Monday, December 29, 2014

Unseen Hands ...

Christmas has been pretty busy this year.  It has made me appreciative of all of those unseen things that "just happen" at our church.  The decorations "happened" because of those unseen hands.  The communion elements "appeared" because of those unseen hands.  The food for Celebrate Recovery was not a mirage ... it was real and really good because of those unseen hands.  Programs for Motley Men, early December Wednesday nights, Miracle in a Manger and nursing homes "materialized" somehow in the midst of the franticness.  Music and sound "happened" from those unseen hands.  But unlike so many other churches I have been part of you noticed and showed your appreciation in meaningful ways.  On behalf of the staff, the volunteers and Lee and I, I thank you for noticing, for YOUR appreciation and the love you show us every day.  You are truly a blessing from God ... and we give thanks to Him for you.  May your Christmas stay bright in your heart and may His star shine through the New Year.  Thanks for showing all of us that those hands weren't really unseen!  Randy

Monday, December 15, 2014


Where is your treasure?  What do you value the highest?  What do you take with you everywhere?

Luke 2:19 says, "but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often."  What are "all these things?"

For Mary I could only guess from the text she might have played back the series of events that have brought her to that moment of reflection ... the angel's appearance in Luke 1:26-38, the visit with Elizabeth and the knowledge that she and Elizabeth are forever connected by the little boys they carry in the womb, her song of joy and faith (Luke 1:46-55), the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in the stable and the visit of the shepherds.

The Scriptures about all of this reveal a Mary that seems to be calm and reflective in the midst of what, for most of us, would be events that bring anxiety, fear and a mind that is racing with possibilities.  "What will the neighbors say?"  "How will Joseph and I provide for him?"  "How does a 14 year old girl become a mother?"  "What is this child that brings peace and calm to his mother in the midst of all of this?"  "How do I keep my promise to God to be open and used by Him?"

I am challenged by that last question, because of all of those thoughts, that should be the one I keep in my heart and think about often.  It is a question for every day.  The answer answers another question ... where and what is my treasure?  Randy

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Far

"In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son." (from John 1, NLT).

This passage describes how far Jesus came to meet us where we are.  From before creation ... from eternity into time ... from God's place to your place and my place.

The next time you entertain a thought of how far it is to church, how far you have to go to serve Him, think about how far God came to find and save you.  Pretty amazing?


Monday, December 1, 2014

That Name

You might have seen the sign "Jesus is the reason for the season" or heard the song, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus ... there is something about that name."  For Christians, both are true, but what is in a name?  Lots!

In Hebrew tradition people usually had one name with the addition of the father's name at times (problematic at the time of Jesus' birth, since He was God's only son).  For example, the Bible sometimes refers to Peter, also called Simon, as "Simon bar Jonah" ... Simon, son of Jonah.  So Jesus is called Jesus, but what does the name mean?

I will elaborate more on Sunday but Jesus is a name derived from the Hebrew name Jeshua or, more commonly, Joshua.  The name basically means "He saves" or, as many have translated it, "Our God saves."  It can also be translated as "Savior" and this translation is consistently affirmed by the Gospels which, in the Luke birth narrative, says, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11.

But the real question is one Jesus asked Himself.  "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:15).  He is asking two things ... "Do you know who I am and do you CLAIM who I am."  In this world of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and someone selling almost everything, are you buying what Jesus is selling?  Wouldn't that be a bargain at any price, yet it is free but not cheap.  It will cost you nothing of worldly value but everything that is really worth anything.  Because we, especially at Christmas, should be asking if we are willing to do what Joseph did ... claim the name of Jesus?


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Gift and a Dance

As I reflected on Thanksgiving I thought about a conversation I overheard at one of the fellowship tables at the Community Thanksgiving Service.  A couple was asked why they moved to Abbeville from their previous location.  They gave a simple answer ... peace.  I knew the people and know they are very involved in many community activities.  They work hard in  their church and they are generous in their giving of time and energy and talents.  Many of you would not call that peace.  But I agree with them ... this community called Abbeville is a bit of peace in a world full of turmoil and conflict.  The passage I shared at the Community Thanksgiving Service was from Psalm 133.  It basically says that God (and we) are blessed when we live together in harmony.  This could be called "hard-won" peace, because peace, harmony, love and fellowship is a dance anointed by God. The old Shaker Hymn (which was also a call to dance) is, I believe, a musical gift reminding us of the gift that is life.  This dance reminds us that simplicity, freedom and "coming round right" are all wonderful gifts from God as we join in God's dance.  Do you hear the movement, structure and motion in this dance tune (yes, Christians dance)?  Do you grasp that dancing is structured and patterned turning till we "come round" to the right place in the dance ... our place?  Do you see that life is a turning around (the Bible call this repenting) till we come around to the place in the dance God has created for us?  To this end I wish you joyful dancing and the ability to find peace in this place of simplicity and freedom ... tis a gift from God!
Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Mission

The more I read the story of Jesus sending out His disciples (Matthew 10) the more I realize how true it is to say ... "We are the mission."  Jesus imparts the disciples with visual training of what He has done ... He teaches them ... He demonstrates what He is like... then he does something very Hebrew.  The Hebrew method of teaching involves telling, dialogue and then hands-on doing.  Matthew 10 is Jesus telling the disciples to "go out and do it."  The mission is caught up in the people and the process ... because Jesus wants it to stick!

Sunday evening, at the Community Thanksgiving Service, I will be speaking about how God has given, in Psalm 133, an equation for harmony.  He tells us that harmony is desired.  He expresses that harmony flows from God (from whom all blessings flow).  and He tells us that we are traveling toward a place and time of ultimate harmony in eternity with Him.  But harmony is a blessing that requires work, effort, struggle, trail and error and successes and failures.  When Jesus sends out the disciples to do the work of the Church He knows all of these "discomforts" will happen.  He even tells the disciples they will not be accepted everywhere, they will be brought before political and religious authorities and they will walk away disheartened by their lack of success.  So ... what do we and they do?  Go anyway, because we have been "sent out" by the Master.  We will never be alone and people cannot take any eternal thing from us.  We are in harmony with God and with those who are part of God's great mission!  Randy

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Over the next two weeks we will be doing a Bible study primer.  I have always found it valuable and productive to revisit the Bible study tools I learned over time (especially those learned in Seminary) because these are in a sense the tools of my trade.  As I thought about this cliche' I realized that study of the Bible is something that every Christian should have in their tool box.  How do we know what the Bible says if we don't study?  How do we appropriate God's word into daily life if we don't know what it says?

Here is my idea ... we will study a short passage.  We will look at context, meanings of terms, language, structure of the writing and how this passage relates throughout the body of Scripture.  I think this is always a good start and it will be fun examining this passage with you.  Here it is ... Matthew 10:5-8 ...

"Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!"

Why did I choose this passage?  First, it challenges the literalist. When we look at Scripture and take it as literal, 21st Century English,  we make a grave interpretive mistake.  If we are to avoid the Gentiles and only go to the lost sheep of Israel, why are we even here talking about this?  We ARE gentiles ... I preach to a gentile congregation every week.  Am I spinning my wheels or being disobedient?  We will talk about this Sunday.

The second reason I chose this passage is it reflects much about the work of the Church.  We get off on so many rabbit trails.  Some say our mission is to get people in our doors and grow our congregation.  The Bible says if we do what we should be doing the Holy Spirit will add to our numbers (growth is God's work).  Some say we should primarily teach God's Word.  I agree, but we teach from a platform.  That platform is built on loving those we are teaching, being heralds of God's kingdom, healing, helping people be rid of life's demons and giving of (not holding onto) what we have received.

So ... I plan to have fun and immerse myself in this passage over the next two weeks.  I hope you will do the same!  Randy

Monday, November 3, 2014

Noble Character

10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?  She is more precious than rubies.
11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.
14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household
    and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.
18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.
20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
22 She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
23 Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.
24 She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
26 When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.
27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.
28 Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:
29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Proverbs 31 says it all ... this Sunday is United Methodist Woman Sunday.  It is our way of thanking the faithfulness and persistence of some amazing workers in the "Field of Souls" we call the Church.  Come and enjoy!  Pastor Randy

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Best Fisherman

Over the past 10 weeks our Sunday messages have been about fishing.  I hope we have focused on fishing from a Biblical perspective of fishing for people as Jesus calls ALL of His disciples to the daily vocation of telling others about His kingdom, His healing and His grace.

