Monday, February 29, 2016

Partnership and Communion

During the Strategic Planning process at Abbeville UMC I have observed lots of creativity, excitement and ideas that will grow God's work in and through Abbeville UMC.  I was reflecting about these ideas and the creativity that produced them and asked myself a question ... "What is the healthiest model for the generation and improvement of ministry?"

While I don't claim to know the answer to this question, I do have a few observations from the past.  The first is this ... I believe ministry functions best as a bottom-up proposition.  The ministries I have seen grow and flourish are those that start from a seed God plants in the heart of the people He calls His Church.  That seed grows and takes hold and blooms into something good, hopefully catalyzed by the leadership of the Church.  To quote Hannibal from the A-team, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

The second comment relates to partnership.  While it is truly amazing that God desires to partner with someone like me, I am honored and energized that I can choose to partner with the God that created the universe.  In a sense, all acts of ministry are really "Communion" (union with) between God, us and those we are serving in that ministry.  There is something holy and sacred in the inception, planning, startup and process of a ministry.  If it is truly a "ministry," God is there ... the people we are helping are there ... we are there.  It is God offering us to the world saying ... "This is My body given to the world ... this is My blood, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."  We truly become those "elements" symbolized by juice and bread but lived-out in the lives of God's Church.  "Lord ... thank You for being my partner in ministry (though You are in partnership with an inept and inadequate companion).  Thank You for being the power behind the ministry, for I have no power of my own.  Thank You for making me useful, usable and used in the work You are doing.  Let my eyes and ears be open to Your plans.  Let my heart be open to the people who need You through the ministries of AUMC.  Let the obstacles to Your work (including me) be overcome and let my laziness and pride become less so You can become more.  Always let the work be Your work.  And let our partnership acknowledge that You are the leader, the senior partner, the CEO and the reason for all that is done.  AMEN!"  Randy

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Must Come In

Our Lenten series this year is all about connecting with a God that is sometimes not easy to see, hear, sense and fathom.  My little blogs will not take you very far in understanding a God that is vastly larger than my ability to communicate.  But one thing I am sure of ... while God has said a "yes" to all who would choose to believe and join His work here and in eternity, there is another part to the equation that involves us.  It is our "yes" to God.

There is an old African-American spiritual that expresses this truth in these words:

God's got a way (that you can't go over)
God's got a way (that you can't go under)
God's got a way (that you can't go around)
You must come in at the door
You Must come in at the door 

We live in a world that says "there are many ways to god!"  We say we believe in a Bible that says ... "I [Jesus] am the gate for the sheep (John 10:9)" and "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)."  I think Jesus is pretty clear in both of these passages, so how do we seem to get this confused?  Here are a few thoughts.

Some have the idea that their denominational doctrine and/or liturgy is "the way."  "Only "___ists" (you fill it in) will be part of the Kingdom of God."  Sorry ... they didn't hear this from God although I have heard it preached from some pulpits.  You MUST come in at the door!

Some think being good will somehow bridge the gap between heaven and earth.  Sorry ... the rich young ruler kept all the commandments from his youth, good by the world's standards, but he departs from Jesus lost, empty and sad.  You must come in at the door.

Some think jumping through the "playing church" hoops will bring you to God's place.  I believe we attend faithfully because God has told us that is where He desires us to serve, but some of the meanest people I have ever met have been avid church attenders.  You  must come in at the door!

Maybe the question should be, where is that door?  Maybe the door is a very Matthew 25 location.  While we humans seek the accolades of people, the favor of the rich, the blessing of the powerful and the attention of the "pretty people" ... maybe we should consider that Jesus said HE is found in the "least of these (Matthew 25:40)."  If you want to reach for and find the invisible God and give Him your yes, reach out to the little people.  You must come in at the door!  Randy

Monday, February 15, 2016


I remember one late night when Lee and I lived in an apartment in North Carolina I heard a noise coming from downstairs.  It sounded like something, in fact like someone was down there.  I remember going down the stairs, my heart pumping as I held the first "weapon" I could get my hands on, one of those thin "old school" curtain rods.  As I descended the stairs I came to the realization that if that noise was actually someone, all I could do was whip the poor schmuck to death and hope he ran from the pain, because I wasn't going to do much damage with that flimsy thing!

When you come to the realization something is there, your behavior changes.  Your heart speeds up.  You become more alert.  You examine your surroundings with all of your senses seeking some sign of what you know must be right outside of your consciousness.  Now, for the inevitable question.  Is your quest for God like that or is it passive, mundane, and flat?  Does your quest for God cause behavioral and physiological changes?  Do you get up and grab something and go out seeking it or do you just roll over and say, "It's nothing ... let's go back to sleep?"

