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