We will end our series this week with a reminder of God's sovereignty and power to lead us to great things.  We will also talk about Jesus as the Great Shepherd of his sheep and the very best fisherman. 

As I have searched and read about the subject of fishing, I remember taking my grandsons out fishing.  My focus wasn't on how many fish I would catch.  I wanted them to catch a fish and know the joy of having lured the fish onto the line and into the boat.  I wonder ... is this how Jesus feels about us?  Maybe Jesus knows that the greatest joy we can have is sacrificially giving our time, energy, sweat, effort, resources and, if necessary, even our very lives so another person might have the greatest "catch" of all ... the knowledge they are reconciled with God and redeemed by His blood of forgiveness and grace.  Maybe this is the best reason to "fish" for people.  Not to add members to the role (though this is not inherently a bad thing).  Not to see attendance increase (though we would all like that).  Not to boast of our great catch (which pastors do far too often).  We "catch" people and bring them into the body of Christ so God can do His great things in their lives.  The Bible says when this plays out there is healing, forgiveness, joy, peace, redemption, reconciliation, and love ... all through the grace of a God who could be aloof and distant but has chosen to be close and relational.  THAT is why I fish ... how about you?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Less is More

Over time I have learned that the axiom "Less Is More" is both valid and useful in daily life.  This is especially true in kayak fishing where space is limited.  I take six basic things with me when I fish on my kayak. 
   1) my life preserver strapped to the front of the kayak, easily removable for use if needed - The other day I was at Point Washington an a barge came by.  It was huge and beside my little kayak I was dwarfed.  The barge made a formidable wake and I was glad the life preservers were within reach.
   2) a paddle - I have actually driven out of my driveway without a paddle, an obvious necessity since  you can't even leave the shore without a paddle.
   3) an anchor - My anchor is a good one, able to grab the sand and hold steady even when the tide is rushing out. 
   4) 2 rods and reels - Fishing is pretty bland without them. I take two in case something happens to one of them.
   5) my little fishing tackle box - I have separate boxes for salt or fresh water fishing.  I keep the amount of tackle small, because less IS more!  There are hooks, line, a knife, lures, special fishing rigs and a pair of pliers (removing hooks from catfish can be problematic).
   6) my stringer - Hey, I go out with confidence that I will actually catch something!

Jesus also knew "Less Is More."  In Matthew 10 He sends out the disciples on a different kind of fishing trip ... fishing for people.  Jesus' minimalist approach makes me look extravagant.  He says, don't take 1) money, 2) a traveler's bag, 3) a walking stick.  I love the way The Message says ... "You don't need a lot of equipment.  YOU are the equipment."

It is both scary and reassuring that God thinks that we, with all our faults and issues, are adequate (with God's Spirit guiding) to reach the world for Jesus.

Sunday let's share together about what Jesus thinks ought to be in our tackle box when we fish for people.  Randy

Monday, October 13, 2014

Solunar Tables

I don't want to go hi-tech on you but when you are fishing you want to give yourself the best advantage possible.  Of course you choose lures and bait that are what the fish like.  But there are other factors.  Last Friday and Saturday I was at the Choctawhatchee Bay fishing.  I noticed that the fish were feeding and not feeding based pretty accurately on what are known as solunar tables.  These mathematical calculations predict the times when fish are likely to feed based on tides, and the position of the sun and the moon.  It might sound a bit astrological but it is more the pull of gravity, the times for the tides and whether the tides are incoming or outgoing.  The best site for bay fishing is called .  It makes the process simple enough for even me.  At the bottom of the tide chart you will see little fish.  The more fish, the better the day to fish.  While weather, wind and other factors are important, I have found that the solunar tables put more fish on my table, and that is a good thing.

In our fishing for people I was wondering if we could maybe think out-of-the-box and gain some extra insight on when and how the "fish" will feed?  Here some thoughts.

We know the Spirit (pheuma or wind in the Greek) blows where it will.  Maybe finding the fish in the mood to feed might mean we need to be attentive to listening and perceiving the Spirit.  John Wesley thought that our spirit and God's Spirit were in communication and that if we were listening, attentive to the means of grace and in fellowship with God and people we would perceive these movements.  Thursday night of last week I could feel, hear, smell and taste the Spirit as it moved through the room while we sang, "A thousand times I've failed, still your mercy remains!"  God's Spirit moves when people are reminded that God is faithful even when we are not.

I have often felt there was a great gap between the language of the Church and the language of culture.  While I am not suggesting we dilute any of the message, it would seem prudent to examine the institution of the Church and get rid of anything that is not a movement of God.  John Wesley worried that while the people (institution) called Methodists would persist the power of God might become lost in the structure.  We must constantly be careful to remember that God's Church has always been a movement of scattered, uncomfortable but fulfilled and passionate people.  Let's speak the language of our present age while speaking the truth of the Gospel.

Finally, do you remember how Jesus was not afraid to get rid of the "dead horses?"  Jesus looked around and say sheep without a shepherd because the shepherds had displaced God's purpose with their purpose.  When I fish I change tactics if the current tactic is not working.  If something in our daily operation is not working or not reaching the "fish" we are trying to catch, we must be willing to change, modify or eliminate that non-functioning method.

In the end we are trying to bring the fish into God's great net.  They might be dirty, stinky, slimy and not our cup of tea.  But I am reminded of a T-shirt that said, "St. Peter's Fishing Company.  We Catch Em, He Cleans Em."

Monday, October 6, 2014


Do you remember the A-Team?  I loved what Hannibal used to say.  When things worked out he would say ... "I love it when a plan comes together."  So, I'm going to say that phrase with a few caveats.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  I love it when a plan comes together but I need to remember (v:11) they are God's plans and things work out best if I latch on to His plan rather than make one of my own.  This is hard for me because I love the creative side of doing things.  But God is the master creator and He is way better at planning than I am.  I must become less so He can become more in this great plan.

The second caveat is one that is a necessity if I want the plan to happen right.  I must do my part while seeking Him every moment.  He is in the process.  He is in the people.  He is in the prayer.  He is part of the story that is unfolding and I will miss seeing His handiwork if I work without keeping seeking eyes on what God is doing.

Yesterday we met in our Administrative Board session at NOON.  It was good to share the Good News of how God's plan for AUMC is unfolding.  It seems that the seed for Red Bird Mission and Belize that has been planted by faithful people here is growing and spreading it's roots out to other churches and other denominations.  There was a day when this might have been a bit intimidating because it means we (at AUMC) must give up some control.  But then I reflected on God's plan expressed in a long prayer in the Gospel of John.  Verse 17:22-23 says "The glory you have given me I have given them so that they may be one as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and I have loved them as you have loved me."  I believe God's great power and glory are shown more in our unity than almost any other way (at least to those looking in from outside).  When we forget our divisions and remember our mission, our purpose and our calling it points straight to Jesus and God the Father.  I love it when a plan comes together!  Randy

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Prayer for Light

Sunday I shared the thought that we must, as God's people, as Americans, as those saying we are followers of Jesus, "love the light more that the darkness."  The message was from the story of Nicodemus in John Chapter 3. I also shared and prayed a prayer that several people wanted me to "re-share."  So ... here it is!  It will make the most sense if you read the story of Nicodemus from John 3.

"Jesus ... I have read your word.  I (like Nicodemus) know you are from God.  I have accumulated lots of head knowledge.  But my nature wants to take over.  I've got it all figured out.  My brain, my control, my pride, my darkness wants to take over.  Please Lord ... shine your light.  Show me rebirth. Show me your truth.  Show me your light.  Let me fall in love with your light and let your light destroy my darkness.  I am worn down because I trust me and other people more than I trust you.  I remain unhealed because I don't believe.  Yet, I am thankful that you are loving enough to welcome me when I come to you in the cover of my darkness.  Let me see redemption, rebirth and help me share it faithfully.  In Jesus' name, AMEN!"

