Monday, December 28, 2020

A Different Way

The story of the Magi in Matthew is one of those stories that can engender thought, reflection and questions.  They were clearly people come from the east (probably modern-day Iraq) with a purpose to follow a star, find a king and offer homage to that king.  Jesus would have been a toddler (sorry if this messes with our Christmas traditions and manger scenes).  The story can be taken in many directions, but today I want to suggest some present-day advice from these "wise" travelers.

The first word that comes to mind is discernment.  It is a trait that is a sparse commodity in a world led by fads, factless statements and hyperbole.  In Matthew's story of the Magi, our travelers meet Herod, religious leaders and probably other people, all full of advice.  Herod is powerful, so maybe they should listen to him?  The religious leaders seem to know the Scripture, so maybe they are telling the truth?  I am sure convincing and charismatic people would have given them advice.  After all, they seem to be people of means and importance.  So, who do they believe?  The Magi chose to believe the Scriptures and the star.  They press on, following those things till the reach the child, the mother and their goal.

The second word that comes to mind is ... deceit.  They knew that many of the people they met would have reason to deceive them.  The Magi had money, importance, influence and information.  Other people wanted those things.  The Magi knew this and were wise in how they dealt with the people they encountered.  In our world today I see lots of deceit.  People want you to follow them and promote their agenda.  Conservatives, liberals, charismatic sellers of prosperity theology and purveyors of negativity all seek your attention.  Like social media, they want you to become users and conduits of their agenda that ultimately captures your attention.  The Magi encountered these people, especially in the palace of Herod.  They smiled, they sounded helpful, but they wanted something ... to stop the life, the work and the will of Jesus.  They had a king, and they didn't need God's ordained Son, come to save the world.

We are told that the Holy Spirit will give us discernment that will guide us and lead us to see and avoid deceit.  But we, as God's people, must decide about a third word ... direction.  Wise men (and women) know that every day is a directional choice.  When the Holy Spirit has helped us discern truth, when we have opened our eyes so that we can see the deceit around us and when we meet Jesus, "the way, the truth and life itself," do we stay the course and keep going in the same direction, or is our direction altered by that little boy of Bethlehem?  The Magi went off in a different direction.

I have a friend who says he has solved his issue of following negativity.  He has done this at least once a year.  My advice ... let God change you and your direction.  I met a woman whose  "my way or the highway" attitude has damaged relationships and her witness.  My advice ... let God change you and your direction.  I see a nation that seems to be caught in a merry-go-round of solving issues in nasty, mean-spirited and predictable ways ... and the results seem to see us never solving the issues that we say are important.  My advice ... let God change us and our direction!

If we really want to leave our most tenacious demons behind and have the newness of life promised by our faith and following of Jesus, see the deceit ... use the Spirit's discernment ... go off in the direction that has a star, and a real king, and a child of promise ... and a savior named Jesus.  Randy

Monday, December 21, 2020

Born In Me?

Every Christmas we do a song by Francesca Battistelli called "Born In Me."  The words are beautiful and challenging.  They reflect, especially, the chaotic year we have individually and corporately experienced.  "Everything inside me cries for order ... everything inside me tries to hide.  Is this shadow and angel or a warrior?  If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?  Someone tell me I am only dreaming.  Somehow help me see with heaven's eyes.  And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees.  Holy is He, blessed am I. Be born in me, be born in me.  Trembling heart, somehow, I believe.  That You chose me. ... Make my heart your Bethlehem, be born in me."  Great words, but a better idea.

There is a verse of submission ... humility ... and clarity, when Mary, amidst fear, unknown outcomes, national chaos and personal sacrifice, says these words ... "I am the Lord's servant, Mary answered.  May Your word to me be fulfilled.  Then the angel left her (Luke 1:38)."  Be born in me!

Those are hard words and the idea is even harder.  We live in a self-focused world.  "What's in it for me?"  It's all about my rights, my body, my perspective.  We have somehow shrunk god down to an idea that fits into a box of our understanding.  But this story has Mary, a teenager, that knows nothing about how all of this will impact her future.  There will certainly be shame, hardship, pain and some very uncomfortable family discussions.  Her new status will be hard, even impossible, to love for some of her family and friends.  Everything she has known will be in a rear-view mirror that she will never see again.  Everything will change for her, and she has no idea how any of it will turn out.  Yet ... she says, in The Message version of this passage, "Let it be with me, just as you say!"  Be born in me!

The words that come to me as I read this passage are Submission, Sacrifice, Sorrow and Significance.  Mary submits her very body to God's plan ... not her plan.  As we debate abortion, Mary reminds us that life isn't about us ... it is about something bigger than us.  Mary sacrifices her planned future for the hope and future God has planned.  She is all in to what God is doing, no matter what it means for her.  Mary accepts the sorrow that will accompany her decision.  Most of us say, "God doesn't want me to have sorrow or hurt."  I wonder if God doesn't intervene in those events that cause sorrow because God knows that part of life with/in Him is to go through pain in His comfort, presence and sufficiency?  While my words can't adequately explain this, my heart sees this unfold as we, with God's help, are able to comfort and love friends in their times of hurt, pain and need.  God is truly (Psalm 34:18) "near to those who are brokenhearted."  Finally, Mary becomes, through submission, sacrifice and sorrow, cosmically significant.  I hear so many wanting their lives to be meaningful, worthwhile and significant.  So, they bargain with God ... they become human 'doers' instead of human 'beings' ... they run on the hamster wheel of spirituality like their effort and energy can somehow attain and fathom a God that is above and beyond our ability to fully know.  And all the while little Mary, in a little room in Nazareth (a truly obscure teenager) does something that makes her (according to God's Word) "the most fortunate woman on earth."  She sings, "What God has done for me will never be forgotten!"  Mary knows that what is happening is the most significant thing that has ever happened on earth!

Do you want some of that significance?  Instead of following the world's plan, try submission, sacrifice, sorrow as paths to God's plan.  It isn't easy, but love and life are never easy.  But Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden is light, and you will find rest for your soul!  Randy 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Love's Here!

We have lit the candles of Hope, Peace and Joy.  We Methodists call these things 'outward signs of inward grace' reminding us that life, reality and God's Kingdom aren't always what we see and perceive ... these symbols are greater things that give us the surety that God is present with us.  This truth reminds us of Isaiah's words (7:14) ... "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel!"  We light those candles because something big has happened and is happening.  Advent shouts "He's coming!" but the Gospel shouts "He's here!"  Who and what is here?

Hope is here.  In a land of darkness, 'behold, a light has come!'  So be hopeful!  We are not defined by the news, the virus, the negativity of false teachings, the falseness of the 'prosperity gospel.'  Our hope comes from an eternal source ... and we have seen the sign, the child and the Savior!  Hope is here!

Peace is here!  Not a peace like the world gives, because the world says peace is lack of conflict, acquiescence to mediocrity or adoption of politically-correct and socially-popular ideas.  Jesus reminds us that peace can come when your nation seems lost and your people have lost their center.  Jesus says peace can come when you are an occupied people, taxed to the breaking point and challenged by a worldly king that demands we bow down to Caesar.  The Prince of Peace comes into that world and proclaims a non-situational peace that comes from a heart devoted to following our leader, Jesus.  It is a peace that says, recognize and process your feelings, but never be directed by them ... for we are more and better than that!  We can have peace in the storm, for our peace has a name ... Jesus.  Peace is here!

Joy has come!  The angels tell us that "unto us is born this day a Savior that is Christ the Lord" and that this "Good News" will bring joy to all people.  We are some of those people and we are the messengers of that Good News that tells the world a joyful message ... your sins are forgiven, your guilt is taken by God Himself and your growth into a new creation has begun.  Joy has come!

This Sunday we will light the candle of love, the greatest of the eternal things.  Love, like peace, joy and hope, are not situational.  An old song said ... "love is a verb!"  And I have heard often that love is a choice.  How do I know this is absolutely true!?  Because a God who knows me, who sees everything I do, who knows my innermost thoughts, and who knows that I am fallen/broken/fragile ... loves me so much He has sent my sins as far as the East is from the West.  That God knows love is a verb and a choice.  That God demonstrates that love with the leadership of action ... leadership that I am excited and honored to follow.  Love has come ... and His name is Jesus!

That Good News should bring joy, peace and hope!  That is the reality in which I choose to live and dream!  For love has come!  Randy

Monday, December 7, 2020

Great Joy!

Surely you remember it!?  "But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid!  I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all the people!" (Luke 2:10).  It is part of the Christmas Story we have all heard.  If you were at the Community Christmas Tree Lighting or at 1st service last week, you have heard these words at least twice this Christmas.  I hope you hear it many more times and I hope you listen to what this short little passage is saying to us.

The angel is saying Jesus is coming to town.  To Bethlehem.  To Judea.  To all people.  To the world.  The angel is clear ... this is a message of Good News, quelled fear, and great joy.  So ... and this is to all my Christian friends and my family of believers ... why not joy?  In fact, why not GREAT JOY!?

