Monday, December 26, 2016


"Thank you Lord for the gifts you place in my life.  The gift of family that has blessed me during this Christmas season with beautiful chaos, beautifully intense interactions and beautiful chances to share life.  The gift of a Church family that cares and shares love, life, resources and makes sure that the pastor and staff know that they are appreciated.  The gift of music that allows my soul to sing and praise God like Mary did in her beautiful song from Luke 1.  The gift of the friends (and there are many) who share the joy of ministry doing little and big things for the Kingdom of God.  The gift of struggles that God's grace has led me through and past.  The gift of those who have lived and died leaving their reflections in the mirror of my memory so I can recall and laugh and cry as I appreciate the brief time spent here and anticipate the promised eternity in heaven.  The ministries that God has given Abbeville United Methodist so we can tell our community and the world that Jesus is Lord, God never fails and salvation through the Christ child is the greatest gift ever given.  The pastors who have shared the Word of Life in this community and in the world ... often at great struggle and inconvienience.  Of all these gifts, Lord I thank you ... and I ask your blessing on each person that reads this message.  I know and You know that Longfellow was right when he wrote ... "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth and good will toward men."  He, You and I know that this hope and truth starts with me (and those reading this) where you have placed them to reflect the light of Jesus to a world needing light.  Empower us to do this by leading us to follow you.  Thank you Lord ... for letting us be part of the beauty and mystery of faithfully following you to wher3ever you lead.  It is the blessing of living life in You!"  Randy

Monday, December 19, 2016

All of These

Adele sings a song called "We Could Have Had it All."  It is an expression of missing the mark in a relationship that didn't go as expected or desired. We can all connect with that since all of our human relationships have not gone perfectly.  The same could be said about our relationship with God.  All of us can attest to the many times we missed the mark when trying to reach the standard God has set for us.  With human effort it is impossible ... but with God all things are possible.  For with God, we can have "all of these."

During Advent we have practiced a tradition that has been around since the 16th Century.  German Lutherans developed the idea of the Advent Wreath but the tradition didn't take current form until the 1800's when Rev. Johan Wichern, a pastor serving the poor in Germany, refined the idea.  Following the old pattern we light four candles in expectation of the birth of Jesus.  These candles represent love, joy, hope and peace, and they are all part of the light of the Christmas season.  The last candle, lit on Christmas Eve, is the Christ candle, lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus ... in John's words, True God and True Light come into the world.

On Christmas Eve we will light the Christ candle and we will relight all of the candles on Christmas morning.  We will (I hope and pray) be recognizing God's offer of "all of these things" (hope, love, joy, peace and Christ) in a world where these things are scarce.  While we have missed the mark in accepting and appropriating all of these gifts into our lives and spreading them into the world, Jesus did not miss His mark.  He has brought us all of these in Himself as the greatest gift of Christmas.  This Saturday night at 7pm and this Sunday morning at 10am we will embrace each other ... embrace these gifts ... embrace Jesus as we sing about joy, peace, love, hope and Christ.  The gifts of this world say we could have had it all, but that is one of the world's lies.  In Christ we truly can have all of these.  Thanks be to God!  Randy

Monday, December 12, 2016


Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 NLT)

Do you ever wonder if God is listening, watching and attentive to what is happening around our world?  Do you cry (as David did) "How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1 NLT).  Mary's answer is clear, confident, filled with joy and glowing with gratitude. Mary doesn't just sing ... she shouts ... God Remembers!

I love this passage from Luke for many reasons, but maybe the most vivid reason is how this passage expresses the nature of God's love.  We use the word love lightly.  We love ice cream ... football ... hunting ... cars ... TV programs ... hot coffee.  God loves with passion, without boundaries and in a way that doesn't just tell us He is listening ... God shows us by His actions.  

Mary says "He took notice of His lowly servant girl!"  God sees us where we are and who we are and loves us anyway.  Mary was amazed and grateful.

Mary says, "He has done great things for me!"  I marvel at this verse as I see both the blessing of being chosen by God and the great burden of raising the Christ child into manhood, all the way to His death on a cross.  Mary was able to see past future burdens in the strength of her faith in God.

Mary says, "God has leveled the playing field ... HE is the great equalizer."  Mary sees God's action as the only total equality we will ever see as God does what Isaiah said when he prophesied ... "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain" (Isaiah 40:4 NIV).  Mary saw God's justice and mercy in her mind's eye.

In her world of turmoil, pending persecution, uncertainty, political upheaval, real danger, economic difficulty and family problems, Mary sees all the way to God's glory, grace and provision.  Maybe we should too!  Randy

Monday, December 5, 2016

Pollution or Solution

In the dictionary the definition of pollution is "the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects."  I see it often both at Christmas or at other times of the year.  The person who watches children singing their hearts out to God and finds something wrong to complain about. The always-negative approach to life that doesn't just see the glass half empty ...because the polluter wants to empty everyone's glass along with their glass.  Haggai said that the Israel of his time was like this as they were never satisfied because they had pockets full of holes.  But Isaiah had something positive to say in the midst of some dire prophecies.

Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that in the midst of the world's pollution there is a God who is working, creating, making new things ... and one of those things is us.  "Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight (Isaiah 65:18)." 

Let me "what if" for a moment.  What if God is honored when, in the midst of the darkness of this world, His people become the light of the world?  What if God meant what He said when He, through Paul's writing, said, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-25)?"  What if God's creating is a process that transcends the pollution of this world to show us the light of Christ?  What if God's people chose to never become pollution (that thing that has harmful or poisonous effects on our environment)?  What if we embrace and really mean those Christmas songs we will be singing when we say things like "all is calm, all is bright," "in the darkness shineth an everlasting light" or "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"  What if?  Randy

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Gift

Martin Luther said that music is "one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us." I agree.  There have been many times and moments when music has become that place that God uses to connect me to life and restore my soul.  David knew this as he penned the Psalms.  John and Charles Wesley knew this as they gave us some of the most beautiful and powerful songs of the Church.  God knew this when He inspired the words:

"Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." (Psalm150:1-6)

This season, of all seasons, is a season of praise and song.  We have a reason to sing because God has done something so amazing that words and songs fall short of expressing the beautiful and sacrificial gift God gives us in the Christ Child.

How do we respond?  We come to God's house.  We praise God.  We sing.  We allow God to give us this gift He has woven into our very nature.  Sunday, we will have a Children's musical, "Miracle on Main Street" at the 9am service.  At the 11am service the Chancel Choir will present "One Small Child."  Please make plans to come to both services and enjoy the hard work both groups have invested in singing God's praises.  You will be blessed and you will be part of praising God in His Sanctuary!  Randy

Monday, November 21, 2016


That is the word I would use to describe the concept of Advent ... longing.  A hope in God's rescue from a world that is full of darkness.  A surety that God has made promises that He always keeps.  A certainty that His presence in us is the most real thing in the universe.  And since all of these things are unseen or only glimpsed, we long for God.  More of Him.  More of hope foretold by the prophets, kept promises that were sung in the Psalms and a presence that is God's signed love letter to us all, penned in the blood of the lamb.

I wonder about the longing in the heart of Isaiah when he wrote those famous words from Chapter 9.  "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.  For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.  You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity (Isaiah 9:2-7)."

These are words of longing for the rule and reign of God!  Light ... growth ... joy ... harvest ... freedom ... peace ... a Holy Child ... leadership ... perfect counsel ... fairness and justice ... consistency of life throughout eternity.  WOW!  Are these not things worth longing for?  Are these not values that are greater than the petty things we sometimes seek?  As we begin the season of Advent, is this not a Christmas list worthy of a child of the King?  Randy

Monday, November 14, 2016


Though it hasn't been very cold yet, this is certainly harvest time. While the heat has allowed me to forget this I have noted many signs of harvest.  Tractors and other machines have been processing cotton and other crops.  My friend Ed Berry has been working day and night at the gin to get the cotton to market.  And today on our church bells I heard to old hymn, Bringing in the Sheaves

The hymn was written in 1874 by Knowels Shaw, a preacher who said that he allowed music to speak to the hearts of people as he kept their sinfulness and need for Christ before them.  The hymn's tune was changed 6 years later by George Minor and it has become a reminder of a harvest to come.  Brother Knowles died in a train accident 4 years after writing the hymn.

Psalm 126:6 says "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (KJV)."  This passage, the origin of the hymn, is a reminder that planting the precious seed of the convicting message of God comes with struggle and weeping but that seeing God's harvest of that seed is pure joy.

