Talking to and Hearing from God

My 3-year-old granddaughter Bella – who is unusually verbal for her age – was recently asked by someone what she likes to do. Her answer was, “I like to talk to God. You can talk to him anywhere. He can hear you but he doesn’t talk back very loud.”

After a chuckle at the humor of such a little one saying something like this, I’m guessing that a lot of people quietly agree with the entire statement. Yes, it is true that God may be talked to at any place and any time. And I don’t think many folks really doubt that God hears them. It is the final part of it that is difficult – how does God talk back? And yes, it often does not seem to be very loud or clearly definitive.

How do we hear from God? Where do we find his guidance and his will? Of course we need to be praying and seeking his direction.

Certainly God uses our circumstances and life events to speak to us. There are times where even extraordinary events upon the pathways of life may open or close doors and thus provide guidance to us.

As well, there is what we often call “the witness of Spirit” – that inner sense of either peace or discomfort surrounding decisions and opportunities that grant some measure of leading.

But the primary method of God’s guidance is through Christ and his Word – the Scriptures. It says in Hebrews chapter1 that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  That would indeed be a way cool thing to hear from God through prophets and miraculous voices. But God’s truth has been revealed in the person of Christ, and of course all that we know of Christ is contained in the perfect written record of the Scriptures.

So to know God’s direction – to hear his voice a bit louder – one has to know the Bible. And that is the focus that we have at TSF – in our sermons and classes and small groups of all sorts. If you are not a part of these opportunities, now is the best time of year to jump in.

Simple Servants


Over the summer at Tri-State Fellowship we have continued our iGrow series (adult learning center classes that meet at 11:00). Tim Lester did a six-week series called “Guardrails.”  I have just begun a second series for four weeks called “Simple Servants.”  I’ve been putting some readings and questions as preparation for the week to come on our church Facebook page … but that means I’ve got to remember to do it each day. I was thinking about how much easier it is with the blogs I write – where postings can be scheduled (which explains why you might see my Orioles or Civil War blogs have articles that go online at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning).

So I thought I’d just put the whole series of questions, thoughts, and readings here on this blog for you to get at any time.

This four-week iGrow series of lessons focuses upon some of the lesser known characters of the early church – who served in supportive roles alongside those whom we more often remember. Together with star characters like Paul, Peter, Timothy and Luke, they established God’s program of abounding grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without doubt, these people had gifts and talents. But honestly, they were pretty ordinary – not a lot different than most of us. What made them special was their desire to partner deeply with God’s work. Their consistent attitude was a question of, “What may I do to help?”  The value of such simple servants is timeless and limitless.

We will look at the lives of:

  • Priscilla and Aquila (7/29)
  • Barnabas (8/5)
  • Silas (8/12)
  • Philemon (8/19)

WEEK ONE: Priscilla and Aquila (7/29/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 18:1-17.  Make a list of the types of experiences that Priscilla and Aquila must have had with the Apostle Paul during this time together.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 18:18-28.  What does this passage indicate about the probable skills and capabilities of this husband and wife?

Wednesday:  Read Romans 16:1-5a & 1 Corinthians 16:19.  What additional skills possessed by this couple do we see in this passage? What must this have been like in that time and that place (living in Rome)?

Thursday:  Read 2 Timothy chapter 4.  What does the mention of this couple by Paul in his final written words reveal of his thoughts about them?  (This is back in Ephesus)

Friday:  Read Acts 5:1-10.  What contrasts may be drawn between the husband/wife teams of Priscilla and Aquila, and Ananias and Sapphira?

Week 2: Barnabas (8/5/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 9:17-30.  What list of character traits of Barnabas may be generated from this account?

Tuesday:  Read Acts 11:19-30.  Continue to add character traits of Barnabas to your list. Are you beginning to get a mental picture of what it would be like to meet this man?

Wednesday:  Read Acts 13:1-12, 42-49.  In a word, what is the job Barnabas is called to perform? Where might he have had any idea how to accomplish this?

Thursday:  Read Acts chapter 14.  It is clear now that Paul is the leader of the team. What more does this say about the character of Barnabas and his attitudes?

