Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 23 of Lent, Monday, March 31, 2014

          Do not be deceived: 
               "Bad company ruins good morals."

                                                                    Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NRSV)

Carver Transitional Center located at 400 S. May Avenue in Oklahoma City is a halfway house run by Avalon Correctional Services, Inc.  On Monday, the Oklahoma State Corrections Department surprised them with a random drug test for 153 of the residents. Over half (78) tested positive for illegal drugs.

Frankly, I'm surprised it was not higher.

The fact is that most criminal charges have roots in substance abuse.  When someone who is incarcerated is released from prison, there is a strong pull toward the circles that led to imprisonment in the first place.

The court costs alone that need to be repaid after exiting prison are overwhelming to those newly released.

Many of these men and women did not have strong support before they entered jail.  I don't imagine that people are lining up to help them afterwards.

The pressures often lead to more substance abuse as an escape.

Our support of ex-offenders through the Exodus House is a way that we are making a difference in people's lives.  As I have toured this facility many times as well as attended Redemption Church, I am proud of the transformation in Christ that we can accomplish through our church's ministries.



As we see God at work through people that were once walking down the wrong path, it might be a good idea for us to look at our own path.  Are there behaviors that could lead us into chaos?

Let us pray:

God of love, whose compassion never fails; we bring before you the troubles and perils of people and nations, the sighing of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak, the despondency of the weary, the failing powers of the aged.  O Lord, draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Prayer by Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 30, 2014

This is my commandment, 
that you love one another 
as I have loved you. 

                                                                          Jesus of Nazareth, John 15:12 (NRSV)

Loving others as Jesus loves us is not an easy thing to do.

We like to complicate the matter.

This video shows a dog greeting the master after a long time away.  He is a soldier who was serving in Afghanitstan.


It is hard to watch this and not smile!

As I think about our enthusiasm for others, it is different than a dog's love for a master. We are more intelligent and discriminating but this also leads to us hurting each other more deeply.

We don't have enthusiasm for others like this and even this dog wouldn't have the same reaction for a stranger.  The command to love others as we have been loved doesn't come naturally.

It comes through faith.  It comes through prayer.  It comes through the reminder in worship that this is what we are about.

What does it mean that God would work through us to love others?

It might not look quite like the video.

But seeing others receive justice and joy can sure bring us a sense of meaning and well-being.  It can bring a sense of peace.

Peace that passes any real understanding.

Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
St. Francis by Albert Chevallier Tayler (oil on canvas)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

                                                Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 22 of Lent, Saturday, March 29, 2014

               for all have sinned 
               and fall short 
               of the glory of God

                                                     Paul of Tarsus, Romans 3:23 (NIV)

Jagger at Winterland Palace,
San Francisco, June 1972
Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones is back in the news.  L'Wren Scott, his girlfriend of ten years, committed suicide on March 17th and left her entire estate to Jagger in her will.  The suicide is believed to be related to the large debts her business had accrued.

Mick Jagger has gained some amount of respectability through the years actually receiving knighhood from the British throne a little over ten years ago.

As a part of the Stones, Jagger played to the bad-boy image in the late sixties and early seventies with songs that seemed to indicate a fascination with the occult.

The most notable of these was "Sympathy for the Devil", the opening track on the 1968 album, Beggar's Banquet.  The song is sung in the perspective of the devil as we hear him speak about being present at some of the awful parts of history such as the crucifixion of Jesus up to World Wars I and II.  They even reference the death of the Kennedy's as the song was written during the news of the death of Bobby Kennedy.

During the song, we continue to hear, "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name."

Towards the end of the song we find the identity revealed:

                 But what's confusing you
         Is just the nature of my game
         Just as every cop is a criminal
         And all the sinners saints
         As heads is tails
         Just call me Lucifer
         Cause I'm in need of some restraint

Jagger later spoke about singing this song as acting a part indicating that he didn't profess any kind of supernatural meaning to it.  Instead it speaks more to the idea of the apostle Paul's referenced in Romans above that all people have sinned.

This is an important lesson for Christians who get too full of themselves to remember and is a lesson that Jesus emphasized to the Pharisees as they saw themselves as closer to God's favor than anyone else.

However, the danger we may see in a song like this is the acceptance of evil because "everybody does it."  There can be a fatalism that all people have a dark side and so we simply accept it for what it is.  This is allowing ourselves to reach a lowest common denominator.

Rather than this, when I hear the song on the radio, I'm reminded that I too have a dark side that shouldn't be indulged.  





Photo by Larry Rogers [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 28, 2014

Day 21 of Lent, Friday, March 28, 2014

[The widow of Zarephath] said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 
                                                            1 Kings 17:12-13

This request by Elijah to a poor widow seems counter-productive.  It is almost laughable to see the hubris of Elijah in asking for something of a widow who is so poor she sees no future for herself or her son.

Our initial response is for Elijah to go and beg from someone else!
When we imagine that we have nothing
to share, we are poor indeed.

And yet, as we continue in the story, we see that the woman is blessed during a drought with a miraculous never-ending jug of meal and jar of oil.  If she had not paid attention and done something for someone else, would she have received the blessing?

I think this is something everyone needs to consider from time to time.  Often, our initial response to others may be, "that's not my responsibility."

Yet we try to teach our children the opposite as when we instruct them to pick up the mess regardless of who made it.

"But it's not mine!"

"Yes, but it won't hurt you to pick it up.  We help each other that way."

The following video is a wonderful testimony of someone who didn't say, "That's not mine."


