Monday, December 30, 2013

A Touchy Subject

Healings, and all the permutations of this very real miracle,  are a touchy subject in Christian circles.  I think we make two crucial mistakes with the subject of healing. The first mistake is to believe we are the ones in control of healing.  God sent the plagues on Egypt to correspond to the Egyptian gods of nature and carved images of frogs and insects.  God is saying, "You can choose to worship any of these things but they are not real and I am the God over all things." It has been a human desire for millenia to have control over God.  Sacrifices to Baal were made to seek Baal's favor.  Throughout history, in mythology and even in prayer we sometimes try to bargain our way to God's favor.  Have you ever prayed the "if then" prayer?  "God, if you get me outta this situation then I will do something for you?"  You get the point ... we sometimes forget that God is God and we treat Him like some kind of holy vending machine in which we insert our wish list and God delivers.  This manipulative attitude is the source of one distortion of the Gospel known as "The Prosperity Gospel."  I have seen many people pulled down into the dangerous idea that God somehow wants us to magically be in the lap of luxury.  It seems to me the greatest movements of God in the world today are not happening in places of affluence (this should be a red flag to us as we see the prosperity gospel preached).  They are happening in places where people are willing to stop and listen to God.  And if we look at the New Testament witness, we do not find many people in plush houses, palaces or the high-rent district.  We find people in the midst of struggles and persecution.  This continues into the early church and the church grows in influence during this time of persecution.  I am sure lots of those people prayed for delivery from their persecution, but somehow God knew that when faith is strong, we can praise Him best in the storms of life.

The second mistake we make is to think that Scriptural healing and miraculous healing is somehow not real.  We explain away the mysteries of Scripture.  We say that healings only happened when Jesus was here and that they somehow have stopped in the modern age.  Why, then, does Jesus tell his disciples "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12)?"  Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit to teach. lead, comfort, convict and to heal us.  If Jesus has told us there are greater things to come, what right do we have to deny His words?

Our message, blogs and reflections (you can access them through the website ) will be on the subject of how God heals us.  It is interesting that He begins this process by reminding us what He wold Moses in Exodus ... "I am the God who exists."  That will be our lesson on the 1st Sunday in January.  I hope you will be there and we can share!  Randy

Monday, December 23, 2013

We Made It

We made it!  We have negotiated two trips with Mary (Ein Karem and Bethlehem) and have walked the roads of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.  We have seen the sights, including the altars built by the Patriarchs.  And we have arrived in Bethlehem, to what was probably a cave for livestock in the back of Joseph's old homeplace.  Here we see a familiar scene.  There are animals.  It would look and smell like a barn in our world.  Sheep, goats and a cow or two might be munching hay.  The light would be from lamps or candles.  I'll bet Mary is reflecting on the sacrifice and inconvenience of obedience as she surveys the place where she will likely have her child ... Jesus.  We made it ... but IT is just a beginning.

In the business of the holiday I think we all breathe a sigh of relief on Christmas Eve.  Whether we are ready or not, Christmas Day is at hand.  Whether we have done everything we wanted to do or got every gift we desired, Christmas is (as the Grinch said) "practically here!"  We are planning the events of the day and I hope your plans include a time to go by your church and kneel in both thanks and remembrance at the altar.  We will be able to do this from 5-7 pm and even have a special candlelight service at 7:05pm in the Sanctuary at Abbeville United Methodist.  It will be a special time to celebrate with music and a short message the meaning of this day.  Yes, Christmas is practically here.

But let's not forget a very important thing.  Jesus is God's gift that keeps on giving from His birth to this very day.  Jesus will give us guidance through this dark world as He speaks God's Word into the world.  The Word did truly become flesh and dwell among us.  He will inspire four Gospels which lead us every day.  He will tell us hard truths about loving our enemies and how our first priority in all we do is to love God and people.  He will plant the Church in the midst of an occupied nation in an obscure part of the world and that Church will cover the entire globe.  He will, by His death, resurrection and ascension, do one more thing.  He (as He tells us in the last few chapters of John) leaves us one very special gift ... His Spirit.  He doesn't just walk among us and leave ... God lives in the hearts of people.  He is truly "God with us."

Sunday, you might have seen His Spirit as our praise team battled sickness and sang their hearts out because God's Spirit was there.  You might have seen the smiles and joy on the face of our choir at the second service as they sang past the franticness of the season to tell us God's message in song.  I was sustained by that Spirit as I shared the message of life, death and resurrection with two families this week, sending their loved one into the hands of a good and perfect God.  And on Christmas Eve, here in this little Sanctuary, we will count on God's Spirit to lead our worship.  I hope you will be here ... because we should be eager to give thanks to God for His lasting and perfect gift of Jesus.  Yes, we made it to the end of one journey but that journey begins another trip that starts in a manger and ends in eternity with a victorious Jesus in His everlasting kingdom.  Randy

Monday, December 16, 2013

An Unexpected Journey

One can only imagine the unexpected nature of the journey Mary and Joseph made that first Christmas.  Mary was settled in to bring her child into the world in the cozy confines of Nazareth, her home town.  Joseph was there, far away from the pressures and turned-up eyebrows of his hometown, Bethlehem.  They, like most young couples, probably had some of the first years of their lives planned out.  They sat and talked and dreamed of the days to come.  But then ... just when they had things under control ... enter, the government.  Yep ... a tax decree is what gets them, right there in the midst of their plans.  Augustus demands that a census, for the purpose of taxation, be taken.  All must go to their hometown (i.e., in the case of Mary and Joseph, they go to Joseph's hometown, Bethlehem).

So Mary, in her 8th month, and Joseph pack it all up and head south.  They could have gone at least two ways to get to Bethlehem.  There was the normal route, a twelve-day journey that crossed the Jordan to their west, avoiding the hated Samaritans.  Many would have been traveling this route since people were scrambling to get to their town of origin.  Then, there was the ten-day trip straight down Israel in a southward direction.  This path went through Samaria and followed a road known as the Path of the Patriarchs.  This is the road I believe Mary and Joseph took (I will tell you more on Sunday).  This road passes historic places like Shechem where Abraham built an altar to God, Bethel where Jacob sees a ladder reaching to heaven, olive orchards that were part of the "milk and honey" of God's covenant promise, Jerusalem, where Jesus would return as an accused adult and then Bethlehem, the City of David.

