Monday, November 30, 2020

What Do You Call Him?

As we enter the season of Advent and await the arrival of the Christ child, we can't help thinking about names.  Names are important, especially in Scripture.  Jewish names meant more than a few syllables.  They identified the person, but they also identified character.  In Luke 1 a silent Zechariah watches as, at the birth of his son John the Baptist, people want to name the baby after Zechariah.  Zechariah breaks his silence announcing that he is to be named John.  In Matthew 1, fourteen generations are named from Abraham to David.  And Joseph names the son he has accepted, Jesus.  Names and generations are important.

In "For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7)."  These are the names Isaiah gives Jesus.  Earlier Isaiah (7:14) called Jesus "Immanuel (which means God with us)."  These are Biblical names for Jesus.  We could add Master, Teacher, Rabbani, Son of God, and many others.  All would be accurate and descriptive of the character of Jesus.  But these names are words on a page, because names are just a collection of letters until we take them in and accept them.  I think this is why Jesus, in Matthew 16, asks the disciples ... "But who do YOU say that I am?"  It is a great Christmas question!  Who is Jesus to you?

I ask this question because Christians, among all the people of the world, should exhibit a confidence, a calm and a character that brings what Isaiah speaks about ... peace.  This week we will light the candle of peace as part of our Advent tradition.  It will be a reminder to allow Jesus to bring peace into our hearts.  It will cause us to recall that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If our God ... our Savior ... our teacher ... our example ... our leader ... is the Prince of Peace, should we not be purveyors of peace?  Should we not be those who show the world what we sing in the song ... "Our God is greater, our God is stronger, our God is higher than any other!"?

We must decide.  Is our God what we want Him to be or is our God who He says he is?  For me, I must follow and believe what God says about Himself, because if He becomes what I want Him to be, I, not God, becomes lord of my life.  And I have found that doesn't work very well.  Let's let Jesus be Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace that leads us past all of those emotions that bring turmoil to our hearts.  Jesus can and will do it if we let Him be who He says He is!  AMEN

Monday, November 23, 2020


In hard times, in times of strife and in times of confusion it is refreshing to hear someone speak the truth.  During Micah's prophetic work there were many things happening in Judah.  Micah denounced the idolatry and immorality of his people.  He lived and ranged through the country south of Jerusalem and was, like his contemporary Amos, quick to point out the oppression of the poor and the judgment that a Holy God would bring.  He spoke the truth ("this is what the Lord says") during times when truth was hard to discern. 

In the midst of denouncing the behavior and leadership of Judah, Micah also had an important part to play in the story of Christmas.  He writes ... "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2)."  It was surprising because no one would expect a ruler or a leader coming from a country town like Bethlehem.  It was truth because it was God's prophetic voice. 

We can learn a lot from God's true voice, especially in times of uncertainty.  The first thing we can learn is that God always offers hope.  Hope is the first lit candle of the Advent Wreath.  Traditionally the verse for this is Isaiah 9:2 ... "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light."  Hope is God sending light into our darkness.  Hope is God's voice.  Hope is truth when bloviation, conspiracy and disunity fill our social media and our conversation.  Hope is God saying, "the place may be small and insignificant, but I don't need much to work with ... just a mustard-seed of faith!"  Bethlehem, rural, filled with bakeries (thus it's name meaning "house of bread").  Bethlehem, having a regional prophet that faithfully tells the people "This is what the Lord says."  Bethlehem, filled with the people from a subset of the tribe of Judah, who will send out one who will be a great hope for a hopeless people. 

The second thing we can learn from Micah's prophecy is that God has it all under control.  He has planned it from ancient times.  He sends one who will "crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)."  He sends one who will "walk among us (Leviticus 26:12)" and be "Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14).  Our past, present and future are part of the plans of a God who has the whole world in His hands.

I wonder if God, as we enter the season of Advent, is saying to us what He said on the Mount of Transfiguration ... "This is My Son ... listen to Him!"  If there is a year when we need to stop ... reflect ... and listen, this is it!  As we enter Advent, we need the Jesus, who will be our God and we His people, to enter our homes, hearts and nation, and lead us from darkness to light.  He is our Lord and our hope!  Randy

Monday, November 16, 2020


When we read the word Thanksgiving, we all have memories and images that enter our minds.  Some of us think about food, family and the fellowship of believers.  Some of us have great memories of family gatherings while others long for and grieve people they have lost.  When I hear that word, I remember my mom's dressing (she cooked the best dressing ever!), cold green beans (she always left them out too long), turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  Our family would travel from wherever we were living to North Carolina and eat 2 meals ... one at lunch and one at dinner.  It was both fulfilling and filling!