Here is what I think is happening.  In John 10:10 we hear that Satan, represented by poor leadership in Israel (corporately) and by the very real person of Satan (individually), comes to steal and destroy.  One thing done by Satan and misdirected leaders is this 'stealing' of joy.  Joy can be stolen by 1) continually delivering the body punches of negativity, 2) continually highlighting fear, 3) continually ignoring the Gospel and 4) continually dwelling on guilt as a tool of manipulation.  Jesus addressed this when he said (also from John 10:10) "I came so you may have life, and have it to the full."  COVID-19 isn't the only contagious thing going around ... all of the above things that steal our joy can be contagious and lethal to faith.  So what do we do?

The angel gives us great advice.  First, do not be afraid.  If you are in places where you are hearing a barrage of fear-mongering, get out of those places.  Second, remember the 'euangelion' (in Biblical Greek this is the word for Gospel or Good News).  Third, remember that Jesus coming to town should have a causal impact on us ... the angel said the Good News will cause great joy.  Finally, remember that this joy is something that we desire to contract.

I am going to leave this blog today with a bit of advice.  Get the world and Jesus into the right perspective.  We are in the world to be light, a blessing and little expressions of Jesus.  We are not in the world to be joyless, hopeless and peaceless.  The Advent candles lit so far are hope and peace.  This Sunday we light the candle of joy.  In Wesleyan tradition these candles are outward signs of inward grace which brings truth into our lives.  That truth comes from God's Word.  If you will take notice, hope, peace and joy are in short supply if you listen to talking heads, angry preachers and joyless posts on social media.  How is that working for us?  Would it be better to listen to negative people who are agents of stealing our joy, or would the Advent of Jesus (He did come to town and He is coming back) be better expressed by following what the Christmas angel said ... "Do not be afraid.  I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all people."  Good News causes great joy!  That's my take!  Randy

Monday, November 30, 2020

What Do You Call Him?

As we enter the season of Advent and await the arrival of the Christ child, we can't help thinking about names.  Names are important, especially in Scripture.  Jewish names meant more than a few syllables.  They identified the person, but they also identified character.  In Luke 1 a silent Zechariah watches as, at the birth of his son John the Baptist, people want to name the baby after Zechariah.  Zechariah breaks his silence announcing that he is to be named John.  In Matthew 1, fourteen generations are named from Abraham to David.  And Joseph names the son he has accepted, Jesus.  Names and generations are important.

In "For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7)."  These are the names Isaiah gives Jesus.  Earlier Isaiah (7:14) called Jesus "Immanuel (which means God with us)."  These are Biblical names for Jesus.  We could add Master, Teacher, Rabbani, Son of God, and many others.  All would be accurate and descriptive of the character of Jesus.  But these names are words on a page, because names are just a collection of letters until we take them in and accept them.  I think this is why Jesus, in Matthew 16, asks the disciples ... "But who do YOU say that I am?"  It is a great Christmas question!  Who is Jesus to you?

I ask this question because Christians, among all the people of the world, should exhibit a confidence, a calm and a character that brings what Isaiah speaks about ... peace.  This week we will light the candle of peace as part of our Advent tradition.  It will be a reminder to allow Jesus to bring peace into our hearts.  It will cause us to recall that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If our God ... our Savior ... our teacher ... our example ... our leader ... is the Prince of Peace, should we not be purveyors of peace?  Should we not be those who show the world what we sing in the song ... "Our God is greater, our God is stronger, our God is higher than any other!"?

We must decide.  Is our God what we want Him to be or is our God who He says he is?  For me, I must follow and believe what God says about Himself, because if He becomes what I want Him to be, I, not God, becomes lord of my life.  And I have found that doesn't work very well.  Let's let Jesus be Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace that leads us past all of those emotions that bring turmoil to our hearts.  Jesus can and will do it if we let Him be who He says He is!  AMEN

Monday, November 23, 2020


In hard times, in times of strife and in times of confusion it is refreshing to hear someone speak the truth.  During Micah's prophetic work there were many things happening in Judah.  Micah denounced the idolatry and immorality of his people.  He lived and ranged through the country south of Jerusalem and was, like his contemporary Amos, quick to point out the oppression of the poor and the judgment that a Holy God would bring.  He spoke the truth ("this is what the Lord says") during times when truth was hard to discern. 

In the midst of denouncing the behavior and leadership of Judah, Micah also had an important part to play in the story of Christmas.  He writes ... "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2)."  It was surprising because no one would expect a ruler or a leader coming from a country town like Bethlehem.  It was truth because it was God's prophetic voice. 

We can learn a lot from God's true voice, especially in times of uncertainty.  The first thing we can learn is that God always offers hope.  Hope is the first lit candle of the Advent Wreath.  Traditionally the verse for this is Isaiah 9:2 ... "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light."  Hope is God sending light into our darkness.  Hope is God's voice.  Hope is truth when bloviation, conspiracy and disunity fill our social media and our conversation.  Hope is God saying, "the place may be small and insignificant, but I don't need much to work with ... just a mustard-seed of faith!"  Bethlehem, rural, filled with bakeries (thus it's name meaning "house of bread").  Bethlehem, having a regional prophet that faithfully tells the people "This is what the Lord says."  Bethlehem, filled with the people from a subset of the tribe of Judah, who will send out one who will be a great hope for a hopeless people. 

The second thing we can learn from Micah's prophecy is that God has it all under control.  He has planned it from ancient times.  He sends one who will "crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)."  He sends one who will "walk among us (Leviticus 26:12)" and be "Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14).  Our past, present and future are part of the plans of a God who has the whole world in His hands.

I wonder if God, as we enter the season of Advent, is saying to us what He said on the Mount of Transfiguration ... "This is My Son ... listen to Him!"  If there is a year when we need to stop ... reflect ... and listen, this is it!  As we enter Advent, we need the Jesus, who will be our God and we His people, to enter our homes, hearts and nation, and lead us from darkness to light.  He is our Lord and our hope!  Randy

Monday, November 16, 2020


When we read the word Thanksgiving, we all have memories and images that enter our minds.  Some of us think about food, family and the fellowship of believers.  Some of us have great memories of family gatherings while others long for and grieve people they have lost.  When I hear that word, I remember my mom's dressing (she cooked the best dressing ever!), cold green beans (she always left them out too long), turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  Our family would travel from wherever we were living to North Carolina and eat 2 meals ... one at lunch and one at dinner.  It was both fulfilling and filling!

This morning I had the pleasure of talking about thankfulness with the ACA kids, and heard the obligatory pledges, songs about turkey and thankfulness, and the beautiful voices of happy children.  My talk was a primer about the real first Thanksgiving here in America which took place in cold New England (Plymouth, Mass.) in 1620.  While numerous worldwide celebrations of thanks took place throughout history, it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed it as a holiday for all states.  You'll have to go to the internet for a more extensive history, but suffice it to say Thanksgiving has been around awhile.

One thing I thought as I was rolling Thanksgiving around in my head is how thankful I should be for God's ever-present grace, Spirit and love.  Romans 8:37-39 gives us this assurance and every reason to be thankful.  Paul says that nothing ... not angels or demons, not depth or height, not any power, not anything in all creation can separate us from God's love expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.  When I spoke to the kids at ACA, I reminded them that one of their pledges was to "hide God's Word in their hearts."  I told them that the Pilgrims, as they spent months on a small ship traversing the Atlantic, needed this assurance of God's presence.  The trip took from May to November, 1620.  About the 11th of November they set foot on Plymouth rock, not their original destination.  They had come so that they could live and worship in their little bubble, in their pristine world, free, happy and alone with God.  I find it interesting that God had a lesson for them, even as they professed love and faithfulness for God.  One of the first lessons they learned is that they couldn't survive without the help, experience and connection with the not-so-pristine (unspoiled) Native Americans.  Without local knowledge they might have been lost.

I think this story reminds us that we are never an island unto ourselves.  We keep and hold to our faith, for it sustains us in storms.  We hide God's Word in our hearts, because it gives us guidance.  But we also look for God's teaching and grace in our circumstances.  God never quits loving, teaching, sustaining and growing us.  So we watch, learn and give thanks for a God who always cares and always leads us to the land He has prepared for us.  That is Good News and that is every reason for Thanksgiving.  Randy

Monday, November 9, 2020

Just Cats

Hey!  I am speaking to you out of the COVID fog!  If any of you have had COVID-19 you know about the fog, the distracting effects and just the strangeness of symptoms.  There is a thing called COVID Brain, and it it real.  I have had some comical distractions.  Thanks for your prayers and the love you have expressed!

Without being political, it is interesting to look at our history regarding people, issues, events and even movements that have captured people's attention.  What I have determined is in our beauty, our capacity for love, our clumsy compassion, our falling to very low levels and then rising above even the heights we have set for ourselves is astounding.  The song says, "It is true we are as fallen as an angel ... but you and me we're also holy as a prayer, made in the image of a giver and a lover who left His throne to come down here."  Yet, we are easily distracted.

In the 60's there were people called Jesus Freaks.  When you hear this term you may be like me ... "I wanna be one of those!"  I heard a reference to Jesus Freaks during a Wednesday night message and I remember them ... I was there.  I knew some of these people who talked a lot about Jesus, loved songs like "Spirit In The Sky" and "Jesus Is Just All Right By Me."  They were a bit strange, very nice and I liked the Jesus Freaks that I associated with.  That was the 60's.  Fast forward to 2020.  Where are these paragons of belief, following and trusting Jesus?  50 years later, what did the faith, influence, sacrifice and evangelism professed by Jesus Freaks actually do?  Here's what I think.  One of my Seminary professors used a saying ... "that group/movement/event was "a spiritual bubble bath a mile wide and an inch deep.""  The movement lacked depth because the people were nice, did a pretty good job of the love/peace thing, sang good songs, had some pretty big gatherings where folks got baptized ... yet, the ripple effect on our nation, our society and our churches has not seemed to make much of a difference.  Why?

