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

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Biggest Chain

As  a pastor I have met many people with many issues and questions.  There are addictions, loss of loved ones, questions about the Bible, questions about the nature of God, denominational inquiries and a myriad of issues that come about every day.  But maybe the hardest and most universal issue is a chain that is very hard to break ... forgiveness.  Though we address this issue at every communion service and every time we say the Lord's Prayer people would rather do most anything than work to forgive.  And, in truth, forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks we will face as human beings.  I think three of the major reasons for our inability to forgive are these ... self-righteousness ... the clear guilt of the other person ... our unwillingness to accept God's Word as applied truth.

We don't like to view ourselves as self-righteous.  But a friend came up to me one day and said, "They will regret doing that to me!"  That little phrase is filled with the pious idea that harming ME is a great sin that deserves and even greater effort on my part to keep that injustice on the front burner.  It is a chain that consumes and holds us back.

Many of you are saying, "But that person is totally guilty of the injustice!"  Why do we equate guilt and forgiveness?  Don't we pray "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors?"  Please listen to what we are saying and praying.  Our debtors actually owe us something.  They are the guilty.  But the prayer says we also have debts.  We also are guilty.  Jesus modeled this kind of forgiveness on the cross as He forgave us in the depth of our guilt, betrayal and sin.  Forgiveness does not directly relate to the guilt of the other person.  It relates to our mindset, our attitude and our willingness to step into the likeness of Jesus where we are all called!

And finally that last one ... he/she is my enemy.  Matthew 5:44 says "love your enemies."  In His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that we are called to be different than the masses.  His implication is that everyone loves those that love them.  It is harder to love people that hate us, mean us harm and cause us grief.  Why are we supposed to love them?  The simple answer is that we say we are Christians.  The label means those that bear Christ.  If we are filled with Christ how can we not be filled with the one thing He died for ... "behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29)?"  It is a worthy question and one we must haggle with as we learn forgiveness.

There is a Jesus Culture song called "Break Every Chain."  The words say, "there is power, in the name of Jesus ... to break every chain, to break every chain, to break every chain."  Do we accept this as merely an unattainable ideal or as the truth of God to be applied to our lives?  It is a good and hard question!  Randy 

Monday, June 11, 2018


Proverbs 1:5 and Hebrews 12:5-6 are passages that remind us of the cumulative nature of learning.  I remember learning geometry and loving the logic and structure of this mathematical discipline.  In math teachers use building blocks to give you the tools to solve problems and to build a foundation for the next level of learning.  When you have mastered one discipline you have the tools to go forward with the next.  Without learning the discipline of each process, you get stuck and confused with the next level of learning. 
Dr. Seuss observed ... "It is better to know how to learn than to know."  In Dr. Seuss' view the process of learning (knowing how to learn) is the key to building worthwhile, usable and practical knowledge.

Proverbs 1:5 says the wise can become wiser because they are smart enough to receive guidance.  One time a woman wrote a letter to a Bishop from another conference.  The letter confronted that Bishop about something that had been allowed in violation of the United Methodist Discipline.  The Bishop responded to the woman by telling her how his level of learning, study and understanding was vastly superior to all of those who criticized him.  The haughty response reminded me that we, as lifelong learners, must be willing to learn from experiences, study and life.  When we reach that place where we cannot receive correction, discipline and criticism then we have ignored both the Proverb (1:5) and God's teaching about learning from our father in heaven.  Learning should never stop for the Christian!

I have made many mistakes in life and I am still making them.  Sometimes, when I am licking my wounds from a mistake, I reflect on my father's advice that would have kept me from making that mistake.  Were our earthly father's perfect?  No!  But we all have a heavenly father that disciplines us and corrects us.  That father IS perfect. He gives us advice and a loving discipline that will help us with the big and little issues we face in daily life.  These lessons sometimes challenge us, sometimes stress us and sometimes they even hurt.  But Hebrews 12 says ... "My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects."  We are sons and daughters of our Father and King!  God disciplines because God cares about His children!  THAT is great news!  Randy

Monday, June 4, 2018

So What?

I have encountered many people who seem to be living inside things that are past ... things that have victimized them ... things that (in the scheme of life) don't amount to anything.  For some reason we, as people, give power to things that have no power and fail to appropriate power form the sources available to us.  It is an enigma, especially for people who profess to be Christians.

At Annual Conference Bishop Swanson delivered our opening message on Revelation 21, reminding us that God said, "And the sea will be no more!"  John is in exile on a barren, small island called Patmos and his prison is surrounded by water.  In John's message of hope he reminds us we worship a God that will destroy the barriers between us and the places God will take us.  His visible, ever-present, oppressive barrier of a feared and stormy sea will be gone in an instant by the power and word of God.

What if we remembered that?  What if we understood God's desire for us to live as faithful people that know God's provision and power will deliver us from the things that life throws our way?  What if we believed this so strongly that we could see past the obstacles to the goodness and grace of a God that always keeps His promises?  What if we lived by faith ...not by sight?

Great questions ... for God will speak and the sea will be no more!  Randy