.  We need a heart check and we need God to lead us out of our inability to see and follow His purpose (not MY purpose).

The second passage is Galatians 5:22-23.  If we have a heart check, what is a Christian heart supposed to look like?  Paul tells us ... "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives ... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."  That is what a God-led heart is to look like.  I think if God took a good look at me, He might say what the captain in Cool Hand Luke said to Paul Newman ... "What we have here is failure to communicate!"  I read, I sing, I enjoy listening to others talk about God's word ... but do I love God's word so much I ask God to change my heart ... change my way of looking at things ... change me to conform to God's will and way?

What about you?  What would God say if He called you back for a heart re-check?  Randy

Monday, August 10, 2020

Hostages

In his version of Matthew 20:24-28, Eugene Peterson's "The Message" talks about leading by humility in an interesting way.  He speaks of leadership in terms of humility, serving and (by living in this attitude) freeing those who are hostages.  Here's what he writes ... "When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers. So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage (Matthew 20:24-28, The Message)."  There are many curious facets to this passage ... let's explore.

The first point of this passage is to describe leadership differently that the world describes leadership.  I am guilty of using my earthly leadership mentors such as John Maxwell, Peter Drucker and Peter Senge.  All of these men are learned, wise and well-founded in their leadership styles.  All talk of humility in a positive sense.  But Matthew talks of a kind of humility we don't often see.  Matthew writes that Jesus, our model of leadership, came to 1) serve, 2) exchange His life for many, 3) free those who are hostages.

We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, caught up in the politics of the upcoming election.  I won't dwell here because I try to offer Church as a refuge from this somewhat seamy business.  I suppose what we see unfolding has a place, but I wonder about how easily I see us throw Jesus' words out the window to express the virtues of our political persuasion.  I hear people say our leaders should be decisive, reactive, powerful, willing to be quick to use authority.  You have probably heard these things.  Then, Jesus describes leaders as servants, giving away life for others and focused on freeing hostages.  There seems to be a disconnect between Jesus' views and our views.  Which of us do you think needs to adjust their view here?

So, the passage.  The first point is that Christians ... followers of Jesus ... serve.  It is not optional behavior.  The entire idea of leading people to Christ is the idea of leading/influencing them to follow this person called Jesus.  Jesus says that to do this kind of leading, we serve.  It is a humble calling.  Yet, we seem to seek leaders who are aggressive and reactive.  Jesus specifically (various versions use different wording) says worldly leaders "throw their weight around," "Lord over others," and are decisively reactive.  Maybe we should read and follow Scripture here and seek servant leaders in churches, localities, states and nations.  Remember that Jesus is saying, follow me and serve.

The second point of leadership in Matthew 20 is the idea that leadership is sacrificial.  C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he talked about humility.  He said, "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself ... it's thinking of yourself less."  To be and lead in a sacrificial way, one must value others.  We are in a national argument about whose lives matter.  In Matthew 20, Jesus puts this argument to bed.  All people created by God matter, and if we believe (truly) that God created the heavens, earth and people, we must believe in all of those lives.  In the song, "So Will I" the writer says, "I can see Your heart 8 billion different ways, every precious one a child You died to save."  8 billion people on the planet.  "Red and yellow, black and white ... all are precious in His sight!"  Mothers, fathers, unborn babies, police, protesters, preachers, prostitutes, politicians, voters ... do you get the point here?  Jesus gave His life for all of these folks.  The writer of the song says ... "If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."

And, the last point, hostages.  That's what Peterson calls people who are in this world, but are being held by the terrorism of death, fear and self.  Jesus gave His life for these people ... so will I.  And I will do this in the unpopularity of viewing all of those people (above) as being God's possession.  I can't remember who told me this, but I believe it was a great lesson in viewing people and considering leadership ... "You can demonize behavior, but be very careful not to demonize people ... for when we demonize people, we run the risk of demonizing the part of that person God might be using for His purposes."  Maybe, we should lead by serving ... sacrificing time and life to save others ... becoming agents of releasing those who are hostage to fear, death and self.