This same thought came to mind as I read a Facebook post from Dr. Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.  The title of the post was "This is not a day care, it's a university."  The posted letter was inspired by a student that complained that a preached message from chapel "made him feel guilty and hurt his feelings."  The angry college president responded by penning a few things worth repeating.  

First, he said the whole idea of hearing God's word is to see our sin so we can realign ourselves with a Holy God.  Second, he said the Christian faith is about or being right with God ... not our self-actualization.  Third, he said we cannot "humbly learn" if we value our self-focused opinions more than those who are teaching us.  Fourth, he chastised the student's view that he was a victim ... "if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the nation that will give you exactly what you want."  Finally, he said the school would not issue warnings before altar calls.  

While I didn't agree with all of what Dr. Piper said (I think he used the word guilt when he might have better used "conviction" [an action of God's Spirit]) I agree that we often desire the harvest without the struggle of planting and cultivation.  Churches, schools and life aren't meant to be safe places where our feelings are not challenged, where our esteem is not bruised, where our sins are not confronted by God's Spirit.  Every Sunday I go forth weeping to plant seed that is precious, praying for the joy of the harvest.  Lord, make it so!

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows
Fearing neither clouds nor winter's chilling breeze
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended
We will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!

Monday, November 7, 2016


Stark ... that is one word I would use to describe the events of the past week.  The starkness of walking through my mom's house knowing that I would not see either of my parents again in this world.  The starkness of helping the coroner with Mike Taylor as his earthly shell was taken from a house he had lived in for so many years.  The vast contrast between the pettiness of our political candidates as we, as America ("we the people") tries to use a flawed process to address the many starkly real issues we face in our country.  The starkness of life that shouts for seeing the important while being pummeled by the currents of the unimportant.  If we open our eyes and wake up, there is a starkness and urgency to those important things.

My favorite C. S. Lewis book is called "The Great Divorce."  It has zero to do with the institution of divorce but is a pointed expression of how God might see us and how we see the things of God.  The premise of the book is that a group of people are given a second chance at heaven.  A bus leaves hell and lets them out in heaven.  Some are too afraid to get off the bus.  Many get off the bus and, because of pettiness, pride, fear and self, they re-board the bus, choosing the emptiness of hell over the vastness of heaven.  Only one stays in heaven.  Why does he stay?  Because he listens, watches and struggles through the stark reality of heaven wanting truth more than comfort.  He decides to actually open his eyes and really see what heaven is all about.  He suffers through stark reality to a strength and a love that cannot be reached any other way.

Sunday as I preached about the Saints that had lived life in our midst I kind of lost it.  The losses were overwhelming but more than that God's love that gave me life beside those people was more than my heart could handle.  If some of you were uncomfortable with the catch in my throat, the tears or the times I had to pause, I apologize.  But I think most of you might have heard a more profound message in the silence, the "dead space" in the message and the obvious struggle I was having.  Because it is those times in life when we are broken that we actually become more alert ... more attentive to life ... more real ... I think God would say more human.  In a nation too proud of its collective will and too unaware of the real struggles we face, I think we could use a little starkness.  Maybe we should pause ... cry a little ... really look at the blessing we have in our country ... really reflect on the great gift we have lived-out with the saints God has given us ... really pray for God to lead us (even when that leading is in opposition to our personal will) ... really take those stark difficult steps toward God ... really walk away from the bus that will only take us back to hell.  Stark days are ahead, but this is the time we, as God's Church, can shine for Him. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Fred Craddock writes a story about a close friend in the throes of terminal illness.  In his story he tells of a grim, dark figure that knocks on the door and delivers unwanted messages.  The first message is tests.  The second is radiation.  The third message is chemo.  The fourth message is relapse.  In all the messages the grim figure is perceived as death, an entity to be avoided and feared.  Each time a message is delivered the door is slammed in death's face.  But at the last death persists into the room.  But the story doesn't end here.  The ending of the story is the Church gathered to remember his friend.  They are singing "Now thank we all our God ... with hearts and hands and voices!"

I think this story is about a condition that we Christians share together.  It is the paradox of devastating events that Satan sets before our eyes to break our faith and a God that tells us to look past those events to Him.  Satan's message is that we are mortal, flawed and weak.  God's message is that our mortality, our flaws and our weaknesses only work to show God's strength.  His purpose draws His people even closer to a God that loves us.  That same God has overcome death and actually uses our death as a reminder of the goodness and grace He gave us during our lives.  Satan sings about the finality of death.  God sings about the newness of passing from this world into a new and eternal life with Him.

This Sunday is "All Saints Sunday" and we will read the names of those who have entered the Church Triumphant.  This will be a special time to come closer to the God who will sustain me on Saturday as I deliver my mom's eulogy.  We will all be reminded of lives lived in the reality of good times, bad times, joys, sorrows, successes and failures  These times are all part of the seasons and purposes of God.  I hope you will be there to be part of a Church that facing death squarely in the face can sing ... "Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way ... with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Impressed or Indwelled?

October's sermons have centered on what Jesus' disciples said about Him.  We have heard words from Mary, John the Baptist and Philip.  Why did these people believe and what was their basis for belief?  How were they like us and how did their belief and faith go deeper to get to the very heart of Jesus? 

This week we will listen to the voice of Nicodemus as he compliments Jesus on the signs and wonders that Jesus has performed.  Nicodemus is obviously impressed.  This account from John's Gospel makes me think ... do I need signs and wonders to believe?  Am I caught up in the world's way of looking at life or does my belief in Jesus go beyond a feeling or an emotional expression about something that impresses me today but is out-of-mind tomorrow?

The magician impresses us till he runs out of new tricks.  Then we look for another magician.  The great orator impresses us till we find one better and go listen to him/her.  The Facebook video is impressive for a moment but we soon go looking for a new and better one.  These things are what happen in a consumer-based society where it is all about what we see, hear and get.

I believe we are called to something deeper.  In John's story about Nicodemus Jesus tells our secretive disciple that God operates in a way (in this case by the Holy Spirit) that has a way, path and mind of it's own.  We do not lead the Spirit ... the Spirit leads us.  God's way leads us to the impossibility of being born anew, being recreated as something starkly different than what we have been.  C. S. Lewis writes ... "God became a man to turn creatures into sons/daughters; not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man."  God does not simply want to be know as an outside force capable of producing miracles and wonders.  God wants to indwell us as an inside force transforming us into the greatest masterpieces of His new creation.  The dictionary defines indwelling as "be permanently present in something."  A temporary impression/feeling of God's presence does not constitute salvation ... God either has all of us or none of us.  To Nicodemus Jesus said, "You must be born again!" Are you impressed or indwelled? 

Monday, October 17, 2016


All of you know I love music.  I love hearing the praise band on Sunday morning, listening to Christian radio and hearing our choir practice and sing.  I love playing/singing songs with my friends and taking in Sandy's practice on Sunday morning as we share discussion about the music she has chosen for the day.  It is all beautiful to me. In that music there is a sharing of life itself because we sing to and for the God of the only eternal song.

In a Michael Card song he recounts the idea that our lives are truly songs that will resonate with joy when they find their origin.  Our souls were made by a God who leads us back to that rhyme and rhythm.  We were/are created to rhyme with His purpose.

Philip realized this in John 1:45 when he exclaimed ... "We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about.  His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth!"  Philip's realization brought his very being into a rhythm with God's plan ... an amazing and wonderful place to be.

Casting Crowns (the group) sing a song about this.  They sing ... "and now my lifesong sings!"  It sings in the opening of eyes.  It sings in the realization of God's ancient promises.  It sings in the fulfillment of God's present plans.  It sings best in knowing that we, who were lost, have now been found!  It sings because we realize that our lifesong is only realized in Jesus!  Now ... go out and find your rhyme!  Randy

Monday, October 10, 2016

Where is God?

In John 1 Andrew asks a simple but profound question.  "Where are you staying?" is Andrew's query.

Most of you are saying, "That is just conversation."  "That is just a normal part of greeting and interacting with anyone."  "Why is that profound at all?"

It is profound for two reasons.  First, this is a timeless question lots of people ask God.  "Where are you?"  Some asked that question yesterday.  "God ... where were You when Paulette Riley made her last steps on her final journey.  Where were you when I pleaded to be released from my addiction.  Where are you when I struggle through the day on decisions, deal with life and wrestle with sin.  Where are you when I am juggling overwhelming issues with ailing loved ones, entangled kids, money and a nation that seems to have lost its collective mind."  Jesus answers as He answers Paul ... "My strength is perfected in your weakness." Translation ... "Rely on Me, listen to Me, live in Me!"  This answer reflects God's constant call to leave self and find Him!

