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