I'm sure that he feels good about what he is doing even though he knows that he didn't put it there in the first place.  During Lent, what would it be for you to do something for someone else?  It might be that you find the abundance of blessing just like the widow of Zarephath.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 20 of Lent, Thursday, March 27, 2014

             For if you love those who love you, 
                               what reward do you have?
                                                                          Matthew 5:46 (NRSV)

Last week, there was a terrible news story about two Maryland teenage girls that abused a 16 year old autistic boy multiple times and recorded some of the abuse on their phones.

The 17 year old girl was changed as an adult and the 15 year old was charged as a juvenile.

The difficulty about this story is that the autistic boy still considers the girls his friends and when his mother told him to stay away from them, he wasn't sure that he would.

To take advantage of one who is vulnerable socially like this is horrific and it makes my heart ache with the kind of pain that I feel for all those involved.

The reaction on websites has been understandably derogatory for the two girls.

However, some of the comments go overboard.  Here's one from a man calling himself "Bar Man" from Los Angeles, California.  He supposedly has 558 subscribers that follow his comments:

       Life in prison is how you would sentence an adult human. These two are not human. I suggest the local pound. The Dogs at the pound are a better example of good, of love, and possible betterment. Yet most Dogs at a pound are only a few days away from execution. I prefer any Dog over these two.

This post had 6,161 likes as of my research on Tuesday.

This post had a one-word reply by a woman named Betty Cole:

Amen.

I understand that it is easy to pile on.  These girls are easy to despise.  Anyone who ever faced bullying can channel those feelings into a reaction to this case.

As a pastor, I can't justify taking away someone's humanity by referring to them as animals.   I understand the argument that says that they dropped their humanity when they acted in such a manner.  But a part of the Christian faith is to see as God sees.
What kind of Hell are these
girls already in to allow themselves
to treat another person in this way?

And I realize that these girls did not learn this behavior by themselves.  It was not gleaned from the internet. When you have a blatant disregard for human feelings like this, it is probable that they also have been abused in some way in the past.  The feelings have bubbled up and been released in a way that is unacceptable.

There's no good solution for any of the three involved.  But if we want to salvage the future of the two girls, we might seek some measure of rehabilitation rather than simply seeking punitive measures.

As we find ourselves halfway through the Lenten season, we may be tired of considering our own sins by now.  In fact, it may be refreshing to turn to others that are far worse than ourselves.  But in the end, we need to remember that we are all in need of redemption.

Let us pray for all three of these teens as they experience the cross.


Photo by Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 19 of Lent, Wednesday, March 26, 2014

   Know that the Lord is God.
       It is he that made us, and we are his;
       we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 
                                                                                                     Psalm 100:3 (NRSV)

How Neanderthal are you?

It was not that long ago that anthropologists were convinced that modern humans and Neanderthals were completely separate species that could not possibly have produced viable offspring.  There were notions that the two different types of humans may have reproduced but their children would have been infertile - the mules of humanity.   

Neanderthals were much denser in bone and muscle mass
than we are today and would have made great linebackers.
Now, genetic markers in the DNA of descendants from Europe and East Asia indicate that 1-3% of their genes are Neanderthal in origin.

The offspring of the two ancient humans were not so sterile after all it seems.

Some Christians find this very disturbing and refuse to believe it.  

Others may seek to poke holes in the science that gives us these findings.

But there are also Christians that don't have any difficulty integrating the Bible and this news.

Before I strongly felt God's call upon my life, I majored in Anthropology for a time.  I still continued to attend church regularly and was part of a minority on campus that was in worship every Sunday morning.  

In fact, I continue to read articles on human origins to this day - one of my hobbies, you might say.  Some people have not found a congregation where they can integrate their belief in science and their faith in God and I suppose that I write this today for them.   

For me, the Bible is a sacred text that tells the human story as a spiritual story.  It tells us how we connect with God.  In the Genesis account, there is a fundamental reverence for creation in that God repeatedly "saw that it was good."

The people who were divinely inspired to write down the stories of creation (the two stories written in chapter one and chapters two-three are from different authors and read very differently) certainly didn't have the precise knowledge that we do today.  In fact, they didn't think about the world in the same way that we do across an ocean and across over two millennium.

Yet, they tell us important things about our faith and about God that are invaluable to us today.  They have shaped me in ways that are fundamental to my identity as a person.

So as I read about science and find things like Neanderthals buried their dead, I see that they were likely spiritual people as well.  It shouldn't be that surprising that I would share more with them than a belief in the afterlife.  We are kin in more ways than one.

And God saw that it was good.



Photo by hairymuseummatt (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmnh/3033749380/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 18 of Lent, Tuesday, March 25, 2014


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

    mortals that you care for them? 
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
                                                                                            Psalm 8:3-5 (NRSV)



Technology (photoshop) has allowed us to step up the game of making idols of certain types of body images.

It is no wonder that people are insecure with how they look.  It used to be that a very small percentage of women had the body type of models.  Now we can see that not even the models themselves can attain to the pictures we see in magazines.

Each person is a gift in their diversity that we should celebrate.  As we continue in Lent, maybe it would be good to pay a compliment to someone you know.  If you have children who are still living at home, it would be especially good for you to share with them that they are wonderfully made!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 17 of Lent, Monday, March 24, 2014

 "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father."
                                                                      Jesus as quoted in John 14:12 (NRSV)


The country of India has eradicated polio from its borders.

This is surprisingly good news considering that polio spreads through contaminated water and India's large population is quite dense with many living in poverty.