The second reason relating to the importance of the question, "Where are you staying?" is basic and simple.  "Jesus ... if I do seek you, where will you be staying?"  For sure God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).  So go to the brokenhearted and you might just get a glimpse of Him.  God is also close to those He is blessing with a direct connection.  The meek, the humble, the peacemakers, the pure in heart and those who mourn.  David (in Psalm 139) says God is close to those who allow God to search and correct them.

Two ending observations about the places Jesus is staying.  Note that none of the above places include "the top."  They are more what our society would call the bottom.  Do we possibly seek "the top" more than we seek God?  Also, note that that the more we get away from self-serving things and self-edifying behaviors, the better chance we have of getting close to God.

I have a friend who says he is an atheist. He, beyond reason, seems to desire to be there for his friends when they need help and he gains great satisfaction and contentment from giving that support.  Does he ever wonder about the source of that satisfaction?  Might it be possible that when he leaves self behind and gets close to where God is working, God gives him a glimpse of Himself?  Randy

Monday, October 3, 2016

Are You the One?

In Matthew 11 John the Baptist asks an important question ... "Are you the One?"  Maybe John was onto something!

John could have been worried about his well being.  He was jailed, waiting for "justice" from Herod, possibly even concerned about the lives of his followers.  All of these worries were valid.  Jail was not the cake-walk it is today.  Herod's justice would be no justice at all as John would be beheaded on the whim of an evil woman.  His followers were certainly in danger.  Yet John, in his focused and single-purposed way, was more interested in getting a question answered.  Maybe this is not just "a" question ... it could be "the" question.  "Are you the One?"

As I watched an episode of Morgan Freeman's "Story of God" I considered that even today we ask that question.  Freeman is pursuing answers to questions about God, faith, theodacy, the afterlife and other deep theological questions.  Many of the answers on the TV show are hopeful expressions of faith and belief from people who cannot possibly all be right.  But John's question truly gets to the point ... "Are you the One?"

John understood that the answer to the God question isn't trees, nature, men who have lived and died, rivers, animals or "the force."  The answer is one God.  A God who is not altered by us but chooses to manifest Himself in ways that Scripture describes in both stark detail and maddening vagueness.  Jesus loved John so He gives John a tangible answer.  "Look at what is happening!  The blind see ... the lame walk ... the deaf hear ... the dead are raised."  I pray all of us will open our eyes to the miracles of this day and be able to escape the storm of daily issues, most of which have no cosmic importance.  I pray we will see God in this day ... powerful ... wonderful ... mysterious ... beautiful ... one.  Randy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Google defines supernatural as "something attributed to a force beyond scientific understanding or the known laws of nature."  In the Star Wars series this was described as "the Force" and characters were quick to say, "May the Force be with you!"  but that was fiction.  There are lots of supernatural events described in the Bible.  Jesus, in response to John the Baptist's question, "are you the one?" said ... "Go with what you are observing.  The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised." (Matthew 11).  Go with the supernatural.

When we talk about Biblical things that are supernatural we might wonder two things.  What causes these things to occur?  Why do they happen?  John 2 gives a little insight.

John 2 is where Jesus changes the water into wine at a wedding.  I have wondered about this supernatural happening.  It seems almost below Jesus' "standard" to perform a miracle that seems to only benefit people who want to keep drinking it up at a wedding.  Yet, He does this at the suggestion of Mary, His mother.  What is up here?

Let's go to my second question first.  Why do miracles and supernatural things happen in Scripture?  This one is pretty easy.  These things happen to glorify God ... to demonstrate something about God's power ... to teach us something about God's care ... to allow us to see beyond the "natural."  In a sense, watching a miracle and celebrating that it happened is akin to worship ... when we see these things we naturally want to point to God.  That is always good.  These happenings let us know that God is not absent from daily life ... He is here ... present ... involved.  God is shouting that he can take the common and transform it into the uncommon.  He is saying ... "Always look past what you think you see!  Follow me and I will show you things ... teach you things ... allow you to glimpse the power and compassion of a God beyond your understanding.  I will let you stand in the temple (currently the lives of God's people) and see a bit of who I am ... but you better be watching and you better be believing or it will go right past you."

The other question ... "What causes these things to occur?" is both simple and complex.  It is clear that they are "beyond nature" and are powered by a force beyond our understanding.  We want to know the mechanics of these miracles and we strive to fit them into our scientific understanding and our little minds.  My suggestion to you is ... stop.  Be still and know that He is God.  Put your haughty "I have a right to know"on hold and just enjoy that God has graced you with that moment when you are able to see His power and His provision at work.  God causes these things to happen.  And, like Job, "I place my hand over my mouth."  Randy

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Puzzlement

Something is and has truly been a puzzlement to me.  Let's set the stage. 

First scene.  A true, big, sovereign, all-powerful, merciful and perfect God exists.  That God is the same God we sin against whenever we choose to wander from God's path for us.  The sin can be omission or commission.  The Bible says we all (every one of us) sin and falls short of God's requirements here.  And the sins carry equal weight ... my sin is no more noble than your sin.  The just penalty for that sin is death.  We are ALL guilty.

Second scene.  We gather on Sunday, go to a Christian concert.  Attend a Christian movie.  We say and do all the right things.  We sing songs like "Jesus gave it all ... all to Him I owe" ... "Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."  You get the point.  We KNOW the jargon.  We say we get the point.  But do we?

Third scene.  Jesus is nailed to a cross, dying so that the penalty for our sin is paid.  By the way ... that is ALL of the sins of the whole world.  We read about this event in Scripture and all of us say, "Yes ... we get the point. This event is about God in Christ dying so I can be forgiven of my sin and so I can be invited to a life inside His Kingdom forever and so I can share this blessing by passing on the message and act of forgiveness to others." 

Fourth scene.  You say, "Wait a minute!  I am all good with the dying for my sin and being forgiven and living a Kingdom life in and with Jesus!  But come again with that "passing on" thing."  OK ... here it is again.  How can we say we get the point of forgiveness unless we understand it well enough to pass that message forward ... that is the message of the cross.  We even pray it when we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Fifth scene.  We are rich young rulers.  We have lots of stuff, freedom and a legalistic view of God that we apply to others not as "religious"as we are.  We sin, but not like those other folks who commit those "terrible" sins.  We meet a man named Jesus who says ... "time to sell out.  Give away the ownership of your stuff.  Give away the pride that allows you to believe you are better than other people.  Give away your time and come and follow me.  Oh ... and one last thing ... give other people the kind of forgiveness I give you."

Sixth scene ... you  have a choice.  You can go away sad and saviorless.  You can follow and start by going to those people you have held to your "high" standards and say, "Please forgive ME for my lack of forgiveness.  Please give me the chance to throw my pride away and instead of dying on the hill of self-righteousness, let me die on the hill of Calvary where my savior forgave me."

Very simply put, your choice here is a decision to accept or reject the salvation Jesus offers every person in the whole world.  We all fall down ... only one can lift up.  David said it best ...  "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord." [Ps. 40:2-4].

Monday, September 12, 2016


Friday morning I was out in my kayak at 6am.  I watched the ospreys, the herons, the swirls on the top of the water, the shadows of trees getting smaller as the sun came up and the breeze touch the water making small ripples.  The morning was a witness to the bigness of God.  I used to believe the world was big, but now news travels so fast that an event in China can transcend the globe in a matter of seconds.  An earthquake in Argentina elicits immediate response from relief agencies like the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  While we marvel at the bigness of God we see the world getting smaller and smaller as travel times decrease, the internet increases, social media connects people for good and not-so-good reasons and we are reminded of what a commercial from the Olympics kept repeating ... "we are more alike than we are unalike."

In that context Isaiah shouts, "Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes ... who are deaf, yet have ears!  Let all the nations gather together and let the peoples assemble.  Who among them declared this and foretold to us the former things?  Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, 'it is true'" [Isaiah 43:8-9].

Each Sunday this month Max and Ryan have been reading this passage as we gathered for worship.  It is a passage about how God can and will gather us all together and we will rightly witness truth, whether we are using our eyes and our ears.  God demands our witness to His greatness, His knowledge, His sole position as savior and His sovereignty as the one and only true God.

