Monday, April 29, 2019

What If It's True?

In our second "What If" message we will be asking a question that I am sure was very pressing for disciples who ran from the scene of the crucifixion.  Some hid, some gathered and speculated, some went fishing and two walked away from Jerusalem puzzled, distressed and filled with uncertainty.  We will focus on these two men (Luke 24:13-35).

One, named Cleopas, was amazed at the wrong thing.  He was astounded that the stranger they met on the road to Emmaus was ignorant about what had transpired over the past week.  Isn't that so like us (me) ... to claim I know something when I am largely ignorant?  Life happens and daily events and troubles mask the very big God-things that happen in front of me.  I ask "What is on the agenda for the day? ... "What tasks do I need to accomplish?" ... "When and where will I get lunch?"  ... "What events are happening in the world?" ... "What happened to my sports team?"  ... "Why does my right wrist hurt today?"  Maybe all these things have their own little places in my day, but do I ever ask the more life-changing questions? ... "What is God doing today?" ... "How can I participate in His work?"  "How can I love others today?" ... "What are my motives?" ... "What if the resurrection were really true?"

Cleopas and his friend were so stuck in the negativity of Romans, bad leadership, the cross, Judas' betrayal, their long-term fate as disciples, that they missed the important stuff.  But Jesus is patient ... persistent and pointed.  Patient in retelling Scriptures.  Persistent in pursuing the men as they walked AWAY from the fray.  Pointed in telling them ... "O how foolish you are ... and how slow of heart to believe what the prophets have declared!"

I am so like these two men!  I say I believe ... and then I act like the weight of the church is on my shoulders.  Shame on me!  One of my favorite new songs reminds me ... "There is a grave that holds no body ... and the power lives in me!"  That is a faith-line for me and for us.  What if it's all true?

If it's all true, then my priorities must change.  More listening and less talking.  More loving and less worrying.  More of Jesus and less of me.

If it's all true, then my focus must change.  If I am to know Him I need to pray more, study more, reflect more and love more. 

If it's all true, then there is a power in everything I do in His name.  Our church issues become His issues.  Our plans become His plans.  Our defeats become lessons to be studied and learned.  And maybe the best thing ... our death is resurrected into life!

My old fraternity has an email stream which has taken on a life of prayer, faith, support and love.  I have seen something happen in this email stream.  In the imperfection of our personal communications there is a participation in life.  There is both mourning and faith in the sure victory of deaths.  Friends are honored and remembered.  There is a spiritual bond that transcends geography, time and (because I believe it's all true) the confines of this world.  Maybe it is summed up in Charles Wesley's beautiful Easter hymn ... Christ the Lord Has Risen Today.  "Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleuia, Following our exalted head, Alleluia, Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleuia, Ours the cross, the grave, the skies ... Alleuia."  What if it's all true?  Randy

Monday, April 22, 2019

What If?

Over the next several weeks we will explore several "what ifs."  I like asking 'what if?' for lots of reasons.  It challenges me to think beyond the normal.  It leads me to consider things from a new perspective.  It causes me to take a proactive approach at life rather than a passive approach.

'What if?' begins with an assumption ... no a realization ... that there are forces at work beyond my normal field of view.  Sunday I encouraged you to look for the times God is moving obstacles and sending you very real messages to guide your life.  To see and hear these God-sent events, you must take a look at where we are and what is really happening around us.  It takes thought and concentration.  I will give you an example from something that is going on all the time ... weather.  I am getting many more weather alerts that I have ever gotten, especially tornado alerts.  I asked myself, "What if there are many more tornadoes than there used to be.  I looked at data from NOAA and learned something interesting.  The incidence of tornadoes has increased and decreased over time in a very cyclical manner.  Our current cycle is not abnormal at all, and we actually may be on the low side of the historic cycle of these storms.  So ... what is really happening?  Our ability to predict tornado signatures on radar has vastly improved.  Our attention to tornadoes is heightened because of the Lee County disaster and the hurricanes that have impacted our immediate area.  I wonder if this happens with other news that is either over-reported or under-reported?

Here's where I am going with all of this.  One of my new favorite songs is called "Stay and Wait."  It is a song about our 'condition' as humans, God's power/goodness as our hope and our response as people of God.  The tag line goes ... "I will stay, should the world by me fold ... lift up Your name as the darkness falls, I will wait, and hold fast to Your Word, heart on your heart, and my eyes on Yours."  What if the world around us is driving into a cosmic ditch filled with bad stuff?  What if the darkness of terrorism is falling all around us?  What if these things are under-reported?  What if they are over-reported and are part of the historic cycles we have seen for centuries?  And here's a what if that is worth considering ... What if God, His Church, His plans and His grace are the solution to dispelling the darkness we see or perceive?

