Posts Tagged faith

Stepping Towards 51, Looking Back Over 50 – Mitch Randall

Today is my birthday. I turned 51 years old.

When I hit half-a-century last year during the pandemic, I told my wife that I was looking forward to middle-age. She raised a brow and responded, “Not sure how long you’re planning on living, but you passed middle-age a decade ago.” Thanks, dear.

Now that I have one foot squarely pointed towards the second 50 years of my life, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. However, before I step into this new and exciting period of my life, I want to take a moment of indulgence to reflect on the first 50 years.

Recently, I stopped by the Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma, where I was born. My mom and dad were 20 and 19, respectively, when they had me; just kids trying to make it through life. Over the course of our childhood and adolescence, my younger brother and I were shaped by their dogged determination, impeccable integrity and compassionate spirits. We are who we are today because of them.

While always taking my “big-brother” role seriously, I never realized how much I needed my younger brother until I was an adult. The “big brother” is always supposed to keep an eye out for the “little brother,” but no one ever told me about the valuable lessons “little brothers” teach their older siblings. My brother is an absolute inspiration. He teaches art in public schools, raised two amazing daughters as a single dad, fostered three babies with his wonderful second wife and now has two young and beautiful boys.

During the pandemic, I lost my grandfather (Herbert Sheffield) from complications due to COVID-19. Each of my grandparents had a significant part in mentoring me over the years. Okema connected me to my Muscogee Creek culture. Les instilled the value of education. Carlene demonstrated the importance of sacrifice. Herbert reminded me about the importance of humility while always striving to make certain the next generation has it better.

Growing up Southern Baptist, I must admit the significance that faith held in my life. While I certainly disagree with much of the SBC’s doctrine and politics today, their passion for teaching the Scriptures and applying them to life has influenced me. Today, I am serious about the Scriptures and how they guide my faith – not necessarily in spite of my SBC upbringing, but because of it.

While baseball was constant in my life, that cold October morning in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1992 after college baseball workouts changed my life forever.  On that fall morning — looking across a kaleidoscope of colorful trees while drinking coffee — I heard the calling of God upon my life.

Attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Boo Helflin shook my understanding of faith by opening the entirety of the Scriptures to me as never before. From that day forward, I was on a journey of serious discovery that began to shape my life almost immediately.

I met my wife at church. Seriously, I did. A church in Coppell, Texas, called me as their new pastor while I was still in seminary and very much single, dedicated to the Lord and all. However, once I met Missy on that first Spring Sunday and a donkey brayed during my sermon, I was smitten.

Because of the strangeness and complexities of a single pastor dating a parishioner, we decided to marry soon after we declared our love for each other. Twenty-five years later, we’re happily married and thrilled to be watching two sons begin their careers.

Our life together has not always been filled with rainbows and unicorns – ministry and life, you know – but it has been filled with adventure, surprises and wonderful memories we will always cherish.

You’re supposed to be an example for your kids, right? Then, why did no one tell me that your kids would become examples for you?

I hope Missy and I have been good instructors for our boys, but more than anything they have shown us a better way for the future.

Their commitment to community and passion for social justice offers us a glimpse into a future where individuals live outside their own self-interests to embrace a common good for all people. We’re so proud of their accomplishments and the adults they are becoming.

The church can be filled with the most wonderful moments in a pastor’s life, but the church can also be the source of great pain and heartache.

Relationships forged within the stained-glass walls of congregational life can be soul-filling. These are the saints that forever shape your life. However, there are times when congregants turn on you in attempts to put you in your place or exert authority over you. During those times, the church likes to remind you that she is still filled with sinners – the pastor being chief among them.

With nearly three decades of walking alongside the church, I love her more now than ever before.

When I stepped beyond the walls of the church to enter a new phase of ministry, I was both scared and excited. After 20 years of pastoral ministry, I had grown comfortable with preaching, teaching, ministering and leading a congregation. Being the executive director of an ethics organization sounded a bit out of my league.