In this world where we are truly one species, a people who are alike, why do we get the idea we can somehow isolate ourselves?  C. S. Lewis reminded us that God created us as one people ... all being individual likenesses of our God ... all created to have the freedom of will to love ... all having special gifts to exercise for Godly purposes.  We are small but significant to God.  In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter "You are Peter (the rock), and upon this rock I will build my Church" [Matthew 16:18].  Tony  Evans rightly observes that the rock here is a small rock that is part of a big Church.  We are individual stones bound together by Jesus in a way that overcomes all that the world has to offer (both good and bad).  Jesus is telling Peter, though the world seems big, it is small in comparison to the greatness of God.  As Isaiah gathers all people together he is reminding us that a very big God will gather us and call us to either witness (tell about the great God that is our Lord) or unwillingly confess (the confession of those who do not claim God).  This "big" world will become very small and the God we have demeaned for a lifetime will be seen as He is ... larger than the universe.  Randy

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Caught or Released?

I have been accumulating fish for this Thursday's Celebrate Recovery special speaker and fish-fry event.  I will say, it has been tiring because there are several moving parts to this event.  The catching is fun.  The cleaning, the logistics of figuring out times when other people can be part of the catching and just the worry of "will we have enough fish?" has been heaver on my mind than it should.  Because in the midst of this project church life happens.  Charge Conference is coming fast (September 19).  Issues within the church family and my biological family are happening.  People are getting sick and going to the hospital.  Civic duties continue to unfold.  There are nuances and sub-plots to all that is happening.  There are lots of fun things in which to invest my energy.  Fact is ... I am way to stressed over these things.  Like those fish I am caught up in things that will do me harm.

Then ... maybe to clear all of our brains from the secular, the mundane, the unimportant, we hear Jesus.  We are on a hill overlooking the "Rio" of Jesus' time.  A campfire is burning.  All of our fellow campers know what is happening down there.  There are parties, drugs, what the world calls "fun."  It's just a few miles away, down the trail into Caesarea Philippi.  We could go and jump right into the "fun."  But Jesus asks a question ... "Who do YOU say that I am?" (Matthew 16).  It stops us short as we think about this question.  Our answer defines our actions (or should, something I fail at often).  Our answer decides whether we want to be caught (in the world) or released (into God's vast kingdom).  Jesus' question hits me hard because it is a decision I must address all through each day.  Who, really, is Jesus to me?  Does He make a daily difference that gives me freedom and wholeness?  If I am "caught" in life, wouldn't it behoove me to find a savior that could release me?  Wayne Watson asks (about His relationship to Jesus) "Would I miss You now, if You left and closed the door, would my flesh cry out? I don't need You anymore, or would I follow You, could I be restored? I wonder if I'd know You now?"  Great question!  Randy

Monday, August 29, 2016

Times Change ... God Doesn't

During August the athletes of the  world went to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  It was that gathering every 4 years we call the Olympics.  There is pomp, friendship, conflict, crime, joy, victory, defeat and every type of situation you might imagine when there is a gathering of this size.

This worldwide gathering began smaller in the 8th century BC and continued in that form till the 4th century AD.  The modern version of the Olympics started in 1894.  During the time of the modern Olympics there has been corruption, boycotts, entire nations banned from the games, and some pretty moving moments like Jesse Owens standing on the podium with a gold medal in front of Hitler's superior race of people. It is ironic that Jesse Owens was a victor in the Olympic games but returned to a nation that restricted many "rights" because of his skin color.

You can see that the Olympics have undergone changes and the ebb and flow of time.  But God hasn't changed.

Each time I watched an Olympic broadcast it was reassuring and beautiful to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer.  It is a 100' tall sculpture of Jesus that has stood since 1931.  As each broadcast started the aerial camera panned over the harbor of Rio and over the statue.  It is almost like Jesus is watching and reflecting on the good and bad things going on below.

One of our gymnasts, Simone Biles, was being interviewed and was asked, "Now that your competition is over, what will you be doing in Rio?"  She answered, "I've got to see Christ the Redeemer!"  She is a Roman Catholic, holds a Belizean citizenship through her mother and refers to Belize as her second home.  I was thinking ... if she has met Ed and Arita Limas, I'll bet she has already been introduced to Christ the Redeemer, the God who has been the same before that first Olympiad and remains the same today.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Being A Good Forgetter

One trait that allowed me to be a passable golfer wasn't great skill, lots of practice, the best golf swing ever or pure natural talent.  It was the ability to forget.  You see ... in golf if you are always dwelling in the last bad shot you hit, you are not able to envision and execute the shot you are about to hit.  In baseball if you are thinking about the last strikeout it becomes hard to think about the current at-bat.  In life if you are thinking about past mistakes (what people think about you, why your life isn't working out like you desire) then you can't look to the future with a positive and hopeful outlook.

Paul, in Philippians 3:12-14, reminds us of the value of forgetting.  "I focus on one thing ... forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.   I press on to reach the end of the race ... "

Paul's words are some of the greatest business and life advice ever.  Here are his points ...

1. Focus on one thing - Every day and every moment there is something that is important that requires our focus.  It is hard when our heads are in our phones or computers thinking about the Pokemon game or Facebook.  Pick what has true importance and focus on that!

2. Forget the past - Learn from your mistakes, failures and personal losses ... and then move on.  Jackson Browne was wrong when he wrote "it's easier sometimes to change the past."  We CANNOT change the past but through God's leading, grace and healing He can change how we are affected by the past.  I can't dwell on my last bad golf shot and effectively focus on the current shot.

3. Look forward - We live in a generation that has difficulty seeing exactly where we are.  We are distracted ... misdirected ... confused.  Jesus commented that His people wandered like sheep without a shepherd.  We have a shepherd.  He leads from the front.  Look to Him and you will see the challenges and the good that lies ahead. 

4.  Look to what lies ahead - We say we trust God.  Yet, we pine and worry about our daily bread.  We sing about our faith, yet we wonder if God has it under control.  Paul doesn't just tell us to look ... he ends this chapter with the following words ... "He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same power with which He will bring EVERYTHING under His control." 

I like that "everything" word.  His perfect plan lies ahead so we can trust enough to focus ... have the faith to forget our past ... have the strength to look forward ... and have the vision to see what lies ahead.  We press and struggle and strive for the prize to which God is calling us.  That striving is a full, eventful and purposeful life.  Randy

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hot Stuff

It's too easy to get caught up in your accomplishments, your "calling,"  your awards and your pedigree.  While all of these don't apply to every one of us, they do, in general, describe our tendency to get caught up in "self."

I was watching as one of the Olympic competitors proudly strutted out where all could see him.  He was going to swim against the best in the world and he was sure of victory.  He had beaten Michael Phelps before.  He could use his showiness to intimidate the competition.  The problem was, the competition didn't get the memo.  They sat focused on the race ahead.  Mr. "hot stuff" didn't win, place or show.  He was 4th and missed the podium.

Paul had every reason to be a proud Jew.  He had studied under the prestigious Gamaliel.  He was the new superstar of Pharisees, knowing and doing all the right things.  His family and his religion was proud of their "hot" new star!  But Paul finally learned what to do with his status, his pedigree, his pride, his stellar education, his hands-on training persecuting Christians and his potential as a "Pharisee of Pharisees."  He gave it up.

We have to wonder how this all happened.  Here's my theory.  I think that Saul, later Paul, had one conversation with Jesus and that was all it took.  Many people met Jesus during His ministry and one of two things happened.  They either gathered in their pride, their stuff, their prestige, their "self" and kept it all to themselves, or they gave it all up.  Jesus said, "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my  sake, you will save it" (Luke 9:24).  Paul met Jesus ... Paul met himself ... Paul found Jesus all-sufficient and found himself lacking.  Paul decided that he could either give up himself or give up Jesus.  He chose wisely.  What about you?  Randy

Monday, August 8, 2016

That Time of Year

It is "THAT" time of year!  It is interesting that when I write those words they mean something different to each of us.  To teachers, administrators, bus drivers, students and parents it is back to school.  To the political minded it is settling in for a heated presidential race.  For farmers it is getting ready for the harvest.  For the church in the 1800's in America it was Camp Meeting time. For Methodists it is setting up the fall meetings we will convene to prepare for our Charge Conference (annual church-wide business meeting).  For all of us in the south it is that hot, sultry, sweaty, gnatty and oppressive time we call "Dog Days."

In Paul's writings he talked about some personal dogs that were pursuing him and causing his people grief.  The dogs Paul references in Philippians 3 are people who are Judaising legalists who "dog" the early Church to bring this new Christian movement back to Jewish customs, traditions and practices.  Paul reminds the people in Philippi that they should not be tempted to go back to the failed and incomplete law that places emphasis on human effort, human practices and human deeds.  Paul says that he followed the law in a perfection that exceeded his peers, yet Paul also said that he counts that perfect legalism worthless.

