Monday, May 3, 2021

Building

I have spoken with a number of young people who live in a culture where the "in" thing to do is trade insults, barbs and put-downs as a matter of doing daily life.  On the other extreme it seems that people are overly sensitive about anything negative that hurts their feelings.  It is a strange time and a difficult balance.  How do we, as Christians, speak into this world?  For the answer we go to God's Word.   Romans 14:19 says, "let us work hard to build one another up."  Our children learned this passage last month.  For this month there is another passage about building, one that is familiar and foundational to our faith.  It is the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

It is not hard to apply this passage to Mother's Day theme.  Mothers are builders.  They want good for their kids.  They want growth for our children.  They are building every day so that their children will have lives that are solid ... build on a good foundation.  

It is such a blessing to see those foundations stay and stand through the generations.  I am excited that we have our own Jackson Blalock playing piano in both services today, something that came from his father (Ryan) but to his father through Ryan's mother.  The foundation is something solid, good and natural when a good mother taught and modeled it in her life.  And if music is part of that good foundation, how much more is God's word.

Marilyn, Andy. Lee and I went to a conference last weekend.  We learned some things about happenings in the Methodist church.  The overriding themes of the conference were three things.  The first was, we are called to go and tell the Good News of the Gospel to the nations.  The Greek word is for nations is the word we get the term ethnic from.  Our call is to teach every ethnic group, there are thousands that have never heard, about what Jesus said and did.  We are to lead these folks to discipleship.

The second point is that, in the midst of the chaos of decisions, bad leadership and anger, we are to remember our message (declared by the Holy Spirit).  We are to lead people to Jesus.  Paul said we preach Christ and Christ crucified.  That means forgiveness, new life, grace and peace.  In Colossians 3 Paul writes, "none of this going off and doing your own thing."  We follow a solid leader and a solid message.  We can build on this.

The third thing we must remember is that unlike the world, we are founded on the solid foundation of Scripture.  God's word may go against what I like, what I feel and what I want to do, but "all other ground is sinking sand."  We have something good, right and solid, upon which we can base our decisions and our beliefs.  The parable calls us to build upon solid rock ... not things that will wash away when the waves crash in.

My mother gave me some of that foundation, and I am thankful.  Some really wise women at this church still speak that kind of wisdom into my life and into my ministry.  But Jesus, and the solid rock of God's word, is my rock and foundation.  And it is a firm foundation that helps me every day.  Do you know Him?  Do you know His word?  Then come!  Learn! Grow! Build! Live!  

Sunday, April 25, 2021

We Play to Win The Game

I had a conversation with my doctor one day.  I have several issues in my family tree and several of these relate to health issues I have already experienced.  It is why I am on blood thinners and some other medications.  In my discussions with the doctor, she said two things I have never forgotten.  She said, "You can't do anything about what you have inherited, but you did lots of athletic stuff in your youth.  That work and training has paid off in your later years and keeping active (working) is what will keep you well as long as possible."  She was saying that my hard work growing up, and my continuing that work, will be lasting benefits to my health.

I wonder if Paul was into athletics?  He writes about it a lot, and maybe he has a healthy respect for the work it takes to be a good athlete.  In 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Paul talks specifically about running.  Paul says all runners run, but only one wins the prize.  He says all of the competitors train for the games, and they strive to get a crown that won't last.  Then he says "but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."  NFL coach Herm Edwards stated the obvious ... "We play to win the game!"

Two thoughts about this passage.  First, life is not a game.  It is real, though we do a lot to forget that little truth.  Time is real, and doesn't stop.  People are real, and we must learn to connect and relate to them.  God's plan is real, and we ignore or evade it at our own peril.  Paul reminds us of this when he says the prize we pursue is eternal.  Paul, I believe, wants his people and the flock he is tending to train, work and strive to reach their highest potential.  I like that!

But Paul also is dealing with real issues as he writes to the Corinthians from Ephesus.  It is AD 55.  The Corinthians are quarreling.  The church in Corinth had drifted from Paul's teaching and had become confused.  Paul says it takes work, effort and training to (as we say it) "keep the faith."  The work includes listening to apostolic teaching.  The work includes knowing what Jesus said and did.  The work includes addressing (directly) people drifting to false teachings, false teachers, sinful practices and the non-Scriptural philosophies of his day.  In verse 26 Paul reminds the Corinthians, "I do not run aimlessly or fight like someone beating the air."  Paul knows that God leads in a direction.  Our goal is a present life that is aimed to God's purpose (not our purpose) so that when we finish the race we will find God's place, presence and our heavenly home in Christ.  As Herm Edwards said, "We pay to win the game!" Randy

Monday, April 19, 2021

Winds and Seas

This month our kids are learning about choosing peace over conflict.  It is a good series of lessons, but this Sunday I want to talk about a different kind of peace.  In John 14 Jesus said "Peace I leave with you ... My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  Let's speak about a supernatural kind of peace!

In 1933, just before the Hindenburg government fell and Hitler came to power, the Germans were fearful.  Always a pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached and proclaimed God's power to a people who felt powerless over what was happening.  The people feared "the red tide from the East (communism)."  The people saw fighting in the streets.  Rumors, theories and misinformation abounded.  Bonhoeffer made 2 points to his people.

First, after reminding people to set their eyes on the things above (a sermon preached in June of 1932) he reminds the people that God is above all things.  This message is consistently preached and penned in God's Word.  The 1st Chapter of Ezekiel shows a vision of a wheel within a wheel and 4 living creatures spinning near the earth.  There was a vault above the living creatures and above the vault was a man on a throne.  Ezekiel is (Chapter 2) directed by the man to go out and speak to a rebellious Israel, rebellious because they have followed false Gods, false teachings, idols and all of the things worshipped by their neighbors (rivers, animals, wooden and metal statues, and ideas that did not come from God).  The image in Ezekiel 1 is there for a specific purpose ... to say, "I (God) am above all of the things petty people choose to worship!"  Jesus said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18)."  God is constantly and consistently proclaiming His power over all things!  Bonhoeffer's message is ... "Observe, make positive changes, work with each other, don't join in with evil and be 'as shrewd as serpents but as gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16)' but do not succomb to fear."  God will set things right!

