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.