I remind each of you that we are still prone to legalism that pigeonholes people, theology and denominations.  Paul calls legalism what it really is ... evil.  He exhorts us, instead, to remember God's grace ... Jesus' desire for unity that comes from God's Spirit ... Jesus' (and Paul's) desire for joyful followers ... Jesus' desire for a unity that negates argument, complaining and division in the Church.  Paul knew that these negatives are the end result of legalistic traditions and practices, whether they were in the 1st century Church or the Church in 2016.  Randy

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sweet and Sour

Some of you remember the old Saturday Night Live show skit about the Church Lady.  The Church Lady had a sour expression, a sour disposition and a sour outlook on life.  It is the image many think about when they think about church.  This image has made many run screaming away from Church and from the life of faith.  I don't think the Church Lady image has been a positive influence on the world and I don't think the image is or ever has been Biblical.  Enter Ginny (name changed to protect the saintly) ...

Ginny was the picture in the dictionary beside the words "Church Lady."  When I met her I have to admit a bias of fear, distance and just plain aversion to what and who I thought she was.  She walked stiffly and she was a dyed in the wool Methodist, totally tied to the structures, meetings, calendars, etc.  I decided that I would give Ginny a wide berth and get along without having any relational connection. That lasted about a week.

I was asked by the Senior Pastor to work with Ginny on a project.  Since I was new, and the low man on the totem pole, I couldn't say "No ... I don't want to work with her because I really don't like her."  I bit the bullet and went to Ginny's office.  We talked and shared our vision of the project along with another co-worker.  Ginny and the co-worker got into a slight disagreement about proceeding forward and the discussion ended in a bet that whoever was wrong would have to wear a cheerleader uniform to church.  Every staff member was betting for Ginny to lose.  And she did!

The following Sunday the very staunch and structured Ginny walked into church in a cheerleader uniform, complete with pom poms.  Everyone reeled with laughter including Ginny.  Then it became clear to me.  She was different than I ever imagined.  Instead of the stiff-lipped Church Lady I began to see a very structured woman who had the ability to have joy in every circumstance.  When I read Philippians 3 ("rejoice in the Lord always") I equate Paul's staunchness and joy with that of the sweet and sour Ginny.  I learned a lot from Ginny and she changed my way of seeing other people.  Now she rests with the saints in heaven, probably still in that cheerleader uniform, part of the great cloud of witnesses welcoming souls into heaven. I can't wait to see her again!  Randy

Monday, July 25, 2016


Last Sunday we sang the old hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers."  That hymn is a marching tune and is fun and peppy to sing.  We have a number of similar hymns that call us to action and what Paul called a battle against evil forces, some seen and some unseen.  I love this hymn for a number of reasons and I hope I one day can say I am a good soldier in the army of the Lord.

In Philippians 2:25-30, Paul exhorts the name of Epaphroditus.  It is an obscure name only mentioned in Philippians.  I love what Paul has to say because we often forget the battle is won, not with rock stars, talkers and mega leaders, but with foot soldiers.  These faithful soldiers go into homes, work places, Sunday School classes, missions and the trenches where "the least of these" are served, taught and loved.

As I read this passage I think of those faithful foot soldiers right here in Abbeville.  What Paul says about Epaphroditus could be said about many of you.  He, and you, are true brothers/sisters, co-workers and soldiers.  Paul tells the people of Philippi he should be welcomed and honored.  You should too!  May I view each day as "Randy, reporting for duty" under the great leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks for honoring me by allowing me to serve alongside you! Randy

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Excuses or Expectations?

In seminary we were assigned a book called Generation to Generation. The gist of the book is that you are significantly confined/bound in your behaviors and inclinations by your genetic and environmental past.  While I agreed with the idea that our upbringing and genetic makeup has something to do with our choices and inclinations, I never bought the idea that these things are solid bindings to those of us who claim Jesus.  I remember a certain tax collector (Zaccheaus, Luke 19) who had an inclination and lots of training in being a thieving weasel.  After meeting Jesus the man said he would return fourfold what he had taken and would give half of his stuff to the poor.  Jesus commented that "salvation has come to this house."  Zaccheaus chose, because of the presence and word of Jesus, to rise above his past and training.

I bring this up because I am tired of people who call themselves born-again Christians and a "nation under God" confusing the words, "excuses" and "expectations."  I will talk at length about this Wednesday night but I wonder ... why do we send people back to excuses, their past and their "environment" as permission for bad behavior?  On the TV show  Law and Order the Prosecutor (Jack McCoy) commonly asks defendants (under oath) if their bad childhood, bad upbringing, bad neighborhood and bad luck in life gives them carte blanche to harm or take from others.  He asks, "Do all people who have these things happen kill other people?"   If we, societally, buy this lie we do not live in a nation of laws ... we live in a nation of chaos.

God gives us positive expectations of His plans (Jeremiah 29:11) that will prosper us, His new creation in us (2 Corinthans 5:17) and His "new thing" He is doing in us (Isaiah 43:19).  These, and a myriad of other passages, describe a God who changes things and people.  So ... let's expect God to move us forward from being victims of circumstances to victors who learn, grow, love and live in that new place God gives us every day.  Let's stop buying the excuses of the world Jesus said He has overcome. Randy

Monday, July 11, 2016

Precious, Not Popular

Our continued journey through Philippians 2 is a study of how we should approach life, ministry and witness.  I remember Tony Campolo speaking about his African-American pastor who would go off on rants as he preached.  In one of those rants the preacher reminded the congregation that when you die and the folks have buried you and walked back to the fellowship hall to eat potato salad, they won't be talking about your titles, your accolades and your awards.  If they are they will be speaking about a life that is empty and dim.  What they should be speaking about is how you, as a child of God, shone light into the world by a precious testimony that came from your relationship to Jesus.

In Philippians 2 Paul reflects about people of joy that are starkly different than the crooked and perverse world we live in.  Paul says we hold out a precious message that is 1) different than the message of the world, 2) light compared to the world's darkness, 3) a message that is life, 4) a message that should be offered with an attitude of cooperation, 5) a message that is worth pouring out your life, and  6) a message that is shared joy between those that carry that light to the world.  While nothing in verses 15-18 says that this message will be popular, everything in this passage highlights a message that is worthy of children of the King.

If you follow Paul, when you breathe your last they will gather to talk about your testimony that shines brightly beyond the grave.  THAT, is shared joy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


I have been enjoying the Olympic Trials as hopeful athletes compete for a place in the upcoming Summer Olympics.  They have risen to the top of their sports to vie for a place on the Olympic team.  I was watching the swimming competition and found the commentary and competition very interesting.

A certain athlete had tried for a place on the team for the past three Olympics.  She was called, by the commentators, a "free spirit" that basically trained the way she felt suited her best.  They made this comment with a certain amount of respect that she would do what the old Sinatra song said ... train "My Way!"  She approached life and training on her own terms, even if someone who might know a thing or two had some helpful advice.

The commentators called this "independent thinking."  I called it "trusting in your own understanding (Proverbs says don't do this)."

God's Word reminds us that our path and journey to God's salvation is work but that Jesus (the one who defined and is able to perfect our faith [Hebrews 12]) can and will lead that work toward His perfect will.  Jesus can do that if we submit to His terms and die to our terms.  Because eternal life is not on our terms but is always on God's terms.  After all, He did all that work and paid the entire price for our salvation.

In our life, trusting in self and relying on self gets us lost in the same places we have always gotten ourselves lost.  In the Olympics trusting in your own "way" and how you "feel" about training gets the same results it always has. This three-time Olympic Trials competitor lost by .015 seconds.  She is going home yet again.  She did it her way.  May we approach the throne of grace on Jesus' terms ... not our terms.  Randy  

Monday, June 27, 2016

What and Why?

Last Sunday we celebrated what Jesus has done by humbling Himself to walk and live a human life, totally devoted to the mission of saving people (that's us).  This Sunday we will marvel at the Father's response to Jesus.

Over the past few weeks a couple of major sports events have concluded and winners have been crowned.  Dustin Johnson won the US Open in golf and the Cleveland Cavilers were crowned champions in NBA Basketball.  For those in golf and basketball these were pretty big deals.  But many of you needed my reminder (above) to tell you who actually won those events.  Earthly fame is brief and I am very weary of the post-hype that has been part of the sports landscape since 24-hour sports networks have come on the scene.  But there is fame and that is not fleeting.  There are earthly deeds that are not shallow.  The poet C.T. Studd says it this way ... "Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last."

