Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Groundhog Day or The Day of the Lord?

Most of us remember the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.  Murray's character wakes every morning to the same song, the same events and the same day.  The only difference is he realizes he is in some temporal loop where he is stuck.  While the movie is fictional I see people every day in that same temporal loop, stuck in the behaviors, the repeated mistakes and the feeling of being trapped.  With the coming of a New Year, would we rather stay stuck in our 'temporal loops' or could we hope/strive for something different?  The Bible has a few ideas to help us out.

God's Word reminds us to review.  Luke 14 tells us to 'count the cost' when we are building.  I believe we should count the cost both looking forward and backwards.  Look back at the past year.  What worked?  What didn't?  What did the decisions we made cost us in time, energy, resources and life?  Let's all honestly look at 2017 and how it unfolded.  What did it cost and was that cost worth it?  This is a great practice if you want your life to be ever-improving.

The Bible also tells us to remember.  In Deuteronomy 6 Israel is told to remember that when they enter the land they have been promised they will drink from cisterns they did not dig and enjoy vineyards they did not plant.  They are told to remember the God that was with them in all of those events ... the wins ... the loses ... the struggles ... the victories.  God provided for and sustained them in the past and that same God will provide for them and sustain them in the days to come.  This is both reassuring and important as you enter the 'new territory' of 2018.

Finally, we are told, in Joel 2, to "return to the Lord."  Joel's call for the people to return is is holistic for the nation of Israel.  Joel says that he days are past when "rending garments" is a proper response.  Rending our garments is an expression of grief and sorrow.  The time for this (for Joel's people and I think for our people) is past.  It is time for the rending of our hearts.  It is time to let God break our hearts and put them back together in a way that is healthy, holy and honest. 

Let's review our last year.  Let's remember God's provision.  Let's return to God with all of our heart.  Because this is how God's people will see new and better things in the year to come.  I think it is time to leave Groundhog Day and enter into the wonder of the "Great Day of the Lord!"  Randy

Sunday, December 17, 2017


When I was growing up we "down to the country" every other week.  For us, "down to the country" meant that we packed into our Ford, went east of Charlotte to Union County where my uncle Barron, Grandma Greene and many cousins lived on their farm.  There were pastures, fields, lakes, woods, Tarzan movies on TV and (one of my favorites) barns.  The barns had all sorts of cool tools, tractors and mangers full of hay for the animals.  The smells were earthy and stinky and we loved all the games played as we visited with family.

Most of us have grown up with the image of Jesus being born in a barn.  Historically, though, it seems most likely that Jesus was born in the part of a stone house where the family's animals were brought in for the night.  It could have been a one room house with a lowered section reserved for cows, donkeys or other livestock.  It most certainly would have shared the smells I experienced growing up with my cousins in Union county.  The grotto, house or stable (whatever floats your boat) would have been a very common place for peasant families.

Each year I renew my wondering about the "why" of a Holy God coming to this world as a peasant child in a manger.  I have three theories about this that I hope we can "chew" on (like those Union County cows chewing their cud).

First, God's power, might and authority cannot come by human means.  God doesn't need titles, degrees, stocks, bonds, royal pedigree or any of our human ways of deciding who has more power or clout.  Jesus has been given "all authority" by God the Father.  That trumps (no pun intended) any of our systems of establishing pecking order.

Second, God has a history of taking common things and making them extraordinary.  Jesus makes plain water into the very best wine.  God makes the "runt" of the lot the greatest king in the history of Israel.  God takes 300 soldiers and defeats a great army.  God takes a simple one room house with a built in stable and makes it the birthplace of the King of Kings.  Maybe THAT God can do something with you and I!

Finally ... God makes Himself totally accessible.  We talk of fairness, equality and a "level playing field."  That doesn't exist in our natural human world.  But it DOES exist in the symbol and reality of the manger.  Even the ne'er-do-well shepherds, who were looked down upon by most everyone, ran to see a royal baby who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  Even they could approach that place.  For Jesus is accessible to all. 

Come to the manger this week.  Leave your pride and prominence outside for when we come to the manger we come into the glory of a God who doesn't need our power, doesn't need our flashiness and doesn't need our social divisions.  In spite of our stinkiness, our filth and our unworthiness He "became human and made His home among us!"  Amazing love!  Randy

Monday, December 11, 2017


"John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:8-9).