However, the volunteerism it took to provide vaccinations to the poor neighborhoods is quite impressive.  This kind of effort shows that we can make a difference with global health.
The conditions in parts of India make this a modern miracle.

The United Methodist bishops set out one of their four areas of focus in 2008 as "Stamping Out the Killer Diseases of Poverty by Improving Health Globally."

I'm glad to see us making strides against these kinds of diseases where vaccines exist and it just takes the hard work to make it happen.

When I was younger, I didn't really understand the above quote from John 14:12.  After all, how could we do something greater than Jesus?  But as the Body of Christ, we have the power to change the world.

We can stamp out disease and hunger.

We can feed his sheep.

For Lent today, let us pray this prayer together and mean it:

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellows throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger.  Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.  Amen.

                                                                             Prayer by Mother Teresa of Calcutta



Photo by meg and rahul (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent, March 23, 2014

Got Water?

Today's gospel reading for the lectionary is John 4:5-42 and is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  They pause at the same well together and Jesus offers her living water.


"...those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty."

Verse 14 shares these words of Jesus in a spiritual sense and they would have had a lot more shock value in the first century middle east.

Today, we take water for granted.

It is only when I travel abroad that I remember, I can't just drink water from the tap.  How often do I plunk some ice cubes from the fridge into a glass and fill it up from the tap?


I didn't realize that yesterday was the World Water Day until I saw an article on umc.org.


In fact, I didn't really know that there was a World Water Day.

The United Methodist Church has a water and sanitation ministry that helps to provide clean water for communities so that those of us who have received the Living Water of Christ can help others not to be thirsty again.

As some have given up pop or sweets for Lenten disciplines, we might consider the blessing of being able to have abundant water and to be more aware in our use of it.




Glass of water photo by Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 16 of Lent, Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy Birthday to Twitter!

The social media platform that invented microblogging and gave everyone in the world a podium with 140 characters or less turned 8 years old yesterday.

Here's my first Tweet:



Ah, this shows that I've been on Twitter since 2009?  Who knew I was so trendy? Actually, before you pat me on the back for being so hip, I've only sent 182 tweets - mostly links to this blog or to a YouTube video we've made.

Occasionally, I send something witty like this:


When Twitter first came out, I didn't think it would last.  I couldn't really see the difference between this and Facebook status updates.  Now I see that Twitter communication transcends your Facebook friends and through the use of hashtags, you can search for trends or like posts.

It allowed American student journalist James Buck to go free during Egyptian protests back in 2008 after he tweeted this to his followers:




They contacted the American embassy and he was released the next day.  So as a form of free speech and sharing of information, it has helped to bring justice to the world.

The church may be slow to catch up on how to effectively utilize this medium.  Paul once wrote to the church at Corinth, "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22, NRSV) Would Paul have been on Twitter?  I kind of think he would.  #AbovetheLaw #Leastoftheapostles #untimelyborn

Whether you tweet or not, a good question for Lent may be, "How are we communicating the gospel?"  For those that are uncomfortable with overt faith-sharing, the question may be, "How are you letting the gospel shape your communication?"

Good prayer fodder for a Saturday.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 15 of Lent, Friday, March 21, 2014

March Madness has begun!

As of this writing, 11th seeded Dayton has already knocked off 6th seeded Ohio State in a rather exciting fashion.  Dayton's Vee Sanford knocked down a shot with 3.8 seconds left on the clock to lift them past the Buckeyes 60-59.  Sorry to rub the salt in the wound of your bracket if you had Ohio State!

The fact that both teams were from Ohio made it all the more exciting because the bigger schools often will not play the smaller in-state schools to prevent just such an outcome.

But that's what makes the tournament exciting - matchups that would never get scheduled, get put together in the NCAA tournament.

As the 68 teams vie for the top spot, I am consistently rooting for the underdog (outside of the Big 12 schools).  I love to see the Davids knock out the Goliaths.  I want to see a 12 or 13 seed go to the Final Four as a Cinderella team.

Competition is a part of our human natures and we can indulge this spirit during the tournament for the next few weekends.  If you filled out a bracket, you can enjoy rooting for the teams and if they lose, you don't have time to cry because there's another game already underway.  And if you win, you are on a high for a few minutes until the next game begins!

Competition can become ugly.  Anyone who has seen a parent get kicked out of a little league game can attest to that.  However, it can also be helpful.  It can spur us on to do better than our rival.  It can allow us to rise above mediocrity or settling for what we've already done.  It can be fun when we enjoy it and don't get too upset when we lose.

Tag, you're it!
Anyone remember the kid in your neighborhood growing up that was a sore loser?  No one ever invited that kid to play - he just kind of showed up and spoiled the fun.

As we look at ourselves during Lent, I don't think we should curb our competitive natures unless they are causing us to see our rivals as less than human.  If we are gracious in the wins and can laugh off the defeats - if we are enjoying ourselves in play, we are sharing in the spirit.

When we seek to gain status over another so that we can lord it over them, we've missed out on what God has in mind for us.  It reminds me of when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, sought to be placed over the other disciples in places of honor.

So enjoy the tournament if that's your thing.  Embrace your competitive nature if it is shaping you to become a better person.  But if you allow it to become your master, you still have some work to do in prayer!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 14 of Lent, Thursday, March 20, 2014

There's been a lot of talk in the news about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  The disappearance of such a large plane reads like something out of science fiction (Lost, anyone?).  It seems kind of surreal.

But it feels very real to the families of the passengers and crew.  I think the not-knowing would be the hardest thing.

I imagine that they will eventually find the plane in the sea.  At this point at least, the family members can have some closure.

