Monday, December 31, 2018


In watching football during bowl season I have observed that we, as a society, seem to value things that are (in the big picture) valueless.  I have spoken before about sports media, athletes and our young people believing that "swag" is a virtue.  Self-proclamation, self-praise and histrionics are all parts of swag.  It is interesting that several personality disorders and a high percentage of patients in mental institutions display histrionic personality disorder ... an excessive need for approval and attention.  The disorder is all about making oneself large, important, seductive, important and seen.

Enter Scripture.  Scripture calls for us to become small ... in fact, smallness seems to be a Biblical virtue and discipline.  John the Baptist said (in John 3) "He must become greater ... I must become less."  Jesus said (in Luke 22:26) "The one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest ... the leader like the servant."  John Maxwell points out that one of the common traits among the leaders of the biggest and most powerful corporations is the trait of humility.  Jesus even said of Himself (Matthew 11:29 "for I am meek and humble of heart."  There is no virtue of swag or self-importance.  There is humility.  Read the Beatitudes.  Read Philippians 2:8 ... "he humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminals death on a cross."  Ultimate humility!

So ... why is swag admired by the sports media?  Why is self-importance and self-praise viewed as a virtue?  Because something is wrong.  There is a disconnect!  We will (tonight) watch the pomp and glitz of New Years Eve celebrations.  Some of us will project ourselves into the New Year as bigger than life ... greater than our problems ... able to overcome our issues out of our will power and our might.  May I offer a suggestion?

There is a story about a young pastor who had come to a new church and was ready to come in, guns-blazing as he would wow, impress and blow-away the simple people at the church.  He went up to the podium that first Sunday proud, confident and full-of himself.  Things didn't go so well.  As little mistakes and a self-praising message didn't impress the people his confidence and countenance got further and further down.  He left the podium with his head low, his pride gone and his swag thrown down in the dirt.  An elderly lady sidled up to his and gave him some wise words ... "If you had gone up there like you came down, everything would have worked out fine."  She knew ... humility, not swag, is the virtue ... and the spiritual discipline.  Randy

Monday, December 24, 2018

Not a Discipline

This Christmas Eve I will be speaking about something angels say often in the Christmas story.  Four simple words are spoken. "Do not be afraid," the angel tells Joseph in Matthew 1.  "Do not be afraid," the angel tells Zechariah in Luke 1.  "Do not be afraid," the angel tells Mary in Luke 1.  "Do not be afraid," the angels tell the shepherds in Luke 2.  What do you think about these words?  Do you think they might be important?

Here's what I think.  We live in a world where we are afraid of the wrong things.  The Greek word for fear is "Phobos."  It is where we get the word phobia.  A phobia is a fear that is 1) irrationally powerful and 2) behavior-altering.  Jesus knew this when, after His resurrection, He tells Mary not to be afraid.  The angels of the Christmas story knew this as they try to get Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds to see what is actually going on. 

Two points about fear.  First, in the Christmas narrative God is moving and acting all around the players ... yet they fear.  When they fear they loose the awesomeness of what is happening and the beauty of what they are seeing and hearing.  They irrationally cower in fear rather than grasp the magnitude of God's mighty works.  When they listen to the words, "Do not be afraid," they return to the beautiful reality that God is doing something really good and really amazing!  Zechariah hears that he will have a son.  Mary hears that she is chosen by God.  Joseph hears that he is called to buck societal norms and take Mary for his wife.  The shepherds hear that a Savior is born and they actually get to visit baby Jesus!  When we allow God's action to dispel our fear, we see God's activity.  So ... do not be afraid and miss what God is doing!

Second, do not allow fear to alter your behavior away from God's calling.  I have seen fear keep people out of Church, out of ministry, out of fellowship with other believers and out of the will of God.  Fear allows us to demonize other people, imagine the worst about the Church and distance us from those who need us.

Never forget that Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds had a part in the greatest story ever told.  If they had allowed their fear to run the show, they would have missed the blessing, the risk, the danger, the joy and the reality of being in the center of God's plan.  I hope you realize that fear is not a spiritual discipline and that allowing fear to alter your behavior is not natural, healthy or good.  God wants better things for you!  Randy

Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Songs

If music were a subject for "Family Feud" and we made a list of the most prevalent theme of songs, love would be at the top of the list.  It was true before Jesus' time, it was true after Jesus was born and it is true today.  Love (in our simple and incomplete understanding) is a prominent reason for music of all types.  In April of 1742 the music of Fredrick Handel (Handel's Messiah originally meant for Easter) burst onto stage.  The Messiah has become a staple of the Christmas season and is a beautiful expression of the humility, love, majesty and ultimate victory of God over the kingdom of this world.  It ends with the words "Forever, Forever" sung about the persistent and permanent love of God that will draw us to a forever kingdom.

Luke 1 (we've spent lots of time there in the last few weeks) contains Mary's Song (the Magnificat) and Zechariah's Song both of which are expressions of awe at how much God loves us.  They are grateful that God has 1) kept His promises, 2) remembered and empowered the lowly and 3) sent us salvation in the person of Jesus.  They are love songs to God.  Handel agreed, and so many people crowded into the Musick Hall in Dublin that they begged women not to wear hoop skirts (the skirts took up too much space)!  Oh, if we were so inclined to make our worship times each week a priority in our lives!

I wonder ... are we still in love with God?  John Wesley recommended 3 simple rules for living life.  The first was to do no harm.  Just don't hurt other people or harm our world.  The second was to do good (I think he said, "Do all the good that you can.").  Then the third rule ... stay in love with God.  It is interesting that Jesus agrees with this rule ... "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind! (Luke 10:27)."

Are you so in love with God that you want to write Him a love song like Mary and Zechariah?  When Handel wrote the Messiah it is said he wrote feverishly from morning to evening for a solid month.  He wrote out of passion for God that he could only express in beautiful music.  People heard it.  They told their friends.  They came and heard.  And that musical composition is still a topic of conversation.  We still stand up when we hear the Hallelujah Chorus!  I hope we stand because we are in love with a God that was, is and is forever to be!  The God Mary said, "remembered His lowly servant."  The God Zechariah said would "shine on those living in darkness ... to guide our feet to a path of peace."  The God who Handel said (quoting Isaiah) "would level the mountains and raise up the valleys."  Maybe it is time for your expression of love too.  Our theme this Christmas has been "Noel, Noel, Come and see what God has done!"  Stay in love with the God that loves you more and better than anyone!  Show that love by your worship, your devotion, your witness and your priorities! AMEN!  Randy

Monday, December 10, 2018

Something to Talk About

How much of what we say is worth saying?  I sometimes keep the TV on sports when I am not actively watching anything.  The other day I decided to flip between channels to see which of the shows were the most interesting.  After looking at three channels that were talking about exactly the same thing and following the same politically-correct line of discussion I decided that neither had anything of value for me.  I turned off the TV and relished the silence.

In Chapter 1 of Luke there is an interesting story about John the Baptist.  Zechariah, John the Baptist's father and husband of Elizabeth, has prayed about Elizabeth's barrenness.  Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple and says, "Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will call him John."  Zechariah does what I think many would do when we hear that God does impossible things ... he questions God.  So Zechariah, along with the promised birth of a son, is given something else from the angel.  Zechariah becomes unable to speak until John is born.  On the 8th day after John the Baptist's birth John is taken to be circumcised.  Elizabeth is asked the child's name and she says, "John," but the priests know that no one in the family has this name, so they question the choice (after all. Elizabeth is a woman).  Zechariah asks for a tablet and writes down, "His name is John."  Immediately Zechariah's voice is restored and he can speak.  Many months of not being able to speak and what does he say?  The Bible says he begins praising God.

Zechariah's joy is evident.  He truly has something to talk about so he proclaims the second song from Luke 1.  Zechariah's song is about two things.  The first is direction.  Zechariah is joyful because his son will have a life filled with divine direction and purpose.  John will "be a prophet of the Most High."  John will go before Jesus to tell people of His coming.  John will proclaim that God's light has come, even in the midst of their darkness.  As we light the pink candle of joy (Advent Wreath) we remember that both hope and peace have been brought to us in the person of Jesus.  John will have clear marching orders to bring this message in a powerful way.  When John the Baptist preaches and baptizes the Bible says that "all of Jerusalem" went out to see him.  Jerusalem's population at that time was around 600,000 people.  Now that's bigger than an Alabama game!  I wonder how many would go out today?