In my eyes, I was still the little Indian boy born at the Indian hospital who grew up on the eastside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The notion that a group of Christians wanted me to lead a national organization was far beyond my expectations. However, it was exactly what I needed.

Being the executive director of and now CEO of Good Faith Media has been a life-altering experience. The greatest perk of my job is getting to meet so many inspiring and fascinating people of faith engaged in transformative work.

From racial justice advocates to LGBTQ allies, the world is filled with passionate people rolling up their sleeves to make this world a better place. And many of them are not abandoning their faith to accomplish these goals but embracing their faith as a catalyst for global change.

In the Christian tradition, we are certainly seeing more and more people practicing an inclusive gospel to bring about transformative communities. It is a sheer pleasure to tell their stories.

All in all, the first 50 years of living on this rock have been extremely rewarding.

Sure, I’ve lived through some strange and heartbreaking times: Watergate, Iran hostage situation, Iran-Contra affair, Challenger and Columbia explosions, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, multiple mass shootings, the Great Recession, racial injustices, a U.S. president using force on U.S citizens peacefully demonstrating, an attack on the U.S. Capitol by U.S citizens, and a continued global pandemic wreaking sickness and death across the globe.

However, even within all of these dreadful moments, the light of the gospel has never been extinguished.

Yes, there were times when it flickered and almost went out for me. But as soon as those moments thought they had won the day, a flicker of the gospel would always emerge. Either through a comforting word or creative idea, hope resides in the hearts of people who come together to find solutions.

While I very much enjoyed and appreciated my first 50 years, I’m looking forward to another 50, hopefully.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds, for the emerging generations are filled with a desire and passion to instill common-sense change. Therefore, I wake today to put my feet on the floor, ready to step into a future filled with light and hope.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Christmas 2015 – Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

According to Cicero, “Gratitude is the greatest virtue and the parent all other virtues.” Gratitude is my word for the year and I hope it is my attitude for the year. There are so many things for which I am so grateful. I am grateful for my larger family, but I am especially grateful for my children and my sister. J am grateful for my friends. We have not been able to get together much during the pandemic, but that does not diminish their importance to me. I am grateful for my home and all the wonderful memories it holds.  I am grateful for my church and all the relationships that it represents. Our Sunday school class is exceptional.

I am grateful for my country. I am a proud American. I am patriotic. We are not perfect as a nation but we are moving in the right direction. I am grateful for my city and state. I owe a great debt to the public schools, to Mars Hill College, Furman University, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and Lander University. I am grateful for my home town and all the wonderful people there who helped me grow. I am grateful to Northside Baptist Church and all those wonderful people who encouraged me. I am grateful to the Board of Directors of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center. They not only gave me a job, they gave me a life.

As I start a new year I am mindful of the two great loves of my life. Liz, Suzanne and Michael’s mother, stretched me in every way possible. She took a chance on me when only love could have made that possible. Carol rescued me from hell after Liz died. She brought joy and adventure to a tortured soul. I grieve that they went on without me, but I am grateful that I had them for as long as I did. They brought love, beauty, challenge and comfort into my life.

I am simply grateful for life and all that entails. I live in a beautiful city, I have wonderful neighbors. I have books, music, an inquisitive mind, and a restless spirit. When I look at my grandchildren, I am confident of the future. I am an incurable optimist. The world will not end today because it is already tomorrow someplace else. I have a faith that sustains me. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

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Wisdom seeks a third way – Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins*

Wisdom seeks a third way: The congregational dimension of Christian citizenship

Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins

October 5, 2020 – The Christian Citizen

Visit a Christian church in the United States today, and you might spot two flags on the chancel: an American flag and a Christian flag. Nothing could better symbolize the reality that as Christians and Americans, we are citizens of two realms.

What does this mean for the faithful women and men who comprise America’s churches?

There is an inherent tension with this dual citizenship. Much of the time, we do not think about it. But when the values of our faith contradict the laws or practices of our government, what then?

