Monday, January 28, 2019


OK ... I am seeing some pretty disturbing things happening all around us.  I can't help but mention them.  Some of you will think these things might be negative.  Some of you will disagree.  Some will think I (we) are not doing enough.  Some will think these thoughts are political.  Some will ignore this post.  Some will read and forget the post.  Some (I hope lots) will pray for guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit as we enter times Paul told Timothy "For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching ... they will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)"  We are there!

Two things (at least) need to be said or shouted at these times.  First, at the beginning of Black History Month, I wonder if we are progressing or digressing?  In an age where Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of people being judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin, I see (all over the places I travel) a reversion to the 'good old boy' system.  In the 60's, when I grew up, this system was well-established.  The basic idea of this system was to hire/promote/value those people who looked like me, thought like me and hung out with me.  It is loosely described as 'cronyism.'  As I speak with my friends in Montgomery, Huntsville and (as I have experienced in my work-life in places like Birmingham and Charlotte) all over, I see this pathology from the 60's alive and well.  A friend if our family is being 'retired' because he doesn't fit the popular 'template' of today's workplace.  FIt truly is disturbing that these things continue in 2019, but I believe they are more entrenched and perverse than ever.  At least people like Dr. King brought these insidious ideas out into the light.  But it seems they are accepted practices today.  And these ideas have found traction in all political ideologies.  They are not the sole property of conservatives and liberals, black or white, rich or poor.  They are epidemic in this nation which should be level-ground for all.  They happen in professional sports.  They happen in government.  They happen in the private sector.  Paul had to caution the church of his day about bigotry and bias when he said, "There is neither Jew or gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is their male or female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28)"  People of God ... we MUST move past this evil that has plagued us for so long!

The second thing is a national tragedy.  I watched in horror as a law was passed in New York allowing late-term abortions when the "mother's life is in danger and when there is no fetal viability."  The operative determinations can be made by a broad array of health care providers (including midwives, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants).  There were parties and celebrations over the passage of this law.  I can't begin to tap the depths of why this is an abomination, but let me make one point that some are making on Facebook (usually a very non-reliable source).  The point is this.  In Luke 1 an unborn child heralds the arrival of Jesus.  The fetus, John the Baptist, leaps in Elizabeth's womb.  That is hardly a statement about a thing ... it is a statement about a person.  Much to the chagrin of some of my contemporaries, I must be consistent in saying that people shouldn't be making decisions about God-things.  It is above our collective pay grade.  And, again on the advent of Black History Month, the abortion issue has been a tenet of the civil rights movement with leaders like Clardy Craven touting abortion as a tool to 'control' an undesired population.  As I stated in my 'carping' about cronyism, I believe it is both disturbing and non-Biblical to promote either of these positions.

At the beginning of this blog I said I was disturbed about our willingness to be led by ideas that are popular and appealing to our politics.  Don't forget ... our ears can be tickled by hiring people for the wrong reasons ... by rationalizing that our party/belief is 'Biblical' ... by following the world's leading ... by telling ourselves we are powerless.  Pray fervently ... follow faithfully ... discern carefully.  And if it 'tickles your ears' test it by allowing God to transform and renew your mind (Romans 12:2).  God is right ... our wayward friends, our verbose relatives and fellow citizens might just be wrong.  Love them ... but follow God.  Randy

Monday, January 21, 2019

Growing Pains

There is an old Wayne Watson song called Growing.  The chorus goes ... "I'm growing, I don't like it, I'm growing, but it hurts.  I love You, but I'm tired.  I guess I've got a lot to learn ... I guess I've got a lot to learn."  It is a song about growing pains.

I know what I am about to share will be totally logical for some of us and totally foreign to others.  Some of us are full ... satisfied ... perfectly good with the status quo ... having an "I'm good" mindset.  Others are seeking to be filled ... striving to go toward the new that God has planned for you ... having a growth mindset.  Which is you?

When I was in seminary and even after seminary through counseling training we had to read a book called Generation to Generation by Edwin Friedman.  While the book is useful to understand family processes happening within Church congregations, it is embedded in a classic attitude of "we are who we are."  Modern philosophy and modern education has been stuck in this attitude for at least the last 200 years.  This attitude says we 'are who we are'  ... our character is either inherited or part of our genetic makeup ... we are hardwired to be the person we are.  I could talk here about theological ideas like predestination and even the inevitability that we are all going, hopelessly, toward our genetic programming.  I won't go there for two reasons.  First, there is a new line of thinking that totally disagrees (scientifically) with this concept.  That new genre' is called brain-plasticity and it holds promise for all sorts of disorders including Alzheimers and stroke victims. Second, I will place my believe in Scripture which says ... "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).  God seems to believe we can change ... from old to new ... from sinner to saint ... from death to life.

I recently heard the story of Josh Waitzkin.  This chess master and genius was at the top of the world.  But Josh had something special that many I meet do not seem to appropriate.  In the midst of intellectual and academic success (age 21) he decided that it was a good, healthy and holistic thing to challenge himself with new learning.  He suffered injuries and broken bones to learn and master martial arts.  He became a world champion at Tai Chi by seeking to grow, learn and expand.  And he did this (I believe) because of three things I find in this wonderful passage from Romans.  He 1) knew people were not designed to be widgets made to conform to the world ... we each have a spark of the divine, 2) he realized that renewal of the mind was not only possible ... it was part of the beauty of how people are made, and 3) he realized that the attitude of entitlement that tells us 'we have arrived' was a lie ... for Christians this lie lets us stay in the stasis of inaction and stagnation (I believe much to Satan's delight).