The second part of Bonhoeffer's message is from Matthew 8:23-27.  Never forget that Jesus is IN the boat!  God is above all things and Jesus has authority over all things, but Christ has chosen to get into the boat!  We fear that God might be asleep as we face the things that Germany faced in 1933.  Yes, we are divided!  Yes, there is fighting in the streets!  Yes, some people are following false-gospel cults!  Yes, governments struggle to follow the principles our founding leaders cast in stone!  But our lives, our world, our church and our community does not need to fall to fear and chaos.  "For God is with us.  His rod and His staff are comforts to us!"  And, as in Matthew 8, Jesus still rebukes the winds and the waves.  God is with us in the boat!  This is the same God we invoke when we say, "With God nothing is impossible!"  This is the same God that has shown us His ability to overcome darkness with light!

In our children's message this morning, there is a story of Abigail bringing peace to a testerone-driven situation.  David was headed to destroy the minions of a bad actor named Nabal.  David accepts Abigail's offer of peace, relents in his quest to kill Nabal, and God handles the matter in His perfect way.  I wonder if David, after he sees God's plan unfold, said what the disciples say in Matthew 8 ... "Who is this God that even the winds and the waves obey Him?"

AMEN!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Doors, Windows and Opportunities

Did you ever hear the cliche' "When God closes a door He opens a window?"  It sounds good, like many cliche's, but I have always thought that leaping out of that window didn't sound so appealing.  Like many of our Christian cliche's, this one leaves a lot to be desired.  So, what do we do when we hit obstacles in the path of our journey in life?  What is the Biblical way to move forward?

Isaac had a door, window, opportunity situation in Genesis 26:18-26.  Isaac needed water for his flocks and his people.  As he became more and more prosperous, the Philistines became more and more envious.  So they filled the wells that had been dug by Abraham with dirt and they told Isaac ... "You have become too prosperous!  There is not enough room for all of us, so you need to move away."  Isaac moved to the Valley of Gerar and set up shop there.  He, again, dug wells, reopening wells dug by Abraham, but the local residents said ... "Not so fast ... that water belongs to us!"  Isaac dug another well and, again, the locals quarreled over the water.  Finally, Isaac dug a well that offered no opposition and he named it Rehoboth because he said, "God has given us room."  There are many facets to this story but we will dwell on just a few today.

The first, and I think most obvious, point is that life (including for the chosen people of God) presents obstacles.  If you listen to prosperity gospel messages, please stop!  They are untrue and false teachings.  Every person in Scripture faces obstacles ... and so do we!  While it is natural to want to avoid obstacles, it is also natural that we expect, prepare for and endure obstacles.  In our world bad things do happen.  Some are part of corporate evil (WOW!!!, we have seen that in our political systems, our corporations, our governments and even our churches).  Corporate evil is real.  Bad people are also real!  Some people mean us harm.  Even in our local community we hear people talking down good people and even our churches.  Sometimes people choose evil and disunity as their agenda ... and we all suffer!  And sometimes bad things happen even when we are trying to do good.  A horrific example of this is the apparent accident of the Minneapolis police officer pulling their gun instead of their taser, firing once and killing a young man.  Not one person desired this outcome, yet it happened.  Isaac faced all of these evils that plague us even today.

The second point is that life is often more complicated than we expect.  I have embarked on projects that, in my estimation, are easy.  We thought getting bids on a new HVAC system in the Family Life Center would be a simple process.  Many months after we started this project, we have endured reluctant bidders, long equipment delivery estimates, vendors who decide (in the middle of the process) they are not interested in bidding, and limited funds.  Roadblocks have risen up in every part of this process.  Each roadblock required an assessment and a decision.  I have learned almost nothing is simple.  Life is complicated!

The final point is that there are things we can do even if things are complicated and even if all sorts of obstacles rear their ugly heads.  The story of Isaac is a story that is filled with possible solutions.  Isaac tried to do what had worked before ... Abraham's wells.  But these wells were filled up by the Philistines.  Isaac still needed water and he tried to co-exist with his neighbors.  New opposition rose up ... he finds that the Philistines just don't want him or his people around!  Isaac had to move his entire operation elsewhere.  He had to adapt to current conditions.  His new plan was to dig wells at a new location, but that was opposed by the people in the new area who said, "That's our water!"  So Isaac dug yet another well.  That worked, and he rejoices that God provided!

Isaac tried the door, but it closed.  He tried the window and he fell flat on his face.  He tried diplomacy, relocation, old ideas.  It didn't work.  But what did work was 1) persistence, 2) focusing on the real goal and 3) trusting that God would provide.  God seems to honor our efforts when we truly seek and trust Him to lead us forward.  It worked for Isaac ... and I think it will work for us!  Randy

Monday, April 5, 2021

Passing the Peace

All of you, if you have been in the church as long as I have, have heard the phrase "passing the peace."  Most of us think of it as a greeting during, before or after worship, and it can surely be this.  Some of us might think it is part of the act of communion, and it surely fits in the communal aspect of the eucharist.  But I would like to think God's word leads this practice further and deeper.

Jesus speaks about the importance of peace as he weeps for Jerusalem saying (Luke 19), "How I wish today that you, of all people, would understand the way to peace!"  Paul tells us, in Colossians 3, to allow peace to "rule in our hearts."  He follows this calling with an admonition to teach, counsel and sing (I love he brings music into this!).  To Jesus and Paul this idea of peace is something that should not be an occasional choice or a spiritual "bone" we throw to God saying, "See ... I can choose peace when I want to!"  They see it as a way of doing life.  Maybe we should explore it more deeply!