I wonder if Mary remembered her song of thankfulness and blessing as she leaves the care of her family to travel a long, cold road to the stable of Bethlehem.  Maybe she asked what we often ask ... "Why is this happening to me?  I have been obedient.  I did what God asked.  I have tried to do the right thing.  And then I get taken out of my comfort, out of my associations, and I get tossed into turmoil!"  It would have been a natural reaction, especially remembering her age of 13 or so.  Now she will bring her child into the world in what was probably a cave used for housing livestock, in a town where she is considered a country girl from hick town.  And the little town of Bethlehem is very close to an unknown danger named Herod.  I bet she experienced the haunting loneliness we sometimes feel as we are caught up in God's plan but don't know the next step or next event in the plan.  But maybe ... just maybe ... she reflected on the journey and remembered the words of her song as she and Elizabeth shared the news of their coming children.  The end of that song reminded her, and all of us, that this plan and this event was to fulfill a journey that began long before Mary was born and long before the patriarchs made their way along the path through the promised land.  This journey began when Adam and Eve took their first steps east of Eden.  Those steps were the first toward God's ultimate plan of bringing all of us home to Himself.  And the way to that place?  His name is Jesus.      Randy

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Promise

As I was reading our text for next Sunday's message I couldn't help but think about God and how He fulfills His promises.  From the first promises made in Scripture (some of them were covenants) to those made in The Revelation God has been in the business of fulfillment, often in spite of His people.  Noah drank too much.  Jacob was a schemer and a thief.  Gideon was fearful and reclusive.  Ruth was a gentile.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Jeremiah was a whiner.  David was an adulterer and a murderer.  Peter was a liar and betrayer.  I could go on for a long time but I think you get the point.

Mary says that God brings down the proud and powerful and lifts up the lowly (this should remind us of Handel's Messiah [and John Riley reminded us it is also written in Isaiah 40] in which we sing about every valley being filled and every hill being brought low to make a highway for our God).  She tells a story about God's nature of keeping His promises and fulfilling His plans "from generation to generation."  Read Luke 1:46-55 and think about how many times each week we doubt that God is really in charge.  "Our lives and our country are going down and we are living in terrible times."  Do you know that statement has been made in every generation from the first to the most recent?  David said it.  Paul said it.  And yet, Paul also said we are to rejoice in every circumstance.

Here's the punch line.  God has the ability to bless us in spite of anything.  Maybe if we listened to God more than we listened to our leaders in Washington, talk radio, TV news or local gossip we would come to the same conclusion Mary did ... "He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant."  And maybe we can't see or hear this passage because we haven't taken that lowly place where the flood of God's blessings seems to settle.  She says all of these things in the midst of 1) having to tell her betrothed that she is pregnant, 2) somehow wrestle with the societal shunning that will certainly come, 3) be a 13 year-old, 4) travel back to Nazareth and then down to Bethlehem, and 5) raise up a child she knows is the Son of God!  Maybe blessing is a little bit more than we think.  Come Sunday and let's talk about it!  Randy

Monday, December 2, 2013

A True Builder

As I reflect on the Christmas story I think of how Joseph is usually window dressing.  He operates on the periphery.  He is there but not often the headliner ... he is in the background.  But Joseph has a lot to do with how the Christmas story plays out.

Joseph was from Bethlehem.  It, unlike Nazareth (Mary's hometown), Bethlehem would have been famous.  After all, it was where David was from (thus the reference, City of David).  Rachel died there giving birth to Benjamin.  It was the city where the Book of Ruth was set. Bethlehem was near (about 4 miles) from Ein Karem, Elizabeth's hometown where Mary and Elizabeth exchange excited news in the Gospel of Luke.  And it was probably where Joseph, during Mary's visit to Elizabeth, would have learned that Mary was pregnant and would have had that troubled dream in which the angel tells Joseph to keep his engagement with Mary and become the earthly father of a little boy named Jesus.

Bethlehem, which means "house of bread" was probably a place where bread was baked and taken to Jerusalem, a 2 hour walk away.  Farmers, shepherds and at least one carpenter (Joseph) lived there.  It reminds us of the context of Jesus saying he was the "bread of life."

In my reflections about Joseph's profession, he is a carpenter or tekton.  It is where we get the word architect (arch-tekon would have been a master builder).  There was an arch-tekon in leadership in Jerusalem named Herod.  He built lavish palaces and elaborate places to entertain friends.  His building projects placed a huge tax burden on the people.  Joseph, just a builder, would have worked on small projects, yet his work of being a father to the son of God was a building project worthy of any investment he could make.  I think of the contrast between Joseph and Herod.  I think of how Herod burdened his people with his lavish lifestyle and how Jesus, raised in the simplicity of a carpenter's home, would have had good reason to contrast His kingdom with that of Israel's puppet king saying ... "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  The story of Joseph is another example of how God tells this amazing story to show us His nature and what He thinks is important.  An obscure town of Nazareth.  The 'little (maybe 1,000 people) town of Bethlehem.  The richness of how God raised up His covenant people.  The birth of Jesus in a stable.  God's building on a simple, honest foundation of two good and faithful people named Mary and Joseph.  God shouting that he didn't need political power, tax revenue, cultural clout, and titles to bring His kingdom into the world.  He just needed two poor but obedient people and a mighty hand directing all of history to the birth of Jesus to a virgin named Mary and a simple man named Joseph.  With God, nothing is impossible.  Randy

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mary Did You Know?

This Sunday we will begin our journey to Bethlehem.  I, for one, am excited that we can share this journey together.  I am glad you will be seeing the sights, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds and learning the history of the most amazing series of events in the history of the world.

This week will be all about Mary of Nazareth (that's where our journey begins).  In a sense Nazareth should feel like home for many reading this post.  We live in Abbeville (or somewhere near this little town of 3,000 people).  Nazareth, like Abbeville, was a little town near a much larger and more affluent city named Sepphoris.  Sepphoris, a town of 30,000 people, was an affluent place fit for the origin of a king.  It had culture, shopping and social life.  People would have gone there to shop.  They, not Nazareth, would have had the Walmart, the mall and the Carmike 12 showing the latest Christmas blockbusters (ok, I did take a little cultural license with that one).  You get the point ... Nazareth was where people traveled from to go somewhere else ... Sepphoris was a destination.  We get a little taste of what people thought about Nazareth when, in John :46, Nathaniel asks "can anything good come from Nazareth?" What we know is that something very good came from Nazareth!

Nazareth was Mary's hometown.  Nazareth was where Mary is told of her coming child and she utters those amazing words "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38 NRSV)."  Those words have always reminded me of Jesus' words in the garden of Gethsemane "Not my will but thine."  Nazareth is where a little boy named Jesus grew up, halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.  And Nazareth was the place where Jesus is conceived when God's Spirit overshadows Mary and God (the divine, perfect, holy being that has existed in history as a being made of light, life. purity and omniscience) does something amazing ... He shows His transcendence as He travels from eternity into time and into a virgins womb.  And it all starts in a little town called Nazareth.

