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!

Monday, March 3, 2014

What We Hope For

I remember waiting up till it got dark, Searching till I found the brightest star,
Making my wish with all my heart, But we grow up and so do all our dreams,
Somehow without us even noticing, We set our sights on lesser things,
Oh, to go back when we still believed

We start out so innocent and wise, Before we cut the world down to our size,
We still have that wonder in our eyes, So maybe that's why Jesus said to come,
With the faith we had when we were young, Trusting in a world beyond this one,
Letting our imaginations run

What we hope for Is not too much to ask for, And what we pray for Isn't nearly big enough,
'Cause what we dream of, Cannot compare to God's love,
And what He wants for, us is so much more, More than what we hope for.

I hope you like these lyrics from Carolyn Arends as much as I do.  They remind me how I (on a daily basis) limit God's ability to make my life and my day better.  In John 11 Mary and Martha are mourning the death of Lazarus.  Mary tells Jesus "If only you had been here my brother would not have died."  It is a statement made by a hurting woman ... similar to one I have made often.  But she forgets, God (and thus Jesus) was there ... He knew of Lazarus death and even delayed His arrival.  Lazarus did die.  This story makes me think of something.  What if God is more glorified in our perseverance through difficulty and pain than preventing the pain in the first place?  What if the whole world is filled with opportunities to allow God to be expressed, glorified and shown for the amazing, big God He really is?