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