Some have been postulating foul play while others believe that it is more likely equipment malfunction.  Whatever the case, I think that it is easy to imagine yourself aboard the plane as a passenger.

Anyone who has ever experienced rough turbulence on a flight before has recaptured their prayer life.
I would much rather see the televisions pop
down than the air masks while flying.

The unnerving thing about it is the feeling of helplessness. You know that you are in the pilot's hands and this feels very out-of-control.

There is a strong fear of flying or Aviophobia which affects a number of people.  They either can't fly at all or experience panic attacks when they do.

We've all read the statistics about how it is safer to fly than to drive but the irrationality comes into play when we (or someone we can shout at) are behind the wheel.  We feel more "in control".

As a believer in free will, I am confident of my ability to make my own choices.  But I also believe that there are many things that are beyond my control.  I can project all the possible stimuli available and yet I will still have some randomness in my life that I couldn't predict.  Then I will react to it.

As Lent rolls on, we may find that what we wrestle with in this life is control and the anxiety that comes when we face a lack of it.

The Serenity Prayer was written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and we often see it used at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The original prayer is a little longer than we may be familiar with:

  God, give me grace to accept with serenity
  the things that cannot be changed,
  Courage to change the things
  which should be changed,
  and the Wisdom to distinguish
  the one from the other.
  Living one day at a time,
  Enjoying one moment at a time,
  Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
  Taking, as Jesus did,
  This sinful world as it is,
  Not as I would have it,
  Trusting that You will make all things right,
  If I surrender to Your will,
  So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
  And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
  Amen.

It may be that those of us facing a lack of control need this prayer to be a more prominent part of our lives.  I feel for those families who are praying for their loved ones on that flight.

They may need this prayer as well as any of us.



Photo by Gleb Osokin - Russian AviaPhoto Team [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 13 of Lent, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

There is a spiritual value in getting dirty.

I don't mean the Christina Aguilera kind of dirty but the getting your hands dirty to where you wash repeatedly and your fingernails are still stained.

We had a great work crew go to Cashion First United Methodist Church to work on several projects.

We painted two church signs so that they look fresh and relevant.

We weeded the flower bed around the main church sign.

We cut down an enormous cedar tree that had died - it didn't look so bad in the winter but in the summer, it really sends the wrong message for people visiting the church.

We re-roofed the church annex building where they host Cashion's food pantry twice a month.  This was the largest job that took the most effort.

I've not roofed in a number of years - probably the last time was on a mission trip to Joplin but I did more on an earlier trip to Greensburg, Kansas.

My back is sore and my hands are scraped up.  My face is windblown and my neck is sunburned.
As you can see from this picture, everyone is working.


But I feel an accomplishment that is more satisfying than many days in the office.

The fellowship was great and I was proud of everyone on the crew.  We all worked hard and made a difference for this community.

It was also a pleasure to be hosted by the church.  The ladies who prepared meals for us were fun to be around and very gracious.

I saw Christ in everyone we encountered - those we worked with and those who hosted us.  As we consider Matthew 25:31-45, we can see that it does become easier to serve others when we engage our faith.

It becomes spiritual and that makes the work meaningful.

As I soak up some hot water in a few minutes, I will relish the relief from the soreness and the dirt.  But I appreciate them for what they represent.

We should all periodically get our hands dirty for someone else.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 12 of Lent, Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The rumor is that Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, is dying and in hospice care.

His church has perpetuated hate in the name of God.  They have the obscene practice of picketing military funerals.  The twisted logic behind this act is that God is allowing the soldiers to be killed because the United States is too soft on homosexuality.

These signs are sometimes held by children.
Matthew 18:6 comes to mind.
I have mixed feelings about his impending death.  I'm glad that he won't be around to influence others with his hate.  But I would rather that he had an epiphany in his faith and rejected his previous hatred.  Even if it was a death bed confession or conversion.

I would rather see him embrace the love of Christ rather than die in bitterness and hatred.

I am quick to judge Phelps and Westboro.  In fact, it comes rather easy like avoiding oncoming traffic in a busy street.

I know, I know.  We are not supposed to judge.

I judge their actions and creeds on the standards of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason.

I see that their actions and beliefs do not fit with any of the four pillars mentioned above. I've mentioned them in more than one sermon as an example for why we are not fundamentalists and what can happen when we focus on particular passages without viewing them around the meta-stories of scripture as a whole.

However, I do not judge their worth as human beings or as children of God.  They've misused their free will as have I.

A wonderful post about them was written by another United Methodist pastor, Jeremy Smith. He gives a great summary on our conflicted feelings on the death of another as couched in Christian hospitality.

As we encounter others who are jerks, our job is not to accept their jerkiness.  Our job is to see past it and pray for them - and maybe to influence them to the better.

On this 12th day of Lent, how are you praying for your enemies and those who persecute you?  How are you seeing past their actions and seeing them as fellow human beings - afraid, hurt and lonely?


Photo by JCWilmore (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day Eleven of Lent, Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Michael Powers, was an Irish Catholic that came over from Ireland to the United States in the mid-1700's.  It was rumored that he came over as a stowaway.

He lived in Waterford, New London, Connecticut where there was a large Irish population.

As I consider my roots, I've always appreciated the Celtic expression of Christianity.