In Philippians 2 Paul tells us what Jesus has done but he goes on to tell us that God the Father responded to Jesus' acts.  Jesus is exalted and seated next to God.  THAT praise and "hype" is eternal and lasting.

When I look back at each week I can grasp the meaning of both the poem and the Bible verse (Philippians 2:9-11).  I truly do a lot of things every week.  I stay busy.  I fill my week (somehow) with my plans, my actions and my activities.  I wonder ... what would it be like if I filled every week with God-stuff?  Every action and moment could be for Christ.  Every decision could be to follow Jesus in making the world and the people God sends better.  Every motive could be for love of God and neighbor as self.  John Wesley had two words for this ... Christian Perfection.  "Lord ... make it so!"  Randy

Monday, June 20, 2016

Give to Get

I know it doesn't make sense.  Give up something to get something else better.  It is against our nature. But it is wholly in tune with God's nature and God's plan.

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Giving a tithe as a sacrifice showing our love and devotion to God and letting God bless us (Malachi 3:10).  Giving up your life for Jesus so you won't lose it by trying to keep it (Matthew 16).  It is the paradox of how God works in us.  But God didn't just SAY this stuff ... God did it!  Philippians 2:5-8 is a description of just what Jesus did to both model this Godly behavior and apply what He had given us in His word repeatedly.  He gave so we could get something only He could give us.

As I reflected on what, exactly, Jesus gave up (Paul expresses it well here) there was one theme that kept popping into my head.  It is Jesus giving something (and modeling something) that seems the most difficult thing for many who desire to call his name.  Jesus gave up self.

The first part of this chapter is about the attitude of church people and how we should give comfort, fellowship, compassion, cooperative work (in unity), love, humility and an attitude that looks out for the interests of others.  It is a Jesus-focused model for ministry.  But now Paul gives us a way to make all of this happen in a perfect way.  Paul says, "Have the attitude of Jesus."

Don't think this is both attractive and contagious to those who really want God?  I heard a story of a man named John who selflessly served in a faith-based halfway house for people transitioning from jail back into society.  John gave time, energy, advice and love to those men who were, to most of society, unlovable.  A pastor went to check out the ministry.  As he interviewed one of the men about his aspirations after his stay the young man said, "I want to be like John!"  The pastor said, "Don't you mean you want to be like Jesus?"  The young man said, "If he's anything like John, yes!"

When we give up self for Jesus (after all, He gave up everything for you and me) we don't need to worry about being Christlike ... it just happens!  Nuff said!

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Attitude, at it's root, is agenda.  When a child has an "attitude" we are all reminded that the child's agenda is not the agenda of the person handling the discipline and not the agenda that should be affirmed.  Too often we try to handle attitudes with gentle understanding, compromise and "Let's just all try to get along."  I think Jesus would look at this and ask, "What fool allows a child to set the agenda for the family?  In MY Word didn't I express discipline as an act of love (Hebrews 12)?  Did MY Word say, 'We should all have the attitude of Randy?'"

I hope you (and all you dads and moms) get the point of what I am trying to say here.  Philippians 2:4-5 reminds us of our bent toward looking out for our own interests and the Godly attribute of looking out for the interests of others.  In fact, verse 3 says we do Church-work "in humility, regarding others as better than ourselves." Paul, led by God's Spirit, says the standard is not for everyone to have the mind of Randy, Bob, Jenny, Lenny or Valarie.  It is for all of us who are the Church (ESPECIALLY when we meet and fellowship) to have the mind of Christ.  It is impossible to have the mind of Christ and have a self-centered attitude ... the two things are totally incompatible.

In the family it is NOT about the child's agenda ... it is about what is Godly and good for the family.  So dads and moms ... quit letting children set the agenda for your life ... they need your wisdom and boundaries!

In the Church it is not about what is good for me ... it is about what is good for God's purpose.  Paul knew we do this by seeking and following the attitude of Jesus and having an attitude of humility toward others.  WOW, does Jesus know how to do life abundantly!

Monday, June 6, 2016

What's The Point?

In the first 2 verses of Philippians 2 Paul asks 4 questions and gives one bit of advice.  The questions and advice ask an overreaching question ... "If you say you belong to Christ and are unchanged, what's the point?"

Paul isn't asking "Do you take your denomination seriously (a question I will certainly ponder next week at Annual Conference)?"  He isn't asking do you take your membership in a particular congregation seriously?  He isn't posing the question "Am I dutiful in being a good churchman/churchwoman?"  He is asking, do you take what Jesus said seriously.

There are four things Paul is saying ought to be fruits of our relationship to Christ and those with whom we worship.  The first is encouragement, both given and received.  The second is comfort in God's love.  The third is fellowship with God and the people of God.  The fourth is having a tender and compassionate heart.

In one of the congregations I served I watched as I saw an attitude of judgment of others (not themselves), an atmosphere of sternness, a sense of fellowship that was very exclusive and a lack of compassion toward those who had messed up in life.  It was a hard place to serve because I realized very quickly that these people attended church but had no clue (after years of hearing the Word) about being the Church.

Thank you for being people who see that attitude (Chapter 2 of Philippians is all about attitude) and actions express how we live in Christ and how Christ lives in us.  May we never fail to encourage, comfort, fellowship and have Christ-like compassion!

Monday, May 30, 2016


Early on in our study of Revelation I said the images we would read about are important.  They are taken from a Jewish "Image-Pool" and are reflective of John's perspective about life, his personal situation and God's desire to tell John all will be good in the midst of the suffering of John and John's people.  This situational perspective that God projects into John's mind is highlighted by the very first sentence of Revelation 21.  Here are a few of the things going on.

First, let's understand that John is in exile on Patmos.  He cannot come and go as he pleases.  In fact, he is under arrest and the island is his prison cell.  I am sure john desires to be free to preach and teach about the God he has come to trust for daily bread and for daily connection.  So in the very first sentence God tells John the new heaven and the new earth has no sea. The barrier (the sea) that is there every day will be gone when God creates "all things new."

Second, in Jewish imagery the sea is the realm of evil things like ghosts, spirits and a myriad of things that will do people harm. God also removes this evil, making sure John knows that God has eradicated all evil from the heaven of our eternal dwelling.

Finally, God accentuates (over and over) that what He is creating is new.  For all of our longing for the "good old days" I think God has something else in mind.  Something we have never seen ... something we cannot imagine ... something that exists only in God's perfection.  My prayer is that all who read this post will see this new creation and our Creator face-to-face.  May it be so!  Randy

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Unfamiliar

I just got a call from a friend who is dealing with a lot of changes.  She has had several life-changing events.  She is pretty aware that things going forward will be a journey into to unfamiliar.  I told her to take heart ... God's got this!

If we learn nothing from the Revelation we learn that God has it under control.  He has fought for and paid for our eternal salvation ... He has spoken an end to the work of Satan and his minions ... he has brought justice out of our poor attempts for non-Biblical "fairness" ... He has created a new place for His people ... and He will guide us there.  God has it under control and Isaiah expresses this fact in Isaiah 42:16.  God's exact words are ... "I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way."

This is important in Revelation and in life because our inclination is to embrace the comfortable and familiar.  God's purpose seems to be in direct opposition to this.  My friend has had significant life changes and I think her desire might be for life to get back to "normal."  But I think God's desire is to get her life on His path.  Why?  Because His path has a purpose beyond our comfort or needs.  His path has a destination that is the perfect place for our new beginning.  His path will be productive and His grace will smooth the road and lighten our darkness.

My friend needs light and guidance.  She needs a smooth road. And she won't find either of these trusting in the idols and facades of this world.

Maybe we should embrace God's unfamiliar way.  It leads somewhere!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Lord's

"Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's." 2 Chronicles 20:15

I love this verse.  Jahaziel prophesied these words to King Jehoshaphat before the Battle of Ziz.  The prophecy is a reminder to us that while we worry, ruminate, wring our hands, complain and generally get "bent out of shape" we would be better off turning things over to God.  Why is this always true?

Remember, God knows the true enemy.  I believe church arguments and many of our political issues rise to an unnatural level of importance because we forget the true enemy and we think we must defeat "those people" on the other side.  I remember a story of a church with a column in the center of the building, way too close to the pulpit.  It had been a distraction for as long as people remembered.  Two factions had battled for years over what to do.  One faction wanted to move the column.  Another faction argued that there was too little money and that they couldn't afford the project.  The battle raged on for decades until the church changed pastors.  The new pastor was young and didn't know any better than to bring up the location of the column (and resurrect the battle).  After receiving ample information and venom from both sides, the pastor (while the church was empty) got a ladder and climbed up to the column.  He found out that the column wasn't even touching the ceiling.  The arguments, lost members, distractions and the "battle" had all been over nothing!  They forgot the enemy and, by their action, invited the enemy into the life of their church.

