Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Groundhog Day or The Day of the Lord?

Most of us remember the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.  Murray's character wakes every morning to the same song, the same events and the same day.  The only difference is he realizes he is in some temporal loop where he is stuck.  While the movie is fictional I see people every day in that same temporal loop, stuck in the behaviors, the repeated mistakes and the feeling of being trapped.  With the coming of a New Year, would we rather stay stuck in our 'temporal loops' or could we hope/strive for something different?  The Bible has a few ideas to help us out.

God's Word reminds us to review.  Luke 14 tells us to 'count the cost' when we are building.  I believe we should count the cost both looking forward and backwards.  Look back at the past year.  What worked?  What didn't?  What did the decisions we made cost us in time, energy, resources and life?  Let's all honestly look at 2017 and how it unfolded.  What did it cost and was that cost worth it?  This is a great practice if you want your life to be ever-improving.

The Bible also tells us to remember.  In Deuteronomy 6 Israel is told to remember that when they enter the land they have been promised they will drink from cisterns they did not dig and enjoy vineyards they did not plant.  They are told to remember the God that was with them in all of those events ... the wins ... the loses ... the struggles ... the victories.  God provided for and sustained them in the past and that same God will provide for them and sustain them in the days to come.  This is both reassuring and important as you enter the 'new territory' of 2018.

Finally, we are told, in Joel 2, to "return to the Lord."  Joel's call for the people to return is is holistic for the nation of Israel.  Joel says that he days are past when "rending garments" is a proper response.  Rending our garments is an expression of grief and sorrow.  The time for this (for Joel's people and I think for our people) is past.  It is time for the rending of our hearts.  It is time to let God break our hearts and put them back together in a way that is healthy, holy and honest. 

Let's review our last year.  Let's remember God's provision.  Let's return to God with all of our heart.  Because this is how God's people will see new and better things in the year to come.  I think it is time to leave Groundhog Day and enter into the wonder of the "Great Day of the Lord!"  Randy

Sunday, December 17, 2017


When I was growing up we "down to the country" every other week.  For us, "down to the country" meant that we packed into our Ford, went east of Charlotte to Union County where my uncle Barron, Grandma Greene and many cousins lived on their farm.  There were pastures, fields, lakes, woods, Tarzan movies on TV and (one of my favorites) barns.  The barns had all sorts of cool tools, tractors and mangers full of hay for the animals.  The smells were earthy and stinky and we loved all the games played as we visited with family.

Most of us have grown up with the image of Jesus being born in a barn.  Historically, though, it seems most likely that Jesus was born in the part of a stone house where the family's animals were brought in for the night.  It could have been a one room house with a lowered section reserved for cows, donkeys or other livestock.  It most certainly would have shared the smells I experienced growing up with my cousins in Union county.  The grotto, house or stable (whatever floats your boat) would have been a very common place for peasant families.

Each year I renew my wondering about the "why" of a Holy God coming to this world as a peasant child in a manger.  I have three theories about this that I hope we can "chew" on (like those Union County cows chewing their cud).

First, God's power, might and authority cannot come by human means.  God doesn't need titles, degrees, stocks, bonds, royal pedigree or any of our human ways of deciding who has more power or clout.  Jesus has been given "all authority" by God the Father.  That trumps (no pun intended) any of our systems of establishing pecking order.

Second, God has a history of taking common things and making them extraordinary.  Jesus makes plain water into the very best wine.  God makes the "runt" of the lot the greatest king in the history of Israel.  God takes 300 soldiers and defeats a great army.  God takes a simple one room house with a built in stable and makes it the birthplace of the King of Kings.  Maybe THAT God can do something with you and I!

Finally ... God makes Himself totally accessible.  We talk of fairness, equality and a "level playing field."  That doesn't exist in our natural human world.  But it DOES exist in the symbol and reality of the manger.  Even the ne'er-do-well shepherds, who were looked down upon by most everyone, ran to see a royal baby who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  Even they could approach that place.  For Jesus is accessible to all. 

Come to the manger this week.  Leave your pride and prominence outside for when we come to the manger we come into the glory of a God who doesn't need our power, doesn't need our flashiness and doesn't need our social divisions.  In spite of our stinkiness, our filth and our unworthiness He "became human and made His home among us!"  Amazing love!  Randy

Monday, December 11, 2017


"John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:8-9).

That short passage says so much.  John's gospel tells of Jesus as "the light of the world" (John 8:12).  When Jesus makes this remark He is standing outside the temple and a huge menorah is lighting the front of the temple.  The people walked by and marveled, just as we drive by a beautiful Christmas light display.  They would have conversed about the beauty and majesty of the display.  Then this upstart itinerant preacher comes and says HE is the light of the world.  How audacious!  But John 1 says "He was the true light who gives light to everyone."  What does this mean to us during this Christmas season?

First, we need light.  There has been a rash of lights going out in the church.  We are replacing the lights with LED bulbs because they provide more light and use less energy.  When the lights were replaced in the Sanctuary we were all able to see the beautiful and complex woodwork on the ceiling.  That work was not done by amateur carpenters.  But the light also revealed that several stained-glass windows needed work, some of the paneling needed touch-up and other cosmetic dings had happened over the years.  I think we need light for both of those reasons.  To reveal the intricate beauty of every person and also to highlight the dings and dents needing work.  Isaiah reminded us that when Jesus came "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2).  

Second, we don't need "fake" light.  We need true light.  I used to do consulting work and I was told "if the client wants a green suit you turn on the green lights."  That saying spoke to our desire to have our ears tickled (" For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires" 2 Timothy 4:3).  We don't need a light that masks the truth.  We need a light that tells and draws out the truth ... even if the truth shows our dings and dents.

Finally, we must never forget that the light of Christ is a precious gift.  For the light of truth brings freedom.  So ... what does the light of truth tell us about our current situation?  I think it says we are "filled up" and busy with things that are primarily meaningless.  It says we would rather run from (and hide in the darkness from) our problems rather than face and overcome them (Lord, you know I have been there .. it doesn't work).  It says we allow our feelings to lead us into thoughts like "I am burnt out and need more rest" rather than "Wow, God is working in me and in what I am doing and I want more of that and less of me" (Lord forgive me when I was a whiner).  It says, "Let my past hurts keep dragging me down so that my present and future will be filled with an accumulation of those hurts, rather than the freedom of following God" (Lord, let me never again allow anger and loss rule my spirit).  I wonder ... has Jesus' light come to the places and people who worship in the heat, cold, danger and discomfort because they have decided that faith is all about God and not so much about me?  The light that gives hope, strength, direction, revelation and warmth has come into the world!  THAT light is here.  When David saw that light he said, "He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:1-3).  THAT is my Advent prayer for you today!  Randy

Monday, December 4, 2017


One of the great theological questions that the great Church (and non-church) thinkers have pondered is ... "Is God active in the world?"  David's cries to God asking, "where are you?" (Psalm 10) and "how long?" (Psalm 13).  Prayers to God during the great wars asking, "God ... if you are the Prince of Peace, where is that peace?"  Questions that flow from our situation right now as we see church shootings, racial unrest, crazy leaders with missiles and (not to be forgotten) our national government being far less than that expected for the greatest country in the world.  "Lord ... are you still there?"

Thankfully, God gives us three words (all affirmed in Scripture) to deal with this troubling question.  Those words are remember ... wait ... watch.

Remember ... something we find it hard to do but even our communion table shouts ... "Remember."  When we are struggling, remember that God has been there in our past struggles.  "O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home."  The song and the call to remember are both asking another question.  "Do we believe?"  Do we believe when the times are hard and the light seems pretty dim?  Do we think back on the mighty acts of God or do we sink into depression?  What is God like?  Is God a God who keeps His promises, upholds His people and leads us through those times when life is difficult?  Remember!

Wait ... another hard thing.  In the Christmas story we find it difficult to fathom that God's action was preceded by 400 years of silence.  That is way more than the United States of America has existed.  God sent prophets, exiled Israel, anointed kings and gave wise advice and the people failed to listen and follow.  I wonder if God said what my father used to say ... "Am I going to have to come down there?"  I guess the answer was yes.  But prior to that great story in Luke 2, God said, "Wait!"

Though the next word scares me a bit, I am definitely an action person.  Our Strategic Planning Team loves this word and we have been doers of the word (we hope).  But when God says, "Watch" we had better listen and expect something big.  "All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')"[Isaiah 7:14].  This is God saying, "Watch this!"  When a group of guys say, "Watch this," watch out!  But when God says, "Watch this" you had better lift your eyes! 