Last week, as we practiced for Ash Wednesday, Tina and I both reflected about something I have been thinking about.  The words to the song we were practicing hit home fro both of us.  It was hard to play and sing because of the emotional connection to that sung prayer "I Shall Not Want."  When that happens, when I see the joy in someones eyes on Sunday morning because God has shown a little glimpse of Himself, when I am sweating from a task that I know has helped someone else, when I have broken bread with my friend John and we have shared the joys and frustrations of ministry, when I pray at the altar with a friend who is anxious about a surgery, when I hear that whisper telling me yes or no ... I am sure something, someone is there!  My heart pumps faster ... my senses grow more attentive ... I listen and I know.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Sharing the Well

There is a Caedmon's Call song called "Share the Well."  It recalls the image of the woman at the well in John when Jesus tells her that if she drinks the water He offers she will never thirst again.  But I must admit I find myself, at times, longing for God and His provision in a way that might be best described as thirst.  It makes me wonder, am I doing something wrong?

David had this same issue as he wrote, "my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Ps. 63)."  So what gives? David sought and thirsted for God. I could give lots of examples of Godly people (people who are way better than me) who expressed this thirst.  Were they doing it wrong too?

As we enter Lent (the 40 days preceding Easter) and reflect on our Christian walk, our mortality, our shared journey with Jesus and the "State of the Union" of our life, this question about thirst might be a good one.  I wish I could offer you an answer that gave you such focus and definition that you, as Jesus told the woman, would never thirst again.  But I won't because I find that faith often sends you to new questions rather than pat answers.  So I will speculate based on my personal walk.

I find I am most quenched and satisfied with my walk with God when I am connected to God by things like serving, giving, worshiping, loving and living out my faith.  When I get "intellectual" and doctrinal about my faith, I grow further away from God rather than closer to from God.  I had a friend in a previous congregation that loved to come to Bible study.  He would always ask the intellectual question and would take the discussion into the theoretical.  I observed that as his influence on the class became more assertive we tended to do something that I see a lot.  People would "pool" their ignorance and say the strangest things like "My God is like ____ (fill in the blank)." I wanted to say, 1) God isn't your possession, 2) God doesn't change His nature because of you and, by the way, 3) God isn't "like" anything we can really put into appropriate words.  I think God told Moses to call Him "I am" because it left Moses with a question ... not an answer.  Maybe there is great wisdom and some healthy thirst in that!  Randy

Monday, February 1, 2016

How We Choose

Yesterday I was sitting on my pastor's chair in second service, reflecting about the message I was about to preach.  Part of that message was about John's (in Revelation) relentless reminder that life is a choice to live in either Fallen Babylon or New Jerusalem, the "end" destination of the Revelation.  There are constant references to "those that belong to this world" and those "who worship the lamb who was slain."  So ... how do we choose ... how are we aligned with either group?

In modern theology that question might be answered by three other questions.  Are we what we believe?  ... Are we what we do? ... or (this is scary) Do we DO what we BELIEVE?

There are lots of passages about how our belief/non-belief in Jesus will either land us in eternal life or send us to eternal separation from God.  Our society translates that word "believe" as a head-related thing.  We feel God's call and pull, we stroll forward to the altar and we profess our belief.  Then most of us carry on with life primarily unchanged.  It is like growing a year older. You feel no different on your 60th birthday than you did the day before, but somehow people view you differently.  Belief is critical, but I wonder if we have diluted the Biblical meaning of that word.

There are also passages about doing.  I remember Jesus said that Jesus' brothers and sisters were the ones that DID His will.  There is also the "Great Requirement" in Micah that tells us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly  with our God.  Doing is important, but we cannot hang our hats on works-righteousness.  John Wesley tried that and sailed from America to London as lost as the worst sinner on the boat.  What was he missing?

I think Wesley was missing the true meaning of James 2:18.  James discusses faith and works and ends the thought with "Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith BY my works."  James was saying that faith that isn't lived-out isn't faith at all.  James is observing that we DO what we BELIEVE.  Look at our bank accounts.  Do they reflect the love for the Church to which Jesus called us?  Look at our daily schedules.  Do they reflect a devotion to God or to something else?  Is our faith a long list of cliches' or is it our witness actively applied through actions, investments, time, touches, tears and risky love?

In John's Revelation the faithful suffer (following their Master) because their witness is overt and obvious ... not head-knowledge that is ready to flow off the tip of our tongue but heart-knowledge that moves us (following Jesus) to compassion.  Truly, we DO what WE believe! Randy