That battle could have been over before it started if the church had listened to God's way of dealing with church-related conflict.  The battle of Ziz was over before it started.  And the battle in Revelation 19 was won by a 33-year old Jewish preacher who, as God's only son, gave himself up for us so we could be confident that the battle for our eternal soul was won.  Twila Paris writes ... "The battle is the Lord's, and He will conquer all His enemies, with His right hand and His holy arm, He will obtain, He will obtain, He will obtain the victory."  Amen!

Sunday, May 8, 2016


There are days when I know I am blessed.  There are lots of little things that make a day of worship work. There are the obvious people ... musicians, music leaders and singers ... those that do announcements and prayers ... our beautiful acolytes ... ushers ... people that are part of the actual service.  We are blessed with good folks who take their work and service seriously.

But there are some people who never get noticed.  Those that prepare food in the kitchen.  Those that run sound and video.  Those that pick up the registration sheets and look to see if their are visitors or prayer requests.  People who follow up with our visitors and send cards to the sick or hurting.  Those that greet and show folks around.  Our childcare people who smile and keep our kids happy.  Sunday School teachers who prepare lessons.  Bell ringers who remind us it is time for Sunday School to end.  The people who collect and make sure the offering gets to the bank.  The people who make sure the acolytes are dressed and ready to serve.  People who check the color of the paraments tomake sure they are right for the season of the church year.  Those who pray on Tuesday for the worship service and other services at AUMC.

Today we even had some people who tried to catch a cat that had invaded the building.  One member even volunteered to bring a trap so we can catch the pesky beast and release it outside (I hope it works).

Every Sunday is a new adventure.  But I am truly blessed ... and AUMC is truly blessed ... that people pitch in and do what is needed.  Thanks to each of the obvious and unsung servants who make worship happen.  God is smiling at you!  Randy

Monday, May 2, 2016


None of us would be surprised to know that the Bible views this world as fallen.  All of us could compile a list of just how fallen the world is.  And we all have our "pet" list of what constitutes "fallen."  Here is the operative question though ... what does God think?  How does God define fallen?

In Revelation 17and 18 God does just that.  The idea of fallenness is defined by the nature of "The Mother of All Prostitutes" and "The Great City of Babylon."  There are themes within God's definition of why they are fallen and evil, but the primary theme is one of excess.  Excess indulgence of our desire for pleasure.  Excess expenditures on things that are luxuries.  Excess accumulation of the "fine" goods of our day.

C. S. Lewis said once that all evil could be expressed as our misuse of something good God has provided.  God gives us the blessing of our sexuality and we fail to see it as a blessing, instead seeing it as something we can "use" to get pleasure and misuse in ways God never intended.  God gives us medicine and we overuse and over-prescribe it, bringing more pain instead of healing.  We use alcohol as an anesthetic that takes on a life of its own, creating addiction and pain in lives and families.  God provides abundance and we view it as something that is "ours" and something we must have more of.  God gives us recreation and it becomes an industry which drives us to more and more recreation.  God gives us church and we make it ours instead of God's.  God gives us children and we begin to worship them rather than be good stewards of these wonderful little creatures we love.  You get the point?

I believe C. S. Lewis was spot-on with his statement about how we misuse good things.  What do you think?  Randy

Monday, April 25, 2016

Holy Wrath

Did you ever wonder what makes God angry?  We think of Jesus as friend, Prince of Peace, light, healing, and (thankfully) redeemer.  All of these are true.  We do remember that time He got mad and trashed the temple because of the money-changers and swindlers.  But it is not easy to think of Jesus in the context of anger or wrath.  There are, however, things that make God (Jesus) mad.

The first is when someone makes life difficult for God's people.  God's people can be the sheep that know His voice, the "little ones" who God protects, the saints, those who (in Revelation) are marked by God and 'do not belong to the earth,' the "least of these" from Matthew 25, the "brokenhearted" and the redeemed (the list is probably not all inclusive).  God loves His people and He is both possessive and passionate about protecting them.  So, those that spill the blood of the saints, those that ignore His people, those that harm His sheep and those that cause others to fall are on God's bad list.  In Revelation 15 these people receive God's wrath.

The second thing that universally (in Scripture) stirs up the ire of God is when people worship something other than the one-true-God.  Whether it is our possessions, rivers, oceans, graven images, demons, celestial bodies, nature, other people or self, God is upset.  God meant it when He said, "Thou shall have no other God before me."

Finally, I think God doesn't like our haughtiness when we believe God owes us an explanation for why the events of the world happen like they do.  I think it is ok to wonder about this but when we resort to shaking our fist at God and cursing Him for what is happening around us, I think God wonders why we think we can see the whole picture of eternity and bring all things to their right and proper end. 

These are the exact things that happen in Revelation 15.  Saints are persecuted and killed.  God's sheep have been harmed by those given charge to protect them.  People God is giving a break and a last chance choose to shake their fists and curse Him.

I wonder ... do we see any of those things happening in our world today? Randy

Monday, April 18, 2016


That is a word that is difficult to grasp.  As the prophet Isaiah observed of the people of his day "I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips."  That about  sums up the (at least) 2 problems.  The first problem is, I am unclean.  I have sinned.  I am connected to the fallenness of the world.  I mess up every day.  I have unclean lips.  The second problem is, I live among a people who are also unclean.  Most of the people I deal with daily have some connection to the church and to our shared faith.  Yet, they, like me, are unclean, sinful, connected to this world of fallenness and messed up.  What do we do.

John's words from Revelation 14 give us some ideas.  While Chapter 13 describes fallen Babylon (the realm of rebellion against God) Chapter 14 describes the nature of the redeemed realm.  John's first words are "I looked up."  That is good advice.  Look up toward God and seek Him.  Then John says, "and I saw the Lamb, standing on Mt. Zion."  John sees Jesus above the fray of this world.  There were a large number of worshipers there in John's vision.  These had the Father's name written on their foreheads (unlike those in Chapter 13 who had the 'mark of the beast.'" These worshipers "follow the lamb wherever He goes."  There is proclamation of 1) the message of redemption calling on all to "fear God and give Him glory," 2) Babylon's fallenness and demise, 3) a call for the saints to endure the persecution still to come, 4) an exhortation favoring those that are yet to die in the Lord, 5) an announcement of the harvest of the earth and 6) the announcement of the judgment for those who are "reaped" from the earth.

Here are a few points.  God has redeemed those who bear His name.  In this passage they are "blameless" for they have followed the Lamb.  He has made them holy.

God has already judged those who belong to this world.  God is holy and will not exist with this group.  Jesus said they will be set apart from God and cast into utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (very scary since God said it).

The place where God is taking those who belong to new Jerusalem (the redeemed) is and will be holy.  There will be no need for ego, no need for the stuff we claim to own, no need for anxiety, no need for tears, no need for hospitals, no need for counselors (except the Holy Spirit) and no place for death.

At the end of all things, God keeps His promise made in Exodus 19 and John 14 ... to bring those that belong to Him to His place.  What a day that will be!  Randy 

Monday, April 11, 2016


I sometimes watch a show called River Monsters.  It is a somewhat hyped-up version of what is supposed to be investigations into human maiming or loss at the hand (or tooth) of something in the water.  It is one of those shows that causes you to look down into the lake or ocean and ask, "What is really down there?"

In Chapter 13 of the Revelation we get a partial answer to that question.  In Hebrew thought the sea is filled with nasty, evil and terrible things like the spirits of the dead.  It is one reason the disciples were afraid when they saw Jesus walking on the water and thought He was a ghost.  But in the Revelation things that rise up out of the sea are particularly nasty and evil.  So it is for the beast from the Sea in Revelation 13.

In Fact, there is a beast from the Sea and a beast from the Earth, both evil, both carrying the traits of fallen Babylon and both angry and seeking to do harm to God, God's people and truly all people.  So, what are the traits of these beasts?

The beast from the sea manifests power and speaks openly with blasphemy against God.  Where the Elders in John's vision bow before God, worship God and cast their crowns before God the beast blasphemes, God, blasphemes God's name and blasphemes God's dwelling.  The beast from the earth comes with more of a disguise.  This beast does miracles and is compelling, charismatic and represents the subtle work of Satan that tells us our lifestyles, cultures, laws, governmental structures, etc. either have no place for God or should encompass a false god that is not God at all.