God sent the prophets to say "Watch this!"  Then, in the birth of Jesus God acted decisively.  He came down here.  He did what He said He would do.  He gave lift, light and love in a small package.  In a Lauren Daigle song we will do this Wednesday, she sings ... "Noel, Noel, Come and see what God has done!"  Sunday and every chance you get this Christmas season, come and see what God is doing.  For He is very active! Randy

Monday, November 27, 2017


One of the great philosophical discussions of the early Church was about the actual nature of God in Jesus Christ.  One of these great discussions/questions related to whether Jesus was both fully God and fully human.  Meetings of the early Church fathers took place.  Papers were written and passed around to the great minds of that time.  Scriptures were read and meanings were debated.  But when all the dust settled, John 1 was both affirmed and adopted into the creeds of the Church.  Jesus was fully God and an eternal being.  Jesus stepped into and submitted to time, temptation and human frailty.  Jesus became flesh and "dwelt among us."

It was predicted from the very earliest times.  Leviticus 26:11-12 says, "I will live among you, and I will not despise you.  I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves.  I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high."  God said He would come and physically be among people like you and me.  The word for "walk" in this passage is, in the Hebrew, only used for human perambulation.  The prophecy here is that God will walk as a person among the people He loves.  That happened in Jesus.

It is amazing to me that the God over everything submitted to anything, but in Jesus (as told in John 1) God submitted to the effects of time, temptation and the frailty that accompanies the human condition.  He fell and skinned his knee as a child.  He felt the looks of disapproval and jealousy as He knew, as a teen, God's word better than the religious leaders of His time.  He was hungry and thirsty as He wandered for 40 days in the wilderness of temptation.  The nails of the cross and the agony of a horrible death was felt by Jesus as any human would feel those terrible things.

John 1 expresses both the struggle of Jesus' humanity and the blessing Jesus brought us in coming to us as true light that brings life.  Jesus lived fully as a person, wrapped in flesh.  He was rejected fully by those He came to save.  He fully/completely saved those that believed in Him and "received the right to become children of God."

As we begin the season of Advent we will get the chance to experience the expectation of Jesus' arrival.  We will hear the songs.  We will have the ups and downs we usually feel during this time of year.  Some of us will remember loved ones who are no longer with us.  We will get frustrated but we will see things that give us a glimmer of the good things about the season of Christmas.  Never forget that when Jesus came wrapped in human flesh He had all of the ups, downs, losses, hurts and joys we experience.  He has been here.  And because He has been here, we can go to be with Him.  John 1 says it this way ... "The law was given through Moses but God's unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ."  For He, in flesh, walked among us.  Randy

Monday, November 20, 2017


Do you know you are loved?  No matter what your situation, no matter the things you might think you know, no matter what people tell you, God expresses His love. John, in 1 John 4:7-11 argues this point to those of us who might get confused, off-track or downcast (thinking we are not loved) ... "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other."  While this is not a normal Advent passage, you see the expression of God's love in the person and advent of Jesus Christ.  God "so loved the world" and His love is clear and personal.

One of my favorite Christmas experiences was during my first appointment at Prattville 1st UMC.  I was "low man on the totem pole" and was assigned duties that the senior pastor didn't want to do.  That year I was charged with going to the United Methodist Children's Home in Selma, Alabama (we will have an offering for them on Christmas Eve) to deliver gifts and supplies we had collected.  One of our youth, a troubled young girl from a broken home, went along to help.  When we arrived we unloaded the supplies and were talking with the director when we heard a wailing cry from one of the rooms.  My inclination was to let the people at the Children's Home deal with the problem, but the young girl with me went without hesitation to the room and found one of the children in a closet, crying out of fear, loneliness and despair.  My young friend did something I will never forget.  She didn't talk the child out of the closet.  She didn't really say all that much.  She got into the closet with the child and held her hand, letting her know she was there and to not be fearful.  In about 10min. two young girls walked out of the closet, talking about life and all the things little girls talk about. 

That event re-taught me about what Christmas was about.  Not the stuff we carried over in the church van, but the love that we brought.  How Jesus came down, got into my closet full of fear and bad thoughts, held my hand and talked to me about the stories of life.  If I hadn't seen this happen before my eyes, I would have thought it was a parable.  But I was reminded that this event, like that first coming of Jesus, was the reality of life and love that we hold in these broken vessels of clay.  Paul said, "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves (2 Cor. 4:7)."  It is a beautiful thing when this light of God's love shines out ... in a closet in Selma, Alabama or in an office, church, home or restaurant in the Wiregrass.  Yes ... love comes from God and we are the ones who can allow God to send out His love in us.  I am thankful and blessed!  Randy

Monday, November 13, 2017


I love to watch those restoration shows that take old homes and restore them to something good, beautiful and useful.  The best restorations retain the good things from the past, re-purpose things that can be reused, ditch what is not usable and modernize without losing the character of the home. While all of this is costly, and takes more time and energy than taking the nuclear (tear-down and rebuild) option, I like that expert restorers retain the patina (character) of the home.  I think God does the same with us.

In Isaiah 54 there is a beautiful song of restoration.  It is God's declaration that he will restore, refine and revive His creation.  God accomplishes this in several ways ...

   1. He declares that His restoration will fix barrenness and brokenness (54:1).  He tells the barren woman to sing because God will give her fruit and purpose.
   2. He proclaims that His people should enlarge their tents (54:2).  They are to open up their imagination to God's possibilities.
   3. He tells the people that they will forget the shame of their youth (54:4).  It is interesting that God assumes they have something to be ashamed about.
   4. He affirms His Lordship as "God of the whole earth" (54:5).

Isaiah prophesied all of this at the center of spiritual poverty, national loss and world turmoil.  That should 'ring a bell' with our time and situation.

Last Wednesday Dr. John Ed Mathison told about the great things God is doing in Africa, Asia and other places in the world.  On the eve of Thanksgiving I want to ask a question ... "Do we believe God can do great things here?"  My answer is YES!

You say, "we are too broken and we are marred with so many problems, deficiencies and sins."  God says, "I will use all of it so that the patina of what I create in you will be unique, beautiful and productive."  God's calling card is forgiveness.

You say, "we are small and too weak to do what is needed."  God says, "Do not fear ... make your tents bigger because I will send you abundance and growth."  God makes and executes big plans.

You say, "all of this is too costly ... it will take time, energy and effort and we are so busy!"  God says, "This will happen by God's action, but we will need to change our behaviors, our priorities and our daily actions.  Am I worth working for?"  It will take hard work and our commitment for God's plan to happen here.

Restoration can be overwhelming unless you have someone who knows what to keep, what to throw away and how to use the patina (experiences, failures, lessons, scratches/dents, repairs) to make the unique and beautiful thing only God can create.  Thankfully, we have someone who is the best at all of that ... "The Holy One of Israel, your Redeemer (54:5)."  Now that is something worth being thankful for! Randy

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Abundance is sometimes hard to see.  We hear and see so much negative, the same as it was when Isaiah wrote these words ... "Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love” [Isaiah 55:13].  The nation was in shambles.  War was outside their door.  They lived in fear of Assyria and other terrorist nations.  Last week's sermon and this weeks message both deal with the abundance and renewal God brings in the midst of what we see as unbreachable barriers.  Abundance is hard to see.

Two quick stories.  First, when I served St. Luke UMC I had a friend who was plagued with drug addiction.  She lost her battle with this addiction and we were all sad.  The weekend before she died she sold little cups of plants to raise money for the kids at church (Teresa had a great heart).  Two weeks later during a vicious cold snap that killed most annual plants I went out behind our house to do an errand.  I looked and in the midst of the sub-freezing weather Teresa's plants were green, growing and thriving.  To this day I believe this was a message from God about His provision, His renewal, His abundance and His power in the midst of our worst situations.

The second story (you will see the video Sunday) is an amazing story of what is called "trophic cascade."  This happens when one environmental event, usually the introduction of a predatory species, cascades into a domino effect of changes below the apex predator.  In the 1990's the wolf was reintroduced into the ecosystem of Yellowstone Park.  Some of you are saying, "But wolves kill and eat other animals ... why did they do that?"  They did it because the natural world of Yellowstone (by the way, God is the creator of this natural world) 'naturally' has apex predators like the wolf.  The cascading events from the introduction of the wolf into the park has dramatically changed, for the better, the ecosystem, even having an effect on the rivers.

