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