The second message of Zechariah's song is about deliverance.  Zechariah is brought out of silence into the joy of knowing that his son will tell about the deliverance of Israel and all people from sin through his cousin, Jesus.  Zechariah sings, "He has come to His people and redeemed them" ... John will, "give his people the knowledge of salvation," and John will proclaim the "forgiveness of sins."  Zechariah sings that God has remembered His holy covenant sworn to Abraham.  And what did that covenant say? ... that "all the families on earth will be blessed through you (Abraham) [Genesis 12:3]."

Direction and deliverance ... wow, do we need those things now.  For we are like sheep without a shepherd.  We are beset with the wolves of fear, affluence, self, feelings-worship, entitlement, business, poor leaders and idols.  "Lord ... we need you now more than ever!  Set us on Your path of light.  Send us Your message of salvation in the person of that baby named Jesus.  Let us receive (not just talk about) God with us.  Let your joy fill us with praise.  For this Christmas we have something to talk about! AMEN!"  Randy

Monday, December 3, 2018

I Don't Understand

OK ... this might be the busiest time of the year for a pastor.  This week there are at least 3 music practices, 2 concerts (The Camarada on Tuesday and the Sandy/Andy Christmas Concert Thursday), a Salvation Celebration (Wednesday at 7pm), a Christmas Parade (Monday), a presentation at the Chamber Luncheon (Thursday) and all sorts of unknown happenings including visits, prayers and calls.  Those do not include extricating the tree from the parsonage, an annual doctor visit and normal weekly activities.  Many of you share a similarly crazy schedule.  It is not easy to find peace, quiet time and the time to breathe and reflect.

In Chapter 1 of Luke Mary is experiencing life-altering events and every reason to think chaos has made its way into her life.  She has heard from Gabriel and has submitted her life to the will and work of God.  It should be a crazy and scary time for her.  But Mary does something that I should do when I have weeks like these.  Mary stops to do maybe the most important thing she will do in her upside-down world.  She takes time to lift up and praise the God she loves!

The Magnificat is Mary's song of praise that is contained in verses 47-55 of Luke Chapter 1.  It is beautiful.  It is praise.  It is peace in the midst of storms.  The word (Magnificat) means "My soul magnifies the Lord!"  Mary is bursting with praise, adoration and a sense of peace with her God.  Reading her song of praise brings me peace too!

Mary says God's greatness and power is expressed in at least 3 ways.  Those three ways are all about the kingdom of God that operates in the midst (and in spite of) the kingdom of this world.  First, God's power is personal.  Mary realizes God is great enough to become small and enter our individual lives.  "He took notice of this lowly servant girl" she sings.  "He has done great things for me."  I fail miserably to express and recognize the great things God does that effect me every day!  God's greatness should always be personal to me.

Second, God's greatness is panoramic.  It includes everyone and everything.  God hasn't forgotten to keep promises He has made since time began.  "He shows mercy from generation to generation."  "He made this promise (Jesus) to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever."  The coming of Jesus, according to Mary, is God keeping the beautiful and panoramic promise made to all people ... a covenant that has spanned all time.  "The earth is filled with the knowledge and the glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14)."  God is panoramic.

Finally, God is paradoxical.  This season is an expression of this truth.  God doesn't select the royal, the rich, the 'righteous' (religious leadership), the popular or the powerful.  He is the God who "sent the rich away with empty hands," "scattered the proud and haughty ones, "exalted the humble."  God selects and sends those who fail at the standard of the world's kingdom.  For God's kingdom is different.

As I read Mary's beautiful song I remember that I can live in God's kingdom.  I can have peace in my chaos.  I can have light in darkness.  Because I have a God that is personal, panoramic and paradoxical ... the Prince of Peace!  Randy

Monday, November 26, 2018

Supernatural Hope

Luke 1:30 has always been puzzling to me.  The words are pretty straightforward.  "But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid!  You have found favor with God.'"  But the context in which she hears these words is not peaceful, good or even joyful.  Mary lives in an occupied nation ... she is given disturbing news ... she is afraid.  Yet, the message of the angel Gabriel is clear ... "You have found favor with God."  

When we are tired from preparing the meal at CR, weary from taking food to a grieving family, sweating after working to clear trees brought down by the storm, inundated by calls for assistance, turned-on by friends you have helped (all recent actual conditions of doing work in ministry) ... when you are in a nation where Christians and even the name "Christmas" are by-words for all the wrong things ... when you see hostility, disunity and you get the feeling that evil is winning over good ... the angel still says ... "You have found favor with God."  We look past what we see to a supernatural realm of hope from God because His plan always works!

Are you into a supernatural God?  Do you sift God's activity through your mindset of logic?  Do you miss the awesome settling for the normal?  Or, do you have a supernatural hope that God's actions and plans are really big?

Mary ponders and then accepts the hope the angel gives her.  She sees the normal, the obvious and the situational context of her life ... and then she dreams.  Those dreams make their way into a beautiful song expressing the greatness and supernatural hope of a God who has big plans!  "My soul glorifies the Lord and my heart rejoices in the Lord my savior!" (Luke 1:46).  Mary is through with the normal, mundane and the possible ... she is ready to jump into the impossible, the glorious, and the plans of a mighty God!  Are you?  Randy

Monday, November 19, 2018

Who We Are

In the sometimes bewildering events of each week it is easy to be drawn into the negative.  Fires, violence, wars, rumors of wars, disunity with our elected leadership (I could go on) all draw us into a negative mindset that is dark and defeating.   Isaiah had similar things happening in his world around 700 B.C.  His book of prophesy, telling us what the Lord said, is very specific about one thing ... who we are.

Most of us read Scripture to find a verse of help through our daily journey.  But we often forget that one purpose of the Bible is to give us a clear picture of who we are and our interaction with a holy God.  Here are Isaiah's words from 9:2 ... "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness a light will shine."  These words describe the people of Isaiah's time as they wait to see if Assyria's Tiglath-Pileser will become powerful enough to invade.  And these words describe us as we watch our world and wonder what will come of us.

Here is the wisdom and hope of Isaiah's words.  We do walk in darkness, mostly by choice.  We allow the negative events and nasty politics to occupy our thoughts and conversations.  We submit to the darkness of "affluenza" as we buy into the consumer mentality.  We allow prejudice to cloud our view of others, seeing ourselves as better.  We also live in a land of deep darkness, mostly by geography.  Much that happens in our land is beyond our control.  This is who we are when we allow the negative to lead us.  We raise our noses above the water as we swim through the rivers of circumstance and wonder, "What do we do?"  Glad you asked!

Isaiah reminds us to not be brought down by our choices or our circumstances.  He encourages us to open our eyes and see the great light we have been given by the advent and presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  That wonderful choice is before us right now!  And when we see this light we are given a new view of our surroundings.  We are able to see paths that are good.  We can see and follow those paths that move toward God who has revealed them in His Word.  There is an old Petra song that says, "there is a road that leads to life, the few that find it never die."  The song describes the road as a rocky struggle at times, just like the road God has laid out for us.  But His road leads us out of darkness, out of the land of deep darkness and toward the light that illumines, reveals, warms and heals.  For unto those who are His a light has come ... and that light is Jesus ... the way, the truth and the life.  Randy

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slow, See, Sense

These are three things I have to make myself do.  They are hard for me at times.  They require intentionality.  They require effort.  But they are vital to the spiritual life.

I find it difficult to slow down.  I am either going full steam or I am asleep.  There is very little in between.  Luke 5:16 says "Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness to pray."  I believe this is an example to us.

First, this spiritual practice should happen often.  Most of us would think that Jesus would be "doing ministry" 24/7.  We have trouble thinking of this practice as action-oriented.  But here it is ... Jesus 'often' withdrew and prayed.  I wonder if this time was devoted to just telling God the Father what He wanted?  Or, maybe, Jesus was onto something deeper.  Maybe He spent this time of slowing down to listen to the Father ... see clearly and reflectively what was happening around Him ... sensing His situation.

Second, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness.  Isn't the wilderness a place of lostness?  Isn't a wilderness a place where you are deprived of comfort?  Isn't a wilderness a place we avoid?  Not Jesus.  I wonder if He did this to place Himself intentionally in a state/place of need for God?  I wonder if this wasn't intentional discomfort so that He could see and feel the things that were really important?