Some of you are saying "How can this be true?"  Gotta come Sunday to find out.  But maybe, just maybe, God's design and plan is better than our destructive modification of that plan.  Maybe it is good for species like deer to have predators that cull and thin their numbers.  Maybe God's plan for nature, people and the world is better than our artificial ideas of how things should work.  Maybe God uses unexpected and amazing things to tell us He is in control and He will cause some amazing things to happen in the world in which we find ourselves.  Maybe Isaiah knew more than we do and for certain God knows more than we do.  This is the God who says He will bring revival in the midst of a spiritually barren wasteland.  Come Jesus ... we are awake!  Randy

Monday, October 30, 2017


Water ... that is a consistent Biblical image for revival.  When we are born about 78% of our bodies are water.  While this percentage drops to about 60% in adult men, we are still mostly water.  Most people can go 3 weeks without food, but after 3 days without water, our survival is questionable.  Water is essential.  And, for the Christian, revival is water.

There are many Biblical images of water as God's restoring power.  Two that come to mind are Jesus at Jacob's well talking with the Samaritan woman.  In the village of Sychar Jesus allows a Samaritan woman to draw Him a drink.  In the ensuing conversation which reveals the nature and sinfulness of the Samaritan woman, Jesus tells the woman that He has living water which eternally quenches thirst.  Of course, Jesus is referring to spiritual thirst, but the image is powerful.  It is so powerful it is carried over to our Communion setting in which we drink from the well of forgiveness and restore our dry bones.  The woman does two things.  She desires this water given by the man she calls a great prophet.  And when she hears Jesus' call and realizes He is the Messiah she goes and gets her friends.  She proclaims (as any evangelist) "He told me everything I ever did!"  The image of water here is about truth, forgiveness, and the Lord coming to the time and place of harvest.

Another image of water is in Isaiah 41:17-20.  God says, through Isaiah, that He will answer the cries of the poor who search for water.  The water will flow in the mountains, the valleys and the deserts.  It will be so abundant that trees will grow in places trees won't usually grow.  The water revives and restores the land and the people to productivity.

In both of these accounts the water brings life from unexpected places.  Life and faith spring up from the ne'er-do-well Samaritans, those outcast from the Jews and 'chosen' ones.  Restoration springs up from the dry bones of Israel as they thirst for life from the depths of their neglect and even the Northern Kingdom, decimated by Assyria, is oddly connected to Jesus' conversation with a woman of Samaria, former capital of the Northern Kingdom.

For us there are too many parallels to count.  Many are lost and don't even know it.  Nations, including ours, have drifted into the same neglect and spiritual lethargy we see in the Hebrews of Isaiah's time.  We all trudge back and forth to the well for water that doesn't last as we fill our days with non-eternal things that are blown away with the wind.  We cry out like the thirsty and poor of Isaiah, Chapter 41.  This promise is for us!  Leonard Cohen, in the song Suzanne, says Jesus realized "only drowning men will seek Him."  We are drowning. When we are needy and realize our need for God, God will restore His people because of His greatness.  May we be the people who know our need for Him and seek His face at this time when He so desires to give us living water from the well that never runs dry!  Revive us Lord!  Randy

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Beyond Expectations

"Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble.  Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked!  For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!" (Isaiah 64:1-4, NLT).  

Isaiah writes this verse in the midst of great frustration.  The nation is in shambles and though the passage is thought to be post-exilic (Cyrus of Persia has given the exiles permission to return to Jerusalem), Isaiah laments to condition of the city, the nation and the people.  In Isaiah 64 there is a powerful prayer for God's deliverance ("Oh that you would burst from the heavens and come down").  There is an acknowledgment of our fallenness ("our righteousness is as filthy rags").  There is an acceptability of God's leading ("you are the potter and we are the clay").  There is a hanging question ("will you refuse to help and remain silent?").  Embedded in all of this is the longing for God to revive the remnant of His people.  WOW ... hard and challenging teachings indeed!

So ... what brings revival and what blocks revival?  Isaiah says that sin has built a barrier for God's grace and God's salvation ... "we are constant sinners ... how can a people like us be saved?"  Isaiah says that revival depends on God's decision to redeem a people who are not worthy of that redemption.  How can that happen?  

I wonder if it hasn't already begun and we are waiting like the Jews for deliverance while the means of that deliverance has come.  For God HAS burst from the heavens and come down.  I believe the nations are already trembling with this nation being one of those.  For Christ has come, is here and God's Spirit waits for faithful people to call upon Him.  This morning I said that we find Jesus by realizing He wants to be found, realizing He gives us a map (Scripture, means of grace, service, giving, godly people, study, worship) and He asks for our "yes."  Isaiah 62, 63 and 64 all constitute prayers and supplication for a revival that only comes through us saying "Lord ... You are the potter, we are the clay!"  As we look to God for revival, may our prayers be many, may our submission to God's plan be genuine, may we set our feet on the firm foundation of Jesus (not the "filthy rags" of our righteousness) and may we turn the night of revival over to a God who can make revival a time when God does "awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations."  Make it so Lord! Randy

Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding Jesus

I used to listen to a John Denver song written by John Prine.  The title of the song is "Blow Up Your TV" and the chorus has the lyrics ... "have a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, go find Jesus ... on your own."  I don't profess that this song had any theological statement from its writers but I do like the last line ... 'go find Jesus, on your own.'  While most of us, of course, need a little help finding Jesus, the truth is each person has the calling, drawing by prevenient grace and ultimate responsibility to find God ... truly in Jesus Christ.  This brings up a passage that is troubling to some and solid as stone to others.  It is a hard teaching ... "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come to the father except through me" (John 14:6).  This passage is crystal clear, spoken by Jesus and is, in my opinion, the greatest of the 'I AM' statements in John.  It is reminiscent of Moses' last sermon to the Hebrews who are preparing to cross into the promised land, " Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life ... " (Deuteronomy 30:20).

So ... how do we find Jesus 'on our own?'  I think there are at least 3 keys to finding Jesus.  The first is to know He is seeking you and drawing you to him.  Wesleyan's (of whom Methodists are a subset) describe God's grace (prevenient grace) as drawing all people to Him.  John 12:32 describes this ... "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."  The first key is to realize God wants you to come to him.  God said, through Moses, "you have seen how I bore you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself."  I love that profound and direct purpose passage that reminds us God is inviting all people to come.  So watch ... listen ... see through God's eyes.

The second thing is really closely tied to the first thing.  To grow in knowledge of what God's calling and God's invitation looks like, it is important to know what God is like.  While Jeremiah tells us God has imprinted us with knowledge of Him ("I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33)) knowing God is a lifelong process.  John Wesley would say that we are people of one book ... Scripture contained in the Holy Bible.  We read.  We struggle with God's Word.  We learn through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We seek and Jesus says we will find (Matthew 7:7).

The third thing relates to that "on your own" thing.  I hear all the excuses.  "The church is a bunch of hypocrites!"  My friend Arita responds to this by reminding them 'there is always room for one more.'  We can let this and all of the other excuses keep us from being part of God's plan, God's path and God's Church.  But the responsibility for finding Jesus and His path to God is mine and only mine.  When Moses said (the earlier passage, Deuteronomy 30:20) 'the Lord is your life' he presented this as a choice of life or death, blessings and curses.  He tells his people they must make this choice on their own.  He has, by God's grace, brought them to the threshold of the land God had promised.  Now, if they are to prosper in that land, they must decide whom they will serve.  It is the same for us.  I invite you to join this group of people who have chosen God. We are hypocrites, sinners, doubters and inadequate followers.  But for some reason God seeks us so we want to know more.  We shoulder the yoke of Christ whose burden is light and easy.  And we find Him in the most interesting places.  Come and see!  Randy

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Too Easy

When I read the Scripture for the message this week I thought about how easy it is ... to demonize other people ... to feel the power of hate that gives false/righteous energy ... to set myself up as judge of others ... to let my anger overwhelm me so that my witness for Christ is lost.  Jesus tells us, in Matthew 5:22 "I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder" (The Message).  Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Because anger, like gateway drugs, leads to other things ... some of them terrible things.

Anger lies to us about many things but three of them are as evident as the nose on our face if we are willing to see ourselves honestly.  Here they are ...

1. Anger blocks my view of other people.  I can't see God's creative imprint in others when I tell myself they are worthy of my righteous indignation.  I place myself above them and they become less important, less human, less worthy, less good than me.  Anger makes sure that I cannot relate to them.  And THAT is Satan's greatest desire.  God's greatest commandment is to love God and love others like we love ourselves.  Satan's plan is to block those love relationships.  Anger is Satan's vehicle to make that happen.
2. Anger blocks my view of myself.  When I am angry I place myself above other people.  When I am angry my views trump other views.  In reality anger allows narcissism to take root and distance others from me, telling me my views are superior.
3. Anger blocks my view of God.  In life we must be discerning of what is happening around us.  Sometimes we move from discernment to judgment.  And when we judge we displace God, who is worthy and righteous to judge us all.  God does not share His duties and His rights with me.