This morning I had the pleasure of talking about thankfulness with the ACA kids, and heard the obligatory pledges, songs about turkey and thankfulness, and the beautiful voices of happy children.  My talk was a primer about the real first Thanksgiving here in America which took place in cold New England (Plymouth, Mass.) in 1620.  While numerous worldwide celebrations of thanks took place throughout history, it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed it as a holiday for all states.  You'll have to go to the internet for a more extensive history, but suffice it to say Thanksgiving has been around awhile.

One thing I thought as I was rolling Thanksgiving around in my head is how thankful I should be for God's ever-present grace, Spirit and love.  Romans 8:37-39 gives us this assurance and every reason to be thankful.  Paul says that nothing ... not angels or demons, not depth or height, not any power, not anything in all creation can separate us from God's love expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.  When I spoke to the kids at ACA, I reminded them that one of their pledges was to "hide God's Word in their hearts."  I told them that the Pilgrims, as they spent months on a small ship traversing the Atlantic, needed this assurance of God's presence.  The trip took from May to November, 1620.  About the 11th of November they set foot on Plymouth rock, not their original destination.  They had come so that they could live and worship in their little bubble, in their pristine world, free, happy and alone with God.  I find it interesting that God had a lesson for them, even as they professed love and faithfulness for God.  One of the first lessons they learned is that they couldn't survive without the help, experience and connection with the not-so-pristine (unspoiled) Native Americans.  Without local knowledge they might have been lost.

I think this story reminds us that we are never an island unto ourselves.  We keep and hold to our faith, for it sustains us in storms.  We hide God's Word in our hearts, because it gives us guidance.  But we also look for God's teaching and grace in our circumstances.  God never quits loving, teaching, sustaining and growing us.  So we watch, learn and give thanks for a God who always cares and always leads us to the land He has prepared for us.  That is Good News and that is every reason for Thanksgiving.  Randy

Monday, November 9, 2020

Just Cats

Hey!  I am speaking to you out of the COVID fog!  If any of you have had COVID-19 you know about the fog, the distracting effects and just the strangeness of symptoms.  There is a thing called COVID Brain, and it it real.  I have had some comical distractions.  Thanks for your prayers and the love you have expressed!

Without being political, it is interesting to look at our history regarding people, issues, events and even movements that have captured people's attention.  What I have determined is in our beauty, our capacity for love, our clumsy compassion, our falling to very low levels and then rising above even the heights we have set for ourselves is astounding.  The song says, "It is true we are as fallen as an angel ... but you and me we're also holy as a prayer, made in the image of a giver and a lover who left His throne to come down here."  Yet, we are easily distracted.

In the 60's there were people called Jesus Freaks.  When you hear this term you may be like me ... "I wanna be one of those!"  I heard a reference to Jesus Freaks during a Wednesday night message and I remember them ... I was there.  I knew some of these people who talked a lot about Jesus, loved songs like "Spirit In The Sky" and "Jesus Is Just All Right By Me."  They were a bit strange, very nice and I liked the Jesus Freaks that I associated with.  That was the 60's.  Fast forward to 2020.  Where are these paragons of belief, following and trusting Jesus?  50 years later, what did the faith, influence, sacrifice and evangelism professed by Jesus Freaks actually do?  Here's what I think.  One of my Seminary professors used a saying ... "that group/movement/event was "a spiritual bubble bath a mile wide and an inch deep.""  The movement lacked depth because the people were nice, did a pretty good job of the love/peace thing, sang good songs, had some pretty big gatherings where folks got baptized ... yet, the ripple effect on our nation, our society and our churches has not seemed to make much of a difference.  Why?

Just a few points here ... 1) They lacked Biblical foundation of what Jesus said and did ... Jesus was an idea and an image of their own creation.  John the Baptist had all of Jerusalem out to hear Him preach, and they went down into the water but came out the same as they went in (Matthew 3);  2) They had passion but the passion was not based on following what Jesus actually said (God says, "This is my son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!" [Matthew 17:5]).  God, in emphasis to Peter's distraction with Moses, Elijah and the hype of the moment, interrupts Peter, saying ... "Hey dude, listen to Jesus!"; 3) They thought they were 'radical' but had no idea of the radical calling of a Jesus who requires us to take up a cross, a yoke, a burden and a Holy calling.

In the end I have found we can learn stuff from cats.  My cats are easily distracted.  My cats are a bit like this all the time.  I got them a flippidy fish.  It is a rechargeable fabric fish that flips and flops around.  Sundae loves it and even Simone will play with it at times.  Whatever Sundae is doing, she will stop and go to the flippidy fish.  I think this is so like us.  We read a Facebook post that stirs us and we go "yea!" and repost (before we think).  We hear a message that inspires us and makes us feel good, powerful, mad, incited, and we begin to equate that false-passion with truth.  50 years pass and we learn, to our horror, that Jesus is real, active, still alive, and that His commands (which we didn't know because we had made our Jesus in our image) were still and always true.  We look down at the flippidy fish that has run out of juice and ask, "Wow, where was I for the past 50 years?"