Three words about peace.  Presence, persistence and power.  When we choose peace over conflict, we acknowledge the PRESENCE of Jesus.  There are lots of opportunities to practice this.  Just go through a normal day, and you will probably have a chance to choose peace over conflict.  I usually do this by asking a few questions.  "What are we trying to accomplish here?"  "How can this situation become a way to achieve the mission of Jesus?"  "How can I be Jesus and the Church to another person?"  When I ask these questions, Jesus is present in my thought process.

Peace also takes PERSISTENCE.  To live in an attitude of peace, I must continually put my natural tendencies down.  My natural attitude is to win, conquer, overcome, overpower and rule.  Colossians 3 says to allow peace to rule, so I must be persistent.  My natural habits and knee-jerk reactions are oppressively persistent, so my love for Jesus and my submission to Him must persistently be on my mind.  Peace must rule my actions!

Finally, peace has a POWER component.  Does Christ have power in your life?  Does He rule over your emotions?  Is Jesus dominant over your thought process?  These are the questions about allowing peace to "rule the roost" as the Message states Colossians 3.  I wonder?  We all say we want God to have power in our lives.  We say we seek the power of Christ, and even people like John Wesley were concerned that Jesus would cease to have power in the upstart Methodist church.  So, do we want God's power?  When Colossians 3 uses the word "rule" it is used in a governing sense.  The implication is that our hearts and our attitudes are governed by peace ... not emotions, not feelings and not reactions.  Feelings, emotions and reactions are natural, but we, as mature Christians, are called by Jesus Himself, to cede rule to our "higher authority."  In our world today we see Jesus losing presence and power in our world.  Maybe this is because the people called by His name have given up power to the wrong thing.  Maybe it is time for us to reassert the presence, persistence and power of Christ in our lives and in His Church!  "Oh, how I wish that you, (we) of ALL people, would understand the way to peace!"  Jesus' words ... not mine!  Randy 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Reactions

The week of Easter is a week of stories, reactions and, at least for me, an emotional roller coaster.  Each time I read one of the stories they send my mind and my heart into places that engender competing feelings.  Some of these feelings are compassion for the suffering of Jesus.  Some relate to feelings of understanding as the disciples make wrong choices.  

On Palm Sunday I would love a Savior that rides in on a charger and sweeps evil from Jerusalem and even America (forgetting, of course, that if that happened in America, I would be part of that sweep).  I would love to shout Hosanna and wave palm branches.  And, of course, I would know better than to shout crucify Him later in the week.  I would love to sit in the little room and have communion served by Jesus Himself, and would, unlike Peter, be proud for Jesus to wash my feet.  I would try harder than the disciples to protect Jesus as He is betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane, and I would (for sure) not fall asleep like those other disciples.  I would try to do something when Jesus is unjustly tried and would somehow find a way to help as Jesus is led to Golgotha.  I would protest and make a scene when He is placed on the cross and would be up close (not at a distance like the crowds) as Jesus bled and died.  My reactions would be led and fed by my faith and faithful following of Christ!  At least, I would like to think this.

Truth be told, we react every day to Jesus, His life, His death and His resurrection.  We express our willingness to listen and our desire to follow in how we treat other folks and how we love His Church He has given us.  Our reactions are who we are as faithful followers of Christ.

That first Easter, at least in my reading of the story, Mary reacts in very human ways to the events.  In John's account, she is startled by the open tomb.  She is angry and fearful when they find the body gone.  She grieves when she realizes that things have gone terribly wrong.  She is terrified by the angel.  She cries, maybe about all of these things.  She is ready to converse with the gardener she meets outside of the tomb.  She cries out in joy as she says "Rabbani!," recognizing Jesus.  She listens as she is instructed to tell the disciples He is alive.  Reactions express how we believe.  And it is still an emotional roller coaster.

My favorite statement in the Easter story is a question about reactions from the angel outside the tomb.  The angel, in Luke 24:5, asks, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?"  Why are they looking for a living Savior in the tomb!?  Why do we look for a living Savior among what some say are "new" movements that are rehashed heresies?  Why do we look for a living Savior inside our hearts that Scripture warns are 'deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9)?'  We are, as the old Johnny Lee song (1980) said, "looking for love in all the wrong places!"

I hope this Easter we find Jesus doing and being exactly who and what He is.  Singing praise in worship that is more than one Sunday a year!  Loving folks in fellowship that gives us hope, love and support!  Serving people (and therefore Jesus) by helping those in need (be sure to bring your Lenten offering for flood buckets)!  Being people who edify and build up the Church, for Jesus left us here to be a blessing to the world!  These things and places are where life happens.  These places are where love reigns.  Come and see!  Randy  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Waiting for Fulfillment

The month of March has been all about patience and the theme of waiting.  Do you think God models the idea of waiting past our wants, our plans and our schemes for the good things God is doing?  The Gospel of Matthew repeats an idea about this over and over.  It is the idea of fulfillment.  

The basic Scriptural concept of fulfillment is that God is in the business of completing everything ... yes, everything!  God has an overarching plan that He desires.  Most of God's plan is a temporal juggernaut that has been predicted and will be fulfilled.  God's fulfillment happens in God's time and we cannot do anything to effectively alter it.  But there is that part of God's plan that is fluid.  Wesley said it well.  God has a plan that invites all people to the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  That choice is available to all.  Some will choose Jesus.  Some will not.  That part of God's plan is offered by a loving God to everyone, but it is our free will to choose to love God with all our hearts.