All of this sounds like telling children to control their anger.  You might even ask, "Why does this matter to adults?"  Because we have anger issues in this nation.  Some blame TV for teaching us to deal with anger by taking matters into our own hands.  Some blame movies, video games and the media.  Maybe all of these are factors in anger.  But I will go back to evil itself.  I wonder if all of these things are footholds for Satan to edge into our lives ... get into our heads ... become part of our daily life.  We are told by talking heads in to media that another person's actions are "unconscionable."  We allow ourselves to be drawn into a we-and-they mindset.  We buy into the idea that "they" should pay for their words and/or actions.  We fail to look back at all the thoughts, actions and mistakes we should pay for as well.  We get angry and our society tells us it is right to both be livid and take action.  Some of those actions have made national news.  An angry narcissist holes up in a hotel and shoots people at a concert because he has mustered up righteous anger.  A kid walks into a church in Charleston and shoots people with whom he angrily differed.  Angry athletes feel it is their right to angrily protest, probably by disrespecting people/things/symbols they are not even angry at.  In all of these things Paul gives us some of the best advice about anger ever ... "I have the right to do anything' you say, but not everything is beneficial."  Anger is one of those things that, in most all applications, is best left to God who will choose perfectly when, how and why to be angry.  Randy

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Real Jesus

My god ... "isn't concerned with hell or punishment" ... "is all about what I say, memorize, have in my head" ... "is always tolerant" ... "never condemns" ... "never divides" ... "is on OUR side" ... "has a 'sin scale' which grades all of us by the degree of OUR sin" ... you get the point.  We have a habit of defining God within our own understanding, our own prejudice or our own standards.  I hear it all the time.  We define God and then do life according to that definition.  The reason I know this is that I float into this kind of thinking sometimes.  I read something in Scripture that brings me up short (a very good trait if God's word).  I didn't capitalize "god" in that 1st sentence because my god isn't God at all.  My plastic Jesus isn't Jesus at all.  If my understanding is the standard, then my artificial and contrived deity is far from being the God of the universe.

As I read scripture I am confronted, challenged, pushed, pulled and very uncomfortable.  I try take in what God/Jesus is saying and desire to sift truth from falseness.  The real Jesus conveys some really hard teachings.  Those teachings are profound, true and part of what we must grasp to develop a solid relationship with Christ.  It is a bit like a child that has cut his/her foot on a rusty piece of metal.  Painful things must happen for the cut to heal.  The wound must be washed ... it will hurt.  Parents that wash the cut and pour alcohol on the wound.  Wow, that hurts! If the cut were serious it might require stitches, a tetanus shot and additional painful treatment.  But the pain is necessary for the healing.

Over the next few weeks we will look at some of those painful teachings of Jesus.  The ones where Jesus says he came to separate/divide/sift (Luke 12:51-53), anger is murder (Matthew 5:22), Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), there is no "fence-sitting in faith (Matthew 12:30), love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-45), there is a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-43) and if you are for Jesus don't be surprised if the world opposes you (John 15:18-20).  These are some painful verses that, if we work to understand them and trust God's meaning, might just heal us and make us stronger in our faith.  They are verses that might just help us make sense out of our messed up world where disasters wipe out people, property and provision.  They might let us process evil that possesses people to shoot hundreds at rock concerts. They might make us realize there is good and evil in the world and that we are given a great gift of God's word that helps us be part of the good.  Maybe they might help me understand why I still do stupid, wrong and very imperfect things when Jesus told me to become perfect (complete) by God's standard.  Hard teachings ... but we live in hard days, don't we?  Randy

Monday, September 25, 2017

5 Questions .. and One Bonus

Most of you are from the South and would have some level of disdain for things coming out of Harvard.  I kind of felt that way too until I heard a short speech from Dr. James Ryan's 2016 commencement speech at the Graduate School of Education.  I thought of the powerful and profound Scriptural connections the questions from this speech raised.  Dr. Ryan asked five questions, plus a bonus.  I hope you will give them time and reflection.

1. Wait ... what?  Analyze before you advocate for or against ... think!  Ask for clarification before you make big decisions.  In 2 Samuel 24:24 David is offered a threshing floor for his burnt offerings as a gift from Araunah.  David replies ... "I will insist on buying it, for I will not give burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing."  The easy way would have been for David to take the gift, save the money and make his offerings.  But David asked, "Wait ... what?"  He knew offering to God was a big deal to him and a big deal to God.  He wanted his offerings to be pure, costly and unmarred by an attitude that cheapened the offering.

2. I wonder?  Why ... if ... how?  Why are things like they are?  If we did this, what would be the result?  How could we change things for the better?  In 2 Kings 7:8-10 four lepers are outside the city under siege.  They decide that they can starve where they are or go into the enemy camp and take their chances.  When they arrive at the enemy camp they find the enemy has been routed and run away by the Lord and that they have free reign to eat, drink and thrive.  But they ask, "I wonder?"  They say, "If we fill our pockets and stomachs but fail to tell the people in the city, we have failed our nation and our Lord.  I love their words ... "This is a day of good news ... let's go back and tell the people at the palace."

3. Couldn't we at least?  We might not be able to do that earth-changing thing but we can make a difference in a small way.  The widow (Matthew 12:41-44) who dropped in two small coins into the offering plate gave sacrificially out of her poverty.  Jesus said the woman was recognized and blessed because she gave all she had.  When we offer sacrificially, even our small offering brings a smile to God!  Couldn't we at least participate?  Couldn't we all agree that Jesus is Lord and work together to make our community better?  Couldn't we all agree that our kids need to arrive at school well-fed so they can take on their day of learning?  Great questions!

4. How can I help?  Jesus said this a lot.  "What do you want me to do?"  Jesus asked the blind man in Mark 10:51.  We make a habit of deciding what people need and doing "our" mission work rather than center our mission work on "How can I help?"  In one relief effort our government carried rice to Haiti to "help."  Our help destroyed the rice-producing economy.  Oh, but if we had asked, "How can I help?" and then purchased our rice from the local economy, helping both the people needing food and the people needing to sell their rice.

5.  What truly matters (you could add ... "to me.")?  Pilate asked this question in a different form when Jesus was before him ... "What is truth?" (John 18:38).  That is a great question if it is asked seeking the answer.  It could be asked in several different ways.  "What is true?" ... "What is real?"  Pilate didn't seem to want an answer because "the truth, the life and the way" stood in front of him.  Pilate just wanted his problems to go away ... and he asked the crowd for their opinion.  That's why I like the question, "What  truly matters to me?"  We answer that question with our giving.  We answer that question with our time.  We answer that question with our thoughts.

And the bonus question ... (from a Raymond Carver poem, Late Fragment) "Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?"  On this challenging Monday this is a good question.  The question sounds benign until you reflect on the "even so?"  The life part sounds fine but the "even so" can be a mountain we can only climb with God.  How did you deal with adversity and did you learn from the struggles to overcome it?  Push back the regrets.  Let go of the episodes of guilt.  Repent of your failings.  "Wait ... what?"  ... "I wonder?" ... "Couldn't we at least?" ... "How can I help?" ... "What truly matters?"  ... "Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?"

Monday, September 18, 2017

With What You've Got

Rear Admiral Miller spoke at Johnson Bible College to students entering ministry professions.  Miller was the highest ranking chaplain in the military at that time.  He told stories about Normandy ... about going soldier to soldier to give comfort ... soldiers who were screaming, crying and dying.  It was a terrible time made worse by shells exploding, gunfire and all of the sounds that accompany war.

The students asked Miller the obvious question.  "Why did you go to that terrible place, and endure the sounds of war and dying just to say a few words of comfort or to say a prayer for kids who didn't care if you were Catholic, Protestant or Jew?"  He answered, "Because I am a minister."

The parable of the talents is an oft-repeated story that is commonly used to encourage us to give.  I want to take this story in a slightly different direction because I believe the story is about three things ... what we have been given ... whose property it really is ... and what we do with what we are given.

The parable says we have been given talents.  While this is a denomination of money in Scripture (Wikipedia says it is about $1.25 million) I think the idea is that we have been given something very valuable.  In the United Methodist Church it is spoken of as our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  It encompass what and who we are.