Maybe for the world, Nazareth was a place that was obscure, unimportant and insignificant.  But for people (all people whether they know God or they are oblivious to God) it is a place that "Good tidings for all people" began.  We, who live in Abbeville, can be reminded that making a difference isn't about the size of the town we are from.  It isn't about whether we have a reputation for greatness or a social status that makes us "upper crust."  It is about being good, hard working people like Mary's family probably were.  It is about telling God "Here am I ... let it be as you have willed."  Mary's story is one of greatness.  Her obedience changed everything, including the entire history of the world.  A 13-year old teenager makes a decision that gives me hope and strength ... it has empowered and altered our nation ... and that power to change is planted in the hearts of every Christian in Abbeville, Alabama.  We may not have a Walmart ... but we've got Jesus!  Randy

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ridiculous Things

Ever encounter something that is ridiculous and impossible?  Today I was riding my bike and a little dog came out from a block away ... about six inches tall and full of himself.  He was barking and threatening and his poor little head wouldn't even reach the pedal.  It was both funny and ridiculous. I told him to go on home before he encountered something that might eat him.

We sometimes do things that are ridiculous.  Many times we tackle causes that are impossible (like that little dog).  I did admire his courage and our courage for wanting to fight the unbeatable foe.  But sometimes we tackle projects that are ridiculous from their inception.  They are things that are self-evident.  We try to push and control them.  I wonder if this is what God was saying to the prophet when he asks several rhetorical questions and then answers them.  The conversation goes like this ...  "What can we bring the Lord?  What kind of offerings should we give Him?  Should we bow before God and give of yearling calves?  Should we offer Him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  No ... O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:7-8)."  God is saying that we ask these questions and maybe (in my case) preach sermons about truth that is self-evident.  God is sarcastically saying "Don't being that weak stuff and those silly questions in here ... you know full well what you should do and I am not going to let you hang your responsibility on the messenger, the eloquence of the presentation, the magnitude of the offering or any other excuse you might have."  God is explicitly saying we DO know what He wants.

In that spirit, this is the time of the year I am supposed to have what is called a "Stewardship Campaign."  It seems that such campaigns are "the way it has always been done."  They are the little dog (the pastor) chasing a task way bigger then he is.  So I am going to rely on what God's Word has told us.  That way I won't mess up the message with a "campaign," a "scheme" or some great idea to tell you what you already know.  I am not going to insult you with a beautifully-designed card or that little table that tells you what 10% of your income figures out to be (we can do the math).  I am not going to tell you that we are better or worse off than we are.  But here is what will be done faithfully:

     1. I will ask the finance team to report our monthly income so you will know the financial condition of the church.
     2. We will send (at least quarterly) a statement of your giving.  You can do the math and see where you stand, and I am confident that you know what God requires of you.
     3. We will answer any financial question you might ask and I will ask for your prayers to lead us to faithfully care for God's money.
     4. I will continue to give thanks for your giving (because of your giving we have been faithful participants in God's mission through the Church in our community, our nation and our world).
     5. I will ask you to read (often) Micah 6:7-8 so you are reminded of what God requires of you ... that way I won't need to repeat it.

Thanks for listening today!  You are all a blessing and I give thanks to God for you!  Randy

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Roads, Continued!

Last night I spoke to our Wednesday night group about Isaiah 40, the passage where God, through the prophet Isaiah says "Prepare for God's arrival.  Make a road straight and smooth, a highway for for our God.  Fill the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts and clear out the rocks.  Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it." 

I love this passage.  It is inspiring, radical and challenging because it is about the arrival of Jesus that (in John 14:6) is the way (our road) the truth and the life.  For me and you and all of the Church, our road is here.  We know our destination and we also know that our primary focus is not about getting ourselves there.  It is about loving others enough to sacrifice, lead, love and tell what is necessary to get them to God's place.  In fact, our mission is never about ourselves ... it is about others.  We are servants.  We are missional.  We are outwardly focused.  And by being in this servant posture we are uniquely prepared to lead others along that straight, smooth road fit for our God.

Last night I began to think of this image in the context of Abbeville United Methodist Church.  How can we make the road straight and smooth?  How can we bulldoze centuries of dirt and muck so that everyone that comes in our doors sees a straight path to Jesus?  How can we fill the valleys?  Maybe Celebrate Recovery does this for some folks because it welcomes anyone to come and realize their valleys are not as deep as they once thought.  How can we level off the hills?  Maybe our high places (they are spoken of negatively in Scripture) need to be brought down to a level that everyone can get in ... low enough so that our table truly becomes the Lord's table that invites anyone calling upon the name of the Lord.  How can we smooth out the ruts?  On roads ruts happen and they need to be found and patched.  We should look often and be willing to patch the places that become barriers to some of "the least of our brethren."  And how do we should clear off the rocks?  We call them what they are ... rocks like our denomination's name (which can become an idol), our lifestyle that we perceive as both better and justifiable, our possessions which have always been barriers to God's call, our institutions which lead us away from devotion to God (remember this when you sing "I Surrender All"), and our submission to Jesus' clear and perfect Gospel message which should change us into a path to Him.

I know that is a lot to take in.  You are probably asking, "What does he mean?"  I want you to think about that.  If we are called to make a straight path for and to our God, how should we do it?  Maybe we should do what the old song says ... "nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling."  Our denominational differences, our music styles, our prejudices, our stuff, our ideas about what "our God" is like, our idols and our sports teams mean nothing to Jesus.  God seeks our hearts.  He is knocking at the door.  Let's let Him and anyone who comes with Him in! Randy 

Monday, November 4, 2013

OK ... It's Getting Close! A Word About Christmas

What is Christmastime to you?  I think the answer is different for each of us.  Maybe the answer changes as we get older and the expectations of children change to the obligations of adulthood.  Maybe we are influenced by our favorite Christmas specials or turned off by the constant stream of commercials hoping to win our Christmas dollars.  Maybe the booking of travel plans and the idea of a vacation have caught our eye and we are bent on making this trip the best ever.  Maybe none of what I have said above has any relevance to the real meaning of Christmas.  Maybe our society has a bad case of commercialism and needs a savior.  I have good news about that ... there is a savior and he came to Bethlehem to a manger ... truly a strange way to go about saving the world.

Being new in Abbeville I have gotten lots of information about what happens here at Christmas.   I have heard about the plans for a live Nativity ... the Polar Express night for children ... the Christmas Eve "Come-and-Go" Communion and some of the parties that are planned.  I have been working on  our Christmas Sermon Series which will be about the physical and spiritual journey of Mary and Joseph as they make their way to the manger.  We will learn about Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Way of the Patriarchs, and about two people named Mary and Joseph.  I hope you will be there every week as the Bible tells us the story of God with us.