Just a few points here ... 1) They lacked Biblical foundation of what Jesus said and did ... Jesus was an idea and an image of their own creation.  John the Baptist had all of Jerusalem out to hear Him preach, and they went down into the water but came out the same as they went in (Matthew 3);  2) They had passion but the passion was not based on following what Jesus actually said (God says, "This is my son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!" [Matthew 17:5]).  God, in emphasis to Peter's distraction with Moses, Elijah and the hype of the moment, interrupts Peter, saying ... "Hey dude, listen to Jesus!"; 3) They thought they were 'radical' but had no idea of the radical calling of a Jesus who requires us to take up a cross, a yoke, a burden and a Holy calling.

In the end I have found we can learn stuff from cats.  My cats are easily distracted.  My cats are a bit like this all the time.  I got them a flippidy fish.  It is a rechargeable fabric fish that flips and flops around.  Sundae loves it and even Simone will play with it at times.  Whatever Sundae is doing, she will stop and go to the flippidy fish.  I think this is so like us.  We read a Facebook post that stirs us and we go "yea!" and repost (before we think).  We hear a message that inspires us and makes us feel good, powerful, mad, incited, and we begin to equate that false-passion with truth.  50 years pass and we learn, to our horror, that Jesus is real, active, still alive, and that His commands (which we didn't know because we had made our Jesus in our image) were still and always true.  We look down at the flippidy fish that has run out of juice and ask, "Wow, where was I for the past 50 years?"

Let's let Jesus be who He is.  Let's learn and know Jesus' commands.  Let's put away the flippidy fish.  Let's follow, worship, love, learn, grow, serve, forgive and be a different kind of radical ... the kind of radical led by Jesus "The author and perfecter of our faith."  Randy

Monday, November 2, 2020

Jesus 2020 (reprise)

OK ... let's try this again!  Sorry about the chaos at the end of last week with my positive COVID test and stuff.  I am feeling fine today, but life, Church and God's plans move on.

I have had some time to reflect about being "on-board" 100% for Jesus this year and have had a few thoughts that were tweaked a bit by Nicey's Sunday School class yesterday.  By the way, the class, preparation and participation was wonderful.  If you want to join next week's (Sunday the 8th at 10 AM) lesson, click here!  

Yesterday we were talking about Mark's account of the Transfiguration (Mark 8:2-7).  On either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon (there are arguments for both) Jesus and the disciples are met by Moses and Elijah.  This is largely considered the second greatest miracle in the Gospels (after the Resurrection).  The disciples are highly impressed and Peter wants to build three shelters, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus.  This statement indicates their reverence for Moses (representing the Law and Patriarchs) and Elijah (representing the prophets).  It seems Peter is placing Jesus and the other two figures on equal footing.  Then a cloud appears and covers all of them and a voice (God's voice) from the cloud says something profound that we should learn from in our current state of things.  "This is my Son whom I love ... listen to Him!" proclaims God from the cloud.  What should this mean to us?

First, God is saying that Elijah and Moses, the Law, the Patriarchs and the Prophets all point to something bigger than them ... Jesus.  It is not only "Jesus 2020" ... it is Jesus all the time.  I hear often "are you a New Testament or Old Testament Christian?"  At least in Methodism, we are full Bible Christians that believe what Jesus said when he said He had come to fulfill Scripture (Matthew 5:17).  The Sermon on the Mount expresses this in Jesus often saying ... "You have heard ... but I say."  Jesus is expressing, clarifying and amplifying God's Word.  He is making sure our ability to proof-text, fit the Scripture to our agenda and make God in our image has no foothold in what Jesus is saying.  He is clear ... "Do unto others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)."  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.  And a second is like it ... you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40)."  Jesus said the Law and the Prophets "hang" on this commandment.  Are you starting to get the point here!?  Jesus, and what Jesus commands us in primary.

Second, as we enter a contentious election time I hear people invoke Scripture that leads them to aggression, anger, nationalism, hyperbole, intimidation, demonization of others who disagree with them, and all sorts of behavior that are never condoned, commanded or led by the "author and perfector" of our faith, Jesus.  The words and ideas Jesus uses (click here for link) include Follower, Lover, Prayer Warrior (the only kind of warrior I see mentioned), Light (we are to be a city on a hill), Humble, Watcher, Rememberer, Forgiver, Seeker, Giver, Worshiper and Servant.  Compare these to what you are hearing from angry voices and those who are trying to stir you into a frenzy.  Compare these to a Jesus that said "God so loved that He gave His only Son so we could believe and be saved" [John 3:16]) snd "I didn't come into the world to condemn it but to save it" [John 3:17]).  What I am asking is for all of us who follow Jesus and take a transcendent step back (step outside of yourself and honestly look at YOU).  Ask yourself ... Am I following Jesus or am I following a god I have made into the image I like?  Am doing what God told 12 disciples up on a high mountain as they are faced with seeing the real Elijah, the real Moses and hearing the true and living God say ... "This is my son ... listen to HIM."?

It is easy to follow the god we have created to fit our rhetoric.  Jesus faces Pharisees who loved their authority and power.  He faced teachers who knew the Law and Prophetic writings intimately.  He faced His own disciples who were nationalists and zealots for forceful takeback of their nation.  He faced Romans who wanted to maintain their hold on Israel.  He faced familiar people who made fun of this "wannabee" preacher.  He faced the politics of a time of great division and turmoil, and God knew this when He told 12 disciples to listen to Jesus ... not even the most revered people of Jewish history.  Do you see these factions in our political scene today?

We feel self righteous and self justified.  That is because often our God IS self.  God is asking for something better.  He is asking us to do something really hard.  He is saying that we are to follow, worship and serve the God who actually IS!  He is telling us and 12 disciples that Jesus is above all, because He is our Lord ... our master ... our teacher.  And back to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30:20 ... "The Lord is your life and He is the key to living long in the land God has given us." Jesus 2020

Monday, October 26, 2020

Jesus 2020

You might have noticed that this year our church, Abbeville United Methodist Church, has a political sign in the front yard.  Well, to be honest, the sign isn't really political.  The sign says, "Jesus 2020."

Last Wednesday night John spoke about Matthew 28 which says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  As I reflected on this "Great Commission" by Jesus (as He sends out the disciples and us, the Church) I reread the passage.  It says, "Teaching them to obey everything I have commended you."  I think that is pretty clear! So, in light of elections, our "Jesus 2020" sign and our predisposition to only read the commands we really like, I thought I would compile a short list of some of Jesus' commands.  It is truly our responsibility if we call ourselves followers.

I have examined this list (please feel free to compile your own) and found some stark differences from some of the things that we might hear.  I found lots about becoming and believing like little children.  I found out that the greatest among us are to become servants.  I found lots about following, forgiving, loving enemies, not judging ... and I marveled that none of these things are championed by those that are grabbing headlines or calling passion a primary virtue (after all, Judas was passionate about his politics).  I found some good things about being "light" and we sure need that in this time of darkness.

The list I found (I will compile a list this week that includes everything) is so different from the aggressive, negative and zealous rhetoric I hear so often.  During Jesus' life I remember that there were parties and factions.  There were Pharisees, Sadducees and Priests.  There was the very political Sanhedrin.  Judas belonged to a party called "Zealots" and they were known for their passion and nationalism.  Is any of this ringing a bell in your mind or calling to something deep in your heart?  ALL, YES ALL, of these groups opposed Jesus!  Judas sold out his friend Jesus!  The Sanhedrin held an illegal trial and convicted Jesus of blasphemy!  The Pharisees, Sadducees and Priests opposed Jesus both openly and privately!  They didn't want Jesus for their leader!  But in 2020 this doesn't matter.  What does matter is ... do YOU want Jesus to be your leader?  Will you ignore or will you put down your baser feelings and desires to take up your cross and follow Him?  Here's what Matthew 16:24-26 commands ... "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"

If you want revival ... if you desire to become a follower ... if you want to do it Jesus' way ... if you really believe the Great Commission ... if you are down with God's self-proclaimed method of becoming people of God's purpose ... then Jesus says, "teach them to obey all the things I commanded you!"  I'll have a printed list of those Sunday ... then let's sift our politics, our passions, our rhetoric and ourselves through what Jesus commanded.  I, for one, come up way short when I do this ... but it is what He said, so that's my goal!  How about you!?  Randy

Saturday, October 17, 2020

2 Things

One of my seminary professors told us the Bible is essentially about 2 things.  When I heard this, I was both interested and skeptical.  I always thought the Bible contained all of the truth and guidance we needed for daily decisions and for living life in grace and relevance.  How could it be so easily summed-up?  The he said ... "The Bible is about who God is and who we are.  If we understand and believe those two things, all the other stuff will work out."

I gave this lots of thought.  If I know who God is and believe it, that seems to be a good thing.  We live in a world where we are pulled to-and-fro by competing definitions of God and God's priorities.  It is confusing to say the least!  One person says God is all about justice.  Another says God is all about judgment.  If these are true I am in real trouble because I deserve both and next to a holy God I stand no chance!  Bible book after Bible book gives a snapshot of God and the view seem to change according to the writer of the book.  What is God like?

