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