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