Then, my professor gave this illustration.  If we take pictures of our family and look back over time we find many different views.  We see moments of affection, struggle, anger, laughter and fun ... and all of these things are a part of that family and the members of that family.  None of them are exactly reflective of a one-word description of the family.  Because families and people are complex, ever-changing and sometimes puzzling.  Now think of this as it relates to God and the Bible.  The Bible shows God as constant yet ever-moving to newness.  It says God is not like any of the things we can fit into our heads.  God is bigger, more complex and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  When Moses encountered the burning bush the phrase God uses when Moses asks "Who are you?" can be translated as "I AM the God that is!"  Vast, indescribable and unmeasurable ... we cannot quantify or qualify God.

Then, if God is all of this, who are we?  The song "Who am I" says "I am a flower quickly fading ... a wave tossed in the ocean."  I think we can all identify with that these days!  The Colossians could too!  Paul writes to them with encouragement.  Paul, in Chapter 1, says ... "I Thank God for you daily."  Then Paul reminds the people of some other aspects of who they are.  He says 1) You are created (V:16), 2) You are held-together (V:17), 3) You are reconciled to God through Christ (V:18), 4) You are no longer enemies of God (V:22),  5) You are holy through the redemption of Christ (V:23), 6) You are free  (V:23), 7) You are called to continue 'in the faith' (V:23), 8) You are called by the Gospel and 9) You are servants of Christ (V:23).  The song concludes ... "I am Yours."

God is big, unfathomable and beyond our understanding, yet God calls us to know Him as much as we can.  We are servants that are also children of the King.  I think if I were to sum up Colossians in a few words, they might be ... God loves you ... show your love for God by letting Him lead and change you.  What do you think?  Randy

Monday, October 12, 2020

Greater Than

Nostalgia is defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past."  We have lots of nostalgia in Abbeville, even being fine with being "stuck in the 50's."  It is not necessarily a bad thing as many things from past years were good, wholesome and worth preserving.  I am good with all of those things ... but God's Word seems to want us looking, up, forward and onward.

We spent last Sunday in Chapter 1 of Haggai.  Haggai, speaking God's words, told us to focus on the things important to God, specifically His temple.  It was sound advice.

In Chapter 2 of Haggai, the prophet reminds us that God has some great plans for us that will be better than past plans.  The people are rebuilding the temple and they, naturally, are in the nostalgia of past temples and past glory.  God says ... "not so fast!"  "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house! (Chapter 2:9)" What does this mean?

I think this means 2 specific things.  First, God is always cautioning us to remember He is into newness.  Revelation 21:5 says ... "See, I am making all things new!"  Isaiah 43:18 and 19 also reflect this attitude of newness.  Personally, I think God wants us to always retain the good things of the past, but leave the bad things behind.  He is refining, growing and purifying us as we live life and process life's experiences.  I love walking the streets of Abbeville, listening to 50's music, seeing the really good things that remind me of wholesomeness and values that were good and noble.  But as I remember, I also think of things we should and must leave behind.  History is filled with attitudes, ideologies and wrongness that we must see as non-Biblical and non-Godly.  I believe God wants His new temple and His new Church to learn, grow and become better every day.  He is doing a new thing.

Second, let's always remember that it is God's glory we seek.  Through all of the prophets God expresses that His glory and His presence is what we seek.  In verse 2:5 God encourages us by saying, "Do not fear ... My Spirit remains among you!"  God's glory reminds us that we can come boldly into the presence of God.  Hebrews 4:12 says, "Let us come boldly to the throne of grace!"  When we are all seeking the glory of God, we can come, pray, sing, serve and live in boldness, knowing that we all want to glorify God.

I think our "newness" in our present situation is similar to the newness experienced by Isaiah as he began his ministry.  Isaiah enters the temple and realizes, as he offers his prayers and worship, that there is a presence that has a life, consciousness and purpose of its own.  Isaiah becomes aware that this presence is pure holiness, power, goodness and perfection.  It is the glory of the Lord that fills the whole earth.  Isaiah says, "I am a dead man ... I cannot survive this encounter!"  The newness is both pure and terrible to an unholy person (like you and me).  Then God, in His mercy and grace does something.  God purifies Isaiah and puts him to work.  The story is a parallel to what God is trying to do with us.  Isaiah is not sent into some old system, a nostalgic pattern of worship or the "good old days."  God, instead, changes everything and tells Isaiah to speak truth to a people who don't want to listen or hear that truth.  "Take my glory out to the people, and shout it to the mountains and the valleys!"  It is new because God is vastly beyond anything we can imagine.  Yet, we seek God's glory ... we pursue God's plan ... we enter the dangerous, beautiful and terrible presence of a holy God ... and we trust Him to do what is necessary to bring us to His place.  So, "Thank you Lord for Your mercy, grace and presence!  Come and fill the hearts, lives and worship of Your people." Maybe we, like Isaiah, can't survive the presence of the Lord, because we need to die to some things.  It sounds like salvation, transformation and new life to me!  God's plan is for us to be greater than before!  Randy

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Empty Pockets

 The basic theme of Haggai 1 is all about priorities and what we are focused on.  One day I was playing golf and I threw my sunglasses on the ground.  I decided that nothing was going to draw my focus away from that ball so I hit the shot and totally decimated that pair of sunglasses with my follow through.  Maybe I should have moved them.

In Haggai 1 the prophet is telling the people the Lord's opinion of their priorities.  The people wonder why they toil much and harvest little.  They wonder why they put wages in their pockets and find their pockets empty.  They wonder why they spent lots of time and effort on their own houses and still find themselves empty and wanting.  God says it is because they are focused on their own stuff and are ignoring God's priorities.  God says, "My house is in ruins!"  What does He mean?

I think it relates to lots of things.  We talk about worshipping and following God, but when it comes to how God would tell us to "do church" I wonder if we listen.  Maybe we have allowed our church to lose focus and have emptiness while God is calling us to focus on Him.  Just a thought.

COVID has caused us to be a bit distracted.  Our own desires and priorities have drawn our attention away from the good stuff.  We have been too focused on elections and the media (social and otherwise).  And, we might have forgotten that our priority in church ... in worshiping God ... in learning about God ... in understanding that we exist to glorify, honor and praise God.  Lord forgive us.  I fear that in some ways we have let Your house be in ruins while we are caught up in our own opinions, priorities and our control.  Maybe (as the song says) it is time to get back to some basics.

Over the next few weeks we will have some awesome instrumental music by guest musicians.  I hope our rebuilding of our streaming capability will be done at a level where we can stream our services Sunday and Wednesday.  But rest assured one thing ... we will focus on God and lift Him up in His temple.  Time to rebuild and time do let God take us into the great plans He has made.  Thanks ... Randy

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Mr. Misty (or why I knew we were in trouble)

This blog, and the story therein, will test your DQ IQ.  I must admit to loving Dairy Queen ice cream.  I can tell you the branches (within 100 miles or so) that have the correct mix, informed employees and the best pecans.  It is a gift (or curse) for sure.  I heard a story the other day that reminded me of the source of some of our societal issues.  A woman went to DQ to get a Mr. Misty float.  You might know that the Mr. Misty comes in a slushy (like an icee), a freeze (ice cream mixed in) or a float (with a blob of ice cream in the drink).  The woman ordered a cherry Mr. Misty float, but when she got her order they gave her a freeze.  She politely said, "I ordered a float."  They replied, "We don't have cherry Mr. Misty floats."  The woman proceeded to explain that in order to make a freeze, the drink had to go through the phase of being a float.  Ten minutes later, they had told her repeatedly of the impossibility of her order.  While the actual story was a bit more involved, you get the point.  The girl at the window was unwilling to see the actual truth of how the drink was made, unwilling to consider that she could be wrong and unwilling to budge on something that was totally unimportant in the scheme of life.

I tell you this story because I find people every day who are much more focused on being right, having 'their' rights, and standing up for who-knows-what, than they are at looking at empirical truth.  Paul had a similar situation with the Galatians.

The people of Galatia have been given the truth of the Gospel, the grace of the Cross, the training of Paul and the blessing of adoption into the family of God.  Paul has reminded them that while they are children of God (last week's blog) children are expected to grow up into young men and women who have inherited the Kingdom of God and live in that Kingdom.  Paul is perplexed ... "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (4:16)

The woman in the story has become an adversary of the DQ employee because she has told her the truth.  Paul has become the adversary of the Galatians because he is telling the truth.  Many preachers pass on truth to their people, but the people only want what they desire to hear ... anger ... "we are victims!" ... "we must find some people to fight over our issues!" ... "the (fill in the blank) are the enemies of God!"  Did you know that a large block (at least 1/4) of each political party believes that if the other party's candidate gets elected, our nation will be destroyed?

The solution for the DQ employee ... the solution for our Church ... the solution for the nation ... the solution for the people of God ... is pretty simple.  First, seek truth.  Learn the facts.  How a Mr. Misty float is made.  What Jesus said, as opposed to what some charismatic person has told you Jesus said.  The truth about the issues that are important to you ... not what you are fed through Facebook, Google, CNN, Fox, MSNBC.  It is harder work to look for the truth, but if you look at Jesus and what He said and what He did, you can find truth.  "Seek and you shall find ... knock and the door will be opened," Jesus said in (Matthew 7:7).

