Monday, April 27, 2020

Seeing is Believing?

We have all heard the term ... "Seeing is believing!"  But in these times of struggle and difficulty I have seen and heard much that I have not chosen to believe.  Belief is important, and knowing the right things to believe can be crucial, even life and death.  I was listening to a report today about a heartburn medication that is being studied as a therapy for COVID-19 patients.  I expect that people, who are grasping for what to believe, will hear this report and clear the shelves of various treatments for heartburn, without knowing the science, without considering possible side effects and without sending the news report through any cogent mental process.  Heartburn medication will go the way of toilet tissue, spray disinfectant, hand sanitizer and Clorox.  I have wondered about people often over the past few months ... we can be shepherd-less sheep.

It seems at times of crisis we are willing to grab on to almost any glimmer of hope.  But not Thomas!  "Seeing is believing" said Jesus' doubting disciple.  Read it for yourself.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus appeared to the disciples in a closed room, so Thomas said, "I won't believe unless I see the nail marks in His hands and feel the holes the nails made ... unless I put my hand where His side was pierced."  We are all down with a run on Pepcid and Clorox but when it comes to Jesus, we want to see Him in the flesh ... like Thomas.

A few thoughts on this passage.  First, Jesus reminds that the greatest blessing of true belief comes when we believe even when we do not see.  All Job saw was turmoil, trouble and unfaithful "friends," but Job said he would put his trust in God and that he was sure of a living God in the midst of all he faced (Job 13, Job 19)!  Really, our hope for revisiting our dead friends/family, our hope for true redemption of this world, our hope for true justice and our hope for final and eternal victory rests in a God who, so often, is beyond our vision.  This is so evident that the writer of Hebrews (in Chapter 11) says "faith is hope in things unseen."  In John 20, Jesus says that when we hope in these things, when we believe in a God we don't see clearly, we are blessed.

The second hopeful note from John 20 is that Jesus seems to go out of His way to seek out and find Thomas.  Thomas wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.  But Jesus cares about the individual.  He expresses, in this little story, His desire to be personally known and believed by each of us.  Jesus met Thomas where he was ... steeped in doubt and disarray.  Maybe that is where you are today.  Maybe the things you held as unshakable have been shaken.  Maybe your friends are acting strange because of world events.  Maybe government isn't the solace and guidance you need.  Maybe jobs and finances are uncertain.  Maybe you don't know what tomorrow brings.  But the old song plays in your mind and gives you a warmth and certainty ... "Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."  Blessed, indeed, are those who believe in a God they cannot see, for God is here and God is there "at the ending of the rainbow, where the mountains touch the sky."  Randy

Sunday, April 19, 2020

On To Pentecost

If you watched our worship on April 19, 2020, you heard about one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Jesus meets two men travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  He teaches them, corrects them and travels with them to Emmaus where He reveals Himself to them.  This is the first message in a series I am calling On To Pentecost

In an historic sense, these moments of Jesus' appearing to the disciples is true revelation of God's nature.  God wants to teach us (the April 19th message).  God wants us to have peace in troubled times (this coming week's message).  God wants us to know so much about His nature and about His calling and purpose.  The post-resurrection appearances are truly windows into what God is like and how much God wants to be known and experienced.  It is great stuff!

In Luke 24:36-49 Jesus appears to His disciples.  They are gathered together, probably talking about the events of the day. It a very personal and human appearance of Jesus as He enters rooms through walls, seeks nourishment, and tells the disciples He is fulfilling and empowering even as He moves toward ascension.  The words that come to me from this story are grasp, grow and get ready.

Grasp the magnitude of what has and is happening.  The resurrection is a big deal that will forever change the world.  In our lifetimes few things have changed the world.  Most of us remember 911.  We will all remember the coronavirus pandemic of (at least) 2020.  But Jesus' resurrection and related events changed the very fabric of society then, throughout Church history, and even today as we gather (currently digitally) to pray, worship and express our faith.  The man that changed history is also the man that can move our mountains, break down our walls and give us strength to overcome this world.

Grow in faith.  The time between the resurrection and Pentecost is a time to understand just who we are.  We are those people who will, under the power of God, be agents of change in the world.  We will (Matthew 5) become the light of the world, made into that light as we are transformed into the image of the risen Lord.  Jesus gives us His glory and strength of faith (He is the author and perfecter of faith) so we can light this world.

And this is a time to get ready.  I have been thinking about this idea for the past week.  What will ministry look like over the next year?  How will we fund missions?  How will we connect with the children in our community?  How will we improve the new building across the street?  How will we feed school children, send resources to Red Bird, help with community needs, help our friends in Belize, distribute food from the food pantry and what will worship look like?  I think Jesus would say to us what he is saying to the disciples.  Grasp what is happening ... grow in faith ... and get ready because I am about to do something that will open your eyes and open the world!