I hope this blog helps you in preparing for what will be a contentious season.  Maybe you will choose to see people differently.  Maybe you will think about how God is grieved when we decide whose life matters and whose does not.  Maybe it will let you join with the task of serving, sacrificing and releasing the hostages.  Maybe you will see God's "heart 8 billion different ways ... every precious one a child You died to save. If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Finding Your Niche

Jeffrey Steele, a gifted songwriter from Santa Rosa Beach, is a talented guy.  He has written many songs you would know, including a portion of "Knee Deep" (Zac Brown), "My Wish" (Rascal Flats) and "The Cowboy in Me" (Tim McGraw).  I could name many more, but he has lots of talents in his hands, fingers and mind.  He has been very successful.  He tells a story about how he did things (including songwriting) backwards.  When he took guitar lessons in high school, he was failed because his finger picking was sub-par and he actually cheated a bit by using a pick.  He says he even writes songs backwards.  But it works for him ... it is his quirky niche.

Maybe you are like that.  I am too.  I cord my guitar differently than other folks because I was injured playing football and I am missing a finger ligament.  But I have adapted my style in spite of what could have been a deal breaker.

The point is this.  We have things happen to us all the time.  Someone has an accident.  Someone we love dies.  We get into a financial bind.  Our nation is hit by a pandemic and economic woes.  We lose a friend.  We make a bad choice.  I can go on.  But all of these things, while difficult, are things that God can, if we allow it, redeem.  God has a way of taking these difficulties and somehow turning them into what one writer said was ... "Something beautiful, something good."  One of my Seminary professors wrote ... "God never wastes a good crisis.  He doesn't always cause the difficulty, but He is always able to lift us out of those dark places."  Psalm 40 says, "He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along ... "

Peter was an uneducated fisherman.  Paul was an enemy of Christians.  Matthew was a tax collector.  All of the disciples had flaws that would have disqualified them from being used by God.  David was the runt of his litter, yet God loved and blessed him.  They and we are/were quirky people.  Jeffrey Steele says that his life experience caused him to rethink failure and flaws.  He realized that all of these things are opportunities for his special talents to be used for something worthwhile.  Hillary Scott sings a song that lifts my spirit every time I sing it.  It is called "Beautiful Messes" and it describes us ... people of infirmity ... people with quirks ... all lifted up by a God who wants us to find our niche of usefulness.  And don't think you don't have one.  If you are a Christian you have a gift or gifts and a unique nature that God can and will use.  All you have to do is one thing ... give God the 'yes' He has already given you.  And the beauty is ... after the yes, God does all the heavy lifting.  Never forget you/we are the Church ... the bride of Christ ... the hands and feet of the living God ... ambassadors with a mission and a message.  So, let's act like it and find our place in this world where Good News seems in short supply.  Get up and get going!  Randy


Monday, July 27, 2020

Owed

It seems that everything has been moved, changed, reoriented and modified this year!  It's a little like my mother coming to my house and putting things where she thinks they should go ... not where I had them.  But as I complain, I would love that experience of mom coming and doing her little and wonderful annoying things!  Be careful what you complain about!

I write this blog as I have just finished sending off my tax information.  The due date of April 15th was changed to July 15th because of COVID 19.  True to form, I still had to file an extension.  Habit, I guess!

As I was sending off the documents a phrase from Scripture came to mind ... Mark 12:17 says, “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”  Taxes go off to the government.  We are all a bit reluctant to send them, but it probably beats the alternative.  Even gangsters are afraid of the IRS.  But this verse does beg a question ... "What is Caesar's and what is God's?"

I would like to say what John prays often on Wednesday night as he asks (for self and for others) "Lord ... take my life!"  But I must say I am great at saying those words but not so great at giving with open hands to the God who will take all I give and turn it into beauty.  I am much better at singing the old song ... "Some to Jesus, I surrender, some to Him I gladly give!"  You get the point, I hope.

This little verse from Mark is more deep and more troubling than we would like to admit.  As I sit here writing these words, I am questioning myself.  Randy ... do you give God what is His?  Do those songs of surrender flow much easier than the time, the resources, the love and the life that is all owed to God?