While Sunday we will define the traits of the beasts more thoroughly and ask the age-old question, "what is meant by 666?" we will also try to see the actions of these two entities in the world of John's time and the world today.  For now just an observational point.  The beasts and events of Revelation are both past, present (to Johns's time) and future (to our time and beyond).  They portray  a panorama of history that cannot be affixed to one specific thing.  The first beast of most often thought of as John's bringing forward the evil represented by the empires of Persia/Babylon/Alexander the Great and the Seleucids from Daniel's vision.  In John's time this evil is caught up, not in the four empires of Daniel but the one evil empire of Rome.  One might make a point that this evil is now manifest in the religious extremism of the current day Islamic terrorists.  I think we could place that mantle on a number of entities in history, but remember ... while evil tries to defeat us in all ways possible in this world, the message of John is, Jesus has overcome the world.  Praise Him ... worship Him ... cast your crowns before Him and realize we worship a victorious God!  Randy 

Monday, April 4, 2016

If I'm Right

I will say it is very confusing when we read all of the predictions, commentaries and speculations about the Revelation as they are fictionalized, analyzed and magnified.  Many of the movies, writings and speeches about the Revelation attempt to place us in the state of fear and trembling, a place I will not be going.  However, I do want to make a little foray into a educated guess about what is happening now and what is written in the Revelation.  Here goes ...

Last weeks message talked about Revelation 12 in which the woman and the dragon are at odds.  The dragon is clearly Satan but the woman is a subject of much speculation.  I believe the woman in this passage is the reflection of the life and journey of God's people from covenant times till she ultimately reaches her destination.  In Revelation 12 we find the woman in the wilderness pursued and hated by the dragon.  If I am right (and Bob Mulholland, the writer of my commentary agrees) the images of evil in Revelation are manifested in the reality of pervasive evil in the world that opposes, seeks to destroy, pursues to kill and impedes God's work and God's people.  Joel Rosenburg speculates that this great evil is manifested in many of the events of the middle east, especially those related to the destruction of Israel.  I agree this is part of the story, but Satan has many more tools in his bag of tricks.  In his attempt to destroy the woman (God's covenant people who include the Jews, the Church and all who call Jesus Lord [literally the New Jerusalem on earth]), Satan employs terrorists like Islamic militant factions, evil rulers like many kings/princes/presidents in the middle east, weak leaders in America, corporate greed, individuals who are so depressed/misguided that they take up guns and bombs against innocent people, suppression of freedoms here and abroad, sinful desires in the hearts of individuals, addiction and addictive substances (that Satan tries to 'sell' as being harmless), societal distancing from Godly values and (here is one I can't stress enough) people who profess to follow Christ but will not appropriate Christ into their lives.  That list is not inclusive but you get the idea.  Satan desires to wage war on a grand scale and on an individual scale ... he pursues persistently, one person, one idea and one day at a time.

In Revelation 12 the woman, to allow escape from the dragon, is given wings so she can fly to the wilderness place.  She goes there to do life under the protection of God while she awaits God's next move.  As John writes these words from exile in Patmos,  I'll bet they struck home to his heart.  He is in the wilderness.  He can't do much except follow God daily and belong to God while he obediently follows his calling of writing this magnificent book.  He knows that evil rages and pursues the agents of good all over the world he knows.  His brothers and sisters are being martyred for their faith, and he probably receives these bad reports while asking, "How long, Lord, will you tarry?"
This is where our faith comes in.  "How long?"  My answer, if I'm right, is, the exact, perfect right amount of time in the fullness of God's plan.  Remember ... BIG EVIL ... BIGGER GOD.  Bob Mulholland, before his death, said ... "Our task is not to be in the world serving God [many of us would place ourselves there] ... Our task/calling is to be in God, serving the world."  I love that ... I hope you do too!  Randy

Monday, March 28, 2016


As we leave the Lenten and Easter seasons, we never leave the images they project and the truth they brand into our faith walk.  Struggle, journey, opposition, false praise, betrayal, painful prayer, torture, false accusation, execution, true forgiveness, universal availability, a lowly burial, a glorious resurrection and true victory are just a few of these images.  It almost seems distant and disappointing to return to study of the Revelation.  But wait ... I think you will find it very appropriate.

As we finish chapter 11 ans enter chapter 12 there is a stark image we all associate with the Revelation ... the pregnant woman, her baby and the dragon.  We will flesh out these images on Sunday, but I want to stop on one image that is very appropriate for this week during which we have worshiped and celebrated the Risen Christ.  That image is one of a messianic figure (the baby) being snatched away from Satan.  That is truly a post-Easter image.

As the power of God brings Jesus to new life and His resurrection body we sometimes fail to think about God snatching Jesus out of the hands of Satan ... out of the grip of death ... out of the grave ... out of that sealed tomb.  John, in verse 12:1, calls it "an event of great significance."  That is not only amazing ... it is so applicable to us as we walk through this day and every day.

This was my first Easter without my dad.  Others share that emotion as they go through significant seasons of the year without those that they have loved for so long.  That thought could bring sorrow.  It could bring us a touch of depression and feeling sorry for ourselves.  But ... let's think about that "significant event."  When God snatched Jesus out of the grip of all those negative things I listed earlier in this blog and, ultimately, the power that many fear every day (death), He didn't just snatch up His son.  He also took all of those who claimed His Son with Him.  While we share in Jesus' humanity and many of the negative things He faced on this earth, we also share in that beautiful thing called resurrection.  As we sang "I'm alive, I'm alive, because He lives" I remembered singing that song with my friend Jackie (now with God because of that "significant event").  So Buddy, Lowell, and, of course, Fulton ... I hope you are rejoicing over what Jesus did for you.  I hope you are asking Jesus to put in a good word for those of us still messing up from time to time.  I am expectantly laughing about the look on your faces when heaven was so much better than our image-pool allows us to imagine.  And I look to the day I will see you again and, in a very significant event for Randy, see Jesus face-to-face.  AMEN!

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Big "Why?"

This is a question that can either free us or imprison us.  Why did I end up in this situation?  Why did I make that choice?  Why did a God of goodness and grace allow that to happen?  The permutations of this question can be as numerous as our fleeting thoughts or our deepest hurts.  Why?

Michael Card asks this question about the events of Holy Week.  The triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the parables about judgement and the end times, the "New Covenant"of the Last Supper, the betrayal, the trials, the torture, the condemnation of Jesus to the cross, the crucifixion, the death of Jesus and the events of Easter morning.  No eggs, no fuzzy bunnies, no plastic grass, no baskets ... just WHY?

I won't attempt to completely answer this question today.  Anyone who would tackle the 'why' question and say they have it solved is, I believe, delusional.  But what I will do is take some personal shots at sorting out things I have had to face.

Why did I end up in a bad situation when I desired to do something good?  The answer to this one is remarkably easy.  First, when we immerse ourselves in the dangerous water of relationships we might get hurt, persecuted, misunderstood and just plain in 'over our heads.'  Yet, we minister, love and serve anyway.  Being in ministry is dangerous ... Jesus knew this well.  It took Him to death on the cross. 

Second, we can control our own choices but not those of others.  Other people make choices that might seem good to them but might harm me.  So, as Christians, we love them through the danger if we can. 

Finally, while God keeps His promises, people are fickle.  I wish I could explain this but I will leave it as I say to myself ... "they just are ... deal with it."

Why does God let bad things happen?  This is a big one and I will only touch on an answer.  What comforts me about this one is to realize God's agenda and my agenda are different.  I desire smooth sailing, no pain and total victory over ever problem I face.  God is into growing us up so that when we come to live with Him we will be good citizens of our real home (read 1 Peter 2:2-5 and Hebrews 13:14).  There is an old theory about "why is evil in the world?" called the Irenaean Theodicy.  It describes God's purpose as 'soul-making' in this world so that people will be prepared for, happy in and expectant of our eternal home with God.  C.S. Lewis touches on this in a book called the Great Divorce.  It, for me, is comforting to know that this world isn't all there is and that I can have a better tomorrow if I (as John describes it) abide in Jesus.

So ... why did today not go like I planned?  Maybe I need a lesson.  Maybe a bad person placed me in a bad situation.  Maybe I made a bad choice and am living in the throes of consequences.  What I do know is I should look around me ... observe what is happening ... look for evidence of God's hand ... and see the roses blooming in the wasteland and life eternal emerging from the empty tomb! Randy