In John's version of this story, Jesus opens the minds of the disciples and they have immediate understanding of the Scriptures.  "Lord ... I pray that you will open our minds so that we better understand you.  I pray that we realize the power you gave us at Pentecost.  I pray for creativity, energy, passion and knowledge that you go before us always, preparing the way ahead.  I thank you for all of this and will seek to express that thanks in a way that tells the world of your glory.  AMEN."

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Always Teaching

I wonder if sometimes we assume that by being in Church (or now watching our services online) we sometimes hear the Word in the music, message or prayers but fail to receive the teaching that is and should be happening.  Teaching is vital to our faith journey!  It is why we encourage you to be part of a small study group, a Sunday School class and/or our usual weekly Bible study.  This week we will send something your way at 7 PM Wednesday.  Here is the link!

On the original walk to Emmaus (the one from Luke 24:13-34) Jesus listens to Cleopas and his friend as He joins them walking to a town called Emmaus (about 20 miles west of Jerusalem).  They are rambling about the events of the crucifixion, the things that happened to Jesus, the story of the women and the empty tomb and the "gossip" of what was happening in their midst.  They might have been as disoriented as we are watching various news channels as our media report their particular perspective of the news without actually knowing (or caring) about the truth of what is happening.  Here are some thoughts from this story ... thoughts that are VERY applicable to us in our current crisis.

The first thought is about our foolishness to follow our perspectives instead of pursuing the real truth.  "You foolish people!" Jesus said.  "You find it so hard to believe what the Prophets wrote in the Scriptures!" (Luke 24:25).  I read last week that the beaches in South Walton should be opened because the people in the area need the sunlight to generate sun-activated vitamin D.  I wondered if the sun was different at the beach that it was in every back yard in South Walton.  I guess we will believe anything!  I could share other ridiculous stories, but the story here is that Cleopas and his friend are listening to gossip and not sifting that gossip with the truth of God's Word.  Teaching is important so that we have a standard of comparison to the waves of trash talk we find on every single "news" channel.

The second thought is the patience of Jesus as He recounts the teachings of the prophets and the Scriptures to people who claim to be disciples.  Jesus talks and teaches in the midst of a world that has been turned on its head.  I think about this as I share the weekly Bible studies and know that learning is the place we should all be.  Freddie, John, Nicey and I have all agreed to be part of this teaching because teaching is important.

Finally, I see, in this little story, the end result of teaching and learning.  When we learn ... when we are taught by credible people ... when we want truth (not opinion or perspective) ... our eyes are opened.  In the story Jesus breaks the bread for their meal and it all clicks together for Cleopas and his friend.  They see Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.

In our crisis, allow yourself to be taught by the author of truth.  Understand that your Facebook feed is filled with people trying to sell you on what will get your attention, get you angry, get you distracted and sometimes just give you gossip.  Paul said, set your minds on the things above.  Good advice for the times we are in!  Randy

Monday, April 6, 2020


Very interesting days we are in.  Holy Week is in full swing and most of us are under stay-at-home orders, trying to make sense of a world that is sending us information, speculation, political perspectives, daily virus updates, special interest stories and wonderful replays of sporting events like the 2015 Hot Dog Eating Contest or the 2018 Axe Throwing Championships.  We are finding some very creative and lame ways to spend our time.  Here are a few thoughts about all of this.

1.  Jesus didn't lose sight of His mission in the midst of a very chaotic week.  He focused and went on to the cross.

2.  Jesus' horrible but necessary week of suffering, betrayal, torture, humiliation and abandonment was redeemed on Easter Sunday as death was swallowed up by Jesus' victory over the enemy.

3.  Maybe all of this chaos will teach us to stop, think, remember, listen and see through the mist of our world to God's better world for all of us.

I have to say that yesterday was a struggle.  We had technical issues as we tried to get Palm Sunday service up and running.  I had some great friends who were waiting and trying to link in to our service and I wanted everything to be perfect.  The Zoom site had issues yesterday and our links to the service were altered without our knowledge.  It was crazy, confusing, frustrating and just plain infuriating at times.  My team was working frantically and they stayed their course (thanks to all of you!) but their fearful leader was frazzled.  When I went home all I wanted to do was curl up in the corner in a ball.  Then, I read a text from my daughter.  My granddaughter, who had been working to ride her bicycle, was up and going strong.  I got a wonderful little video of this, and it brought me out of my pity party into the reality of this week.  I remembered that nothing I had experienced meant much when it was compared to the beauty of Jesus' resurrection ... the beauty we will celebrate on Easter morning.  In spite of the craziness in this world we are in, Easter will happen.  We will sing Christ The Lord is Risen Today.  We will talk to family.  We will be glad for the beauty of the day that the Lord has made.  And all of us will know the most beautiful thing ever ... we are loved by a God willing to give up His very life so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  That is true beauty!  Randy