The song presents a God who has loved us through rebellion, has shown us the way of perfection and is worthy of being the ruler of our lives.  What if we followed as we say, sing and profess?  Randy

Monday, April 15, 2019


I heard the Christian artist Wayne Watson in a concert one time.  He was talking about his new marriage.  He said when he got married he was surprised and horrified at something about his new wife.  She was a morning person!

I am NOT a morning person, although I have become much more of an early riser as the years have progressed.  I am often in the office between 7 and 8 am.  I can get up very early to go fishing.  As I reflected on being a morning person, I came to the realization that we (Christians) are really all morning people.

Every year we rise at  Easter.  We tell the old, old story of the women, the angel, the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the risen Christ and the sending of the disciples.  There is even a hymn in the Methodist hymnal that reminds us of this saying, "Easter people raise your voices!"  We truly are morning people.

Fredrick Buechner said, "Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: “Can I believe it all again today?”"  The two Marys woke up and I am sure that question was in their thoughts.  They, as we might emulate, prepared for the worst, getting spices the night before (Mark 16).  They were in conversation ... "Who will roll the stone away?"  They were probably in quiet reflection ... "What will I do when I see him?  Can I handle this?"  What they found shouts two words I should hear every day ... "Wake up!"

I need to wake up and believe it all again ... not from what I see unfold but from what I know about God.  Before I get out of bed.  Before I shower.  Before I drink my coffee.  Before I have breakfast.  Before anything ... I need to remind myself that we are Easter people who believe!  I need to open my eyes and start watching for what God is doing, because He is always working.

I need to wake up and see the stones rolled away.  Lauren Daigle sings a new song called, "Still Rolling Stones."  When I believe it all again, I need to extend that belief to a God capable of rolling away obstacles.  Last week we looked at the items available for auction in our annual Missions Auction.  All of us observed that there were no really large items ... just 46 smaller items.  They were all great gifts, desirable things ... just not what one would call "big ticket."  We saw the obstacle.  God had other plans as we watched and marveled.  After all was completed, we had raised $40K for missions ... the best total ever.  For all that had worked, planned and struggled, it was a reminder ... God is still rolling stones away.

I need to wake up and see angels.  I am not talking about the winged creatures dressed in white (though God could surely send them).  I am talking about those people and words God sends to you that tell you what God is saying.  "Peace ... be still."  I heard those words last week as I was in the midst of what I saw as 'more than I can handle.'  I heard them as my mind was flooded with what needed to be done during Holy Week.  God (through people, Scripture, remembered experience) said, "I've got this ... it isn't up to you!"  The moved stone ... the risen Jesus ... the angel ... all happened by God's action and command.  The two Marys did nothing ... except wake up and go!

I need to wake up and believe that Jesus is living!  "We serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today!"  We sing it often ... but do we come awake enough to believe it?  The world is certainly out of OUR control ... but what about God?  Do we believe?  Is God rolling stones away?  Are their celestial beings among us working toward God's plan?  Is Jesus alive?

The story ends with calling.  "Wake up ... Jesus is risen ... Go to Galilee where you will get further instructions!"  I need to wake up and go! Mark's story says ... "You will see Him there! (Mark 16:7)"  I wonder how often we miss Him by staying?  We hear the old, old story 'of Jesus and His love' but it doesn't move us.  Two Marys moved beyond their comfort zone ... they woke up and went to the tomb.  The stone moved by the power of God.  The angel left his celestial post and went to the empty tomb.  Mary left the tomb and found the living Jesus in the garden.  The disciples woke up and went to Galilee.  Fredrick Buechner said, "Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: “Can I believe it all again today?”" Christ the Lord is risen TODAY ... Alleluia! Randy

Monday, April 8, 2019


One of my treasured possessions is the mirror that was given to me by one of my youth from Prattville UMC.  She gave it to me when I was assigned to another church but I have kept the mirror around to remind me of her, my time in Prattville and my friendships I still have there. 

I thought about the mirror last week as I was remembering the events of Holy Week.  The mirror was given to me so that I could look at myself and make sure I had my tie straight, my hair combed and my appearance in order.  As Sunday begins this remembrance (we think back on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem)  I thought how my little mirror is a lot like the big mirror we call Scripture.