To send my taxes I scanned some documents and hit a button.  Away the words went, into the ether of the digital world.  I was trusting that those pages would end up just where I was sending them.  It was as easy as the words to a pretty song.  I heard a friend preach about the act of giving once.  He said that the 'hands raised' with palms up was the appropriate gesture for prayer, praise and giving.  The idea is that when the palms are up one can offer and receive in prayer ... in praise offer and show emptiness wishing to be filled ... in giving offering with no intention of taking back what is offered.  While I didn't find lots of research on this, I do like the idea of giving to God with the idea that God will fill up my emptiness somehow.  That God will send a response to my prayer.  That God will send His blessing down as I lift my hands and heart in praise.  I owe the IRS the taxes they are due.  But I owe my very life and every good thing I have ever seen or felt to God.  So today I will pray with hands lifted, palms up, knowing that God will take my prayer and redeem it so that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Now that's a return on investment!  Randy

Monday, July 20, 2020

Alignment

We have a fair number of hunters in our congregation.  So the subject of alignment should be familiar to them.  To hit your target you must align the sights of the gun with the target you want to hit.  At least that's how it should work.  But there are exceptions to this.  Sometimes the sights of the gun get out of whack.  They must be adjusted and realigned if they are to be useful as a guide to hit the target.  Sometimes our spiritual sights get knocked out of alignment.  Life is a constant process of realigning those sights so that we are aimed in the right direction.  We are individually, denominationally and nationally in need of realigning those sights.  For if what I read on social media, watch on TV and hear in conversations is what people believe, our sights have been knocked out of alignment ... they need to be adjusted to a standard better than the one people have set.  Thankfully, we have God's Word to bring us back to seeing and aiming for the correct target.

There is a story about one of our Vietnam heroes.  His company came under intense enemy fire.  Most were either dead or wounded.  One soldier who was a sniper was able to use his weapon but his sniper rifle had its sights damaged and it was dusk.  He was aiming blindly.  Then, he fired and saw a burst of dust pop up where the bullet hit the dirt.  He adjusted his aim and was able to take out so many enemies that they fell back and his company was able to get to safety.

We need that kind of alignment.  For some of us life has hit us so hard our sights have become misaligned.  Paul, in Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God's standard."  This is alright, and even normal.  But Christ calls us to recognize our propensity to sin and ask Him to realign our sights.  God loves us just like we are but He expects us to allow His forgiveness, grace and teaching to grow us up and align with His plan.

For others, we have allowed society to become our sight.  We have aligned with society.  Jesus, in Matthew 7:14, reminds us that the wide gate leads to destruction.  I see that wide gate in the social media, news media and rumor.  I have seen and heard so many ridiculous stories and statements on Facebook that it has become comical.  I think Jesus would tell us to get out of conspiracy theories ... get out of drama ... get out of narcissistic politics ... get out of the belief that Facebook and other social media has wisdom or advice that we should follow.  God created the rules of nature.  God created how things like science and math operate.  God gave us His Word to follow and trust.  Our nation's currency says, "In God We Trust!"  So ... do we?  "Be THOU our vision, O Lord of my heart."  Align with God!

And at this time many of us are being encouraged to align with politics.  We should definitely be informed and follow the right things in voting.  But, as Paul expressed in Romans 3, we have a standard to follow.  It is not a standard either owned or expressed by any of our political parties.  Parties, 'isms' (conservatism, liberalism, etc.) and even our denominations are made of people who all fall short of God's standard.  Romans 3:23 is about a universal "missing the target."  But Paul continues and reminds us that there are ways we can realign.  Holding on to God's sacrifice, receiving God's forgiveness, and believing in faith are all parts of this realignment.  But Paul's writings also express what John Wesley would call the 'realignment' of God's sanctifying grace, achieved through the disciplines of the faith.  These include prayer, fasting, service, sacraments, worship, Christian conferencing (hanging out together), and learning.  These are the things we must align with first.  Our political leanings must come "under God," not superseding God.  So, as you prepare to vote, sift your politics through Scripture, not society!