Finally, Jesus was in a state and posture of prayer.  Martin Luther said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than than to be alive without breathing."  I believe prayer, for Jesus, was breathing in God the Father ... taking in the refreshment, guidance, goodness, provision and power of God.  In it's most basic sense, prayer is all about us telling God we need Him and love Him.

I hope you will stop, look and listen today.  Stop running ... look to God ... listen to what He says.  Jesus gave us the model ... we should follow our leader.  Randy

Monday, November 5, 2018

Party On!

I don't know if you have ever studied the festivals of the Jewish faith.  I had friends in Florida who gave far too much relevance to them and they were under the impression that Jesus would somehow reinstate the old Jewish system when He was in charge.  While I would never go close to that far, there is a part of the festival mentality that I would love to see us retain/address.  That is the idea of "party."

The Jews never needed much reason to party.  If you read the stories in Scripture you will see a multitude of festivals intertwining the Gospels.  The same is true in the Old Testament.  And we all remember the return of the prodigal son when the father did what was natural in the Jewish culture ... he threw a party!

John Ortburg's book,  The Life You Always Wanted , describes both Spiritual Disciplines and how those disciplines manifest themselves in abundant life for Christians.  Over the past 2 weeks we have talked about starting the journey to spiritual discipline and realizing that our journey may make us look peculiar to everyone else.  This week we will address a spiritual discipline that I have not been very good at celebrating.  That is the discipline of celebration.

In The Message Philippians 4:4-5 says, "Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!" Paul is both right and asking us to do something very healthy to our faith, our attitudes and our lives.  He says to revel in God ... be immersed in Him ... dive into life with Him ... take God in completely!

When I read Paul's words here I think about our plans for the Christmas season.  We will have a tree-lighting party on November 28th ... mark the date and come to the party!  We will have several community music events including special musicians at AUMC and our own Cantata on December 2nd (11am) ... please make plans to come party!  On December the 5th (our last Wednesday night meal and Bible Study for 2018) we will have a Christmas party to celebrate the Salvation brought to each of us by Jesus Christ.  On Christmas Eve (December 24th) we will enjoy both come-and-go Communion and a Candlelight Communion Service.  It will be a beautiful party all about the birth of our Savior!

I hope you will embrace the attitude of celebration and the altitude of joy.  For joy lifts us above our cares and worries and allows us to have perspective about life (James 1:2-3).  Joy gives us strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! And joy brings hope in times when hope is needed and scarce (Romans 15:13).  And joy is a party, holy to our Lord (Isaiah 12:6).  Party on!  Randy

Monday, October 29, 2018


1 Peter 2:9 says "but you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (KJV)."  There is a lot said in those few verses.  But the word I will hang on today is "peculiar."

When we use this word I think it has a negative connotation.  If I am 'peculiar' there is something not quite right with me.  If I have 'peculiar' mannerisms you might look at me sideways or avoid me altogether.  So ... why does God seem to like this designation?  "you are a ... peculiar people." 

Maybe the answer to the above question is simple.  This passage is reflective on many descriptions of God's people in the Old Testament.  God reminds the people they are not called to conform to society ... they are called to be different from their neighbors.  Because of 'peculiar' dietary laws followed by the Hebrews, they lived longer and more healthy lives than their pagan neighbors.  The neighbors thought this was odd but they probably longed for what they saw as the blessing of long life.  In fact, this was exactly what God said would happen when they obeyed Him, stating "if you love and obey the Lord you will live long in the land (Deuteronomy 30:20)."  But even more vital God tells the Hebrew people that their peculiarity will not just bless them but it will spread out to bless the whole world.  So ... our peculiar nature is so we can become a blessing to the world ... a high calling indeed!

But this passage describes another calling.  It is a calling of gratitude.  It is a calling of enlightened realization.  It is a calling of greatest blessing.  It is a command to realize who and what we are by worshiping the God who is worthy of all praises!  The NRSV (1 Peter 2:9) says it this way ... we are all these things "in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who has called you out of darkness into His glorious light!"  We are peculiar because we have changed addresses.  We no longer have to live in the dark.  We no longer function in what Anthony Evans calls "the economy of the world."  We are not slaves ... and we are not in bondage to the whims of the world.  We live in the light of God's grace and truth!  Psalm 27 said ... "The Lord is my light and salvation ... what shall I fear?"  Fearless people filled with light are strange, weird and peculiar.  I want to be one of those people!  Randy

Monday, October 22, 2018


John Ortberg's book The Life You've Always Wanted is a great start to something we all need ... resetting, rethinking, reexamining and renewing.  These are things that God's Word draws us to magnetically.  Every mistake is a teaching moment.  Every victory is a lesson in seeing God's hand in the triumph.  Ortberg rightfully points out that spiritual disciplines are paths to the vast universe of good things God is doing and will do in our lives.  These 'rules of life' allow us to become the living trees that bear the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).  So ... how do we start?

I believe we start by a means of sorting the things that are worthwhile and the things that should be a lesser priority in our lives.  I like the way The Message states Mark 8:35-36.  "Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself ... your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you ... the real you?  What could you ever trade your soul for?"  That passage is a great starting point for sorting out the things in life that are healthy and unhealthy.  I think on this passage often, especially when I am confused by my reactions, my intentions and my inclinations.  It is a resetting, rethinking, reexamining and renewing passage because it gets me off my stuff and onto God's stuff (always a healthy thing).  It starts my day in a good direction.

There is a theme in this passage.  It is the theme of asking yourself what God wants.  It is all about trusting God's purpose of leading you a life that would bring out your true self and your true design.  In the song So Will I  one of the lines says "If creation still obeys You, so will I."  I sing the lyrics and forget that obedience.  Because obeying God is beginning a new life of following His order, not mine.  Obeying God's plan means learning to see and follow Him.  Obeying God's plan means seeing past discomfort and my feelings so I can see His greater and more perfect purpose.  Obeying God's plan means I see the snare and trap described in Mark 8:35-36.  That snare is 'want' ... a little word among other words.  Some versions say 'gain the whole world.'  But it means the same thing ... that I can't begin living the life I always wanted until I allow God's 'wants' to trump 'my wants.'  Because direction is important.  There is a huge tree down across the back yard of the parsonage.  It is exactly parallel to the house.  The tree fell in a SSE direction.  If the tree had fallen directly south it would have fallen on the back of the house where Lee was sleeping (or trying to sleep) during Michael's pass through Abbeville.  Direction made a huge difference for us, but that difference is magnified in life.  Every time I read Mark 8 I am reminded that the beautiful fruit of life ... the good things God plans for me ... are bound up in words that Jesus used often ... "Follow me!"  Not tradition.  Not what makes me feel good.  Not what gets me excited and riled-up.  Not eloquent speeches.  Not my political party.  To start my journey with Jesus I must examine my own motives, alter my errant direction, follow my Savior and put aside my wants in favor of God's wants.  It will be a great place to start.  Randy

Monday, October 15, 2018

Six Things About Storms

I hope this blog finds all of you in a time of getting things sorted out after the storm called Michael.  Michael was a tangible, touchable and evident storm that is now embedded in our memory and in our history.  People will talk about Michael and where they were, what they were doing and how they coped.  For some it will be about the near miss.  For some it will be about how they survived.  For some it will be about the hard work in the aftermath.  Almost all of us will quickly place Michael in our past and move forward.  It is clear Michael has passed and we are all glad!

Isaiah has a great passage about the storms of life.  It is verses 43:1-3a.  Here is what it says.  "listen to the Lord who created you!  O Israel, the one who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name and you are mine.  When you go through deep waters I will be with you.  When you go through the rivers of difficulty you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression you will not be burned up ... the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."  WOW ... lots said!

Now ... six things about storms:

1. God says ... don't be afraid.  And He tells us why.  We are ransomed, purchased ... the Bible would say 'redeemed.'  We are a possession named by God Himself.  And God cares about His treasured possession, the people who are His!

2. We will go through deep water.  The verse says 'when you go.'  This and several following passages remind us that the condition of life includes those floods that come our way.

3. We will have difficulty.  I hope you know and realize this.  God promises the ability for us to have peace in all circumstances but He does not promise peaceful circumstances.