Then ... on Christmas Eve ... I hope you will make worship a part of your day.  The Come-and-Go Communion time and the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service will offer all (we will invite the entire community) a chance to kneel and offer Jesus the only gift He really wants for Christmas ... our hearts.  Did you know that Christmas Eve is a great time to invite family, friends and your neighbors to worship in a beautiful setting ... a setting where we are all on the same song sheet singing about the Christ Child and His birth?  Did you know that this service, more than any service of the year, is our gift to God and our community where we say ... "Come see the Child ... the season is not about parties or programs or lights or presents or wearing our best clothes.  It is about Jesus."  Come and sing ... pray ... kneel at the altar ... take the bread and cup with our friends, family and neighbors.

I have to say ... our time in worship is the only thing that seems to center me in the Christmas season.  I have had the honor of serving communion to many at Christmas Eve services, including an off-duty Santa Claus still in his suit. It is always a blessing I carry with me through the rest of the season.  Some have said ... "it is inconvenient for the participants and it adds another event to an already busy season."  Yep ... that is true.  So I might have to eliminate a party, a trip to a light show, or a last minute trip to the mall.  Or I might have to tell the people at my house, I'll be back in 45 minutes ... I have something important I need to do.  Why?  Because the story of Christmas tells us that the shepherds left their flocks and the angels left the heavenly realm.  Because of all nights of the year, this is the night to worship.  I love the words of the Casting Crowns song that make a harrowing observation about this night ... "O Bethlehem, what have you missed while you were sleeping, for God became a man and stepped into your world today, O Bethlehem, you will go down in history, as a city with no room for it's king."  This night, this season and really each day we draw breath, is about a God who deserves our devotion, our talents, our time, and our worship.  I won't make excuses.  If my world has no room for the king, then there is something wrong with my world.  What say you?  Randy

Monday, October 28, 2013

Compassionate Strength

Our passage on Sunday is both a sad story and a story that leads us to hope.  It is sad because in Matthew 23:37-39 and Luke 19:41-44 Jesus weeps over people He loves ... people who are blind to His holy presence and identity ... people who are caught up in the temporal and oblivious to the eternal.  When I read this passage I think of the churches I have attended and people I have met who are caught up in non-eternal issues at the expense of Jesus' announcement of His kingdom.  I, on a much lesser scale, have wept some of those tears that flowed from love and compassion for people I desire to see make it to a heavenly home.

But I have also seen hope.  I remember one Sunday I was preaching about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and I heard the usual "good sermon" and "you gave us something to think about."  I was walking to my office thinking that this day was like others where I had challenged people to serve but they had taken the information without following with application.  My reading of Jesus' words "You feed them" had fallen on deaf ears.  That is, until a petite young lady came up and said, "You are right!  We need to feed them."  Not the 5,000 but hundreds of local kids who got good meals during the school week but came back to school on Monday hungry and in a state of food insecurity.  They didn't learn, participate or test as well as other children because they were nutritionally challenged.  My young friend took her compassionate heart and put it to work.  First she met with a local elementary school and got permission to leave 5 backpacks filled with easy-to-prepare food for the weekend for 5 needy kids.  In several months she was using the library of the church as a staging area to fill 30+ backpacks.  Now over 150 kids are fed each week and, to date, 7,000 meals have been provided to kids who are healthier, more ready to learn, and glad that at least one thing in their lives is secure.

You are probably saying, "She is a super saint!"  I can't share the issues that I knew my friend had faced, the decisions she made for her family or the struggles she had getting this ministry started.  What I can share is that she had a willing spirit, compassion for other people and strength to say, "Here I am Lord ... send me!."  Jesus said, "You feed them!"  So ... she did!  Randy

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I really hate to start a blog with that word, but there it is ... struggle.  The wrestling with the events, relationships, times and choices that make up daily life is often just that ... a struggle.  It is interesting that two books of what is called wisdom literature in Scripture (the wisdom books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs) are devoted to the struggles we all face in life.  In fact about 75% of Psalms are about wrestling with life and with a God that is beyond our understanding.  But Job (probably the oldest book in Scripture) and Ecclesiastes (written by a king who was in over his head in life) are both devoted to life's struggles.  Job, who is not as patient as we often give him credit for, gets so exasperated with his friends and with God that he demands an audience with the Almighty.  God grants Job the audience and Job learns that what God knows and does is unfathomable.  Job finally says "I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me (Job 42:3 NLT)." 

Solomon's struggles are different.  He probably has few people he can trust.  He is politically and socially at the top of the food chain, yet he realizes that politics, kingship and social obligations are not things that bring him happiness.  They are burdens and struggles.  He cries out (often) that the things he knows, the things he has and the perks of being king are part of a life that he views as meaningless.  Some of us can identify with this ... we have more than we need but we find that we need things that are elusive, fleeting, distant and ethereal.  Solomon calls them "a chasing after the wind."

Both of these examples call us to stop and think about what is really good, what is really wise, what will make us fulfilled as people and what will bring us to a place we can (as Paul said) be content in every circumstance.  I heard something yesterday that I think might be wise in the midst of life's struggles.  A woman said that her mother, when she was hurting or when she was down or when she faced a struggle she could not figure out how to tackle, would hug her and tell her that everything would be alright.  The Psalmists seem to come to this conclusion.  Job comes to this conclusion and God somehow blesses Job in the midst of all of his losses.  And Solomon concludes that life was a gift from God and that somehow God, if we fear and trust Him, will make things alright.

Maybe this blog today makes little sense in the confusion and storms of life.  But, if you can let God give you a big ole hug and tell you that mother's words ... "It will all work out alright, because I am God and I have plans for you, work for you to do and a life to live.  It will be alright."  I guess that is all for now ... Randy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Kind of Dance

In my line of work I find myself in some pretty awkward places.  I was sharing with my friend Ed how the first act of ministry as a pastor was getting a cat out of a tree (it's a long story ... will share it later).  And that was joyful considering the hospitals, the funeral homes and the courtrooms I have visited.  One of those courtrooms was right here in Henry County.

Over my years I have seen the inside courts in Autauga County, Montgomery County, Escambia County, Walton County, Bay County and (now) Henry County.  As I sat there in the court of Henry County I felt compelled to make an observation.  My observation is based on knowing that Jesus is portrayed as a righteous and fair judge in Scripture.  To "judge" in Scripture means both to decide cases/disputes and to govern.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) Jesus rightfully judges on the basis of how we treat "the least of our brethren" (those who are in some position of displacement/disadvantage/disruption/oppression).  This distinction could be the poor or the needy or societal outcasts.  But whatever the term means, Jesus makes the right call.  After all, He is perfect.

