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