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