Second, trust what God says more than you trust those other sources I just listed.  "Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good.  They want to alienate you from us so that you may have zeal for them (Galatians 4:17)."  I have never, in my years of preaching, met so many people who want to win others over for ill-intended purposes.  People post things they would never say in person.  People repost ridiculous arguments without a thought, because it was something that affirmed their political, social or religious perspective.  Can we all step back and realize there is only one perspective that should be our test of truth worth trusting?  God's truth!  In the words of the old song, "God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!"

Let's end this on a positive.  God is worth knowing, and God wants to be known.  God is worth trusting, and God wants us to trust Him.  God (His word in the Bible) is the place where we can all go for consistent truth that works if we will just apply it.  And that's the truth!  Randy 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Children of God

A preacher met an old man in a restaurant.  It was a normal kind of meeting since preachers like to eat and talk.  The two men struck up a conversation and they talked awhile.  On into the discussion the old man asked, "What do you do?"  "I'm a Christian minister," the pastor replied.  The old man said, "I owe a lot to a man of that profession."  

When the old man was a kid he had been born out of wedlock and his father had run away before he was born.  As he grew up he had learned to hate one question, "Who is your father?," since he didn't know the answer.  The bitterness in his heart, the anger in his mind and the emptiness in his soul had sparked quite a few fights and arguments as he grew older.  "Whose child are you?" became a reason to hate, fight and distance himself from other people.  His mother was a church goer and he endured the usual church life in the south.  One day the church got a new pastor and he prepared for the inevitable.  Sure enough, as he tried to leave the church before the pastor could get to the back door, he felt that hand on his little head and the preacher asked, "Who is your father?"  Then, after a pause that seemed eons, the insightful preacher said, "I know whose child you are!  You are a child of God!  I see a striking resemblance!"  That little boy's life was changed that day, and he went on to be elected twice as Governor of Tennessee."  It was all because he finally realized whose child he was!

Paul spoke truth to the Galatians who had been told they could not become children of God's promise unless they followed the customs and law of the Jews.  Paul writes, "So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27)."  Paul is saying, "I know whose child you are. You are children of God."

September is recovery month.  Really, each month and each day is recovery time, because recovery is something that is constant and ever-present.  This week we will be blessed by a cardboard testimony from our Celebrate Recovery brothers and sisters.  There won't be lots of speaking, but there WILL be lots of substance.  You will meet people who have spent much of their life being told they are misfits, defective, ne're-do-wells and flawed.  There are two errors in this thought process.  First, these folks are not the outliers ... they are the norm.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't have a hurt, habit or hang-up they need to face and (with God's grace) correct.  Second, all of these people are children of the Living God!  For "in Christ we are all children of God through faith ... there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female" and we could add black or white, liberal or conservative ... you get the point!  We are all God's kids ... so let's all go and claim our eternal inheritance, and stop arguing about whose inheritance is bigger, better or more valid.  Let's keep to remembering our Father loves all of His children, and let God sort out the things above our pay grade.  Randy

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dead or Alive?

In Galatians 2, Paul makes a bold statement about law and grace and life and death.  Paul's concern is simple.  If the law (the Torah and the Talmud) could save anyone, there was no reason for Jesus to die.  His message to the Galatians is ... "if you keep returning to the law, seeking to meet its requirements, you will be condemned by the law."  Paul says, "I died to the law!" (v. 19b).  "So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless." (v. 20-21)

Three issues here.  First, are you just existing, dead in the law?  Let's all be honest.  If we are living under the law of Moses and the Talmud (legal requirements) of the Jews, we are all guilty and worthy of the justice of death.  I hear people say, "I'm an Old Testament Christian!"  Sadly, there is no such thing, for Jesus said "I have come to fulfill the law (He took our sins upon the cross)."  He said, "I give you a New Covenant by water and the Spirit."  Jesus brings life abundant.  Jesus brings us newness of life.  We are full-Bible Christians who should learn to see the pre-Jesus Bible as preparation for the life, death, resurrection, newness and return of Christ.  Our part of this story is to die to the law, ourselves and our sin, so that we may do what Paul preaches ... "live for God" (v:19).

Second, is Christ alive in you?  Galatians, Chapter 2 is about how Christ lives through us.  Lately I have heard people (I think as an excuse for their nastiness) say things like, "Jesus didn't come so we would be good ... He came to save us."  While, on the surface, this is true, Paul reminds us that we carry in us (in our brokenness) a treasure placed there by Jesus (2 Cor. 4:7).  While Jesus didn't save me because I was good or to become a good person who keeps the law, I rather think Jesus living in me should produce goodness (one of the fruits of the Spirit).  Paul's rant about Peter in Galatians Chapter 2 reminds us that if God lives in us, if Christ dwells in us then we express the life of Christ to the world.  My challenge to those who try to defend nasty attitudes by claiming Jesus didn't "save them to be good," is this ... defend that position when Jesus prayed for unity in His last prayer ... defend that position when Paul (Gal. 5) describes the fruit borne of Christ-filled, Spirit-filled people as goodness, kindness, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, patience and self-control ... defend that position when 1 John 2:7 given us the new commandment to love one another ... defend that position when Jesus said, "I am giving you a new commandment ... to love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).  Please do not delude yourself or those you claim to lead by this false and dangerous teaching!

Lastly, realize we (Christians) represent our leader, Jesus.  When I was confronted by 4 thugs, one with a visible gun in his pocket, and he asked me who was the leader of our church, I answered, "I am the preacher but our leader is Jesus."  He considered this and asked me about coming to service.  When I made this same statement to a friend recently, he looked at me like I had 2 heads.  Martin Luther King rightly preached that negativity breeds negativity and darkness breeds more darkness.  We have enough of that stuff going on around us.  1 Thessalonians 5:5 reminds us "You are the children of the light.  We are not of the night but are of the day."  So ... my charge to you ... my prayer to God ... my "telling the truth in love" is this.  If you are alive in Christ, and Christ, as with Paul, lives in you (v:20), then represent ... re-present the Jesus who saved you, who loves you and who wants you to do good in the world because He has chosen you and you have chosen Him.  That's all, my fellow children of light!  Randy

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Liberty of Grace

Galatians is a book about 1) Paul's authority to preach, 2) the insidiousness of false gospel teachings and 3) grace.  Paul says stay away from false gospels and false teachers, follow those whose teaching flows from Jesus and honors God and focus on grace as a foundation for life.  One of my friends loved to say that justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting something wonderful we, in no way, deserve.  I like that.  So today let's talk about grace and the things that oppose grace.

Paul says legalism ignores grace.  Legalism led Paul to react to Christianity by putting down this Christ-centered nonsense.  Paul's mantra was "follow the law and align yourself with its principles."  That teaching led Paul, according to Jesus, to persecute Him.  "Paul, why do you push against Me?" Jesus asked.  I want to ask today's reactionary legalists that same question.  Do we really all want when we deserve?  Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind!"  Paul reminds us in Romans 12:17, "Never repay evil for evil."  I could go on with many Biblical instructions regarding this, but I hope you get the point.  Legalism leads to conflict, persecution and becoming enslaved to the very law you say you uphold.  I find it interesting that in today's world legalism has a solid foothold in ideologies that claim tolerance and ideologies that desire for everyone to get what they deserve.  Try saying something politically incorrect (either too conservative in a liberal region or too liberal in a conservative region) and see what happens.  You will be crushed!  Legalism isn't our way, Paul says.

There is another extreme.  It is license.  Everything goes.  In 1 Cor. 10:23. Paul says, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is constructive."  Wesley struggled with this theme of living life.  He battled antinomianism.  If you parse the word it means, "against the law."  The antinomianists were caught up in the theology of election, and since the elect and the reprobate were "pre-determined" they believed that they had license to do whatever they wanted.  The result was moral and societal chaos with a dash of anarchy.  Since everyone basically did as they pleased, evil, self-centeredness and chaos thrived.  Sound familiar?  Read Judges 19-21.  It begins, "In those days Israel had no king."  It ends (21:25) with "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."  Between those verses we see cultural decay.  There is dismemberment of bodies, a myriad of sexual sins, civil war that claims almost 100,000 men and anarchy.  It is God's way of warning us about the devastating effects of license.  When there is no standard, there is social, political, theological anarchy.  That is not the Church Paul is planting, nurturing and promoting.

Then, there is liberty.  The liberty flows from the grace of Jesus (1:12-24) and is by the divine revelation of Jesus.  That grace is affirmed by the leadership of the Church (2:1-10) and is part of who we are and what we do.  That grace is founded on the love taught to us by Jesus Christ when He reminded us that His greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as our self.  It is a grace that looks to the good of others ... not to our rights or our own desires.  It is grace Jesus taught the disciples when He told them that His leaders would not lord over others but would serve others.  It is the grace of our nature as Christ-followers who profess the message that we are no longer slaves (Gal. Chapter 5) to sin, the law or societal pressure.  Unlike the people of Judges 19-21, there is a King in our land.  His name is Jesus.  His law is the law of love that leads us.  His grace leads us to do things that lift up people, heal blindness and edify the Church that He has called His bride.  We are neither slaves to the law or bound by the human desires of license.  We have liberty, freedom and life from Jesus who is our King of Kings.  We could do as we please ... but we choose Christ, who writes our story and is perfecting us with sanctifying grace.  Thanks be to God!  Randy

Monday, August 31, 2020

From Christ, Toward God

Over the past week I have had several theological discussions with folks from AUMC and people from other places.  In those conversations it was very easy to find reasons to pigeonhole people, preachers and even music into our categories of good, bad and indifferent.  I have a tendency to do this very thing.  It sometimes helps me to sort out theology that is not in keeping with the life, word and work of Jesus.  But sometimes I can "throw the baby out with the bathwater," so to speak.  All of this is treacherous ground.  On one hand, I want to make sure that we are within Christian orthodoxy.  On the other hand, I love lyrics and music that honestly examine our relationship with God and praise all of His works ... not just those I like.