Let's let Jesus be who He is.  Let's learn and know Jesus' commands.  Let's put away the flippidy fish.  Let's follow, worship, love, learn, grow, serve, forgive and be a different kind of radical ... the kind of radical led by Jesus "The author and perfecter of our faith."  Randy

Monday, November 2, 2020

Jesus 2020 (reprise)

OK ... let's try this again!  Sorry about the chaos at the end of last week with my positive COVID test and stuff.  I am feeling fine today, but life, Church and God's plans move on.

I have had some time to reflect about being "on-board" 100% for Jesus this year and have had a few thoughts that were tweaked a bit by Nicey's Sunday School class yesterday.  By the way, the class, preparation and participation was wonderful.  If you want to join next week's (Sunday the 8th at 10 AM) lesson, click here!  

Yesterday we were talking about Mark's account of the Transfiguration (Mark 8:2-7).  On either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon (there are arguments for both) Jesus and the disciples are met by Moses and Elijah.  This is largely considered the second greatest miracle in the Gospels (after the Resurrection).  The disciples are highly impressed and Peter wants to build three shelters, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus.  This statement indicates their reverence for Moses (representing the Law and Patriarchs) and Elijah (representing the prophets).  It seems Peter is placing Jesus and the other two figures on equal footing.  Then a cloud appears and covers all of them and a voice (God's voice) from the cloud says something profound that we should learn from in our current state of things.  "This is my Son whom I love ... listen to Him!" proclaims God from the cloud.  What should this mean to us?

First, God is saying that Elijah and Moses, the Law, the Patriarchs and the Prophets all point to something bigger than them ... Jesus.  It is not only "Jesus 2020" ... it is Jesus all the time.  I hear often "are you a New Testament or Old Testament Christian?"  At least in Methodism, we are full Bible Christians that believe what Jesus said when he said He had come to fulfill Scripture (Matthew 5:17).  The Sermon on the Mount expresses this in Jesus often saying ... "You have heard ... but I say."  Jesus is expressing, clarifying and amplifying God's Word.  He is making sure our ability to proof-text, fit the Scripture to our agenda and make God in our image has no foothold in what Jesus is saying.  He is clear ... "Do unto others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)."  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.  And a second is like it ... you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40)."  Jesus said the Law and the Prophets "hang" on this commandment.  Are you starting to get the point here!?  Jesus, and what Jesus commands us in primary.

Second, as we enter a contentious election time I hear people invoke Scripture that leads them to aggression, anger, nationalism, hyperbole, intimidation, demonization of others who disagree with them, and all sorts of behavior that are never condoned, commanded or led by the "author and perfector" of our faith, Jesus.  The words and ideas Jesus uses (click here for link) include Follower, Lover, Prayer Warrior (the only kind of warrior I see mentioned), Light (we are to be a city on a hill), Humble, Watcher, Rememberer, Forgiver, Seeker, Giver, Worshiper and Servant.  Compare these to what you are hearing from angry voices and those who are trying to stir you into a frenzy.  Compare these to a Jesus that said "God so loved that He gave His only Son so we could believe and be saved" [John 3:16]) snd "I didn't come into the world to condemn it but to save it" [John 3:17]).  What I am asking is for all of us who follow Jesus and take a transcendent step back (step outside of yourself and honestly look at YOU).  Ask yourself ... Am I following Jesus or am I following a god I have made into the image I like?  Am doing what God told 12 disciples up on a high mountain as they are faced with seeing the real Elijah, the real Moses and hearing the true and living God say ... "This is my son ... listen to HIM."?

It is easy to follow the god we have created to fit our rhetoric.  Jesus faces Pharisees who loved their authority and power.  He faced teachers who knew the Law and Prophetic writings intimately.  He faced His own disciples who were nationalists and zealots for forceful takeback of their nation.  He faced Romans who wanted to maintain their hold on Israel.  He faced familiar people who made fun of this "wannabee" preacher.  He faced the politics of a time of great division and turmoil, and God knew this when He told 12 disciples to listen to Jesus ... not even the most revered people of Jewish history.  Do you see these factions in our political scene today?

We feel self righteous and self justified.  That is because often our God IS self.  God is asking for something better.  He is asking us to do something really hard.  He is saying that we are to follow, worship and serve the God who actually IS!  He is telling us and 12 disciples that Jesus is above all, because He is our Lord ... our master ... our teacher.  And back to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30:20 ... "The Lord is your life and He is the key to living long in the land God has given us." Jesus 2020