In Matthew Jesus does the things He does to fulfill God's perfect plan.  In our story of Palm Sunday Matthew 21 says (verses 4 and 5) "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, 'Say to daughter Zion, see your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"  There is so much to this little verse!

The prophecy was from Zechariah 9:9.  The original prophecy took place around 587 BC.  Over 600 years later Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as a living, breathing fulfillment of this prophecy.  God is patient and God's prophetic fulfillment takes place when God desires ... not when we desire.  This should alert all of you who keep hearing we are in the end times.  While I see all sorts of events that might indicate this, God will bring an end to things in His good and perfect time ... don't get impatient!

There are two phrases in this prophecy I want to highlight.  The first is "your king comes to you."  Has your king come to you or are you still searching?  Lots of people are searching for a king.  They, like the people gathered on that 1st Palm Sunday, want a great political and military leader that will wipe their version of evil, injustice, sin, wrongness and oppression off the face of the earth.  While most of us want that, we have different definitions of evil, injustice, wrongness and oppression.  Every election cycle, some are happy and some are not, while the evils of the world seem to roll along pretty unaffected by the party in power.  Go figure?   Maybe this happens because our 'kings' are different than the King God sends us.  Maybe God has in mind a King of a different realm ... a more powerful and permanent realm ... a more REAL realm.  For, in truth, that day the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords did ride into town on a donkey!

The other phrase I want to highlight is an unpopular one ... "gentle and riding on a donkey."  I could preach about the symbolism of the foal of a donkey.  Jesus clearly isn't coming as a warrior ... Jesus clearly is coming in peace ... Jesus clearly isn't overtly threatening the Roman authorities or the Jewish hierarchy.  The Prince of Peace is clearly doing something different.  As His Kingdom, in its greatest power, is spiritual, so is His mission that overcomes 'authorities and powers' that are spiritual.  Death ... evil ... hatred ... political posturing ... deceit ... betrayal ... the powers that lie behind structures of oppression (maybe you can add more) ... are all on Jesus' list as who/what He opposes.  He opposes them with peace, truth, Godly authority and with His very life, laid down against all of these things and for people like you and me.  It is a power we mostly don't and can't understand because we choose to live in the non-eternal realm of this world.  Jesus, in His very presence that day, shouts peace, love, sacrifice and submission to the Father's plan.  And all the while, the crowd shouts Hosanna one day and crucify Him the next.  I wonder if Jesus was asking then, and still asking now, "when will the people called by my name learn to live in my kingdom?"  Good question.  Randy

Monday, March 15, 2021

Choices

When Jesus is in the wilderness and being tempted by Satan, he is presented with a problem that seems to be happening before our eyes in real time.  Jesus has had nothing to eat.  He has fasted for 40 days.  Satan comes to Him and says ... "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread."  Use your power to transcend the natural order of things.  Use your power to meet your physical needs.  Submit to your hunger.  Jesus replies, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."  Spiritual needs are more important than physical needs.  Choices are important!  It is a good story from Matthew 4.

I retell this story because there is an Old Testament story that sounds like an impatient young man sells his birthright for some stew.  It is true that Esau, in our story from Genesis 25, is famished and sells Jacob his birthright to Jacob (who is often scheming).  Just two brothers in a conflict that causes enmity and division in their family ... right?  Well, it is a little more complex than that.

In the Hebrew world there are long-standing feuds.  The Samaritans are hated in Jesus' time because of things that happened in the 720's BC.  One cannot fathom the future when he/she is making a hasty choice.  So, I will give you a few historic issues that relate to this short little story from Genesis.  If you Google the descendants of Jacob and Esau, you will find that Jacob becomes the father of the chosen people, the Jews.  Most of you knew that.  But who descended from Esau?  There are many theories, but the land of Esau, called Edom, is near modern day Jordan.  Many Muslim people claim Esau as their ancestor.  These include the people of Iraq, the Kurds and the Palestinians.  Jewish and American history has been filled with conflict and enmity with these people.

But there is another historic character that arose from Esau.  You might have heard of him from the New Testament.  His name was King Herod.  Yes, this is the same guy from the Christmas story that was dead set on killing the new king born to the Jews.  Choices make a difference, sometimes an historic difference.

I say all of this to remind us of several truths in the Genesis 25 story of Jacob and Esau.  First, when we aren't willing to wait, people take advantage of us.  Jacob takes advantage of Esau.  Second, people get angry when they are manipulated.  Esau resents and is in constant conflict with Jacob.  This resentment lasts centuries and is arguably still happening.  Third, and maybe most important, choices matter.  I was talking about this uncomfortable truth with the praise team.  We all agreed that our choices, often made in a moment, had lasting effects on our lives.  Choices, people and decisions are not just fleeting things that have no impact on our lives.

We will be teaching our children about this passage this week.  Lessons will include 1) learn to wait for good things, 2) manipulation seems good at the time but results in anger and resentment and, 3) learn that choices matter.

I think this is good stuff to lead our children forward.  How about you? Randy

Monday, March 8, 2021

Stiff Necked

Stiff-necked.  It is a Biblical term used for the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus.  The term means stubborn, prone to error and obstinate.  It is highlighted in our story of the golden calf from Exodus 32 and appears eighteen times in Exodus.

The story of the golden calf is a tale we tend to view as one of those "we would never do that" events.  We marvel at how quickly the Hebrews turned away from God's plan.  We recoil at how people dismissed God's servant Moses.  We scoff at how faithless these people were when they substituted the golden calf for the God that "led the people out of Egypt."  But as I look around, I see a lot of golden calves, gladly embraced by people who should know better.  So ... let's see what we can learn from Exodus 32.

The first problems happen quickly.  "When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron ... "Come on" they said "make us some gods who can lead us.  We don't know what happened to that fellow Moses who brought us here from the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:1)."  One verse, several decisions, total calamity!