Monday, September 22, 2014


Last evening I heard a song (we hope to do it on Sunday) that expresses the sentiment of several of the people I spoke with yesterday.  There are two sides to the song.  On the one hand it talks about being worn down by the things life has thrown at the songwriter.  You can get to this state of mind easily if you begin to look around and see the hurts, the pains and things that defy a logical explanation.  I spoke at Calhoun Prison in Morgan, Georgia and saw the faces of about 200 men who have made choices that have had life-changing consequences for them and those they love.  They prayed for freedom, for families they no longer get to see and for dreams that are in limbo.  They are caught on the bad side of that physical law of inertia ... the tendency of an object to preserve its present state, whether still or moving.  They are stuck, tired and worn.  In a comical thought I reflected on the old Hee Haw show and one of their regular songs that had the line, "Pain, despair and agony on me, deep dark depression and excessive misery, if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all, pain, despair, and misery on me."

But there is a better side.  As Christians we can be at rest and stuck in depression just as much as anyone else.  I don't think that place or attitude honors God or expresses faith that God has done what he said in John 16:33 "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."  But we can also be moving toward God.  Paul called it new life.  The writer of Hebrews referred to unshakable eternal things.  Isaiah called it a new thing, springing up out of the dryness of despair and the defeat we often feel.  Jesus called it resurrection.

The part of this song I really like is the prayer to God to allow us to see a resurrection.  We petition the God who has overcome the world to show us (daily) the great things that flow from his hand and proceed from his Lordship over every event Satan tries to turn to evil.  So I pray for those men and for you ... "Lord ... break the bonds of inertia.  If we are stopped in this world move us toward yours.  If we are running toward things not of you, turn us and show us your way.  If we are worn down, show us that you are working your good stuff even in the midst of our weariness.  Let us rise up on wings of eagles, walk and not get tired and run and not get weary.  We pray this in the name of the one who changed everything ... Jesus Christ!  AMEN"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who's In Your Herd?

Adam Hamilton preached a sermon about "Who's In Your Herd?"  He used a video I will use Sunday showing the value of the people we associate with.

So ... who's in YOUR herd?  Are the people you are hanging out with beneficial to you?  Do they have your interest at heart or are they out for themselves?  I often counsel people who tell me all the bad things going on around them.  They describe people who are toxic and damaging to their Christian walk and to their physical/spiritual/emotional health.  And they can be anyone.  They can be family members.  They can be so-called friends.  They can be work associates.  Who's in YOUR herd?

Jesus hung out with 12 disciples and another larger group of followers that included secret friends like Nicodemus (who helped with burial arrangements for Jesus), women like Julia (who seemed to be present in almost every major event of Jesus' adult life) and what is thought to be about 90 people.  This was Jesus' inner circle (just outside the close relationship with the 12).  This was Jesus' herd.

The crowds that followed Jesus were not part of the herd.  They were often spoken of negatively with Jesus using phrases like "an evil and adulterous generation," "seeking signs and wonders," "not true children of Abraham" (because they lacked Abraham's faith) and "standing off at a distance."

As I read and reflect on Jesus' herd I wonder if we seek to create herds and congregations that meet our convenience rather than Jesus' purpose.  Our herd should nurture (bear each others burdens).  Our herd should protect (take care of God's garden).  Our herd should be known for its resemblance of Jesus ("they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13]).  Ask yourself a few questions ... does your herd challenge you? ... does your heard cause you to grow in Christ? ... does your heard seek you when you are lost? ... does your herd enjoy fellowship and breaking bread together?.  These are attributes of healthy Christian herds.  Who's in your herd?

Monday, September 8, 2014

What is There

There have been times when life's struggles are boiled down to the bare essentials.  I remember in Seminary when I was cooking one evening.  The menu was leftover Brunswick Stew (always better the second day) because it combined several of the leftovers we had.  Money, time and food were commodities that were scarce so we treasured hearty meals that could combine something good for us with something that was frugal.  I was reheating the stew in the ceramic crock pot that I had used to cook the stew the day before.  This would save time and I would have one less dish to wash.  My mouth was watering for the meal and I had even cooked cornbread as a side.  Then I found out something I never knew.  When you used a microwave to rapidly heat food in a ceramic crock pot, the crock pot couldn't handle the rapid increase in temperature.  As I moved the hot stew across the room the entire bottom came off the crock pot and a column of hot stew sped to the floor and exploded into every nook and cranny in the entire downstairs of that house.  I expect that old Methodist parsonage still has spots of stew we never found when we cleaned up.

I was sad we had lost our meal for several reasons.  First, it was about all we had ... plan B was ramen noodles.   We struggled for the food we had (something that was a new experience in the poverty of seminary) and the loss of even one meal was something that was felt financially and, that day, even emotionally.  Second, I liked Brunswick Stew ... it was a treat that was rare in those days of eating what we could scrounge up and afford.  Finally, the struggle for daily bread reminded all of us of the value of a good meal and the luxury of having a meal we actually liked.

I wonder if that part of the Lord's Prayer is all about appreciating whatever you have? When we pray "give us this day our daily bread" are we truly appreciative of God's gifts to us?  The air we breathe?  The food we have?  The roof over our heads?  Do we really believe we will thrive today on God, ourselves and what life sends our way?  "Lord, forgive me for expecting life without struggle.  Teach me, in the struggles I face every day, that I can learn, thrive and have joy, even when the pickins are meager.  Remind me that 90% of the world would love to have what I count as inadequate.  Remind me that the world owes me nothing and that You have given be far more than I ever needed because you are an extravagant God who blesses His children.  Grow my thankfulness and give me a heart for the needs of others, not my own (1 Cor. 10:24). AMEN!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


C.S. Lewis has an interesting perspective of hell.  In his book "The Great Divorce" Lewis presents hell as a place where everyone can get what they want and move wherever they want to move.  Only the places and possessions are of mundane quality.  How the people respond to this is interesting.

They move to a new neighborhood, get a new house, get new stuff but are in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction.  They want more and better "stuff."  They want more stuff than their neighbors.  They are constantly observing the things wrong with their neighbors so they pack up an move to what they believe is an ever-expanding world where they just move on to the next place where "the grass is greener."  Lewis says that what is really happening is that this fictional world is not expanding ... it is contracting.  It is constantly collapsing on itself until it reaches the point of all things from Satan ... total emptiness.

As I thought about this I had an epiphany I hope you can appreciate.  Maybe the reason Lewis reaches this conclusion is that Satan and hell are all about the powers of darkness.  Jesus and heaven are all about light.  In our faith, light has a source as all light has a source.  Light flows from power and energy.  Darkness is not power at all.  It has no source.  Darkness is the absence of energy and the absence of substance.  I think Lewis is onto something ... the ultimate destination of hell is into the nothingness from which it flows.  It might be why Jesus once said, Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30).  Yes, hell is real, harsh and horrific, but in relation to God's kingdom, hell and Satan are destined for the total darkness and emptiness from which they came.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Worthwhile Fishing Trip

Our sermon series about fishing has made me think about the sport of fishing in a different way.  If you were here Sunday you might remember our Praise Team singing Rhonda Vincent's "Fishers of Men."  Jesus tells us to "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people."  So, we are called by Jesus to fish for people and Jesus will teach us how.  One way He has been teaching me this past week is to get my mind on the important and off the overrated.

My friend Ken sent me a video which was a commencement address by Steve Atchley.  The address is 10 minutes but I am recommending it to you as something that will wisely use your 10 minutes.  It is NOT overrated.  Here is the link.  I hope you will take the time to listen to some good advice about beginning a journey and staying on course.  It will help you to be better fishermen and better fish.  It will help you follow because you will not be stuck on the entitlement mentality that is so prevalent in our society.  It will give you perspective to lose the pressure of thinking life is all about you.  And it will tell you that God hopes you will enjoy your life (in the words of Solomon) "under the sun,"  eating, drinking and working toward the goals God has set for you.  I hope the next two months will help you find that goal and find the joy in living for and through an amazing God.