That short passage says so much.  John's gospel tells of Jesus as "the light of the world" (John 8:12).  When Jesus makes this remark He is standing outside the temple and a huge menorah is lighting the front of the temple.  The people walked by and marveled, just as we drive by a beautiful Christmas light display.  They would have conversed about the beauty and majesty of the display.  Then this upstart itinerant preacher comes and says HE is the light of the world.  How audacious!  But John 1 says "He was the true light who gives light to everyone."  What does this mean to us during this Christmas season?

First, we need light.  There has been a rash of lights going out in the church.  We are replacing the lights with LED bulbs because they provide more light and use less energy.  When the lights were replaced in the Sanctuary we were all able to see the beautiful and complex woodwork on the ceiling.  That work was not done by amateur carpenters.  But the light also revealed that several stained-glass windows needed work, some of the paneling needed touch-up and other cosmetic dings had happened over the years.  I think we need light for both of those reasons.  To reveal the intricate beauty of every person and also to highlight the dings and dents needing work.  Isaiah reminded us that when Jesus came "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2).  

Second, we don't need "fake" light.  We need true light.  I used to do consulting work and I was told "if the client wants a green suit you turn on the green lights."  That saying spoke to our desire to have our ears tickled (" For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires" 2 Timothy 4:3).  We don't need a light that masks the truth.  We need a light that tells and draws out the truth ... even if the truth shows our dings and dents.

Finally, we must never forget that the light of Christ is a precious gift.  For the light of truth brings freedom.  So ... what does the light of truth tell us about our current situation?  I think it says we are "filled up" and busy with things that are primarily meaningless.  It says we would rather run from (and hide in the darkness from) our problems rather than face and overcome them (Lord, you know I have been there .. it doesn't work).  It says we allow our feelings to lead us into thoughts like "I am burnt out and need more rest" rather than "Wow, God is working in me and in what I am doing and I want more of that and less of me" (Lord forgive me when I was a whiner).  It says, "Let my past hurts keep dragging me down so that my present and future will be filled with an accumulation of those hurts, rather than the freedom of following God" (Lord, let me never again allow anger and loss rule my spirit).  I wonder ... has Jesus' light come to the places and people who worship in the heat, cold, danger and discomfort because they have decided that faith is all about God and not so much about me?  The light that gives hope, strength, direction, revelation and warmth has come into the world!  THAT light is here.  When David saw that light he said, "He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:1-3).  THAT is my Advent prayer for you today!  Randy

Monday, December 4, 2017


One of the great theological questions that the great Church (and non-church) thinkers have pondered is ... "Is God active in the world?"  David's cries to God asking, "where are you?" (Psalm 10) and "how long?" (Psalm 13).  Prayers to God during the great wars asking, "God ... if you are the Prince of Peace, where is that peace?"  Questions that flow from our situation right now as we see church shootings, racial unrest, crazy leaders with missiles and (not to be forgotten) our national government being far less than that expected for the greatest country in the world.  "Lord ... are you still there?"

Thankfully, God gives us three words (all affirmed in Scripture) to deal with this troubling question.  Those words are remember ... wait ... watch.

Remember ... something we find it hard to do but even our communion table shouts ... "Remember."  When we are struggling, remember that God has been there in our past struggles.  "O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home."  The song and the call to remember are both asking another question.  "Do we believe?"  Do we believe when the times are hard and the light seems pretty dim?  Do we think back on the mighty acts of God or do we sink into depression?  What is God like?  Is God a God who keeps His promises, upholds His people and leads us through those times when life is difficult?  Remember!

Wait ... another hard thing.  In the Christmas story we find it difficult to fathom that God's action was preceded by 400 years of silence.  That is way more than the United States of America has existed.  God sent prophets, exiled Israel, anointed kings and gave wise advice and the people failed to listen and follow.  I wonder if God said what my father used to say ... "Am I going to have to come down there?"  I guess the answer was yes.  But prior to that great story in Luke 2, God said, "Wait!"

Though the next word scares me a bit, I am definitely an action person.  Our Strategic Planning Team loves this word and we have been doers of the word (we hope).  But when God says, "Watch" we had better listen and expect something big.  "All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')"[Isaiah 7:14].  This is God saying, "Watch this!"  When a group of guys say, "Watch this," watch out!  But when God says, "Watch this" you had better lift your eyes! 

God sent the prophets to say "Watch this!"  Then, in the birth of Jesus God acted decisively.  He came down here.  He did what He said He would do.  He gave lift, light and love in a small package.  In a Lauren Daigle song we will do this Wednesday, she sings ... "Noel, Noel, Come and see what God has done!"  Sunday and every chance you get this Christmas season, come and see what God is doing.  For He is very active! Randy