Here is what I observed about our courts in most places.  In all of those places where I saw the "legal system" played out (except Henry County) the people were efficiently processed.  The way things were done, the way people were treated and the way the law was applied was a very mechanical process.  In our county I saw something different.  The courtroom functioned with appropriate honor and decorum, but it did this with a level of informality that (in my estimation) did not make already elevated tensions worse.  Rather, the 'procedure' had a calming effect on the people being judged and those that had some involvement in the process.  In the midst of life-changing events for some in that room, there was a leveling effect.  No one was better than anyone else.  In his song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" Bob Dylan wrote that the "ladder of law has no top or no bottom," meaning that our legal system should be a level playing field for all and that the rich should not escape justice or mercy ... that the poor should be afforded the same dignity.  But what I saw in Henry County was like a dance.  What do I mean?

There are two kinds of dancing.  Dance can be technically perfect, mechanical and, while beautiful, lacking aesthetic appeal.  Like music played technically, this type of dancing can lack the soul and spirit that makes it truly beautiful.  Then, there is the kind of dancing that happens between people who know one another, know the moves the other is about to make and (to them) the dance is more than the sum of steps on a chart.  The dance, to those in relationship, is about the touch, the emotion, the grace of a mutually played-out journey.  The dance is more than a bunch of steps.

So is court in Henry County.  The people are neighbors who (for the good and bad of it) know one another.  When the courtroom doors shut the people go out and live life together.  They live life ... shop for food ... walk along the street ... attend weddings and funerals ... and see the scarecrow contest together.  They (in and out of the courtroom) are in a kind of dance.  And the song that drives the dance forward is community, family and respect.  I am proud to live in a place where people are more important than the process and where we (as a community) can say to those working in the court system "well done, my good and faithful servant."  Remember that Jesus said (by the way, to very imperfect people who made some mistakes and had their own baggage) those same words in Matthew 25. 

For this new resident, I was honored to be in a courtroom where the goal is to encourage better behavior, enforce the law, grow people up into responsible adults, punish were proper and necessary, provide stepping stones out of trouble and teach (yes ... Biblical discipline always teaches).  I am sure as I observe our legal system I will disagree with rulings and decisions.  But I am proud to see America happen right here in Abbeville.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Joy is a Choice!

This week begins our sermon series on seven decisions that impact our lives.  This decision ... I will be joyful ... might just be the most difficult yet the most relevant decision to daily life.  In the places I have lived I have met many people.  I have a tendency to be pretty trusting and give people the benefit of the doubt, even if a few red flags appear in their countenance and demeanor.  This trait has gotten me burned a few times, but I think I will not over-correct and become totally distrustful ... that just isn't me.  But, the one character trait I have learned is a red-flag to be avoided is the trait of negativity.   
     Andy Andrews (writer of the book The Traveler's Gift ) asks if you have ever met someone whose life seems to be getting worse and worse?  They tell you the sad story of how each day brings a new negative and they don't mind keeping you engaged for the whole sad story.  They will tell everyone who is available how the world, a relative, a friend and life in general has mistreated them.  Hee-Haw (the old show from the 70's) even had a song about it called "Pain, Despair and Agony on Me."  Then Andy says something that I never thought about until he said it.  He says that because of the constant talk about is how their life is getting worse and worse, that person's life really does get worse and worse.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People avoid them.  People who would otherwise employ them, relate to them, enjoy them run screaming in the other direction.  People who could buy their product or become their friend avoid the negativity.  Why?  Because they are toxic to relationships, commerce and to what Jesus called "life abundant."  Jesus said "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10, The Message)."  
     There are two parts to this passage.  The second part, "eternal life" is the one we always are fixated on and we look for this in the land 'over yonder.'  But Jesus also came so that we can have "real" and abundant life in the here and now.  That life won't be found in the negatives or in the Hee Haw song.  That life WILL be found in Paul's exhortation to "rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4, NIV)."  That life WILL be found by appropriating Jesus' promise from John 10:10 (above).  That life WILL be found in choosing joy when it is difficult ... even when we have to search for it.  
     Last weekend Lee and I saw a movie in which the actress has been pulled underwater and is struggling toward the surface.  Her lungs are bursting, she is down pretty deep, and things are not looking good.  But she pushes her body and the limits of her lungs toward a surface she knows is up there somewhere.  As her face breaks through the surface she draws in a huge breath of air and her face exhibits something that leaves the despair of her circumstances behind (after all, she is marooned, she doesn't know where she is, she has no one waiting to rescue her, and she has no food or provisions).  Her face is a picture of pure joy ... thankfulness for the joy of that one breath that will give her life and sustenance.  I will work on being joyful.  I hope you will join me.  Randy

Monday, September 30, 2013

Start This ... Stop That

I am currently embarking on a book about evangelism.  The author (Jim Cowart) leads a United Methodist congregation that has grown from 4 to 2000 since 2001.  But the reason I am reading the book is all about the title.  I love it for its simplicity ... its directness ... and I love it because I have seen the need for this in churches all over the US since I reentered the life of the Church in 1985.  Start this ... stop that! Why would I like this title?

Well ... let me use a business example that doesn't beat up on the Church.  Here goes.  I have been diligently trying to correct the online information about Abbeville UMC.  It is amazing how years of assuming everything is ok will end you in a total disarray of information (like getting directed to the parsonage, the wrong phone number and the wrong website?  But here is the fun part ... getting all of that fixed.  So, I have learned several things.  First, Google has real people working for them.  I have talked to two of them and they really exist.  I feel very special to talk to one of those Google employees that, with a very interesting accent, asked my about the changes I have been making, hopefully confirming accuracy.  That was pretty cool!

Then, my encounter with the YP (Yellow Pages) people.  The YP people are, I believe, stuck in some time-warp that does not include logic, reason or good business sense.  First, they seem to want $1,000 per year for something (I am not sure what).  Second, their online site has the wrong information and to change the information they need the phone number to our account.  Since the only number either of us have is the incorrect number and since the correct number doesn't connect to any account there there is no valid number by which we can change the information on the web.  So their automated system is set to verify you are the right person to correct the account and guess which number they call?  Yep ... the incorrect number online.  The nice gentleman I got when I called them was truly trying to be a help, but their system is so messed up he has no clue what to do, who to transfer me to or whether he should just hang up.  In the south we would just say, "Bless his heart!."