You may not know that Scripture is truly a mirror.  It tells us about God and the nature of God.  It shows us our common history as people of God.  It reflects personalities, reactions and a glimpse of the future.  And the characters in Scripture are mirrors of us, our nature and our reactions.  Of all the stories in Scripture the Holy Week story is one that reflects the good, the bad and the hopeful in all of us.  Which character in this drama makes you think about yourself and how you react to Jesus' haunting question, "Who do you say that I am (Matthew 16:15)?"  Here are a few reactions:

1. A reflection of hopefulness as the crowds sing "Hosanna ... blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"  Those people hoped for a Jesus that would bring them freedom ... bring autonomy to their country ... throw the Romans into the sea.
2. An air of confusion of disciples who have all sorts of thoughts flying through their heads.  "Will He really overthrow the Romans (they won't go quietly)?"  "I don't like all of this attention ... the leaders will quell this quickly and harshly!"  "Wow, what a worship service!  This is exhilarating!"  "Will that man with the donkey call the police?"  "What are we doing here ... I need a plan of what I am supposed to do ... Jesus is great but He isn't giving us clear marching orders!"  All of these reactions and many more reflect the disciples and reflect us even today as we wonder what in the world God is up to!
3.  A heightened concern of the Romans as the terror threat is raised to a level 5.  "What is going on?" "What does Hosanna mean and why are these people gathered?"  "I had the day off tomorrow but this blows that out the window!"
4. Focused scheming as the Pharisees and the religious leaders watch the threat of Jesus rise along with their desire to kill Him.  "Who does He  think He is?  We are the religious authority here!  We are the ones with 'arrangements' with the Romans!  Our system has worked for years!" "Don't you know it is better for one man to die the for the whole nation to perish (John 11:50)!"

Reactions ... mirroring some of our thoughts today.  We might say ... "Does this man really have the power today He did in the Bible?"  "If I go 'all in' on Jesus, what will people think?  What will that require me to do?"

In the Bible those were confusing and treacherous times.  Maybe our time is equally confusing and dangerous.  Hundreds of oppressed Christians in Nigeria (at least 120 dead so far) would affirm the very real danger.  Or maybe we are challenged so subtly we don't see it.  But on that 1st Palm Sunday Jesus knew what was coming.  Sin, death, evil and Satan (the powers and principalities we place in fairy tales) didn't give up without bloodshed then and they won't give up without a fight today.  Will you remain silent and let the rocks cry out in your place, or will you shout God's praises saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16)!?"  Randy

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Coach

Many of you are caught up in sports right now.  Auburn is going to the Final 4 NCAA men's basketball championship for the first time in team history.  Pretty cool for Auburn and SEC fans!

My Lenten sermon series is all about 'The Big Game' which, contrary to what is buzzing around right now, isn't the NCAA tournament.  It is the game of life.  But there are lessons we can learn about life from current events and even from sports.  So ... what can we learn about the Big Game from Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

The teams that have made it this far in the basketball tournament have some things in common.  Here are a few:
  1. They have a coach that knows the nuances of the game;
  2. The coach has both the success of the team and the success of the individual parts of the team     near to his heart (these things are important to the coach);
  3. The coach has learned about 'the game' from his own life experiences; and
  4. The coach is focused on the mission.
Let's unpack these things a bit!

Hebrews 4:14 says "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess."  Elsewhere in Hebrews the author talks about how Jesus has experienced life in our world.  Michael Card calls it ... "eternity stranded in time."  Jesus, fully God and fully submitted to the Father's plan, allowed Himself to be 'stranded' on this earth in 1st Century Israel, being tempted, tested, thirsty, hungry and human!  Jesus knows the game of life because He walked among us, and during that walk He conquered sin and sinfulness.  Jesus knows the game fully ... He has been there!

Jesus also desires our success and the success of a 'team' He calls the Church.  In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter he is the 'little rock' and that He is building the Church to be successful.  That team will bind and loose God's plan upon this world.  That team is built so solidly that even the very gates of hell cannot withstand it!  Jesus' team is built for success!

Our coach has learned a thing or two about the game of life from His own experiences.  He has seen our hurts and hangups.  He has encountered people caught up in self.  He has seen amazing/beautiful passion where a tax collector returns stolen money to the people because he has met something more important than money.  He has experienced the disappointment of a young man so tied to his possessions he cannot join Jesus' team.  He has seen and experienced ridicule over His devotion to the Father's plan.  And He has experienced victory over hell and death.  Philippians 2 says Jesus did all this and because of His submission to God's plan (the mission) Jesus is "exalted to the highest place, that every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus ... the name above all names (Phil. 2:9-11 paraphrased)."

And ... about that mission.  At the beginning of Lent John Riley and I set down and made a list of three things to focus our collective Lenten prayers.  They were about God's 'prime directive' expressed in Exodus 19 ... to bring people to Himself (God).  Jesus said (Luke 19:10) "The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost."  The three prayers for Lent (we gave this to everyone) were ... 1) pray for a burden for the lost, 2) pray for people everywhere to come to Christ, 3) pray that God will use us to bring the lost to Christ.

All of those teams in the men's basketball Final Four have bought into the coach's mission.  The question for this week is ... have we bought into the coach's mission?  How are you a part of this mission that Jesus said will prevail even against the gates of hell?  How will you be part of seeking and saving the lost today?  Randy