Statue of St Patrick on the Hill of Slane.
The plaque below tells a legend about St Patrick.
Check out the Celtic cross in the background.
This prayer was attributed to St. Patrick although it could have been written in the tradition of St. Patrick a few centuries later. Regardless, it is still a good prayer - one of my favorites that I would like prayed at my funeral some day.  It certainly speaks to me of preceding grace:

  Christ be with us,
  Christ before us,
  Christ behind us,
  Christ in us,
  Christ beneath us,
  Christ above us,
  Christ on our right,
  Christ on our left,
  Christ where we lie,
  Christ where we sit,
  Christ where we arise,
  Christ in the heart of every one
     who thinks of us,
  Christ in every eye
     that sees us,
  Christ in every ear
     that hears us.
  Salvation is of the Lord,
     Salvation is of the Christ.
  May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.



Photo by Jotempe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Second Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014

Happy Purim!

Today our Jewish friends continue the observance of this holiday until sundown.  It actually started at sundown last night.  Purim commemorates the story of Esther from the Hebrew Bible (more commonly called the Old Testament by Christians).  This is a remembrance of the delivery of the Jews living outside Israel - specifically in Persia.  In fact, the word "purim" refers to the Persian word for lots.

In the book of Esther, we see that the destruction of the Jewish people was arranged by Haman through the casting of lots.

Esther, the Persian queen, was Jewish but her cultural identity was unknown to the court.  Her cousin Mordecai who raised her as his daughter presses her to save their people.  They foil Haman's plot and he ends up on the gallows that he built for Mordecai.
Traditional theatre performance on Purim holiday, March 2009 in Teatr Zydowski, Warszawa, Poland

During the feast of Purim, there is feasting, gift exchanges, donations to charity and the reading of the book of Esther.  During the reading, the audience is encouraged to cheer for Mordecai and boo for Haman whenever they hear their names.

As they drink wine during the feast, a portion of the Talmud encourages those to drink until they can no longer distinguish between Haman and Mordecai!  Modern rabbis do not encourage this kind of blatant intoxication.

Deliverance and salvation is a theme that continues to occur throughout the Bible.  All of us can probably speak to a time when we've walked through the valley and come out on the other side.

As we journey with Jesus to the cross, it is helpful for us to remember our own times of deliverance and trust that God remains with us today and into the future.  I would encourage you to write down a time (or at least make a mental note) and to say a prayer of thanksgiving for your salvation!



"Goodbye Earl" is a modern day tale that reminds me of the story of Esther.



Photo by Kotoviski photograph by Henryk Kotowski (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 10 of Lent, Saturday, March 15, 2014

Changes are inevitable and we resist them as often as we can.

When they come seemingly unasked, we sometimes feel under attack.  

One big change I dropped on the Piedmont and Cashion congregations recently was my move to Edmond as the new pastor of First United Methodist Church where I'll start on June 8.

Those who are long-time United Methodists have responded with comments like, "Well, we're glad that we had you for as long as we did."  These are sad to see the change but not surprised.

Those new to the denomination may not understand how this works.  I've heard things like, "It doesn't make any sense to move you when things are going well and everybody's happy."

United Methodist pastors serve their appointments on a year-by-year basis and we are usually appointed at annual conference at the end of May.  We serve within their conference boundaries.  If we move outside of the conference area - say our spouse needed to move for employment or family reasons - the bishop would then speak to the bishop of the area to which we are moving and we could then receive an appointment in the new conference assuming there's an opening.

Bishop Hayes is a very spiritual man and is shown
praying for a woman in South Africa that he just met.
So as a member of the Oklahoma Conference, I can be appointed to any United Methodist church in our state (other than one of our Native American congregations but that is another post).

The degree to which a pastor and a church has a say in the appointment process is up to the bishop.  Some bishops send without a lot of consultation but Bishop Hayes is very collegial and allows us the choice if things are going well.

I was not forced to take this appointment but I wanted to share some reasons for why I accepted it.

    1)  There is a need for a pastor with experience in building projects.  Edmond's pastor is retiring and they are in the middle of a building project that will add new square footage as well as renovating their current facility.  The cabinet felt like the experience I gained at Piedmont in our relocation would serve this church well.

    2)  Their congregation has been larger in regards to worship attendance.  Preachers spend time crafting their worship and their sermons to impact people's lives - to shape them as disciples of Jesus Christ.  My desire has always been to grow the church and to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel.  This is a deep part of my calling.

   3)  We considered possible future moves.  It was likely that we would eventually move. The age and grades of our children make this year a good time for a move.  If we were to wait much longer, we would have to move in the middle of Kyla's high school which would not be ideal.  The schools in Edmond are as good as any in the state and there is no guarantee that we would get an appointment in such a good school district in the future. Edmond schools also offer orchestra which is a bonus for our daughter Kyla who plays violin.  If we stay in the new appointment for eight years, we can graduate both our children with only one move which is remarkable for our system.

As we considered these three things through prayer and conversation, it felt that God was moving us in this direction.  It was not easy as we love our congregation and community. For those that are critical of the appointment system, I want to remind you that it was this system that brought me to Piedmont in the first place.

During Lent, I would ask you to reflect upon how God might be calling you to do something difficult - to make a hard choice.  You might read Genesis 12 where Abram (Abraham) is called to do a new thing in his life.  He must have had doubts and fears as he went and yet he followed the call.

I come back to a prayer by Thomas Merton in his book, Thoughts in Solitude:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

     I do not see the road ahead of me. 

          I cannot know for certain where it will end.   Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. 

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 

     I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. 

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

     Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 9 of Lent, Friday, March 14, 2014

The miracle stories of Elijah and Elisha in 1 & 2 Kings are some of my favorites.  Both of these prophets are often blunt and sometimes crude.

