Monday, September 30, 2019

Paying Attention

Our 2nd week looking into Half Time activities will be spent paying attention.  In the book Half Time (Bob Buford) he said something that resonated with me.  Buford said, "I've not always paid attention to my life."  Sounds like a simple statement that could be made about most of us.  It sure fits me!  But shame on me for being so flippant about the beautiful gift of life!

In Matthew 16:2-3 Jesus comments about how we are concerned with the 'signs' that foretell the weather (which we can do little about) but we don't look around and pay attention to the signs of the times.  Maybe it's time we look around.

A new film recounts the underground church in Iran shows Muslims fleeing radical Islam and joining Christianity as the most rapidly-growing church movement in the world.  The church is mostly led by women who are observing and reacting to oppression, discrimination and gross-misinformation promulgating their plight.  These are the signs of our times.  And by the way ... the Church has always found a way to thrive in the depths of persecution and oppression.  I wonder if these places and times are where we shine our light most brightly!

Teachers and professors tell me that an increasing number of students cannot string together a series of sentences that form a coherent thought.  Interviewers tell me that people routinely show up for job interviews in shorts and t-shirts.  Parents tell me about young adults that are content to stay home, smoke pot and play on their phones and computers, rather than seeking work that will pay housing and living expenses.  Many cannot write a check or balance a checkbook.  These are the sings of the times.

Country concerts and even Justin Beiber events are being interrupted by overt and blatant worship of Jesus, about whom Beiber said, "Having trust in Jesus at your worst times is the absolute hardest, but He is faithful to complete what He started!"  These are the signs of the times.

People are complaining about politics, the environment, the medical industry, racism, self-help and depression, all of which are very real and very misunderstood.  Almost none of the information we receive about these societal issues are accurate and/or helpful.  Jesus was moved with compassion as He looked out on the multitudes (Matthew 9:36) and observed they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  These are the signs of our times.

Well ... we cant do much about the weather.  We can't control the flow of information from biased sources.  We CAN control our actions and choices.  And we CAN trust and rely on those places where God's Spirit is moving, working and doing great things.  We CAN even invite God's Spirit into our lives, our church, our homes, our actions and our community.  Sunday we will talk about ways this CAN happen right here in Abbeville!  Randy

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Half Time

Over the next few months we will embark on a journey based on Bob Buford's book Half Time:  Moving From Success to Significance.  I love the title because our world seems to be in a battle that is between these two extremes.

Of course, all of this somewhat depends on our definition of 'success' and 'significance.'  These definitions are worth asking yourself what each of these things mean for you.  Another question might be, "Why would I want to move from success?"  Our answers to these questions have a major impact on how we do life.

Jesus spoke a lot about this.  In Matthew 16:26 Jesus said ... "What good would it be for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?"  This seems to imply the soul is valued higher than 'the whole world.'  In a world that values likes on Facebook, Twitter followers and the latest and coolest devices, Jesus seems to think something else is more valuable.

I even wonder if Jesus is telling us that care for our soul ... doing things that feed, grow and uplift the soul ... are things to strive for.  In Buford's book he says that half time is when we rethink and reset our life goals.  In a football game the coach takes half time to look at what did and didn't work in the first half.  Good coaches do something that is the only sane reaction to this assessment ... they make adjustments so that the 2nd half will win the game.

This week I would like for each of us to ponder the questions above and ask some 'heart' questions.  Am I seeking success by the world's standards or significance by 'soul' standards?  What adjustments do I need to make so that my life can become vibrant, significant and worthy of a God who loves me?  What is the 'game' and am I trying to win the 'rat race' or do I "press on toward the goal to win the prize to which I am called in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14)?"  Are my goals, plans, days, hours, minutes 'world-focused' or 'kingdom-focused?'  Good questions I hope!  Randy

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Snakes and Weeds

The Bible has a lot to say about gardens.  There is the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  There is the return to the garden in Revelation.  Jesus talks frequently about agriculture, planting and seeds.  These subjects connect with me because I grew up helping my father in his garden.  And these subjects connect with my spirit because God is all into planting, growing and harvest.

In Matthew 13:24-30 we have the familiar story about a garden in which there are weeds.  The weeds are called tares and are a plant called bearded darnel.  The plant resembles wheat when it is young.  In the parable we are told not to pull this weed or we might just pull out the wheat too.  This is probably good advice for the farmer, but how should we apply this parable?

I think the parable is very applicable to the overall Biblical theme of gardens.  Here, in being told to refrain from pulling the weeds, I wonder if this is a parable about living life in God's Kingdom and in the Church?  All of us have people that challenge us.  Many might see these people as toxic and might be quick to leave relationship with them.  We also might be tempted to devise actions to get these people to act according to our desired behaviors.  Matthew says, leave them in the garden and tolerate them.  Because God will rightly sort them out when His Kingdom comes in the fullest.