The parable also says that this gift was the property of the giver ... off on a long journey.  The giver has entrusted His property to three servants.  For the sake of modernity lets say he has given the first servant $6.25 million, the second $2.5 million and the third $1.25 million.  It is only entrusted to us ... it is and was never ours to claim.

And then the hard question ... what do we do with what we have been given?  Rear Admiral Miller was given the gift of ministry, a gift he did not take lightly.  He knew the gift was God-given and came from a source outside of him ... the God who inspires all ministry.  He understood that he was called to use his gift in ways that might risk everything ... even his life.  He did what I hear a lot when people don't want to risk ... he counted the cost (Luke 14:28).  Then he did something I believe is a very Christ-like thing ... he did it anyway, realizing that his God was greater than the risk.

In the parable of the talents, two servants were willing to risk.  These two were called "faithful" by the master.  The third servant hid his $1.25 million in the ground, giving it all back to the master.  The master was angry calling him wicked and lazy.

The point?  We have been given talents valuable for the Kingdom by the Master of the Kingdom.  The Master doesn't seem concerned with dollars here.  He is, rather, all about the risk, the willingness to grow His original gift, the acknowledgement that His gift is something valuable that has been entrusted to those who say they are servants. 

May we continue to be generous and risky with what God has given us.  May we endure the dangers we will certainly face while using those gifts.  May we be willing to arrive at that time of reckoning and hear the words "faithful servant" from our Lord, Savior and Master.  For He knows a little something about risking it all for "a wretch like me."  Randy

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Lots of things in life are uncertain.  We treat some uncertain things like they are absolutely certain, but they are not. The New England Patriots are locks for the Super Bowl this year ... but they are 0-1 losing their first game.  Suddenly their season has lots of question marks.  I can count on something hurting when I get up each morning ... but then that day comes when I rise and have zero pains (but not very often).  Tiger Woods was a lock to win more major championships than anyone in history.  That doesn't look like it will happen now.  Most of us feel certain we will wake up tomorrow.  Some who thought that were wrong.

Many things are uncertain, but there are a few things we can always count on.  Sunday we will share thoughts about one of those things ... God's Word.  David wrote, in Psalm 119, that God's Word was a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.  Isaiah wrote that "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever (40:8)." Both describe the one thing they can count on in an uncertain world.

This truth gets my attention as I sit in a storm shelter (Abbeville UMC) with a family that is here because they are not certain their house will stand the winds that might come.  We are watching the Weather Channel as the meteorologists try to predict the path of  Hurricane Irma ... their predictions are as much art as they are science as they say repeatedly that their predictions are only estimates.  Their very livelihood revolves around an uncertain task.  Other scientists agree that as we delve into the secrets of DNA, disease, weather, astronomy and biology, we often find more questions than we do answers.

So I will listen to the weather prognosticators.  I will take their information as the best estimate of truth they can generate from data that is, by nature, uncertain.  I will prepare and help shelter these folks as many of your brothers and sisters have done over the last several days.  But when I want certainty, I will go to the eternal Word of God that stands forever.  I won't always understand.  I might even have fear or doubt in the back of my mind.  But I will find that God's truth will stand the test of time and any other test thrown its way.  It will be a lamp to light my way step by step.  It will be the light that gives me a direction and a path.  It will last forever and always be true.  And it will bring me home to the one who leads me to His place of truth.  Randy

Monday, September 4, 2017

Serious Business

Prayer is serious business in a world filled with facades and empty things.  A common practice at fast-food places is for the person at the window to ask you to pull up when your food is delayed.  I thought this was a courtesy to people behind you but when no one was back there I said, "I'll just wait here and if anyone comes up behind me I will be glad to move forward."  I was told that I still needed to move up because if I stayed at the window the video trackers would think I didn't have my food.  News flash ... I didn't have my food.  The common practice by these restaurant employees is to game the system.  That is so like our world where we value perception more than truth.

We treat prayer that way sometimes.  We send petitions to God because we are supposed to pray.  We give God our wish list and go through our day pretty much ignoring Him.  We want to say we care about God and sing "Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus" while our actions trust in so many other things.  How do we fall into Jesus and begin to take prayer as "serious business?"

Paul tells us, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 that there two attitudes we can adopt when we are led through life by God.  The NLT expresses these verses in two three-word phrases.  "Always be joyful.  Never stop praying."  Pretty simple, as Paul gives the Church at Thessalonica final instructions about their walk forward through hard times.

Both joy and prayer are fruits of an attitude of trust in God.  Our joy in each day we have been gives says "thank You God!"  Our prayers say, "Lord ... I am trusting you today, so here are the things flowing from the depths of my heart."  I am not talking about the fluff or facades we try to show God.  I AM talking about those guttural and visceral cries from the depth of our being.  "Lord, I am dying down here!"  "Lord, I cry to You for help."  "Lord, my joy in You flows out of my being so much that I can't keep it secret from those around me."

Prayer is not treating God like a corporation you are trying to dupe into believing you are doing your job.  It is all about conversation, communication and trusting communion between a perfect God who loves and leads a flock of anxious, angry, hurting and fickle subjects who can lay anything at His feet, knowing that God cannot be duped but always can be trusted.  Prayer is serious business!  Randy

Monday, August 28, 2017

Three Thankful Things

I often get caught up in the activities, the events, the obligations and the "moving parts" in my week.  It is easy to start the week on Sunday with the flurry of church-related things and then wake up sometime on Wednesday and wonder what happened.  Where did those three days go?  What did I accomplish?  Was the time expended worthy of God's view and value of time?  Hard questions for a Monday, aren't they?

This week I was wondering if I filled any of my days with something that I know God values ... giving thanks.  This is an appropriate thought for this week since we will celebrate the Eucharist this Sunday.  The Greek, eucharistia, means "giving thanks,"  always a good thing when we are remembering what Jesus has done for us.  What can I do this week to both give thanks and prepare to give thanks formally this Sunday?  I think three things are always appropriate responses to God's goodness to me.

God is honored by our worship.  When Jesus struggles with Satan (Matthew 4:10) in the wilderness [some of us are there now] He says, "worship the Lord your God and serve Him only."  Jesus was hungry, tired, hurting and He had been in the wilderness for 40 days ... and He remembers that worship in times of struggle both thank God for everything and never forget that worship is appropriate 100% of the time.  Pauley Perrette (actress on NCIS) has a special prayer that is her daily worship routine ... "God, thank you for everything ... forgive me for everything."  I think God is honored!

God is thanked when we witness our faith in Him to others.  Wednesday evening we will hear testimony from several of our brothers and sisters from Celebrate Recovery.  This testimony has been borne out of struggle, trial and hardship.  Here is the beauty in this part of God's plan ... as we share our struggles and our witness to a God who has lifted us out of the miry clay God plays out Psalm 40:3 which says "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him."  God is honored by our witness.

And ... God is honored when we thank him by serving.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is already working toward responding to the epic flooding in Texas.  All of us can work toward helping God's people here in several ways.  We can keep up-to-date on the ways to help by going to the UMCOR website .  We can send or fund flood buckets  to those in need in Texas.  We can work in the many missional opportunities available at Abbeville United Methodist Church including Celebrate Recovery, Belize, Red Bird, Boys and Girls Club and many others ... see the AUMC Website . God will be honored.

Worship ... witness ... work ... let's fall into Jesus and grow close to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  Randy

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Otherness of Love

In my pastoral work of counseling there are many common themes, but I think the number one theme is about the subject of love.  I profess that I am like the old Conway Twitty song, "I Don't Know a Thing About Love."  But I do have a friend who knows a lot about love.  His name is Jesus and His friend, the Holy Spirit spoke through Jesus' servant named Paul.  Paul wrote this down in 1 Corinthians 13, commonly known as the love chapter of Scripture.  So I will rely on Paul's wisdom, learned through the Holy Spirit.

In the 1st three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes ... "If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing."  Two words are repeated three times ... Love and Others. Why?

Here's what I think.  Biblical love is inexorably connected to others.  The greatest commandment is about loving God with all we have and others as ourselves. 1 John 4:8 says that if you do not love you cannot know God.  And Paul says, if we don't love others we are just noise ... gaining and being nothing.

So ... all those people come to counseling and want to talk about love and what they are not getting, what they are not feeling and how they are not being fulfilled.  And I know that love is hard (Paul tells us that later in the chapter).  But what I want to shout to the world here is that love isn't ever about what we get from others ... it is about what we give to others.  Yes ... give love to those schmucks who aren't behaving like we want them to.  Yes ... give love to those people who are undeserving.  Yes ... give love to those who seem to resist changes we know they need to make.  Yes ... give love to those who are different than us.  Because love is all about others.

