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