Monday, August 18, 2014


When I was growing up my next door neighbor was named Toad.  I never knew his real name because everyone called him Toad Eatman.  I am guessing he was in his 50's when I knew him.  I knew his daughter and I remember she was older and a nice person (she tried to teach me to dance, with very little luck).  But Toad always had a special place in my heart for one reason.  Toad taught me to fish.

I remember when I was a little boy Toad would take me to one of the local lakes and we would fish for bream and bass.  He taught me all about the nuances of fishing and I have retained a love for this sport through the present day.  He taught things like, "If you keep it eat it."  "Throw back the little ones so they can grow."  "Tie your knots well or you will lose your lure and your fish."  "Leave the lake as good or better than you found it."  "Nature is God's creation so take care of it." "A good fisherman is patient and persistent."  I could go on with many lessons Toad taught.  But here is what I have decided to do instead.

I will, over the next few months, be passing on my fishing passion to my church.  Jesus called His disciples and said,  "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people! (Matthew 4:19 NLT)."  I figure if He is teaching us to fish, maybe we should listen, learn and live it out.

Join me for this series of fun and fruitful fishing tips.  I hope it will be as fun for you as it will be for me.  This week we will learn about Toad, my fishing teacher and how some of Toad's advice mirrored the advice of a much greater fisherman named Jesus.


Monday, August 11, 2014


As I continued to think about my heroes I thought about how heroes are people who make the people around them better.  They challenge us ... they inspire us ... they lead us by going out front and showing us the way.  This is how Jesus led.

If you remember, Jesus talked a lot about the Samaritans.  They were a leftover, half-breed group who was left behind after the Assyrians (721BC) hauled away everyone of importance from the northern Kingdom of Israel.  John Wayne would have said, "they weren't worth killin!"  So they were left behind, hated by the "real" Jews and a pariah in the society of Jesus' time.  Jews that lived in Galilee would travel on the east side of the Jordan for an extra two-days just to avoid the Samaritans.  It is thought that Mary and Joseph's journey went straight through Samaritan country, a possible testament to the lack of Samaritan prejudice in Jesus' upbringing.

One day Jesus defies a number of the social mores of 1st Century Judaism as he meets a Samaritan woman at a well.  He is showing and telling.  He shows by 1) conversing with a woman, 2) conversing with a woman living in sin, 3) asking her to draw water from the well for Him, 4) through the power of this conversation, sending her out to retell this story to others.  He tells by 1) telling her the story of her life, 2) telling her the connected history of the place they are meeting (He connects her to the Jews who hate her), 3) he tells her about true worship (in Spirit and Truth) and 4) he tells her that he, as a prophet, knows about one as lowly as she is.  The end result of this conversation is that the woman goes (she has become missional), she shares (she has become an evangelist) and she brings people to Jesus (she has become one who connects others to Jesus). 

Is Jesus leading you?  Are you going, sharing and bringing people to Him?  If a 1st century Samaritan woman can do it, maybe we can!  If He is your hero, maybe you should respond! Just a thought.  Randy

Monday, August 4, 2014


Recently I received an email from a church that did a sermon series on superheroes.  That is popular now with the X-men, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman and the like.  While these movie superheroes are presented in a very human way with their confusion, flaws and internal conflicts, I have to admit I thought the series title was both cliche' and a bit of a publicity stunt (especially true since the church staff were presented as superheroes, uniforms and all).

As I think of heroes I was wondering about real heroes.  Yesterday afternoon we read the names of WW1 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our country.  I think they qualify.  I thought about our mission connections and the people who work with those mission churches every day.  They qualify too.  Then I thought about Hebrews 11.  Liars, adulterers, murderers, people who questioned themselves and God, and just folks who tried to follow God's call the best they could.  No uniforms, no special powers (except those that God gave them) and no credit ... just faith.

It reminded me about one of my earlier churches that was very far off-base in their faith journey.  I was telling some friends (a husband and wife) at the church how I would be leaving that summer.  The wife said, "We thought you would be the one who saved our church."  That was, at least, part of their problem.  They were thinking I would be their superhero when the only superhero worthy of the title was a man who came down from God's throne, lived in humble estate, had nothing except 12 faulty followers, was accused of hanging out with sinners, was convicted of blasphemy and was nailed to a criminal's cross.  But His birth, life, death and resurrection was true salvation for everyone.  He is MY hero.

I think my next sermon series will be "Heroes of humility," telling the stories of Biblical and recent heroes who, overcoming their flaws, reflected Jesus in their lives, their work and their love.  I hope it will be fun to share these stories and hear that

Be careful who you place on a pedestal, especially yourself!  Randy

Sunday, July 27, 2014


This week I am taking a moment to thank our people for the attitude of serving God and being the mission of God in Abbeville.  Just this week we had a mission team serving in Belize, a mission team serving in the Henry County jail, a mission team serving in the Nursing Home, a mission team at Celebrate Recovery on Thursday night, a mission team serving in Men's Ministry (Motley Men on Wednesday) and a mission team witnessing for Jesus at the softball fields as we shared fellowship with other congregations in the Abbeville area.  It is truly an honor for me to be part of this church that placed almost 100 different people in ministry just this week (this includes our children's ministry, the Thrift store, the praise team, Boys and Girls Club team, the choir, our Bible Study teachers on Wednesday and Sunday, the ICU Team, and anyone I might have missed).  Think of this in these terms.  We have about 100 people in attendance each Sunday.  While the 100 people out in the world and our community might have been different people (in fact some of the people serving in the ministries above were not even AUMC attendees) it is pretty impressive that we are sending out a number equal to the attendees on Sunday morning.  And I think we can get to the point we are sending over that number.  John Riley calls God the great multiplier.  I think that is manifested in you and your work for Jesus.  Two comments ... keep up the great work ... thank you for being the hands and feet of our Savior!  I am honored to be your pastor!  Randy

Monday, July 21, 2014


Ok ... this is so wrong.  I catch a few fish and, earlier this year, a blue heron tried to steal my fish.  Now the reptiles are on board when a giant snapping turtle swims off with a stringer of fish just last week.  Something is wrong with this picture!

It isn't the first time I have felt like I was wronged.  My first boss on my very first job wasn't the most ethical person ever and did some pretty shady things, some of which visited misery on me.  Another boss had ambitions and plans that didn't include my best interest.  Sometimes we feel like the world hates us and is out to get us.  Jesus addresses this problem specifically.

Jesus said the world would hate the things we do that look like Him.  If we love in the way that Jesus did people will call us "do-gooders" and wonder about our hidden agenda.  If we live righteously people think we are trying to be better than them and they are jealous.  If we turn the other cheek we are called pacifists and cowards.  If we pray in private and avoid showy acts of faith we are viewed as "not religious enough."  You see that if we apply the Sermon on the Mount, lots of people will find a reason to criticize.  So, what do we do?  We apply Jesus' plan anyway.

We go to Celebrate Recovery and love people who are hurting, because even if everyone outside that group thinks we are spinning our wheels, we know that God works when we love those who are in distress (the least of these).  We go to Belize, Navajo Nation, Appalachia, and Abbeville and we work on missional projects, giving our energy and self to problems way bigger than us, and we let God multiply our efforts and modify our hearts.  And we come to God's house and worship, faithfully and frequently, not to be holy but to tell God and our fellow worshipers that God is the only reason for any good thing accomplished by our efforts.

John 15 says we will be wronged for looking like Jesus.  But if we do look a little like Jesus, we will be in very good company on this earth and in saintly company in the world to come.  Randy

Monday, July 14, 2014


Sometimes I wonder about the solidity of our beliefs and the hold we have on our faith.  I have seen people who will seem solid and passionate about being in church, interacting with God's people and worshiping "in Spirit and truth."  In a few months they will cease being faithful and will be clearly drifting away.  I wonder about the change.  Maybe a sermon didn't strike them the right way.  Maybe someone said something that they took in a negative way.  Maybe they found something better to do with their time.  People often remind me of our cat.  She can seem shy and stand-offish but that dissolves in an instant when someone scratches her behind the ears.  Cats, and people, are fickle.