When we were camping with the grand-kids, we went on a .7 mile hike around the lake near our cabin.  The boys got out ahead of us and they missed the place where we should have crossed a stream and trekked back toward the cabin.  So we ended up at the BMX course.  They finally stopped and waited for us, and I had to assess where we were and how we would proceed.  I had to realign us.  We set off again following the trail that would lead us back to where we were staying.  After 4.5 miles we got back, tired but safe.  Fortunately, we were able to get back on course, and I believe we (nationally, individually and spiritually) can do the same.  But we must turn (repent) and follow God ... not conspiracy theories, political candidates, denominational leanings, politically-correct talking points or social media.  It is time to get back on course, back to Jesus and back to the path that leads to that narrow gate that leads to life.


Monday, July 13, 2020

But God Can!

In this time of anxiety there are some things we all need.  I talked to Cher Marvel last week and the Boys and Girls Club is reopening ... it is unknown how this will go.  We are continuing to hold 9 AM and 11 AM services, modified as they are ... it is up in the air how all of this will unfold.  I heard of the job turmoil of some of my friends ... none of us know how this will turn out.  And I read of the opposition to rebuilding Jerusalem's wall in Nehemiah 4 ... and I remember that turmoil isn't an outlier ... it is the norm.  We look at all of this and say, "I can't see how this will turn out well!"  But God can!

I heard the story of a cat that was relocated by a nasty neighbor.  The owner looked and looked and finally found out a general area where the cat was taken.  She posted fliers, she rode through the neighborhood, she looked in nearby woods, she put out food, but nothing happened.  Oh ... she did one more thing ... she prayed.  Six weeks passed and it seemed that all, including the cat, was lost.  Then she made one last trip and prayed one last prayer ... "If the cat isn't here I know I have to stop looking ... but Lord, please help!"  She heard a meow and walking toward her was the cat, a bit worn and frazzled, but very alive.  To her the cat was lost ... but God can find things!

Here are the words from Nehemiah 4:1-2 "When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”  People can't see past the rubble, the brokenness, the trouble, the obstacles and the ruins.  But God can!

There is a beautiful song with the words ... "When the mountains fall, and the tempest roars, you are with me ... when creation folds, still my soul will soar in your mercy, I'll walk through the fire with my head lifted high and my spirit revived in your story, and I'll look to the cross as my failure is lost, in the light of your glorious grace ... "  The song is called Glorious Ruins and it reminds me of the walls of Jerusalem, fallen, broken and waiting for a God who can revive and restore them.  It reminds me of a lost cat and the lost hope of a woman.  It reminds me of a nation of people who see ruins and wonder "will the stones come back to life!?"  We can't see the hope, the rebuilding or the restoration ... but God can!  Nehemiah had hope, faith and he told the naysayers ... "The God of heaven will give us success!"  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Adaptation

This week I have been reflecting on several things.  Last Wednesday John Riley spoke on Nehemiah and how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days ... pretty impressive!  In a time when we must restore and rebuild some important stuff, how can we learn from Nehemiah's example?  What are the traits of a nation that allow us to survive and even thrive amid centuries of strife?  What things, in our Church, allow us to grow stronger, better and even more effective in the midst of these same issues?

I will spend the next few weeks talking about the traits of a nation and a Church that has endured through all the things life has sent our way.  The first of the traits is the ability to adapt.

Last week I left Abbeville on Thursday so I could get up at the crack of dawn and fish.  When I periodically make this trip to Florida, there are always things that are in flux.  I have lawn work and chores, so I need to make sure I take the time to get those things done.  Sometimes Lee has things she has planned, so those plans go into the mix.  Weather, especially in the summer, is a moving target with rain, wind and heat.  If I plan to fish, I need to get live bait, and it isn't always available at the bait store ... sometimes I have to catch my own bait.  If I plan to get some down time and make use of my work time, I need to be willing to adapt.

In Nehemiah's day, he entered Jerusalem by the King's permission.  He didn't know what to expect.  He found enemies, stubborn Jews, and other obstacles that blocked him in accomplishing what looked like an impossible task.  This, unfortunately, is more the norm than smooth sailing.  In nature and in life we are often forced to change and adapt to things that happen.  Bad people do bad things.  Good people fail.  We are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Something happens in Asia and we find ourselves scrambling to adapt.  At our best, we do what Nehemiah did ... we seek God, we follow God and we shine our light at the darkest moments.