We will revisit this spiritual discipline from a different direction during Lent (based on Psalm 139) but for now we will stay with my belief we can grow, learn and change from our entitlement to our commissioning.  God didn't make us to stand on our entitled pedestal and look down at a world that we say is dying and being led astray.  I think God made us to become guerrilla warriors that see their surroundings as something to adapt to, overcome and even win.  Our minds were created to grow ... our Savior is calling us to change ... our world needs us to become those who are so transformed (process ... not event) that the world looks at us and says, "That is exciting, that is appealing, THAT is living!"  Randy

Monday, January 14, 2019

Divine Breathings

I am a big believer in what is known as 'gap analysis.'  Simply stated, gap analysis looks at where we are, where we want to be and what we can do to close the gap between the two points.  If we are honest about all three things (current, desired, actions) our lives can become constant growing and learning experiences.  That's where divine breathings come in.  Thomas Kelly, the Quaker writer, expresses divine breathings saying, "But deep within, behind the scenes at a profounder level, we may be in prayer, adoration, song and worship having a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings."  Kelly is speaking about the active work of the Holy Spirit.

He expresses the problem (our starting point) like this ... "The problem we face today needs very little introduction. Our lives in a modern city grow too complex and overcrowded.  Even the necessary obligations which we feel we must meet grow overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk, and before we know it we are bowed down with burdens, crushed under committees, strained, breathless, and hurried, panting through a never‐ending program of appointments."  Sounds a lot like January in the pastorate!

So ... if that is where we are, and we desire to be uncluttered, unhurried and free to serve God as He calls, what do we do?  Kelly encourages us to listen, be receptive and be obedient.  Listen to the Holy Spirit which, in Hebrew and Greek definition, is 'breath.'  Here is how John (14:25-27) says God's Spirit will work ... "I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught."

Here is the key.  It takes effort, intentionality and desire to develop this spiritual discipline.  John says God's Spirit will speak to those Jesus has chosen.  John 14 says God's Spirit will give us 1) truth, 2) clarity, 3) friendship and 4) a reminder.  What an amazing assurance of God's presence and provision!  So ... let's listen, follow and live a life of growth and excellence!  Where are you?  Where would you like to be?  What is God saying to lead you from point 'a' to point 'b?'  Listen! Follow!  Live! Randy

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Hardest Discipline

If I had to sum it up in a nutshell, spiritual disciplines are really about one thing ... freedom.  You might be asking, how can discipline/structure relate to freedom?  Isn't freedom all about doing what you want?  My answer would be "NO" but a simple no doesn't convey the emphasis this "NO" needs to convey.  NO, NO, NO!!!!!!

Let's look back at our experience.  Did you have more freedom when you made decisions based on your wants, your feelings and your whims?  Here's what I think ... these are the times when we are bound, imprisoned and in chains.  Our freedom comes with truth, transparency and being real.  Our freedom comes with discipline, and one of those disciplines is confession.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone."  Unconfessed sins are weights, barriers and things that separate us from others and from God.  They are weights and they bind us and hold us down.

Proverbs 28:13 says "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper ... but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy."  1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  In these verses we find the benefits of confession.  There are four ... prosperity, mercy, forgiveness and purification.

Have you ever met someone who has it all and remains unhappy?  I had a boss that had it all.  He was always carrying a heavy workload but I think the heaviest burden he carried was something he told me one day.  He said, "I don't get ulcers ... I give them!"  During the time I knew him he schemed, did intentional things to hurt others and found it easy to demean and even dismiss employees.  He had money, cars and hangers-on ... but he was one of the most unhappy and dismal people I ever met.  He carried evil deeds (sins) with him everywhere he went.  He did not prosper.

But finding mercy ... THAT is a blessing.  Mercy is freeing and allows us to drop our sins and burdens.  There is an old spiritual song written before the Civil War.  It was first recorded in 1922.  The song, Down By The Riverside, tells about laying down our burdens 'down by the riverside.'  It is a great image of the freeing power of confession because that is exactly what we do when we confess our sins ... we lay them down.  And we no longer have to bear the burden of their weight.

When we confess our sins they are laid out before a holy God who already knows we are guilty.  Our confession allows us to see our guilt and allows conviction to happen in our hearts.  It is why our communion liturgy is full of confession.  Before we kneel in front of a holy God we need to come clean ... confess ... unburden ourselves ... tell God (and hopefully others) about our sin.  In CR we say, "my life has become unmanageable."  And when we do this God does something amazing ... God forgives us!  David realized all sins were, at their heart, against God.  Read the Psalms and you will find David laying out his dirty laundry before God and asking and receiving forgiveness.  It is the remedy for unmanageable lives!

Finally, there is another benefit to confession.  It is purification.  When I confess I try to lay it all out there, but I do this as imperfectly as I do everything else.  I love the honesty and clarity of Psalm 19.  The Psalmist says, "How can I know the sins lurking in my heart?  Cleanse me from these hidden faults!"  The psalmist understood ... we don't just need to prosper, receive mercy and get God's forgiveness.  We need God to purify our hearts!  And it starts when we confess to God and to others our sins.  Try it if you want to be free!  Randy