The point is this.  There are some very good things we need to do if we are to reach our community for Christ.  Jim Cowart's church has had (of that 2,000 attendance) about 1,800 professions of faith in Jesus.  Do you think he is answering the call to the mission to which we are all called ... "Make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28)!?"  I hope to spend some time with our church council, our congregation, our worshipers and our community to remind us of the things we should start and the things we should stop.  I hope you are down with this journey.  Jesus gives us principles for love and life.  They are not as complex as the professional theologians would like us to believe.  There are things we need to start (Go and make disciples, Matthew 28).  There are things we need to stop (stop believing we are better than anyone else, Luke 18:9-14).  Let's act on both of those!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Have you ever been obsessed with something?  As I look at Scripture I see lots of people who are obsessed with God.  How can I tell?  I can tell because their relationship with God redirects, modifies and changes their lives.  Obsessions guide our lives and our behavior.

Here is where I am going with this. There is a little Greek word used in the New Testament (its Hebrew equivalent is used often in the Old Testament).  It is the word "fear."  I have to admit it is one of those words I don't like a lot.  I avoid it.  But there it is ... in Mary's Song at the beginning of Luke.  "He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. (Luke 1:50 NLT)."  Why do they have to say that?  We don't like fear and we know God is love.  Why didn't they use the 'love' word?  Actually the words love and fear would be very similar in this context, but let's go a little further.

The Greek word for fear is 'Phobos.'   This should look familiar.  We use it all the time.  We have phobias of things we obsessively avoid.  Aracnophobia comes to mind.  I went out to look at my back deck the other day and there is a huge garden spider web.  I haven't been out on the deck since.  Agoraphobia is the fear of going outside.  People who have this disorder irrationally avoid leaving their own house.  I hope you are seeing a pattern.  Phobias alter our behavior.  That is why the word fear is used.  The Spirit, through the Biblical writers, is telling us that our relationship with God should alter our behavior.  It should change our thought pattern and make us think about every decision and every move we make.  It is day-altering and life-altering.

Stanley understood this.  He owned a business and fell so in love with God that he wanted to express this love in his business.  The business was very successful so he decided to make God a legal partner in the business.  The legal maneuvers weren't easy, but he had his lawyers drew it up.  Then he decided that this was not good enough.  Making God a partner placed him and God on equal footing.  It wasn't the expression of love or fear Stanley desired.  So he made God owner of the business and made himself an employee.  That business has, over time, given millions of dollars to Godly causes.  And Stanley is just happy working for the God he loves and fears.

Stanley is obsessed.  His relationship with God changes his life every day.  How about you?  Is your relationship with God day-altering and life-altering?  Are YOU obsessed?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I know an old Wayne Watson song about expectations.  The idea of the song is a question ... "Would we know Jesus if He came here today ... how would we react?"  The reason for the question is our mixture of notions about what He would be like.  How would He look?  I have seen all of the Sunday School pictures of a blond haired, blue-eyed Jesus, but I am guessing that those might be falsely informed by our society.  Since Jesus was born to Mary I am guessing He would look a bit middle-eastern ... what do you think?  The point here is, if Jesus returned my expectations would not inform how He looks, what He does or who He is.  My expectations are irrelevant.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus tell the story of a man who repeatedly defied the expectations of those He lived with.  He was misunderstood by His own family, totally disrespected and abused by the church people of His culture and even a puzzlement to the disciples that were with Him longer than anyone.  It is a rare person who "got" Jesus.  And even those people only got a glimpse of the most amazing and influential person in history.

I note all these things to say this.  Sunday we will talk about what we will be doing when Jesus returns.  But will we even know Him?  And how will we know Him?  By the pictures we have painted of a God who meets our expectations or by how we have learned all about Him from his Word.  Wayne Watson asks ... "Has the picture I have painted, so distorted who You are, that even if the world was looking they would not see you ... the real you ... have I lost Your true reflection, to fulfill my own desire, making you all I want, not showing you for the divine?"  Wow ... cutting and challenging words!  These words make me think and make me pray that I will seek God on His terms, not mine.  The last verse of the song is a longing prayer ... "Would I know you now, if you left and closed the door, would my soul cry out, I don't need you anymore, or would I follow you, could I be restored, my Jesus would I know you now?"  I hope we would all follow ... let God be God (our expectations cannot change God, but maybe God can change our expectations).  I will pray we begin to see Jesus as He is.  Randy

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I know it is happening to you and for sure it is happening to me.  Just when the gnats get a little better and we remark, "It is less buggy today!" they come.  Millions of them.  Giving up their little lives on the windshields and hoods of our cars.  We all hate them (except probably the birds who get a windfall of fast food).  Love bugs.  I have made trips to Dothan over the past two days and my car is covered with the little reminders of the nasty little things.  You could wash your car every day and they would still be bad.  The longer the trip the worse the bugs.

The epidemic of love bugs remind me of something.  Do you remember the old song "Sometimes You're the Windshield and Sometimes You're the Bug?"  The image here is that sometimes you in control and on top of the world and other times life seems to run you over and leave you damaged, stunned and hurting.  I think this is why God's Word, in Ecclesiastes 3, says "There is a time for every purpose under heaven."  The writer is saying, much more eloquently that the country song, that life is filled with events we do not control, do not desire and would rather not experience.  Yet life happens anyway ... and the passage ends with an exhortation (paraphrased) that goes something like this ... "Work through the ups and downs of life (including those things past that we cannot seem to leave behind) and remember that life is a gift from God.  See those things that are beautiful, whether you are looking from the perspective of the windshield or whether you are looking from the perspective of the bug.  In the end, God is still in charge and still bringing you home.  And what God does trumps all the bad things life throws our way."

In the end we are not defined by whether we are the windshield or whether we are the bug.  We are defined by the God we choose to serve.  We will talk Sunday about Joshua's urgent reminder that we are making that choice today ... every day.  In Joshua 24:15 he tells his people "Choose today whom you will serve."  Maybe we are flying around blindly like that bug, just existing and thinking that there is no tomorrow.  Then it hits ... life, the windshield, pain, death, sickness, hurt ... and we thought we had all the time in the world.  Joshua's reminder is that the time to make the choice for God is now ... not tomorrow.  After this speech, Joshua dies at the ripe old age of 110, a life well lived and a God well chosen!  Pastor Randy

Friday, September 6, 2013

Just a Story?

In Seminary we had a course in parables.  One of my friends was in the course but didn't take things too seriously.  His attitude was that he was learning about a bunch of stories.   He thought that the professor would treat the course lightly since parables are 'light.'  He did not understand either the seriousness of the parables or the cutting messages of these stories that could only be heard by those with "eyes to see and ears to hear."  He looked at the requirements (which included 90% class attendance).  He thought they didn't apply to him ... he attended the first class and did not appear again until  the week before the final exam.  When grades came out he was mad.  He had studied the material and made a B on the final exam.  On the final grade he made a D.  I mused that because the course was about parables he must have thought the course was also a parable ... just a story.

