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