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