Paul was talking to Timothy and he observed this trait of people and made a prediction.  He said, "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:2-4)."  Michael Card writes that we have a tendency to create god in our image ... forgetting that God is God.  To Moses God says,  "I am the God that is real." When we create a God we can fit into our little package, we end up with a plastic god ... an idol that is arguably worse than the idols of the Old Testament.  Because we supplant the real God with "our god" and claim they are the same.  This is taking God's name in vain in the very worst way.

Our world gives us a plastic god and a plastic Jesus.  The real Jesus is assuredly not amused and not altered by our false beliefs.  People want a god that meets their standards.  The real God does not bow to the standards of any man, any denomination and any nation.  Isaiah calls God, "He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, (He) who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."  I don't know about you, but I need a God who is greater, stronger, higher than even my imagination.  Not a plastic god that I can carry around in my pocket.


Monday, July 7, 2014


There are two perspectives on running.  In the story of Moses he was running.  Moses was running from lots of things.  He ran from Egypt because he killed an Egyptian guard.  He was a wanted man.  He became comfortable in his flight and even notched out a credible life with a wife (Zipporah) and Jethro, his father-in-law.  Sometimes we stop in the process of running and settle in.

There is another perspective of running.  It is running to something.  Hebrews tells us to run toward the goal.  Paul says to run toward the prize.  Moses hears from God and heads toward Egypt.  He was tentative, reluctant, scared and full of excuses ... but he was headed in the right direction.

I have to reflect on where I fit into this story.  What I want to think is that I am that reluctant, tentative and scared guy who is running toward God's plan and purpose in spite of my doubts.  But I hope I am not the stopped, comfortable Moses, settling down in the wilderness of Midian, keeping myself busy but not busy in service to the Lord. 

I guess what I have to decide is whether I am running to or running from.  For we humans are runners by nature, going one direction or the other.  And even when we think we are stopped, we are either going in God's direction or going in some other direction.  There is no fence-sitting or middle ground.

Twila Paris writes a song about running that has the lyrics, "Runner, though the road is long, feel like giving up, but you're hanging on, runner, when the race is run, may you run into His arms."  That is my prayer for you and me!  Randy

Monday, June 30, 2014

Back Home

I am back home in North Carolina for a few days helping my parents out with some issues.  It has been an interesting trip because my mother is well known for having no verbal filter but being a loving person (those two things often clash).  Mom has spent a lot of her life with her foot in her mouth because of the lack of discretion over what she says.  Talking about people's weight.  Asking if someone is pregnant when they are not.  Knowing just the thing to say that will grate on someone's nerves. I have always wondered why she has lived this long without someone really going off on her.  Then I remembered 1 Corinthians 13.  I thought about this passage about love and I think I have a new take on it.

Mom sometimes has said things that cause us (and other people) to say, "I can't believe she just said that."  In wondering how she has gotten away with this for 86 years I think I have figured it out.  You can say things (lots of things) when they are said in the attitude of love.  I can't think of any malicious thing Mom has said.  She pretty much gives everyone grace ... lots of it.  So when she insults me I just let it roll off my back because I know she loves me and pretty much everyone else.  Without love we are clanging symbols and noise.  Any eloquence and power that supports our speech is lost if we speak without love.  Pretty words are nothing if love doesn't back them up.

I wonder (on this anniversary of freedom here in America) what would happen if we asked "Does he/she really love the people he/she represents?" about our elected leaders?  I wonder ... if the test were love of country, people and our founding documents, how many of our leaders would stand?  "My native country, thee, land of the noble free, thy name I love, I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills; my heart with rapture fills, like that above."  Great words from a great song.

If you tell me in love, I will listen, even if is painful. And yes, Mom ... those milkshakes are adding a few pounds!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fishing With the Grandkids

Today I went fishing with the grand kids.  It is always fun being with them and I enjoy watching them grow.  My good friend, John Riley, went with us.  John and I learned a few lessons from God in the process.

The first lesson is that when you fish with grand kids you don't fish much (John fished even less because he paddled).  Hooks and lines get tangled.  You constantly need to watch out for flying hooks.  You bait hooks and sometimes cast for them so they will get to the best fishing spots.  It requires patience and thick skin (especially when the hook imbeds in your finger).

The second lesson is that grand kids are usually less patient with a slow fishing day.  They get distracted quickly.  They watch the fish in the bucket and miss the real fish that bite their hook.  For a driven person like me it could be infuriating ... except they are grand kids, and grand kids get lots of extra grace.

When I got home I thought, maybe this is a little taste of what God puts up with in my life.  God has His hands full just keeping an eye on me.  My lines get tangled and I try to fish in places that are filled with logs and snags, and dangers my father sees but I fail to see.  God gets the barbs of flying hooks when I try to blame him for my mistakes or the bad choices of other people (like Adam and Eves choice to send us all out into a word of infirmity).  I get impatient with God, though I want God to be patient with me.  And God should be frustrated and furious with me for some very good reasons.  I wonder why He isn't,  and then I think ... maybe He gives me grace and patience because of something I haven't thought of ... God thinks of my like I think of my grandchildren.  I am related!  A son ... brother to other sons and daughters like you.  Isaiah (43) said it like this ... “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."  We are flesh and bone of His son, Jesus.

Thinking of this makes me smile, even in the heat of the day, the uncertainty of the winds and fish that are picky.  Thanks, John, Benjamin, Phoenix and God for the lesson (and the fish)!

Monday, June 16, 2014

On Hold

As I am writing this note I am on hold with Comcast and awaiting a callback from Verizon regarding a change in service for my parents.  It is an infuriating process to deal with these mega-companies that seem to think that our time is an expendable commodity.  In fact, time isn't something that we can get back, so I am multitasking.  I am writing you while I am on hold.

While I am holding with these people who will, most certainly, not be able to help me (I will probably end up talking to supervisors who can actually make a decision, but probably won't) I am trying to make good use of the time God has granted me today.  Sometimes that is all we can do while we are "on hold" in life.

Elijah was in a cave in 1 Kings Chapter 19. He was on hold.  Maybe he was confused.  We do know he was fleeing persecution from Ahab and Jezebel.  We also know he was in a state of believing that he was the sole person defending God's honor in a godless kingdom.  John talked about Elijah on Wednesday night and recalled what God said to Elijah while Elijah was "on hold."  He said, "What are you doing here Elijah?"  It is a good question for Elijah and for us.  What are we doing here?

I can identify with Elijah in this situation.  Life sometimes seems to place us on hold and we pray, wait, hope and seem to be stuck.  Why isn't something happening?  Where is God?  Why do we feel this way?  These are questions common to good people who are processing their understanding of God and our understanding of life's doldrums.  Here is what I will try while I am "on hold."

1) I will keep working.  My football coach told me when I was stuck on a skill level that I wanted to improve, just keep doing the right things and work hard.
2) I will remember what God has done because I know God is faithful and caring.  That same God is still Lord of the universe.
3) I will seek God in His Word.  God's Word always leads, is always living and is always there.
4) I will recall Elijah's story.  God sends a whirlwind, an earthquake and a fire ... God isn't in any of these things.  God is in the whisper He sends to Elijah, calling him out of the cave.  So ... I will listen for the whisper of God.

I am still on hold with Comcast and still have no response from Verizon ... but I know God hears and cares ... that is enough!  Randy 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Not Picture Perfect

On this week when we are thinking about fathers our thoughts can be a sea of emotions.  The position of father has seen (in my opinion) lots of stress in recent years.  Between societal distractions, loss of direction, easy departures (that turn out not to be so easy) and the loss of the Church's voice in the equation I believe being a good father has become more difficult.  Here are two bits of advice I have for many of the fathers I have counseled in past years.

The first bit of advice might seem a little harsh, but stay with me.  Fathers need to grow up.  Rather that stubbornly pursue their family authority, their toys and their recreational desires, maybe fathers should reexamine their priorities.  While I was critical at the time, I remember my father doggedly making sure he provided for us and gave us the basics of life ... he didn't wait for the government or anyone else to do it for him.  He didn't whine about the effects of feminism, the encroachment of the government, the negative effects of media or any other barrier that impeded his ability to do his job ... he just went out and did it.  He wasn't always right, he wasn't always in a perfect mood, and he wasn't always "Father Knows Best."  But he taught me to be persistent and to learn from the mistakes I would inevitably made (and not to blame them on someone else).