There's this great story about Elisha purifying a pot of stew in 2 Kings 4:38-44.  The great thing about it is the rather mundane setting for a miracle.  I mean, it seems to be easier to just throw out the stew.  

No preservatives or gourds.
Even as I write this, I realize my privilege leaking through.  There was a famine in the land and they couldn't just drop in to Homeland and pick up some Dinty Moore for a replacement.  The fact that they were putting wild gourds into their stew shows that they were doing what they could to stretch their meager resources.

Some have tried to analyze this scientifically as they wonder what poisonous species the gourds might have been.  How would the flour or meal have naturally cut the poison?  

But this kind of misses the point.

Elisha as the faithful man of God has power over life and death.  It is his connection with God that allows him to conquer their hunger and the wastefulness that they would have had to resort to in throwing it out.

The simple faith in Elisha's power is tangent to Elisha's faith in God.  It may be easier for us to over-analyze rather than accept.

And I always wondered who was the first to try it after Elisha's cleansing!

During the Lenten season, there are plenty of "poisonous" items that we encounter.  Our job as Christians is to figure out what these might be and allow God to cleanse them for us.  They may be rather mundane but rather than famine, most Americans are dealing with an overabundance.

I'm not sure what Elisha would say about it but I don't think he would beat around the bush.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 8 of Lent, Thursday, March 13, 2014

It appears Panasonic is going to give hazard pay for its employees working in China because of the air pollution.  This is not the first time a company has paid higher wages for the dangers involved in a job but it may be the first corporation paying more for regular work in a polluted environment.

Xinhui Gangzhou Dadao Crossway.  Don't breathe deeply.

Is this ethical to pay for an employee to work in an environment that would likely cause major health problems later in life?  I mean the World Health Organization said that Beijing exceeded the daily maximum for air pollution by 15 times.

*Cough* *Cough*

Should we pay people for the likelihood of lung cancer later in life?

The NFL is having these kinds of conversations due to the health problems of their retirees.  Of course their injuries are more collision oriented rather than lung damage related.  But the question is similar.  What is an acceptable risk?

As I consider all the cheap stuff made in China that I've already purchased, I realize that I'm complicit in this which is really depressing.  God clearly says in Leviticus 19:16 that you shall not profit against the blood of your neighbor.  I guess we could argue that we aren't profiting as much if they are being paid more but that seems a little weak.

This is a complicated issue - hazard pay seems fair but what would be better for everyone would be for them to clean up their air.  I guess my definition of "Love thy neighbor" includes for them not to die later in life of emphysema.  But I also believe in freedom of choice so it's a tough one.

What would you wish for your children?


Photo by Nanbeidadao [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 7 of Lent, Wednesday, March 12, 2014



Although on the way down, "Demons" by Imagine Dragons is a recent Top 40 pop hit whose lyrics discuss some interesting themes for the Lenten Season.

The lyrics represent a dark soul who feels trapped by the demons inside and represent a rather bleak look at relationships and life in general.

The main chorus states:

    No matter what we breed
    We are still made of greed
    This is my kingdom come
    This is my kingdom come

This of course is a reference to the singer's being in opposition to the Lord's Prayer where we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  It is an honest recognition that our own greed often outweighs any better nature that we would try to emulate.

The song reveals more when it states:

    Don't get too close
    It's dark inside
    It's where my demons hide
    It's where my demons hide

and then later:

    Don't want to let you down
    But I am hell bound
    Though this is all for you
    Don't wanna hide the truth

A little melodramatic but an attempt to be open in all his faults.  In a sense, saying, "This is who I am.  You can't possibly want to be with someone with this many issues."  This continues as the singer states:

    They say it's what you make
    I say it's up to fate
    It's woven in my soul
    I need to let you go

Soloist of the Bolshoi Paul Hohlov as Demon
This is the theme of free will versus determinism again (see yesterday's post). It is a resignation that while this person is bad, he is at least able to see it and part ways so as not to infect the other with this darkness.

This reminds me of when Jesus encounters the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5:1-20.  The Demoniac
separates himself from friends and family to live among the dead.  They even tried to restrain him but he broke free of them to live in self-imposed isolation.  This is what the song appears to be leading us toward but we have a final possibility of hope when he sings:

   Your eyes they shine so bright
    I wanna save that light
    I can't escape this now
    Unless you show me how

As Christians, we remember that we are created in God's image.  Even as sin touches our lives, we understand that in Christ we reclaim that original grace.  We may find that after our encounter with Christ, we find ourselves in our right mind just like the Demoniac did. We see that our inner demons may be surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Not an easy thing to do but something that we should at least attempt during Lent.

I'm not a super top 40 guy, but I liked this song for our own Christian Top 40 (days of Lent).

Lyrics (C) 2013 KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records
Picture via Wikimedia commons

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day Six of Lent, Tuesday, March 11, 2014


This skydiver becoming entangled with a plane taking off has been around the news lately. Due to Tim Telford's camera, we are able to see some of the shots of the accident as it occurred.

As I heard about the collision, I gave a silent prayer thanking God that there were no fatalities and only minor injuries.

Then I started wondering who was at fault.  Was it air traffic control at the airport?

Was it the skydiver, drifting off course from his landing site?

Was it the pilot who may have taxied to the wrong runway for takeoff?

Or was it God's fault?

Okay, the last question is a little ridiculous.  Why would someone blame God for human error or even what could have simply been a colossal mistake?

Yet, this is not out of the question for those who believe that God is in control of the universe down to the minutest details.  Those who claim Calvin as their theological grounding are more likely to be deterministic in their outlook on life.  Things, even like this plane crash, happen for a reason.