4. We will experience the fire of oppression.  Again, 'when' is used.  We cannot expect a life without oppression and if we follow Jesus.  John 15:20 says, "Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you."

5.  God is our God.  In Leviticus 26:12 God says "I will walk among you.  I will be your God and you will be My people."  The Hebrew word used for 'walk' only refers to human perambulation.  God is saying that He will walk among us as a person.  Jesus did just that!

6. God is our Savior.  God is the only thing/person/entity that will be our salvation when the storms come.  Paul said it perfectly in Romans 8:38-39.  "I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love.  No power int he sky above or in the earth below, indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love if God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

An that's the truth!  Randy

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ob Portu

Since all of our thoughts this week are on the Gulf, storms, tides, wind, etc. I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a water/ocean-related topic in my blog.  The words that come to mind are "Ob Portu" which is a derivative of the Latin phrase "ob portum veniens" which means "coming toward a port."  In the old days ships didn't have powerful motors that would plow through the tides and the overwhelming weight of moving water.  So they had to wait outside the harbor until the tide was favorable to move the ship to port.  So the phrase Ob Portu comes to mind.

You might notice the words Ob Portu have a resemblance to another word we use all the time.  That word, opportunity, actually comes from this old phrase.  And it makes perfect sense.  The ship waits for what Webster's Dictionary calls "a favorable juncture of circumstances" to move into the port and do whatever business is at hand.  We (people) do that too!

Sunday I shared from Isaiah 43.  God's Word said, "For I am about to do something new!"  See ... I have already begun!  Do you not see it? (Isaiah 43:19)"  Yes!!! Opportunity!

We grasp opportunity when we are watching the tide and being aware that it is moving toward the harbor.  We grasp opportunity when we 1) see what God has begun, 2) participate (jump into) in God's good work and 3) realize that when God is moving it is time for us to move.

The book of Hebrews has a warning for our propensity to procrastinate.  The writer says, "TODAY when you hear His voice, don't harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled! (Hebrews 3:7)"  That is good advice.  Because Ob Portu is the tide of God bringing us into port.  The writer of Hebrews correctly calls those times when we miss the opportunity to follow God rebellion ... a hardening of our heart.

Seven weeks of testimony about serving God through missions has been laid out before us.  My friend John Riley talks about a "Jesus Movement" that is our chance to jump into God's work and catch that ship into the port God has planned for us.  These are opportunities to catch the tide that God, through the prophet Isaiah, said is a new thing God is doing!  Do you not see?  It has begun and I am hoping to come into port with all of the flock here at Abbeville UMC fully-engaged and fully on-board.  It is our Ob Portu!  Randy 

Ob Portu

Since all of our thoughts this week are on the Gulf, storms, tides, wind, etc. I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a water/ocean-related topic in my blog.  The words that come to mind are "Ob Portu" which is a derivative of the Latin phrase "ob portum veniens" which means "coming toward a port."  In the old days ships didn't have powerful motors that would plow through the tides and the overwhelming weight of moving water.  So they had to wait outside the harbor until the tide was favorable to move the ship to port.  So the phrase Ob Portu comes to mind.

You might notice the words Ob Portu have a resemblance to another word we use all the time.  That word, opportunity, actually comes from this old phrase.  And it makes perfect sense.  The ship waits for what Webster's Dictionary calls "a favorable juncture of circumstances" to move into the port and do whatever business is at hand.  We (people) do that too!

Sunday I shared from Isaiah 43.  God's Word said, "For I am about to do something new!"  See ... I have already begun!  Do you not see it? (Isaiah 43:19)"  Yes!!! Opportunity!

We grasp opportunity when we are watching the tide and being aware that it is moving toward the harbor.  We grasp opportunity when we 1) see what God has begun, 2) participate (jump into) in God's good work and 3) realize that when God is moving it is time for us to move.

The book of Hebrews has a warning for our propensity to procrastinate.  The writer says, "TODAY when you hear His voice, don't harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled! (Hebrews 3:7)"  That is good advice.  Because Ob Portu is the tide of God bringing us into port.  The writer of Hebrews correctly calls those times when we miss the opportunity to follow God rebellion ... a hardening of our heart.

Seven weeks of testimony about serving God through missions has been laid out before us.  My friend John Riley talks about a "Jesus Movement" that is our chance to jump into God's work and catch that ship into the port God has planned for us.  These are opportunities to catch the tide that God, through the prophet Isaiah, said is a new thing God is doing!  Do you not see?  It has begun and I am hoping to come into port with all of the flock here at Abbeville UMC fully-engaged and fully on-board.  It is our Ob Portu!  Randy 

Monday, October 1, 2018


That is how I feel today!  Proud to be part of this little church in Abbeville, Alabama that shares God's message to diverse people in diverse ways using diverse gifts.  Yes ... proud!

I am proud of you because you have embraced this "Missions Month" with passion and purpose.  Proverbs 19:17 talks about how we become blessed by God when we are willing to look outward to help others.  "Mercy to the needy is a loan to God and God pays back those loans in full."  While I hope none of us does what we do because we "get" from God, it is comforting to know that helping the poor is something important to God ... and that should be enough to motivate us.

Sunday was a blessing to me for several reasons.  First, it was a reminder that in the midst of many moving parts we can focus on the real moving that is important ... the moving of God's Spirit.  From a profession of faith in Jesus to Skip and David kneeling at the altar I could barely hold it together.  God's Spirit was moving in a mighty way.  The Praise Team sang, "O Come to the Altar" and God led many there.   We came "leaving behind regrets and mistakes" to claim the salvation, substance and purpose of God.  I was blown away!

I was also blessed as 20 of us attended the Bishop's Town Hall meeting.  While we did not get the total assurance we would have liked about what the future holds, we did get a reminder of what was expressed on Sunday morning.  In ministry God sends us out to express His healing, His love, His truth and His grace to a world that is filled with hurt, hate, lies and injustice.  The Church is a way we bring Jesus into that world.  We do it by expressing the truth of the Gospel.  We do it by standing with our brothers and sisters who face illness and infirmity.  We do it when we bring love in the face of hate.  We do it when we oppose injustice.  We tell sinners that they are not made to be slaves of their sins and sinfulness and that they are made to be children of a God who wants every one of them to know Him and His salvation.  We have a message and a mission.  And that message and mission is expressed loudly when we say yes to God in missions that invite others to know Jesus.

I am proud to serve a church that "gets" it!  It is not about our feelings or us.  It is about what God is doing.  This Sunday we will highlight the last of the 7 missions we are showcasing during Missions Month.  We will share the cup and the bread as we share the Eucharist with people all around the world.  We will do what "Eucharist" means ... give thanks.  And I will give thanks for you!  Randy

Monday, September 24, 2018

Overcoming the Pit

When I read Psalm 40 I am reminded of those times when I get stuck in the pits of living.  Pits can happen lots of ways.  I can fall into a pit of bad choices.  I can be pushed into the pit by other people who wish me ill.  I can fall into the pit because of the infirmity that comes from living in a fallen world.  Satan can entice me into the pit.  There are lots of pits and lots of dangers in living life.  The old song "A Mighty Fortress" reminds us that the world is filled with devils.  So ... what to do?

I can think of three quick responses.  The Psalmist in Psalm 40 says one thing right off the bat ... "I waited patiently for the Lord (Ps. 40:1)."  My nature is to fix things.  I am not stellar at the patience thing and I try to be a "doer" when I should be patient and watch for what God is doing.  David said to wait with patience 'for the Lord.'  Not for a quick fix.  Not for a popular or trendy solution.  Not for my best thinking or my wits to figure out my situation.  For the LORD!  God's solution and plan is always the best for me.  Step 1 in Celebrate Recovery is "we admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and that our lives had become unmanageable."  I am not the solution to getting out of the pit!

The second response is to realize who is the solution.  I know I cannot solve these problems and issues.  I am not the solution to getting out of the pit.  But God is!  "He lifted me out of the pit and set my feet on solid ground (Ps. 40:2)." Step 3 (CR) is "I made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of God."  When each of us became a Christian we should have prayed a prayer.  If we didn't we should revisit our faith and pray that prayer now.  "Jesus ... come into my heart and my life.  I know I am a sinner and I believe with my heart that Jesus, God's Son, is my source of forgiveness and salvation.  Jesus ... take my life and make it what you want.  Take my will and mold it to yours.  Take my heart and change it to your perfect plan.  Send your Spirit to counsel and guide me to your place."

