Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Questions or Answers?

In Acts 2 there is a wonderful story about the birth of the Church.  The promised Holy Spirit arrives.  Disciples proclaim the Gospel in languages all in Jerusalem can hear.  Those that have been in a room waiting respond to the wait being over!  Must have been glorious!  But embedded in this story is a thought about who we are in the story?

The Acts 2 story ends with two statements.  The first is a question ... "What does this all mean?"  The second is a statement ... "They are just all drunk!"  The first group is seeking answers.  The second already knows the answers.

As I hear people and read social media I see a lot of that latter group.  People who have all the answers about conspiracies, epidemic statistics, stories about vaccines, success or non-success of treatments and everything you might imagine.  It seems these people will re-post almost anything.  I just move on by, because I want to be in that first group that continually asks ... "What does this all mean?"

Sunday is Pentecost, when the Acts 2 story bursts off the page and into the very DNA of the Church.  We go.  We proclaim.  We use whatever measures we can to follow that early church into our world.

As we change gears yet again and begin to worship together, rethink everything, ask ourselves how we best reflect the love, boldness and life of Jesus in a confused world, we might think we know all the answers.  Your pastor doesn't ... but I will work to find them.  Pray that I will lead well and find the answers Jesus is giving me.  Pray that we, as a Church, will become people who continually ask and seek the answers to ... "What does this all mean?"  And when you meet the person who has all of the answers to that question, run the other way.

I love you all.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for the Church. Pray for our nation.  Pray that we will all be filled with God's Spirit, the Spirit of truth.  Pray!  Randy

Monday, May 18, 2020

What We've Learned

I remember the time I was benched.  I had learned what I was supposed to do in practice but when it got to be game time I decided to be "creative" in how I did my job.  The coach wasn't amused.  I got benched to think a bit!

While I was benched I had a chance to reflect.  All sorts of emotions whirled through my head.  Was I cut out for football?  Anger at the coach.  Anger at me.  And, finally, resolve.

In that time of resolve I thought.  What was really important?  What do I need to learn about me, my team, my coach and my part in what is happening?  You see ... I found the time on the bench as a time to learn and grow so that I could return to the team better than ever!

A few reflections:

1. We really haven't been benched ... we are still the Church.  But we are definitely having that time to reflect and think about what is important, what team means, what our coach is teaching and what we can learn from all of this.

2. We are far less active than we would like to be.  We are impatient to get back on the field.

3.  But what can we really learn from this period of inactivity?
  - Maybe we can think about what has and hasn't worked in the past?
  - Maybe we can ask, what practices and traditions need to be changed or discontinued?
  - Maybe we can ask Jesus, "How can I follow You better?
  - Maybe we need to look at things like our practices and traditions and ask, "How do these things edify the Church (1 Cor. 12 ... the reason we have been given gifts for ministry)?

For the last few weeks we have talked about Jesus' post-resurrection appearances.  During this time Jesus is shown as still doing miracles (including the miracle of forgiving wayward followers).  He has given advice and instruction.  He has told of a day when His Spirit will come and all of the disciples will be sent out into the world to do great things.  Till Pentecost, they are benched. 

I have a friend who has been working from home.  She has saved money on gas, child care, wear-and-tear on her car, and she has been getting her work done.  I saw a special in which India's urban areas have actual clear air rather than their usual haze of smog.  I have heard people talk about how they have learned to see life differently during this pandemic.  And I have heard impatient voices that want everything back like it was.

I am totally in agreement with our getting back to work and productivity.  And I long for worship with each of you as we share, sing, and do life together.  But as we all go through this process, wouldn't it be wise ... even 'Christian' ... to think about what Jesus has been teaching us?  Wouldn't it be a good thing to clean the barnacles off the good ship of Zion so that when we return we can sail with the speed and direction that we were designed for?  Wouldn't it be great if we let God do what God is very good at ... bringing order to our chaos (rather than returning to the chaos and 'business as usual')?  Wouldn't it be holy to allow our great coach to teach us and lead us back into a better life?  Whatever your political perspective, please take a moment and pray that we will be teachable so that we learn, grow and become better through all of this.  It is our Christian responsibility.  It is our American heritage.  It is our personal privilege.  Let's re-enter the game better than ever!  Randy

Monday, May 11, 2020


There is a lot happening regrading the word "authority."  In the Webster's 1828 Dictionary, authority is defined as "Legal power or a right to command or to act.  As the power of a prince over subjects and of parents over children.  Power, rule, sway."  The Greek word is exousia, and the Greek definition is similar, except that it defines this legal power as operating in a jurisdiction.  Both words are good for my thoughts today.

Matthew 28, the great commission, is one of Jesus' last appearances before His ascension.  His meeting with His disciples in Galilee is all about what we would call change, a passing of the torch and imparting of power/authority.  It is an important meeting and it is foundational for us to understand who and what we are as disciples.