In Galatians 1 Paul gives a good guide of how to sort out the good from the bad.  He sums it up in 2 statements.  The first is from Chapter 1, verse 12.  Paul reminds the Galatians that his preaching and authority to preach do not come from a human source ...  "I received it from direct revelation from Jesus Christ!"  While Paul is reminding the Galatians of his apostolic authority and source, it is a reminder to me that my preaching and teaching must come from the Scriptures given to me (and us) by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.  Be very concerned if you hear of preachers, teachers and denominations that say they have special revelation beyond God's Holy Word.  Likewise, be careful that your beliefs accept all of the Scriptures ... not just the ones you particularly like.  Our belief structure comes from God.  It is one reason we say the creed.  The creed reminds us that there is an umbrella of Holy Spirit revelation under which our theology must fall.

The second statement is from Chapter 1, verse 24.  Paul reminds the Galatians that because of his preaching, teaching and witness, people praised God.  This is vital to our belief structure!  We have a very human habit of loving things like charisma, flashiness, sword rattling (a guy thing), brashness, prosperity-promises and me-focused theology.  Paul exhorts the Galatians and us in his final statement of the chapter ... "they praised God because of me!"  Paul is not placing himself on a pedestal.  Paul is reminding them (and us) of the point of teaching, preaching, theology and even my daily grind.  It is to praise God and to point to God.

This thought process came about because of several discussions (and some internal pondering of my own) about denominational and musical theology.  It IS truly important.  But Paul's 2 points cause me to ask 2 questions about what I teach, what we sing and what we can all say we believe.  Does it (the teaching, preaching, singing) flow from Christ?  Does it also point to God?  Great questions to ponder.  And before you "throw out the baby with the bathwater" this question happened very early in the Church when priests were found to be sinful.  Some wanted to say that the sacraments administered by those priests (baptism, communion, etc.) were not valid.  The early Church decided that the sacrament was sacred, not because of the priest, but because of the presence of God.  Good call, early Church!  Maybe what we should do is ask, about theology, music and preaching ... is it from Scripture?  Does it point to God?  That's what Paul told the Galatians.  Randy

Monday, August 24, 2020

Other Gospels

Over the next few weeks, we will travel through the book of Galatians.  Paul writes this book relatively early in his ministry.  He is clarifying both his calling, his authority to write and the centrality of the one true Gospel.  I hope it will be fun for all of us ... but I get to have the most fun ... I get to study and prepare!

This Sunday we will look at Chapter 1 of Galatians.  In this Chapter Paul affirms his apostolic credentials and provides a clear purpose for the epistle.  One of Paul's major concerns is that the Galatians have been swift to follow other gospels.  Paul writes ... "You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News! (Gal. 1:6)."  As I read this I couldn't help but think about the day in which we live and what Paul would say to us.  There is the prosperity gospel that tells us that God's purpose is to make us prosperous.  There is the liberation gospel that tells us that God is always for the causes of social justice (by OUR definition).  There is the warrior gospel that leads us to fight everything (including each other).  There is the angry gospel that says all of our infirmity is God's punishment of a wayward world.  There is the conspiracy gospel that points us to conclude that we are definitely in the end times and that government, opposing political parties, other groups of Christians and other ethnic groups are methodically conspiring to destroy the planet.  There is the environmental gospel that recoils at any of us who think economics might be a valid consideration in decision making.  There is the socialist gospel, the LGBTQ gospel and the legalistic gospel.  And my list doesn't even include our denominational differences!  Paul's message to the Galatians is spot-on for our world today!

So ... here we go!  Paul reminds us that when we preface the Gospel with anything but Jesus and Jesus crucified, we make it gospel-light at best (note I didn't capitalize the g).  In our walk through Galatia I am hoping we can clarify the Gospel and amplify the message of Jesus.  As Paul says in Chapter 1, verse 6, the one true Gospel comes through "direct revelation from Jesus Christ."

This week we can do 2 things.  First, we can watch for how we are being taught by a myriad of sources to connect human goals with Gospel truth.  Don't buy in!  God's word is all about leading (and being led) to God's place, God's truth and God's way.  Second, we can transcend the mire of messages that lead us astray and see the truth of a Gospel that confronts, convicts and converts (that involves change folks).  In a song by Susan Ashton called You Move Me she sings, "I can't go with You and stay where I am ... so You move me."  If your gospel affirms your personal desires/feelings and doesn't challenge you to be better, you are probably following one of those "other gospels" Paul is speaking of.  Let's look at them together and find joy, challenge and life in the journey!  Randy

Monday, August 17, 2020

Call Back

I had a harrowing experience last week.  Each year I have a stress test to make sure all heart-related things are in good working order.  I did my prep and took the test as scheduled.  On my way back from Crestview (the doctor's office is there) to Freeport I was driving on the interstate, minding my own business, and I got a call from Crestview.  I answered the call and the stress-test technician says that there were issues and could I come back to Crestview.  I, of course, complied.  On my trip back I thought of what this could mean and was dreaming of all possible worst-case-scenarios.  I asked, "Why would they call unless something was horribly wrong?"  When I got there the technician said, "Oh ... nothing wrong with you ... the imaging machine had some glitches."  Why didn't he tell me earlier?

As I played back this situation, I had a thought.  What if God gave me a call back?  What if God said ... "I need you to come back so I can take some pictures of your heart.  There are a few glitches that need working-out!"

This thought brings two passages to mind.  The 1st is Psalm 139:23-24 ... "Search me and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."  I wonder if God is giving a call back to His Church.  Can we ask David's sincere questions?  Are we willing to ask God to search ... test ... lead us?  I believe, for sure, we need this as individuals, as a Church, as a nation and as the body of Christ in the world.  We need a heart check and we need God to lead us out of our inability to see and follow His purpose (not MY purpose).

The second passage is Galatians 5:22-23.  If we have a heart check, what is a Christian heart supposed to look like?  Paul tells us ... "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives ... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."  That is what a God-led heart is to look like.  I think if God took a good look at me, He might say what the captain in Cool Hand Luke said to Paul Newman ... "What we have here is failure to communicate!"  I read, I sing, I enjoy listening to others talk about God's word ... but do I love God's word so much I ask God to change my heart ... change my way of looking at things ... change me to conform to God's will and way?

What about you?  What would God say if He called you back for a heart re-check?  Randy

Monday, August 10, 2020


In his version of Matthew 20:24-28, Eugene Peterson's "The Message" talks about leading by humility in an interesting way.  He speaks of leadership in terms of humility, serving and (by living in this attitude) freeing those who are hostages.  Here's what he writes ... "When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers. So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage (Matthew 20:24-28, The Message)."  There are many curious facets to this passage ... let's explore.

The first point of this passage is to describe leadership differently that the world describes leadership.  I am guilty of using my earthly leadership mentors such as John Maxwell, Peter Drucker and Peter Senge.  All of these men are learned, wise and well-founded in their leadership styles.  All talk of humility in a positive sense.  But Matthew talks of a kind of humility we don't often see.  Matthew writes that Jesus, our model of leadership, came to 1) serve, 2) exchange His life for many, 3) free those who are hostages.

We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, caught up in the politics of the upcoming election.  I won't dwell here because I try to offer Church as a refuge from this somewhat seamy business.  I suppose what we see unfolding has a place, but I wonder about how easily I see us throw Jesus' words out the window to express the virtues of our political persuasion.  I hear people say our leaders should be decisive, reactive, powerful, willing to be quick to use authority.  You have probably heard these things.  Then, Jesus describes leaders as servants, giving away life for others and focused on freeing hostages.  There seems to be a disconnect between Jesus' views and our views.  Which of us do you think needs to adjust their view here?

So, the passage.  The first point is that Christians ... followers of Jesus ... serve.  It is not optional behavior.  The entire idea of leading people to Christ is the idea of leading/influencing them to follow this person called Jesus.  Jesus says that to do this kind of leading, we serve.  It is a humble calling.  Yet, we seem to seek leaders who are aggressive and reactive.  Jesus specifically (various versions use different wording) says worldly leaders "throw their weight around," "Lord over others," and are decisively reactive.  Maybe we should read and follow Scripture here and seek servant leaders in churches, localities, states and nations.  Remember that Jesus is saying, follow me and serve.