Now for the third thing!  We appropriate and apply what we have realized and confessed.  Yes we are not the solution.  Yes Jesus IS the solution.  But now comes the work of applying the things we have learned.  God has lifted us out of the pit.  Now we must walk (with God's help) into the life He will make for us.  "He has given us a new song to sing.  Many will see what He has done and be amazed (Ps. 40:3)."  God's presence in out life is manifested in fruit and power that molds our everyday life and changes lots of things.

In Kentucky I met a man who had been in the church for all of his life.  He was a 70+ year-old Kentucky basketball fan and the SPRC Chair of the little church I served.  He went to ALL of the home games and many of the away games.  He was rabid for the Kentucky Wildcats!  One day he came to me after I preached about priorities.  He said, "I have been placing basketball in the wrong place on my priority list.  I give money, time and energy to basketball that belongs to God.  I will never again let a basketball game get in the way of my church and my relationship with Jesus."  Two years later I preached his funeral and got to tell this story of being changed by God.  He had been singing a new song praising the Lord and many heard his story and were amazed at the change.  And I believe God smiled and said, "Well done my good and faithful servant."  Randy

Monday, September 17, 2018


Last week was the anniversary of 9/11.  Every time that date rolls around I remember the exact place I was when I heard the news.  I was driving on the South Circle near the Montgomery Mall heading to work at Asbury UMC on Narrow Lane Rd. in Montgomery.  While I was driving people were perishing, including over 400 (estimates vary) first-responders.  These brave men and women ran into the fray and the danger to help others.  THAT is a very Jesus-like thing to do!

Jesus was always facing danger, opposition and push-back from the very people He was trying to help.  In Matthew 8 we find Jesus in the land of the Gadarenes where He encounters two demon possessed men.  We expect the demons to oppose Jesus since they work for the other team.  But that is not the only opposition Jesus faces.  He faces the unbelief of doubters, the fear of people unwilling to even go near the demon-possessed man and some skeptical disciples who are in the background.  After Jesus heals the men by casting out the demons He finds a new kind of opposition.  The opposition of people whose economic interests have been harmed by Jesus' healing.  When our following of Jesus costs us our livelihood we must make a decision ... do we embrace Jesus or send Him away?

Before you tell me this story is just one of the old stories from Scripture, let's play it forward.  On our trip to Costa Rica I came to realize that story might just play out in real (and modern) life.  If the Radical Life Church and ministry achieves its mission and causes people to leave drugs, prostitution and the sex-trade, some very dangerous people might lose lots of money.  If the politicians of the local area near Jaco decide to follow Jesus, they might rise up against the drug lords and the gangs that permeate the local political scene.  Things might get dangerous.  All of these people must make choices.  But those who are oppressed by drugs, violence, corruption and the sex-trade need people who will give the hope, rescue, support and (most important) the Jesus who is their salvation.

Jesus is always opposed.  People who follow Jesus are opposed.  But we, as followers of Christ, are called to do what the 9/11 first-responders did ... go into the fray, the danger and the heart of opposition.  Because people need Christ.  And HE is our mission!  Randy

Monday, September 10, 2018

To Heart

When we use the term "take it to heart" we mean to take it seriously.  I wonder sometimes if we take what we read in Scripture seriously.  I taught a Bible study once.  A guy, we'll call him Dwayne, came to the first few sessions.  After that he stopped coming.  I asked him why.  Dwayne said, "I thought we were going to discuss the Scripture and all the possible meanings.  I didn't think we would be spending all our time on application!"  And while it is valid to talk about God's Word (what better is their to talk about?)  I think Dwayne summed-up a general misuse of Scripture I have seen in many places.  When I brought up Scripture at a group discussion at Annual Conference I got a similar response from the group.  "We want to talk about our opinions ... social issues ... what the Conference is doing.  Why do you want to muddle things up with Scripture?"  So it is sometimes ... unless we want to take Scripture "to heart."

When I read Mark 6:37 my experiences (above) come to mind.  Jesus is talking to disciples who have been listening to His teaching but are watching their watches.  "Jesus ... it's getting late.  Pronounce the benediction and send all these folks off so they can get some food."  Jesus has a great response ... "Jesus said, 'You do it. Fix supper for them.' They replied, 'Are you serious? You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?'”  I love it!  "Jesus ... we are your entourage ... your posse ... your homies!  We didn't come to cook, prepare food or really apply those great words you are preaching!  We just want to feel good about being here immersed in our 'mountaintop experience.'"  Jesus said ... "You feed them."

In Florida a single mother heard those words and "took them to heart."  Now her ministry, Food for Thought, serves 32 schools in Walton and Okaloosa Counties, providing backpacks for 3,000 students each week.  She wasn't just there to hear an uplifting message.  She fed them, and still does!

This week we will hear from another couple who heard and applied God's Word.  Bob and Melba Lisenby are the primary leaders for our local, ecumenical food ministry called BFF (Backpacks for Friday).  Sunday they will tell us what they are up to.  They didn't just come to church to get a weekly dose of a 'mountaintop experience.'  They make a difference feeding 100 kids who arrive at school on Monday morning nourished and alert to learn.  When people ask why they might quote Mark 6:37.  Or they might quote The Message version of James 2:14-17 "Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?"  That is good stuff to talk, walk and live!  Randy

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Jesus in Us

Do you notice sometimes how we express a quote we like yet we don't really believe it?  I was thinking about a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that says, "Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words."  We love that quote ... or do we?

The St. Francis quote is a good one.  It clearly articulates how our lives should express our faith and our love for Jesus.  But there are many who think that our only proclamation should be through preaching or 'lessons.'  So ... where does the Bible stand on this?

I love the way Paul articulates this as his people and his life are challenged by the difficulties of everyday life.  "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)"  Paul nailed it here!  Life happens to us but our faith is expressed in how we respond and how Jesus is reflected out to the world!  We are to reflect our Lord, especially in times of trial!

So the next time you hear this St. Francis quote, you might ask the person who says it, "Do you really believe that?"  For if you believe it ... if you buy the message of 2 Cor. 4 ... if you hear the call to reflect "our Lord" from 2 Cor. 3 ... then you might make the leap to missions.  Why do we participate in all of these missions we are highlighting?  How do we send out the Gospel message?  Does every mission do this in exactly the same way?  To Red Bird we send clothing, furniture and delivery people who joyfully take thousands of pounds of goods to people who see our love and, hopefully, receive the Gospel message.  To Belize we send money and shoe boxes and, sometimes, people ... the Lord is reflected.  To the Boys and Girls Club we send people like Maribeth, Tim, Isabel, Cleta, Neandra, Ginger and Cher.  Jesus is both sent and proclaimed in those people as they interact with kids who need structure, help and love.  Through Bob and Melba we send food.  Through Benevolence we send help at times where resources are scarce.  Through CR we send hope and we name the 'higher power (Jesus)' who is the source of help, hope and salvation.  To Costa Rica we send work and relationship, though we didn't lead a single worship service.  Why do we do these things?

Because "we all share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be seen (possibly without words) in us" in how we do life.  Now that is a witness I can share!  Randy

Monday, August 27, 2018


The parable of the Sower comes to my mind often.  The parable is more complex than we often think as it reflects both present and end-times teachings.  But I want to make it pretty simple today.  I believe the two words that best represent the parable are the Sower and Fruit.

The first, the Sower, is all about the nature of God.  The Sower (God) is all about sowing seed.  It is His nature.  He sows glimmers of His Kingdom.  He sows the dreams that old men will dream (Joel 2:28).  He sows the visions that young men see (Joel 2:28).  He sows His Spirit into the world filled with people He loves.  He gives us seeds of hope and wholeness in a world that tries to destroy both.  And sometimes WE are the seeds.

That is so evident in the missions of Abbeville UMC.  We go out into all types of soil.  Some people listen.  Some people ignore us.  I think some people even think we are misguided by the emphasis we place on giving, going and doing.  But I believe our missional focus is the lifeblood of our church because it involves us being immersed in the work of Jesus.  We are part of the sowing that is God's nature!