What did Nehemiah do?  He prayed for success.  He planned for the work ahead.  He assessed the work in real time.  He expected opposition and was prepared.  He persisted in spite of obstacles.  He 'got er done!'

As I thought about Nehemiah's ability to adapt, I thought of how many people have found new and effective ways of doing their work in the midst of a pandemic.  Many are working from home and have found it efficient, cheaper than the alternative, much better for the environment and often better for their employer.  They adapted.

I hope each of you will help me do a better job of adapting to our current situation.  While I have received advice ranging from the extreme of business as usual to total closure, we, as a congregation, have chosen to adapt.  We prayed.  We planned.  We assessed what needed to be done and made some changes.  We expected opposition and got what we expected.  We hope we have persisted.  We pray we have and will continue to 'get er done.'

I received a note from one of our people about 2nd service resuming last week.  The person was grateful for the resumption of 2nd service and complimented the music and the service.  I am thankful for all who were part of this restart.  I know we will need to be ready to tweak what we are doing and adapt to the situation on the ground.  But if we pray, plan, assess, expect, persist and proceed, I believe God will bless our actions.  And, of course, nothing ever happens like you plan it ... so you adapt!  Randy

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

Authority

There is a lot happening regrading the word "authority."  In the Webster's 1828 Dictionary, authority is defined as "Legal power or a right to command or to act.  As the power of a prince over subjects and of parents over children.  Power, rule, sway."  The Greek word is exousia, and the Greek definition is similar, except that it defines this legal power as operating in a jurisdiction.  Both words are good for my thoughts today.

Matthew 28, the great commission, is one of Jesus' last appearances before His ascension.  His meeting with His disciples in Galilee is all about what we would call change, a passing of the torch and imparting of power/authority.  It is an important meeting and it is foundational for us to understand who and what we are as disciples.

Seeing this word amidst protests, a totally divisive new media, a rise of blind partisanship, people taking sides on seemingly every issue, totally illogical statements in social media and many asking the question, "Who and what do I follow?" makes the idea of authority both relevant and important.  Who do you follow?  Upon what ideology do you base your decisions?  If Jesus came to town today and He entered your home, your workplace or your church, how would He classify you?

In Matthew 28 Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me."  It is a short but telling statement.  Jesus is saying that he has exousia over pretty much everything we think we have control over.  John Riley often quotes Psalm 24:1 which (paraphrased) says God owns it all ... the earth, the people, all the stuff.  Jesus says He is the one who has authority over what Psalm 24 calls "the fullness thereof."  Jesus' authority is universal.

It is interesting that even Jesus gets His authority from somewhere, apparently God expressed in the trinity.  Authority is both given and accepted.  It comes from somewhere.  In a world where my neighbors are having post-COVID parties, protests talk about freedom as if it is the power to do whatever I feel like doing (i.e., I am my own authority), I wonder if we operate under any authority.  As we plan for beginning of services (modified of course) we operate under authority.  The Bishop has an opinion.  The Governor has an opinion.  Our leadership has an opinion.  The public has an opinion.  I have an opinion.  But to whom do we report to?  Who is our authority?  Remember ... authority comes from somewhere, even if it is self.

A final point ... authority goes somewhere.  It would be wonderful if our choices and decisions only impacted us.  I hear a lot of people talk about how they should be able to do whatever they choose ... after all, it only impacts them.  I remember a few years ago a woman (Kaci Hickox) was clearly exposed to ebola, a highly contagious and deadly virus.  She refused to be quarantined.  The civil liberties people said she shouldn't be quarantined against her will.  Medical experts said that ebola, with a 90%+ mortality outcome, was so dangerous, the woman should be forced to self-isolate for a specified period.  Who was correct?  These issues are the very ones we will be wrestling with at a Zoom meeting with our church leadership tomorrow.  These are the issues that 2 Zoom meetings (one Monday and one Tuesday) will address as hundreds of pastors discuss returning to worship.  Pray for us!  These meetings and the decisions that follow are not easy, simple or popular.  Our authoritative decisions will go out into our community and out into our congregation.  They will impact me, you, our older folks, our children, our workers, our ministries and life at Abbeville UMC.  So I will end with a prayer today ... "Lord ... you have imparted your authority to us, passed on through the Father, the Holy Spirit and You.  It is a huge and grave responsibility.  You would not have given it if you didn't think we could handle it.  So, we ask you.  Keep that promise you made at the end of Matthew 28.  Be with us now and even to the ends of the earth.  Help us make our little part of the world better because we are here.  Help us become the Genesis 12:12 "blessing" that we, as Your Church, should be to all the earth.  Grant us both the authority and the wisdom that comes from knowing you, from becoming selfless, and from being your princes and princesses, with Your imparted authority to make disciples and teach people about You.  We need your leading and guidance.  We need Your Spirit.  We need you!  Thank you, Jesus, for everything You are and all You do.  In Jesus' name, AMEN."  Randy