The second point of leadership in Matthew 20 is the idea that leadership is sacrificial.  C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he talked about humility.  He said, "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself ... it's thinking of yourself less."  To be and lead in a sacrificial way, one must value others.  We are in a national argument about whose lives matter.  In Matthew 20, Jesus puts this argument to bed.  All people created by God matter, and if we believe (truly) that God created the heavens, earth and people, we must believe in all of those lives.  In the song, "So Will I" the writer says, "I can see Your heart 8 billion different ways, every precious one a child You died to save."  8 billion people on the planet.  "Red and yellow, black and white ... all are precious in His sight!"  Mothers, fathers, unborn babies, police, protesters, preachers, prostitutes, politicians, voters ... do you get the point here?  Jesus gave His life for all of these folks.  The writer of the song says ... "If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."

And, the last point, hostages.  That's what Peterson calls people who are in this world, but are being held by the terrorism of death, fear and self.  Jesus gave His life for these people ... so will I.  And I will do this in the unpopularity of viewing all of those people (above) as being God's possession.  I can't remember who told me this, but I believe it was a great lesson in viewing people and considering leadership ... "You can demonize behavior, but be very careful not to demonize people ... for when we demonize people, we run the risk of demonizing the part of that person God might be using for His purposes."  Maybe, we should lead by serving ... sacrificing time and life to save others ... becoming agents of releasing those who are hostage to fear, death and self.

I hope this blog helps you in preparing for what will be a contentious season.  Maybe you will choose to see people differently.  Maybe you will think about how God is grieved when we decide whose life matters and whose does not.  Maybe it will let you join with the task of serving, sacrificing and releasing the hostages.  Maybe you will see God's "heart 8 billion different ways ... every precious one a child You died to save. If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Finding Your Niche

Jeffrey Steele, a gifted songwriter from Santa Rosa Beach, is a talented guy.  He has written many songs you would know, including a portion of "Knee Deep" (Zac Brown), "My Wish" (Rascal Flats) and "The Cowboy in Me" (Tim McGraw).  I could name many more, but he has lots of talents in his hands, fingers and mind.  He has been very successful.  He tells a story about how he did things (including songwriting) backwards.  When he took guitar lessons in high school, he was failed because his finger picking was sub-par and he actually cheated a bit by using a pick.  He says he even writes songs backwards.  But it works for him ... it is his quirky niche.

Maybe you are like that.  I am too.  I cord my guitar differently than other folks because I was injured playing football and I am missing a finger ligament.  But I have adapted my style in spite of what could have been a deal breaker.

The point is this.  We have things happen to us all the time.  Someone has an accident.  Someone we love dies.  We get into a financial bind.  Our nation is hit by a pandemic and economic woes.  We lose a friend.  We make a bad choice.  I can go on.  But all of these things, while difficult, are things that God can, if we allow it, redeem.  God has a way of taking these difficulties and somehow turning them into what one writer said was ... "Something beautiful, something good."  One of my Seminary professors wrote ... "God never wastes a good crisis.  He doesn't always cause the difficulty, but He is always able to lift us out of those dark places."  Psalm 40 says, "He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along ... "

Peter was an uneducated fisherman.  Paul was an enemy of Christians.  Matthew was a tax collector.  All of the disciples had flaws that would have disqualified them from being used by God.  David was the runt of his litter, yet God loved and blessed him.  They and we are/were quirky people.  Jeffrey Steele says that his life experience caused him to rethink failure and flaws.  He realized that all of these things are opportunities for his special talents to be used for something worthwhile.  Hillary Scott sings a song that lifts my spirit every time I sing it.  It is called "Beautiful Messes" and it describes us ... people of infirmity ... people with quirks ... all lifted up by a God who wants us to find our niche of usefulness.  And don't think you don't have one.  If you are a Christian you have a gift or gifts and a unique nature that God can and will use.  All you have to do is one thing ... give God the 'yes' He has already given you.  And the beauty is ... after the yes, God does all the heavy lifting.  Never forget you/we are the Church ... the bride of Christ ... the hands and feet of the living God ... ambassadors with a mission and a message.  So, let's act like it and find our place in this world where Good News seems in short supply.  Get up and get going!  Randy

Monday, July 27, 2020


It seems that everything has been moved, changed, reoriented and modified this year!  It's a little like my mother coming to my house and putting things where she thinks they should go ... not where I had them.  But as I complain, I would love that experience of mom coming and doing her little and wonderful annoying things!  Be careful what you complain about!

I write this blog as I have just finished sending off my tax information.  The due date of April 15th was changed to July 15th because of COVID 19.  True to form, I still had to file an extension.  Habit, I guess!

As I was sending off the documents a phrase from Scripture came to mind ... Mark 12:17 says, “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”  Taxes go off to the government.  We are all a bit reluctant to send them, but it probably beats the alternative.  Even gangsters are afraid of the IRS.  But this verse does beg a question ... "What is Caesar's and what is God's?"

I would like to say what John prays often on Wednesday night as he asks (for self and for others) "Lord ... take my life!"  But I must say I am great at saying those words but not so great at giving with open hands to the God who will take all I give and turn it into beauty.  I am much better at singing the old song ... "Some to Jesus, I surrender, some to Him I gladly give!"  You get the point, I hope.

This little verse from Mark is more deep and more troubling than we would like to admit.  As I sit here writing these words, I am questioning myself.  Randy ... do you give God what is His?  Do those songs of surrender flow much easier than the time, the resources, the love and the life that is all owed to God?

To send my taxes I scanned some documents and hit a button.  Away the words went, into the ether of the digital world.  I was trusting that those pages would end up just where I was sending them.  It was as easy as the words to a pretty song.  I heard a friend preach about the act of giving once.  He said that the 'hands raised' with palms up was the appropriate gesture for prayer, praise and giving.  The idea is that when the palms are up one can offer and receive in prayer ... in praise offer and show emptiness wishing to be filled ... in giving offering with no intention of taking back what is offered.  While I didn't find lots of research on this, I do like the idea of giving to God with the idea that God will fill up my emptiness somehow.  That God will send a response to my prayer.  That God will send His blessing down as I lift my hands and heart in praise.  I owe the IRS the taxes they are due.  But I owe my very life and every good thing I have ever seen or felt to God.  So today I will pray with hands lifted, palms up, knowing that God will take my prayer and redeem it so that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Now that's a return on investment!  Randy

Monday, July 20, 2020


We have a fair number of hunters in our congregation.  So the subject of alignment should be familiar to them.  To hit your target you must align the sights of the gun with the target you want to hit.  At least that's how it should work.  But there are exceptions to this.  Sometimes the sights of the gun get out of whack.  They must be adjusted and realigned if they are to be useful as a guide to hit the target.  Sometimes our spiritual sights get knocked out of alignment.  Life is a constant process of realigning those sights so that we are aimed in the right direction.  We are individually, denominationally and nationally in need of realigning those sights.  For if what I read on social media, watch on TV and hear in conversations is what people believe, our sights have been knocked out of alignment ... they need to be adjusted to a standard better than the one people have set.  Thankfully, we have God's Word to bring us back to seeing and aiming for the correct target.

There is a story about one of our Vietnam heroes.  His company came under intense enemy fire.  Most were either dead or wounded.  One soldier who was a sniper was able to use his weapon but his sniper rifle had its sights damaged and it was dusk.  He was aiming blindly.  Then, he fired and saw a burst of dust pop up where the bullet hit the dirt.  He adjusted his aim and was able to take out so many enemies that they fell back and his company was able to get to safety.

We need that kind of alignment.  For some of us life has hit us so hard our sights have become misaligned.  Paul, in Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God's standard."  This is alright, and even normal.  But Christ calls us to recognize our propensity to sin and ask Him to realign our sights.  God loves us just like we are but He expects us to allow His forgiveness, grace and teaching to grow us up and align with His plan.

For others, we have allowed society to become our sight.  We have aligned with society.  Jesus, in Matthew 7:14, reminds us that the wide gate leads to destruction.  I see that wide gate in the social media, news media and rumor.  I have seen and heard so many ridiculous stories and statements on Facebook that it has become comical.  I think Jesus would tell us to get out of conspiracy theories ... get out of drama ... get out of narcissistic politics ... get out of the belief that Facebook and other social media has wisdom or advice that we should follow.  God created the rules of nature.  God created how things like science and math operate.  God gave us His Word to follow and trust.  Our nation's currency says, "In God We Trust!"  So ... do we?  "Be THOU our vision, O Lord of my heart."  Align with God!

And at this time many of us are being encouraged to align with politics.  We should definitely be informed and follow the right things in voting.  But, as Paul expressed in Romans 3, we have a standard to follow.  It is not a standard either owned or expressed by any of our political parties.  Parties, 'isms' (conservatism, liberalism, etc.) and even our denominations are made of people who all fall short of God's standard.  Romans 3:23 is about a universal "missing the target."  But Paul continues and reminds us that there are ways we can realign.  Holding on to God's sacrifice, receiving God's forgiveness, and believing in faith are all parts of this realignment.  But Paul's writings also express what John Wesley would call the 'realignment' of God's sanctifying grace, achieved through the disciplines of the faith.  These include prayer, fasting, service, sacraments, worship, Christian conferencing (hanging out together), and learning.  These are the things we must align with first.  Our political leanings must come "under God," not superseding God.  So, as you prepare to vote, sift your politics through Scripture, not society!