I have three basic 'garden' rules that I think are good and Biblical.  The first is Genesis 2 ans 3 ... 'Adam ... care for the garden and keep out the snakes.'  Snakes are bad, even in the Garden of Eden.  Keep them out and, if possible, shoot the sneaky things!

The second rule is (based on Matthew 13) 'don't pull the tares.'  Often in relationships time needs to heal wounds.  Silence needs to invite non-forced conversation.  Patience needs to win out over my desire to make myself comfortable with one of those people I view as a 'weed.'  Restraint needs to allow me to grow and learn from this situation.  These are difficult things but I believe God's Word is full of wisdom here!

The third rule, and this one is hard, is 'don't plant weeds.'  When I decide to take over a situation, relationship and the behavior of another person, I am choosing to plant weeds that weren't there before.  I am very good at this when I place that 'control' hat on my head and appoint myself to an undeserved position of authority over the life of another person.  I can barely control me, and I have plenty of work doing just that.  Any other person is beyond my pay grade ... for only God can change people in a transformational way.

So ... kill the snakes, don't pull the weeds and don't plant new weeds.  Sounds simple, but it isn't!  Maybe we can all work together and make this garden called the Church a God-filled place!  Randy

Monday, September 9, 2019


This word is used in Psalm 139 (verse 16) and elsewhere in the Old Testament.  The Hebrew word is Yatsar.  Like many Hebrew words the English translation doesn't do it justice.  The words formed, woven, built, crafted and designed are all part of Yatsar.  The word implies intent, continuance and structure.  The closest image I can think of is the complex process of sermon planning and writing.  Maybe Nicey can relate to this as she works on a new book or compendium of stories.

One of the things I have worked on over the past few weeks (while I wasn't working on Charge Conference stuff) is fall and Advent sermons.  Most of you might think this is a week-to-week or even day-to-day process, but for me it is not.  The process includes prayer, mostly the listening kind.  What is God doing?  Where is God leading?  What will grow God's people?  What will build up this gathering of Christians?  What will challenge us?  What will inspire us?  What will humble us?  What will bring unity?  What will allow us to be part of God's plan?  These questions float on the wind as prayers and often the answers come like flower petals floating back on the wind to be gathered, seen and smelled.

The process of writing is multi-layered also.  There is an idea.  The idea causes further thought.  What will bring the idea to life?  What does God want the idea to look like?  How can it be structured so that the hearer can make sense of it?   Like writing a song or painting a picture, the act of sermon writing is process, art, alchemy, architecture and construction.  All of this is why the word Yatsar is used.

God's word uses the word Yatsar in multiple ways.  In Psalm 139:16 it is used to speak about the forming of an individual.  In Isaiah 43:1 it is used to describe the process of building the nation of Israel.  In Jeremiah 18:2 it describes the work of 'the potter' as God forms and directs His message through the prophets.  It is a beautifully-complex way of realizing that God is a creator, director and former of all things.  And all of those things respond to His purpose.

Where are you in that process?  Many of us think we are on the spiritual heap of pottery shards, part of an idea that just didn't pan out.  Some may think we are a beautiful work of art on a shelf to be displayed for others to admire.  My view (hopefully formed by Scripture) is that we are all part of the artistic process as God forms us as individuals, molds us collectively as a Church, writes work-order changes on our hearts, and gives us direction, purpose and functionality to be used, usable and useful in His overall plan.

May you be formed daily into the person and Church God is designing.  May He write you into the novel called life.  May the notes of your song rhyme with His tune.  And may your journey be always tracking toward His place.  In Jesus ... Randy

Monday, September 2, 2019


John Wesley was so impressed by God's grace that he made it a required subject for preaching.  Embedded in the 52 Sermons he gave to those serving in the original 'Methodist' church, Wesley loved and taught the idea of God's grace.  If you read the lyrics in our hymnal you will find this grace everywhere!

I have seen this idea of grace become a major subject of new songs by Hillsong United.  One of my favorite expressions of this is the song, Splinters and Stones.  The chorus says "All this time, like a river running through my failure, you carried me all this time."  It is a beautiful and lyrical statement about what Wesley would have called prevenient grace.  Prevenient grace is well-defined by breaking down the word into it's Latin roots ... 'pre' meaning before and 'veni' meaning to come.  God was there even before we knew it.  Psalm 139 says "You knew me before I was formed in my mothers womb."  Wesley read this Psalm and became assured of God's presence, His calling and His sustaining power.  God calls all of His creatures to himself.  He draws them and is there, even when we do not see.

At a memorial service for my mom and dad I remembered them and this song.  I remembered that when I was young and didn't even know I needed anything, they were there.  They remained through my successes and they stayed through my failures.  Even more than them, God is that river flowing through all of my stumbles and falls.  Jesus carried me, enduring the scars, the incredible weight of my sin and the dead weight of my inaction.  He drew me to Himself and still draws me to Him.  It is reassuring during busy weeks like this one.  "Thank you, Lord, for carrying me ... sustaining me ... loving me. AMEN!" Randy