It might prove helpful to remember how Jesus navigated his dual citizenship as both an adherent of the Jewish faith and a subject of the Roman government. In the synoptic gospels, we read about the Pharisees (Jewish leaders) and the Herodians (Roman loyalists) joining forces to trick Jesus, asking him if a good Jew should pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus says, “No,” he will be at odds with the Roman law. If he says, “Yes,” he upsets his Jewish followers. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus replies to the chagrin of his Jewish companions. It appears that Jesus has aligned with the Herodians. But then he continues, “and to God what is God’s.”[i] The tricksters offer Jesus a binary problem; Jesus responds with a non-binary solution. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ challengers are amazed by his answer; their false dichotomy exposed in the light of his wisdom.

Wisdom seeks a third way.

Whether the rub as Christian citizens is between church and state or between Republican and Democrat, or something else entirely, wise followers of what the earliest believers called “The Way” must continually seek a third way: a higher way that exposes the fallacies of either/or thinking. Trinitarian expressions of faith were born for this.

The United States has a two-party system with either/or thinking built into its DNA. Citizens are pushed, pulled, dragged and cajoled into ascribing loyalty to one party or the other. Party identity often becomes a primary way we see ourselves and one another. When we begin to think of ourselves as “Democrat” or “Republican,” we can be confident that we have fallen prey to either/or thinking.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Wisdom seeks a third way.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Name it. For starters, church leaders can name the tension. The election will be on the minds of worshippers in 2020. If church leaders ignore the election, or if we dance too delicately around the discord, we become irrelevant. Our message becomes anemic, sterile, impotent. Jesus was not afraid to name Caesar and God in the same lesson. We must not be afraid to name current reality. Church leaders, as responsible citizens, will ultimately cast votes borne out of a two-party system, but until and beyond that day, leaders must lift, prompt, urge and beckon believers up above the partisan fray. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Reframe it. Keeping the great commandment to love God and neighbor ever central, the job of the church is to constantly point people to a higher way. This calling is especially prescient during these polarizing days. “The left says this, the right says that, how might we look at this through the lens of faith?” As we explore that question together as church communities, we will be on the path to discovering a third way together. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Seeking a higher way, a third way, will be challenging. It will require a willingness of church members and leaders to sit with the tension on the way to third-way wisdom. It will summon us to seek to understand, holding loosely our need to be understood. It will necessitate deep listening; we must be prepared to be transformed by the conversation.

These are precarious days for leaders of “purple churches” (churches comprised of people who identify as both Democrat and Republican). Those who preach must “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”[ii] A good rule of thumb for this kind of preaching: pastoral always, prophetic sometimes, partisan never. But preaching can be more than meeting people in the middle. Relevant preaching aims to be not apolitical, but transpolitical—aspiring to lift the collective vision higher, above zero-sum politics. Wisdom seeks a third way.

At our best, our nation and our faith share a common third-way vision: that the United States would be a land of “liberty and justice for all.”[iii] The church gains relevance as it points its communities to this ideal. This is no time for the church to be silent while partisan voices jockey for attention. Now is the time for the church to rise above the binary bickering, showing the world that wisdom seeks a third way.

*Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins is the senior pastor of Chapel by the Sea in Clearwater Beach, Florida and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. Blevins holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and previously served as the coordinator of CBF Kentucky. She and her husband, Terry, live with their two sons in Palm Harbor, Florida.


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Get Wisdom

Knowledge is not wisdom.

Intelligence is not wisdom.

Intuition is not wisdom.

Belief is not wisdom.

Conviction is not wisdom.

Faith is not wisdom.

Feeling is not wisdom.

Love is not wisdom.

Power is not wisdom.

Experience is not wisdom.

Wisdom comes with age sometimes.

Wisdom comes from failure sometimes.

Wisdom comes from loss sometimes.

Wisdom never appears in noise.

Wisdom often appears in silence.

Wisdom never comes at the expense of the other.

Wisdom often comes in knowing ones’  self.

Wisdom shows when the body, mind and soul are in harmony

Wisdom is being at one with all of creation.

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