When we were camping with the grand-kids, we went on a .7 mile hike around the lake near our cabin.  The boys got out ahead of us and they missed the place where we should have crossed a stream and trekked back toward the cabin.  So we ended up at the BMX course.  They finally stopped and waited for us, and I had to assess where we were and how we would proceed.  I had to realign us.  We set off again following the trail that would lead us back to where we were staying.  After 4.5 miles we got back, tired but safe.  Fortunately, we were able to get back on course, and I believe we (nationally, individually and spiritually) can do the same.  But we must turn (repent) and follow God ... not conspiracy theories, political candidates, denominational leanings, politically-correct talking points or social media.  It is time to get back on course, back to Jesus and back to the path that leads to that narrow gate that leads to life.

Monday, July 13, 2020

But God Can!

In this time of anxiety there are some things we all need.  I talked to Cher Marvel last week and the Boys and Girls Club is reopening ... it is unknown how this will go.  We are continuing to hold 9 AM and 11 AM services, modified as they are ... it is up in the air how all of this will unfold.  I heard of the job turmoil of some of my friends ... none of us know how this will turn out.  And I read of the opposition to rebuilding Jerusalem's wall in Nehemiah 4 ... and I remember that turmoil isn't an outlier ... it is the norm.  We look at all of this and say, "I can't see how this will turn out well!"  But God can!

I heard the story of a cat that was relocated by a nasty neighbor.  The owner looked and looked and finally found out a general area where the cat was taken.  She posted fliers, she rode through the neighborhood, she looked in nearby woods, she put out food, but nothing happened.  Oh ... she did one more thing ... she prayed.  Six weeks passed and it seemed that all, including the cat, was lost.  Then she made one last trip and prayed one last prayer ... "If the cat isn't here I know I have to stop looking ... but Lord, please help!"  She heard a meow and walking toward her was the cat, a bit worn and frazzled, but very alive.  To her the cat was lost ... but God can find things!

Here are the words from Nehemiah 4:1-2 "When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”  People can't see past the rubble, the brokenness, the trouble, the obstacles and the ruins.  But God can!

There is a beautiful song with the words ... "When the mountains fall, and the tempest roars, you are with me ... when creation folds, still my soul will soar in your mercy, I'll walk through the fire with my head lifted high and my spirit revived in your story, and I'll look to the cross as my failure is lost, in the light of your glorious grace ... "  The song is called Glorious Ruins and it reminds me of the walls of Jerusalem, fallen, broken and waiting for a God who can revive and restore them.  It reminds me of a lost cat and the lost hope of a woman.  It reminds me of a nation of people who see ruins and wonder "will the stones come back to life!?"  We can't see the hope, the rebuilding or the restoration ... but God can!  Nehemiah had hope, faith and he told the naysayers ... "The God of heaven will give us success!"  

Monday, July 6, 2020


This week I have been reflecting on several things.  Last Wednesday John Riley spoke on Nehemiah and how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days ... pretty impressive!  In a time when we must restore and rebuild some important stuff, how can we learn from Nehemiah's example?  What are the traits of a nation that allow us to survive and even thrive amid centuries of strife?  What things, in our Church, allow us to grow stronger, better and even more effective in the midst of these same issues?

I will spend the next few weeks talking about the traits of a nation and a Church that has endured through all the things life has sent our way.  The first of the traits is the ability to adapt.

Last week I left Abbeville on Thursday so I could get up at the crack of dawn and fish.  When I periodically make this trip to Florida, there are always things that are in flux.  I have lawn work and chores, so I need to make sure I take the time to get those things done.  Sometimes Lee has things she has planned, so those plans go into the mix.  Weather, especially in the summer, is a moving target with rain, wind and heat.  If I plan to fish, I need to get live bait, and it isn't always available at the bait store ... sometimes I have to catch my own bait.  If I plan to get some down time and make use of my work time, I need to be willing to adapt.

In Nehemiah's day, he entered Jerusalem by the King's permission.  He didn't know what to expect.  He found enemies, stubborn Jews, and other obstacles that blocked him in accomplishing what looked like an impossible task.  This, unfortunately, is more the norm than smooth sailing.  In nature and in life we are often forced to change and adapt to things that happen.  Bad people do bad things.  Good people fail.  We are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Something happens in Asia and we find ourselves scrambling to adapt.  At our best, we do what Nehemiah did ... we seek God, we follow God and we shine our light at the darkest moments.

What did Nehemiah do?  He prayed for success.  He planned for the work ahead.  He assessed the work in real time.  He expected opposition and was prepared.  He persisted in spite of obstacles.  He 'got er done!'

As I thought about Nehemiah's ability to adapt, I thought of how many people have found new and effective ways of doing their work in the midst of a pandemic.  Many are working from home and have found it efficient, cheaper than the alternative, much better for the environment and often better for their employer.  They adapted.

I hope each of you will help me do a better job of adapting to our current situation.  While I have received advice ranging from the extreme of business as usual to total closure, we, as a congregation, have chosen to adapt.  We prayed.  We planned.  We assessed what needed to be done and made some changes.  We expected opposition and got what we expected.  We hope we have persisted.  We pray we have and will continue to 'get er done.'

I received a note from one of our people about 2nd service resuming last week.  The person was grateful for the resumption of 2nd service and complimented the music and the service.  I am thankful for all who were part of this restart.  I know we will need to be ready to tweak what we are doing and adapt to the situation on the ground.  But if we pray, plan, assess, expect, persist and proceed, I believe God will bless our actions.  And, of course, nothing ever happens like you plan it ... so you adapt!  Randy

Monday, June 29, 2020


A few weeks back, Lee had a problem with our water heater in Freeport.  I remembered it had happened before, and thought I knew what was wrong.  A storm had caused a power surge and the water heater had shut down.  The solution (the last time this happened) was to hit the red reset button on the unit.  Sure enough, it took longer to move the washer and dryer to access the water heater, than it did to hit that little button and have hot water again.

I think many of us would like to hit the reset button on 2020.  Chaos, vicious partisan politicians, political correctness, people destroying things that they do not own (anarchy), bipartisan narcissism and (not to be forgotten) that little pandemic, have all caused our world to be changed.  We need a reset button, but who is worthy to push it?

Yesterday our praise team sang He Is Worthy, which tells the story of the lamb (by the way, even God isn't embarrassed to refer to Himself as a sheep) who is worthy of opening the scroll in heaven (Revelation, Chapter 5).  The song is moving and beautiful.  The words from Revelation reminded me of something that needed to reset in my brain, so I write the words below more as an essay than my usual blog.  I hope you will be patient with me!

First, on the eve of our nation's birthday, I believe we do need a reset, but who is worthy of hitting that button?  Not arrogant politicians who use every calamity for their political leverage to further divide us.  Not people who try to use the mask issue to divide even the church.  Not angry mobs who just want to destroy and be angry.  Not wanna-be statesmen who use angry words and call them 'passion' to get our attention.  I believe that there is only one chosen, ordained, worthy entity that can push that little button.  That entity is the Church ... the same church that many are co-opting for their shallow political purposes.  Let's not allow that to happen!  Let's be worthy of hitting that button in the name of the lamb who is worthy of opening the scroll!

Second (and I am hoping to shear the sheep here ... not slaughter them) I think there is a way we can enact this reset.  I plan to try this plan on Wednesday and Sunday as we do something very traditional to reset our anger, redirect real passion toward good things, rethink our idea of what Church ought to be, and restore our love for one another ... all of us!  That plan will be simple ... we will remember the sacrifice of that worthy lamb from Revelation, and we will re-say that liturgy that brings us down off our high horses and onto our knees.  We will remember the mystery of faith ... "Christ has died ... Christ has risen ... Christ will come again."  We will remember the one who gave us great advice when he said ... "Remember me!"  We will think of the night he took bread, broke it and gave it to all the people in the room.  We will reflect on Jesus taking the cup and offering a new covenant of His blood, poured out for all of the misbehaving sheep ... for forgiveness and the grace God offers us (even me!).  We will commune with people who come in submission to a God smarter, higher and more forgiving that we ever deserve.  We will ask God to lead us to be worthy of His trust as we follow the Good Shepherd to a place our souls can be restored.

Finally, I will pray for some things to happen that will enact our acceptance of this great responsibility to be the agents of resetting us back on the path of God's Great Purpose (Exodus 19) ... "to bring us to Himself."  We are the Christ-followers that can lead here!  So many are asking why government can't get a handle on the chaos, the pandemic, the fighting within and without our great country?  They ask why their lives are filled with anger against even those fellow Christians who are more or less cautious in these times?  Then ... I remember Jesus' love, grace and power that can and (if we allow it) will bring us to our knees in unity and purpose.  That Jesus is the God of the preaching martyr Stephen who gave his life for his faith ... the God of the arrogant Saul who sat blind and stunned at God's accusation that Saul was persecuting God and God's Church ... the God of cautious Ananias of Damascus (part of the scattered Church that hid for awhile and wanted nothing to do with Saul) ... the God of John Riley, Randy Greene, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, and even those nasty Democrats and Republicans.

Who is worthy of hitting that reset button and calling each of us to accountability for how childishly we have behaved during this time?  The Lamb, through the Church that He has given authority and power and His Spirit.  Let's all ask forgiveness.  Let's all claim grace.  Let's all share the beauty of these gifts with a nation who asks God to "shed His grace on thee!"  Let's follow the commission to take Jesus' message everywhere.  Let's not forget God's overreaching purpose to bring us all "to Himself."  AMEN