Monday, February 27, 2017

What Love Looks Like

"He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him" (Isaiah 53:2-3).

We learn from an early age the fairy tale look at love.  The couple running to each other through a meadow of wind-blown grain.  The beautiful young bride in a wedding dress.  The handsome young man in a dashing tux, complete with fashionable stubble and a confident smile.  That is what the world teaches us about love.

My pastoral experience with love is much more like the passage I shared above.  Jesus teaches us that the beauty of love isn't always pretty.  Most often Biblical love is not very pretty. The Isaiah 53 passage uses words like despised, forsaken, sorrow, unattractive and difficult to look at.  It is the face of a man who arrives just in time to stop a stoning of a young woman caught in adultery.  It is a blind man seeing light for the first time through a blurred slurry of spit and mud.  It is a nasty argument between Pharisees and Jesus as Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath.  It is a tired family that sits with a mother who has just passed away. It is a woman sitting beside her husband as she sees the effect of the chemotherapy on his body.  It is a grandparent struggling to lift the spirits of a son who has lost a child, all the while overcome with the grief of their loss.  It is the tiredness of a Celebrate Recovery team as they hear of the relapse of one of their "sheep."  It is a dying man on a cross saying "forgive them for they know not what they do."  Those faces of love are tired, drawn, doubtful and sometimes crestfallen.

But let's look at a different perspective.  The love in every situation I described above is stunning and beautiful to the forgiven woman, to the man with new sight, to the man healed on the Sabbath, to the family that sees past the struggle to eternal life for their mama, to the woman who knows God sits beside that bed with her, to the grandparent who knows the God who has also walked the road they are walking, to the CR team member who knows that God will never stop seeking that lost sheep and to all of us who see that cross as a "way out of no way" back to God.  THAT face is beautiful.  That face is the true face of love filled with struggle and eternal goodness.  Randy

Monday, February 20, 2017


The Urban Dictionary defines a teammate as "Somebody on the same team that, no matter what, won't quit on you, will always defend you in front of non-team members and is there for the team."  Do you get the other-focus of this definition?  A teammate won't quit on his/her other teammates.  A teammate defends other teammates. A teammate is there for the other members of the team.  I think Jesus would like this definition, because it presents teammates as humble, self-less and about the overall mission of the team.

I was watching the NBA All Star game (only for a few minutes).  The players there are all about entertainment, showing off their skills, being their own selves and hyping their brand.  It is a far cry from the game I played on dirt courts growing up in North Carolina.

I wonder what you want your teammates to look like?  Do you want the glitzy, showy teammate who shows up with amazing talent and almost super abilities when they are feeling good, but disappears into mediocrity when they "aren't feeling it?"  Do you want the teammate that gives 100% every day, always giving the team all they have?  That answer for me is easy.

Jesus calls His teammates "followers."  God's plan is their purpose and their mission.  Their mission is (according to Luke 9:57-62) ...
     1. Lonely - God's only Son had no place to lay His head.
     2. Costly - Following God will stress and challenge even our family relationships.
     3. Pointed - The message our team is all about is to tell people about God's kingdom.
     4. Committed - We are called to follow without looking back at what we've lost.
These are some of the costs of being on Jesus' team.

I want to be on Jesus' team.  Sometimes I wish I had more talent.  Sometimes I wish I was brilliant.  Sometimes I wish I was such a whirlwind of energy that all of you would look and be amazed.  But then I remember my heroes of the faith that often toiled in the lonely, costly, focused life of being totally committed to Jesus.  And I remember something profoundly Biblical.  We (Jesus' followers) don't function and serve in a world where we come at life, ministry and obstacles in our own power.  We are more like a little shepherd boy going against the Goliaths of the world who must pray every morning, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin but I come against you in the name of the Lord (1 Samuel 17:45)."  That is our team's strength and that is our team's power.  Will you be my teammate?  Randy

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Race

One time, during my high school career, I was running a cross-country race.  My strategy was to "lay back" and let the race "come to me."  I learned a couple of things about racing and running that day.

The first thing I learned is if you choose the "lay back" option you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable and embarrassing position.  About midway through the race I was feeling good.  I hadn't expended too much energy and was very comfortable physically.  I looked behind me to assess my position.  There was not one soul behind me.  I was dead last.  I was comfortable but losing the race

The second thing I learned is that it is painful, uncomfortable and a struggle to get back in the race.  That day I began passing people one by one.  My goal was broken into little sub-goals of just getting past that next person.  Each one was a struggle and painful, but I told myself I wasn't going to be last and I wasn't going to give up.  At the finish line I was trying to catch two people who were my next "goal" to pass.  I didn't quite catch them.  I finished in 3rd place, my best finish in a countywide race ever.

Today this memory came to mind for two reasons.  The first is personal to Abbeville United Methodist Church.  I am thankful for our "team" of many people who are willing to assess our place in the race and honestly set goals that will grow us spiritually, missionally and influentially.  Our 2020 Vision Team is working toward this and many of those receiving this blog will be asked to jump into the race and run.  I pray we will run with passion ans purpose, keeping our eyes on Jesus.

The second reason this memory entered my mind is the passage that was a favorite of Rheta Blalock, a faithful servant of Jesus Christ who has completed her race.  The Message has a great take on 2 Timothy 4:7-9a ... "I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.
Get here as fast as you can."   Rheta was eager to run the race with passion.  Eager to live live fully in the process of life's difficulties.  She was eager for the completion of God's plan and we, as fellow runners, have had the honor of sharing life, love, music and mission with Rheta and all of our fellow runners.  May we all be eager to get to the finish and get there as fast as we can, passing the obstacles one by one and rejoicing at the shouting as we get closer to the finish line!  Randy

Monday, February 6, 2017

Distance and Discipline

I think sometimes we want life and growth handed to us on a platter, perfectly ordered so we won't have to exert much effort.  I am that way sometimes and God has to remind me that growth, character and peace come at the expense of tears, toil, struggle and mistakes.  It is a difficult process for those of us expecting to get God's teaching the easy way.

When I was a boy my father taught me to start the lawnmower, how to be safe while mowing, the boundaries of the yard and his expectation that the yard would be well-mowed.  The first few times I mowed our grass it was far less than perfect.  I wanted to get the job over quickly. So I ran through the mowing process, missing spots and doing a poor job of edging.  When dad was sure I knew the right way to mow and was sure I was trying to get through the job the easy way I learned some other things.  I learned dad would punish me when I failed to respect and listen to his instruction.  I also learned dad was not going to stand over me and watch me mow.  He was off at work earning a living for the family and he had more to do than nursemaid me over something I should be able to do myself.  His distance was part of the lesson.

In Hebrews 12 the Word tells us about a God who disciplines His children.  Hebrews says God does this because 1) we are His children and God disciplines those He loves ... 2) we need to be taught and it is our nature to both need and desire (subconsciously) God's teaching and 3) we need to understand that the pain of the teaching process is temporary and the things learned from the teaching are valuable and permanent.

When my dad wasn't there to see my anger, my frustration and my feeling of injustice that I was being taught and disciplined I didn't like it.  It hurt and I said and thought some pretty bad things.  I have learned, in my older years, that these lessons have made me able to grow, made me able to learn new things, made me able to see pain for what it really is and made me more understanding of God's perspective.  It has also made me more sure than ever of God's love for me, often expressed in my perception of God's absence.  As I struggle and grow, I wonder if the God of compassion isn't just around the corner, encouraging me and maybe shedding tears for my struggle.  Randy