Many of you say, "Pastor ... you are crazy!  You have gone too far here.  Surely God would not want us to love that way?"  John 15:12 ... "Love each other the way that I have loved you."  Because in relation to God I am the misbehaving schmuck ... I am the one who is undeserving ... I am the one reluctant to change ... I am the "different" one (some of you say, "That is an understatement!).  Yet, God chose to love me anyway.  THAT is amazing grace!  That is the reason I must respond (if I love God) with praise, gratitude, service and witness as I tell others about this amazing gift God has given me ...and you.

I think Jesus would tell to do two things.  Look at how He loved.  Go, thou, and do likewise! Randy

Monday, August 14, 2017

Most Deceitful

Being a pastor I have noticed that the biggest deceiver (a tool of the father of deceit, Satan) is the falseness of our feelings.  We feel something is true, therefore we make it true by the power we ascribe to that false feeling.

I was listening to sports radio on the way in to church.  They were trying to guess the top ten most dangerous animals.  The discussion was prompted by a story about Carol Kirken, a Michigan woman who was on vacation in Tanzania.  She was tragically killed by a hippo.  Yes ... those lovable "hungry, hungry, hippos" ... the animal responsible for those cute bath toys ... rank anywhere from the # 6 to # 11 animals deadliest to humans, killing between 100 and 3,000 people per year (based on the source of the data).  While we cringe and cower over shark-week, sharks kill an average of 6 people per year worldwide (of course with the exception of Sharknados).  Fact is, the most dangerous animals are mosquitos (killing between 750,000 and 1 million people per year) and people (who directly kill roughly 475,000 of their brothers and sisters per year).  So our perception and feelings about danger are all out of whack.  Why isn't there a hippo-week, a mosquito-week or a people-week?  Truth is shattered by what we feel.

In our "Falling into Jesus" series I want to address the disconnect between what we feel in our hearts ("The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9) and the truth of God's Word and plan.  In a world where we are told to "follow your heart" why do we ignore God's Word on this important issue?  I believe it is because we have been taught to worship our feelings.

People enter into litigation because someone has hurt their feelings ... God's Word says to settle with your brother before you enter the courtroom (Matthew 5:25).  People are fired from their jobs because someone's feelings are hurt by what they said ... I wonder if those filing the complaint have the right to cast that stone (John 8:7)?  We protect feelings, overly value "self"esteem and rant about how our feelings have been trampled ... all the while trampling and trashing other people who we think have wronged us.  After Jesus tells how He will "suffer many terrible things" (Luke 9:22) He gives some good advice about perspective.  "Turn from your selfish ways and follow me (Luke 9:23)."  I think the gist here is that we cannot follow self and Jesus simultaneously.  We must be Jesus-focused and other-focused.  If we are all up into how we feel about everything, we begin to get into a "self-serving" and "self-saving" mentality.  We get out of a serving others and Jesus-saving mentality.  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)."  No matter how much I "feel" that my issues are the most important, it just isn't true.  Listen to the stories of those around us.  Read about what Jesus did as he suffered many things for me.  Think of what our lives would be like if Jesus had followed human feelings!  Think of what your life could be if you placed feelings in their proper place ... subservient to God's truth.  Just sayin!  Randy

Monday, August 7, 2017


Do you remember that team-building thing where you blindly fall back into what you hope are arms that will catch you before you hit the ground?  I never was much for those exercises.  But I get the point about needing to trust those you work with.  We all need a place to fall.

Twila Paris writes a song about trust.  It expresses the things I wrestle with daily ...

I know the answers, I've given them all
But suddenly now, I feel so small
Shaken down to the cavity in my soul ...
I know the doctrine and theology
But right now they don't mean much to me
This time there's only one thing I've got to know ...
Do I trust You, Lord? Does the robin sing?
Do I trust You, Lord? Does it rain in spring?
You can see my heart, You can read my mind
And You got to know I would rather die
Than to lose my faith in the One I love
Do I trust You, Lord? Do I trust You?
So ... would you fall into Jesus' arms, trusting Him to catch you?  Has religion given you "pat" answers and cliche's and have things in your life shaken you down to the cavity in your soul?  Are you willing to "fall into Jesus?"
That is where we will travel together during the next month, maybe longer.  The next four weeks will ask where we stand in relation to God, how we trust feelings rather than reality and/or God, how we understand love and how we thank God for what we call His blessings.  Do we REALLY trust God or do we trust in other things?
And yes ... we can trust in a God that is even more certain than singing birds, the coming of spring rains, the rising of the sun and the turning of the earth.  THAT God can see our hearts, read our minds and can be trusted when we fall.  Jesus says ... "come to me (trust Me as a destination) ... take my yoke upon you (trust me as Someone worth carrying with you) ... let me teach you (trust Me to lead your day/life) [Matthew 11:28-30 selected]."  All of this begs a question ... what do you fall into when you are "weary and heavy laden?"  Great question!  Randy

Monday, July 31, 2017


I like to watch those survival shows on TV.  They are a bit contrived but there are some useful things to be learned when you see survival experts use brains and creativity to deal with the things mother nature sends their way.  One common theme in the survival business is the need for a shelter that keeps out the elements.

Most of the shelters have common elements.  First, they have a roof to keep away rain and the persistent effects of the sun.  Second, they are located in a way that protects the occupants from predators and dangerous wildlife.  Third, shelters need to allow occupants to be raised off the ground, protecting them from hypothermic heat loss and ground-dwelling critters.  Finally, shelters need to be built with the knowledge that survival depends on extricating ones self from the situation (they are temporary because the occupants goal is to move to a sustainable destination, hopefully home).

Let's think about that last one.  Hebrews 11 and 1 Peter 2 both remind us that we are pilgrims traveling through this world.  But we sometimes forget that our path and even our lives are temporary things.  We get so attached to the things here that we forget the place to which we travel.  We find security in places, things, people and even ourselves.  We build, reinforce and fortify something that should never be thought of as permanent.  The old song, Wayfairing Stranger says:

 I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling through this world of woe
Yet there's no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go

The song reminds us that as we go through this world we shouldn't get too comfortable.

So ... what kind of structure should we build?  Israel, during the times of the Torah, was nomadic.  In New Testament times God's Word says (Hebrews 3:6) "we are God's house."   The exterior shell is durable but temporary.  The house is able to be moved from place to place.  The house depends totally on God for provision and protection.  The house is structured for God's purpose and to seek God's destination.  The house is built to grow spiritually, even when the exterior shell is constantly deteriorating (Romans 8:36).  The house is moving toward the only sustainable destination ... God's place.

The survivor shows remind us to keep moving toward a place that is true security, remembering that shelters in the wilderness are only to sustain us for a short while.  So we travel, move, grow and journey "to that bright land" God has prepared.  Randy

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dangerous Waters

The Church in Acts (and the Church today) operated in dangerous waters.  This has been the norm for a very long time.  Charles Wesley, writing in 1749, penned And Are We Yet Alive, a very traditional Methodist hymn.  It is one of the hymns we sing every year at Annual Conference.  One line of the hymn says, What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!  I think these words are repeated every year to remind us of the dangerous waters in which we serve and the sustaining God who leads us through those waters.  It is a great old hymn!

The Church of Acts and the Church of Timothy served God in very dangerous times.  Acts 9 finds the Jews plotting to kill Paul because he was proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues.  He had to leave town under the veil of night.  Later Peter and Paul are criticized because they are evangelizing and fraternizing with gentile believers ... fightings within and fears without.  Paul even warned Timothy that the day would come when people would not seek the truth of God's Word but would covet preachers and teachers that "tickled the ears" of the hearers.  The Jews didn't want to hear about this Jesus.  Marginal church-goers today want to be comfortable and leave church with that warm fuzzy feeling.  Both truths remind me of the dangerous waters that have faced the Church throughout history.

What are the dangers today?  Some would say political authorities, and there is truth to that fear.  As government edges more and more into the lives of the people who are governed, we must wonder where it all will stop?  Will our speech that flows from Scripture become restricted speech when our interpretations condemn popular lifestyles of our society?  Will governmental needs for funding impact taxation of church-related finances?

Some would say the greatest danger is militant Islamic sects.  ISIS and Al Qaeda (and many others) have terrorized our world and continue to be threats to freedom wherever they operate.  In intellectual honesty we must lump these with all militant sects, some of them claiming Christianity as their basis for belief.  We must also remember that terrorists have been around a long time, including the Iscari ("people of the knife") sect that terrorized the Romans in Jesus' time.