The parables are not 'just stories.'  Sunday we will take a short look at the story of Zaccheaus and will connect the story to the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  I hope you will be there for a fresh look a this pointed story ... but not 'just a story.'  It is a serious parable about what God has done for us and what He has given for our salvation.  It is a serious story of love and we should listen, smile and accept how much God loves us.  His level of love and His pursuit of those He loves is a beautiful tale of God's work in the world He loves.  But it is not JUST A STORY!  Pastor Randy

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Last week was sad for the Greene family.  One of our little cats, Velcro, left this world.  We had owned her for 15 years and she had been a part of the family as we lived in the Montgomery area and in the Florida panhandle.  When I laid her to rest I told God "She was a good cat ... I know you will take care of her better than we did ... thanks for letting us share life with her."

You might ask, "How did she get her name?"  It was pretty simple.  When she was a baby she was clingy and when you tried to put her down her little claws would grab your shirt like Velcro.  Either my daughter or my son (can't remember which) said, she is Velcro.  The name (and the cat) stuck. She was named for what she did.

Thinking about this got me kind of edgy.  We named Velcro for how she did life.  If God gave me a name, what would it be?  I shudder to think about all the negative possibilities.  But there is (as usual) a good story to understand that God sees us not as we are but as He can transform us.  In Judges 6:12 we find Gideon hunkering down in a wine press.  He is threshing wheat to keep it from the Midianites.  God sees him hiding, operating in secret, scurrying through the shadows and keeping a low profile.  How does God address him?  "The Lord is with you mighty warrior!"  He is not doing warrior things and raising his sword against the enemy ... he is in hiding.  Yet God sees something in him that calls him to 1) view himself differently, 2) see a vision for his people and 3) leave the threshing floor and go into battle to defeat the enemy.

I like this story!  I am glad God sees what I can be and leads me to what the song calls "Higher Ground."  I know Velcro has reached that higher ground (whatever heaven holds for a little cat).  And I am glad God doesn't label me for what I am but for what He can make me.  Pastor Randy

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why We Should Listen

I am sometimes amazed at how most of us feel we, in our freedom to do anything we want, feel that our freedom allows us to deal with God flippantly.  Paul knew this when he said that everything was permissible but not everything is profitable (1 Cor. 6:12).

Some of you are wondering where I am going with this.  I was talking with a member of our congregation and we were both thinking about how people in other cultures and other countries pursue their faith in God passionately and with a hunger for God's Word.  Statistically the Church is growing rapidly in many cultures around the planet and that is wonderful.  But it begs the question, "Why is the Church contracting in the nation with the most freedom, the greatest blessings, the best opportunities and the most talented/trained pastors?"  This is a good question that should cause all of us to listen to God's Word.  Sunday I will be teaching from Revelation 3, the Letter to the Church in Laodicea.  This church, and all of the churches in the Revelation, would be in modern day Turkey.  Want to know how many of the churches from Revelation are still in existence?  Zero!  None!  They have all disappeared.  Why?

I think the answer is both complex and simple.  The complex part is the inner-workings of history, people's choices, politics and time.  But I think the truth and the message here might be starkly simple.  All of the letters to the churches end in these words ... "He who has ears, let him hear."  Maybe the demise of the churches has something to do with people (and a culture) being unwilling to listen to God and His warnings, His encouragement, His wisdom and His messengers.  One cannot heed the Word of God if one is not present to hear the word of God.  One cannot heed God's Word if one is not engaged in a Lord/Servant relationship with God (He is Lord, we are the servants).

Most churches have large rolls of people that dwarf their usual Sunday attendance.  Most churches have 80% of the work of the church done by 20% of the people.  Many people in our country have decided that church is not that much of a priority.  Yet we wonder why so many faith-related parts of our nation are not where they should be.  I have a suggestion ... the problem is that if good, Christian people fail to make God a priority, there is no one with authority to carry the flame of the Gospel into our world (or our country).

Here is my challenge.  Will YOU make God a priority in Abbeville by being present to hear God's Word?  Will you do this with persistence and passion and a faithfulness expressed by Luke when he described Jesus as being in the synagogue 'like he always was (and remember Jesus was not comfortable, welcome or encouraged in the synagogue).'  When the "roll is called up yonder," where will you be?  "Those who have ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" ... not my words but the very words from the mouth of Jesus.  Do you think for one minute what happened to the Asian Churches in Revelation cannot happen to the church here?  "Faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17).  Pastor Randy

Monday, August 12, 2013


Our week is getting ready to be crazy.  We are (and have been) moving lots of stuff from Freeport to Abbeville and from Freeport to Lee's apartment.  It is hard work, confusing, daunting and sometimes overwhelming.  But, in the end, it must be done.  Change is always hard.

When thinking about Church, I believe this applies too.  Change is hard for lots of people.  But for Christians and people of God we should be in a constant state of change.  God is never content to leave us where we are.  Paul, and John Wesley, exhorted us to go on toward perfection.  We have a direction and we have (as we learned this Sunday) a divinely appointed destination.  But getting there means an attitude of willingness to change and let God do what the song says ... use us and mold us.

Over the years I have had a sense that God is leading the Church (and the individual places I have served) to some drastic changes.  You might ask why we should change something that has been in place in its current form for a long time?  Glad you asked.

Did you know the in the age of mega-churches and large congregations all over the country the % of people who say they are Christians has steadily declined?  Did you know that mainline denominations have lost millions in membership and attendance?  Did you know that the overall attitude toward church is not positive but negative?  And here is the point I want each of you to get ... if we (the church in America) keep doing things the way we are doing them and have done them for the last 50 years what do you think will happen?  You guessed it ... we will keep getting the same results and those negatives will just keep going downhill.  So ... what do we do?

In our current sermon series, Crazy Love (being madly in love with a great God), we will learn that there are several things we can do.  We can stop doing church and start being the Church.  We can passionately communicate Jesus to the world in a language the world can hear.  We can go around the church building and look critically at everything asking the question, "What do I see that could be a barrier to someone who wants to learn the Good News of Jesus Christ?"  We can ask good questions ... like 1) for each person entering our doors, "What do you want us to remember about you?" ... 2) "What is the most profound God-related thing that ever happened to you?  Tell us that story!" ... 3) "If money were no object, what would you like to see happen in this congregation?" ... 4) "What do you think God is doing here at Abbevile United Methodist?" ... 5) "What do you think God would like to do with your life?"  Michael Card wrote in a song "could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?"  I wonder ... Do we, as the Church, try to feed people cliche' answers rather than teaching them how to think, live, love, grow, struggle, strive and follow?  Now that is a question I am asking each of you!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

10,000 Miles

I will admit to having fun preparing our message for Sunday.  I have been looking at Acts 4 where Peter and John are making trouble for the church of their time.  These two "wild and crazy" guys are particularly bewildering for the leadership because they seem to get their marching orders from a higher authority than the hierarchy of Jewish leadership.  Good for them!