Impatience set in quickly.  The Hebrews saw Moses was taking some time to return.  They 'gathered around' Aaron.  Have you ever had one of those meetings?  Impatient people want to make a decision, take matters into their hands.  They feed upon each other's anxiety, and ill-conceived ideas are born.  There's a lot of that happening today.  People on all sides of our collective problems are filled with angry, knee-jerk solutions which take us down some hard roads.  Is it an accident that God's word says ... "the fruit of the Spirit is patience?" God and God's plan isn't in the plans of the Hebrews of Exodus 32.

Fear grips people who dismiss God's leadership.  They fear Moses won't return.  Some may want to take over, and they may fear Moses' return.  We have lots of fear going around today.  Some fear the virus.  Some fear being told what to do.  Some fear our leadership.  Some fear the past leadership.  Some fear loss of control.  Some fear lack of guidance.  I have never seen such fears grip people, especially people who claim they aren't fearful.  I wonder if we have forgotten that fear is driven out by perfect love ... love of God's plan, love of God's people, love of the world God loved and love as our main motive (if we are true to our Wesleyan roots)?  Again, love is Spirit-fruit in a world that seems fruitless.

Idolatry is the third problem in Exodus 32:1.  They want a new god.  They want a god they can control.  They even (in verse 4) acknowledge that their golden calf is "the god who brought them out of Egypt!"  WOW!  How quickly they fell.  How quickly their mantra went from "I Surrender All" to "I Did It My Way!"

But before we look down on these wayward Hebrews, I would like you to consider two things.  The first is this.  We live in a time of golden calves.  God willingly and ably offers to lead us, but people tell me ... "That doesn't work in the real world."  God doesn't move quickly enough.  God is somewhere on the mountain and we need a leader now.  So we make golden calves, fashioned out of our biases, our petty definitions of strength and our desire to control things.  We build our gods big and strong, arrogant and haughty, not taking anything off anyone and never compromising!  Money, politics, power, stuff, people and fear all become our golden calves.  They are fashioned by us, so we love them, follow them and hold tightly to them when we are impatient and fearful.  The old song said, "All the people bowed and prayed ... to the neon god they made."

The second thing is to examine the term "stiff-necked."  It relates to a heavy yoke placed on an ox to control it.  The ox's neck must become rigid and stiff to carry the weight of the yoke.  The irony here is that the heavy yoke is placed by the people for failing to follow God and choosing to go their own way.  Being in charge of the world is a heavy yoke to bear.  It is why, I believe, that Jesus told these same "stiff-necked" folks 1,450 or so years later ... "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29)."

Which of these yokes do you want to bear?  Randy

Monday, March 1, 2021

Waiting

There are some things we are, as a society, not good at.  Waiting is one of those things.  We want it now, fresh and all-laid-out for our consumption, for we are a consumer society.

It is such a stark contrast to be looking at Scripture and see how long people back then had to wait.  Abraham is given a promise that he will become the father of great nations.  Sixteen years after this promise Ishmael is born to Haggar (fathered by Abraham).  But this was not the child of God's promise, so ... more waiting!  Fourteen more years pass and Sarah bears a son named Isaac.  Abraham is now 100 years old!  We, our entire society, would have lost patience and given up on God's promise!  We hate to wait.

In Luke 2 a man named Simeon is waiting.  He is old, but God's Spirit has revealed to him "he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah (Luke 2:26)."  So Simeon waits as he serves in the Temple, and he is not disappointed.  Mary and Joseph come to present Jesus at the temple, 40 days after Jesus' birth.  Simeon is there and his waiting pays off as he receives and blesses Jesus.  In fact, the name means, in one translation, "God is listening."

There are things we can learn about waiting from Simeon and this story.  The first is, God has a time ... and God's timing is perfect.  The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that the Messiah would come and that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  This statement from God's Spirit implies an important truth about God's timing ... God has a plan.  God had a plan for the Jews of Simeon's time, sending them the Messiah in the form of a little child.  God was (and is ) listening to our hurts, our longings and our hearts.  God has a plan.

The second thing we learn from Simeon's story is that God has a place.  During COVID many people have become content or complacent, being satisfied with online church or some other substitute for God's place to which people are called.  Simeon was called 'devout' and he was focused on being in the Temple ... and his devotion was rewarded with God's fulfilled promise.  God has a place where He is calling you to serve, experience the liturgy of life in the Church and live in the cycle of the Church.  Your 'comfortable' place is not a substitute for this.  So, as things become closer to normal and you can safely get back to your congregation, please respond and be devout like Simeon.  Come to the discomfort and beauty of corporate worship with other folks ... and you will be blessed!

God also has a person.  I was watching the news last week and reflected on several people who were interviewed by news media.  Some people were looking to the president for 'guidance' on the issues at hand.  Others were looking to opposition leaders for 'guidance' about "what to do next."  As I read this I was drawn to 3 words in the story of Simeon ... "the Lord's Messiah."  There will always be other messiahs.  We will (and do) have false prophets, teachers selling snake oil (marketing their lines of proprietary products), speakers stirring up folks using proof-texted words pulled out of their Biblical context and just people who have something to say and want to draw a crowd.  But there is only one "Lord's Messiah."  His name is Jesus.  He is the one promised.  He has given guidance in His life, His teachings, His resurrection story and His gift of total forgiveness for all who believe.  Simeon said, "He has been sent as a sign from God (Luke 2:34)!"

He was Simeon's Messiah.  He is our Messiah.  He is your Messiah.  Look to Him.  Listen to Him.  Follow Him!  Randy

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Likewise?

I was trying to describe the meaning of Biblical love to a child once.  The child immediately gave me their 'love proverb' saying, "Love everybody you like."  She didn't know how close she came to what Jesus was criticizing in the parable of the Good Samaritan!