That brings me to point two ... I see a growing tendency for society to offer excuses so that we can feel like our mistakes are not really our fault.  Lots of guys I have conversed with have some idea that these excuse have merit and the world owes them something.  Yet when I talk to angry children about their fathers I believe the number one complaint is that dad "makes no mistakes" (at least that he admits).  Dads ... realize that being vulnerable is being honest and real.  Kids don't need dads who are the super heroes they see on TV.  They need dads who teach them to navigate the rocky channels of life, including what to do when (not if) you hit a rock.

I love my dad, and I know he won't be with us for too much longer.  But I am thankful that he taught me the there is a time and purpose for all things under heaven (Eccl. 3) and that our fallibility and brokenness are intertwined with both the humanity and divine spirit we have all been given.  Be real and grow up ... that's my take!  Randy

Monday, June 2, 2014

From the Wilderness

Since I am writing you from the Annual Conference of the Alabama/West Florida, United Methodist Conference you might be confused with the title.  All of this order and structure ... all of the music ... all of the reports (some encouraging) ... all of the knowledge about the happenings in our area ... the videos of events and blessings at churches in the conference ... all of those preachers ... one would think that I would be immersed in the message that Jesus is Lord.

But this time has always been difficult for me.  Yesterday I preached about Barnabas entering Antioch with an attitude of seeking and seeing God's blessings.  Pray that I can and will do the same.  Because I too often see three things that give me pause.  I see preachers comparing their catches of fish in overtly numeric terms ... I wonder if God is impressed with their numbers?  I hear reports that tell me how well things are going but they are sometimes factually evasive.  And I meet hundreds of pastors trying to get the weeks work done as they "process" the required meetings, the services and the necessary business of the Conference.  Lots of "duty" and seemingly not that much joy.

But then there is this ... as I stood last evening next to Marilyn Skipper and we sang with joy the songs of the church.  I don't know about Marilyn but I couldn't tell you much that was read, preached or said at the opening worship service.  But I can tell you the lyrics of a song that was shared with thousands of people and a choir of maybe 250 people.  "And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still my soul will sing your praise unending ... 10,000 years and then forevermore."  God truly does send streams in the desert ... and he brings life from death.  I wonder what His plan will be ... and I pray I can just be a part of something good He is doing!  Randy 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Expectations and Needs

I was down at the lake yesterday.  You might have heard my story about the Blue Heron that decided to try and steal the bass I caught a few weeks ago.  Yesterday he was back (the thievin', trashy thing!).  He saw me fishing and expected to get something to eat ... to be fed.

One time when Jesus was teaching up around another lake (the Sea of Galilee) he got some bad news (Matthew 14).  John the Baptist had just been beheaded by Herod and Jesus withdrew in a boat to be by himself.  But the crowds followed Him.  Jesus had compassion for them and cured them but it got late in the day.  The disciples were worried about who would feed this many people (there were 5,000 men, not to mention women and children).  In one of His miracles Jesus fed the people with a little bread and a few fish after healing their sick.

Here is what I was thinking yesterday.  How many of us are like that heron, coming down to expect a meal?  We go to church expecting to be fed and we even expect how that feeding will take place.  When the food is different than we expect, when the feeding fails to meet our expectations, I wonder ... do we fly away like that heron, looking for food somewhere else?  The heron is just a dumb bird, but I wonder ... as God's people and God's church, are we so caught up in how we are fed, the kind of music we hear, the style of worship, the expectation of what we want, that we sometimes fail to graciously receive the meal God desires to give us?

I don't know what the crowds of Matthew expected, but in the Gospel accounts the crowds are not presented positively ... because they always seemed to want what they expected.  When that "want" was not met (the teaching got hard) John's Gospel says, many fell away from following.  In Africa thousands of people will stand for hours in the hot sun to hear God's Word preached.  Maybe we can learn something from them.

God desires to give us what we need ... not what we want.  This week many churches in the Alabama West Florida conference of the United Methodist Church will receive new preachers.  I won't chime in on my thoughts about our process except to say this.  Maybe people in our churches should ask God to send them the pastor they need ... not the one they want. May we all go faithfully to our church of choice Sunday (or whatever day we worship) and listen for God to give us exactly what we need in the sermon and the music.  We should be thankful for a God who sees and meets our needs, even when we fail to know them ourselves.  Randy

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mom's Not Here

The other day Lee heard two little girls arguing in a bathroom.  One said ... "Mom told me to tell you to wash your hands."  The other little girl said "Mom's not here."  These two beautiful and innocent little girls proceeded to discuss the subject of hand-washing with the compliant girl insisting that the other girl should wash her hands just because mama said so.  The non-compliant girl is preparing to go out and lie to mom about the whole thing.  It was a classic battle of how we, as people, think.

Aside from just not wanting to be told what to do (I have a little of this in me) and the compliant girl wondering why she is even bothering on this, what can we learn from this conversation?  Maybe a couple of things.  First, let's realize that the innocent, perfect little people we call children are naturally attuned to doing what might be called "sins against mama."  I don't know how to say it except to say it direct ... kids seem to have a natural ability to lie, fib, blame others for their mistakes and generally be sneaky little folks.  I have talked to many parents who had children they said would never lie about things ... they all were proven wrong and had to face the fact that kids lie (sorry parents).  We, as parents, are around to make sure we tell them lying is wrong and be sure that enforced/consistent consequences follow bad behavior.

The second lesson is this.  While mama might not have been there in the bathroom, mamas seem to know when we are being bad or doing wrong.  And God was in that room watching those little girls sort out the hand-washing crisis.  Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, messed up and God knew what had happened.  God knew the centuries of consequences this meant for all of humanity.  Yes, our nature is sin.  Yes, sin has consequences.  Yes, God sees us when we miss the mark.  But there is a final yes ... yes, God has given us a way back to His presence through the atonement and forgiveness of Jesus.  God sees us and loves us anyway.  Randy

Monday, May 12, 2014

Good and Evil

Some seem to have difficulty with the concept of good and evil in this world.  God, in Genesis, said (in creating the word and all in it) "It was very good."  I believe that, but most days I need to be very intentional in accepting it.  I see lots of things that make me say, "That isn't so good."  Pain, poverty, disease, stress, war ... I could go on but you get the point.  This world is far from perfect.  What could God have possibly meant by this?

So I search and I read and I find a great book by C. S. Lewis in which he talks about how there is a battle between evil and good in the world.  In "Screwtape Letters" Lewis tells the story of two tempters (devils) that are assigned to turn people toward evil.  In Chapter 8 he describes the nature of the enemy of the demons.  That enemy is God. It is a beautiful description of what Satan is trying to do and what God is trying to do.  He says, "One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself-- creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in,, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct."

Read this carefully.  God draws us to Himself through the decisions and strife we face every day, giving us the chance to choose Him.  He wants us to both be united to Him but remain the distinct and beautiful creations He has made us to be.  It is not a perfection of action (the Pharisees had that market cornered).  It is dancing in tune with God and one another through becoming the humble servants He desires us to be.  And when that happens ... it is very good.

On Sunday when we sing congregational songs it is not to sing the songs in perfection of tune.  It is the choir and the praise team lifting up the songs to God in a way that leads all to sing with passion and joy ... because we are all singing to one person ... God.  This week, lets sing to God.  Let's worry less about the perfection of matching the notes on the page and more about singing from our hearts in unison with God and our brothers and sisters.  I'll bet it will be VERY good!  Randy

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mom Stories

I, like most of you, have mom stories.  For some of us they can be wonderful and funny.  For some of us they bring a more bittersweet taste and require us to understand that we have a God in heaven that can (and will) make up for any parental failings we have here in this life.  God is always there for us.

One thought I had about mothers and Mother's Day, this weekend, is that our stories about our moms are stories we carry all of our lives.  Fred Craddock writes about his mother's compassionate nature toward strangers.  He would go down to the dinner table and a total stranger would be at the table eating dinner with them.  Fred would ask the appropriate questions ... "Who is he?" ..."Why is he here?" ... or a statement ... "He is scary mama!"  Fred said he seldom learned the name or any rational reason for the stranger's presence.  His mother would simply say "He was hungry."