Monday, May 4, 2020

Nets

I have to confess to being possessive about fishing spots.  I have fished Choctawhatchee Bay for a fair number of years and I have found a very productive fishing spot.  Only a few people know the place I fish, and I keep that secret well.  The footprint of the spot I fish is relatively small.  But I usually catch fish, last week 20 redfish and trout.  I know where the best spots are.  I know the tackle that works.  There is often unseen abundance under the surface of the water.

But I am just an amateur.  In John 21, Jesus encounters His disciples on a fishing trip.  Even though they know fishing they have fished all night and caught nothing.  Jesus comes near and tells them to throw their nets "on the right side of the boat."  They caught so many fish the nets are ready to break.

We are in a time where our fishing has been hampered.  We keep fishing and we keep going on, but we feel like things aren't being productive.  It is a struggle to serve virtually, do Bible study on Zoom, preach to the few workers who help out on Sunday morning, have little or no interaction with the public during office hours and generally feel like we are 'stuck' in the mud of this pandemic.  Then, I read this passage.

None of us have lost our giftedness.  We have gifts for ministry that God can use at all times.  We might have to be more creative than usual, but we have talents.  We can use them! 

We have a Master that knows the right place to fish.  He is saying, "cast those nets in places that are out of your comfort zone."  Sunday morning, and hopefully this week, Nicey will cast her net differently as she hosts a Zoom Sunday School Class.  She fished there last week and I am pretty sure they were biting.  Jackie, Janet, Emily and Freddy cast their nets on the right side of the boat as they plan Senior Moment Sunday (May 17 from 2-4 PM in front of the church).  You can drive by, see them and their parents, and drop notes, gifts and well-wishes into their baskets (maintaining physical distance).  There will also be special video clips that week at worship.  Jesus knows where to fish as we use our obedience and creativity to serve where we are planted.

And remember ... Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are in charge of our abundance.  We join in the harvest, but the Lord of the harvest delivers the crop.  We cast our nets where we are directed.  We use the abilities we have been given.  And we trust that God will and can do great things if we follow Him.  It is a good fishing story but a better ministry story.  Thanks be to God!  Randy

Monday, April 27, 2020

Seeing is Believing?

We have all heard the term ... "Seeing is believing!"  But in these times of struggle and difficulty I have seen and heard much that I have not chosen to believe.  Belief is important, and knowing the right things to believe can be crucial, even life and death.  I was listening to a report today about a heartburn medication that is being studied as a therapy for COVID-19 patients.  I expect that people, who are grasping for what to believe, will hear this report and clear the shelves of various treatments for heartburn, without knowing the science, without considering possible side effects and without sending the news report through any cogent mental process.  Heartburn medication will go the way of toilet tissue, spray disinfectant, hand sanitizer and Clorox.  I have wondered about people often over the past few months ... we can be shepherd-less sheep.

It seems at times of crisis we are willing to grab on to almost any glimmer of hope.  But not Thomas!  "Seeing is believing" said Jesus' doubting disciple.  Read it for yourself.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus appeared to the disciples in a closed room, so Thomas said, "I won't believe unless I see the nail marks in His hands and feel the holes the nails made ... unless I put my hand where His side was pierced."  We are all down with a run on Pepcid and Clorox but when it comes to Jesus, we want to see Him in the flesh ... like Thomas.