In my work for Sunday I ran across an old song, 10,000 Miles,  that was redone by Mary Chapin Carpenter for the movie "Fly Away Home."  The song and video are beautiful expressions of how God sends us messages through lyrics and images and stories (I guess that is why Jesus used so many of them).  The song is from the 1700's and was a dialogue between two lovers that are parting for a journey.  It expresses the longing for reunion and the inevitable of being back together in verses like "the rocks may melt and the seas may burn if I should not return."

As I reflected on this promise of return, I was taken by how God has promised a return in what may be the greatest promise ever ... that Christ will return for His people, the Church.  I also asked myself, in what state will He find us?  He has given us instructions about what we need to do and how He expects us to reflect (imitate) Him.  Will we be reflecting Him or will we reflect the image of this world?  When He comes back will we be leading the world to Him or will we be cowering in our places of refuge?  On His promised return, "when rocks melt and seas burn," what will the Church be doing?

Francis Chan (in his book Crazy Love [I highly recommend it]) tells the story of Brooke, a teen who has chosen to live a life of meaning that will lead others to God.  Brook gave Bibles to those who did not have them using money she earned from babysitting.  She wrote poems and love letters to the God who gave each day power, purpose and meaning.  In one of her letters she professed to make a difference in the world at an early age.  She was killed in a car accident at 14 and at her memorial service (preached by Chan) over 200 people, after hearing her story, her poems and her expressions of love for God, came to faith in Jesus.  They all got Bibles donated in her memory.

I think she achieved her life's goal.  I think Brooke made a difference.  I believe Jesus introduced her to the Father saying, "This one is mine!"  I think Brooke was doing the dangerous, sometimes unpopular, wild-hearted, wonderful, beautiful and meaningful work of God ... her short life truly made a difference.  When Jesus returns and rocks melt and seas burn ... where will the Church be?  Where will you be?  Randy

Monday, July 29, 2013


Most of you are not aware that my professional training and background are in the municipal planning genre.  I worked for the City of Charlotte and then for a private firm doing municipal transportation planning.  I thought back to this one day when one of my friends proudly announced that his employer told him they had plans for him.  He was glad he was in their thoughts and felt this was a very good thing.  I asked him a few questions ... did his employer ask him what his hopes and dreams were when they were deciding the right placement for him?  Did they talk to him about his giftedness?  Did they seek his input into their plans?  The truth is, this employer did not know this person, their talents, their dreams and their hopes from a hole in the ground.  Their plans were totally oriented to the needs of the company and the needs of the bottom line.

In Jeremiah God tells the people of Israel (in exile at the time) that He has plans for them.  He says His plans for them will prosper them and give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  What is the difference between these two planning scenarios?

I think the difference is stark.  The company has a motive of fitting the person into their plan and into the little box they need to accomplish their motive.  God, on the other hand, knows you when He is making plans for you.  Psalm 139 says He knows our innermost being.  He has woven us together in the womb ... and woven in this text means that God has intentionally formed us as a unique creation.  So when He is making plans He knows our thoughts, our desires, our talents and our heart.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  I am good with God making those plans for me.  But be careful when someone says they have plans for you.  Make sure they know you well enough to make plans that will give you hope and a future.  Randy

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Which Team?

Sunday we will be talking about your team allegiance.  Most of you are saying "No, no ... that will cause a big fight in Church."  The Alabama and Auburn fans will me unbolting pews and throwing them, not to mention Georgia, Florida and other fans.  Since I am a Duke basketball fan, I will be somewhat immune, but you get the picture.  However I will only peripherally be discussing football (but I promise it will make its way into the message).  The operative question is "Which team do you play for?"

Brandon Heath sings a song that challenges us, convicts us and calls us to a different attitude toward the world.  Here are the words to "Give Me Your Eyes"

Looked down from a broken sky  
Traced out by the city lights 
My world from a mile high 
Best seat in the house tonight
Touched down on the cold black tar 
Hold on for the sudden stop 
Breathe in the familiar shock  
Of confusion and chaos
All those people going somewhere  
Why have I never cared?
Give me Your eyes for just one second 
Give me Your eyes so I can see 
Everything that I keep missing 
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the brokenhearted 
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the one's forgotten 
Give me Your eyes so I can see

I wonder ... when people see us (the Church, Christians, Jesus followers) what do they see?  Do they see our political stance?  Do they see the distance between 'us' and 'them.'  Do they see heads raised and looking elsewhere or do they see people of compassion who hurt for others?  Do they see judgement or people who will walk beside them on their journey?

If you like music, listen to the song.  Even though it convicts me, I like it.  Because the Holy Spirit is in the business of convicting me often, and where the Spirit is alive, THAT is where I ought to be.  Lord, give me your eyes for just one second!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


During the past few months life, finances, relationships and "my" world has been in a state of turmoil.  I won't go into detail about all of the issues but I know some of you have faced, are facing or will face some trials that might put mine to shame.  I am not writing to complain or even stop some of the painful things that are going on.  I am not writing asking you or God to anesthetize me so that I am living in a blissful state.  I am just remarking that life is troubling at times.

In His last words to the disciples before His arrest, Jesus has some words about troubling times and trying situations.  Here are some of His words of advice.

     1. Part of what is happening is that we are being "pruned and purified."  John 15 reminds us of this and recommends that we remain (abide) in Jesus, our true vine.

     2. Another part of the life-situation swirling around us is that we are living in a place that is not our true home.  1 Peter 2:11 says we are "temporary residents and foreigners" and Jesus confirms this in John 15 by telling us we do not belong to this world but are people who are to live in and serve in the world (in emulation of Jesus).  In effect we are God's investment in this world He loves, here to bear fruit and make a difference in the lives of people.

     3. Jesus tells us not to be troubled ... for He has it under control both now and in eternity (John 14).

     4. He also gives us a promise that even when we are overwhelmed He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and that we can have peace because of what Jesus has done.

As I read these passages, I will be working to take them in, digest them, appropriate them for my life and give them rule over my attitude (a difficult thing for me to do).  Pray for me to a) let Jesus rule my heart and b) for me to be able love in the way He loved us ... as He and the Father love one another.  This brings to mind the lyrics of a song written a while back called "Oh, The Deep Deep Love of Jesus (S. Trevor Francis, 1870)."  Here are those timeless words:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

If I can allow Him to do this work of love in my life, I am pretty sure everything else will work itself out.  Thanks!  Pastor Randy