I think of all the times my mom and dad have been there for the needs of our family.  I remember how they helped us when we moved from one place to another.  I think about how my mom (who has a peculiar personality) has had us belly laughing with some statement or action that has defied the natural order of things.  I am glad to know my mom will be in heaven with the saints, probably causing Jesus a sideways look as He asks, "Why did she say that?"  And I am glad to imagine how, in spite of her oddities, mannerisms and quirks mom will be singing (a little off-tune) in the heavenly choir.

I say all this to remind you (and me) we are all a bubble off plumb.  We all have things that are character issues we would rather keep hidden.  But thank God, He sees all of those things and somehow loves us anyway.  God's love isn't blind ... it is all seeing, all knowing, all understanding, and all-in to pursue our best outcome.  Let's say yes to Him.  And when we get to heaven, I will introduce you to my mom.  Get ready to laugh ... she will do something funny!  Randy

Monday, April 28, 2014


In my new message series I will be sharing about real people in real situations.  But never forget that the stories of the people in the Bible are also real people who are ably representing us in their faith, their faithlessness, their struggle, their triumph and their understanding (or lack of understanding) of the living God.  Their stories are OUR stories.

I have a friend named Michael Belk who has met more famous people that I will ever name ( you can check him out at ).  Michael's story is interesting, and maybe his story is your story.  During the past 30 years, Michael Belk’s photography has appeared in fashion publications including Vogue, Elle, GQ and Vanity Fair for clients that included Nautica, J.Crew and others.  A self-taught photographer who never picked-up a camera until he was 20, Michael grew up in Central Florida, working in retail clothing in high school and college. Although he planned a career in the fashion industry and worked as a sales executive for Gant, a popular men’s clothing line in the ’60s and 70s, photography snagged his soul. By 42, Michael says that his life was defined by “great excitement, huge success, but very little substance.” It was a busy life, but one running on empty. Something was missing. That's when he had a visitor (I think His name was Jesus) and he recalls “the absolute presence of God” in his room. God asked,  “More of your way or would you like to try Mine?” He wanted to try “God’s way.”

Michael's photography project, Journey With the Messiah places Jesus in modern settings that will challenge and change our world.  The rich young ruler stands beside a sports car, complete with a beautiful woman in the passenger seat.  A broken (and broke) executive lies across the lap of Jesus with his briefcase open and the papers scattered ... there is rest for the weary with Jesus!

Michael's project is unique but his story of meeting a very alive Jesus is not.  When we meet Jesus we are changed.  We will still have struggles ... some that take us to our limits.  But we never need to doubt that Jesus is there.  Michael learned that and it took his gift for creativity and beauty in a new direction.  Isaiah says that we, when God's day happens, will sing a new song.  So, what is your new tune?  Christ the Lord is risen.  Let's get to work together!  Randy

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Getting to Work

Easter was a wonderful and glorious celebration of God's goodness.  Robert and Janet Hinson joind Abbeville UMC ... Katie Hinson, Jackson Blalock, Faith-Anne Hunt and Clayton Larsen became full members of AUMC through confirmation and Katie and Clayton were baptized.  We held services on Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Friday (Tenebrae), a church-wide picnic on Saturday and two services (9am and 11am) on Sunday.  Lots of work, energy an effort went in to these events and I would be irresponsible if I didn't thank the unsung heroes (the choir and praise team, Lucky, Mark, all the people who prepared food and schlepped back and forth to make each event a success, those that prepared communion/the tomb in the Sanctuary/the eggs for the egg hunt/etc., Ron for keeping up with all the sound system stuff, Judi (and many helpers) for the picnic, and many others who (in unseen ways) did something to make things work out.  THANK YOU!

It would be easy to sit back and admire the work God did this week in the hearts and lives of the people.  But what God did was not what most of us think.  While all of these events were going on last week and we thought each event was an end in itself, it was not ... each event was a beginning.  Let me say it another way.  It is spring.  I have seen many farmers and some of you out plowing your fields.  Some have even planted something in those fields.  So your task is done, right?  NO ... your task has just started.  You have planted seed.  It must be watered.  It must be tilled and weeded.  The crop will not come till harvest time and that will be work too. 

So it is with last week.  God planted seed.  If we are obedient and attentive we will take advantage of the times when God will water that seed.  He will have that watering can out on Wednesday when John teaches at Motley men in the morning or at our Wednesday evening Bible study.  He will have it out at one of the current Bible Studies or maybe the new Bible Study Fellowship I would like to start in a few weeks (more on this later).  He will water, weed and till on Sunday mornings at the 9am or 11am services.  Several things can happen to the seed.  God's Word (Matthew 13) says God is planting seed.  Some of it falls on the footpath to be consumed by the birds.  Some of it falls in shallow soil where it germinates but wilts and dies.  Some of it falls among thorns and is choked out.  But some falls in fertile soil and produces an abundance.  It is up to you to decide whether you will invest time, prayer, study, fellowship, service and sacrifice to become that seed that produces fruit.  So you decide ... which seed are you?   Randy

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Telling

I saw the Noah movie the other day.  I won't spoil the movie for those of you who plan to go see it, but there was a scene that I really liked.  The ark is being tossed by the storm of all the centuries and the people are afraid.  So Noah, in true Hebrew form, does something that is remarkable in our electronic culture.  He tells a story ... and not just any story.

Noah tells the people on the arc the story of creation.  He describes how God made everything and how God is the most powerful force in the universe.  He tells them God made everything in its perfect order and how people failed to follow some fairly simple instructions.  In the telling of the story, I believe Noah gives comfort to the people who see the bigness, the creativity, the deft touch of a beautiful and fearsome God.  God, in creation, writes a story into which He writes people ... the treasure of His creation.

As I reread that story I get comfort in the telling of the creation account.  I see, hear and feel the poetry and beauty as God paints the beauty of nature in real and living color.  Friday I thought of this wondrous God as I paddled across Choctawhatchee Bay into a pod of dolphin ... and heard them breathing.  God gave them that breath, that life, that beauty and a grace that I cannot describe.  And that is small when compared to the grace He gave us on a cruel, ugly but necessary cross ... made necessary by the two people in that first creation story.  When they walked out of the garden in exile God was already making a way home.

Sunday (at 9am and 11am) come and hear the Telling of that story ... of Jesus and His love!


Monday, April 7, 2014


This is the time of the year when you might see me driving east after work toward Ft. Gaines.  Fishing season is in full force and I have already bagged a few bass (some have made it to the frying pan).  This year I had a different kind of fishing story.  Usually these stories are about the monstrous fish that were hooked but lost due to broken line or some other malfunction that wasn't my fault.  This year's story is different.  It is about how I caught a bass while riding my bicycle.

You might have seen me riding my bike through town, but one day a few weeks back I took the bicycle and my kayak to Ft. Gaines.  I placed the kayak in the water not too far from the dam and caught a few small fish along the bank.  I got tired of fishing so I put the kayak in the truck and got on the bike.  I rode along the Corps of Engineers area and was enjoying the ride when I looked down at the lake.  In a corner of the cove I saw a good sized bass swimming along the bank.  I wondered ... "Can I make it back to the truck, drive up here and get my fishing rod before the bass leaves the area?"  I did just that and caught that bass on the third cast ... he was in the frying pan that evening.

As I thought about how I caught the biggest fish of my season while doing something totally non-fishing oriented, I realized there was a lesson here.  When we are doing another kind of fishing (for people) we might have our plan played out in our mind.  A person will come up to us and ask, "What can I do to be saved?"  The truth is, that almost never happens, even to preachers.  Usually the opportunities to witness to someone about Christ come at inconvenient times when we are doing something else.  1 Peter 3:15 says ... "And if someone asks you about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it."  Always includes the times you are busy, the times you are distracted and the times when you really don't feel like it.  On my fishing trip, I could have said, "I am riding ... not fishing."  That would have been true but I would have missed the blessing of the big catch.  How about you ... do you realize that our number one vocation (as Christians) is fishing?  Are you ready to tell about your Christian hope in the midst of everyday life (God happens while life happens)?  Do you realize that our congregation has 234 evangelists (fisher-people), all with a story of hope, grace and love from our Savior?  What if all of us realized that every day is a fishing expedition, even when we are riding our bikes?  Randy

Monday, March 31, 2014

Coming to Serve

In one of the churches I served our congregation asked me to try to get our community involved in the church.  The community around the church was a vastly different demographic than the people attending the church.  I planned a community-wide event, invited a choir I knew would draw community members into the church and planned a message that would be focused on the people I knew might come to the event.  We advertised, promoted and put up flyers around the entire community.  We planned food and refreshments and then prayed for God to bless the event. 