Over the rest of 2021 we will be doing something challenging, at least to me.  Our children are following a specific and structured process to learn and apply Scripture.  The process is a three-year plan that uses stories, principles and applications to build a bridge between God's living word and the lives of God's people.  I will use the same passages as I preach to our adults, and I hope for some family discussions over meals, car rides and other times these discussions are appropriate.

Back to our parable.  Jesus uses a story to illustrate God's wise and perfect view of people ... a view we seem to miss more than we grasp.  Jesus spends some time defining exactly what a neighbor is.  The Jews viewed neighbor as part of the Hebrew national clan.  It was the little girl's "love everybody you like," or maybe "love everybody like you."  Jesus seems to define neighbor differently, and He starts with a person clearly different than his audience.  Jesus' example of a neighbor is a hated Samaritan.  An injured man is neglected by the people who call themselves his neighbors.  They have their reasons for the neglect.  But in the end, even the audience of Jews must admit that the Samaritan is the one who is neighborly to the injured man.  Jesus ends the story with one of His annoyingly-perfect statements ... "Go thou and do likewise."  What does He mean by that?

Does he mean for us to act like the Samaritan?  Definitely!  But ... does He also call us to view the Samaritan (and those we place in the "they" category) as our neighbor?  That would mean "they" have value!  It would mean "they" are more like us than we would like to think.  It would mean we should love "them" rather than just loving everybody "like me."

These lessons that we and Jesus are teaching our children are just plain difficult.  Personally, I think Jesus is meddling!  What do you think?  Randy

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Extra Mile

Going beyond.  It really is what the entire Sermon on the Mount is all about.  Jesus repeatedly uses this phrase "The law says ___ but I say ___ ."  What do you think this means?  I meet people every day that say things like "I'm an Old Testament Christian!"  It is difficult to even find a jumping off point to appeal to theological logic when I hear this!  Jesus came to fulfill and complete the law (also from the Sermon on the Mount).  But I will just leave my argument on this point here ... do you think that if you want to know the true application of the law, you might ask the Son of God who was present when the law was handed down and present with the crowd gathered to hear his preaching.  Are WE gathered to hear and follow His preaching?  I hope so!

That brings us to a simple passage.  Matthew 5:41, "If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles!"  Counter intuitive, isn't it?  Contra to our human reaction, isn't it?  Different than what you want to do, isn't it?

Here are some truths from this troubling passage:

1.  Make good out of bad -  God has been doing this for a long time.  God took the persecution and hurtfulness of Joseph's brothers, and made it into a great good!  Joseph saved his people, his brothers included.  Joseph forgave.  Joseph saw past his oppression and allowed God to do something great!

2.  Submit to authority - We really hate this phrase right now.  Jeremiah told his people to fight, complain and draw swords if they wanted to ... but they would not have any success opposing what God was allowing to take place.  The soldier's demand was unfair and unreasonable.  We (and I am sure the people of Jesus' time) hate to be told what to do.  We hate to lose our right to choose.  We get bent out of shape when we are told anything!  But ... here is that passage, clear as a bell!  Paul said, in Romans 12:21 "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  Maybe overcoming evil with good entails putting our pride and our self-righteousness on the shelf and doing something good, in spite of whether it is appreciated or not.  I have had to learn this as I have helped (personally and through the church) people who discard the church with a wave of their hand, even when that help was both significant and life-changing.  But, we help anyway because it is who we are and who God is.

3.  Jesus' way is right, even if it rubs us the wrong way - I have had many friends complain that our society is all caught up in conditional truth, situational ethics and a non-Biblical worldview.  The same people argue over this passage and other non-reactionary things said by Jesus (especially in the Sermon on the Mount).  But I am sticking with my point above ... Jesus is right and we (me included) are wrong.  If we followed my "Old Testament Christians" who say "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" we would (as Gandhi said) all be one-eyed and toothless.  So I will try to grit my teeth and carry those bags that extra mile.

In the end (and God is totally in control of that end), God is right.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the way to life.  If you believe that I have some advice ... listen to Him.  Nuff said!  Randy

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Pursuit

 I love the story of Ruth and Boaz.  It is a beautiful love story, appropriate for today (Valentine's Day), but as I read the story I thought of another word ... the word pursuit.

I hear people talk about God.  They say things like "be all in!" ... "love God with all your heart!" These are both really good things.  But when we say those things we are often singing Sunday songs but forgetting the words during the week.  I am so guilty of this!  Maybe you are too?  It is easy to say the cliché' and sing the words, but it is much harder to really follow God.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz teaches us some useful things about how to pursue something you really want.  It is clear that Boaz is quickly smitten with Ruth.  But his actions go far beyond mere infatuation.  Boaz realizes that if you desire a relationship with someone it involves intentionality, especially in knocking down walls.  In Ruth's case, there were many walls.  She was a foreigner.  She was poor and needy.  She was a widow.  She wasn't a youngster, having been married to one of Naomi's sons for 10 years.  And there were cultural barriers regarding a possible relationship with Boaz, including age and family obligations.  Boaz had obstacles too.  He was an older man.  He was a leader to his clan.  There was another with the right to claim Ruth.  But Boaz knew something about pursuit.

Boaz, after seeing Ruth and realizing her beauty and the quality of her character, started tearing down walls.  1) Boaz saw Ruth for the amazing person she was and he found out everything about her, 2) He helped her but allowed her the dignity of working for the help, 3)  He protected her from other workers in the field, 4)  He made sure she was successful in her work.  In short, Boaz' pursuit of Ruth built her up, gave her dignity and offered her the hope of a better life.