But I wonder if the greatest danger to the Church might be from within.  Many congregations are known for their conflicts.  Many church-goers believe there is a separation between secular and sacred (a distinction God doesn't make).  Throngs of believers flock to "name-it-and-claim-it" preachers because this teaching tickles their ears.

Paul told Timothy there was a solution to dealing with these dangers.  Acts lives out that solution.  Paul tells Timothy and us ... 1. Preach the Word of God ... 2. Be prepared to witness in all times ... 3. Patiently correct, rebuke and encourage your people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4).  Paul is saying that God's truth wins out over all the conflicts both within and without.  Isaiah said (40:8) ... "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of out God stands forever."

Charles Wesley writes ... Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
Amen!  Randy

Monday, July 17, 2017

Unconditional Requirement

There are lots of unconditional things in Scripture.  God loves us without condition. God's love is the number one unconditional principle in Scripture and it is manifested in the life, love and sacrifice of Jesus.  God sees us exactly as we are ... broken, frail, potentially excellent, failingly fearful, wonderfully blessed ... and God loves us anyway.  If we could seek God's picture of ourselves as our goal in life, we could strive for the perfect love of God, others and self.  That's what God's greatest commandment is all about!  God loves us in spite of everything else.

But there are other unconditional things in God's Word.  God makes unconditional promises that reflect His nature of being a promise keeper.  Rich Mullins speaks of this when he writes ... "We should never doubt His promise ... He has written it across the sky."  God's rainbow is a reminder of God's ability to make and keep those unconditional promises.

Today, though, I want to reflect a moment on another unconditional thing that we resist in our daily walk.  That thing is change.  The theme of change permeates all of Scripture.  Abraham is comfortable and rich and God uproots him to make a long journey.  Moses is fat and happy in Midian and God sends him back to Egypt to make one of the greatest pilgrimages in human history.  Nicodemus is told he must be reborn to follow God.  The rich young ruler is told he must change to inherit God's Kingdom.  Paul is proud and righteous as a "pharisee of pharisees" and is knocked down into the dirt and told he must change directions (Acts 9).  Change is inexorably tied to the red thread of God's sacrifice as it runs through Scripture from start to finish.  So ... why are we so petrified by change?

I have a few theory on this.  Three words ... comfort, focus, fear.  These are three enemies of change.  They are enemies of God's desire to redeem us.  They keep us from living out the freedom of our repentance (that means to turn around and go a different way).

Comfort binds us to the things that make us feel good and give us a false peace.  Peter Senge writes that any organization not learning and changing is an organization that is dying.  This fact has been the reason for the demise of giant retail stores and little country churches.  It has brought down kings, princes and governments.  Senge believes that intentional-learning and planned-change keep our organizations vital and relevant.

Our focus will either allow change or prevent it.  Questions like "why are we here?" and "what are we to do?" are great questions.  If we believe we are right and others are wrong or if we believe our standard procedures aren't flawed then our focus will block positive change.  The Jewish church believed they were right, holy, righteous and that they had God figured out.  When Peter preached in Acts the Jews asked a great question ... "What are we to do?"  Peter responded "Repent and be baptized!"  There is that "change" word again ... go figure?

The last word is fear.  We resist change because we fear for our survival.  The rich young ruler feared he would lose his lifestyle.  His entire life would change.  Nicodemus feared the rebirth might cost him his position.  Randy fears that change will move me from a position of control to allowing God to be in full control.  And maybe that is the greatest fear we face.  What if God changes everything?  What is God doing here?  This morning Sally and I had a conversation (a very positive one) about Abbeville UMC.  We both reflected on "What if God is scattering the Church like He did in Acts?"  "What if that 'scattering' changes what we are doing, how we conduct worship and the face of our ministries?"  The answer is the one given by a pastor of a brand new state-of-the-art facility in his first message in the new building.  "If this building burns down tomorrow and that brings glory to God, then I am all into God's plan.  This is not our building or even our vision ... it all belongs to God and all we are must be fully devoted to Him."  That pastor said comfort, focus and fear must be subordinate to God ... the one who authors and perfects our faith (Hebrews 12).  Praise be to Him! Randy

Monday, July 10, 2017

Passionate Witnesses

Passion is compelling.  I can be interested in a subject because of the passion of the speaker.  I can be engaged in a discussion when the discussion is spirited.  I can be led to watch a sporting event when the players are excited about what they are doing.  Passion kicks up the level of interest in almost anything.

In Acts 8 Philip becomes part of the dispersion on the Church into the regions outside of Jerusalem.  Philip follows God's leading and goes to Samaria and men and women are healed and baptized.  The apostles John and Peter follow up with Philip and lay hands on the people and the Holy Spirit comes upon the people of Samaria.  Then Philip is told by the angel of the Lord to go to Gaza and Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who is seeking to worship God.  The eunuch is reading Isaiah.  Philip asks the eunuch "Do you understand what you are reading?"  Then Philip does three things which are essential to our passionate witness of Jesus.

First, Philip listens to God's leading as he "Goes down to Gaza ..."  Many of us feel the call and tug of God's Spirit but we fail to respond.  "Someone might hear us .... " or "I don't want to look like a Jesus-freak."  We miss the chance to be where God wants us so we miss the blessing of being in God's will.

Second, Philip listens to the eunuch's answer to his question.  One of my pet peeves regarding our Christian witness is we fail to listen when others speak.  We cut off the conversation with cliche' answers that have been programmed in us over the years.  Acts * says Philip went up and sat with the eunuch.  He stepped into the environment of the other person.  Maybe if our witness expressed caring for the other person, it would be more powerful.

Finally, Philip shares the Gospel.  He doesn't share his own opinion about God.  He doesn't allow the culture to water-down his response.  Acts 8 (KJV) said, "Philip opened his mouth ... and preached unto him Jesus.  That is the only valid message we have ... to preach Jesus.  Paul said he preached Christ and Christ crucified.  To Paul this is all we have to offer.  But it is sufficient, wonderful and worthy of telling.  The eunuch is baptized and becomes a believer.  When the eunuch returns home to Ethiopia he becomes part of the dispersion of the Church and God's Word is spread.

Listen to God's calling, listen to the other person's needs and passionately tell them how Jesus is the only answer they need.  God will bless our witness!  Randy

Monday, July 3, 2017


The Jewish church of Jesus' time had lost something.  They had grabbed on to the law, the legalism and the rules.  They were all about practices and structure.  They would have reveled in some of the things I hear all the time ... "the Lord helps those who help themselves" ... "those people have made their beds and now they must lie in them" ... "we should only help the repentant"  ... I could add more, but you get the point.  The Jewish church had their own economic subsystem going.  They would charge a good price for animals and goods "worthy" of being used as a sacrifice, robbing the people and establishing the church Jesus said was a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13).  Where had the heart for the people gone?  Where had they gone off the rails, forgetting that the law was given for the good of the people ... not the bondage of the people.  There was no compassion.

Jesus modeled compassion.  He had splagchnizomai for those He saw were hurting, lost or on the wrong path.  The word means to be moved in the inward parts.  Other definitions include a hurting in the gut.  Both indicate that Jesus had a physical reaction to those He saw hurting, hungry, thirsty or lost.  Jesus hurt with them!

Which of these examples must we follow?  The easiest is clear.  It is very easy to dismiss those in need and leave them to their own devices.  I hear a lot of that in conversations about politics and social issues.

I think Jesus would ask us to follow the hard way ... the way that gets our hands dirty and our wallets lighter.  I am thankful to be in a generous church that seems to be our communities catalyst for compassion.  I appreciate Backpacks for Friday, the Boys and Girls Club, the Abbeville Christian Benevolence Fund, the Thrift Store, Home Run Derby  and Celebrate Recovery, all modeling the Godly attribute of compassion.  Thank you for being that kind of people!  Randy

Monday, June 26, 2017

Admiration and Practice

Sacrifice and forgiveness are powerful things when mixed together.  I wonder why we have so much difficulty with both?

Here's my take on these two essential parts of our Christian walk.  There's a difference between admiring something and practicing it.  We admire sacrifice ... it is well-remembered during our patriotic celebrations.  Movies like Braveheart and The Patriot remind us that our freedoms are a very pricey commodity, bought at great cost.  Acts 7 reminds us that our freedom as Christians came at the cost of martyrs and heroes that stood tall in the face of death itself.  We admire sacrifice and consider it a virtue.  But when we come to the point of sacrifice, how do we react?  That reaction is the difference between being a fan of sacrifice and a player in the game of sacrifice.  William Wallace, Benjamin Martin (The Patriot) and Stephen, in Acts 7, were heroes ... Randy is a wimp.