But there is a 2nd part of this parable ... fruit.  God doesn't sow without expectation.  His desire is for the seed to bear fruit.  And it can bear fruit anywhere!  There is an Old Testament parable of an eagle and a cedar sprig.  The eagle (representing Jesus) plants a cedar sprig (representing rebellious Israel) in a very unlikely place ... high on a lofty mountain.  Because God is in the sowing and planting of this sprig, it grows ... and oh, how it grows!  It becomes a place where "birds of every kind find shelter in its branches!"  The Sower is using us to sow.  We plant Christ in the work of our missions.  We are sown into the soil of many places.  This coming Sunday we will find out about what God is doing in His garden in Belize ... a garden in which He has sown us as seed.  I think you will find that lives are being changed ... God's Word is going out, and we know God's Word will not fail to produce His desired purpose.  Much fruit is being produced in Belize because of our/your obedience.  And I believe the Sower is honored.  Randy

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


It's preseason football in the NFL and we are reaching the last few days before the college football season begins.  Many in the south (and really the entire nation) are hyped-up and excited.  Coaches, coordinators and personnel specialists have been evaluating film, watching preseason games and scrutinizing practice sessions.  They are looking for those players that have reached the very highest competence levels for their respective positions.  They all want to put the very best team on the field.

If this is true in football, do you think it might be true for something much more important?  Do you think God evaluates His team and knows who has reached the highest levels of proficiency for His purposes?  Do you think Jesus sends out (and calls out) those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to bear fruit for His plan and kingdom?  I sure do!

Sunday begins Missions Month.  We will have a weekly testimony from seven of our missions teams. That testimony will, hopefully, give you a glimpse of the work of God happening in our midst.  Through our missions people are clothed, fed, visited, equipped, nourished, healed and (especially) loved.  I am excited to hear about God's work here at Abbeville UMC.

This Sunday our Benevolence mission will be highlighted.  This includes the Abbeville Christian Benevolence Fund (Calvary, 1st Baptist, AUMC and other congregations give to this), our food pantry and other budgetary line items.  During each year over $22,000 flows to these special community needs with funds from AUMC coming from the regular budget ($2,500), the Missions Auction, the Race to Be Fed (between $3,500-4,000 each year) and gifts from individuals in our congregation (including gifts at 5th Sunday gatherings).  While all of these giving options might seem a bit disjointed this is probably the largest single amount given to local missions in the Abbeville community.  This happens through hard work of those involved and your gifts that happen almost unconsciously.

In Matthew 25 the people being sent off to eternal life with Jesus ask, "Then the righteous ones will apply ... 'When did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will say, "When you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"  (Matthew 25:37-40). 

They didn't realize what they were doing.  They gave, served, visited, helped, healed and loved with unconscious-competence.  As our football culture, meaningless in eternal context, seeks players who are so good at their positions they can perform without thinking (unconsciously-competent), maybe we should invest ourselves in becoming unconsciously-competent servants of our King!  Randy

Monday, August 13, 2018

Really Good!

I am going to ask you to do something today.  It won't come natural.  It won't be status quo.  It won't be upheld by the powers that be.  It won't be affirmed by talk radio, the news media or even our political leaders.  In fact, what I am asking you to do will be opposed by all of these things.  But ... let's do it anyway!

"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious ... the best, not the worst ... the beautiful, not the ugly ... things to praise, not to curse.  Put into practice the things you have learned from me, what you heard, saw and realized.  Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies. (Phil.4:8-9, The Message)"

This is Paul's advice to the people of Philippi.  And it is good advice for us.  Most of us dwell on things that could be summed up as "our troubles."  Yes, there is evil.  Yes, there are things every day that rail against good and against our best interests.  And both the facade of evil and the mirage of good dell in our imaginations ... not so much in reality.  Simone Weil said, "Imaginary evil is romantic and varied ... real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren and boring.  Imaginary good is boring ... real good is new, marvelous and intoxicating."

So today, let's follow God's word as recommended by Paul.  Let's stop dwelling in both imagined and real evil.  Let's see the good things God has for us today.

Yesterday morning we had a packing party to feed our BFF (Backpacks for Friday) kids.  At least 30 of you pitched in and, in the midst of what the pessimistic observer might have viewed as organized-chaos, 400 bags were packed to feed 100 kids for an entire month of weekends.  Those kids will come to school on Mondays with energy, alertness and the ability to focus on learning.  We will refine the process over the next few months and the packing will become easier.  But your participation, prayers and giving to BFF fall into the categories of true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious.  Yesterday brought out our best, our beautiful and our praiseworthy.  We put into practice God's word and God's plan.  And I believe we were in harmony with God's excellent plan.  Let's do it again today!  Randy

Monday, August 6, 2018

Practiced Jesus

Doctors, dentists and lawyers are said to "practice" their trades.  When we follow a certain faith we are said to be a practitioner of that faith.  But what does this mean? I wonder if it means we apply our trade, faith and belief in the world in which we live?
When Solomon penned Ecclesiastes he was bewildered at how people practiced life.  He saw inequity, randomness, and "nothing new under the sun" (sameness in life).  Some think Solomon suffered from depression.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote about this attitude of futility as he tried to parody Ecclesiastes saying, "when I was older, I opened my eyes and beheld reality, at which I began to laugh, and since then, I have not stopped laughing. I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood, and that its goal was to attain a high position; that love’s rich dream was marriage with an heiress; that friendship’s blessing was help in financial difficulties; that wisdom was what the majority assumed it to be; that enthusiasm consisted in making a speech; that it was courage to risk the loss of ten dollars; that kindness consisted in saying, “You are welcome,” at the dinner table; that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.”  Kierkegaard saw that if were spiritually lax,  our ambitions, our practice of our faith and our mission in life might to be boiled-down to what Solomon called "chasing after the wind."  So ... here's my question.  How do we jump into life with wildness, freedom, purpose, passion and meaning?  How do we make our days "under the sun" count?
I think Solomon, Kierkegaard and Pastor Randy would agree on this.  Why just simply talk about Jesus ... why not practice Jesus?  C. S. Lewis called this being in rhythm with God.  To Lewis this happened when we properly balanced change and permanence.  
God demands and loves change.  Change is a requirement to even be in the faith conversation.  New creations must leave old creations.  Change is a constant event and should be a constant striving of every follower of Jesus.  He (Jesus) is constantly calling us to change and Satan is constantly telling us to remain in the stasis of stagnation.  I think this is why Biblical prophecy and the Revelation use the word 'new' so often.
Yet, God is a constant in the midst of struggle, hurt, change and life.  Lewis said that the ebb and flow of the changing seasons of life shout of the constancy of God in every circumstance.  I think this is why Moses, in his last address to the Hebrew people, said, "the Lord IS your life."
Over the next several weeks we will hear a lot about how we can practice Jesus in missions.  John Wesley might have said that these weeks will offer a chance to be immersed in the grace of God, since serving is one of the means by which God sends His grace to us.  It will be our chance to hear/touch/feel the rhythm of "Practiced Jesus."  We will hear and touch it this coming Sunday when, between services (at 10 am), we will have a "Packing Party!"  Bob and Melba Lisenby will bring items to be placed into Backpacks for Friday (BFF).  Every person will get a chance to be part of packing backpacks (under Bob and Melba's direction).  We will do this once a month and we will become a practicing part of this mission.  Beginning August 26th we will hear testimony about many of the missions supported by Abbeville UMC.  This will happen each week till a grand finale on October 7th.  Make a special attempt to be here each week and practice your following of Jesus by jumping in wherever and whenever you can! Randy

Monday, July 30, 2018


Over the last week we did a lot of driving.  It is amazing the level of congestion on the interstates and other roads I traveled.  I was pleasantly surprised and glad that coming from Charlotte to Abbeville on Saturday we only had 3 brief traffic jams.  Everyone is going somewhere, everyone seems to be in a hurry and everyone seems a bit impatient.  As I observed all of this I wondered ... "Do all these people truly have a destination that is good?"

I ask this question for a reason.  It is interesting how many of our current health/safety problems relate to behaviors that are lifestyle-related and discretionary.  Lung issues, heart issues, STDs, AIDS, alcohol-related issues, texting-related auto accidents, opioids, stress, food addictions ... I could list these for a long time.  But you get the point.  These are not good or healthy destinations.  It is like many of us are searching for something to cling to, and often we grab onto the wrong things.  In Matthew 9:36 it says, "When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Two points regarding these observations.  First, to begin the process of healing and wholeness, there is something we must do.  That thing is turn.  I missed my exit from Hwy. 74 in Charlotte and had to reset my navigation and turn.  My first action was the realize I was not going in the right direction.  One recovering alcoholic said to me, "While I was falling I didn't realize there was a problem.  But when I hit hard on the 'bottom of the barrel' it woke me up."  We need to wake up, take a deep breath and turn away from the precipice that we are rapidly approaching.