And God DID bless the event!  The church was full of people wanting to hear God's Word in music and God's message preached.  It was a high time for that little church as the Sanctuary had over double the number of people we would normally have on a Sunday morning.  God answered our prayers.  The event went wonderfully, filled with life and fellowship and God's Spirit.  Two things, however, were missing.

First, only 5 people from that congregation were at the event.  They didn't want to be associated with the people or the music or the message.  It wasn't comfortable, and the people attending were "beneath" them.  They wanted me to invite community people who were like them.

Second, there was a huge lack of help to do refreshments and greet the people.  I remember Lee going to ask two of our church ladies who came to critique the event if they could give her a hand in the kitchen.  They responded ... "We didn't come to serve!"

I am honored that at Abbeville UMC we have lots of people who "come to serve."  At last night's 5th Sunday Community Sing our kitchen was full of helpers.  The event was full of AUMC people (and people from other congregations in the Abbeville Community).  There were people from all walks of life, just loving the time of singing and celebrating the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  THANK YOU for being people who come to serve!  I think God would say, "Well done, my good and faithful servants!"  Randy

Monday, March 24, 2014

Watching Children

Yesterday I was watching our three amazing acolytes as they brought the light of Christ into the Sanctuary and lit the candles. I marveled at their innocence, beauty and wonder as they watched the light flicker, carefully walking down the asile.  They were all a blessing.

I think Jesus would have been honered that three little girls are so ready to offer their part in our worship of God.  They are truly doers of Gods Word and I am excited to have them as part of our worship team on Sunday morning.

I remember the story (you know it) when Jesus, in Luke 18, blesses the little children and rebukes the adults who get in the way of the children coming to Him.  I have always loved the statement, "the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these little children."

Jesus could mean many things by this statement.  He could mean that God's kingdom belongs to the innocent ... those who haven't been so corrupted by the things of this world.  He could mean that God's kingdom belongs to those who come to Him with hope, open hearts, and open eyes, watching to see what Jesus is about to do.  Among the many things this statement could mean, I think I like these the best.

I especially love the thought of those who come to Jesus wondering what He is about to do.  For God is active in the world.  Three little girls walking down the asile on Sunday morning, looking up at the simple candle flame with wonder and hope.  Wonder in how the outward sign of the flame reminds us of God's presence, God's grace and God's constant activity in our lives through worship on Sunday morning.  Hope in how God might take the light of His Word and light a flame in a heart, a life, a family, a situation ... so that we ask, "What is Jesus about to do?"  THAT is a beautiful children's question that we, as adults, ought to own every day.  When you get out of bed, go to work, sit down at the table, go about your daily activities, ask ... "Lord, what are you about to do?"  Then do one more thing.  Watch for the answer to the question.  Your day, your week and your life will be better because you have become that expectant child looking up at God's light ... knowing He is about to do something good.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Whose Rules?

As I was reading Luke 13 this week I was surprised at how we can become so rule-bound that we become a barrier to the things we ought to be doing.  While I believe that structure has its place, sometimes our structure, rules and procedures keep us from fulfilling our mission.  It really comes down to who the rules and structures are all about.

Fred Craddock tells a story of a benevolence fund given into his care at a small Tennessee church.  The fund contained $100.  They told him the fund was to be used at his discretion but could not be used to help people who had made poor financial decisions, people with drug/alcohol problems and people who we not working to earn a living.  Fred said, 20 years later, as far as he knows the $100 is still intact.

In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman bound by infirmity for 18 years.  The church leaders are indignant because Jesus heals the woman on the Sabbath.  They said, "God did his work in 6 days and rested on the sabbath so we should do the same."  Their rules were very strict about every activity that was allowed or prohibited on the Sabbath.  And if you violated the rules there was swift and certain punishment.

Here, and in other places in Scripture, Jesus reminds the rule-makers of several things.  First, He tells them that healing happens when God directs and gives the healing (who are they to limit God's ability and desire to heal?).  Second, they are treating their livestock (rescuing them from harm, giving them water) better than they are treating God's people.  Third ... they are forgetting that the Sabbath is given for the benefit of God's people ... not for the rule-makers to lord over the people with a heavy yoke.  Finally, they are forgetting the real definition of Sabbath.

Sabbath, as originally modeled by God during the creation, was a 7th day in which God "rested."  This doesn't mean God laid back in a hammock and took a nap.  It doesn't mean God went out fishing or embarked upon some leisurely activity.  "Rest" as defined in the Hebrew means "completion."  God had done what God had set out to do.  He had stood back and said ... "It is good."  In Like 13 Jesus steps back from helping a woman bound by her disease for 18 years.  He sees her healed, just as God intended.  I believe He might be thinking "It is good. I completed the Father's work in this woman.  Now, on to teaching the religious leaders that they are not leaders but are impediments ... stumbling blocks to God's work in the people of God."

Remember ... they are God's rules for the benefit of God's people all for God's purpose.

That's my take!  Randy

Monday, March 10, 2014

Timing is Everything

In our journey with Jesus in His last 40 or so days of walking this earth we have ... 1) reflected on Jesus' life, death and resurrection (on Ash Wednesday we talked about God's purpose in sending Jesus so that we will live out the purpose God has planned for us), 2) thought about how often we say "if only you had been here" when He, in fact, has been present with us constantly and 3) remembered God's perfect timing (this week) as Jesus spends his past 40 days as a fugitive.  I have wondered why Jesus didn't go to the cross right after raising Lazarus.  The Jews were hot on his heels.  They were plotting to kill Him.  He was just a few hours away from Jerusalem at Bethany.  It seems all the ingredients were in place.  So ... why this 40 day wait?

God is an amazing connector of things.  The 40 days Jesus spends in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry is book-ended tidily by the 40 days of His struggle and ministry during Lent.  We remember the 40 years in the wilderness and the 40 days of rain during Noah's flood.  I wonder if God is using these numbers as what Methodists would call "outward signs of inward grace."  By this I mean that God is letting us know, through the order of life, order in His creation and order in Jesus' last days, that He has all things under control.  God is quite aware of His plan and the timing of Jesus' last journey is perfectly coordinated to bring us forgiveness and grace through the cross.  God is connecting us to His Word and our future!

We also know that God's timing here coincides with the feast of the Passover.  While the Jews are making preparations and thinking of the days in Egypt when the angel of death passes over them (because the blood of a slain lamb is on the top and sides of their doorpost, a symbol of God's pardon and grace), Jesus death on the cross (with the blood on His forehead, hands and feet ... the slain Lamb of God being the embodiment of God's forgiveness and grace) is our passover. God carries our sins to the cross, burying them in the grave.  For the Jews the Passover is a big deal.  For us as Christians God's forgiveness is the biggest deal ever ... the very foundation of the faith.  God prepares a way into His presence!

A final reason for Jesus flight and plight (John 11:54-57) might be that He is modeling for us something very deep.  He suffers persecution, weariness, misunderstanding and the knowledge of impending judgment (for our sins and from the Jewish/Roman authorities) as he travels, teaches, heals and shows us that sometimes you travel to what might seem a dire fate so that God's plan can unfold in how you pass through that fate (Isaiah 43:2 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you ... when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned").  Isn't it reassuring that God in human form had the access to God's (the Father's) presence during His time of persecution?  He truly is the great High Priest who has gone before us and passed through the rivers we also face (Hebrews 4:15).  God leads us on our journey to His place!

God's timing is perfect.  One old preacher said, "God arrives just before it is too late."  I like that ... Randy!