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