But that's only half the issue.  What good is it to turn when you still don't know where you are going?  In Acts 3:19 Peter has just given God the glory for healing a lame man.  The man, lame from birth, was brought daily to the temple gate where he begged for sustenance.  Did Peter say, "Dude ... you should go to the other gate ... those people are wealthy and you will get more money!" No!  Peter, through God's power told the man to get up and walk.  Then he said some very specific and directional things to all who would listen ... "Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.  Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and He will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah."  1) Turn from your sins, 2) Turn to God, 3) You need your sins wiped away, 4) You will be refreshed, 5) Your refreshment will happen because of God's presence, 6) God will send you Jesus, 7) Jesus IS your savior.

Turn away from the things destroying you.  Turn to God who will refresh and heal you.  Jesus is your savior and He will come to you and walk with you and open your eyes to a better view of yourself, your environment and your destination.  You will still be a sheep, but you will have the Great Shepherd to guide you.  That'll preach!  Randy

Monday, July 23, 2018

Something's Wrong!

In a world where all of us have anxiety about the happenings around us, it is not a stretch to assume we are saying "something is wrong!"  Whether you are concerned about presidential politics, the widespread epidemic of cancer, the opioid crisis or racial tensions, it seems that something is out-of-whack.  I remember one of Gary Larson's Far Side comics where the doughnut shop owner is in a quandary.  He is telling his assistant (the 500 lb guy sweeping the floor) "Well shoot!  I just can't figure it out?  I'm moving over 500 doughnuts a day and I'm just squeaking by!"  Someone is eating our joy, our patience, our peace and our doughnuts!  What to do?

Thomas Merton said, "And to try to be happy by being admired by men, or loved by women, or warm with liquor, full of lust, or getting possessions and treasures, that turns you away, soon, from the love of God; then men, women, and drink and lust and greed take precedence over God; and they darken His light. . . . And then we are unhappy and afraid and angry and fierce, and impatient, and cannot pray, and cannot sit still. That is the bitter yoke of sin; and for this we leave the mild and easy yoke of Christ."  Merton is saying that our first problem is our propensity to sin.  Paul said, in Romans 3:23, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  The first someone eating up our joy in life is us!  Our choices, our schemes, our fallenness, our motives, our following of our feelings, and our addictions are all the first problem we face when we walk out of the door each morning.  One of Philip Yancey's friends put it this way ... "Will God forgive me for what I am about to do?"  His friend was walking straight into the joyless and insatiable grip of sin.  THAT, is our first problem.  Jesus' advice is simple ... "Come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)."

But there is another consumer of our joy ... a very active, present and persistent evil that leads others to take actions that might hurt me.  John Wesley said there was evil with intent to harm both in the person of Satan and in our corporate schemes that cause grief and pain.  Job says Satan "goes to and fro upon the earth walking up and down (Job 2:2)."  Job implies and active and prowling evil presence.  But corporate evil is real and pervasive.  Whether it is a North Korean government that runs headlong to build its military while people starve, whether it is financial institutions that make loans that require "no income and no job" (part of the real estate crisis of 15 years ago),  whether it is a church leader who tells an associate pastor "you need a better car to project the image of affluence," or whether it is a corporation that sends asbestos roofing to 3rd world countries because "they" do not have consumer protection laws, corporate evil is alive and well. 

In the face of these two evils and in the face of the infirmity (storm, disease, accidents) we face in a fallen world, Romans presents the unlikely life of Abraham.  Abraham has faith that God will keep His promise and he becomes a great nation, though the journey from Ur to Canaan is long, dangerous and filled with pitfalls (including his own bad choices).  In the song from 12 Strong (It Goes On by Zac Brown) Brown writes "I don't make promises I don't keep."  Unfortunately people DO make those promises.  But God does not.  Abraham doesn't ever see the end of his blessing (Jesus, who becomes a blessing to the whole world) but he has faith and a sure hope that God will bring things around to their rightful place.  Yes we will have burdens ... but Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:29)."  Let's claim that promise in the midst of a world that would eat up our joy, peace and patience! Randy

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Abraham Maslow (1943) posed a very famous theory of human motivation that contained a heirarchy of needs.  Maslow said that we tried to meet our physical needs (food, water, air, health), our security needs (shelter,safety, stability), our social needs (being loved, belonging, inclusion), our ego needs (power, influence, recognition, prestige) before we were motivated to meet the need of self-actualization (beauty, creativity).  Maslow's theory is required reading for the social sciences and for those pursuing higher education in many fields.

I have another theory about needs.  I believe God created us with desires, needs and instincts that are tied to the physical.  But I think there are other more powerful needs that relate to a statement from Ecclesiastes.  In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon writes "and God has placed eternity in our hearts."  I think this is related to how we were created.  God breathed life and spirit into us and placed in people something of the divine that longs for things beyond the physical.  Every society (even people who are dealing with infirmity and physical/mental limitations) seeks the spiritual.

Our problem is we try to fill our lives with the physical that we can see, touch, feel and manipulate.  All the while, I think God is pointing out the beauty, grace and wonder around us every day.  I wonder if we are getting more and more imbalanced in pursuing the physical world?

I ride my bicycle often.  When I ride on my indoor bike I don't really worry too much about being balanced because it would be difficult (though not impossible) to fall off.  My indoor bike is safe, effective,climate-controlled and I can watch TV when I ride there.  When I ride outside I must be more attuned to my surroundings.  I have to watch for cars.  I must keep tabs on the weather.  I can't be distracted by my devices.  And I must make sure I keep my weight balanced, for if I do not, I will fall.  And these days, I don't heal quite as fast from those events where "the road rises to meet me."

Maybe we can take this analogy into our daily life.  I think God wants me to be much more focused on the spiritual world.  Our society pushes us to the material and physical.  Catch this new show.  Watch this sporting event.  Check on your Facebook page and see if your are getting enough "likes."  Ride inside where it is safe and climate-controlled.  God is telling us, "come out of that world."  See the beauty of nature.  See the people around you.  Go to the Food Giant and experience the good and bad of interacting with your neighbors.  Jump into life instead of asking God to give you a safe, secure, antiseptic setting that will always be protected but dull.  Get your life into balance and you might just find life abundant!

Monday, July 9, 2018


In his book Rumors, Philip Yancey makes a wonderful observation about people.  He states that we (humans) are really amphibians.  In nature amphibians are creatures that live their lives in 2 realms.  part of their life is spent breathing through gills in water.  During the adult part of their lives they breathe air into their lungs.  Yancey's comment poses that we live our lives in both the physical and spiritual realms.  In one realm we are physical beings.  In the other we are spiritual beings.

The Bible is rife with references to these two realms.  Elisha's servant believed all was lost as he and Elisha were about to be attacked by an enemy (1 Kings 17:2).  The servant was living in the physical real.  He only believed the things he saw with his eyes.  Elisha prayed to God asking that the servants eyes would be opened so that he could see the provision of God.  God said "yes" and the servant saw "chariots of fire" surrounding them and the enemy (yes, it is where the movie title came from).  The lesson?  Elisha's reaction to the enemy and the impossible situation was to pray and ask God to do His thing!  Maybe if we prayed for God's will and jumped into that will, we could follow God out of the oppressive and impossible situations in which we find ourselves.  God's help is already available and there.  So ask God to let you see the spiritual realm.  For seeing with the eyes of the Spirit reveals the true reality of life.

Another story finds Elijah holed-up in a cave, hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19).  Elijah sees the impossible task of escape and the obvious (to him) reality that he is alone in his work of being God's prophet.  God sends him out to the cave entrance.  God shows Elijah a fire, a whirlwind and an earthquake.  God is not in any of them.  Then God sends a gentle whisper and God is inside the whisper.  God reminds Elijah that He has all of this under control.  Elijah is not alone.  There are others who are "zealous for the Lord."  At the beginning of this cave story God asks Elijah "What are you doing here?"  I think this is one of the lessons from this passage.  The question can be read, "What are YOU doing here?" "Elijah, YOU don't belong in a cave filled with fear, doubt and uncertainty!  You will find me out there in the danger and beauty of doing my will."  The question could also be, "What are you doing HERE ?"  "Elijah ... you are here in the physical realm.  Don't you know I have created you to live, love, work and see in the spiritual realm!?  You are an amphibian, spending too much time worrying about your physical needs.  Get up, get out and get to work!"