Seeing this word amidst protests, a totally divisive new media, a rise of blind partisanship, people taking sides on seemingly every issue, totally illogical statements in social media and many asking the question, "Who and what do I follow?" makes the idea of authority both relevant and important.  Who do you follow?  Upon what ideology do you base your decisions?  If Jesus came to town today and He entered your home, your workplace or your church, how would He classify you?

In Matthew 28 Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me."  It is a short but telling statement.  Jesus is saying that he has exousia over pretty much everything we think we have control over.  John Riley often quotes Psalm 24:1 which (paraphrased) says God owns it all ... the earth, the people, all the stuff.  Jesus says He is the one who has authority over what Psalm 24 calls "the fullness thereof."  Jesus' authority is universal.

It is interesting that even Jesus gets His authority from somewhere, apparently God expressed in the trinity.  Authority is both given and accepted.  It comes from somewhere.  In a world where my neighbors are having post-COVID parties, protests talk about freedom as if it is the power to do whatever I feel like doing (i.e., I am my own authority), I wonder if we operate under any authority.  As we plan for beginning of services (modified of course) we operate under authority.  The Bishop has an opinion.  The Governor has an opinion.  Our leadership has an opinion.  The public has an opinion.  I have an opinion.  But to whom do we report to?  Who is our authority?  Remember ... authority comes from somewhere, even if it is self.

A final point ... authority goes somewhere.  It would be wonderful if our choices and decisions only impacted us.  I hear a lot of people talk about how they should be able to do whatever they choose ... after all, it only impacts them.  I remember a few years ago a woman (Kaci Hickox) was clearly exposed to ebola, a highly contagious and deadly virus.  She refused to be quarantined.  The civil liberties people said she shouldn't be quarantined against her will.  Medical experts said that ebola, with a 90%+ mortality outcome, was so dangerous, the woman should be forced to self-isolate for a specified period.  Who was correct?  These issues are the very ones we will be wrestling with at a Zoom meeting with our church leadership tomorrow.  These are the issues that 2 Zoom meetings (one Monday and one Tuesday) will address as hundreds of pastors discuss returning to worship.  Pray for us!  These meetings and the decisions that follow are not easy, simple or popular.  Our authoritative decisions will go out into our community and out into our congregation.  They will impact me, you, our older folks, our children, our workers, our ministries and life at Abbeville UMC.  So I will end with a prayer today ... "Lord ... you have imparted your authority to us, passed on through the Father, the Holy Spirit and You.  It is a huge and grave responsibility.  You would not have given it if you didn't think we could handle it.  So, we ask you.  Keep that promise you made at the end of Matthew 28.  Be with us now and even to the ends of the earth.  Help us make our little part of the world better because we are here.  Help us become the Genesis 12:12 "blessing" that we, as Your Church, should be to all the earth.  Grant us both the authority and the wisdom that comes from knowing you, from becoming selfless, and from being your princes and princesses, with Your imparted authority to make disciples and teach people about You.  We need your leading and guidance.  We need Your Spirit.  We need you!  Thank you, Jesus, for everything You are and all You do.  In Jesus' name, AMEN."  Randy

Monday, May 4, 2020


I have to confess to being possessive about fishing spots.  I have fished Choctawhatchee Bay for a fair number of years and I have found a very productive fishing spot.  Only a few people know the place I fish, and I keep that secret well.  The footprint of the spot I fish is relatively small.  But I usually catch fish, last week 20 redfish and trout.  I know where the best spots are.  I know the tackle that works.  There is often unseen abundance under the surface of the water.

But I am just an amateur.  In John 21, Jesus encounters His disciples on a fishing trip.  Even though they know fishing they have fished all night and caught nothing.  Jesus comes near and tells them to throw their nets "on the right side of the boat."  They caught so many fish the nets are ready to break.

We are in a time where our fishing has been hampered.  We keep fishing and we keep going on, but we feel like things aren't being productive.  It is a struggle to serve virtually, do Bible study on Zoom, preach to the few workers who help out on Sunday morning, have little or no interaction with the public during office hours and generally feel like we are 'stuck' in the mud of this pandemic.  Then, I read this passage.

None of us have lost our giftedness.  We have gifts for ministry that God can use at all times.  We might have to be more creative than usual, but we have talents.  We can use them! 

We have a Master that knows the right place to fish.  He is saying, "cast those nets in places that are out of your comfort zone."  Sunday morning, and hopefully this week, Nicey will cast her net differently as she hosts a Zoom Sunday School Class.  She fished there last week and I am pretty sure they were biting.  Jackie, Janet, Emily and Freddy cast their nets on the right side of the boat as they plan Senior Moment Sunday (May 17 from 2-4 PM in front of the church).  You can drive by, see them and their parents, and drop notes, gifts and well-wishes into their baskets (maintaining physical distance).  There will also be special video clips that week at worship.  Jesus knows where to fish as we use our obedience and creativity to serve where we are planted.

And remember ... Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are in charge of our abundance.  We join in the harvest, but the Lord of the harvest delivers the crop.  We cast our nets where we are directed.  We use the abilities we have been given.  And we trust that God will and can do great things if we follow Him.  It is a good fishing story but a better ministry story.  Thanks be to God!  Randy