Friday:  Read Acts 15:1-35, and Galatians 2:12-13.  Note here the bold and passionate interest within Barnabas for theological truth and for the central message of the Gospel.

Week 3: Silas (8/12/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 15:22-35.  Even as you review some of the same material as last week, begin to note the position of Silas in the early church community. See also at the end of the chapter that he is commissioned to missionary service with Paul.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 16:1-15.  What great experiences is Silas a witness of?  Make note of all who are travelling together (hint – one is not listed), and how this trip fits into the spread of the Gospel and western civilization.

Wednesday:  Read Acts 16:16-40.  Try to put yourself into Silas’ sandals and imagine the emotional highs and lows of being in this situation.

Thursday:  Read Acts 17:1-15.  Continue to catalogue what may be learned about Silas from this missionary journey, noting especially what happens in verse 14.

Friday:  Read Acts 18:1-8, 2 Cor. 11:9, Philippians 4:15-16 and tie together these passages. Look also at a final mention of Silas (Silvanus) in 1 Peter 5:12.

Week 4: Philemon (8/19/12)

Monday:  Read Philemon verses 1-7,22-25 & Colossians chapter 4, and note how these writings go together.

Tuesday:  Read Philemon 8-21 – Note how Paul has come across Philemon’s runaway slave named Onesimus in Rome, led him to Christ, and is now sending him back home.

Wednesday:  Read Philemon again. If you were a slave, would you return?  If you were the owner, would you receive him back? Make a mental list of the reasons why Paul is telling Philemon to take back Onesimus. Does Paul’s appeal begin to present a picture to you of the work of Christ? How so?

Thursday:  Read Philemon 15,16 // Col. 3:22-23 // Eph. 6:5-9 // 1 Tim. 6:1-3.  Ponder what it would be like to be in a New Testament church with both masters and slaves in the same family of faith.

Friday:  Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17-19.  What is the biblical admonition to the wealthier people of a church? What makes it difficult for poor people and wealthy people to serve well together in a church in our day? What would make it easier?

Missions Emphasis Sunday

Today’s service (7/1/12) at Tri-State was one of the best I can remember in my (exactly now) 18 years in Hagerstown. It was a Sunday focused on our missions outreach – featuring three of the families with long-term connections to the church.

Marlin and Ruth Brubaker were the first to say they could be with us on this date. They now work in Colorado Springs for HCJB World Radio. This ministry was founded in Quito, Ecuador in 1931 by a guy with a transmitter in a city where only six people had radios … and he named it a “world ministry” because he had a big vision! It has covered ¾ of the world’s surface. Marlin is an engineer who keeps the technology working.

Bill and Michele Nelson met and married while at TSF – where Bill was a staff member for five years in the early 90s. For the past 14-15 years he has directed the InterVarsity ministry at Johns Hopkins University and medical campus. Bill is especially involved in the personal work that goes on with international medical students. It is a relationship building, evangelism, and discipleship ministry with a lot of turnover … as students eventually go back to their home countries where they will be church leaders. These are often Muslim and Hindu countries.

Pete and Carolyn Bitner have now served over a decade in Togo, West Africa. They shared an incredible array of stories of their work in discipleship with two different people groups. Pete has done such things as play in a soccer league of mostly Islamic guys. The team picture makes it very clear which one is Pete!  Let’s just say that he really stands out among all those Africans!

Marlin, Pete, Bill and Me – You’d think we were a bunch of girls who called each other up to wear the same outfit!

It was a great experience for these three families to be together at the same time – and that was some of the plan for today. They estimated that it was about 15 years since they were all in the same place at the same time. Another key player in all their lives is Bill Kesecker and the discipleship class he led years ago for young adults of that time. So many of these folks are now in missions work – including Anna from our Kazakh team.

Much of the talk today was about the idea of being a team / an army – serving together in various roles. Like with any organization, it is not just about the people who are public and on the front lines. It takes a support structure. I estimate that we have given about $2,000,000 to missions projects and people in the years I’ve been here. For a large church, that is not much … but it is a big number for us. It is equal to about all the money spent on our facilities purchases and construction. And in other terms, our mortgage payment is now in the lower 400,000s.