And forgiveness??? ... it seems to be the same dynamic.  We marvel at how Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who was imprisoned for aiding Jews in WWII, forgave her captors who harmed her and her family.  In The Hiding Place she states, "there is no pit so deep that He (God) is not deeper still."  Her view of God and her faith in Christ got her past hate, fear, regret and revenge.  Her God was bigger than those things.  We admire her and we admire Stephen as he faces his accusers and follows his Master, forgiving them for actions that will bring about his death.  But when faced with the discomfort of interacting with someone who has wronged us or forgiving someone who has misused us, we let our pride overcome our actions.  Corrie ten Boom and Stephen are heroes ... Randy is a wimp.

Here is my choice.  I can keep worshiping a god who is unable to lead me into the fire of sacrifice and the humiliation of forgiveness.  I can keep following my god that tells me I cannot suppress my pride enough to sacrifice and forgive.  I can tell that god that he and I will be just fine being unforgiving of others and unforgiving (and guilt-ridden) of myself.  Or ... I can enter the freedom of life with a God that can follow me into any pit I or my world has created and lift me out, setting my feet on the solid ground of Christ.  My burden will be lifted and freedom, already bought by Jesus, will be claimed.  Randy

Monday, June 19, 2017

Salt and Slaw

Some of you know I like to cook.  It is just one of my things.  My dad taught me the love of cooking.  When I cook it is one of the ways I remember him.  One of dad's recipes that he passed down to me was cole slaw.

I like all kinds of cole slaw but my favorite is oil/vinegar-based cole slaw.  I love the tangy flavors all mixed together in what is culinarily defined as pickling.  I have some of that slaw in the fridge right now and it will not be there long!

One day I was enjoying some of my slaw and suddenly had a very salty taste in my mouth.  I had hit a little pocket of undissolved salt and it effectively ruined that bite of slaw.  Too much salt is not good in any recipe.  All you taste is salt and it fails to bring out the flavor it is made to enhance.

I believe this is why Jesus (Matthew 5:13) uses salt as a description of His people.  He tells them, "You are the salt of the earth!"  They exist to add flavor and to do what salt does best ... to enhance what is already there.  What a great analogy of the Church!  God has placed all kinds of people on this earth. They are His creations.  Our tendency is to find people like us and hang out with them, gathering a group that is homogeneous.  We get very comfortable and sometimes lethargic as we hang out with all the other "salt."  I think God doesn't like this dynamic.  He wants salt to be spread out and flavor the whole world.  So the Church, in Acts, is scattered.  God allows discomfort and hardship because God's goal is to see that salt spread out far and wide ... over the whole world.

I believe God is still doing this.  I see it in the good things happening at Abbeville UMC as we spread salt around the world ... at CR, on Wednesday night, at the Boys and Girls Club, through Backpacks for Friday, embedded in our apportioned giving, in Belize and into the very fabric of life all over the world.  We are called to be the salt of the earth.  We bring out the good taste (gifts, graces, goodness) in those people we touch with our lives and ministries.  And it tastes divine!  Randy

Monday, June 12, 2017

Byron and Bears

I went to high school with a guy named Byron Baily.  He was a really nice guy.  He was quiet.  He smiled a lot.  He didn't generate any unnecessary drama.  When I saw Byron on our football team I was surprised.  What position would this quiet, reserved and gently person play?  Middle linebacker!

I watched across the line as Byron smiled, trained and worked to become better.  When a receiver or runner went into the zone covered by Byron, watch out ... pain was on the way!  Byron was dangerous.  He hit like a truck.  He ran very fast.  He was one main reason our team only lost one game that year.

As I read Acts 5:17-26 I thought of Byron.  The Church was doing great things.  People were healed, the needy were cared for and the Word was preached.  The Church smiled a lot, and I believe God smiled along with it.  Who could have a problem with such gentle and nice people?  How about the Jews who didn't like the "People of the Way" (Christians) being the Church God envisioned (chosen people)?  How about the Romans who heard about a King and Lord who was not Caesar?  How about business people who lost profit when demon-possessed meal tickets were healed and no longer were the side-show that earned them money?  How about artisans who sold carved images of gods that were different than the God of the Christians?  To the Jews, the Romans, the business interests and the artisans, the Church was dangerous.  And so they were.

Acts, at this point, begins to tell the story of a scattered Church that becomes fragmented and threatened.  But like a bear when the cubs are threatened, the Church became something else.  It became dangerous.  Yes, dangerous to the powers-that-be.  But also dangerous to those who embrace it.  Because following Jesus and being the Church costs our connection to the world's way of doing life.  Life, liberty and freedom are always dangerous in a world that wants to direct us, control us and keep us penned-up.  But the Church is meant to live in the dangerous and unbound land where people are healed, truth is proclaimed, poor are fed, and love is lived.  AMEN!  Randy

Monday, June 5, 2017


Healing in the Scripture never ceases to amaze me with the depth and breadth of its meaning.  Jesus, as s man expects healing says "Your sins are forgiven." Job is healed in body, spirit and materially as all he has lost is restored.  But we, as the simple humans we are, seem to associate the healing (even in the Bible) with the person doing the healing (though God's word tells us otherwise).  So I prefer to think of Biblical healing as three things ... supernatural,  unidirectional and restorational.

In Acts Peter and Paul and the body of Christ (the Church) are involved in numerous healings.  some of these raise the dead. People are impressed as they always seem to be when they see 'signs and wonders.'  I have seen these in my day and we often walk away impressed but are soon puzzled when the next person we love dearly is not healed in the way we desire.  We are surely impressed, but we are quick to question God and even get angry and hurt.  We forget that part of God's supernatural nature includes our inability to understand Him.

We also forget healing happens to point in one direction.   Jesus said that direction was God.  The presence, caring, involvement and engagement of God in the world is shouted when these healings take place.  Paul and Peter talk of God's power.  Jesus said he healed a blind man so God's glory would be experienced by people.  Healing, like all miracles, points to God.

But healing also happens to bring restoration in the midst of human pain.  Rich Mullins says that we meet the real God in our frailty, our brokenness, our darkness and our exasperation.  He recounted that if God had not brought him to the edge he would have never seen or thought he needed God's restoration.  And, of course, that is a need we all have.

Thanks,  God, for your power, your direction, and your meeting us inside our brokenness.  For without that need we might never see you.  Randy


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

First Words

On July 20, 1969 some first human words were spoken on the moon.  You will find out the nature of those words on Sunday but rest assured in the vacuum, stillness and silence of that barren place, the "moon and stars" had heard other words.  What about when God spoke all things into existence? What about the oldest book of the Bible recounting God's word to Job, asking Job if he was present "as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:7)?"  Our foray into the unknown reaches of space are, Biblically, preceded by the God who was and is and is to come.  All that said, Buzz Aldrin's story is pretty moving ... I look forward to sharing it with you.

But Sunday we will also share some other first words.  They are the first words of the Church (the Ecclesia, the 'People of the Way').  Spirit-filled disciples leave the safety of their hideout and the Church of Acts goes out to preach the Gospel to all people in all languages.  Those first words were filled with God's power and overflowing with a grace that called unlearned, ill-equipped and error-prone disciples out into the dangerous waters of serving God.  The story still gives me goosebumps and sends excitement running through my veins.

As the past two weeks have progressed we have heard some first words here.  First words of new servants as they (God's new creations) came up out of the water, leaving the kingdom of this earth and entering the Kingdom of God.  First words of new members of the Church as the makeup of God's Holy People was forever altered because God added them to His Church.  And Sunday, as we share Holy Communion and, yet again, allow God to change us and move us closer to His place for us.  None of us should EVER be the same!

As I reflect upon the last few weeks I remember seeing the splendor of ornate and ultra-expensive churches/cathedrals in Europe.  It reminds me of the scene from the Raiders of the Lost Arc as the bad guy tries to pick out the cup of Jesus.  He chooses the expensively adorned cup and pays with his life for the bad choice.  The real cup of Jesus ends up being the plain cup ... the cup of a servant.

Our beginning to this summer has seen people from all walks of life sharing the Sacraments of the Church, sacred because of Jesus' presence.  We bring a message that doesn't need to be dressed-up.  The message we offer is plain, simple and comes in the words of a servant.  All of the other messages and other gods might look ornate, appealing, glamorous and powerful ... but they offer falseness and death.  But we carry, like the Church of Acts, the simple message of life that overruns language barriers, social classes, political borders and theological constructs.  "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39).  It is the message brought to us by one who became a servant so that we may have life. Randy