When I think of Boaz, I realize something about my pursuit of God.  1) I want to know all I can about God and see God as worthy of love and worship, 2) I want to help in God's work in the world, even if I realize my work is meager and flawed, 3) I realize that any good thing I do is really God working through me, and 4) I want to do what I can to help God's plan happen in this world.  For if I love God, I pursue him by my actions.  I allow the walls between me and God to be torn down.

   And in the Bible, we see what God can do with pursuit and love.  From the Gospel of Matthew 1:5-6, we find these words ... "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz the father of Obed whose mother was Ruth.  Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse, the father of King David."   This amazing family tree (just one family in Hebrew history) shows how God can do a lot with love, obedience and pursuit!  Randy

Monday, February 1, 2021

Getting Dressed

There's something we do every day.  Most of us, even if we are staying at home, get up and put on some semblance of clothing.  Some of us take longer than others.  Some of us are more picky about what we wear.  But we get dressed.

Paul talked a lot about getting dressed.  In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul says to put on the full armor of God.  In Galatians 3:27 Paul says, "Put on Christ."  But my favorite passage is this one (Colossians 3:12-15) ... "So chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It is your basic, all purpose garment.  Never be without it!"  I read this passage at weddings.  I read this passage when I am about to say something I shouldn't.  I think about this passage often, because it reminds me that if I wear love (and God is love) I am allowing myself to represent the image of God in a world that doesn't seem to know much about love.

This passage is the memory passage for our children this February.  The concept for the children is  ... "Be kind to others because God has been kind to you."  I guess that part of love is simple, like everything else Christian ... follow Jesus and you will end up in the right place!  But all of you know love is fleeting, complex, puzzling and lot's of other descriptive words.  There's an old Conway Twitty song that is about a conversation with the Man In The Moon.  The moon says, "I can move oceans when I get the notion, or make mountains tremble and rivers run dry, but in all matters human, remember there's someone, in charge of those things way above you and I."  Wise words I think!

So Colossians 3 gives us some wisdom about love.  1) We are chosen to love ... chosen by God "for this new life of love."  2) Our wardrobe (what we wear) has been laid out for us by God, 3) The wardrobe has some difficult things to wear ... kindness, compassion, quiet-strength, humility, discipline, 4) The wardrobe always includes forgiveness (the kind that mirrors Jesus), 5) The wardrobe should always be worn, 6) The wardrobe works for everything.  Now me ... I don't know much about love ... but God knows everything there is to know!  And if Jesus is your Master (the word is right there in the passage) and (in the song) is in charge of those things "way above you and I", then maybe we should appropriate God's wisdom here.

Put on love ... it is your all purpose garment ... NEVER be without it!  Randy

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Great Chasm

There is a harrowing parable from Luke 16 that is often preached by those "hellfire" orators that want to scare all of us into heaven.  While that isn't my cup of tea, I will acknowledge that if a message brings someone to repentance and salvation, I am all for it.  So, I don't preach from this passage to focus our attention on the subjects of heaven and hell, one obvious point of this parable.  My focus will be on the ending of the parable ... the real thing that separates us from God, paradise and a close relationship with our loving heavenly father.

We've all heard the parable.  Lazarus was poor and essentially had nothing.  He died outside of a rich man's gate and is carried to 'the bosom' (close proximity) of Abraham at God's banquet table.  God makes sure Lazarus was fed and comforted in eternity, unlike his poverty in temporary life.  The rich man, who ignored the plight of Lazarus, dies and was in eternal torment.  The parable recounts the conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus on errands, including bringing him some cold water and warning his brothers about the reality/horror of eternal hell.  Abraham tells Lazarus several things.

Lazarus is reminded of the great, impassable chasm that exists between paradise and hell.  Abraham says it cannot be crossed by anyone.  Then Abraham tells Lazarus about another chasm.

The point of the parable is brought out in the punchline. In this parable, Abraham describes how God has endeavored to inform and enlighten us about who He is, the realities of life and God's truth that has been offered to all of us (including Lazarus' brothers).  God has sent His truth through Moses (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets.  Abraham says, "Your brothers can read them!"  Abraham also reminds Lazarus that his brothers shouldn't hold their breath looking for someone to come back from the dead to warn them ... he says, "if they won't listen to Moses, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead."  That statement should lead us to see clearly the third point.  Jesus, who has told us what the prophets said and who has completed (fulfilled) the law, is telling us this parable.  Jesus will be tortured, crucified and will rise from the dead on the third day, continuing to proclaim the truth of the law, the prophets and God's true word.  Jesus is the third part of this warning.  He is the last and only way that this great chasm can be crossed.

In a world filled with lies, half-truths, false teachers and politicized religion, Jesus cuts to the chase.  Know the Scriptures and read them.  And if someone returns from the dead to warn us to care for the poor, know God's word and stop worshiping our lifestyles, we had better listen!  What say you?  Randy

Monday, January 18, 2021

Listening

Listening and waiting.  It is the overarching theme of Psalm 130.  David says, "Out of the depths I cry to you!"  "Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy!"  David's plea would mirror our plea today.  We truly do speak out of depths of anxiety, despair, uncertainty and maybe fear.  We are crying out!

Over the last two weeks I have done two funerals.  One of them was a beautiful man who had lived 94 years and was known for his goodness, grace and patience.  Another was a close friend who I had known for 14 years.  My friend Bill was a golfing companion who was a consistent friend and a person known for some stellar phrases.  Both funerals became times for me and the family to do something we (individually and corporately) have difficulty with.  We all looked up, cried to the Lord and listened.

In my twenty plus years of ministry I have observed that most people (yes, I am grouping us together) have difficulty listening.  We listen to a sermon with an analytical mind, culling out either what we want to hear or what to critique.  We analyze, parse and are impressed when the speaker 'didn't use a note.'  But we fall short on taking in meaning, content and any wisdom that might be offered.  But, at a funeral, we stop, cry out, and we do something out of our nature ... we listen.  John, in the Revelation, shocks us with penning Jesus' words to seven churches, pronouncing that without changes, most of these churches will lose something important.  It is funeral-talk, and when that loss is perceived and grasped, they listen.