But today surely reminds me that it is worth it all to have a worldwide focus. God does; we should.

A Surprise for the Geigers

I did something in church yesterday that I’ve been planning for some time – to pull a surprise on our friends Lyle and Miget Geiger.

The Geigers moved to our area a couple years ago from the Lehigh Valley, as Lyle works for Volvo. When in Allentown, they attended our denomination’s church there – Faith Evangelical Free in Wescoesville (just west of Allentown). As you may recall, this is the home of my wife Diana, and is not that far from where I grew up. Faith has always been a rather large church, and even when I was a teenager, I’d often go to concerts there – as this church hosted many of the best-known Christian musicians of the time.

The Geigers have three married sons – one of whom serves in the Orlando, Florida area at a very large church (Northland Church – Joel Hunter pastor). He is on the musical/worship staff (yes, lots of people). He is an outstanding keyboard player, songwriter, and singer. At various times, his songs have been a part of their worship services and may be seen in the media section of their web page.

So, for the 11:00 song to gather people for the iGrow session, I had Diana (in the sound room) connect to one of these links and project the song. It was fun for me to watch the Geigers go to their seat and sort of begin to realize that, hey, their son was playing on the projection!  Lyle told me later that Miget said to him, “That sounds like one of the songs Pete has written.”  And then, looking at the screen, he said, “It is Pete; there he is!”  So that was fun for me to watch.

An extra connection of this family to our church is through the Craver family. Fred and Norma’s son and family attended Faith in Allentown, and the Craver’s granddaughter was a very good singer who grew up in the youth group together with the Geiger’s son – doing some music things together as well.

If you want to see the song that we projected, here is the link:

The Annual Youth Variety Show

I am sure that when my TSF years are all said and done, some of the warmest memories I will have will be of the annual youth spaghetti dinner and talent show (held Friday night). This was originally the idea of my 2nd oldest son Ben – who turned 28 a few days ago. Back when he was at Williamsport High School, he was in the famous Sophisti-‘Cats Show Choir, and they did numerous spaghetti dinner fundraisers. That first year, Ben pulled together a bunch of the teens and put together a choir number that was performed in a “Black church” style of soul – the song “Oh Happy Day” – as in Sister Act. He borrowed a collection of pure white choir robes from the high school, and it was great.

Of course, along the way, the boys of the youth group have put together the annual Male Interpretive Dance Team. This is a spoof that the guys originally did because the girls, many years ago, had a serious interpretive dance team. The girls were really good, but the boys of course did a lot of running into each other, etc.  This is one of those things that is sorta like when your infant child does something that is not exactly a good thing, but it was really funny and so you laughed – which encouraged the child to do it even more! Well, the “Male Interp” thing has grown to have a monstrous life of its own. It is now the highlight and finale song of the program. And now also, it has become a tradition for there to be an introductory video.  Some of these have been incredibly funny. A couple of years ago, one of them had me laughing about as uncontrollably as anything I’ve ever seen!

These events are fundraisers for our annual youth summer trip: on even-numbered years to the denominational National Youth Conference, and on odd-numbered years to a missions project trip. This year there is a conference to be held in New Orleans. Previous conferences have been at Georgia Tech, Purdue, Colorado State, and in the civic centers of Columbus and Salt Lake City. About 5,000-6,000 youth from around the country attend these life-changing events.

Here are a few pictures from what was truly a variety show:

I put this picture of a back-flip off a step ladder on our church Facebook page, and it was seen by our EFCA home office in Minnesota, and they re-posted on the Denominational page – to be seen all over the country.




Which Way is Up?

Word came to us at church yesterday (Thursday) that our dear friend Larry Goldman was taken from his place of employment with symptoms that sure sounded like a heart attack. I was relieved to catch up with him a couple hours later and discover that it was a case of vertigo.

I have now seen this happen to church people no less than at least a dozen times in my pastoral career. But there is one instance of it I’ll most remember forever.