We (people) worship the physical.  We adore beautiful people.  We love things that feed our physical needs.  We marvel at those who can deliver words that are filled with passion, yet we fail to parse what those words are saying (because we focus on the physical).  We love beautiful music that moves us, and I believe God-inspired music does speak to our spirit, but lots of music isn't God inspired.  We revere royalty, rock stars, athletes who can jump high and run fast, actors and political figures.  We are caught in the physical realm and we cannot seem to get out.  God is asking, "What are you doing HERE?!"  In God's question is the call to get up, get out and jump into God's realm.  You will find the Spirit in worship of God, fellowship with other believers, connecting with God through the means of grace (prayer, communion, service, giving, focusing on others), being in dangerous places where God is working, experiencing the discomfort of the people God sends your way, making hard decisions that your family won't like and praying for God to let you see beyond the physical realm.  Out there you will see (if you look) a whole realm filled with God-stuff, beauty and chariots of fire.  So, what are you doing HERE?  Randy

Monday, July 2, 2018

I'm Sorry

There is a seldom-used virtue in Scripture and in the reality of life.  It is the virtue of responsibility.  You haven't seen it often because most bad actions in today's world are the result of other factors.  "My environment caused it."  "They made me do it."  "They did it so I can do it too."  "I was drinking."  "The dog ate my homework, power bill, house payment bill, appointment book, etc."  In an excuse-rich society I want to take a moment to say "I'm sorry!"

To quote Dr. Seuss "I have puzzled and puzzled 'till my puzzler was sore.'"  Why are there so many things in societal behavior that are so wrong, so 'off-the-track' and so anti-Bible?  I have decided that I will begin to accept responsibility for some of these by saying some specific "I'm sorrys."  I will be speaking to younger generations, which seems to be almost everyone anymore.  Here goes.

I'm sorry for not telling you that your specialness isn't because you are inherently good.  The Bible says our hearts are naturally deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and that all of us (Romans 3:23) have succumbed to our fallen nature.  Your specialness and my specialness and the specialness of those kids we have told they are 'princes' and 'princesses' is because they were 'fearfully and wonderfully made' (Ps. 139) by a God that imparts His image (Genesis 1) into our lowly selves.  Our spark of the Divine is because of the love, goodness and gift of God.  We neither deserve it nor adequately acknowledge it.  Let's stop feeding our kids, grand kids and great grand kids the idea that they are somehow worthy of royal treatment.  I wonder if this colossal error is part of why we have so much anxiety, depression and other mental disorders that arise when kids (and adults) find that their behavior (they know their own thoughts and motives) fails to ascend the false pedestal on which we have placed them.

I'm sorry for failing to lead you to God.  I have used sermons, Bible lessons and scolding to tell you the words of the faith.  Then, I have set my personal priorities which I am quick to say belong to me.  I forget one vital thing ... you are watching.  So when I have a chance to prioritize God first with money, time, talent and action, I have a propensity to 'walk on the other side of the road' (Luke 10:31).  My righteous words have too-often been followed by self-centered actions.  You see it when I spend time, money and my precious right to vote.  And I rationalize my behavior by absolving myself from the responsibility to follow my holy talk by sacrificial action.  I have placed my needs above the needs of God, speaking volumes by my actions. I am sorry!

Finally, I am sorry for showing you that we should be guided by feelings.  A person, in rationalizing their behavior, told me we should follow our feelings implying that feelings come from God and who we are.  Then I remembered a story from Scripture.  Jesus is alone in the wilderness (Matthew 4), hungry, thirsty and seemingly powerless.  Satan sees his opportunity and plays games with the feelings we all have as humans.  "Jesus, don't you feel hungry?  Why don't You turn these stones to bread?"  "Jesus, don't you feel alone and unwanted?  Why don't you test God by casting yourself off a precipice?"  "Jesus, don't you feel powerless and out of control?  I can help you GET the power you deserve."  Satan is always reminding us of our feelings and how we deserve to respond to them.  I'm sorry I have empowered and encouraged this in my kids and grand kids.

In the song "Watercolor Ponies" Wayne Watson reminds us that leading our children is not for the squeamish ... "Seems an endless mound of laundry, and a stairway laced with toys, gives a blow by blow reminder of the war, that we fight for their well-being, for their greater understanding, to impart a holy reverence for the Lord."  We are in the war and in the wilderness.  We are buffeted on every side by an enemy whose greatest tool (I believe) is to suggest that we follow feelings, personal priorities and entitlements toward a very self-focused world.  It is a war that can only be won by following the one who has preceded us in this wilderness.  He knows the enemy.  He knows us.  He knows our tendency toward self.  And He tells us (and shows us) the way forward and out of the wilderness.  I don't know who you will follow, but I will try to lead my family to follow the Lord!  And Lord, I will try to do this in a way that will not cause me to say, 'I'm sorry!"  Randy

Monday, June 25, 2018


In our world of internet, ordering anything (groceries, clothing, cars) with a click on a touch-screen and news traveling the world in seconds,  I have the sense that some of us are frustrated.  We aren't totally frustrated with computers and devices (I use mine every hour, including to write this blog).  We even tolerate the internet, though we see its many dangers and snares.  But I wonder if our frustration relates to the feeling that, in the midst of changes that rush past at the speed of digital communications, something has been lost.  One of those things might be our heirlooms.

The dictionary defines heirloom as "a valuable object that has belonged to a family."  On this coming Sunday, just before the 4th of July (our country's birthday) I want to reflect on this definition.  

First, heirlooms are valuable.  Many of you have voiced your frustration that our country's heritage isn't viewed as either valuable or necessary.  The struggles of striving for freedom and the growing pains of a country that has moved forward in fits of ineptitude mixed with moments of unimaginable heroism are the bookends that have formed us.  And we must revisit those, mull over the good and the bad and learn from those harrowing times.  Then, remember that history is a great teacher but a terrible home.  We can't live there (we can't find the living among the dead [Luke 24:5])!

Second, heirlooms are valuable things that are corporately owned.  In our nation and in our Church, we possess lessons, states-people, events, infamous personalities and heroes that brought us here.  As humans and Americans we all 'possess' these heirlooms (whether we want them or not).  Our corporate DNA includes Billy the Kid, William Whipple, Willie Nelson, Billy Graham and Billy Carter (all 'famous' Williams).  Whether they were good or bad (or totally unknown) does not matter.  They are in the air we breathe, the dirt beneath our feet and our corporate consciousness.  We own 9-11, 3 Mile Island, the Vietnam War, Roe v Wade, Gettysburg and even the highs and lows of a small town called Abbeville.  It is all a bit like what an old pastor said about Jesus ... "you can't wash Him off your hands, you can't get Him out of your mind, you can't wear Him off."  We own, as our heirlooms, all of these things and people.  Acts 4:32-33 shows the Church owning and sharing it all ... including the glory of the resurrection and the betrayal of the grave.

But we must be careful!  In the Bible, Ezekiel was told to eat a scroll containing God's Word for the people.  It was sweet in his mouth but became sour in his stomach.  It is a reminder that truth has a sweet and sour element.  Our society has a propensity to purge, forget or rail against past people and events that are distasteful or disagreeable.  History books are rewritten with the "correct" history based on editing by politically-correct writers.  Church doctrine is rewritten based on the context of society rather than on the truth of the Gospel.  Older people are dismissed as being outdated and irrelevant.  And we forget and lose something of who and what we are.  Because when we flippantly throw away our heirlooms, we rip the very fabric of who we are as a nation and as a Church.

John Legend writes a love song called "All of Me."  There is a line in the song that expresses his love for "all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections."  Maybe this is how we should look at the journey from there (July 4th for America, Pentecost for the Church) to here.  Maybe it is wisdom to accept, reflect upon and treasure the bumps, bruises, victories and failures that we have encountered along the way.  Maybe, without the highs and lows, we will lose our way and have no heirlooms upon which to base our perspective or build our future!  Randy