In Psalm 130, David enters the presence of God.  He asks for God's attention.  He acknowledges his sinfulness.  He praises God's forgiveness.  He waits for God, and he does this with his whole being.  He remembers that Israel, and David, have only one hope ... the Lord.  And he looks ahead to God's sure redemption, even of sinful Israel.  David listens ... for he realizes that when we approach God reverently, openly and patiently, God will redeem our situation.

Are you listening for God?  Or, as many of my friends and associates, is your listening clouded with anger, sword-rattling, drama, gloating, vengeful remarks, warrior-talk and all of the feelings that swirl around inside the human spirit?  David acknowledges that if we want God's solutions to our human messes, we must lay it all down before God.  David says ... "my whole being waits, and in His word I will put my hope (Psalm 130:5)."

That is the kind of God we have!  A God that we can trust.  A God with a good word for difficult times.  The God that comes to us when we have lost something or are lost ourselves.  The God that will change, if we let Him, how we see the world.  The God who says the truth (not perception) will set you free by God's word (John 8:32).  I, for one, am listening to THAT God!  My whole being waits!  How is it with you?  Randy

Monday, January 11, 2021

What Is Your Anchor?

Hebrews 6:19 says "we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."  The chapter is all about becoming mature Christians.  The gist of this passage is that we, who are heirs of the promises God has made, must learn to trust in things that are eternal, secure, sure and solid.  Wow, do we need these things now!

Over the past few weeks I have used the term "discernment" often.  For we, as God's people, as ambassadors of Christ, and as the Church must enter the days ahead as those people who are not "blown away by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14)".  We should be the people who show and live out the hope of Christ in the hopeless times we sometimes face.  So, how do we do this?

John Wesley had two very Methodist ways of discerning.  The first goes to the source of our knowledge about the nature of God ... Scripture.  Wesley said that revelation from God (something that we currently hear people invoking) comes primarily through Scripture and that all other sources are a "handmaiden" (subservient to) God's Word.  This is vital today as the internet is filled with claims of special knowledge (a Gnostic behavior), special revelation from God (a very dangerous path) and special insight.  Wesley says don't go there!  Jesus and God's word are the sources through which we sift the doctrines that are so readily offered by not-so-reliable sources!

The other Wesleyan method for discernment is based on the golden rule ... "Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)."  Wesley said there are 3 Methodist rules ... 1) do no harm, 2) do all the good that you can, and 3) stay in love with God!  As I read lots of the things you are reading I get a spirit of revenge, feelings that justice is unfair, people saying "I am/we are victims," and lots of "they" statements about demonizing other folks.  Maybe it is time to step back and try to do no harm, do good things and (especially) stay in love with God.  You might ask, "how do we stay in love with God?"  I think we follow Jesus in loving people, even the Samaritans, lepers and sinners of our day.  And by the way ... those "loved" people include all of us!  That's my take!  Randy

Monday, January 4, 2021

He Is!

In Revelation 5 there is great commotion in heaven!  A lot is happening.  There are 24 elders, 4 living creatures, the one seated on the throne, and a mighty angel asking a question (v. 2) ... "Who is worthy to break the seal and open the scroll?"  Everyone wants to know what will unfold next.  Sounds like the ending of 2020 and the beginning of 2021!  What will happen next?

It is interesting when I hear people talk about John's Revelation.  There are those that 'feel' it is totally symbolic, even though total symbolism allows folks to believe whatever they dream up (sounds like Facebook today!).  There are those that 'feel' it is totally literal, even though apocalyptic writing in John's day would have been filled with hyperbole and figurative language.  I am reminded that truth, facts, and solid study of John's Revelation are almost always trumped by people's feelings.  I am reminded of the harrowing phrase at the end of Judges ... "In those days Israel had no king and everyone did as they saw fit! (21:25)."  I hope my observation in this blog is solidly based on fact and the plain, true word of Scripture, appropriately held out for you inside the context of that good word.

So ... here it is.  The answer to the question.  Is anyone worthy to open the scroll and unveil the events of our future?  Is anyone worthy to both tell us and lead us through that future to our eternal destination?  Is anyone worthy to judge, proclaim and offer guidance as we turn the page on one year and look into the next?  Yes!  Jesus is!

In both services Sunday we will sing about this.  Methodists are rightly accused of singing our theology, and Sunday will be no exception.  The song is entitled "He Is Worthy" and it responds to the question posed by the angel with the mighty voice.  It is not feelings-based.  It is not opinion-based. It is not based on political happenings.  It is not based on Facebook falseness.  It is not based on cults who say follow or find your heart.  The song is based on the answered question in Revelation 5:9-10 ... the lamb who was slain is worthy because He "purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation."

My question to you today is ... "Who or what is turning your page?"  I am asking this because we who call ourselves Christians are seemingly confused by the scene in Revelation.  It is not presented because it is strange, attention-grabbing or edgy.  It is presented to show us a truth that will last through the generations all the way to the ending of the age.  That truth is (as Deuteronomy 30 expresses) not vague ... "it abides on your lips and resides in your heart."  God's truth is near ... it is told ... so why are we so dense that we look for our future in the patterns, places, politics, pleasures and prognostications of our time?  God's word and truth are near to us.  Who is worthy to turn our page and give us a hope and a future that is filled with God?  Jesus is.

That truth is affirmed in heaven.  John saw it and wrote it.  Now, it is time ... in this watershed year ... for Jesus-followers to live it out, following the one who is worthy to follow.  For there is another truth in Revelation 5.  Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea will say ... "be praise and power and glory and honor forever and ever."