A few thoughts on this passage.  First, Jesus reminds that the greatest blessing of true belief comes when we believe even when we do not see.  All Job saw was turmoil, trouble and unfaithful "friends," but Job said he would put his trust in God and that he was sure of a living God in the midst of all he faced (Job 13, Job 19)!  Really, our hope for revisiting our dead friends/family, our hope for true redemption of this world, our hope for true justice and our hope for final and eternal victory rests in a God who, so often, is beyond our vision.  This is so evident that the writer of Hebrews (in Chapter 11) says "faith is hope in things unseen."  In John 20, Jesus says that when we hope in these things, when we believe in a God we don't see clearly, we are blessed.

The second hopeful note from John 20 is that Jesus seems to go out of His way to seek out and find Thomas.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.  But Jesus cares about the individual.  He expresses, in this little story, His desire to be personally known and believed by each of us.  Jesus met Thomas where he was ... steeped in doubt and disarray.  Maybe that is where you are today.  Maybe the things you held as unshakable have been shaken.  Maybe your friends are acting strange because of world events.  Maybe government isn't the solace and guidance you need.  Maybe jobs and finances are uncertain.  Maybe you don't know what tomorrow brings.  But the old song plays in your mind and gives you a warmth and certainty ... "Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."  Blessed, indeed, are those who believe in a God they cannot see, for God is here and God is there "at the ending of the rainbow, where the mountains touch the sky."  Randy

Sunday, April 19, 2020

On To Pentecost

If you watched our worship on April 19, 2020, you heard about one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Jesus meets two men travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  He teaches them, corrects them and travels with them to Emmaus where He reveals Himself to them.  This is the first message in a series I am calling On To Pentecost

In an historic sense, these moments of Jesus' appearing to the disciples is true revelation of God's nature.  God wants to teach us (the April 19th message).  God wants us to have peace in troubled times (this coming week's message).  God wants us to know so much about His nature and about His calling and purpose.  The post-resurrection appearances are truly windows into what God is like and how much God wants to be known and experienced.  It is great stuff!

In Luke 24:36-49 Jesus appears to His disciples.  They are gathered together, probably talking about the events of the day. It a very personal and human appearance of Jesus as He enters rooms through walls, seeks nourishment, and tells the disciples He is fulfilling and empowering even as He moves toward ascension.  The words that come to me from this story are grasp, grow and get ready.

Grasp the magnitude of what has and is happening.  The resurrection is a big deal that will forever change the world.  In our lifetimes few things have changed the world.  Most of us remember 911.  We will all remember the coronavirus pandemic of (at least) 2020.  But Jesus' resurrection and related events changed the very fabric of society then, throughout Church history, and even today as we gather (currently digitally) to pray, worship and express our faith.  The man that changed history is also the man that can move our mountains, break down our walls and give us strength to overcome this world.

Grow in faith.  The time between the resurrection and Pentecost is a time to understand just who we are.  We are those people who will, under the power of God, be agents of change in the world.  We will (Matthew 5) become the light of the world, made into that light as we are transformed into the image of the risen Lord.  Jesus gives us His glory and strength of faith (He is the author and perfecter of faith) so we can light this world.

And this is a time to get ready.  I have been thinking about this idea for the past week.  What will ministry look like over the next year?  How will we fund missions?  How will we connect with the children in our community?  How will we improve the new building across the street?  How will we feed school children, send resources to Red Bird, help with community needs, help our friends in Belize, distribute food from the food pantry and what will worship look like?  I think Jesus would say to us what he is saying to the disciples.  Grasp what is happening ... grow in faith ... and get ready because I am about to do something that will open your eyes and open the world!

In John's version of this story, Jesus opens the minds of the disciples and they have immediate understanding of the Scriptures.  "Lord ... I pray that you will open our minds so that we better understand you.  I pray that we realize the power you gave us at Pentecost.  I pray for creativity, energy, passion and knowledge that you go before us always, preparing the way ahead.  I thank you for all of this and will seek to express that thanks in a way that tells the world of your glory.  AMEN."


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Always Teaching

I wonder if sometimes we assume that by being in Church (or now watching our services online) we sometimes hear the Word in the music, message or prayers but fail to receive the teaching that is and should be happening.  Teaching is vital to our faith journey!  It is why we encourage you to be part of a small study group, a Sunday School class and/or our usual weekly Bible study.  This week we will send something your way at 7 PM Wednesday.  Here is the link!

