Monday, March 29, 2021


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


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


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