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

Monday, March 9, 2020

Do Likewise


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2020

Pardoned While Powerless

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Very Best Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 17, 2020

Humans "Being"

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Core

Since I have been in Abbeville, I have ridden an indoor and outdoor bike.  When I first began riding my bike (after years of neglect), I remembered something someone said to me about muscle memory ... "Your body doesn't forget things like riding a bike ... it remembers."  My outside bicycle is a Giant (brand) mountain bike and it is tall because I am a tall person.  It took way too long for my body to "remember" how to stay balanced on the bicycle ... it was clumsy and clunky.  My head said, "They told me my body would remember."  But my body said, "Dude ... you haven't used these muscles in years."  I found that the hardest thing was to keep my balance on the bicycle ... something that was natural and easy.  Then, in a flash of realization, I realized that what was at issue here was the central or "core" muscles in my body.  Over time I had not focused on this muscle system and it would take time, work and energy to get back into shape.

This morning, as I thought about our passage for the week, I was taken back to this re-learning experience.  Paul is writing a prayer for/to the Ephesians.  He wants them to grow and to have a solid place to go when life gets tough, unpredictable or dicey.  He prays that "God will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.  Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong! (Ephesians 3:16a and 17)."  We have a physical core, but here it says we have a spiritual core.  It is where we are rooted.  It is where we find strength.  It is what we rely upon when we get off balance or the wind trys to blow us off our spiritual bicycle!

We need deep roots in these days of uncertainty.  Because people, events and even our own feelings try to throw us off our stride.  Over the last few months I have had more than a few people saying things about me, some of my close friends and even our church.  About 99% of what I have heard is not true and is pure fabrication, but it still hurts if you give it traction in your heart.  There have been events, like the upcoming General Conference, that have reminded me of the uncertainty of the structures we build as people.  And my feelings have pulled me this way and that (it's what they do).  Paul says that these things require deep roots.  Our core strength is to remember the power and sufficiency of God's love which is wide, deep, high and long (Ephesians 3:18).

How do we get and keep this core strength?  Paul doesn't say "dig deep into your own strength."  Paul doesn't say, "follow your heart."  Paul doesn't say, "get a self-help book."  Paul says 1) trust God's mysterious plan (3:9, because having core strength in the darkness of this world is vital), 2) trust God's eternal purpose (3:11, if you keep on the path it is much easier to stay upright), 3) realize the power to stand comes from God living in you (3:16, because MY strength is totally inadequate), and 4) allow God's power to make you complete/whole (3:19, because God is working in/through you by His Spirit).

When I started back riding the bike, it took repetition, work, failure, persistence and practice to ride with strength and balance.  I had to develop and work those core muscles.  It is the same with what God wants to give you.  God wants you to have a grasp of God's plan, God's purpose, God's power and the wholeness that comes with knowing God.  But you will need to study, grow, apply what God gives you ... core muscles won't get stronger without hard work.  So ... "May your roots grow down deep into God's love and keep you strong!"  Randy

Monday, February 3, 2020

Trails

Each year, for my birthday, the new tradition in the family is to travel to Birmingham and go to Oak Mountain State Part.  It is located between where Christopher and Stephanie live, it is east to find and there are lots of things to do.  We usually cook out, visit the raptor center and just hang out, celebrating my birthday, Elise's birthday and life.  It is a good getaway and I enjoy the family time.

One thing we could do at the park is go hiking on a trail.  There are literally hundreds of possibilities, with varying degrees of difficulty.  As I was looking at a trail map one day I reflected on where we are in society.  We are at a place that has hundreds of possibilities.  God's Word addresses this and in Matthew 7 Jesus says "wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction (7:13)."  Paul says (1 Cor. 10:23) "I am allowed to do everything but not everything is beneficial."  The person and path of God is focused ... not broad!

God's way isn't being able to do and choose anything, even though we can.  God's path, plan and purpose seems to say ... "focus!"  When I walk the trail at a State park I need to do three things.  The first thing is to focus on the trail markers.  They are usually colored and can be seen along the trail.  When I am on the yellow trail, I follow the yellow markings and know that these will lead me to my destination.  When I am following God, I must concentrate on the markers.  For me they can be truth-speaking people, folks who I know have my best interest at heart, readings from trusted sources, sermons/messages and events that teach me.

The second thing I need to focus on is the next step, the terrain and the trail itself.  I have always had a pension for spraining my ankle.  When I am hiking I need to be conscious of rocks, roots, rough places and all of the places I place my feet.  In God's word we find David's teaching ... "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105)."  The image here is David walking along and relying on God to illuminate the next step.  Yes, glance forward at the trail marker, but remember to watch the steps you take getting there.

Finally, we must keep our destination in our minds.  When I am traveling in my kayak, I look out at the water right in front of the kayak to make sure I won't have any immediate issues (next step).  I look a little further out to see that I am not losing track of the trail (trail markers).  But I look way out on the horizon at the destination.  We, as God's people, have a destination.  We can get confused about this.  Some think it is the land over yonder, MY salvation and MY ticket to heaven.  Jesus said if we seek to save our life we will lose it.  Our destination is all about God's plan and God's place ... not us.  Maybe in Matthew Jesus is talking about something more difficult, more challenging and more fleeting than our cliche's about heaven.  There are four Gospels.  They are all journeys.  They all end in struggle and sacrifice.  And the journey is so that others (not self) will be saved.  But in becoming the conduit of God's grace and love for all people, Jesus (according to multiple scriptures) is lifted to God's right hand, given all authority over heaven and earth and is the only one worthy to open to scrolls that bring all of our journeys to an end.

In a world where we are told to follow our heart, be directed by our feelings and be led by "the flavor of the month" Jesus says ... "wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction" but "straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life."  It seems to be really good advice to me!  Randy

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Alpha and Omega

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

That's The Truth!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Waves and Castles

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

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

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

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