On the original walk to Emmaus (the one from Luke 24:13-34) Jesus listens to Cleopas and his friend as He joins them walking to a town called Emmaus (about 20 miles west of Jerusalem).  They are rambling about the events of the crucifixion, the things that happened to Jesus, the story of the women and the empty tomb and the "gossip" of what was happening in their midst.  They might have been as disoriented as we are watching various news channels as our media report their particular perspective of the news without actually knowing (or caring) about the truth of what is happening.  Here are some thoughts from this story ... thoughts that are VERY applicable to us in our current crisis.

The first thought is about our foolishness to follow our perspectives instead of pursuing the real truth.  "You foolish people!" Jesus said.  "You find it so hard to believe what the Prophets wrote in the Scriptures!" (Luke 24:25).  I read last week that the beaches in South Walton should be opened because the people in the area need the sunlight to generate sun-activated vitamin D.  I wondered if the sun was different at the beach that it was in every back yard in South Walton.  I guess we will believe anything!  I could share other ridiculous stories, but the story here is that Cleopas and his friend are listening to gossip and not sifting that gossip with the truth of God's Word.  Teaching is important so that we have a standard of comparison to the waves of trash talk we find on every single "news" channel.

The second thought is the patience of Jesus as He recounts the teachings of the prophets and the Scriptures to people who claim to be disciples.  Jesus talks and teaches in the midst of a world that has been turned on its head.  I think about this as I share the weekly Bible studies and know that learning is the place we should all be.  Freddie, John, Nicey and I have all agreed to be part of this teaching because teaching is important.

Finally, I see, in this little story, the end result of teaching and learning.  When we learn ... when we are taught by credible people ... when we want truth (not opinion or perspective) ... our eyes are opened.  In the story Jesus breaks the bread for their meal and it all clicks together for Cleopas and his friend.  They see Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.

In our crisis, allow yourself to be taught by the author of truth.  Understand that your Facebook feed is filled with people trying to sell you on what will get your attention, get you angry, get you distracted and sometimes just give you gossip.  Paul said, set your minds on the things above.  Good advice for the times we are in!  Randy

Monday, April 6, 2020

Beauty

Very interesting days we are in.  Holy Week is in full swing and most of us are under stay-at-home orders, trying to make sense of a world that is sending us information, speculation, political perspectives, daily virus updates, special interest stories and wonderful replays of sporting events like the 2015 Hot Dog Eating Contest or the 2018 Axe Throwing Championships.  We are finding some very creative and lame ways to spend our time.  Here are a few thoughts about all of this.

1.  Jesus didn't lose sight of His mission in the midst of a very chaotic week.  He focused and went on to the cross.

2.  Jesus' horrible but necessary week of suffering, betrayal, torture, humiliation and abandonment was redeemed on Easter Sunday as death was swallowed up by Jesus' victory over the enemy.

3.  Maybe all of this chaos will teach us to stop, think, remember, listen and see through the mist of our world to God's better world for all of us.

I have to say that yesterday was a struggle.  We had technical issues as we tried to get Palm Sunday service up and running.  I had some great friends who were waiting and trying to link in to our service and I wanted everything to be perfect.  The Zoom site had issues yesterday and our links to the service were altered without our knowledge.  It was crazy, confusing, frustrating and just plain infuriating at times.  My team was working frantically and they stayed their course (thanks to all of you!) but their fearful leader was frazzled.  When I went home all I wanted to do was curl up in the corner in a ball.  Then, I read a text from my daughter.  My granddaughter, who had been working to ride her bicycle, was up and going strong.  I got a wonderful little video of this, and it brought me out of my pity party into the reality of this week.  I remembered that nothing I had experienced meant much when it was compared to the beauty of Jesus' resurrection ... the beauty we will celebrate on Easter morning.  In spite of the craziness in this world we are in, Easter will happen.  We will sing Christ The Lord is Risen Today.  We will talk to family.  We will be glad for the beauty of the day that the Lord has made.  And all of us will know the most beautiful thing ever ... we are loved by a God willing to give up His very life so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  That is true beauty!  Randy

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