As a Wesleyan, I am in a different camp of thought.  We believe that humanity has free will.  If I decide to fly into a sky diver whether by mistake or by willful maliciousness, I'm not doing so as part of the larger divine plan but maybe in the latter case as counter to God's plan.

The Tower of Siloam
by James Tissot ca. 1886
Jesus tells about people that were killed by Pontius Pilate and states that they weren't any worse offenders than the rest of us.  In other words, God wasn't using Pilate's violence to exact justice on those deserving it.  Jesus also indicates the same thing for those killed in an accident when the Tower of Siloam fell on 18 people.

He uses this for an example that life can be cut short so we should repent of our sins while we can.  But he doesn't use it to show that all events are part of a divine plan for retribution or even justice.  It seems that God is more subtle than that.

Now the great thing about God (as a believer in free will) is that God can use even our sins and silly mistakes to bring about something good.

Maybe the sky diver becomes a more thoughtful person due to his brush with death.  Maybe the pilot is more attentive to the schedule and avoids a more horrific crash in the future.

As we engage in the Lenten season, this is often a season of repentance.  Rather than simply repent of your sins and move on as if all is well, think about some thing that you regret doing and pray about how God might use even this in order to bring about something good.  What would that be?

The creativity of God knows no bounds.

Of this I'm free to believe!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Day Five of Lent, Monday, March 10, 2014

Well, if you haven't heard by now, I'm going to be receiving an appointment other than Piedmont for the first time since we said goodbye to the 20th century.

Things that weren't around when we arrived in Piedmont were Facebook (and social media in general), Energy Drinks, and smart phones with touch screens just to name a few.

In fact, broadband internet was not widely available.  We were all still on dial-up service. There are a lot of younger people that don't identify with this noise:


Sheryl and I have experienced a lot of changes to our lives.  Our two children would have to be the biggest difference of note since we've arrived.  They have both been shaped by the church into which they were baptized.  There's not a way that I can say "thank you" that would really entail all that we have received from this congregation.

As we think about how God is involved in this change, I believe that God was involved in the system that brought me to Piedmont and God is involved in this next phase too. God is surely at work in the process that will send a new minister to lead in Piedmont.

There is a difficulty in being a pastor that we may not often acknowledge.  To engage in people's lives spiritually is an intimacy that no one should take lightly.  Pastors are present, next to hospital beds and in marriage counseling.  Pastors visit with families newly in the throes of grief.  Pastors celebrate new births and baptisms.  Pastors share Holy Communion - the elements of Christ - with real people who need this presence.  It is an honor to do these things.  But it can also be scary and it can sometimes take its toll.

Congregations somehow know this and thus, there is a bond between pastors and laity. When it is time to move on, the bond is stretched but somehow not broken entirely. That's because we remain in Christ together even if separated by distance.

I don't want to leave Piedmont.  It is my home and yet I feel God's call to do so.  I am comforted knowing that God remains with you and that your faith in knowing this is strong.

As we grieve this change together, I'm reminded by Elijah's call of Elisha.  Elijah knows that speaking for God is difficult and he exclaims, "What have I done to you?"

And yet, Elijah doesn't hesitate to call him.

Please pray for our church during Lent.  Pray for the Bishop and the District Superintendents who are making the decision to send someone here.  Pray for the pastor who will come in June.  Pray for the people and the community who will receive a new voice.  And finally pray for me and my family so that we would continue to share the love of Christ effectively with a hurting world.

I don't doubt that you will do so and that makes me smile.

This photo will be 10 years old in September.  The ball connected with the target!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2014


If you watch cable new regularly, you've undoubtedly seen video of the minivan driving into the ocean.  Thirty-two year old Ebony Wilkerson of South Carolina was pregnant and had her three other children in the vehicle as she attempted to end their lives last week.

Everyone was rescued and the children are safe in custody.

Immediate reaction to this kind of story is offense at the mother.  What kind of mother tries to drown her children?

This natural reaction is healthy in that all people should have the value of protecting children.  Most Christians also believe that parents should put their own lives on the line before allowing harm to come to their children.

As authorities didn't find her abusing any substances, we may assume that this woman has mental illness.

As we dig deeper, we see that she was involved in an abusive relationship.

Domestic abuse can push people to do desperate acts that we view as despicable. Family violence is often so horrid because most of the time it happens behind closed doors where the cameras are not rolling.

On average, women are at a physical disadvantage to men.  As we consider abuse and suffering during Lent, we remember that there are many in the world that are already at the cross.

What we do and say makes a difference.  I believe that God stands with those who are on the outside looking in as Jesus declared that we should watch out for the least of these.

A great Biblical example of a woman standing up for her rights is in the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38.  It is a frank story about sexuality, inheritance and social standing and how the three were interrelated in that day and probably still are to some degree today.  This story reminds us that gender injustice has been around for a long time and that abuse takes many forms.

During Lent, let us pray for those suffering from domestic violence and remind ourselves to inform children and youth when we see examples of violence among spouses that "We are to be respecters of ourselves and others."  It may save a child's life.


 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 4 of Lent, Saturday, March 8, 2014

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
    and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
    giving rest to those he loves?
                            Psalm 127:2 (The Message)

Okay, today is the day we are supposed to set our clocks ahead one hour when we go to bed tonight.  In the fall, I think Daylight Savings Time sounds like a good thing.  Who doesn't enjoy the extra hour of sleep?

In the spring, it is a nightmare.

It seems as if most people in the United States don't get enough sleep anyway.  I'm wondering why we are messing with our already distressed sleep patterns.

