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