It was the winter of 1994. I was a pastor in Phillipsburg, NJ and had recently established contact with this Evangelical Free Church in Hagerstown, MD.  They appeared interested in my resume, as this fellow named Fred Craver called me to inform me of such. He said that two couples from the church were going to visit incognito at my church the next Sunday – a Paul and Karen Bitner and a Clarence and MaryAnn Brubaker.

I obviously wanted to do my best and make the best possible appearance toward getting the new job at this way cool church in Maryland! With only about 225-250 in attendance, I was pretty sure I saw who these visitors must be – as they sat about 2/3 of the way toward the back to my left side.

We had just finished the songs for the morning and the pianist had walked back to the 3rd row near the front to sit with her husband and college-aged son. Let me further describe the scene by saying that this lady was THE leading lady of the church in terms of leadership and involvement – and still is to this day. She is a frequent women’s conference guest speaker – known and loved by every person in the church.

Well, I was about 60 seconds into my introduction of my sermon on Psalm 42 when I noticed a great deal of commotion around where this lady and her family were sitting. I tried not to look too closely – not wanting to draw attention to whatever was going on over there. But before long, even I noticed that her husband and son each had one arm around her, and were literally dragging her down the side aisle – in the same way a football player would be dragged off the field after getting his bell rung.

By this time, everyone in the room had seen what was going on, there was a mild murmuring, medical people in the congregation were getting up and running out, and I just had to quit trying to pretend like nothing had transpired. Once they were outside the sanctuary doors and into the foyer, I said something like, “Obviously our dear friend Mary has been stricken in some fashion, so let’s pray for this situation even now.”

After the prayer, I attempted to go back to the sermon and make some sense of the passage, but by this point, I’d totally lost the room. Nobody was much listening; they were all lost in their own thoughts. I soldiered on through the sermon, but I also was depressed – figuring it was a total lost cause for getting to Maryland. But the funny thing was that my visitors thought I had handled a difficult situation fairly well, and it all played into my favor. And the rest is history!

As you can guess, the lady was diagnosed with vertigo due to a recent inner ear infection. I visited her later that day, and she was as good as new.

Sermon Tweeting


So, yesterday we rolled out our first Twitter conversation session during the sermon. Some of you don’t know what Twitter even is, and even some of those of you who do will wonder why in the world anyone would want to tweet away during a church sermon!


Twitter allows you to use 140 characters to write a tweet about anything – that message being sent to all those who have agreed to be your followers. You can follow a subject, or write about a particular subject by using the symbol “#” – which in this world is called a hashtag.


For example, I could use my Twitter account to search #Orioles and find out what everyone everywhere is saying about the Baltimore Orioles – the most recent comment being at the top of the list. This is, by the way, the main reason that I use Twitter.


Until this past weekend, my only Twitter account name was @osayorioles. I have 113 followers on this account, about 90% of whom are fellow baseball sportswriters from across the country. To do something where I’d communicate with people at church, however, I decided to use another account and name (because all those sportswriter guys would sure be confused by my “spiritual” tweets during a service – not that it would necessarily be so bad – but I don’t want to jam up their Twitter feed with a local conversation.)


So, I used the name of my blog to have a second Twitter account … now I’m @thewordofrandy. And Chris and I decided that a good hashtag to use for a community conversation during a service would be #tsftalk.


Let me illustrate why we could do this by telling you what it is like during an Orioles baseball game to be tweeting and getting tweets. I can be watching the game on TV, and there may be as many as 20 other people also watching the game – all of us with Twitter accounts open on computer on phone. Now, let’s say Mark Reynolds of the Orioles commits an error by missing a ground ball (a very believable and realistic illustration). Someone may tweet “Reynolds is just too fat to play 3rd base  #orioles” … and someone may say, “I hate seeing Reynolds out there, but who else do we really have  #orioles”.  And the conversation is off and running with lots of people chiming in and agreeing or arguing – all while the game is going on.


So, this is a way to have an interactive conversation while listening to the sermon. For example, yesterday I began the conversation by picking up on Chris’ first point – about living between two worlds – and wrote, “So how many of you feel you are living between two worlds?  #tsftalk”  Since we did not get the hashtag on the screen enough, the conversations were not extensive, but one young man said, “I feel it especially in the world of science  #tsftalk”.  Several other people made comments on major points of the sermon – sort of like giving an electronic “amen.”