I guess it comes down to will power.  Most people don't go to bed early and just suffer for it.  I say this as one pleading "guilty".
This is what I'll feel like Sunday afternoon.

So as I write this for Lent, how in the world do I find God in the midst of a lost hour of sleep?

I guess we could consider this a fast from sleep but that doesn't sound very healthy.

We could also say that this is a test of faithfulness for those attending worship the next morning but that puts God in the role of detached scientist who is tinkering and observing reactions.

I suppose for myself, I have to remember that God sustains me when I am tired and lifts me up when I am weary.  This is a good reminder for today and especially for Sunday morning when the alarm rings all too early.


So Sleepy by Fiona Apple featuring Jon Brion and the Punch Brothers


Photo By xlibber (Sleepy Time Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 7, 2014

Day Three of Lent, Friday, March 7, 2014

At the end of February, Oklahoma City dealt with tragedy as two families lost four year old boys in accidental deaths.

Bralyn Shively was happy to have his uncle visiting from Iowa.  While whittling on a hammock, Bralyn was leaning over him.  When the hammock broke, the boy fell on top of him as he was still holding the knife.  He later died in the hospital from the knife wound.
Cherub sitting on the headstone of a
child's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington D.C.

A few days later, Quaid Dolan was run over by his father as he was being dropped off for school.  His dad was pulling away from the drop-off line.

Both situations were terrible accidents in that not only would a family grieve the loss of a son but they would also grieve the loss of all the future years with those children.  This is then compounded with the self-recrimination of the father and the uncle.

How many times would you replay the incident in your mind?

When Israel experienced civil war between King David and his son Absalom, you knew it would not end well no matter who won.  After Absalom's death at the hands of David's soldiers, we see that even though his son became his enemy, David was not pleased by this outcome.  He mourned and cried out in a loud voice, "O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

How does God comfort us when we experience such deep loss - not only at the death of a child but when we feel that we are to blame?

What if you were married to the person who caused the accidental death of your child? What if it were your brother or brother-in-law?  What would this do to your family?

We can imagine the resentment building up like a cancer - quite natural for us as human beings.  We can see the handwriting on the wall for these relationships.  Is any healing possible here?

It would be a miracle.

As we see with the vantage of an outsider, it is easy to diagnose the need for forgiveness. When we are living on the inside of the pain, we may know it is needed but we often have more difficulty even seeking after it.  Bitterness is the easier emotion to grasp in the immediate.

If you are dealing with a painful situation emotionally, try to step outside yourself in prayer for a moment.  Ask God to help you see it objectively from an outsider's viewpoint.

You may be ready for a miracle in your life.

Photo By Tim Evanson [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day Two of Lent, Thursday, March 6, 2014

As a child, I grew up with the USA's cold war with the Soviet Union in full swing.  We were in an arms race but the weapons of choice were nuclear.

Movies such as WarGames were popular when I was a teen and Generation X gave up the Baby Boomer practice of having duck and cover drills as we watched The Day After on ABC.

On December 26, 1991, we saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  We've lived since that time with more threat from terrorism than from "global thermonuclear war".  Movies changed from threats of long range missiles to suit-case nukes.

Now the latest headlines are getting scary with Russia's military intervention in the Ukraine.  Leading up to this in February, 88 people were killed as protests were violently suppressed.  President Yanukovych of the Ukraine fled the country and an interim Prime Minister was appointed until elections can be held in May.  Russian military forces have taken control of Crimea in the Ukraine claiming that deposed President Yanukovych invited them to come to their aid.

How far will Russia go?  What will be the response of the world?

Barack Obama and Vladmir Putin shake hands
at the G8 Summit in Ireland, June 17, 2013.
Photo by Pete Souza, Creative commons
The whole thing seems beyond my control which is very similar to how I felt as a teenager in the 1980's.  However, as Christians, we believe that prayer makes a difference.  It allows me to pray for a spirit of peace to come over all the leaders involved so that they may come to a just and peaceful resolution.

To some this sounds naive or maybe like a cop-out.

But I believe that as we set our minds on God, we move toward the good.

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NRSV)

And so let us pray for the people of Ukraine and especially those who lost loved ones in the protests.

Let us pray for their government as they make crucial decisions.

Let us pray for President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

Let us pray for President Putin of Russia.

Let us pray for all of the soldiers involved in this region as nerves will be on edge.


I remember this song coming out when I was in high school almost thirty years ago (I have the album on vinyl in a closet).  It's lately had an antiquated feel to it and I hope that we return to that feeling soon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day One of Lent, 2014 Ash Wednesday


Maybe you've heard about the teen suing her parents for college tuition.  The above video describes it in a nutshell.

As a parent, my first instinct is to side with the parents who are attempting to set boundaries for their child.  If that child turns 18 and they want out, legally, what can you do?

As I watched the video, I also heard the accusation that the parents had not attempted to contact their daughter over the past few months.  It appears that communication has broken down.

As we begin the season of Lent, we begin to contemplate our own lives with God and our neighbors.  I see in this story a broken family with blame to go around.  This is not uncommon with family conflict but when we're in the middle of it, we often only see our side.

On Ash Wednesday, we reflect upon our own mortality.  This may help us to prioritize between the important and the silly.  Are there relationships in our lives we have messed up over something stupid?

I'm reminded of the story of Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32 when he wrestles all night with God.  The context of this is that he will be facing his estranged brother the next day - the same brother that swore he would kill him when he found him.

Should I stay or should I go?

That's the real question for the family above and it may be ours as well.