Here is where Twitter could have been used in the time of Jesus. In the account of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with perfume, Simon the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  If he had Twitter, he could have sent that out as a tweet to all his followers! But still, even if Jesus did not have a Twitter account (@thesonofGod), he would have still known what Simon tweeted!


I don’t expect that a majority of people will be tweeting during sermons, but this is an extra way of learning and engaging with the text and the topic of the day.


The Evidence of Things Unseen

When we have baptism services each year at the Horst Cabin, people ask me why I’m standing in the water looking around like I’m afraid I’m going to see something. The men’s retreat was held there this weekend, and one of the guys took this picture:

So, I think my fears are entirely reasonable … though honestly, with 150+ people there each August, I’m sure this guy and his relatives take a quick vacation.

Tim Lester, The Devil?

Wouldn’t you know it? The very Sunday that I fail to take my camera into the service, I miss a great shot. And then I’m stuck with only my phone’s camera to try and take a picture – something it does not do very well indoors. (Well… there to the left is what I was able to get!)

Yes, Tim Lester preached the entire sermon with a stick attached behind him with a drawn face of the Devil – as if Satan was whispering in Tim’s ear. (I’ve often wondered why Tim always cocks his head to the left as if he is attempting to hear something!)

However, I was kind of wondering if maybe the way to see this is sort of like one of those identifying little plastic sticks that you have in a six-pack of vegetable or flowering plants – you know, the stick that identifies what those plants are. So, was the stick really saying that THIS IS THE DEVIL!

No… Tim is one of a kind, and devils are really rather common if you think about it.


The Devil in the Sound System

I know this seems absolutely silly to those of you who are, say, age 30 and under, but there was a time when absolutely nobody thought of the idea that a church should have a worship team of instrumentalists and vocalists leading a service. Most churches just had a song leader; or in large sanctuaries with a pipe organ (likely made in Hagerstown at the Moller factory), the organ was so loud and so in charge that it was “the leader of the songs – the hymns.”  Some larger churches might also have had an orchestra.

But ALL churches of any size whatsoever had a choir. My first job in a church in 1977 was with a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I was the choir director there for a year – my final year of college and first year Diana and I were married. The total attendance of that church was about 100 people. In terms of talent, it was one of the best choirs I ever had.

Anyhow, in the old order of doing church, choirs were often the veritable den of iniquity in a church!  It was too frequently a place of gossip and discontent and opinions and egos run amuck! Honestly, I never had many problems as such in the three churches where I weekly did this sort of thing for a period of about 15 years … though one time in Dallas when there was a small controversy about something, I did put a sign on my office door that said “Office of the Department of War.”

I think it was the famed radio preacher of a previous generation – J. Vernon McGee – who said, “When Satan fell, he fell into the choir loft and has been there ever since!”

If that was true of the 1900s, I’d submit that the saying for this century is that “when Satan fell, he fell into the church sound system and has been there ever since!”

Yesterday, I was in the Café service where Todd Seville was sharing some thoughts related to our new series called “Unseen: Exposing the Paranormal” … and he was commenting about the ways in which Satan and his minions may affect the proclamation of the Word in church. One of the things he said was how technical problems seem to happen at the worst times – the power will go off, or something of that nature. When I spoke, I made some further remarks about the topic. All I can say is what I see that happens; and I can tell you without any doubts whatsoever that things like computers and printers break down on Sundays at a rate far beyond what they do on any other day of the week (even though they are more used on those other days).

Well, when it was time for me to speak at the 11:00 iGrow session, I looked around for the wireless microphone that is always up front – having just been used by the 9:30 service speaker that morning. It was not there, and I was then told that it malfunctioned during Chris’ sermon. I heard later that it was unexplainable – that there was a new battery right out of the box just put into it … that the problem was not the switch or anything like that. It just stopped working.

We’ll research it some more. But you have to wonder if the paranormal was not being exposed! Hmm? Who could it be? Hmm? Could it be SATAN?!?  (You also have to be older than 30 to remember “the Church lady” on Saturday Night Live.)